Right Now

Thank you all for reading and commenting and generally joining me on this little spiritual journey.  As I endeavor to seek and get to know Truth, each of you have made very real contributions whether I particularly like it or agree or not.  Christian Husband’s contributions have been extensive, not just in comments here, but writings on his own blog that he posted back in January before I knew I was going to end up in this position.


And what exactly is my position?


A year ago I was grousing about the state of my marriage but was otherwise lulled into a state of spiritual complacency.  I was teaching Sunday School and even though I knew the Methodists were forever veering away from scriptural truth, I figured I was making some difference.  I could have been mistaken.


Arwyn’s rebellion has lead me into a spiritual wilderness.  I went back to my old Sunday school this morning and was greeted warmly.  But it felt very odd to me.  I felt a bit like a visitor, which is still how I feel at Saddleback East.  As I told one of my friends, I’m going to feel like that almost everywhere I go.  At least at the Methodist church we are all known quantities with some relationship history.


Arwyn and I have had some discussions about this.  Funnily enough we are both looking for something similar.


Her and I met while we were involved in the church singles group.  I was holding the office of president (again) of our little group of 20 or so singles and we were a close knit group.  It was also very transient and mobile.  People would come once or twice and we’d never see them again.  But those of us who stuck around grew very close.  And really Arwyn and I both admitted that this type of closeness was what we really and truly wanted.  We wanted some degree of intimacy with other people and with Christ.


Of course there was this giant elephant in the room that was obscuring our vision.  Basically the fact that she exhibits a desire for deep intimacy but only of a most superficial sort.  She wants things to be real but not too real.   She wants guidance but only in the direction that she is comfortable traveling, and only according to her own pace and comfort level.


But I find myself swung and slung in a direction I never would have anticipated.   My personal theology is being challenged.  I am having to look at things from outside the established box.  And now things look different.


The church, as an institution, is corrupt.  It always has been and it always will be.  Jesus did not come to establish another institution.  He recognized the problems with the old institutions and pointed them out much to the chagrin of the establishment of His day.  However, while Christ spoke out against those leaders and their corrupt institutions, He did not come to abolish them.  He did foretell the demise of the temple, which would be destroyed within the next generation, but allowed it and even participated in it.  But he continually said, “Don’t be like those guys.  Don’t do what they do.”


It was while researching the Church Growth Movement (CGM) that I stumbled on to a movement that is exactly the opposite of CGM.  I would not say it is a reaction to CGM as much as a reaction against the whole over-bloated institutional approach to doing all things church related.  All churches say it’s not about the buildings, money and numbers but once you get to a certain point, it most certainly does seem to be about those things!  Suddenly ministering to such a large group becomes an exercise in crunching numbers and marketing.


Christian Husband pointed this out once and came up with a ratio of one pastor for every 25 members in order to effectively shepherd the flock.  Or was it every 25 families?  The problem is in financing the minister and the increasing demands of an ever-growing physical plant.  Most churches are lucky if 10% of their budget goes towards missions.  Looking at this through the eyes of the corporate business model, more efficiency can be achieved by increasing the scale of operations and increasing the number of specializations.  The problem is that it becomes easier and easier for people to just sit back and do nothing and this is just what happens.


The model for church growth and evangelism has been oriented toward the “bigger is better” mentality.  I hear people who want Christian unity, but it will never happen as long as huge, giant institutions are squared off against each other.


I’m rambling a bit and throwing off some steam.  But this is where I am at.  I am sick and tired of the institutional system that strains out a gnat while swallowing a camel! 


I’m going to address leadership and authority in a separate post at some point, I promise.  But today Arwyn told me about the celebration Sunday they had today as a culmination of their building campaign.  They have pledges of about $2.4 million.  Not bad, except their building is going to cost $8 million.  But it’s worse than I thought.  They still have $7 million in unpaid debt from the last building campaign! 


This is the vision given to these pastors and elders by God, according to Rick Junior.  The flock is dutifully falling in line and are engaging in sacrificial giving.  They are being obedient and submissive to authority, right?


They are being loons.


The debtor is a slave to the creditor!  I think they are being totally irresponsible!  Where does the Bible say that His people are to keep going deeper and deeper into debt in order to finance bigger and bigger worship centers? 


But Rick junior says that he is unwilling to stop the growth, to shut the doors, to say “enough is enough” and therefore damn thousands of people to Hell.  He says he is committed to doing God’s will and that means building the City on a Hill.  He wants to have room for everyone.


So where is the Truth?


There is no voting, here.  The leaders decide and everyone else either follows along or stays out of the way, which would be exactly be in line with XH’s model of doing business.  At least they’ll have a bigger food court, so that’s something.


The Methodists have their own money problems.  They had a 2 year renovation project of the building that was once used as a hospital during Sherman’s march to the sea.  The cost was $800,000, and they had about $300,000 on hand.  They financed the other $500,000 and have managed to pay almost half of it off.  But they are still struggling to make ends meet and their budgetary shortfall can be traced directly to the interest payment of $2,000/month.   There was some voting on this project, which may have prevented overzealous leaders from having some “vision” and further committing the people to pay for paving over more green space for more parking and creating a new worship center.   At least the building looks nice and white on the outside, now.




