Thinking Out Loud

December 13, 2010

How Not To Run a Youth Banquet

When it came time to sign up for bringing food to the youth Christmas banquet, there was no need for my youngest son to deliberate.   He loves Caesar salad, and loves it done right.   Furthermore, he’s taken a culinary course, he’s worked a paying job in the food services industry, and he also comes by his kitchen talents through hereditary factors, given that when I met his mother she was the food services director of a Christian camp.

So when he was preparing to take his salad to the church, he was very careful to pack the ingredients individually — the bacon bits, the croutons, the lemon wedges and the dressing — to be tossed just before the banquet began.

Instead, he found the kitchen occupied by some older women he didn’t know who assured him that they knew what to do with a salad, and told him to, “Get out of the kitchen.”

Strike one.

His table was the third one called up to the serving table, and it was at that moment he was horrified to discover that instead of mixing the bacon bits, croutons and dressing, they had simply placed them randomly on the table; but the lemon wedges were scattered throughout the greens, making the whole thing look like a lemon salad.

Strike two.

At that point, I would have set my own plate down and done what needed doing, but he was so devastated by what he saw that, like a deer caught in the proverbial headlights, he didn’t quite know what the etiquette was for a moment like the one he was experiencing.

So…his salad was not received with the enthusiasm he expected, and this is a kid whose feelings can be somewhat fragile.  But he decided to just carry on as if it wasn’t happening and enjoy the rest of the meal.   When it came time for desert, he discovered his bacon bits were still being offered, and in fact were experiencing a new-found popularity.   Apparently the kitchen crew didn’t know what they were.

Strike three.

When he went into the kitchen to gather up his left0ver salad, he discovered that they had thrown everything in the garbage.   Good, edible food; prepared in love and submitted — in addition to a $10 admittance charge — by a family that buys 90% of everything we eat from the discount food shelves because we don’t actually have a normal food budget.   By this point he was mortified.

Strike four?

We’ll come back to this story in a minute.   Believe me.

The rest of the banquet had some good moments.   Kid Two (aka Kid, Too) has a great attitude and can always find the full half of the glass.   But when he got in the car he had to vent his frustration and anger, and so that the night didn’t end with just ugly memories, we went for a drive to the town park where they had a number of Christmas lights set up, and walked around the display for about ten minutes.     Yes, I know; great parenting move.

Now then, back to the banquet.

How is that people who lack basic interpersonal skills (“Get out of the kitchen”) and lack basic culinary skills (not knowing how to toss or serve a salad), and lack basic Christian stewardship (throwing good food in the trash) come to be in charge of the kitchen at the youth banquet?   Did nobody else volunteer?   Could the youth not have staged their own banquet without adult supervision?

This sort of crap happens far too often in local churches.

Sunday after Sunday, Mrs. Green sits at the organ with two hands and one foot playing what sounds like entirely different sounds.

Week after week, Mr. Black makes a display of ushering on the west side in a manner that is totally distracting, seating people in the front row during solos and prayers and the sermon, and totally distracting people from the act of worship in the process.

Service after service, Mrs. Jones puts up the lyrics to the wrong songs on the PowerPoint screen, or worse, seems to inexplicably fall asleep (or something)  in the middle of a song leaving the screen locked on the second part of the second verse, and the audience standing with shrugged shoulders and nothing to sing.

Does nobody care to give their best to God?

(Let me add, parenthetically, that errors do happen.   I spent the better part of the week of November 28th beating myself up over missing a cue on an instrumental part in a Sunday worship service; and there are two errors in our music video which nobody else would notice, but they drive me nuts.)

There has to be allowance for the fact that people aren’t perfect, and the church has to be a place of grace, and God’s people agents of grace.   However…

It’s time to consider the need for confrontation.   So I have provided here, for your use, some phrases you can cut and paste and send off to Mr. X or Mrs. Y. in the hope of reclaiming the pursuit of excellence:

Dear __________,    It has come to our attention that you can’t really sing.   Your pitch is terrible, your song selection is most often totally inappropriate, but most important, the world has changed and the musical and lyrical expectations for church music have shifted somewhat as well.  Thank you for your help in the past, but now we’re going to move on.

Dear __________,    It’s true that gas was once 49 cents a gallon, there were only three television stations, and you actually shared your phone line with another family through a ‘party line’ system, but this is now and the junior highs are tired of these stories, and don’t quite get the point.   We’ve hired a part-time youth worker who will be taking over the group next week.

