Friday, September 14, 2007

Big Rock Stars

The other day I was dozing off on the couch while reading a book that a friend gave me to read which I admit was a little radical, even for me.

One of the slightly annoying things about having teenagers in the house is that they have this tendency to walk into a room, turn the radio on loud to a station they like, and then leave the room.

So with Nickelback playing in the background, I dozed off thinking about some thoughts from this book...

"A church organization nearly always takes on an existence of its own and begins to exist for its own sake."

"The institution makes us feel safe, secure, and sufficient. It gives us status, position, reputation, security, and identity."

"They turn a fellowship of believers into a business. Like corporations, they are management-based, profit-oriented, success-driven, client-friendly, program-focused, image-concious, and headed by a charismatic personality."

"Paul illustrated that all members of the body have a function. Nowhere does he remotely suggest that we are to get a private, non-profit corporation, name it, and solicit funds for it so we can be who we are in the body of Christ."

"The one with a ministry feels obligated to set up the playground in which we can play church, so that he can lead the rest of us in playing church."

"If the minister does not see himself as one among the bride of Christ, he will rape the bride by using her to increase himself."

"...these are the shepherds who seek to increase themselves in power, position, riches, and domination at the expense of the saints."

"Preeminence is that air of self-importance that makes them want to be top dog in the system, to sit on the platform in bishop's chairs, marking a difference between them and the people."

"They are preoccupied with building a kingdom for self rather than building the Kingdom of God. They build church systems and church buildings rather than people. Worse yet, they confuse the one for the other."

Like I said, a little radical.

However, now I have this weird mental connection going on between the song Big Rock Stars and some of the things I read and hear about church.

My husband was talking about the boss apostle from our CLB developing his pyramid network of churches and his plan for soliciting protection money support, and suddenly this tune was playing in my head...

"Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
live in hilltop houses, driving 15 cars..."

It doesn't get any better when I get on the internet and read blogs. At this point, I could give you 100's of links to excesses and abuses within the church that I've read about just this week. Do I really need to? You know what I'm talking about.

"And we'll hide out in the private rooms
With the latest dictionary and
today's who's who
They'll get you anything
with that evil smile
Everybody's got a
drug dealer publisher on speed dial
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar..."

When I read of extravagance and entitlement, I hear this song. When I read of self-importance, celebrity pastors, and one-man-show mega-ministries, I hear this song.

"Well we all just wanna be big rockstars
Live in hilltop houses driving 15 cars..."

Then I read the stories of those who have chosen a different path, who have chosen a journey toward insignificance and service, and I am encouraged that not everyone wants to be a big rock star. Many of these heroes are in my blogreader.

I know that we all get discouraged at times. We struggle with embracing an opposite value, living under the world's judgment that we really are insignificant, fighting our own demons of both insecurity and pride.

Yesterday, in his post I'm Okay With Small, Dan included this story about a little boy and a starfish. I had not heard the story before. It was encouraging to me, so I would like to share it with you. Be sure to read Dan's post also. You will be blessed.

"A person was walking the beach one morning and noticed a boy bending down, picking something up, and throwing it into the ocean as far as he could. Over and over he did it.

As the observer came closer he saw thousands of starfish the tide had brought onto the beach. The tide had receded and they would eventually die, so the boy was throwing them back into the water - one at a time.

The man finally says, "Son, there must be thousands of starfish. You'll never be able to get to all of them. You can't possibly make a difference."

The boy smiled and continued to pick up another starfish and toss it into the water. "It made a difference for that one," he replied."


dan h. said...

I'm glad this story encouraged you, Grace. I taped it to my wall yesterday. I hate it when I find myself dreaming of being a rockstar. Thanks for the reminder.
peace & blessings,

paul said...

it's a dilema isn't it, do we throw out church cos we know it can have its bad leaders? and replace it with what? our own system of self absorbed authentic church which is just as exploitive in its own way - i liken it to the reformation where we went from having one pope to the right for all of us to be popes :)

traveller said...

Grace, I do not think the quotes you provided are radical at all! They are very accurate descriptions of the institutional expression of "church". Of course, not all persons with positions of authority are raping the bride but many are without even recognizing it.

