Saturday, June 18, 2011

The First Shall Be First and the Last Shall Be…Who Cares!

As many of you know, I used to be one half of the ministry team known as “Heart’s Desire”. For over nine years Scotty man and I traveled around the southeast singing our little hearts out and performing drama for lots and lots of folks. Throughout those years, I watched God work in amazing ways (despite my involvement) and met some really incredible (and a few not so incredible) people. Most of what we participated in was fairly okay in my book. After all, we did do our best to not bring shame on the name of Jesus or ourselves, and that’s a good thing! So, after it was all said and done, I can honestly say I was happy with what was accomplished. Indeed, I don’t think there were many things we participated in that would cause me to shutter with embarrassment, but there were a few!

Here’s a fine example:

One particularly horrific aspect of big conference youth ministry (for us it was “Super Wow”) occurs at the beginning of the first night. It is the opening “let’s get fired up for Jesus” time! Yes, even now the cold chills of shame and disgust run down my back just thinking about it.
The foul ritual went something like this:

Out walks some member of the conference team (usually some “cool” college kid that was obnoxiously loud, with few inhibitions) arms waving, and jumping up and down. He would then proceed to issue a challenge:

“Alright guys, we’re gonna see who loves Jesus in this place tonight! On the count of three, I’m gonna ask this side of coliseum to SCREAM as loud as you can, WE LOVE JESUS YES WE DO, WE LOVE JESUS HOW BOUT YOU!!! Then, I want the other side to see if you can SCREAM that same phrase LOUDER in return!!! We’ll find out WHO REALLY LOVES JEEEEESSSSUUUUSSSS!!!!”

And then, it would start. Back and forth, louder and louder until the heavens themselves reverberated with the passionate cries of thousands of youth, shouting out their great love and devotion for the Lord.

And I...wanted to puke.

Why? Well you see, it wasn’t so much what the kids were doing that made me “sickly”, but rather it was more about the message we were instilling in the hearts and minds of these kids.

That message of course being, Christianity is in many ways one big competition complete with winners and losers. Who are the winners? Those who can “out do” the “other guys”! Out praise, out sing, out evangelize, out love, etc. The good news is (sarcasm) the spirit of competition isn’t just limited to youth events. Nope, actually it can pretty much be found in every nook and cranny of the modern American church.

The result: We have generations of children (and older folks) being inundated (unintentionally I think) with this, “bigger is better” mentality about serving God. In the end it’s not hard to see why this mindset so permeates the Christian church today. It’s been going on for a long time with no end in sight. Bigger buildings, more programs, better preacher, all of which lead us to believe that we are somehow achieving success. And, if we can show up the guys down the street, even better!

It is at this point I would expect to hear replies (especially from the professionals) such as, “Our church isn’t like that!”, or “Our church is just about Jesus! We don’t play such games!” (One word: bologna!), or even “You can’t say that about us, we’re small!”

My reply: Sure I can!

Ask any “pastor guy” out there what question is asked most often (or close to it) at local and regional “pastor guy” meetings. If they’re honest, they’ll have to admit that it is the question, “So, how many you running?” You know, like cattle. “How many heads you got?” In other words, “Hey, do you have more people warming the pews at your place than I do?”

And just why do they ask this? The answer is simple!

They want to know how they’re doing in comparison with the “other guys”. Are they “winning” or “losing”?

You see, if you’re lucky enough to be “running” the most, YOU are “the man” and your “church is successful! If not, you know it’s time to go back and crack that evangelization whip on the rears of “your” flock. Could be, you need a fancy new building, or you might want to include a flashier "contemporary" service to reach the masses...for Jesus.

"Yeah, then we would look just like the "other guys" and we might take the pole position!"

Now would any of these guys admit to such shenanigans? Probably not, to do so would be completely “unspiritual” and we can’t have that! Don’t like the sound of this? Too bad, because I know it’s true. How you ask? I will reply with eight little words:

Over twenty years of being in “professional” ministry.

When you’ve “ministered” in as many churches and performed at as many “Christian” events as I have, it doesn’t take too many conversations with the good folks you meet to realize the truth. That being, that there is a dark thread of competition that runs deep in almost every “ministry” out there.

I know it’s hard to hear such things, but it’s true. Unfortunately, that is the very nature of competition. It is a fight for first place and bragging rights. The winners get to boast of their victory, or at least want to. While the losers, are left licking their wounds vowing to “get ‘em” next time around!

That may be fine if you’re taking part in some sporting event, but folks it’s not very Christian.

The fact is you just don’t hear that kind of talk in the bible. What you will find are many admonitions for unity. Yep, like it or not we Christian folk all play for the same coach and are on the same team. It’s no wonder the church is so ridiculed by the world. Why would anyone want to be a part of such dysfunction? We can’t even get along with and support each other?

“Not true Ken! We love our fellow Baptists!” “We love and support our denomination and pray for each other without ceasing!”


Well what about those wild and crazy Pentecostals down the street? Wanna have a joint service with them once a month? Heck no you don’t! Why? Because, they have “questionable” doctrine (at least that is the perception of many Baptists). By the way, the opposite of that would also be true (so don’t get the big head just yet my “charismatic” friends!)

I suppose I should say it would be the same for any other denomination out there. Methodists, “Whiskeypalians”…I mean Episcopalians, etc. We all think the “other guys” have...issues.

You may say you love other churches, but don’t pretend you want to be the church that’s lost all its members to the sister “we’ve got bigger and better stuff” church down the way. In my town that’d be Rock Bridge. I’ve heard more negative talk from more folks about that church than I’d care to admit and mostly from “pastor guys” and “church leaders”. Why? Well I’d say it is because they are perceived as being more “successful” than most other “churches” in our little town, and competitively speaking, that stinks! Now that doesn’t mean I am for them anymore than any other joint out there, but it does prove my point. If you deny such talk goes on in your own congregation, you are either living under a rock, or just enjoy lying to yourself and others!

1 Corinthians 1:10 says it quite plainly.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Notice the word doesn’t say, “a little healthy competition never hurts”. No it makes it very clear that the Lord desires that there “be no divisions” in His body. And unfortunately, competition has a way of dividing folks.

“But Ken isn’t that just a little bit unrealistic?” Sure it is! The whole bible is “unrealistic” if you expect “people” to pull this stuff off. It takes the Holy Spirit to do any of this. I suppose that is why the word states, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength.” And also, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Heck if you think that’s unrealistic, try these on for size!

Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

Matthew 20:26 “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

I don’t know about you, but that stuff sounds way unrealistic and quite difficult to me! So how do we accomplish such feats?

We don’t, He does!

Nope, you just don’t hear about “healthy competition” in the book. Again, what you do see is God calling us to do what we can to help our brothers and sisters move ahead even if we are left behind. By the way, that would include those of other denominations and doctrinal beliefs. Loving on people and supporting them does not mean you have to agree with everything they believe. It does mean you rejoice when they are successful and do what you can to support them. Why? Because, we Christian folk are ALL are parts of the same body!

Bottom line: Competition is not healthy for “the body” folks. It is detrimental to the work of God in the world and does squat to show His love at work in our lives.

So, if you find yourself in a big, big room being challenged to shout something louder than your buddy across the way, may I suggest you quietly excuse yourself...

And head to the potty!

Your time will be far better spent!