September 20, 2017

How I Got to “OK”

Winding Road, Raymond Murray

By Chaplain Mike

From the start of my ministry three decades ago, there were aspects of being an evangelical pastor that I simply did not “get.”

I would hear other ministers speak and tell about what God was doing at their churches, learn about their approaches and their programs, listen to testimonies from folks in their congregations, and I would leave scratching my head. It seemed to me that many of them, certainly the ones with forceful personalities, had a way of convincing others that their agenda as pastors was the same thing as God’s agenda for Christians.

In my circles, very rarely did I hear the full-blown “God told me to do this” account that was more prevalent in charismatic or pentecostal churches. Still, that was the impression, even in our more theologically conservative groups. Whether it was defining a preaching series, implementing an element of worship that the pastor thought the church should practice, organizing an outreach program, expanding staff, building new facilities, using a certain method of teaching or training in the educational program or youth group, or designing the way the church should be overseen by its leaders, these ministers had a way of making it sound like these were directives from God himself. And the corollary to that, of course, was—if you are a truly dedicated, committed Christian, you will participate.

Over and over again, I watched as the pastor’s agenda became the church’s agenda, because the pastor was able to persuade people that it was God’s agenda.

I never felt comfortable with this. It always felt like a shell game to me. I came to believe that it is one of the key dynamics that has contributed to the “churchianity” which Michael Spencer lamented. Identifying a particular church program of the moment with the path of the Christian life, leads to “church-shaped” people; not necessarily “Jesus-shaped” people.

I guess that’s one reason I’m in the wilderness, and not a pastor in a local church today.

Catch the Wave (photo), Fanartsy JJ

This agenda identification is mostly an evangelical/fundamentalist/charismatic/pentecostal phenomenon, as far as I can tell. In my experience, the churches without longstanding traditions and practices have been most subject to this problem. I’m sure it shows up in one form or another in all religious traditions, for at root, it is simply a manifestation of our fallen human tendency toward pride and idolatry. We all like to think that we are doing God’s will, and it is deceptively easy to mistake what I want for what God wants, and then to foist that on you.

For example, back in the dark ages when I became a pastor, there was wide acceptance of a viewpoint on the evangelical side that divided the Protestant part of Christendom into two main camps, based on the church’s service schedule and emphasis. God forbid that a pastor should go against these expectations!

  • “Liberal” churches met on Sunday morning only, listened to “sermonettes,” and didn’t seriously study the Bible. The people who attended those churches were not “separated” from the world and didn’t care about other people’s “souls.” Instead, they practiced a mushy “social gospel” that taught you to love your neighbor. They cared more about “tradition” than Scripture, and their practices represented the “vain repetitions” of religion.
  • “Bible-believing” churches met on Sunday morning for worship, Sunday evening for Bible teaching or evangelistic services, and Wednesday evening for prayer. The people in these churches separated themselves from the world and were expected to engage outsiders primarily through personal evangelism in which they attempted to “win souls.” As Bible-believing people, they eschewed tradition and sought to be led by the Holy Spirit through the Word in what they did.

It is that last point that made the practical difference pertinent to my point today. I was solidly in the “Bible-believing” camp, and it was in our DNA to be looking always for God to be doing new things. It was new wine all the time, and therefore we were in the business of continually manufacturing new wineskins. The Book of Acts was our template. God was always on the move. And so we’d better never be caught standing still. If you were a committed Christian, you would be ready to act when the Spirit said, “Go!”

This led us, over succeeding years, to accept or at least consider, often without a great deal of discernment, every movement and fad that came along. From new forms of church music to new forms of meeting together to new ways of preaching, to new models of evangelism and church growth, we tried to identify and catch every new wave that came to shore. In the process we eagerly cast off the “old”—hymns and hymnals, Sunday School, pews, pulpits, organs, “churchy” architecture, implicit dress codes, anything that smacked of “legalism” or “religion.” Sunday worship was replaced by seeker services at one point. Solid pastoral theology was swallowed up by church growth methods. Separation from the world system was transformed into political advocacy. Culture war issues such as the “traditional family,” abortion, and gay rights crept into sermons that once focused solely on Biblical exposition. In recent days, a more splintered evangelicalism has factions promoting reformed theology, emerging forms of church practice, “missional” church approaches, activism in areas such as social justice and environmental concern, and so on, as the “next big thing” the Holy Spirit is doing in the church.

