Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Follow me" vs. "Sign here"

Sunday morning was not a good one at church. Lately, I have been arriving at 11:45, which is when the music is generally over and Pastor Daniel is about to start preaching. However, this Sunday I had spent the morning with Jess, reconciling a fight that we had. We sat by the lagoon at Humboldt Park and watched a beautiful variety of people walk by us on the path. By the end of our conversation, I felt a completely irrational hugeness in my heart for Jess, that park, the gorgeous Spring day, my neighborhood, the people in my neighborhood and my church for trying to encompass all of those things. Then, of course, I actually got into the church and all that bright beautiful hope fled.

It was fine for a little while. I sat with Jess while she worshipped and thought about things that needed thinking about. I also talked a lot with God. Mostly, we sort of thought back and forth at each other little snippets of ideas about music and the worship leader and what some of my options are. I know God is right in these conversations, but it's like a fun intellectual exercise to try to out-smart him or out-stubborn him. For now, the solution has been to skip worship time because I just cannot achieve any sense of reverence when the worship leader is up there. I remember too much hurt and anger about the way he has treated me. Also, the things he says are extremely hypocritical when compared to my experience with him.

For instance, he began berating the congregation for not wanting to be a part of the music team. He referenced how in January, 10 people had raised their hands to say they were interested but only two showed up at auditions. (Let's not mention that auditions were not held until 2 months after those 10 folks indicated interest.) When only two people indicated that they would show up for new auditions, he began to chastise, saying that the congregation had two options: to take ownership of the worship team or to let him continue to outsource to professionals. How offensive. I wanted nothing but to take ownership in the worship team when I was on it, but he absolutely refused any and all suggestions that I made. He admitted that members of the worship team had to do it "his way" but continued to use the word ownership to describe their potential participation. This is one of the key problems I see with this church. There is a lot of talk about leadership development, yet in most meaningful ways, the pastoral staff just wants volunteers to do the work they are directed to do. This is not "ownership." This is employment. And we're not getting paid.

The other contradictory thing the worship leader said that outraged me was that he demanded perfection. He said this in the context of admitting that he was hard to work with. However, my experience was that he didn't even demand perfection of himself. I never minded when he pushed actually practicing harmonies and performance. I've had plenty of tough music directors; I welcome the challenge. I didn't even mind when he made rules about what we would wear, even when I disagreed with it; submitting to authority means choosing your battles. Instead, I minded when he would spend most of rehearsal time figuring out harmonies instead of being prepared before rehearsal started. I minded when he wouldn't know before rehearsal started which songs we would sing on Sunday. I minded when he wouldn't start rehearsal until 30-45 minutes after the announced starting time or when he would cancel it altogether because there weren't enough people there. I minded when he would reprimand me for not following rules he never stated, like not wearing sneakers, always having a Bible with me in service or being sure to have offering every Sunday as a model to the rest of the congregation. Those behaviors are not indicative of a man who demands perfection, especially of himself. They are indicative of a man who expects obedience to his whims and calls that perfection.

So, needless to say, I spent much of the first half of the service angry. This feeling of defensiveness was not soothed when Pastor Daniel got up and spoke about membership. Now, I have already come to terms with the fact that I will never be a member at River City. I don't agree with numbers 1, 3 and 5 of the 12 doctrinal statements that one must agree to to be considered "in" at the church. However, as Daniel was welcoming the new members into the congregation, he discussed these twelve statements briefly. In doing so, he said that not only do members have to agree to these twelve statements but he thinks that one needs to agree with these in order to be a Christian. Now, it's possible that I was already tetchy from the worship time and so I mis-heard him. However, I said something to Jess about it and she didn't disagree with me about what he had said.

I thought that all you had to do to be considered a Christian was accept Jesus into your heart and make a covenant with Jesus to follow his teachings.

Apparently, you also have to agree to submit to the pastoral staff as spiritual authorities in order to be a Christian.

Apparently, you also have to believe that God doesn't speak in any other authoritative way than the Bible in order to be Christian.

Apparently, other people have to mediate the relationship that I thought was pretty mutually exclusive between God and myself. That silly Luther and his 95 theses.

I'm a little pissed.

I know that I have said before in calm and zen-like tones that I will accept the Evangelical assumptions that my church makes about how church should be done and seek out the good things that the church has to offer. But when the pastor doubts my actual status as a Christian from the pulpit because I don't agree with all of his doctrinal statements?

This past Sunday, Rob Bell described membership this way:
It is our goal that everybody who comes here on [Sundays] for one of the three services we do here would become a member . . . It's the idea of entering a relationship. It's not signing up for some sort of giant institution but it's being in relationship with a group of people who are headed somewhere. Our fundamental understanding of our faith is a journey that God has each of us on and then we agree to go on this journey together.

My church's view of membership is that before you can be considered "one of us," you must have already come a certain distance on a defined path. It is not about finding the path together. It is like a country club. You have to be like them before you can join. It is exclusive.

But Jesus is the epitome of inclusive. He ate dinner with everyone: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers. Zacchaeus did not have to agree to any doctrinal beliefs before Jesus included him in the group. Nor did any of the disciples, for that matter. Jesus simply said, "Follow me," and they did. They didn't know what they were signing up for. In fact, up until the very last day that they spent with Jesus and well into the time that they were starting the early church, they still didn't fully understand what he was teaching. I don't think that many of the disciples would have qualified for membership at River City.

I am meeting with Pastor Daniel for lunch tomorrow to talk about some of this. I think I return to my zen-like acceptance that I'll never be a member while still staying committed to the church. I hope that I can talk him down from believing that I'm not a Christian because of that.

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