Category Archives: Church

The Elephant in the Room

Thank you Pastor Bryan Loritts of Fellowship Memphis for calling a spade a spade.   In this video clip he comments on the ridiculous blogosphere response of some African American ministers who protested the appearance of TD Jakes in The Elephant Room.  Granted that Rev. Jakes has some controversial theological views (one of which he reaffirmed his reversal while making his appearance), but the amount of vitriol thrown Jakes way by some was ridiculous and quite frankly bordered on sin.  Newsflash to the haters – we all have some theological heresy in our belief system because theology (the study of God) is a human endeavor.   I applaud both James MacDonald to not bowing to the pressure and Bryan for calling people out who needed to be called out.

Does The Church Think Too Highly Of Itself?

I was once asked the question with no malice — does the church think too highly of itself? As though God’s work would stop in the absence of a stereotypical local church congregation seeking to grow its resource and attendance base, etc., because clearly there were examples where God’s concern for the poor, mentally ill, immigrant, and generally unkempt had not been a priority for many local churches. There seemed to be ample room for parachurches and non profits to fill the gap. Those organizations that direct all their resources to those specific needs; raise funds to target a particular segment, and run lean compared to most church budgets. Which is a more faithful analog of the church as God intended? And why would the latter be secondary to the former?

If you look at the roster of most church staff — a pastor, a worship leader, a children’s ministry person, a youth pastor, an administrator maybe and whomever else — do they serve a relatively homogenous, comfortable, consumer-oriented clientele? Or do they genuinely expand the kingdom? Do they uncover matters that cut to the heart like a financial counselor or a social worker or food pantry worker? Can they help in matters that Jesus addressed such as blindness, lame, and loose women? Or are they there just to make the church appealing to the next surburbanite family? I don’t mean to ask these questions with an agenda in mind, I’m just asking to point the question, does the church think too highly of itself?

This sentiment seems to grow in prevalence within circles of nonprofits and care providers that scoff at the church’s ability to meet tangible needs. Without the ability to meet those needs in a manner that exhibits awareness, sensitivity, and courage, the church has been relegated to the frou frou corner.

Why is it that the church seems far from the work of reconciliation? What is the disconnect here? Is it that we think too highly of ourselves? Or is there a division of labor that is truly constructive between church and nonprofit? If, as I’ve argued before that cultural intelligence is a near requirement for church planters, should we also expect them to know the basics of justice and compassion ministries? What do you think? What’s it like for your church?

Grand Opening! Grand Closing!

Don’t hate on me church planting folks. I’m a little annoyed and I’m about to break it down for you. Some of this is somewhat playful, some of it has some bite to it. But either way, I’m getting it out of my system. Hit me up in the comments if you’re mad.

I see a lot of books that talk about multiplying and planting and missional and all that, but I’m not impressed. Because those materials rarely discuss the principles of race, class, ethnicity, culture, and power. How are you going to talk about being a neighbor unless you’re going to talk about the the social, political and economic realities that separate you? How are you going to talk about evangelism as though it were culture-neutral? or class-neutral? The only people of color who buy into that stuff are people who are on the periphery of the ethnic enclave. Wanna bet? Ask that one African American dude who keeps coming to your church to bring the Black community to your church. Ask that Asian woman to bring some Asian flavor to your worship service. I’ll save you the trouble, don’t bother – a lot of Asian American worship services are more Caucasian than your parents’ church. That’s why you call your church multiethnic but ethnic people don’t call it that – that would be like Golden Corral buffet calling itself multiethnic. Fried rice and sesame chicken do not a Chinese restaurant make. Heck, and if they have it, Asian people can’t eat that junk and think of home cooking.

Church planting is sexy, I get that. But much of the training materials, and let me hit up on seminaries a bit while I’m at it, they still assume a Western, white, middle-class way as normative for doing, planting, and sustaining church. Why? Because people of color don’t do megachurches? Please, Jesus himself didn’t do megachurches. He did some big crowd feedings, I’ll give you that, but still, haven’t the demographics changed enough in this country that it’s a little bit presumptuous to still assume church should adhere to that now-uncommon denominator? I really feel like it has its limits unless you start catching my drift that the components of reconciliation — identity, class, gender, race, ethnicity, power become part of your church planting vernacular. Which is why I think that most churches are revolving doors of transient groups that straddle the line between emulating corporate efficiency or indie quasi-house church irrelevance. The rhetoric is all there and it’s all right, but there’s no cultural intelligence to back up those relationships.

Even churches that boast about multi ethnicity are usually specialists in just two ethnicities. A “missional” church is one that can limit its overhead but it stays in the sandbox of a jaded middle class. A great number of church plants is a shotgun approach that usually ends up in grand openings and grand closings that is birthed with an eye for demographics, but with no nose for foreign foods. There’s a problem there in church planting and until we’re willing to make sure that cultural intelligence, identity awareness, and power dynamics are understood as part of the basic foundational blocks to planting and sustaining a church, I’m not sure if things are going to really change.