Between a Hard Rock and a Place.

October 15, 2008

The Most Unsuccessful Church In The World

Filed under: Church,Uncategorized — camharris @ 12:11 am

Preface:  I know it is quite popular to talk about church at the moment.  But I think it is important, so please forgive me if you are over it.  I am much happier just to get on with it rather than critique it, but I can’t sleep at the moment and Letterman is over.

 

Tonight is Tuesday night, and it is ‘church’ night for me.  Each Tuesday night I walk to a corner pub to talk with others about life, belief, struggles and triumphs (not the motorbikes, necessarily).  I have been thinking it for a while, but I believe it is the most unsuccessful church in the world, or at least one of the many ‘most unsuccessful churches in the world’.

It has only been running for maybe six weeks and no two weeks are the same.  I never really know who is going to turn up, or if I will look like the village drunk who drinks with or without company.  Now I am not meeting at the pub because it is a cool thing to do, or because it is in vogue for churches to be doing something different.  I am fascinated by meeting places that work, and the corner pub is one of those places.  It could be a café, bookshop, park or beach.  These places have some dynamics going on that I may write about separately, but for me in my locale, this particular pub will do.

So why are we unsuccessful?  Well, I think a lot of it has to do with how we look, how we function, how we market ourselves, and how we structure the evening.  Beginning with looks, I know it is an unlikely scenario, but imagine a small group of people sitting around a table on bar stools, talking.  I know – whacky.  For the newcomer, it may seem strange that we are not standing up, facing one direction and clapping in time to music.

When it comes to function, we are not doing too well either.  No one leads the group, no one is in a paid position, no one gives the notices or lets us know when to sit down or stand up.  We are all over the place.

Marketing our church has been woeful.  We haven’t put up signs, built a steeple or sent out brochures.  I invite the occasional guest but that has been rare.  Our numbers therefore are really low.  People are not regular, so we can’t really say we have a strong membership.

Structurally, we just engage in talking, and remind each other that Jesus is coming again.

A person once asked me, “But what are you going to replace going to church with?” quite worried about my spiritual well being.  I think I may have said something like a morning sleep or going to the beach, but later I thought some more on this.  I wondered what going to church had actually replaced.

These days, I have just taken to telling people pretty honestly where I am at.  I am not an open book, but I feel like at this stage of my life it is worth taking the risk to talk frankly to people.  I feel like I can do this in these kinds of settings.  There is no pretence, no expectation and no interruptions that will hinder my desire to connect with others who wait in expectation for Jesus to make his next move, or engage with people who believe something completely different.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with all the stereotypical church conventions or norms, but for me, I am gaining so much at the moment from just meeting.  Now of course there are people who go to churches who are relationally amazing, and that is fantastic, as long as they can do their relating between the final song and when the coffee urn is turned off.

So for the time being I am satisfied going to the most unsuccessful church in the world.  A random group of people, meeting honestly to see how we go in this life, waiting expectantly for the return of the king (a concept thought up way before Lord Of The Rings).

Until He comes.

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August 27, 2008

Broken

Filed under: Church,Uncategorized — camharris @ 11:36 pm

There have been some catastrophic events of late coming from ‘the church’.  In Australia at the moment, there are a lot of people reeling out of shock from the announcement that a very popular young pastor has been living a ‘double life’.

The pastor was allegedly diagnosed with cancer about two years ago and continued his ministry perpetuating this situation, even letting it fuel his ministry it seems.  Recently, he confessed that the cancer diagnosis was fabricated and was done so to hide behind the reality of his gripping pornography addiction. It was a lie that his family and friends had no idea about until it came to light this last week.  Sad, wrong, messy. Very messy.

This pastor was involved in a lot of youth rallies run by a group that would travel all over.  Libs and I took a group of teens to a weekend conference once.  I was very reluctant, but went anyway to check things out.  I would sit up the back with my arms crossed and concerned look on my face as thousands of youth were led into a Jesus frenzy.  I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. 

My problem at the time was that the performances over the weekend were incredibly manipulative, emotionally charged and left a lot of important stuff out in case it stopped you from meeting the sexy Jesus.  The intentions of the production group were probably noble.  There may have been some good things come out of the weekend, but I found it very dangerous.  That is a separate story though.

So this pastor confessed all (I think) this week and is at Ground Zero. He has hurt a lot of people, he lived a double life, he betrayed trust and he undid a lot of work it seems.  I really feel for the guy.  Unfortunately for him, he had demonstrated very publicly the nature of sin.  It is one of the nastiest aspects of sin that leaves the trapped person asking “How the hell did I get here?”.  Yes, a lot has to be forgiven, and a lot has to be worked through.  It is easy for me to stand back and say, “That’s fine, I can forgive him.” when I wasn’t affected directly.  I think if there was direct hurt involved I would find it very difficult to come to terms with. I fear I’m not that gracious.

But I do see him in a new light now compared to when I have seen him in the rallies.  My opinion only, but to me he is now less fabricated than he has ever been.  He has come cleaner than I have publicly about my sins.  His brokenness is obvious and real. I am sure he may not feel it at the moment, but in a way he is in a enviable situation – repentant and broken, but ready for healing.  