Neighbors, Williams

Time does not allow me to list all the various permutations that have come to pass in recent decades. My point is not so much to examine or analyze them, but rather to point out that each and every change has been promoted by pastors and evangelical leaders in such ways that Christians under their tutelage have been expected to sign on, “follow the Spirit,” and support the program. A ongoing culture of religious expectation has been created and recreated. Faithfulness, passion, commitment, dedication—whatever you want to call it—is measured by one’s loyal participation in whatever new thing is happening in evangelicalism. We’ve noted the recent repeated calls to “radical” Christianity as an example of this.

It is in this context and out of these experiences that I have written posts like yesterday’s “It’s OK…to Just Be a Christian.” A mature Christian learns to distinguish between what the Lord expects, what the church expects, what others expect, and what one expects of oneself. I have come to believe that many of the expectations I and others try to live up to are not God’s expectations, but come from other sources.

“What does the Lord require of you?” God asked the people through the prophet Micah. The answer is refreshingly simple, an “easy yoke” borne up by grace and practiced in faith: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV) Or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message: “Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.”

The evangelical culture of religious expectation does not see this as sufficient, despite their protestations that they are “Bible-believing” people. I certainly did not, when I was an evangelical pastor. The list of requirements may vary from church to church and from stream to stream within the broad confines of evangelical faith, but I’ll wager that each one would be much longer and demanding than Micah’s.

I have come to see that the requirements and expectations church culture puts on Christians:

  • Grow out of a misunderstanding of Scripture. Don’t use most of the Book of Acts as a template, for example, unless you are an apostle or sent on a mission. Acts generally describes the exciting first days of gospel reception and church starts. The epistles on the other hand, many of which speak to those same churches, don’t paint a picture of a church frantically trying to keep up with the Spirit, catching new waves of possibility, and constantly changing patterns of ministry and practice. Instead, you see the Apostles encouraging the first Christians to hold to the traditions and to live exemplary lives among their neighbors, loving them and one another, while faithfully believing and sharing the Good News of grace and salvation in Christ.
  • The Neighborhood, Krohn

    Grow out of a lack of theology of “real life.” Many have noted how evangelical church culture has morphed into a ghetto in which its adherents can become trapped. As Skye Jethani has written, it has become an “Epcot” world that allows us to mimic life in the real world without ever having to experience the real world. For many church folks, life revolves around the “temple”—the full service Christian activity center (church) and its supporting Christian institutions. This is where the Christian life is to be lived. Unfortunately (in the minds of some), people also have to work and do other things, but it is always a relief to come back “home” where the same language is spoken and one can live according to common expectations. While I believe “community” is important, I also think the faith of Christ is a vibrant faith, designed to be lived in the streets, shops, schools, workplaces, ball fields, and neighborhoods of our world, among neighbors who don’t believe or live like we do.Our “suburbanized” media-focused world has practically destroyed the life of real-world community our parents and grandparents knew. Christians should not contribute to this but show that we know how to live as true humans in neighborly relations with those around us in daily life.

  • Grow out of lack of a mature theology of vocation.I’m going to say this as bluntly as I know how. Pastors and churches create mountains of pure “busy work” for people. A large percentage of the activity that takes place in church culture produces nothing, helps nothing, makes nothing better, teaches nothing, accomplishes nothing. It simply keeps people busy doing “Christian” things. This is not how God blesses the world through his people. We ought to be ashamed and repent in dust and ashes about all the time, energy, and resources we waste in Jesus’ name. The world will become a better place when Christians learn to take their places in all realms of vocational life, devote their time and energy to doing good, productive work in the world, and helping their neighbors by actually achieving something. And churches will contribute much more the more we encourage this. This will mean that pastors and evangelical leaders will have to step down from their thrones, forfeit their kingdoms, and lay down their lives so that they may serve their brethren rather than vice versa. Instead of expecting people to participate in our programs, we must learn how to contribute pastorally in their lives as individuals, family people, working people, playing people, and people who live among their neighbors and are members of communities.

With this in mind, I’ll say it again…

It’s OK to just be a Christian.

Links to Artwork:

Comments

  1. Hi Chaplain Mike,

    First of all I would like to wish you a belated (by 23 minutes) Happy Birthday!

    Secondly I would like to thank you for yet another thought provoking post. The church needs people like you who can encourage us and challenge us to greater things. Even if, as in the case of this post, those greater things might be lesser things!

    One thing that struck me as I was reading this post, is that of all the Israelites mentioned in the Old Testament, God is recorded as speaking directly to a very few. Yet for some reason we expect to find a Moses or a Gideon in every church. God’s will for us is to do everything for his glory. (1 Cor. 11), there may be special times or special people, for which he asks more, but for most of us he asks us to be faithful followers.

    • Thanks, Mike. Always appreciate your insights.

