Thursday, May 17, 2012

Going To Church Sure Is Different

I caught some flack over the article posted (What Has Happened to Churches) last week, and I’m sure to catch even more from this one. It seems that some readers didn't like having the "status quo" of their churches questioned or even compared to days gone by.  I received eMails (not posted on the blog for fear of revealing themselves) stating that "times have changed, and you need to get into the 21st century."  "Stop putting down churches that you know nothing about. You have never attended this church, so how can you dare compare it …" (That one sounds as if I really stepped on some toes.)  

I am not making these posts to demean anyone or their church but merely to show that "times have, in fact, changed," and it’s not necessarily for the better. The descriptions of the actions I speak of are a combined reflection rather than a precise characterization of any one church, so no one can say, “Ah-ha, I know where that church is” … “I know Ticker went there, and he is picking on them because …” Well, folks, it’s not true. However, if you see yourself or your church in this mix, then maybe you need to look at what is going on there and start asking questions. Sometimes, just a chuckle and a wish for the "good old days" is all one can do.

Last week, we offered a description of churches and how they had changed in even recent years. This week, maybe you will see your congregation. (I hope not but no doubt some will.)  Perhaps you have been in some churches where you weren't sure just who the "preacher" was until he stood behind the pulpit to speak and didn't sit down after making the announcements. Of course, these days the "preacher" is just as apt to sit down in a lounge chair or on a stool as he is to stand behind a pulpit. Some claim they don't want separation between them and the congregation, and I reckon that is all well and good if that is what it’s for.   

In times past, ministers wore coats and ties—suits, no less. Today, one is apt to find a "minister" dressed in jeans with holes in them, tank tops or tee shirts, and sandals or flip flops, all akin to what one might wear to a rock concert or some outdoor sporting event. It appeared bad enough when "Praise teams" appeared on stage in shorts, tight jeans, tank tops, or tops that showed more cleavage than a Vegas stripper, and wearing flip flops no less. But now the "ministers" are following suit. Stages appear more like a backdrop for a rock concert than a church service with flashing lights and "pop-up" ads on the screen where the words of songs usually appear. Ads for "workers to mow the grass next week" or reminders to give more money to such and such so the kids can have pizza, etc., etc.

Remember the days when the congregation sang from a Hymn book and most people knew the songs well enough that they didn't even need the book to sing along? If you had the old Baptist Hymnal, you knew that "Just As I Am" was number 186, and you didn't need the book for the “Doxology” or for “Holy, Holy, Holy,” which opened most Sunday Morning services. Now it seems that the songs change like the Top Billboard Hits and require a large screen so that everyone can sing along. Of course, that works out well for us older folks who need our bifocals to read the lyrics. But one has to wonder what happened to the little bouncing "white ball" that appeared on such sing-along shows as "Sing Along with Mitch" from the 50s and early 60s. The members of the Praise Team seem to be on a trampoline as they jump continuously to the beat of the sound. Exercise is a good thing, I suppose, and I can't say much about dancing since King David danced until his clothes fell off. Let's just hope that some Praise Teams don't get that carried away with their gyrations, especially in those strapless tops. Talk aout a stir!

The Sanctuary has gone from being “the Sanctuary,” a sanctified place, to “the Auditorium” to "the gathering place" to the "living room" to the "lounge," many of them complete with fresh "latte," which some try to balance while clapping and jumping to the music in "worship time.”  Not a thing wrong with a good coffee bar in the "vestibule" (do folks even call it that anymore?) for those who need that cup of java to jump start them and don't take time to make it on Sunday morning so as not to waste over half a pot. We have been in a few where there were tables, as in a cafĂ©  or lounge, where one could spread out and enjoy the "latte" or mocha or coffee in a relaxed atmosphere rather than in the pews. Some folks had their iPads or Smartphones on the table texting to who knows who during the sermon or maybe playing games if the sermon was a bit slow in developing. One preacher I know even lets people text him questions while he preaching. In some churches, you have to wonder if you are in a night club or a coffee house, and in some, there is little difference.