It could have been any of us in this situation, and to believe otherwise would show an ignorance to the ‘nasty side’ of sin and the graciousness of God.

August 16, 2008

Don’t give up meeting together

Filed under: Church — camharris @ 1:00 am

A lot of the blogs I have been reading for a while have a lot of links to other blogs.  From time to time, I will click on these other blogsites and have a read of what is going on in other parts of the world and other parts of town.  A lot of the primary blogs I read belong to people who have been rethinking church, so it is not surprising that a lot of the sites on their blogrolls belong to people who have also been rethinking church.  When I say ‘a lot of the sites’ – there are a lot of sites talking about church.

There are sites dedicated to the topic of church, from the grumble-bum pew warmer, to the burned out dishevelled ‘worship leader’, to the questioning pragmatist who just can’t understand why church things are done this way.  There are hundreds of them.  It is an interesting phenomenon on its own.

I have had many conversations with many people about the topic of church over the last seven years or so. I am surprising even myself that my first post on this topic isn’t listing the 47 issues, questions and comments regarding the traditional institution of church.

So Christians are told in the Bible to not stop meeting together.  This, I think, is the best idea ever, well one of the best at least.  When I think about ‘meeting together’, I take it to mean that you meet with others who are going to be looking into people’s eyes, they are going to be talking to each other with a level of intimacy and connection.  I take it to mean that you can share freely where you are at with confidence and trust in those with whom you gather.  I take it to mean you can celebrate each other’s triumphs, birthdays, winnings at the horses, graduations and promotions together.  I take it to mean you can mourn together – when grief is ripping one, it is ripping others.

The bittersweet part of meeting together in such a way is that each person is forced to face their own humanity.  If there are things going on in your life that you know are not right, it is going to be quite a job to relate honestly to anyone.  You begin to avoid the eye-contact, you begin to not share what is really going on, you begin to get reluctant to meet together.  This happens because in such a group, you know that you are going to have to face your humanity in relationship, or use all your energy and skills from Year 9 Drama class to convey a message that everything is going fabulously.  Some people can do this well.  I suck at it, thankfully.  I imagine it could become second nature after a time, or people may just come to expect you engage with them to a point, and then no further. 

When Christians are told to not stop meeting together, I think it is mainly because when we are out of such relationship with others, we don’t need to face who we really are.  It is a painful relief when another sees who you really are, warts and all, and doesn’t walk away.  It is disturbingly comforting when another who knows you so well can see right past your blank stare, or empty comment, or superficial conversation and know what you are really thinking.  And of course I am talking from experience, once again, thankfully.

Tangent from talking about church?  Not at all.  For me, I guess it is because I have been in or around churches all my life, and I have been able to quite comfortably get away without this facing up to myself within the church setting.  I have been able to be at the lowest points in my life, scraping the bottom of the spiritual barrel, hurting those close to me, and still lead a kick-arse ‘worship service’ (although I wouldn’t usually introduce it that way), smile while shaking people’s hands, and shown keen involvement in the ‘fellowship’ afterwards (don’t worry, I am confused what this actually means too).

In all honesty, in most church places that I have been a part of, there have been people who I can relate to in this authentic way, and I love them deeply.  It is just that the time to relate to each other in such honesty was very difficult to find at a church service on a Sunday morning.  Besides, the music practices, setting up sound systems, following orders of services, coordinating notices, rosters, pack-ups etc. took up most of the opportunities that may have come about.

I am no longer surprised that I feel a strong sense of this authentic relationship at the chemo-gym I currently go to.  There are few secrets.  People tell you where they are really at, often before you get a chance to ask.  When time is limited and futures uncertain, there are few greater rewards than knowing another human being knows who you really are.  It is in this relationship that you are revealed to yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, joys, hurts, celebrations and sorrows. 

For me, at this point in my life, ‘the church’ is a collective noun wherever Christians are at any point in time and space, and gathering together must be dangerous enough to have our true selves show up through our relationships with others.  I am really not interested in perpetuating or participating in any gathering where the ‘service’ makes it difficult for this relationship and opening up to take place. Besides, I have personally found it way to easy to hide in these church places. It would be understandable to think they were structured to actually discourage this interaction taking place.  There is a real risk that many people may stop coming.

There is a big popular church nearby that has big advertising posters on the street saying “Real People, Real Life, Real” or something like that.  The people pictured with these words are all white, happy, middle-class model citizens with bright-coloured clothing and white teeth.  P-lease.  I guess they didn’t get the version of ClipArt that had pictures of the grieving, the confused, the average-looking or the un-air-brushed.  

So I am not sure if all these people that are rethinking church at this time have had the same kind of experience, or would agree.  Whatever the cause, I think it is a good thing that is going on.  It seems the church is craving to get real, and it involves going through this process.  Maybe these people will chase their tails for 15 years and return back to the congregations of their past, finding comfort in 20 minutes of singing, notices, sermon, more singing and fellowship afterwards. 

No, I don’t think so either.

 

Please read the following really fast in a monotone voice, disclaimer style:  The writer reserves the right to change his thinking in the future at will and acknowledges he doesn’t have the answers but rather just a lot of questions.  All thoughts are regarded as necessary in the attempt to understand issues the writer deems personally important.  Consult your doctor if pain persists. Fees and charges may apply. 

 

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