Saturday, July 15, 2006

Is it time to Stop Preaching?

Man, that’s a provocative title if I ever wrote one. (And I’ve written more than a few.)

I was reading this article about how one preacher has taken his message into bars/clubs. On one level it makes perfect sense to me—Jesus hung out with drunkards and prostitutes and I’m a big fan of bars. But it made me consider how this really works.

It starts out like a bad joke: “This priest goes into a bar…”

I suspect if Jesus were in human form walking around today he would spend a good deal of time at places where people congregate. Regular people. People who are sometimes struggling or almost always struggling. That means bars, shopping malls, restaurants.

But I don’t know how much he would preach.

At least not with the same “3 points and a joke” Baptist template. Let me illustrate.

When Paul wanted to reach “pre-Christians” (that’s the politically correct current term), he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and reasoned with them. Let that sink in…he went into the synagogue, got out the Torah and attempted to convince them Jesus was the Messiah.

The guy had some brass ones. I see why maybe they stoned him.

Would we attempt such a socially insensitive approach today? Certainly not. Heck, this week Jews for Jesus got maligned for simply telling Jews outside the synagogue they can be both Jewish and Christian.

We have accepted societal changes have brought changes in our methodology of evangelism. (Though we still haven’t figured out good ways to reach Jews.)

So, back to preaching.

How are people introduced to new ideas today? I mean, when you look at Joe and Josephine Six Pack, where do they find answers when they have questions?

One medium they turn to is television. Sure, there are sitcoms, but there are now tons of programs dealing with everything from archeology to space exploration. Many times these programs have significant implications from a Biblical viewpoint.

Another source of information for J & J is the internet. How can I cope with and help my teenager who’s struggling with a drug problem? How can I restore romance to my loveless marriage? What’s the cheapest local price on gas for my SUV?

Fiction is also a place people love to pursue answers. The Da Vinci Code was a run away fiction best seller worldwide. The movie, not so much.

The internet is wide open: Christians have barely begun to understand how ideas—meaningful ideas—are communicated via this medium. More than the forum at Athens, this is the place where ideas are exposed and debated.

The most important place we often go is to our friends. Real friends, people who have demonstrated over the long haul they care about us. We know they love us. We know they don’t have some hidden agenda.

Joe and his lovely bride are not likely to go see the latest lectures on the travels of Paul. Nascar is on. They may, however, invite you over to watch the race on their widescreen—and if you pitch in they’ll do the pay-per-view in car cam.

I wonder if we spent more time at the bar just talking, just being human, if we wouldn’t have more of an impact than preaching. I wonder if we participated in the world as humans and let others see we’re slightly different because of our love of Jesus, if we wouldn’t have to preach so much.

Maybe our witness is stronger when we are polite to a waitress who’s having a bad day than when we leave a tract with our 5% tip (after all, the fries were cold.)

Maybe having the Icthus on our heart will be a much better expression of faith than an ichthus on our car.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Secret Lives of Preachers

There is a festering boil on your minister’s butt.

Give yourself a second to let that image sink in…your minister, bending over, pants around ankles, butt exposed, red, drippy, pussy boil staring at you like a cycloptic eye.

(If you’re Catholic you won’t have to imagine, just remember Father McFeelme when you were a boy. Ahhh…that’s it.)

The recent infamous murder of a Church of Christ minister in Selmer, Tennessee by his wife is simply a caricature for the reality going on in most ministry homes today. It’s an exaggerated expression of what most ministry families feel every day.

In court documents this week Mary Winkler described the emotions and events leading up to the murder. This account was recorded at

“She told police she had an ‘uneasy feeling’ after she put her children to bed March 21 and her husband ‘started ranting about problems he was having and personal feelings about the church administration.’”

So, she blew a crater in his back with a shot gun.

But what does this have to do with your minister? (Remember, he’s the guy with a pussy bump on his posterior.)

When we hire ministers today, we have high expectations. More than high. We expect them to be perfect.

Before you differ, let me ask you…

What would you do if you found out your minister lost his temper and cussed out a ref at a high school basketball game?

How would you respond to him if his 15 year old daughter got pregnant?

What emotions would it stir up in you if you found out his wife was a chain smoker or his son had a Mohawk and sang in a punk band?

Now how would your response be different if we weren’t talking about your minister but were instead talking about someone you work with?

Yeah, I know.

It would take a race of highly developed super-humans to live the expected lifestyle. Perfect faith, perfect family, perfect finances, perfect dispositions, perfect words, perfect dress.

What’s the result of these unrealistic expectations? Fear.

The average minister is in constant fear of rejection from his congregation. What if no one comes to the service? What if they don’t like my sermon? What if someone finds out that my finances are in a shambles? What happens if someone opens that cabinet and finds my Seagram’s?

It’s a ton of pressure. 24/7/365. While some ministers in huge churches get their share of privacy and down time, the reality faced by most is no days off, no real relationships, constant scrutiny by the whole community.

As a result of this constant pressure, ministers often pressure their families to be perfect as well. Over time that pressure can build to an overwhelming load, tearing families apart. Spouses leave. Children rebel.

All the time the church clucks its collective tongue and wags its enormous head.

“Too bad about Pastor Smith.”

“Yeah, who knew he was having so many problems at home.”

“Can’t really blame the church for letting him go—after all, you can’t have someone with those problems at home in the pulpit.”

And the puss continues to seep.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I’m Sorry for the Gaping Hole in Your Back

“I’m sorry.”

It’s the reply you would often hear for accidentally stepping on your friend’s foot, spilling wine on your neighbor’s rug, releasing an unplanned angry diatribe.

“I’m sorry.”

I’ve said it many times. More than often. I said it when I last argued with my wife. I said it when I opened the door to an occupied bathroom stall. I said it at my friend’s when I accidentally dropped his prized snoopy coffee mug and broke off the handle.

“I’m sorry.”

We all have said we’re sorry. Sometimes for little things; sometimes for big things. We say we’re sorry because deep in our psyche we believe if we FEEL badly for something we did we somehow deserve a greater level of forgiveness for doing that thing. It’s our emotional get out of jail free card.

We want the offended party to extend grace to us.

Often they do.

Sometimes, however, sorry just doesn’t cut it. Like in the case of Mary Carol Winkler.

You remember her, right? She’s the Church of Christ preacher’s wife who loved her husband to death.

This past week she was arraigned. She asked for bail. She wants out. As part of her pleadings her statement to police was read. She said that after she shot her sleeping husband in the back, instantly severing his spine, obliterating his stomach and leaving his shredded internal organs to soak into the sheets, she told him those two magic words “I’m sorry.”

Yes, Mary, you are sorry.