Sunday, March 01, 2009

Reflecting (on) What’s Wrong

A 21st Century Disciple’s Full-Circle Journey
To Discover What Is Wrong With the Church

(*Note: This is the first of what will be a series of posts. As more and more are posted, it will be necessary to read this one first, then the one above it, etc. -- bottom to top -- to get the logical flow of the narrative).


Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what is says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he look like. James 2:23-24

As water reflects a face so a man’s heart reflects the man. Proverbs 27:19

The flight gave me time to relax and reflect. I was a junior in high school. I had just spent a week on a short-term mission trip to the rural mountains of Honduras. I had gone with a group of volunteers from my church. We had spent the week serving the people: building a school, planting trees, serving meals, and teaching Bible studies. As I relaxed on the plane and reflected on the week that was, my emotions soared higher than the jetliner. I felt like, for the first time in my young life, I had done something that really mattered. I liked that feeling. I vowed to myself that I would spend my life doing something that really mattered. I wanted the exhilaration of that week to carry over into the rest of my days.

Perhaps I was naïve. That plane would stay at 35,000 feet for a couple of hours. My spiritual high would last a bit longer, but not much. Still, that moment launched a journey for me that would take me to places I had never dreamed, both geographically and intellectually. The pages to follow describe the twists and turns from that ongoing journey, written nearly twenty years after that flight from Honduras to the United States.

Less than two years later I was enrolled as a freshman at Cincinnati Christian University (then called Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary). I had decided to go to college there three weeks before classes started in the fall of 1989. The decision was directly connected to my feelings on that airplane – I wanted to do something that really mattered with my life. I did not know exactly what. Many people who were in my freshman class were there to be preachers or youth pastors. I did not think that either of those was exactly my calling. Preaching would be enjoyable to me, but spending my days “pastoring,” at least as I had seen that role played out by others, did not fit who I was. A few people who were in my freshmen class were there to be third-world missionaries. They were prepared to go live among the poor and present the Gospel. I did not think that was exactly my calling either. My experience in Honduras, and other similar trips to Haiti, were great in my mind. But I did not think I had the skills needed for that life. I was not the type of person who could do whatever it took to survive among the natives and build the church literally with my hands from the ground up. I might recognize a screwdriver two out of three times when I saw one, but I was not the jack-of-all-trades that made for a great third world missionary. I also enjoy the luxuries of the United States – who am I kidding. But still, something tugged at my heart enough to cause me to cancel my plans to go to Indiana University and study journalism and then law. Something tugged at my heart to make me return my first semester school books, cancel my enrollment at Indiana University, and then enroll at a small, relatively unknown seminary. I just could not tell you exactly what it was.

Two years later I still did not know exactly what I was preparing for by going to seminary. But somewhere in the midst of attending classes, studying, and spending time with friends, I had become engrossed by something that I had observed. There was a big question forming in my mind that was demanding more and more of my attention. I am not certain how it started, or how it grew into such a big issue for me, but it did. Everywhere I looked I was confronted with it.

To put it succinctly, I was sensing that something was wrong. Something was wrong with “the church.” The more I studied church and things related to it, and the more I visited a wide variety of congregations and observed what was happening within them, this realization formulated in my mind.

In some ways, I had known this for years that despite all of the wonderful things about the church, that there was something still missing. I had been aware of this deep within myself for some time, but I had never been aware of it enough to articulate it. But during those years as an undergrad in Bible College, was becoming more evident.

Something was wrong with the church. It was not a total loss, by any means. But something just did not feel right. But what exactly was it? And, once identified, what could be done about it? This became my focus – my obsession – for years to come. For better or for worse, discovery and remedying the problem with the church became a driving motivator in my ministry.

Lest I sound overly pessimistic and overly critical, let me clarify that fact that I had, at that point, never been one to bash the church or be overly critical of her people. In fact, if anything, as I child I probably naively thought of the church as pure and perfect. I set myself up for disillusionment by expecting the church to be divine in all respects.