What about those fancy titles some preachers are using nowadays? Some still use “Reverend” in front of their name, but sometimes you  have to wonder, given that the definition is "1. a title of respect applied to the name of a member of the clergy or a religious order.  2. one worthy to be revered; entitled to reverence.” It would be a stretch for some to wear that name in the midst of a Christian "congregation."

Some are called “Minister,” which may be closer to reality, since the title denotes “one authorized to conduct religious worship; a member of the clergy.”  But even that is in question considering the lack of "reverence" within the place of "worship."

Then, of course, there are “Bishop,” “Most High and Exalted Esteemed Bishop,” “High, Holy Uplifted Bishop,” and other ridiculous titles and names given to so-called leaders in churches—by themselves as is usually the case—since few of them come anywhere close to meeting the biblical criteria for the title. In the old days, we just called ‘em “Preacher So and So.” It covered a lot of ground that way. Even if their skills in "preaching" were a bit lacking, they made up for it by being a good teacher, or even just a good shepherd of the flock.

One title that is steadily disappearing these days is “Pastor”—a clergyman or priest in charge of a congregation, a person who exercises spiritual guidance over a number of people, an archaic word for “shepherd.”

As has been said before, there seems to be little "guidance," or should we say “discipling,” in congregations these days and certainly there is little to no shepherding by “men of the cloth." Observance would say that it is because of the emphasis put on numbers—growth in attendance—rather than on disciplining or "shepherding."

In past times, the Pastor was the first to come visiting if someone was ill, in the hospital, or just in need, and the deacons and elders would follow up, whether necessary or not, because they cared for one another. Today, it is doubtful that those in leadership will even know when a member is suffering, much less take time for a visit. If you are lucky, you might get a mention on the "website" where prayer requests are posted.

Want to be missed? Miss sending in your tithe while absent due to illness, and you can be assured that notice will be taken. Of course, with today’s “online auto-debit giving" the funds will be automatically transferred from your bank account to the church account. So if you are sick, on vacation, or even dead, the money continues to flow in.

No, thanks, to these modern ideas. I'll just stick mine in the plate, in cash, with no name attached, just like the widow who gave her last mite in the Temple to the notice of no one except Jesus.

How about you? Have you noticed these things in your congregation?  Share what you see right and what you see as needing some improvement.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What Has Happened to Churches?

"In some circles, God has been abridged, reduced, modified,
edited, changed and amended until He is no longer the God whom
Isaiah saw, high and lifted up."

I read this the other day and knew that my thoughts on churches were not far off from this statement.
I have been in church for as many years as I can remember, starting as a small child who was taken to church every time the door was open. Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday night Prayer meetings were the norm, not an occasional thing. 

Most churches today do not even have Sunday night services, and many have forsaken Wednesday night Prayer meetings in lieu of "Cell Groups" that meet in homes, restaurants, or wherever those leading decide to meet. Many of these "Cell Groups" have turned into social groups and social times, rather than times for the study of God's Word and/or earnest prayer. There may be a short Scripture shared and maybe even a prayer for some special purpose, but the rest is social time. Admittedly, fellowship is important to the health of the body, but not to the exclusion of learning the basic tenets of the faith and discipleship.
Unfortunately, it seems that so many churches have themselves turned to "social clubs," and the quote above certainly applies. The songs elevate man and not God, lift up the good of man rather than the love, mercy, and justice of God. The "blood" is not mentioned in most churches these days, since many would feel "squeamish," or even offended, by such. So many ministers appeal to the carnal nature of man and his pride, focusing on the innate "goodness" of man and how they can "con" God into prospering them by giving to this or that cause. Their generosity then gives them the power to ask for the Cadillac, Mercedes, BMW, or Lexus to impress and show that "their god" is one who enriches you for your good works. 

If people of Isaiah's day, or less than 100 years ago, could hear today's so-called preachers, they would not even recognize that they were in a church. Personally, when I have attended some churches, I have had to wonder if I wasn't in a social night club instead. In some, there is not a lot of difference.  

What is your experience?