Dear __________,   It’s not easy being the church sound engineer, especially when people keep craning their necks and looking back every time there’s a glitch, but in fact there’s been a lot of glitches and a lot of neck craning lately; the mics are never turned on in time, or it’s too loud, or you can only hear the alto and tenor parts when the trio sings, never the melody.   We’re going to offer this job to someone else in next week’s bulletin.

Dear __________,  For twenty years our children’s ministry has been defined by your presence in the Toddler room, but with the passing of time we think that what was once a labor of love has become a bit of a chore; especially given our recent insight that all the children in the room are totally frightened of you.     So if you don’t mind, we’d like to pass the baton to a series of helpers and invite you to simply enjoy the service in the main auditorium next week.

Dear __________,   There’s nothing worse than going to church and then leaving and in between nobody spoke to you; so we appreciate your years of frontline ministry as a door greeter.    But as the first person people meet when they attend church for the first time, the job unfortunately carries with it a responsibility for setting the tone for the whole image of the church.   We’d like to change that image up a bit in the weeks to come.

Okay, maybe these don’t sound very nice.   Maybe they can be improved on.   Maybe they can’t.  Or maybe there isn’t a nice way to deal with musicians who can’t play, Sunday School workers who scare the kids, or kitchen help that can’t keep the banquet dinner rolls warm without burning them.

I just hated to see my son in the situation of being hurt, horrified, mortified, devastated and having his favorite food insulted.    Hurting feelings is dumb, and as I’ve written here before, the things done in church kitchens matter more than anyone realizes.

December 7, 2010

The Schuller Family: For Greater Contrast, Skip a Generation

See info below re. these pictures

This blog has already been both a news source and sounding board for the continuing drama at the Crystal Cathedral that I am in two minds about this particular blog post.

However, Nicole Santacruz at the L.A. Times has written such a definitive article — even after it seems so much has already been written — that I cannot help but link to it here, and also respond to it.

The article begins not with the juxtaposition of Robert H. and Robert A., but skips a generation and looks at the contrast — and perhaps a few similarities — between Cathedral Founder Robert H. and grandson Bobby, who pastors The Gathering, just a few miles down the road.

The third-generation Schuller hopes to do what the landmark — and now bankrupt — Crystal Cathedral has apparently failed to: evolve with the times.

Bobby’s church, The Gathering, takes a low-key approach to worship. Sunday’s services aren’t in an opulent church. Young band members open the service, and it’s intimate — people don paper name tags and shake hands. All of these elements represent a “post-boomer” style of worship popular with 20- to 40-year-old Christians, said Richard Flory, a sociologist of religion at USC.

But the article goes beyond mere color commentary; here’s a take on the big glass church in Garden Grove:

“They are totally outdated,” Flory said. “They are so committed to a plot of land and a building, and they’ve got a problem.”

And this look at the annual “Glory of Christmas” pageant:

The Christmas production would begin to signify a culture of extravagance within the church: More than a dozen angels in white chiffon flew overhead, professional singers replaced volunteers, and live camels and donkeys took the stage.   (Emphasis added.)

And this interesting sidebar, a revelation about a production few of us had heard of:

[I]n 2005, Carol Schuller Milner, the third Schuller daughter, produced a multimillion-dollar pageant called “Creation,” which was poorly attended and never staged again.

Robert A.’s daughter provides some good insight:

“When you have a dynamic where faith, fame and family are all involved, it becomes difficult to prioritize faith,” she said. “Instead it becomes part of this mixture of family dynamics and fame dynamics.”

And the article also raises another issue, one being dealt with by multiplied numbers of churches:

“I think it’s true that any congregation has to figure out how its style of ministry affects more than one generation.” said Wes Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary for the Reformed Church in America, the denomination to which the Crystal Cathedral belongs. “You see evidence of that in Bobby’s service.”

Bobby, who’s now 29, gets the last word:

Bobby Schuller is an innovator like his grandfather, but the way he delivers his message of Christianity is drastically different. The stereotypical church, he said, is about a perfect building filled with perfect people, music and a perfect preacher.

“In other words, it’s not like life,” he said…

…Volunteers set up for the service each Sunday and take down the chairs and tables that afternoon. When the work is done, they all go out for pizza. More than 90% of church funds go toward social justice issues such as homelessness and domestic violence.

