Well, I haven’t blogged for a while and I’m preparing for Resurrection Sunday right now, but I had something inside I had to get out somewhere. This is as good a place as any…
I have a cousin who’s a finishing carpenter. He does high end work in big ticket homes and offices, and is a definite professional; he is a well trained, experienced artisan who earns good money because he does absolutely top quality work. I remember being in a renovated house years ago with him as the owner was showing it off to many people, and I noticed his eyes looking around at various aspects of the house: door jams, window frames, crown molding, etc. I noticed his subtle but sour facial expressions and was interested in learning what was setting off his radar. Later on, he commented on how several things were poorly finished and explained that the person, who had apparently paid top dollar for the finishing work, basically got ripped off. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t get too worked up about it because I see it all the time. Recognizing the shoddy work of other carpenters is just a by-product of my expertise, and I’m glad I only have to answer for my work.”
Seeing that I’m pastoring p/t and tent-making f/t, I don’t get much chance to go to other churches or see how other churches do things that I would love to learn to do better. I don’t get to hear anyone else preach except via mp3, and I don’t get a lot of exposure to other churches, so I tend to grab opportunities to attend other church services as time allows.
I recently attended an evening worship service, and I experienced something akin to what my cousin experienced. The worship music was well done but sadly typical in content; lyrically shallow and self-focused. I don’t expect much more from 20-year-olds who basically have little to no theological understanding; they did decent with what they knew. The played their instruments well and had practiced enough that they weren’t a distraction to the congregation. The music was definitely not what set off my radar.
The sermon, if you can call it that, was what set off my radar like an Imperial Star Destroyed over Area 51. The speaker started off with around 5 minutes of “I used to be such a sinner” stories (that, as usual, bordered on bragging), and stories how he went to Bible College to get straightened out but could find no answers to his questions when he discovered that absolutely everyone there had no problems whatsoever (i.e. they were all epic hypocrites, but he wasn’t). He then strung together a whole series of clichés and metaphors based upon other metaphors for 30 minutes that included such gems as “Dudes, God offers you real peace, not Yoga peace”, “somewhere in Isaiah I think it says… “(which it didn’t say), and “I know, I know, the Bible is boring!” (no kidding. First time I’ve ever heard that from a pulpit.). The essence of his message was that Romans 12 says that we need to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God, which means giving “our all” to God (which apparently meant getting “living instead of worrying about sin” – an idea he didn’t unpack at all), and NT Wright says that this means showing off the image of God to the world, which is our main job in the world. We do this by being salt and light, which means “pulling the God flavours” out of the people around us (“God flavours”. Honest. He also didn’t unpack that gem at all).
I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about the entire time, though I basically knew where he was trying to go. It was a straight up social gospel message about how Christians don’t “do it”, meaning that the true mission of Christianity is taking care of the poor and feeding the homeless, not the proclamation of the gospel. Not a new message, and not a biblical message at all.
Either way, it was the first sermon I’ve heard in a long time where the preacher actually referred to himself as “an idiot” and didn’t actually preach from any single text at all, but rather did “concordant eisegesis”, which is a big phrase that basically means “stringing together common English words in order to make a point that is foreign to any of the cited texts”. An example of this would be somehow connecting Exodus 7:18 and Matthew 4:19 simply because they both have the word “fish” in them. (i.e. The Old Testament says in Ex. 7:18 that “the fish of the Nile shall die”, but in Matt. 4:19 Jesus commands us to become “fisher of men” and save them from the Nile of this world…) Concordant eisegesis sounds wonderful and deeply spiritual, but only if you don’t think about it at all.
It was all I could do to sit still and not say something out loud when I heard him start going off about how the C&C aged crowd are too worried about sin and should stop being concerned with what they shouldn’t do but rather more concerned with what they should do (which he only explained as “living”…with no further explanation at all). He said that to a crowd of C&C aged singles. That’s usually their problem; being too serious about sin and righteousness. Sure.
I post this because I want to make an observation:
Certain aspects of church life (i.e. youth ministry, C&C ministry, city-wide worship evenings, etc.) are consistently proving to be avenues of ministry for people who we’d never give a Sunday morning pulpit to and wouldn’t appoint to serious church leadership (the guy speaking at the services wasn’t a pastor or elder from the church; he was simply a lay person who was “cool”). It frustrates me to see any people getting confused by being forced to listen to bad preaching, preaching that’s actually detrimental to their spiritual growth, because they’re attending a “second tier” church event. I’m guessing that the guy who spoke got the gig because other people weren’t available, or weren’t encouraged to make the event a priority. The older I get, the more I’m completely turning against the Youth Ministry training I have received. Youth pastors and other “second tier” ministers (children’s ministers, music ministers, etc.) are usually far less educated or theologically savvy than the pastor, and that simply because they’re not expected to be theologians or exegetes of any measure. They’re usually incompetent preachers, and frightfully weak exegetes and theologians, and the events associated with second tier ministries are often where most of the unbiblical ideas in the church first find expression.
Also, it’s fairly documented that North American evangelical churches are not hanging on to their children as they grow up and go through the youth and college ministries.
Could there be a connection between having the least competent pastors ministering to the most critical areas of church life, and the dwindling of evangelical churches?
I mean, are the youth, music and children’s pastors “elders” in your church?
If they’re not worthy of being in eldership, why in blue blazes are they in pastorship?
Just thinking out loud.
I’m glad I only have to answer for my work.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “elder and pastor” Unger