    • “we expect to find a Moses or a Gideon in every church”

      This is the bane of every pastor search committee. In the Baptist and non-denominational churches, every pastor search committee is under extreme pressure to find a Moses who will lead them to the promised land. It puts unrealistic expectations on the pastor, and puts certain personality types in the pulpit. For every church that finds a Moses, hundreds more have a cycle of boom and bust. I had to get out.

      Chaplain Mike, thank you, you hit it exactly my frustration that put me in the wilderness.

      • Martha says:

        But, um, Moses never made it to the Promised Land – he died without, and that was his punishment for his doubt when striking the rock?

        Refresh my fuzzy Catholic memory if I’ve gotten that wrong.

        Point being, if you’re looking specifically for a Moses, he may lead you to the Promised Land, but only to its borders and no further. Can’t bring you within it. So – maybe not the leadership exemplar you might want?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Not a Moses or a Gideon.

      A Man on a White Horse, who will ride in and make everything perfect so we won’t have to. It’s Messiah Politics transferred to the churches.

      And all too often they follow John’s pattern and get the First Horseman of their own local Apocalypse.

  2. John From Down Under says:

    You can be MY pastor ANY day Chaplain Mike!

    Many of the folks you describe are glorified administrators and CEO’s, not shepherds. I am a post-Pentecostal denominationally and I’m intrigued to hear of your experiences. I thought this ‘Lord doing a new thing’ was a charismatic trait. Novelty is idealized in those circles.

    • Agrienne says:

      AGREED JOHN! And Chaplain Mike – in all seriousness you have been my pastor for about the last year. You have sheperded me through my own journey and I too am now in the wilderness. And you know what – I like it better. Thank you.

  3. scottee says:

    Sometimes, just every now and then, I really need a “Like” button. It is good to hear echoes of Michael Spencer, calling out ________ for what it is. I know a pastor who continually says that truth is defined as an accurate description of reality. And I would say this post is a pretty good description. Thanks for the thoughts CM.

  4. Not to be irrelevant, but Raymond Murray is my new favorite artist. That picture is the best.

  5. a very thought provoking post. Thank you!
    What you write about church culture certainly rings true and remains true in many places ,though people like Alan Hirsch and Reggie McNeal are providing a blueprint for how to do church differently (and I would say better !)

    • Cunnudda says:

      whoa, Charles. Next thing you know those guys will say they’re being led by the Spirit, and they might even encourage their followers to do the same things. Wouldn’t that be horrible?

  6. JoanieD says:

    Great post, Chaplain Mike. It gives a very good description of how you came to be where you are. And I, for one, am thankful that you are here and sharing with us.

  7. One interesting item I realized is how much labels have become misused. For example the definition of conservative “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. ”

    By that definition, aren’t the evangelical churches liberal and the historical denominations conservative?

    I have been telling my friends I became a true conservative and joined a historical mainline denomination.

    • …the definition of conservative “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. ”

      By that definition, aren’t the evangelical churches liberal and the historical denominations conservative?

      Allen, you’re exactly right, if it’s “ecclesiastically conservative” or “culturally conservative” that’s in question. But many of the mainline churches have devalued the inspiration and authority of the Bible so far from a traditional understanding that evangelicals and fundamentalists no longer call them “biblically conservative” or “theologically conservative”. And that’s more to the point.

      One might say that evangelicalism/fundamentalism has remained theologically and biblically “conservative” while becoming ecclesiastically and culturally “liberal” through the informality of the music and liturgy, and the abandonment of the suit and tie for the shorts and Hawaiian shirt.

      But I think only Chuck Colson laments the abandonment of the suit and tie.

    • Martha says:

      Allen, to quote G.K. Chesterton (on politics, but also applicable here):

      “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

      • Chesterton may have got that from a Gilbert and Sullivan play (Iolanthe):

        I often think it’s comical
        How Nature always does contrive
        That every boy and every gal
        That’s born into the world alive
        Is eye-ther a little Lee-ber-al
        Or else a little Con-ser-va-tyve!

  8. The congrgation to which I belong is roughly 50% liberals and 50% consevatives.

    Hpw can this be?

    Well, we don’t believe in political gospels, and we (the pastor) preaches Christ crucified. No 3rd use of the law, to take us is one direction or the other. The law’s job (theologically speaking) is to kill us, not mold us into better Christians. When the gospel is preached rightly and the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that gospel, then the Holy Spirit can rightly take over the job of making us into whatever He sees fit.

  9. Chaplain Mike,

    I was very “talkative” in yesterday’s comment thread and have decided not to be today. But felt compelled to say 2 things:

    #1 – Reading, this morning, the remainder of yesterday’s post comments, brought validation and relief that I am just a Christian. And in my simplicity, I understood your words quite well.