“Our goal is to make big Christians, not big churches,” he said.

There’s more to the L.A. Times article.   I’ve excerpted a few sections here only because many of you don’t take the time to click the link, but hoping you will, here is the story link again.

Recent coverage here of the Crystal Cathedral saga:

…and also…

  • Wednesday Link List from a few days ago, with the link to a very recent, unscheduled TV interview Robert A. did with 100 Huntley St.

About the photos:   I decided we needed a different kind of photo of the big glass temple, and in searching for an arial photo, came across this one from Google Earth that had been posted at the site Sacred Destinations, and decided to take a chance on the copyrighted photo as well.  (If it’s not there, I lost that battle!)   I got to visit the original Garden Grove Community Church in 1979, and then my wife and I did the larger facility in 1989.  There are additional photos and story at that website.

November 17, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Probably the most mixed-up link list ever posted here.  If this is your first time; please check out last week’s!   And though I don’t have a specific link for it, today is the 40th anniversary of the live recording of the Elton John album, 11-17-70, which, at the very least, gives us a nice graphic.  (Note to U.S. readers: note it’s actually 17-11-70, the right way to do it.  Smallest to largest, get it?)

  • Starting in a different place this week, we go back to October’s Catalyst conference, where Craig Groeshel spoke on the generational tension that can exist in some churches, both large and small.  Kent Shaffer at Church Relevance summarized this well, and also has similar thumbnails of the other main conference speakers.
  • Julie Clawson fuses the Eucharist with a different interpretation (or explanation) of Jesus feeding the 5,000. “We were asked to share whatever we had with us–gum, granola bars, soft drinks, Goldfish, Altoids. The table overflowed with abundance, which we served to each other.”  Check it out at One Hand Clapping.
  • This was also linked at Christianity 201 on the weekend, but should be seen by more people, even though it’s written primarily to pastors.   Skye Jethani on the Ten Commandments of Scripture Interpretation.
  • This is a longer one, but it’s a must read.   On the weekend iMonk ran a classic from the late Michael Spencer on the Archie Bunker mentality.  “Archie loved an argument the way most people love dessert…” “I’ve decided that Archie Bunker is the patron saint of Christians who can’t stop making their point…”   And this one, my favorite:

    “I meet Calvinists who have no control over their need to make all Biblical discussions turn into debates on predestination. There are young earth creationists who hunt down anything that smells like a less-than-literal view of Genesis one and label it evolution. Pentecostal/Charismatics have all varieties of little brothers of Saint Archie who can’t stand it that someone isn’t riding the latest wave of the Holy Spirit into last days revival. Seminary students who can’t understand why there is anyone refusing to read N.T. Wright, and hand-wringers staying up nights writing letters to people who do read N.T. Wright.”

    You can read it all here.

  • And while we’re in a mood for ranting, we couldn’t not share — the above piece notwithstanding — this piece where John Shore lets out his frustration over people who tell him what to think.  He calls it Church Authority Smurch Smashmority.
  • Matt Appling visits a touring art installation based on Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution in China and ends up considering this particular piece entitled The Execution of Christ.
  • Don’t know how, but my wife stumbled on an interesting thread of articles all having to do with an obscure brand of medical products we’d never heard of: 666 Cough Syrup and other 666 cold remedies.  In this link, a customer is on the phone with a customer service rep trying to get them to see the other side of this; “But I mean it’s not, like, ‘665’ or ‘667.’ It’s ‘666.’”
  • Okay, with a few exceptions, there’s not a lot of depth or substance to this week’s list but in case you’ve missed the fun people have been having for the past month at text-to-video site xtranormal.com, here’s one of the best:  How To Plant a Church.  And The New Music Minister.   And The New Youth Minister. (Don’t get confused that they’re all wearing the same shirt; this ain’t Veggie Tales.)
  • For a more serious take on church planting, check out Nancy Beach’s recent observations.
  • Our cartoons this week are from the UK: Jon Birch’s popular The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus.   It’s been so long, we should explain that the acronym stands for the British term, Anti Social Behavior Order.   ASBO is always thought-provoking and often controversial.   Click the images to link.

October 15, 2009

Encouragement, Not Condemnation Needed

I am convinced that one of the biggest mistakes we are making in the church is not empowering, elevating and resourcing the next generation of leaders within the church.  Whatever happened to what we once called “Paul-Timothy” relationships?   Today, it seems things are downright adversarial.

