Monday, August 07, 2023

Reconstructing My Faith: Worst. Church Service. Ever.

Carlos A. Rodriguez asked a simple question on Twitter (yes, I know, "X" - sheesh):

The responses are a chronicle of jaw-droppingly thoughtless decisions on the part of pastors and church leadership from churches across the conservative and liberal spectrum. I'll share a few highlights just to give you the flavor:
  • Christmas Eve. A cathedral. The associate priest preached the sermon which consisted of standing in the pulpit with two sock puppets and having them sing Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” to one another. 
  • Recalculating the rapture date (after a previous sermon apparently proved incorrect) like live, on stage. 
  • That Sunday the prescribed Gospel reading was when Jesus turned water into wine. And the priest made that the whole point of the homily. But to the extent of saying that Jesus was a drunkard. A friendly one. And that that part of the Gospel he loved most.
  • Once we visited a new church on Cinco de mayo and they had people get up on stage to get blindfolded and hit piñatas while Mariachi music played. The winner got a $50 gift card.
  • I had a pastor preach from the pulpit in front of the entire church but directly at me because I asked a question about free will vs predestination that he didn't like.
I have my own list of highly questionable church services:
  • the youth evangelist who decided to pound the heck out of the assembled teenagers about the Bema Seat judgement and how few of them were going to make it
    • note: preacher friends, scaring the hell out of people is a good way to get responses and a bad way to elicit actual meaningful spiritual decisions
  • the SBC pastor who decided that the best celebrity example of bad sexual decisions was Kobe Bryant when preaching to a church that was 99% white
    • cynical note: it's awfully easy to preach against sin when nobody in your congregation can identify themselves with a super-wealthy athlete of another color who lives half the country away from you
  • the minister preaching a funeral who admitted that (a) he didn't really know the deceased all that well, and (b) he was just going to let the Spirit lead... so he yammered on for 45+ minutes, mixing in 3-4 different "standard' sermon outlines into a meaningless ramble
    • note: preacher friends, "I'm just letting the Spirit lead" is spiritualized code for "I was lazy and didn't actually prepare for this opportunity to share grace, truth, and hope"
  • And, though not a worship service but a Christian concert, the one where the guest speaker in front of a ex-hippie Jesus People band told us about how he drove out into the desert and took off all his clothes in order to get closer to God
    • cynical note: I'd be concerned about sunburn and getting dirt/sand in problematic places, which would likely reduce my ability to feel close to God
Thankfully, those are the exception rather than the rule in my life. As I noted in an earlier Reconstructing post, my own church experiences were (mostly) healthy... which meant I wasn't shaken when I ran into craziness like ex-hippie or the guy jumpin' up & down (metaphorically) on the Bema Seat.

What breaks my heart is how these kind of experiences seem designed to alienate people from the community of faith. 

We have to remember that the people in the pews (or, in the case of the church I attend, the beat-up couches & upholstered chairs) walk in the door with real hurts and a desperate need for real community. They don't need their prejudices reinforced, their intelligence insulted, or to simply act as an audience for a communicator enamored with the power of a pulpit.

For me - in my very occasional opportunities to preach/teach - it's a reminder that I need to put in the work of study & preparation & prayer. I need to wisely consider who will be listening and how best to communicate Biblical truth in culturally relevant ways - relevant not only to me (at age 59, my go-to illustrations are likely to be a bit dated) but also to them. 

And, simply as a follower of Jesus, I need to be someone whose spiritual life is more than church attendance and talking about Jesus. I want to be more like Jesus - more loving, more peaceful, more patient, more self-controlled. Moreover, I want to want to be more like Jesus.

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