Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Newsletter from my old church - a contest!

I still receive the newsletter from our former church, suburban ELCA mega-church. I have good reasons for receiving it and reading it - my parents still belong there and I do care about the souls in that church. Usually, I don't find anything more bothersome than the things that caused me to pick my teen-aged children up in my arms and carry them out of there. This week, however, I was bothered by this letter from the pastor. Of course, this church continues to do many good things, some of which are very scriptural. Can you guess my concerns? More importantly, can you guess the sentence that I found sadly hilarious and extremely ironic?

Dear Friends,

Wow! When I think of all that has happened in the last couple weeks, it is mind boggling. A couple thousand people here for Ash Wednesday. Twelve hundred for supper. One hundred and seventy people at the Family Fun Time at (a local indoor waterslide park). Since then, we've gotten to know the Syro-Phoenecian Woman at last week's Lenten service. Then, we had tons of kids here for the TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) weekend. And, now we're getting ready to hear from the Rich Young Ruler at this week's Lenten service. I get tired just thinking about all that's happening. In addition to all of the special events, we have over a hundred people involved in Alpha, hundreds of kids in (Sunday School program), people meeting for Bible studies, support groups and all of the rest. In the midst of that we had 56 people get together for an absolutely great event in (warm sunny destination), gathering some of our “snow birds” together for an update on all that's happening at (ELCA mega-church). (Last week I told you there were only 40. Sorry about that). Thank you, thank you, thank you to the countless volunteers that make all of this possible.

This weekend we have a great opportunity at (ELCA mega-church). On Saturday night at 7:00, (ELCA mega-church) is host to (an inner city program). This great ecumenical program of worship has been meeting in different churches around the city for the last several years. We've wanted to host them before, but it hasn't worked out. This Saturday night, our choir will help to host and will perform throughout the first half of the program. (Joe Singer) and his wonderful musicians will perform throughout the evening. You've been hearing many of his songs the last couple weeks, and if you were able to be in church on Sunday you got to see him in person. It's going to be a great event. Hope you can come.

After hearing from the Rich Young Ruler at Lenten services this week, the theme of this weekend's services is “All American Religion.” We'll examine the kind of faith experiences that are so common in America today but bear little resemblance to Biblical faith. I think you'll find the topic fascinating and encouraging. Have a great week. See you in church.

Your Friend and Pastor,

XXX

16 comments:

ghp said...

Well, Theresa, I can't say that I know exactly which sentence you're referring to, but two things jumped out at me:

1) Such a focus on numbers!

2) This really sounds like more of a social club than a church, and the pastor surely sounds more like an activities director than an undershepherd.

:-(

-ghp

David Brazeal said...

I don't know which sentence you're referring to, either. But my "favorite" was the one where he apologized for misstating the number of "snowbirds" as 40, instead of 56. That, to me, points out the extent of his emphasis on numbers. I mean -- to take time and page space to apologize for a difference of 16 people? In a church with thousands? Bizarre.

Elijah the Tishbite said...

How about: "the theme of this weekend's services is “All American Religion.” We'll examine the kind of faith experiences that are so common in America today but bear little resemblance to Biblical faith. I think you'll find the topic fascinating and encouraging." They bear "little resemblance to Biblical faith" and yet it will be "fascinating and encouraging." I guess it's always fascinating to hear about American paganism, but encouraging? You mean in my faith walk?

Tim

Anonymous said...

Theresa,

I'm with Tim. I'm betting it's the
"All American Religion" statement.
Do I win? You can donate my prize money to the Midwest Syncretism Conference. (Surely there is such a thing!)

OK, seriously, the letter sounds like it could have come from any
mega church pastor. But it's not ALL bad, and yes, you mentioned that.

Coming from a Baptist background, it's hard to understand the objections to "numbers". Seems like we should want to see the church grow. Shouldn't we? Or is it just the wrong priority?

Bugs

David Brazeal said...

Coming from a Baptist background, it's hard to understand the objections to "numbers". Seems like we should want to see the church grow.Bugs,

We want the church to grow, no doubt. But we also must understand that the church only grows as the Holy Spirit wills. And we also must understand that God has given us instructions for growing the church: preach the word and administer the sacraments.

