Having Our Cake and Eating It Too

As believers, we emphatically claim to know God exists based on our experiences. When asked to document these claims or proofs, we fall back on “faith”. As I have stated before… faith is the Christian “get out of reason card”.

Christians claim complete certainty on one hand (God exists, the Bible is God’s word, Jesus died and rose again) and complete faith on the other. They only claim the latter when they can’t prove the former.

Wrote this over at Steeples and People and thought I would kick it around over here too.

Fish in a Barrel

This post is an expansion of a comment I made on Steeples and People in response to a post about communication and rhetoric. You should definitely check out Jenny’s blog to read her thoughts on the subject.

In my experience, the entire upfront Sunday service led by pastors and music pastors is about performance and/or a level of manipulation. There has not been a church I have served in as pastor (from traditional Baptist in Texas to seeker-sensitive evangelical in California) that we did not plan out the services to evoke a response or to try and draw out the people to take action in some form or another. As a speaker, pretty much everything I have done up front has been about me putting on a “good talk” – but I was often under the impression that I was being God’s mouthpiece.

In most services, music was used to support my messages emotionally. I always wanted up beat and lively music before speaking because I wanted people to be engaged and “pumped up” when I got on stage. And then, I would use music either throughout my messages or at the end to drive the point home and allow people to contemplate what had been said. It was very important for me to use music that emphasized what I was speaking on and led people to not only hear what I said, but “feel” it as well.

Looking back on it now, it saddens me to see the way I used my abilities as a communicator to emotionally manipulate people, specifically the teenagers I was leading. That is such a vulnerable age and their emotions are so easily swayed. And then with adults, many who come to church on Sundays emotionally tired, frustrated or depressed… pastors often evoke responses that aren’t so much spiritually based as they are emotionally. Certainly God might use our emotional ups and downs to shape our lives, but must we as pastors and leaders try and seize opportunities to foster emotions or decisions where there may be none?

It’s not so much that performing or evoking responses in people is a good or bad thing. Actually, it’s neutral. Any form of communication can be used for good or for bad. That’s not the point. (Again, check out Jenny’s blog for more on this discussion). The problem when it occurs in church is that there is an “unspoken implication” that since it happens within “these four walls called the church” that God must have somehow inspired it. We often automatically think that if our pastor says it, or our music pastor sings it… and then if I “feel” something, that God must be behind it.

To me, the whole Sunday experience is an area that pastors and leaders need to reevaluate. I became tired and weary of trying to evoke a spiritual response from people in this manner. It’s no accident that most Sunday services in churches around the world are held in buildings where there is a stage that the pastors lead from and the congregation sits in rows and pews like an audience. Sunday morning is a performance and no different than your local community theater (except often the quality isn’t as good). Put simply, if you are a decent speaker and you have a good worship leader you can get people to do almost anything. It’s really like shooting fish in a barrel.

Feed ‘Em Dummy

While in Florida attending the Church of the Ping (see previous post), I was introduced to Jay (pictured to the right) who has a remarkable story and inspirational challenge for all of us.

Here’s the quick scoop of what Jay is about. He lives among a community of disabled people who are on tight fixed incomes and are struggling to make ends meet. Jay is trying to meet this need that is growing every week as he makes himself available and feeds those around him.

So after hearing Jay’s story, I wanted the SCP Nation to be involved, so I told Jay yesterday that we were committed to spreading the word about his ministry.

I want to challenge everybody to take a moment and listen to Jay’s story on the Etcetera podcast, and then get involved by visiting his website called Heaven’s Grocer. There you can click the “Make a Donation” link and give as you feel led.

Let’s make a strong showing and support someone who is reaching people in a real and effective way!

More of the Story…

Here’s a bit more of the story….

I went to church a couple of Sundays back while visiting my friends from Ping Etcetera.

Sharon and Erik (pictured with me to the right) go to a charismatic Episcopalian church and they invited me to come with them. As I wrote in my previous post, I am not sure why the experience was enjoyable. I do not think I will ever know for certain, since there were so many factors built into it, but I did enjoy my time at the church there.

It was an emotional service for me. They sang some of the old songs that took me back a few years to songs of my young adulthood. Songs like, “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “As the Deer”… these songs pulled on my shredded heart-strings and brought back the feelings of the “good ole’ days”.

As I related to Sharon later that day, the emotions I felt during this time were mixed. On one hand I wanted to get up and walk out. On the other, I wanted to fall on my face and cry. Fortunately for everyone involved, I took neither course of action. I did cry though as I sat there and mouthed the words of the songs, and while reading the liturgy for that day.

It’s easy for some to attribute these emotions or feelings as being from God. Maybe some will say that what I experienced was God actually touching my heart, letting me know he was there. At times that’s even what I wondered… and I haven’t closed the door to that possibility.

Some have mentioned that one reason I might have enjoyed church was being with people I enjoyed. Yes, being with Sharon and Erik (and Erik’s wife and kids) was a part of what made the whole thing special. These are some people that have been an important part of the past two years of my life, and to finally meet them and hang out made it not just a good Sunday, but also weekend. And church was a culmination of a great weekend. So yes, that was probably a big part.

Whether it was the people I was around, just having not been to church in awhile, hearing the old songs, or God actually talking to me… I do not know. Figuring it out isn’t important. Trying to recreate it won’t happen either. I just simply enjoyed it for whatever reason.