    #2 – I respect your words, which bring with them the weight of life experience! As well as a groundness to them that are free of arrogance.

    Thank you.

  10. I pretty much agree with everything in this post. One thing I will add, though, is that I don’t think the emphasis of always being involved in new programs, having the best music, etc. is always the fault of the pastor of a church. Often, pastors feel pressure to do things from either elder boards or other people in the church. Perhaps being a pastor’s kid I tend to be a bit more merciful to pastors, but I have seen many pastors on the receiving end of abuse in my life. It’s hard for pastors to be in a position to say no to people when they are worried about getting a paycheck from those same people. Of course, people will always come back with something like, “well a true pastor cares about his calling more than the money” or something like that, but that’s a lot easier said than done.

    I think there’s plenty of blame to go around, though, too. It’s like cycle that continually feeds on itself. If a congregation begins looking for superstar type pastors and that what Bible colleges and seminaries put their efforts into creating, it creates an environment where you have this monster that continually needs fed. I think there are some churches who are now realizing this, thankfully, but a lot still aren’t. It can be subtle, too. My wife and I recently moved, and we’ve been visiting different churches around us. We were at one this past weekend that we actually enjoyed quite a bit. They seemed to have their head on straight in most things. I got a call from someone in the congregation who had been given our visitor’s card, and she said something like, “well, don’t let me pressure you come back – feel free to shop around…”. I’ve heard that term a lot from church people – “shop around”. Even the fact that we talk of churches like they are in some religious marketplace where they are all competing with each other is sickening to me. I understand the woman probably didn’t even think that much about it when she said it, but sometimes I wonder if the current environment can even be corrected at all.

    • Agreed. I probably picked on pastors because I was one.

    • Suzanne says:

      We do talk of churches like they are some religious marketplace, because, (I feel like a bit of a broken record on this), most people in America no longer worship God, but worship the capitalist economic system and the competition that brings. Competition is not seen as an unavoidable fact of life, bringing with it winners and losers, but as good and true and ordained by God who makes us as Christians always always winners.

      I have a pastor in my family, too, and you are correct that it is often not all on his shoulders. This pastor relative is currently struggling with several members who want, want, want contemporary praise band services and refuse to understand that their church traditionally has not gone that direction and that there are no musicians in the church who could put together a band. The devil is in the details, but they don’t want to hear that. They want what they see others in the religious marketplace having and are concerned that their church will be a “loser” if they don’t get on board with the latest marketplace trend. It’s sad. I see far too many church members but Christian love and compassion on hold to make sure they claw their way to the top of the marketplace mountain. In my book, that is not what Christ is about.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        This pastor relative is currently struggling with several members who want, want, want contemporary praise band services and refuse to understand that their church traditionally has not gone that direction and that there are no musicians in the church who could put together a band. The devil is in the details, but they don’t want to hear that.

        They want to hear only “You Spin Me Right Round Right Round JEESUS Right Round…”

        And within a few years that Contemporary Praise Band will be “SOOO DAY-BEFORE-YESTERDAY” and everyone will leave for churches that have whatever replaces it in Church Trendiness.

        • Suzanne says:

          Exactly!

        • scottee says:

          I STILL can’t get that song out of my head after it was posted here, oh, I don’t remember how long ago.

          • FollowerOfHim says:

            Not long ago enough….

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            It’s right up there with “Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey” in the Top Ten of Worst Christian Music Videos.

            Though I prefer the My Little Pony version on YouTube (search “mlp applebloom spin”).

        • Well, gee, the contemporary praise band has been around longer than I’ve been alive already. Most of those praise choruses are eighties material.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            No, they are not Eighties material. They are bad knockoffs of Seventies and Eighties material.

    • cermak_rd says:

      But doesn’t freedom of religion set up a religious marketplace by definition? The Pew survey a while back showed that large numbers of Americans have changed their religion over their lifetimes. I personally have changed mine twice!

      • Suzanne says:

        Maybe freedom of religion does set up the religious marketplace, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. I’ve changed churches, too, but the notion that churches have to market, have to ride the next wave of newness and coolness, have to do market surveys and follow current business practices to succeed, well, that’s where I have a problem. So many people seem to change churches because the one down the street is the newest, trendy thing. We had a huge mega-church in our city that was all the rage in the 70’s and no longer exists. The Crystal Cathedral just declared bankruptcy. Funny how you never seem to see the newest, greatest, trend setting church in a poor neighborhood (maybe there are some, but I don’t know of them), but almost always where the money is…

  11. “Instead of expecting people to participate in our programs, we must learn how to contribute pastorally in their lives as individuals”

    I think this really gets to the heart of the matter. Great writing, CM, and it’s helpful to know your own personal journey that your shared.