8 Responses to Right Now

  1. FTN says:

    At least they’ll have a bigger food court, so that’s something.

    Heh heh. That made me chuckle.

    You are spot-on about the debt thing. Don’t incur more debt until you’ve paid off the previous. That’s simple enough.

    But still, you’ve got the problem of space… When your building fills up, what do you do? How do you “shut the doors”?

    What strikes me from all of these posts and conversations is that a few people here seem to think it’s just BAD that any church would grow. They automatically equate growth with shallow teaching and doctrine.

    I realize that you are referring to a specific church that seems sketchy from how you’ve described it. But tell me… What if you “agreed” more with how the church was doing things (leadership, teaching, worship, whatever), and it was still growing by leaps and bounds, busting at the seams?

    What would you do? How would you solve the problem of space?

  2. diggerjones says:

    Funnily enough, the real Saddleback in California does it by having services all weekend long. In the process, they manage to go through about 20,000 people, although many are tourists or just come for the arcade room and bowling alley. Why not run 7 days a week, like the temple in Jerusalem did?

    It’s not just the growth, per se. Growth happens, but to my way of thinking right now, it should be horizontal growth: having more groups scattered and spread out in order to have more local coverage. That may mean not having a mini mall, but you have the church operating in more places.

    I live in one of the fastest growing counties in the country, so growth is going to happen.

    It’s sort of like the Wal-Mart versus the Dollar General approach if you want to put it in some sort of business/marketing perspective. But I’m thinking of an even more organic approach where your small group actually becomes more central. When it gets too big for your living room you have a choice: find a bigger house or split the group.


  3. aphron says:

    I know what you’re talking about. Churches tend to feel that if they’re not growing, then they must be shrinking. I have seen churches that didn’t grow. When all of the living members are one step away from the grave, it is sobering. The church will cease to exist once they all die. Like a lot things, there has to be a balance. Growth can continue, and remaining true to doctrine and sound biblical teachings can,too. It depends on the individual church’s leadership.

  4. Xian Husband says:

    Alright, I think I have a bit of time before dinner to say something here. Not much, just a bit.

    A big part of the problem here when we discuss “growth” and “big churches” is that it is all in a paradigm and culture that has completely and totally accepted congregationalism. That was not as it was in the church the Apostles founded. There “the church” was bigger than any one congregation, and was above each congregation. If a congregation had declining membership “the church” might decide that one meeting place was no longer needed and move people elsewhere. If one was growing like crazy, they could establish a new congregation to take over the overflow.

    And, more to the point, when they would say “the church grew” they weren’t talking about one congregation with one pastor, but the whole group together. The paradigm you are discussing is so completely and totally different in every fashion as to make each and every concept associated with it changed. Comparing your CGM churches (or even most mainline Protestant denominational churches) to the early church isn’t just a conversation about differences. It’s a whole different conversation.

    Also note that the abuse you are seeing is only possible when there is no accountability, which is something atomic congregational indepedence insures. Who can hold Rick Jr. accountable? Who does he answer to (in this life)?

    The church is not about organization or authority but it needs both. We need each and every one of us to be accountable. And this accountability isn’t through rebellion but through lines of recognized authority.

    Not that any such thing creates a perfect church, but it does allow imperfections to be handled without chaos and rebellion.

    I’m sure there is more, but I gotta’ go. But please, please stop saying I advocate meglomaniacal cult-of-personality sort of stuff. It’s kind of getting on my nerves.

  5. Trueself says:

    Thank you Digger. You’ve said something I have felt for a long time, but you said it way better than I could have.

  6. diggerjones says:

    In the area of my boyhood, Aphron, I see just that sort of thing happening. These were rural churches and as farmers age out and move to town, the congregations dwindle to a point where they can’t even support a the heating bill. No amount of leadership is going to resurrect these old congregations that will go the way of the one-room school house.

    Aahhh….no XH, I don’t remember saying anying derrogatory about you in the above post. Quite the opposite. I think you are dead-on in so many areas but the authority thing is a bit of a stumbling block. Either we all have access to God through the Holy Spirit or not. Do we need a Pope or not? I know you’re not in favor of that, but this is where this earthly authority business ends up going.

    I have sort of tipped my hand at my UA Blogger site with several links that I’ve read or am currently reading. It’s just the tip of the iceberg to a movement that is growing faster than I can read about it.

    Trueself! Welcome to the world of WordPress!

    Okay, time to start the day.


  7. xi summit says:

    Hey, you need to stop by our place and give it a go. We’ve got all this going on, minus the debt problems …… we could wander aimlessly together for a time.

    Then you and Arwyn could swing by the house for dinner and check out the garden …. Queenie’d love it.

  8. xi summit says:

    P.S.- Please don’t mention the BLOG. 🙂

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