Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Tainted Experience

I write this blog primarily for people who want to check me out before they attend Cedarbrook. A big determining factor in choosing a church is the pastor so I help people get inside my mind a bit by writing. This blog gets a few hits a day from people like that or people who did a search for a topic I covered or people tired of watching the grass grow and looking for something a little more stimulating (or maybe less!).

So, you can imagine my surprise on Monday when I saw that 40 people had hit my blog by 9:00 a.m. (Over 250 by Wednesday). As I mentioned below, my post on Why I Don't Like Church got reprinted in a national blog. If 250 clicked the link that means that many more actually read it. I guess I had my fifteen minutes of fame! It was fun to see a national dialogue by fellow church leaders over a few paragraphs that I had written.

But I have to tell you that I was disappointed in some of the response. There were well over 50 different people who posted a comment. Many agreed. Some offered balance. But more than a few felt a strong need to correct me - some at great length. Now, I don't mind correction. My wife knows I need a lot of it (not to mention everyone in my church). But the correction was a bit ironic because it tended to embody the very problem that my post was addressing - they were more interested in telling me how wrong I was than in really understanding what I had to say (only a handful of people contacted me directly to gain a fuller understanding of my thinking).

As I read the comments I found myself reading the first few sentences to determine if I'd bother to read more. If the tone was negative or clearly off-target I skipped it. I could tell that they misunderstood me and were just looking for an excuse to rant. I wasn't there to listen to that so I checked out.

Then I realized that that's what people do every Sunday with me or any preacher that comes across in the same way. When we are more interested in telling what we know than connecting with the true concerns of our audience, they will check out...every time. That was the point in Why I Don't Like Church and ironically my critics proved it!

I'm sure the percentage of critics to readers was small. That's good. But it's sad that the critics often get the most ink, isn't it? And the taste in my mouth from the experience was a little tainted. It makes me less eager to get feedback. I'm afraid that's exactly why many people are slow to return to church.

Monday, January 23, 2006

How We Dehumanize the Soul

My posts on Why I Don't Like Church got picked up by a national church leadership blog/newsletter (Monday Morning Insight). It's been interesting to read the dialogue (click the link. Most people posted their comments there and not here).

I was pretty amazed to read the negative comments. I didn't think my words were that radical. I probably should have qualified one of my statements by saying that the church has made a mistake by believing that their SOLE purpose is to dispense information. A lot of ministers were offended by the ommission of the word "sole". Yes, yes, we are called to preach the word - the truth. Of course. I'm just trying to bring some balance here because there are too many walking wounded and the wounder is the church!

I personally love information and thoughts. That's a weakness of mine and I'd guess of many preachers. So, before I preach I always have to ask myself, "Is this just cool information that I like or will this really breathe life into people looking for God?"

Paul said that "the letter kills but the Spirit brings life." That's exactly what I mean. If you understand Paul, you understand what I'm saying.

I think I'm more sensitized than some of my critics to this issue because I've had countless conversations with people that have been cast off by church. Whether they accurately perceived the insult or not (as one person posed) doesn't matter. What they are sensing is a disregard for their humanity. And that's what I was getting at with my post about Jesus yesterday. Jesus was able to pinpoint sin in people and they walked away encouraged or at least thoughtful, not wounded.

As it says in Hebrews, the Word of God is able to discern between soul and's able to separate between sin and sinner. It's able to value the human while showing them the destructiveness of their thoughts and actions. We are not always so successful. And when that happens we dehumanize our audience. We invalidate not only their thoughts or actions but their very being. We may not have meant that but that's what they heard and that's why they are so wounded. We often miss this subtlety and often justify our positions as simply "preaching the truth of God". But we are missing something and losing people because of it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why People Don't Like Church

This past week a number of people have written me their stories about why they don't like church. I spoke to this briefly in my sermon today called, "A Church That Looks Like God" posted 01/23/06.

As people have told me what they don’t like about church it often has something to do with being excluded. Church leaders told them that because they believed the wrong thing or behaved the wrong way that they weren’t acceptable to the church. They couldn’t attend the church or take communion at the church or be married at the church or burying someone in their family. It's very offensive.

Now, I understand that churches have the right to their doctrines and their moral codes. And they have the right to include or exclude anyone they want. But when they condemn and reject people they aren’t looking like God. And that’s sad.

Somehow Jesus was able to reveal people’s sin to them without rejecting them or making them feel like pond scum. Somehow, when Jesus pointed out a person’s sin they walked away feeling like he believed in them rather than feeling condemned by him. So I think that a church that looks like God will find a way to do the same. They’ll find a way to affirm people without approving their sin. And I think they’ll find a way to include people without compromising the truth.