  12. greg r says:

    This will mean that pastors and evangelical leaders will have to step down from their thrones, forfeit their kingdoms, and lay down their lives so that they may serve their brethren rather than vice versa. Instead of expecting people to participate in our programs, we must learn how to contribute pastorally in their lives as individuals, family people, working people, playing people, and people who live among their neighbors and are members of communities.

    OHHHH, my….. the torches are lit, the pitchforks sharpened; you might want to get some hints from FrankenSTEEN as how to best hide from the angry mob. Wonderful post; this is classic IMONK stuff, let the reformation happen, on earth as it has always been in heaven. Thanks.

    GregR

    • OHH, Greg, íf you have a diSTEEN for something, don’t HINNt around. SCHULLERly you should come right out and say it.

      • Ha!

      • No,no,no……. JUST the movie reference; I’m not throwing Chap Mike in with MR BLINKEY…… that would be so unfair. Think about it, could there be two more polar opposites than the good Chap and Mr GOODLIFENOW ???

        • Sorry. Misinterpreted. And no, I didn’t think you were lumping the two together. Not a chance.

  13. Thanks CM for this message. Reading at this site has been such an encougement to me these last many years. Your comments today again give me hope and encouragement as it has been 31 years now that I too left the “pastorate” for the same reasons and entered this wilderness journey.
    And to Rebecca, I hope you will keep being “talkative”, I gain a lot from your comments.

  14. I must say how much I resonate with your experience in church which has also been a source of pain when you feel you can no longer jump on the next bandwagon that seems to lead to no where and you are left behind without your friends who can’t understand you and are sad because they thought you were useful and a lot of fun on the bandwagon.

    I also think your assessment covers a lot of ground as to what’s going on and why. My question to you has to do with how we live and relate within these structures? Bonhoeffer warns against making statements that can place you outside of the community which he sees as a negative because you will begin to love your ideal more than they and become a judge rather than a brother to your community. I’ve done this and it was wrong. I’ve also tried to stay in the community and speak to these things with and sometimes without humility but, in the end, I found myself not having stepped out of the community but the community have stepped away from me.

    This brings me to something I read from Kierkegaard who believed there would be a natural progression of disillusionment of ourselves, then of disillusionment to others and their acceptance of you, then of your position in the community, and ultimately this would lead to you being able to speak free from false attachments as one outside the community and that this was necessary for you and they to hear something different. All this gets messy and confusing and I’m not sure I’ve found the better way other than Let God be your Father, the Son who teacher and Lord and the Spirit your comforter and guide as you listen and speak whatever he puts to mind and heart in humility and love while letting go of outcomes of “success”. I’m not sure this worked for him either, at least not in his lifetime

  15. br. thomas says:

    This post reminded me of a prayer I recently discovered by Thomas Merton, that summarizes for me a healthy perspective in my ongoing journey and for my role as a pastor & spiritual director:

    “I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know my self, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

    Amen

    • Love it.

    • Wow…t;hat’s great stuff, br. thomas, thanks for the quote.

      GregR

    • Love this quote!

    • I love that Merton prayer – have prayed it for YEARS, and it has helped me re-focus on Jesus again and again. I find such comfort in the phrase about believing that the desire to please the Lord does indeed please him. I’ve shared that with so many people who seemed to get wrapped around the axle and emotionally/mentally immobilized trying to figure out “what God wants them to do”.

      Providing spiritual direction is such an important ministry that too few take advantage of. God bless you in your work.

  16. Thanks for sharing your story, Chaplain Mike. You said, “A large percentage of the activity that takes place in church culture produces nothing, helps nothing, makes nothing better, teaches nothing, accomplishes nothing. It simply keeps people busy doing “Christian” things.”

    This is a big reason for my near departure from my faith can be attributed, at least in large part, to that. I had been busy in so many things. I worked to promote Christian authors. I taught Sunday School, led a small group, yada yada. But it produced little to nothing in me–at least in as much as I was a busy, “looking good” lukewarm Christian. I ignored the weak and marginalized, protected “my” free time, wanted to keep visitors away to keep me house pristine clean…I could go on and on.

    After suffering and finding the real Jesus of the Bible from an outstretched arm and a puddle of tears, I began questioning so much about what I did. The lowest point was when a pastor preached a sermon on “service” that was all about serving inside the walls of the church building…not mentioning loving they neighbor outside the door. I thought, “Staying inside these walls all these 40 or so years has not led me to love God more.”