Paul, I would suggest the issue is certainly partly the leaders but much of the problem is the very institution or organization. As the book title clearly indicates it is the "system" or the structure, organization, etc. which is placed over the organism of the ecclesia that God intended. So, we are not throwing out the ecclesia (church) but we are walking away from a system, structure and organization that has been artificially grafted into the community Father intended for the ecclesia to be. This grafting in is like a virus that kills the real intended community which is energized and alive because of the Holy Spirit.

There is no doubt if we replace the institution with our organization it will be just as self-absorbed. The whole point is to be in community with one another through the power, energy and life of the Holy Spirit. It is not easy to escape the bounds of human created institution but it is well worth the journey.

Alan Knox said...


Radical? No. Hitting a little too close to home for many? Probably. The question that I keep asking, but few are answering is this: If your programs and structures and organizations are not allowing you to live with other believers and go out into the world as God has described in Scriptures, then why are you holding on to your programs and structures and organizations?


e. said...

So the institutional ones have bad motivation and hidden agendas, while all theese people on the new road are pure and fine in all their motivation?

traveller said...

alan knox, there are many reasons we hold onto programs, structures and organizations. They include we are comfortable with them, we do not have to actually relate to people just get them in a program, we, for the most part, do not know anything different, it is what we have been taught, etc.

This leads to e.'s point. While we can always find people with "good" motivations and "bad" motivations in any situation, I do not believe those in the institutions, in general, are "bad" or have "bad" motivations. They are as much a victim of the system as the people they minister to. Grace's story is a perfect example of how the system grinds up and spits out people. This is true not only of so-called lay ministers but those who are "professional" ministers/clergy.

This is not about "good" people and "bad" people. It is about how over many centuries the institutional expression of church has crept into our ecclesia and stifled the work of the Holy Spirit.

My heart, prayers and deep love goes out to those who remain trapped in this system.

Alan Knox said...

e. and traveller,

From your two comments, it seems that my comment did not come across as intended. This was certainly not meant as a condemnation of those within programs, organizations, and structures. In fact, those who follow my blog know that condemnation is the last thing that I want to do.

Neither was it my intent to suggest that doing away with programs, structures, and organizations would solve all the world's problems, or even solve all the church's problems.

Obviously, I did not do a good job of communicating my intentions. Please forgive me if I offended you.


Rainer said...

Radical? No... Honest and a bit painful for some to admit? Yes...

I agree with Alan's first comment.

Of course, there are good leaders within the institutional church, and misguided people outside the institutional church, but the institution itself often gets in the way of individuals doing what Jesus called them to do - and they don't even realize it. This applies to both the leadership as well as the church "attenders".

That's just my 2 cents worth...

CL said...

I need to read ideas like that. It is important to be reminded. In my situation right now we took an existing church and broke it down and are trying to build it back up. The struggle is not to let it embrace the ideas that are referred to by your quotes. It really is a wrestling match.

[rhymes with kerouac] said...

My job interview at the Mission consisted of one question. "How are you at toiling in obscurity?" I must have come up with the right answer, because I was hired. I walked out of the office, though, thinking, "What on earth was that?" Now - four years later, I understand. This is the question about ministry - the only question... Is it going to be all about you?

Paddy O. said...

I think the distinction is found in Philippians 2. The model of Jesus is to not consider equality with God something to be grasped, and so made himself nothing, humbled and obedient.

The model of so many churches is to see the pastors and the leaders as the symbols of God's authority. They see equality with God as something to be grasped, grasped through power, decisions, organization.

This isn't just true for institutional churches as those of use who have been burned by emerging leaders well know.

I think as the church takes up Philippians 2 as the ecclesiological hymn, as Paul seemed to intend, we will see a new freedom and growth, as we do see this in those places where the leaders truly are walking this path.

afaithreconsidered said...

It goes to show that the church has not changed since the beginning. It was just as dysfunctional then as it is now, perhaps more so, considering the scale.

