2016: A Church Odyssey

I was raised Baptist.  Since my father was a pastor, church attendance was never optional.  Even if it had been, it’s not something I would have wanted.  Being in church whenever the doors were open ingrained a sense of community in me.  

While church, like life, offered an imperfect series of ups and downs, I have no stories of long-term damage suffered at the hands of the institution.  Church enriched me.

Yes, some events were boring.  And regular attendance was frustrating when more exciting alternatives presented schedule conflicts.

These days, I attend a non-denominational church.  And lately, I’ve been curious about some of the doctrinal variances from one church to another.  You see, when I grew up, other than (mostly*) playful kidding, there wasn’t much blatant shade thrown toward other doctrines (cults, of course, were the exception – Branch Dividians were fair game).

There was however a tacit mindset that Baptists had it right and Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, 7th Day Adventists, and Pentecostals (among others) did not.

Do other denominations feel this way about their rightness and everyone else’s wrongness?

On another note…

Why isn’t Lent practiced at more Evangelical churches?  I can’t remember the word being uttered when I grew up, and the church I currently attend has never mentioned it either.

The more I’ve studied Lent, the more perplexed I am at its omission in certain church circles.  Lent is an incredibly powerful season of introspection and reflection.  And while I’ve chosen to practice personally, the idea of leaving things behind and refocusing together as a community is a beautiful practice to consider.

And…

I get it – liturgical services may not “fit” the philosophy of “culturally relevant” churches.  But might they be missing out?  Liturgy is not vain repetition.  Liturgy is passion, sincerity, and reflection.  Liturgy is community and remembrance.

Bigger, Better?

Mega churches – large targets, easy to criticize.  Which is unfair, but comes with the territory.

When churches get to a certain size, they operate like a business.  This requires hiring additional staff, establishing HR departments and carefully managing finances.

Because…

How else would Disney-esque children’s programs exist?  Where would funding for the bring-your-friend-to-the-most-awesome-you’ll-have-a-blast-party-blowout student ministry event come from?  How would we make it through a service (or even know about the upcoming six-week series) without a talented marketing team and social media mavens run by recent-graduate millennials?

When you get to that point, there are trade-offs.  Understandably, it isn’t realistic for a lead pastor to develop personal relationships with the entire flock, so layers of pastoral personnel are introduced – each with their own area of speciality. 

It becomes harder to talk about homosexuality, gender equality, and #blacklivesmatter.  And while I would posit that there are ways to have conversations about these important subjects that don’t ostracize or divide, they are routinely avoided.

Mega churches get soft on the controversial because taking a position (even a biblical one) can be divisive.  And being divisive can lead to congregants leaving the church.  And when people leave the church, giving goes down.  And when giving goes down, it’s harder to meet budget. And when budget isn’t met, people lose jobs.

Because when you operate like a business, you have to consider the bottom line.

Churches must maintain fiscally responsible practices.  But, as in my church, when you mass distribute professionally produced annual publications that focus on numbers (of people attending or visiting, of money raised and given), congregants seem less like stakeholders and more like shareholders.

And businesses aim to keep their shareholders happy.

Was this what Jesus had in mind?  Do numbers justify the means?

This post won’t conclude with any natural resolve.  I’ve asked more questions than I have answers to offer.  I mean not to complain, not to accuse, only to explore in an effort to better understand.

Odyssey – a long series of wanderings or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences, hardships, etc. 

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