In honor of “May the Fourth” I sat down and wrote a few pieces about how the original trilogy compares to my opinion of the American church. This first one may come off as a bit “whiny” but no homage to IV, V and VI would be complete without some blonde haired punk complaining, “It’s just not fair!”
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Certain professionals are not in it for the spiritual. Certainly this statement must be qualified. I know many, many church professionals who have incredible faith and great integrity as they go about their work (both operational and ministerial). That being said, there is still a glaring issue to address. Consider the following facts:
- Christians spent more on the annual audits of their churches and agencies, $810 million, than on all their workers in the non-Christian world.
- Annual Church embezzlements by top custodians surpassed $16 billion per year or $5.5 million per day, which exceeded the entire cost foreign missions worldwide, according to this report.
Without a doubt, the frustrations related to ministry are very real in many churches. But there is something shocking behind these figures. I’m not sure what the justification is for stealing (low salaries relative to most other professional fields, extra long hours, lack of accountability structures, etc.). Clearly, something needs to be addressed.
“We don’t serve your kind here.” Ok, so this is actually a line from the Mos Eisley Cantina bartender to C-3PO and R2-D2, but it carries the point. Have you ever noticed all the Imperial officers are white guys with British accents? The Empire was essentially a humans-only club, with most others races enslaved.
Many American churches also foster a lack of diversity because disciples are raised in a context that is based on their personal preference. This produces a club mentality based on affinity groups where “neither congregations nor parishes are remotely close to approximating the diversity of wider society." Currently, people define their communities through leisure, work and friendships, not their locale. Because of the pervasiveness of the consumer culture it is most convenient for churchgoers to attend a church that caters to their kind of people. This is not only true for leisure-based affinity, but also of race and class. With the increase of alternate activities offered on Sunday mornings, churches have provided alternate times. The result: “a congregation of soccer moms and football dads, café churches, or cell churches, to name a few" (see above link). This further petrifies the networks that such people are already in to the detriment of other options for cross-contextual experience.
Darrell Guder reminds us, “We are not the 'haves,' the beati possidentes, standing over against spiritual 'have-nots,' the massa damnata. We are all recipients of the same mercy, sharing in the same mystery.”
“AAAAAAAARGGGGH!” (that’s the Emperor screaming) Take out the head leader and the congregation perishes: One guy gets tossed down a power shaft and the power structure of the whole galaxy goes haywire. Many churches would react very similarly.
John Lynch traced the concentration and organization of power throughout the history of the church. A common theme he depicted was the centralization of power into the hands of a few, which solidified a culture of fear from further schism. Lynch concluded that church authority must remove itself from an administrative structure that claims infallibility and claims its basis on the will of God. He argued the structure of the church is still hierarchical in nature, which contradicts the very nature of its original purpose to serve. As Darrell Guder said, it must “be open to those who are being served.”
In North America, the distinctive institution called the denomination expanded and restructured itself after the model of the American corporation, confident that it possessed the know-how to organize the continuing Christianization of American culture. Yet as a church organization grows, it approaches a limit of collaboration, decision-making, and relationship, where congregational members feel they relate to the person in a position of leadership. According to Peter Senge, this shifts the burden of responsibility and creates a cult of personality and weakens a community in which all members were meant to play a key role in organizational health.
Limiting participation in ministry reinforces the idea that few people are valuable. The underlying assumption: there are experts who know what to do. Tragically, this attitude also reinforces an understanding that there are professionals and consumers.
Further, without involvement, congregants are limited to armchair pastoring. If members become upset with the direction of their church leadership, blame is placed on those in charge, because there is no feeling of personal responsibility to affect change.
“There’s still good in you, I can feel it” Yes, Luke got excited about the force because Ben put a light saber in his hand. Yes, his first attempt at Vader was based on revenge. But, there’s always hope. Within the mess and mire, there are people who truly are trying to rely on the spirit and discern the next course of action. Yes, it is a tumultuous path, with many temptations and challenges. But concerning oneself with following the teachings of Jesus with integrity ultimately leads to a concern for others to experience redemption.
Achieving such an expression is impossible when reliant on personal or communal power. Cynthia Moe Lobeda suggested the motivation to do this rests solely in a relationship with Christ based on mercy and love, “As love and support are given you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones.” Recognizing oneself as such a “needy one” — the unmerited benefactor of value — allows the Christian to step beyond pursuing an identity based on self-interest and compels a life in service of others.
What do I suggest? A good hard look into our own congregations would be a smart place to start. Past that, I think I can summarize the complexity of bringing change by quoting the oft-besmirched wisdom of Wicket W. Warrick, “Yub, yub.”