“I walk in at quarter past ten and see a smile,
an outstretched hand & you ask me how I’m doing--
But before I can lie and tell you I am doing fine,
I see your eyes drifting to the next box
that needs checking on your To Do List.
You have been faithful to greet me,
but I hate to break it to you;
you would make a horrible politician.
Thanks for having the fellowship;
it’s my time to spend with my mind
midst the scenery of plastic people.
To think: if I am just an audience,
why did I not just stay home and be the audience of my laptop?
If all you offer me is entertainment
I wish I just watched TBN, At least I could have laughed
and made fun of it without anyone knowing.
I'm glad there is a time for people to give their 10%,
because it would be hard to endure this without air conditioning.
Wow, I just heard this message on the ABC's of being free,
It was such a great sermon, I sure wish I could remember it.
It is so good to be a part of this community
of middle class, hard working materialists
who act like I don't exist.
You offer me such a meaningful
and big purpose: To make a bigger building
so the pastor can get a bigger ego,
So I can be surrounded by so many more
religious hypocrites who are just like me,
"merely fulfilling their duty.”
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Art and thoughts
in light of my experience with
The typical format of ‘church’ is not found the bible; though aspects of what the bible shows us church to be are there. Our modern understanding of church is like a box and most of what the bible communicates about church does not fit in it. We grow up thinking this is church; this event where we wear our Sunday best, put on plastic smiles, give shallow greetings and handshakes and join others for a few songs, an offering, and a sermon and then rush home for the football game (well, just during the fall). The faithful few involved members are the ushers, the greeters, the ones who run the soundboard and lights, and those who clean the building and mow the grass. Most everything centers around the building and the event.
Almost every church planter starts with the same set up: worship, offering and sermon...This is ‘church’. Some have small variations, but this tradition is like gospel. In some ways I like it, for when I am unspiritual, with deep unresolved issues, wanting to be self-centered and run from ministry, I can still be a part of church; fulfilling my duty and be a “good” Christian. This format is exactly what the middle class busy American needs--for we do not have time or energy for people or ministry, we need something in which we can sit for an hour and half and then get back to our busy life; we need a church where being honest and real are never encouraged, where we can be surrounded by hypocrites who have been well trained by the church on how to make it look like we have it all together and how to keep our spiritual issues to ourselves.
The scary thing is, I’ve been there (and am there now), and during these times I would be scared of biblical church, because it would push me out of my comfort zone; I would be pulled into ministry, I would be encouraged to be real and honest about my spiritual problems. But I do not have to worry about that at church, not even on the Wednesday night prayer meeting, because no one ever shares anything outside of so and so needing travel mercies, a job, healing or to do well on some test. Our church fits our culture. Even if we are to find some better formats that give room for more honesty, passionate prayer, zeal, interaction, deep fellowship, community and ministry, it does not solve the problem. For most are not spiritually up for this nor have the time. Nevertheless, I wish more pastors would not center the church around the event and the sermon: we somehow need to seek to change our sad reality!
I was doodling during a church service on the back of a bulletin and stumbled upon a way to communicate how I was feeling. You will notice the man is holding a church building with shapes, and the square he is holding that says “Me” does not fit. The clock on the pew represents the tradition of the event that people call “church”, and then there is the giddy smile of the pastor, and the congregation that just fits right in and enjoys it all.
Imagine going to eat at a buffet that only served gumbo, but they had 200 different pots to choose from, most of them exactly alike, some with small variations. Is this not how the church is? A pastor feels he can make a better pot of gumbo, so he adds his pot among the countless already there. My proposal is that if one must start a new church--make red beans and rice, or pizza! Do something different! Enough with 3 songs, offering, a special, a sermon and “Just as I am”!