What does Charles Elliott Newbold, Jr. recommend in place of the failed institutional church? What model does he propose which would be suitable for the 2.1 billion adherents of the Christian faith? Would this model be missional? Would it avoid the pitfalls inherent in any human organization or network, considering that we are sinful (but redeemed) people living in a fallen world?

How would he deal with the "iron law of oligarchy" which states that any political (or religious) system eventually evolves into an oligarchy, where all power ultimately rests with a small elite group? This law has eventually been demonstrated in every grouping the Church has ever formed from its inception. The emerging church movement is fighting valiantly to prevent it, but it will happen there too within one or two generations. When the prophets pass, oligarchy ensues.

Will an unstructured system of unaffiliated house churches be able to feed the hungry, to be an advocate for the defenseless, to be a powerful voice for peace in a world dominated by conflicts between the elite powerbrokers, be they in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, or the mountains of Pakistan?

Forgive me for going on like this. I just get tired of people castigating political or religious systems without proffering viable solutions to replace that which they desire to weaken or eliminate. All too often it seems that the true agenda of the critic is self-aggrandizement. The current political campaign season is a good example of this practice.

The cynic's first law of human behavior: A human being will always naturally seek to consciously or subconsciously enhance and protect his or her own self-interest. Sadly all too often this seems to be true in the church as well.

Lew A said...

This quote: "The institution makes us feel safe, secure, and sufficient. It gives us status, position, reputation, security, and identity."

This is so true... and so unfortunate. I think we all lived in the security of the institution at one point, and we all probably have a tendency to move towards it for our security. But true security only comes from God. I just hope that we can continue to remember Him through these things.

Great post Grace, thanks for sharing with us.

God's Glory,

The Pursuit Online Store: Christian Gifts, Shirts, Clothing, Apparel, and More for those who think

grace said...

Amazing comments everyone! I have to get ready for church. ;) But I'll be back this afternoon to respond to comments.

Fred said...

In some way, these are encouraging words. May God have mercy on us and keep us from building empires at the expense of building lives.

grace said...

I think that the tendency in ourselves is something we have to always be aware of, especially when we experience success.

I don't think we throw out church, but I do think that we take a hard look at a system that promotes and perpetuates this madness.

You explained that well. The system usually is an artificial entrapment imposed on the organic entity of the body of believers. I wonder if it is possible for us to organize without institutionalizing.

For the most, I think that people stay in the system because they have never questioned or thought about doing anything different. As you said, it is all most of us have known.

These were some of the more reasonable quotes from the book. I think that your question is very valid, and I hope that you keep asking it. I think you expressed yourself well.

Structure and organization aren't necessarily a problem unless they are hindering or perhaps are a substitution for true community and mission.

I'm sorry if the post came across as polarizing. I do believe there are some problems inherent to the system and structures we have adopted. I also believe there are many sincere and well-intended people serving within that system. The remainder of the post was to address the desire for fame and significance that rises up within all of us at times.

I agree with your 2 cents. I believe the system is especially harsh on leaders as evidenced by the widespread reports of pastor burnout and frequent leader scandals.

I certainly relate to what you said. In trying to imagine doing something different, our most common question is, "how do we avoid recreating what we have always known and been?" It is a strong pull in our own mentalities and also in the expectations of others.

You are one of my heroes, doing the real stuff in obscurity. When ministry is about the minister, we are headed down the wrong path.

paddy o,
Yes, when a leader presumes to speak for God, it is time to run the other direction. As you said, the leaders at this time will be those who truly lead in walking this path and serving in this manner. They are the ones to watch for and to follow.

Missional, as a value, would be a healthy adjustment because, by definition, it is about serving others. To be truly missional is antithetical to being self-serving.

I don't believe there is a fail-proof perfect solution. However I also don't believe that dismisses the validity of living out what we know and believe. I agree that, whatever that is, we will still fight against our tendency toward self-interest.

The institution can be a substitute for dependency on and relationship with the Father. Not that it always is, but it is good to be aware of our own religious habits.

A powerful and concise statement, what are we building? Our own empires or the lives of others.

Mike Todd said...

As long as we're on Nickelback, go listen to "If Everyone Cared" and juxtapose it against Rockstar.

As some would say, "That'll preach."