I say that not as a 20-something, or even a 30-something, but as someone who is speaking from a greater number of years experience in the church than your average blogger.

Slight digression:  There’s a guy in ministry with whom I would have frequent conversations.   One time we were talking about the difference that exists between the conservative churches and the liberal churches in our community.   He said something like this:

‘If there’s a familiar Bible passage and the common interpretations or applications of this passage might be numbered #1, #2, #3, etc.; the evangelical churches tend to preach on one of these first three subjects, but the mainline church will read the passage and then go with interpretation or application #7.’

One of the problems we are facing today is that Evangelicals have always read the Bible as a set of doctrine propositions, and a new generation — yes, I’m back to that topic now — are reading it as story.   Embracing the narrative to which both Eastern ears generally and also first century Christians would be more readily tuned to.

In other words, reading the Bible in ways that we’ve missed.   And applying it to the felt-needs that the average 21st century Joe or Joanne can articulate.   The things they think are what matters or what is important.   In the terminology that they use.

And the Bible, being living and active (and sharper than a double-edged sword) is going to speak to the needs of all people in all places at all times.   (You could almost say it won’t bounce back off the walls with an empty echo.)    In other words, we don’t need to make the gospel relevant, we need to communicate the relevance it already has. The robed and sandaled carpenter and itinerant teacher has something to say to our high-tech world.

The problem is, the people of a previous generation don’t get it when next-generation leaders speak to their tribe.    They listen to the words that they can’t possibily ever hope to process and say, “That’s not application #1 or #2 or #3.   That’s #7 or even #12 and it’s a million miles from the central message of the text.”

Let me say this to the critics as respectfully as I can:  Maybe they’re not talking to you.   Maybe you’re eavesdropping on a conversation you were never invited to be a part of.  (And remember that I’m saying this as a blogger who is measurably older than most.)

I don’t endorse 100% of every word spoken or written by every young pastor or author I mention or review here.    Let me be honest, I hear and read stuff that makes my eyes bug out with surprise.   But then again, I’ve sat and listened to sermons delivered by some of the most respected names in conservative Christianity and heard things that simply should not have been said.    I’ve heard things passed off as fact that were merely opinion.   I’ve heard jokes that were inappropriate for Sunday morning.    I’ve heard conclusions that were illogical.   I’ve heard points of doctrine that contradicted points made five minutes earlier.   I’ve heard bad exegesis, bad eschatology and bad hermeneutics.  However, I didn’t go on public forums and trash those respected pastors or authors.

But I know that in listening to some of the younger voices in the breadth and width of the faith movement we call Christianity,

  • I’ve been inspired to read more Bible, more commentary, more discussion;
  • I’ve been made aware of things in both the Old Testament and New Testament that, despite growing up in the church, I had never heard preached before;
  • I’ve become more passionate about my personal faith;
  • I’ve become more willing to pray bigger prayers, not in a charismatic sense but in the sense of believing in a God who is able to do, as He wills, the things we would consider impossible;
  • I’ve become better able to articulate the truth and beauty of scripture to seekers and new believers;
  • I’ve been inspired to try to do more to make a difference in the lives of those who are hungry, both in terms of our local weekly meal project and in terms of doing some alternative giving at Christmas;
  • I’ve been stretched in my understand of who God is, who we are in Christ, what The Church consists of and is meant to accomplish;
  • I’ve been witness to people who are so intentional about faith and witness and being serious about communicating the love of God and the need for salvation, that it consumes their every waking moment;
  • I’ve been refreshed in my spirit in hearing things said in new ways with new energy to people who otherwise would never give attention to anyone who mentions the name, Jesus.

And I owe all that to pastors and teachers and authors and bloggers who were or are, for the most part, under the age of 35.

Oh yeah, and thanks to all the trashing they’ve had to put up with from the older generation because they lit a few candles, or dressed casually, or refused to use certain words and phrases,

  • I’ve become sharper in my discernment; separating truth from lies, yes, but also separating what matters most and what really counts from what creates division and what is said in hate.

To you under-30s or even under-25s who are just starting out in ministry:  Go for it!   Study.   Aim for God’s approval.   Correctly and accurately handle God’s Word.    Then say it the way it needs to be said to your generation, in your location at your place in time. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold, yes; but also don’t let the church force you into its mold, either.

Do that, and I support you.

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