    Thanks again for sharing. And happy birthday!

  17. Cunnudda says:

    Dissenter here. Maybe my Lutheranism gives me a tin ear for this sort of thing, but I thought creativity and encouraging people to follow along is called “leadership”. Our church has a relatively new pastor who, in collaboration with the church council, has developed some new goals and a bit of a strategy for the congregation. I find specific goals and explicit plans to be good, as they help prevent both drift and complacency.

    • Of course you are right, to a degree. Your Lutheranism protects from a lot of the craziness.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Because Liturgy and Tradition act as a stabilizer.

        • Martha says:

          As this Flannery O’Connor quote I saw on another blog puts it:

          “Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter: So many prayer books are so awful, but if you stick with the liturgy, you are safe.”

          Well, until the professionally-trained I Have A Degree, You Know! liturgists get turned loose on your parish… *sigh* Thank God, I’ve not been exposed to the worst excesses of these, but even here, we’re suffered from what I’ve seen called so rightly “wreckovation” of churches (e.g. the Parish church which is late 19th century Victorian Gothic and no harm for it, but all the marble and wall-altars pulled out and the sanctuary pulled to bits and I can’t go on, it’s too painful).

          But God bless our Pope, he’s rowing back the excesses (not by pulpit-pounding or the like, just by doing things quietly; notice the Papal Masses, for instance, and how the candlesticks and crucifix have quietly re-appeared on the altar? Or the consecration in Latin during the liturgy? While at the same time, keeping the Novus Ordo and other reforms from Vatican II?)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Well, until the professionally-trained I Have A Degree, You Know! liturgists get turned loose on your parish…

            Are these the same guys who gave us Clown Masses at funerals and Liturgical Dance?

    • “in collaboration with the church council”

      That is the key difference. Almost all churches in the evangelical church growth model do not follow this leadership style. They have a “Moses” who is designated as CEO of the corporation and leads the company to the promised land.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Remember the First Horseman of the Apocalypse?

        The unnamed Man on the White Horse?

        “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

  18. Let’s say I agree with this post completely, have been really hurt by this type of mentality in the past, but still find these domineering, program-loving, cattle-driving people getting leadership positions. Is it best to just bite my tongue and be polite or what? Part of me just wants to scream!

  19. Richard Hershberger says:

    “…many of them…had a way of convincing others that their agenda as pastors was the same thing as God’s agenda for Christians.”

    “Over and over again, I watched as the pastor’s agenda became the church’s agenda, because the pastor was able to persuade people that it was God’s agenda.”

    This is a subset of a broader phenomenon of conflating one’s own will with that of God. This tendency is quite common in Evangelical culture and, to this non-Evangelical, high on the list of most annoying things about Evangelicals. In its extreme form it can lead to the Evangelical who wants to order Chinese declaring this to be God’s plan for her, and therefore anyone who wants to order pizza is fighting against God’s will. In less extreme forms it can be merely an annoying tic, in which any decision must involve a formulaic discussion of how it fits into God’s plan.

  20. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Time does not allow me to list all the various permutations that have come to pass in recent decades. My point is not so much to examine or analyze them, but rather to point out that each and every change has been promoted by pastors and evangelical leaders in such ways that Christians under their tutelage have been expected to sign on, “follow the Spirit,” and support the program.

    You know what that keeps reminding me of? Classic Communists: “Ees Party Line, Comrades.” (Never mind that yesterday Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia and at peace with Eastasia…)

    Don’t use most of the Book of Acts as a template, for example, unless you are an apostle or sent on a mission. Acts generally describes the exciting first days of gospel reception and church starts.

    i.e. The Booster , not the Sustainer. Try imitating the Book of Acts 2000 years down the road and you’ll find boosters put out too much thrust and burn out too fast when you use them instead of sustainers.

    And “Lack of a Mature Theology of Vocation” grows out of a “Lack of Theology of Real Life”.

  21. My first acquaintance with your blog was the “It’s OK” article. While I still have problems with your approach in that article, I do believe there was some misunderstanding on both sides when posting. Now that I have read “How I Got To OK” I am totally blown away by your insight. I am 100% in agreement with all that you say. And believe me I have been around enough years to have seen all that you describe. I am in the process of reading “Generous Justice” by Timothy Keller. It is an eye opener as to who we should be as Christians. You might like to read it if you hven’t already. It is sad indeed to realize how much time we spend playing church amongst the nice people and all the time thinking we doing the Lord’s work.