So I was fascinated when I was able to articulate that something was wrong with the church. It was kind of like that feeling one has when one recognizes his own limitations – like the first time as a kid when you are cut from an athletic team and come face-to-face with the reality that you will not get to be a professional athlete someday. It’s a humbling realization, but you find a way to adjust and move on with life. I remember in junior high school when I attended try-outs for the basketball team. There were so many of us trying out that I hardly got to touch a ball during try-outs, and I therefore assumed the coaching staff would not know enough about me to risk losing me at the first round of cuts. Was I ever wrong! I guess the coaches were able to risk that a short, slow, rather unathletic person like me would not become a basketball legend in spite of them. Yet still, I remember my genuine surprise when my name was not posted on the locker room door among those who were invited back to continue the selection process. It required a hard swallow on my part to get that one down. Reality changed for me. Similarly, I was losing a piece of my innocence when I was able to articulate that something was wrong with the church, and that I wanted to be part of the problem’s solution.

Now, how did I arrive at point where I could finally articulate that something was wrong with the church? For an entire year, I traveled with touring music and drama group from my college. The group was made up of actors, singers, and musicians. But my role was different – I was the “road manager” which meant that I made the travel arrangements for the group and I got to stand up at the end of our program each evening and plead for the audience to give money to help support our college. I am a fairly organized person, and I enjoy public speaking, so this particular role suited me well. We traveled all over the United States during the summer between my junior and senior year of college. We also traveled every other weekend during the school year. We performed primarily at churches. During our touring that year, I got to visit over fifty churches in at least twenty different states. The wide variety of churches I visited was interesting. I saw a wide variety of ministry styles in a wide variety of ministry settings from the east coast, the Midwest, the deep south, the mountain west, the west coast, rural settings, urban settings, and suburban settings. We visited a few churches that were over one hundred years old, and one church that was less than one year old. We had our vehicles vandalized in a rough section of Los Angeles one night, and were spoiled in suburban wealth in Costa Mesa the next night. It was quite an education for a person like me.

But in the midst of these greatly diverse types of churches, something was not right. And it made me aware that all my life filled with church experiences, which had been mostly positive, was still incomplete somehow. Something was missing. Something was wrong. And it was not something that could be ignored and accepted.

I would embark on a long-term journey to figure out what was wrong – and to be involved in fixing it. The next section of these writings contains a brief glance at the various issues that I came across as I tried to find what exactly was wrong with the church. It was not as simple as I first imagined.


Anonymous Bev said...

I can tell you what is wrong with the church. For the most part, the church no longer stands up for the very principles Jesus taught us. Where was the church in Indiana when a group of people decided that the nativity could no longer be displayed on the Circle? Those people screamed "separation of church and state," but the church didn't respond to that lie. Where were churches throughout this country when abortion was made law of the land? Why weren't they standing up and proclaiming what the Bible teaches-choose life? Where was the church when no-fault divorce became the law in states throughout this country? Where has the church been as gays claim the right to marriage? Too many Christians do not know what the Bible teaches because they haven't read it and aren't being taught it in "the church." Even in, what I call "good" churches such as mine, pastors are weak. The minute they stand up for anything that someone might claim to be "political" they back down when threatened. Wimps, most are wimps!!! Church members are not motivated by their pastors to act-to fight for the things Jesus taught. They have grown apathatic. They proclaim, "Don't blame me. I didn't do anything, I go to church, the minister preaches, I go home. That's what Christians do now." ...Don Wildmon, American Family Association
What say you?
Your Aunt Bev

4:23 PM  
Blogger Cameron said...

I look forward to reading more of your thoughts...I too believe there is something fundamentally wrong with the church. I also believe there are some fundamental things wrong with Christians and Christian families which is why the church is the way it is.

Our hearts need to be Biblical...think about that!

8:35 PM  

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