Thursday, November 19, 2009

eccleastical greed: a lack of ethos in urban space

As promised, I am going to blog following the TIME Detroit blog. I want to provide some 
theological and missiological reflection on their Detroit restoration project. Part of what is
amping me up on this post is my two previous posts {here and here} so you might want to 
briefly check those out before proceeding.

I don't know of any churches whose express purpose is to live for self. I don't know of a church
website, brochure, pastor, etc who would not say that they are not interested in helping their 
community and reaching the world. Yet, this is the exact impression most people under the 
age of 30 think of churches. Most churches state quite the opposite. Most will say that they 
are there to help their community. Why is there this disconnect? Perhaps it is because there 
is a Grand Canyon sized chasm between what churches say they are interested in doing and 
how they actually behave. When walk and talk are perceived to be this far apart, it presents a 
problem in a church's ethos.

Darrell Dawsey recently posted an article titled, "Ditchin' Religion."  He says

we put too much faith in these ministers, their big churches and the feel-good rhetoric they sell on Sundays.
While his cry to ditch religion is a bit premature, he says what many are probably thinking:
I can't help but wonder how much better our communities could be if we put even half the energy that we invest in keeping these pastors well-heeled into our public schools, politics, finances or businesses. 
I do not profess to know the situation on the ground in Detroit (at least beyond what is online and in print).  Their church situation is probably similar to the church situation around then country.  

In most pioneer missions contexts, missionaries are not allowed in as missionaries.  They must have a legitimate purpose for being in that country.  I believe the time has come in our own country that we need a specific purpose and reason for being in our communities.  Our role should never be to merely take up space in the city which only gets used once a week and provides little more than a meeting space.  We need to use the space more than once (and for more than just believers) and carry our own weight.  

Churches are religious organizations.  As such they are exempt from taxation.  This means that they use space which requires utilities and public services such, as fire and police, but they don't pay into the system.  Currently there are large census tracts with vacancy rates of 30-50% and higher!  At the city level, this makes maintaining adequate police and fire services difficult since they must still patrol and protect the same area but with fewer tax dollars to help them.  

This has been a problem for a Houston suburb as well.  There are so many churches moving in {because land is cheap} who are not paying into the system that the city is struggling to provide adequate services.  A barrier is growing slowly  between the city and the churches since the city knows that they will never win a fight to tax the churches and since the churches will never actually pay into the system.  Would it be so hard to pay for services that they are using?

Churches all over Detroit are struggling to keep things running cutting staff and services and charging for things like funerals.  But what if each minister were bi-vocational?  There would not be the stigma of "freeloading" in a sinking society.  It is time to abandon church as a purely Sunday function.  Why should everyone go through such sacrifice for the sake of one building?  Why not sell the building and give back to the community?  We have nothing to loose and much to gain by giving it all away and living like we truly believe this world is not our home rather than building kingdoms to ourselves. 

The urban crisis facing Detroit demonstrates the divide between church life and city life and how out of touch we  are with the problems in the world.  The church all over America is in the same boat but, since there is no crisis at hand, we do not realize that we are dragging our communities down rather than being a blessing to them.  In my previous post I recounted how Gallery Furniture has been a beneficial fixture of the community.  When it burned down, the community rose up to help it rebuild.  I can't imagine that happening for most churches were they to find themselves in similar circumstances.  

There is a lesson here if we are listening.

what if the church burnt down? a lesson in helping the community

I grew up for the most part in Houston.  As long as I can remember Mattress Mack has been a Houston icon.  He supports the community in numerous ways.  If you are unfamiliar with him, here is a good article.  It is easier to come up with a list of venues where he has not helped.

Earlier this year Mattress Mack's Gallery Furniture suffered millions in losses from a four-alarm fire which consumed most of his inventory. In spite of the great loss, he was able to keep the business running making deliveries on time.  Also in spite of the loss, he tried to donate over $300,000 worth of furniture and electronics to the firefighters and stations which helped put out the blaze {though it got tangled up in city laws...} In response to the fire, his customers have remained faithful.  Many have offered to donate time and money to help rebuild the store!  Some people have gone and bought furniture that they didn't need, just to help.

Here is the takeaway for us: if your church burnt down would the community come out in mass to help?  Would they even know?  Would they even care?  "Mack" has been a regular fixture in the Houston community for 28 years.  He has donated beds to Hurricane Ike victims, helped firefighters, policemen, students, 4H clubs, given scholarships... the list just goes on and on.  Again, it is easier to point out where he hasn't helped.  We could learn something from him. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

when bad contextualization happens to good people

In dealing with international circles, one is readily made aware that there are a number of ways of going about the business of cross cultural ministry.  The purpose of contextualization is to present Christ in the receptor culture in such a way that he is accepted or rejected on the basis of his true person and work and not on the basis of the presentation or the presenter.  Contextualization can go wrong in two ways.  The first is when the evangelist does not go far enough; the second, is when he goes too far.  I don't know which one the following video is.  I will let you be the judge.

Please don't hate me...

Friday, November 13, 2009


On the heels of my last post concerning the Kingdom which FBC Dallas is building, here are some thoughts about money in the SBC:
According to Gordon Fort at last nights meeting SBC churches collected $11.1 billion 08, according to the ACP, and only 2.77 percent was used to support the vision of reaching a lost world. "Southern Baptists are structuring ourselves in a way that guarantees we will fail in our mission, it just shouldn’t be,” Yes only 2.77% of all S. Baptist gifts go to World Missions by way of the IMB.
 I got that from a few friends.  The problem is not money and resources, it is priorities.  What are we willing to give up in order that more people might hear the gospel?

I have my first post concerning Detroit in the works.

Friday, November 6, 2009

athens, jerusalem, wall street and the church

"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" laments Tertulian. This was in the context of his rejection of Greek philosophy. While I personally do not share his lament, here is an echo for our day.

What has wall street to do the the church?! Apparently everything. Michael Frost says that we often just tithe to ourselves. I couln't agree more. We have whole heartedly adopted the consumerism of our day. The watching world hears us talk about our concern for our community and the poor and the world. These are vapid proclamations as we live the American dream both on the individual and corporate levels. The world is not fooled.

Here is what set me off today. FBC Dallas has been planning a massive building project-- massive to the tune of 130 million--for quite some time.  If you are interested in dieting and don't want to eat lunch, watch FBC's promotional video.  This is a kingdom unto the pride of man.  Recently, the Dallas Cowboys build a new stadium for 1.3 billion, At&T built a 350 million dollar preforming arts center and a 500 million dollar convention center hotel.  FBC is simply buying into consumerism.  They are not alone in their folly.  Most churches follow secular culture into the pit of materialism.  We spend gobs of money for new paint, playground equipment, iron crosses, bigger screens, and other similar crap.  All of this goes on a building which typically gets minimal usage.  Why should we have multi-million dollar childrens' facilities while children live in garbage dumps in India {not to mention all around the world!}.  Our denomination can't send missionaries and yet, we just keep buying into the American dream.

Do we really wonder why the post Christian generation doesn't want anything to do with church?  I can't say that I blame them...