  22. I wrote this a number of years ago on another venue. It seems appropriate here in edited form. Pardon the cynical tone…

    Definition of “The Work”: The pastors or elders agenda for making a name for themselves in the particular movement, association, or denomination they are a part of. This agenda is often fueled by a certain degree of megalomania that is not satisfied with controlling and abusing ones own people, but wants to also control and exert power over other pastors in a wider sphere of church relationships . Also see “Protestant papal syndrome”. If you do not wholeheartedly support “the work”, then you are being “petty” and lack “kingdom vision”.

    And yes, Pastors can be pressured by congregations to “do something”, There is that side too.

  23. Hoping for Peace says:

    In evangelical churches, (fairly generally speaking), the congregants are expected to follow the pastor’s vision. Of course, this can change without much notice. Its gotten to the point that “doing a new thing” would be teaching actual doctrine on a reasonably regularly basis. Building programs, “save our city,” “radical” youth conferences, revival, “extreme” anything, and “fun” church are old hat.

    • David L says:

      Well sort of.

      There seems to be two flavors floating about these days.

      In what is called an Elder led church, the pastor is in charge and at the top of the heap in most cases. And there are things like elders are nominated by other elders or maybe only the pastors. And when all the pastors are automatically on the elder board, it can easily be a mutual admiration society with the congregation treated as the funding and cheer leading arms of the church.

      When you see congregation led/governed you will typically find a flat democracy where the pastor is the leader with the consent of the led in the good situations or the pastor is holding on for dear life trying to appease various factions in the bad situations.

      The MS post from years back on the Pope needing to attend a business meeting plus the Jerry Clower skit are required study for anyone looking into church governance.

  24. Chaplain Mike,
    I really really hate to say this but… isn’t the whole ancient future thing and going back to the ancient roots of the church the latest evangelical fad?
    Over here in the Netherlands evangelical pastors read a book about a catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain written by a leading evangelical professor and one pastor I met did the pilgrimage but broke his leg half way…. kinda prophetic perhaps.
    I do understand it’s quite shocking to discover all that is so thoroughly wrong with one’s own church tradition but believe me, other traditions have their own fair share of huge problems.
    What I liked so very very much about Michael Spencer was his abitlity to both criticize his fundamentalist southern baptist background while remaining within the bounds of reformed orthodoxy.
    He had found a true balance and did not ‘overcompensate’ in the direction of Rome. In a sense to me that was what internetmonk was about: how to repent of all that had turned sour while remaining true to the Reformation.
    He did see that many evangelicals no longer were and he regretted that and saw it as a sign that things were going wrong.
    As a former roman catholic monk let me assure you sir that there also is a lot of quality in evangelicalism and it need not be discarded completely. If I would have thought otherwise I would have ‘returned into the fold’ …

    • Hans, I think you are misreading both Michael Spencer and me. Michael wrote much more about Roman Catholicism and its attraction for him than I ever have. Whenever possible, he attended Anglican services for the liturgy and said repeatedly that the way forward for today’s evangelical church is back into its deeper, broader, and more ancient roots. He became a Calvinist for awhile, preached regularly throughout his career in a Presbyterian church, and worked at an evangelical Baptist school. I think that he and I are true kindred spirits, for neither one of us has ever felt like we “fit” anywhere within Christendom. That is why I was attracted to Internet Monk in the first place, why Michael and I hit it off so well, and why he felt comfortable entrusting me with the blog.

      I have not “discarded” evangelical faith. Nor did Michael Spencer. Nevertheless, both of us have abandoned American “evangelicalism”—the system of practicing the faith that is prominent here in America, perhaps best represented by the non-denominational megachurches, the Christian right, and the evangelical media industry. I am affiliated with a Lutheran church right now, and so am certainly sympathetic with many of your criticisms of Roman Catholicism. I am not tempted in the least toward Rome, though I have learned to appreciate the genuine faith of Roman Catholics. If anything, my deepest sympathies are with Luther. If you go back and read my posts more carefully, I think you will see that pretty clearly.

      I don’t see how you could say that Michael was able to “criticize his fundamentalist southern baptist background while remaining within the bounds of reformed orthodoxy,” and yet think that I have a different perspective about my background and current position. I think we’re pretty much “twins” in our viewpoints, with obvious differences that any two people would have based on background and experience.

      As for the “ancient-future” path, you may want to go back to last fall’s archives and look at a series we did on three streams that are flowing today out of evangelicalism (at least here in America), both as critique of it and alternative to it. One is the new Reformed movement, the other is the emerging movement, and the other is the ancient-future movement. We talked about all three extensively.

      • Chaplain Mike,

        Thanks for your kind reply to my somewhat passive aggressive post…. yes humour is allowed even in Holland…
        I have been rethinking my strong stance on there no being a vocation of celibacy and am pondering the following.

