Sunday, June 28, 2009

Church Should Be A Safe Place

My family and I went this morning to the church we occasionally attend. It's part of a well-known denomination and they meet in an office space with about 25 people. This Sunday they had Communion. I haven't taken Communion in about a year. It was nice. No fanfare, no pre-offering sermon, no personal stories about the Richard Petty racing experience, hunting trips to the Yukon, McDonald's Fillet-O-Fish sandwiches or references to an airplane that the speaker did not actually own. There was just a sermon from Psalm 24 about God's holiness, our sin and God's mercy toward us.

I came out of the service today reminded how church is supposed to be a safe place, not a place to be preyed upon. At my old Word of Faith church they used to say "It's a matter of life and death where you go church." It's true. Because of the narcissistic and exploitative leadership, the sins that went on and the disturbing culture that was developed in the church, it was death to many people in many ways.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

No, Really, It's a Great Church: WOF Social Blunders and Church Culture

Anytime friends or family came to visit our WOF church it was always a disaster. It bordered on comical the way it ALWAYS worked out to be a negative experience for the visitor. For example, my sister-in-law came to church with us and lo and behold, there was a mean former co-worker of hers. This person didn’t just go to church with us but she had a coveted ‘servant’ position in the church caste system. This would be awkward enough as it is, but the mean former co-worker could only work up a brisk “Hi” as they passed by. Nice church P.R. move.

Then my wife’s parents came to visit. My father-in-law got a friendly reception from the man who tried to shaft him in business deals. The shifty businessman was far up in our church’s caste system, which explains why he never spoke a word to my wife or me the whole time we attended church together. I guess he saw potential dollar signs over my father-in-law’s head. But the fact that this man was looked up to at our church didn’t exactly leave a good impression on my father-in-law. He was already suspicious of the whole Word of faith movement as it was.

My parents had politely made it known that they did not agree with Word of Faith doctrine, as my dad was a pastor himself. Once my mother came to church with us (to see us, by the way, not to enjoy the “good teaching” that was supposedly taking place). She arrived shortly before the start of the service and was able to find a parking space right next to our church complex. However a parking attendant was going to have her move because the spot had been reserved for paid staff members. After he noticed she had a Tennesse license plate on her car, he told her it would be okay since she had driven a long way. My mother told me she thought it was a bit odd that they asked her to move since churches typically try to accommodate visitors as much as they can in order to make them feel welcome.

A friend of my wife’s visited one Sunday. She made the mistake of entering the domain of the always-crabby church bookstore lady. Our friend was promptly chewed out for entering through the exit of the tiny bookstore. A couple of other friends that visited with us were spared the worst of the typical gaffes that the others experienced. They were able to get through the entire visit without being spoken to. Then there were the times that friends or relatives got zinged by highly abrasive comments from the pulpit about particular doctrines or opinions.

If you add a few experiences like this to what I have already mentioned in the post called “It flows from the head” it gives you an idea of what kind of church culture the Word of Faith creates. I recall one of our upper caste member’s one and only conversations with my wife was “How long have you been going to church here?” The answer was “Two years.” Yeah, we went 3 times a week during those 2 years in a congregation of about 700 or so. And worked in "Helps Ministry."

I have made the point that the WOF creates an unhealthy church culture and brings out a lot of bad in people. But as I have has some contact with some former church people, I am wondering about some of the people the faith and prosperity message attracts in the first place. Some of the ones I’ve bumped into are just as unfriendly as they were in our old church. I think there is truth in what some have pointed out, that a “life enhancement” message will populate churches with people who are not actually saved. Also, a “life enhancement” gospel message can create “Christians” who are not actually saved because we are not putting emphasis on people’s need for a savior because of sin.

It’s all so weird…to quote Someone I Once Looked Up To “It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.”