It's one thing to recognize and thank God for growth in the church. But our sinful nature wants to see equate growth with God's will, and that's not necessarily true. God's will is that the church preach the Gospel purely and administer the sacraments. As long as that's happening, whether membership is up or down, the church is doing God's will.

A pastor recently shined new light on John 6 for me. He pointed out that Jesus preached the truth to his followers -- telling them one must eat his body and drink his blood to be saved -- and many of those followers abandoned Christ. By our natural, sinful sensibilities, Christ preached a bad sermon. Yet we know that's not the case.

TKls2myhrt said...

Tim and Bugs have identified the troublesome sentence! I found it very IRONIC that this church would be studying "the kind of faith experiences that are so common in America today but bear little resemblance to Biblical faith. I think you'll find the topic fascinating and encouraging." I bet they don't study their own practices which bear so little Biblical faith. That little paragraph just stunned me!

Glen and David are right about the numbers issues. This church talks about numbers of people and numbers of dollars way, way more than they ever mention how we are sinners saved by grace. Bugs, growth and numbers are good, but not at the expense of solid biblical teaching. I know you agree with that.

Good comments and guesses. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Theresa & David,

I don't think the spirit of Matt 28:19 and Mark 16:15 would indicate that we should just sit inside our churches and preach the gospel! Isn't that "hiding our light"??

I agree that the church only grows with the Holy Spirit's leadership, but having been directed to go into all the world and proclaim the gospel, maybe we should consider getting out into the world to do some of that.

With that said, I think the letter from the pastor that was printed on the blog was a little bizarre, but it sounds like he's trying to follow our Lord's command. I can't know his motives.
Maybe he is trying to grow the church for his own personal benefit or satisfaction, or maybe his motives are pure. Just because his methods aren't the same as mine or yours doesn't make him wrong.
And I agree with the comment about
good solid Biblical teaching. Is that missing at the ??? ELCA mega-church? If so, I would agree they need to go back to "square one" before proceeding to the water park and the inner city progams, etc.

Bugs

David Brazeal said...

I don't think the spirit of Matt 28:19 and Mark 16:15 would indicate that we should just sit inside our churches and preach the gospel! Isn't that "hiding our light"??Bugs, this just isn't relevant to anything anyone has said here. Your statement is typical of the false dichotomy used by those who despise doctrine: either we're spreading the Gospel, or we're teaching properly. That's just not the case.

If a church is preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments properly, that beautiful Good News of Christ's sacrificial work on the cross will most certainly motivate those who hear it to spread the Word. Those Christians are not just carrying the light of the Gospel--they are the light of the Gospel. The Gospel will necessarily to with them into the world.

That being said, sometimes God wants the numbers to shrink, not grow. John 6 is proof that teaching the truth -- all of it -- will sometimes drive people away. So we are not to judge by growth, but by truth.

David Brazeal said...

By the way, Bugs -- in my previous comment I want to make it clear I'm not intending to call you one who despises doctrine. I was only trying to point out that the sentence i quoted was similar to their typical line of argument.

Anonymous said...

David,

Ouch!! But thanks for your second comment!

I agree with you generally, BUT...I'm really not sure what you are saying. What types of activities, promotions, etc. do you consider inappropriate? Granted the church must proclaim the gospel, and that Christians living their daily lives in society are probably the church's best "advertisement". Does that mean that churches shouldn't place an ad in a local newspaper or phone book for instance? What exactly are you objecting to? I don't see that this pastor has done anything wrong other than possibly obsess about numbers.

David Brazeal said...

What exactly are you objecting to? I don't see that this pastor has done anything wrong other than possibly obsess about numbers.That is what I object to. The Lord does not do His work only in expansion. As in John 6, He also does His work in retraction. To get caught up too much in either one is a subtle sin--but a sin nonetheless--of doubting the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the means of grace provided to the Church.

Anonymous said...

"The Lord does not do His work only in expansion. As in John 6, He also does His work in retraction."

First, maybe I'm belaboring the point. And I don't mean to seem argumentative or disrespectful, but the above statement does not seem to rule out what this pastor has done.

"To get caught up too much in either one is a subtle sin--but a sin nonetheless--of doubting the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the means of grace provided to the Church."