        A calling to celibacy might be from God AS LONG AS it stems from the person in question itself. Meaning that person is convinced this is God’s will in his or her life without any pressures by authoritative figures who want to fill the ranks of their priesthood or their monasteries.

        In my late twenties I was lured into a monastery by a catholic pro life family who were preying on insecure youngsters in need of something radical. I didn’t want to become a celibate man, instead I had dreams of starting a family of my own.

        Their dolorist approach to vocational issues ( “yes Hans we know you would LOVE to marry a nice gal but at times we have to heed the calling of God at the expense of our longings and of course celibacy is a HIGHER calling so you should feel honoured God has chosen you for this”) made a great impact on me at the time but it NEVER was my desire to pursue such a lifestyle.

        I was guilt tripped into that monastery because of some sexual sins I felt extremely horrid about…. instead of showing me the true meaning of divine grace and forgiveness, this couple gave me a legalist solution to my heavy conscience.

        This is why I wonder if I was saved at all at that time although I believe that salvation is a life long process and it’s difficult to pinpoint the moment where it is official.

        So in a sense I was going to sacrifice my life to atone for my sins! Instead of seeing how Jesus already had done that in the first place.

        I am going to accept now that others have a more positive outlook on a vocation including celibacy without that triggering that old wound that is still in the process of healing.

        I also would like to extend my apologies to the catholics in the IMonastery who must have felt like I was the token fundy ready to blow them out of the water for all their ‘unbiblical’ stances.

        So… Martha and that lady from New England… I am truly sorry for any inconvenience I might have caused you sisters.

        By being personal I hope to have shown the causes of my anger (which of course is caused by the ppl who did this to me) and I will be asking Jesus to help me overcome my bitterness… Yes I am able to forgive them but of course reconciliation asks for the other party to repent and that is not very likely to happen.

        This event in my life (the monastery experience) left me with no choice but to leave the church of Rome, something that was really really difficult for me for I simply LOVED that church!

        Yet it was too damaging for me to stay in so that’s why I go to an anglican parish now after having been hurt by a great variety of protestant churches (okay this is a bit exaggerated! lol).

        Officially I am still a catholic and I want it to stay that way…. in a prophetic sense to show that we ALL are brothers and sisters no matter what our denomination might be.

        I’m simply a reformed and reforming catholic who by that fact finds himself outside the walls of the UNA SANCTA….

        That is how I can relate to the post evangelical wilderness most of you are in. I know I’m a bit of an odd ball but hey as the dutch catholic saying goes: “the Lord has strange lodgers”…

        Again chaplain Mike and all IMonks…. thanks for putting up with this weird dutchman. It’s highly appreciated.

        • Hans:

          I can really relate to parts of your story. I was raised a Roman Catholic in the US. I am hispanic and so my catholicism has a distinct “spanish” flavor if you will. I too wrestled with celibacy. At a young age, I felt a call to the priesthood. But I wanted to be married. I reached a point that you wrote that you crossed. That place were you feel you have to sacrifice your desire for marriage to follow what you belive is the higher call of God. Yet, in the midst of that, God intervened and I came to know salvation as a gift recieved, not earned, but lived. I realized God would not make me do what I hated because he loved me. I came to see marriage was not less of an honorable state before God. I figured I would never be a priest because I would never not be a Roman Catholic. But that fatefull day came when I realized, due to doctrinal issues, I could not stay in the Roman Catholic church. Leaving was the hardest thing I ever did, have done. Like you, I did not want to leave the church I loved. But I could no longer affirm all of its tenets to remain a Catholic in good standing. So I left. Even after leaving, I never thought I would be a priest. But God had other plans. I was ordained a Priest in 2006 in the Charismatic Episcopal church and am presently pastoring a parish in Alabama, USA. Our church does not explicitly identify as Anglican though that expression of Chrisitanity has influenced us. So, over the years I have become well acquainted with the Book of Common Prayer, mostly the 1979, though some of the 1928. So, we have some things in common.

          Our God is a good God. He will lead you into more of His fullness as you follow Him. He won’t make you do what you hate. I am married now for eight years, with four children! It has been an adventure to be sure. To God alone be the Glory!

  25. Mermaid says:

    Wow! Your post is where I am at just now. I have been caught up in service and church politics as a result and got v hurt. There is a clear group in charge and if you disagree you are being ‘divisive’.
    I had a bad bout of depression last year and discovered who my true friends are. Not many came near me or contacted me when I stopped attending church. It was very hurtful and ever since then my eyes have been opened. Anyway thanks for an insightful piece. X