There seem to be two kinds of people. Some, like certain teachers/ preachers/writers, speak my “language” when they speak or write; I understand and connect; they always comfort, minister, encourage, exhort and challenge me. The other group seems to be in a totally different dimension and I feel like a foreigner and alien around them. Subconsciously I almost instantly know which category people fall into and it seems that I very rarely come across people with whom I relate...unfortunately meaning that I feel that I cannot learn from most people--they seem like mocking birds, just regurgitating all they were taught without giving it any thought. I feel superiority, like an elitist. I feel like they could not tell me anything I do not already know. I confess that this is not a good way to feel! I know it is wrong, but it really seems they are in another frequency entirely. I really don't know how to learn from them. But I don't want to write them off because I know that they minister to a lot of people; it just seems they cannot understand me at all and yet they still will try to fix me.
Why do I hide? Why do I run from people? Why am I so afraid of being the church? I come alive while witnessing and doing ministry. I have learned the wisest way to live is to engage in conversations with strangers; always taking the initiative, listening, relating and enjoying their company. Yet, far too often, I am so wrapped up in my own problems and feel so unspiritual, that I withdraw. I'm among those with long faces in the endless Wal-Mart line, when I could start a conversation, and lift their spirit and bring a smile to both of our faces. The drawing below expresses how during these times I actually like how church is a mere event, where I can hide from ministry, interaction with people and God. Because I am so disturbed and messed up within.
"I really wish there was a delete button I could push that would erase everyones idea of what church is"
Within the box of what people now think of as church, only so much can fit, and most of
what the bible shows to be most important is left out, for there is no room for it.
"When you gather, each person has a psalm, doctrine, revelation, another language, or an interpretation. Everything must be done to help each other grow"
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lets say I am on a desert island with one tree and a little food and water as punishment for some crime. And I am instructed that if I cut down the one tree, then I will be freed. But I have no saw, no axe, no sharp knife, not even a file! All I have is a butter knife. It is precisely because I have no other means, that I will endure and use that unproductive tool to cut the tree down and with enough persistence I will succeed and earn my freedom.
So likewise, maybe it is with God, since all he has is "butter knives", he is rather forced to use them. What I am saying is since almost all Christians are totally indoctrinated with pagan traditions and methods which make them extremely dull, God must anoint and employ such dull tools to build His Kingdom.
Now here is the problem, when reformers come along like Frank Viola (Yeah, I am listening to the audiobook "Pagan Christianity" right now), and point out that pretty much everything we consider church is not based on Scripture, but all has pagan roots and is contrary to what God wants. Most Christian leaders respond with "God has anointed and used church buildings, the order of service, the clergy system and all our church practices for 100s of years, how dare you challenge such things!" And so they continue using the impractical and bad methods, without understanding that if they actually reformed, then they could become sharp and effective tools, for God to use.
Right now, I am witnessing God providing the institutional church I am apart of with a building, God has done it in such a way that it is obviously His doing, etc... And yet I totally agree with Frank Viola that the building with its pulpit and pews is totally unbiblical and purely based on pagan traditions, and that it actually steals away from the idea of the priesthood of all believers, and gives the impression of the few professions who are over all the pew warmers and how it cost TONS of money to maintain. There are tons of other things bad about the building and all it teaches, but I won't go into it. But all that to say. Despite all this, God is using this tool (as dull and contrary to His original purpose that it is) because the pastor is conditioned in these traditions and God loves the pastor and is going to use Him and the old pagan traditions that He was raised in and taught. But still just because God is using and anointing, does not mean we should not be open to actually using better methods! I would like to see the church become more like an axe or a saw, it would make God's life a lot easier and we would see God's kingdom advance a lot faster.
I don't plan on leaving the institutional church anytime soon, but I will at least acknowledge that it is not at all based in scripture. I think we'll have to wait until the whole institutional church collapses, until there is government persecution or until it comes to nothing (like in most of Europe) because the methods just are not working (People don't come to the church building just because it is the culturally correct thing to do anymore). But yeah, when everything falls, I want there to a pure biblical concept of church, so it can be rebuilt right. Maybe Frank Viola and others can actually start a revolution, but I am doubtful and yet somehow the truth needs to get out there and be embraced, if we are to ever be freed from godless traditions that we still adhere to religiously several 100's of years later.