Thinking Out Loud

April 24, 2009

Church for the Wealthy: Saddleback Laguna Woods

front_gate

If your view of church is that it’s an equalizer; that there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

jim-casparSaddleback Community Church has planted a church in the middle of a gated communityLaguna Woods in Laguna Hills, CA — and no, you can’t visit.   Neither can the Mystery Worshiper from Ship of Fools, nor can Jim and Caspar go to church for a visit, unless they or you are invited by a resident on the inside.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this is a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast.    Still, there’s something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

I became aware of this through the blog called (wait for it…) Church Marketing Sucks and its link to Monday Morning Insight.    Before you jump to conclusions, I’d encourage you to read ALL the comments attached to both posts, since they provide not only opinion but further background information, some of which question whether gated communities should exist in the first place.     Still…

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Having listened to the arguments for and the arguments against Saddleback’s initiative, I gotta say, I’m at a loss for words.   I just don’t know,  if I was sitting in the conference room at Saddleback a year ago or whenever this egg first hatched, which side of the opinion spectrum I’d be on.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!


On the one hand, I want to applaud Saddleback for their inventiveness, for recognizing a particular people group some of which are retirees who don’t get out in their cars as often as they’d like.   On the other hand, I’m reminded of something that served the United States Evangelical movement perfectly well for the better part of the last century:  (wait for it…) Bus Ministry.   (In capital letters, no less.)   Especially with the main Saddleback campus only ten minutes away.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!


I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion, so the blog comment that Saddleback is just ‘following the money’ has some justification, at least on the surface. And I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation.   (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts?   If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem?   If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community”  from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.)   See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here.   Pictured gated community in Atlanta, GA    Persons priveleged to attend Saddleback Laguna Woods will be happy to know that free coffee and donuts are available both before and after each service.

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