In my last position my desk was behind the customer service department in our office. I was kind of sort of but not really considered a part of that department because otherwise it was just me, myself and I in my own little department. So I spent most of my employee to employee interaction time with them.
Some of them are friends, some not so much.
For a while there was a woman in the front row who was very very Super Christian. But in an obnoxious way that grated on everyone around her. Because I am a terrible person I would occasionally bait her - not to start a fight but to try and draw out specifics of her beliefs. Partially because (like I said) I'm a terrible person. But also because it was completely obvious that this was a woman who had faith but little knowledge about history or theology or any of the things that I think are actually slightly important in any religion.
Here's the thing: it's apparently perfectly acceptable to just go, 'I have faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior' without having any freaking clue what that *actually* means. I have a friend who, until a couple of months ago when I told her, had NO IDEA that Jesus was God in Christian theology. She didn't believe that Jesus was God's son in the say, Zeus/Hercules manner but she also didn't know that Jesus is believed (in Trinitarian theology which is the branch that she theoretically belongs to) to be a part of a Trinitarian God. And this isn't just an isolated case - I know that there are more people out there who claim to be Christian that know mostly bupkiss about the history of the church (including Jewish history since that's what Christianity came out of - my God, how many people are *shocked* when they hear someone say 'Jesus was Jewish' or that he wasn't a blonde haired blue eyed Caucasian!) or the basics of theology.
They parrot 'Jesus died for my sins' or 'I am covered in the blood of the Lamb' and that they have a 'close personal relationship' with Jesus. But they don't know anything else. They follow their pastors because the pastors have personality or they preach a message that offers these people wealth and happiness.
And this hurts me and I can't stop poking at it when I see it.
It makes my head hurt. Seriously.
*looks at these people* HOOOOWWWWWW?????
Which is a really round about way of getting to this book. It was when this woman was trying to explain to me how her church was not a denomination but also not non-denominational and failing and also how her 'pastor' never went to a seminary but just 'felt the call of God' and started this church. She was reading this book and told me how this was their church model and this would explain it all. So I threw it on my wish list and figured I would get around to it eventually. And then I got it as a present for Christmas! :D
So it is, essentially, an exploration of how Stanley's church, North Point, works and the author/pastor trying to show other pastors how to apply their methods so that these other churches can have the success that North Point apparently enjoys. It's one of those megachurches and therefore I have automatic disdain for them I'm prejudiced, okay?
Since I'm not a pastor or interested in being one there was a lot of the book that while interesting was not really relevant for me. Which is not the fault of the book I'm just not the target audience but I went in knowing that. Still, it's very interesting to see the mentality of these people laid out.
"God responds to our private acts of righteousness. Jesus uses the term reward to describe his response. Ever had an answer to your prayer? What happened to your faith?...That person's faith got bigger, didn't it?
"The same thing transpires when individuals begin giving for the first time. Percentage giving is an invitation for God to get involved in our personal finances. The percentage isn't the issue. I tell new believers to pick a percentage and start there. The point is to learn to trust God financially. When people experience God's faithfulness in the realm of their personal finances, their faith expands. Money loses its grip. They are no longer possessed by their possessions."
"On the giving side of things, we are very upfront with the importance of what I refer to as priority, progressive, percentage giving. Priority as in: give first, save second, and live on the rest. Percentage as in: choose a percentage and give it consistently. Progressive is a challenge to up the amount by a percentage every year. While I'm a big believer in tithing, people who have never given away a percentage of their incomes are not going to begin with 10 percent. Sure, some will. But if you are going to teach people to tithe, you may have to start with some baby steps."
While Mr. Stanley purports to be against the prosperity gospel that so many of his megachurch/evangelical tv personality peers preach (and I don't know enough about him to gainsay this so we'll take him at his word) I find these passages trouble me.
On the one hand, the emphasis on giving before making sure that you have enough money to cover your bills or emergencies is just...not smart. It's not. I don't care that that makes me seem like I have less faith than those who just throw their money at a church or a Christian charity or whatever and trust that God will take care of them.
I'm a big believer in that old cliche, 'Trust God but tie up your camel.' There are so many people who have incredible amounts of faith but haven't got a pot to piss in. Because, in part, they haven't used the brains and the resources that God gave them to make their lives liveable. Meanwhile megachurch pastors and televangelists have million dollar homes and are asking their congregations for more and more and more. The disparity between the religious leaders of our day (and leaders of the past as well) and Jesus should be impossible to ignore. He did everything that he did with nothing.
'Well, but he's God!'
Maybe. But the people of his time didn't know or believe that. They followed him because of his message and because of how he lived out what he taught. Not because he had the nicest ass in Jerusalem or his robes were the best or his sandals blinged out.
And on the other hand, these passages and other parts of this book have just driven home how much of a business religion is. It's all about getting people into your building so that they can give you money so you can keep doing fancy programs and nicer surroundings and this that and the other thing so you can attract more people so they can...and the only people getting anything consistently out of this are the pastors at the top who seem to get rich in these set ups.
I mentioned something about this last night to Heather and she pointed out that this is why so many people are people of faith but no religion. But that's only a temporary solution in my mind. It's *hard* to have faith and no people around you who share in and support you. Humans are herd animals at heart. We want to be with others like us. We need human contact. How long do you think people last without a community to support them?
Faith leads to religion and religion in modern times is a business.
And oh, hey, remember that rant at the beginning that I was like 90% sure had nothing to actually do with the content of the book? Heh. I totally forgot this line:
"I'm partial to hungry, ignorant Christians myself. The kind who are content to love Jesus and the people he died for."
Love is awesome. Whoo! I would much rather have Christians running around showing love to everyone rather than judging them by standards that they themselves don't even live up to. Which seems to be what a large portion of Christians do these days. But it's the 'ignorant' part that kills me. Ignorant Christians will swallow anything that a charismatic pastor tells them and assume that because he can find a verse in the Bible that seems to back him up that it's all good.
I can't stand ignorance.
Also, if you love someone, don't you want to know more (everything) about them? How can someone love Jesus and be content with ignorant?
One of the things that really grates on me that has less to do with theology is the fact that his church makes people make a three minute video before they're allowed to be baptised. This video chronicles this persons journey to the point of baptism and I guess hearing the convert story is uplifting but I'm just putting myself in that place and knowing that I would not do it. I would leave and find a different church rather than do that because my story is mine and there's a level of forced soul barring involved here that I don't like.
There's also the tie in that they do the baptisms directly before they start asking the congregation for money. Emotional manipulation right before an appeal. 'Look at this trick I performed! Give me more money so I can keep doing it!'
I do think that some things could be learned by churches from the care that this church takes in making sure that they're always ready and aware of their guests. From the descriptions that are given the staff goes out of their way to pay attention to first time visitors, to bring them into the congregation with that first visit.
Most churches (all the ones I've ever visited) don't do this. They may ask if they have any first time visitors (not all of them even do that) but that's about it. I can't tell you how many churches I have walked into and out of without anyone even saying hello to me.
Actually, funnily, the only place I've ever been acknowledged or asked if I was new was at the local mosque. To be fair it's a small community so I think I stood out but the simple fact of that one man stopping and asking me if I needed help or direction *did* make a good impression.
So, all in all. Well written book and I believe that people who followed this model would have successful modern churches. They're just not churches that I would attend or have any interest in. And it's kind of made me sad, reminding me of how impossible it is to have a faith community free of the business-model kind of religion we have today.