For this to apply, we would have to know that the pastor does doubt
the power of the Holy Spirit. Also, why would you assume that the Holy Spirit works only through
the "means of grace provided to the church"? I assume you mean sacraments?

My reason for asking all these questions is not to give you a hard time! (believe it or not!) But, I also am suspicious of some
of the mega-church methods. But I'm
not sure I have good biblical reasons to do so. I don't want to criticize the Lord's working in a
way that maybe is a problem only in my mind! Also, I've seen far worse than what is mentioned in this letter.

Again, I'd like to hear your views on what methods are appropriate for "advertising" the work of the church? Where should the line be drawn?

Bugs

PS: Haven't heard from Theresa lately, and I'd like your opinion as well!

David Brazeal said...

Also, why would you assume that the Holy Spirit works only through
the "means of grace provided to the church"? I assume you mean sacraments?
The "means of grace" also includes the preaching of the Word. We have only a few places where we know we can find God at work for sure, without any doubt: when we hear (or read) the Gospel of forgiveness on account of Christ declared; when we are baptized; when we receive the Lord's Supper. In those areas, God has promised to be for us. If we believe we have found God elsewhere, we might have found God, or we might have found the devil pretending to be God. And we are sinful enough that we can't be trusted to tell the difference based on a feeling in our hearts. I think if we have a proper understanding of original sin, we're foolish to look for God anywhere outside the means of grace.

Again, I'd like to hear your views on what methods are appropriate for "advertising" the work of the church? Where should the line be drawn?I'm not sure why you're asking this question, because nobody has criticized "advertising" for the church. I don't have a problem with a newspaper ad, for example. On the other hand, I think the ad should say something about Christ, and shouldn't try to lure people into the church with a lot of pious platitudes about relevance and friendliness. Because the message of the cross is never going to be as "friendly" as the message of works righteousness; and the cross is never going to sound relevant to the world anyway. I suppose I draw the line at "bait and switch." If a church can afford to spend money on a newspaper ad, it should use that ad to proclaim the Gospel, not to proclaim how friendly its members are.

Look at it this way: a newspaper ad about friendly people will not save anyone's soul; a newspaper ad with the message of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners just might -- if the Holy Spirit wills.

TKls2myhrt said...

Dave and Bugs,

Thanks for the good hashing out of this topic. I had computer problems this weekend and ended up debugging my computer overnight. I couldn't comment on my own blog!!! Or anyone else's.

You two will have to just go on my word that:

1. The church denied inerrancy of scripture some time ago (decades ago, really), although the Word is still being preached there - weakly.

2. The emphasis on numbers is profound and could not possibly be considered healthy. The church is now at 10,000 with about 7 or 9 services spread through the week.

3. The head pastor has gone on record as saying that God told him that if they built a larger church, He would bless them. I don't know of any scriptural reference for that statement.

4. The head pastor has aligned himself with Robert Schuller's CGM program for mega churches. I don't want to debate Robert Schuller at this point; it is the contention of this blog and blogger that he jumped the boat a while ago. The church also has worked closely and directly with Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Willow Creek. This church through out its confirmation program and changed curriculum from Lutheran (saved by grace at baptism) to decision theology. Bugs, I'm not insulting Baptists here. Just switch that scenario around and imagine how you'd feel...

So, there's my thoughts, for what they are worth! Thanks again for all the good comments!!!

Anonymous said...

David & Theresa,

First, thanks for all your answers!
On some specific ones:

"I'm not sure why you're asking this question, because nobody has criticized "advertising" for the church."

I was looking for the reasons Theresa had chosen to make a (bad)example of this pastor's letter, and I know that over-promoting is one of the things I've heard criticized about mega-churches.

"The church denied inerrancy of scripture" That would be a good reason to look for a new church!
But I didn't see it in the letter.

I'm not too high on Robert Schuller either.

"Bugs, I'm not insulting Baptists here. Just switch that scenario around and imagine how you'd feel..."
Well, we can agree on the saved by grace part!

"and ended up debugging"
Theresa, how could you say such an awful thing! :)

Bugs

TKls2myhrt said...

Bugs,

Boy, am I slow. I sure didn't see that one when I wrote it. I de-virused my computer in that case!

Can anyone think of a church with 10,000 people that has remained true to Jesus' teachings? Surely one must exist/have existed in time, but it seems to me that size creates problems.