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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wake up and Smell the Turpentine

Ramblings . . .

I was told I should never go into any kind of counseling because of the way I wear my friends’ burdens as my own. Oh well. And, lately I have seen some of my close friends struggling with big things. Cancer. Divorce. Death. Abandonment. Losing jobs. Losing homes. You know, normal stuff.

Today, I am particularly hampered with a friend’s plight who has been a long-time comrade in ministry. He told me recently he is leaving ministry for good. Like many others before him as of late. His decision was not reactionary. It was a long-time coming. Still, this saddens me in many ways.

I don’t think his church has loved and encouraged him like they should. He has been overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated for years. Sad. I think he has made strides for the kingdom. Doubly sad we are losing him. He has great ideas in the ever-shrinking world of church ingenuity, originality and innovation. Again, sad.

Sad because we need him.

He is very positively aggressive in his love of the unlovely. He is willing to take risks. He has great dreams to move the church forward. He is involved in his community. He has people in his home constantly. He gives financially and emotionally to the church community in spades. He is likable. He is imaginative. All the things that the church needs. The big church. And, specifically his church.

That is the saddest thing of all to me. It seems the biggest reason so many are leaving ministry is . . . the ministry.

We are going through Thessalonians right now in Fusion and 2 weeks ago Dave shared some startling statistics about stress in the ministry. According to a recent study in Canada, the three careers that carry the biggest stress load are that of Air Traffic Controller, Pastor, and Prostitute.

So, we already have the most stressful career around and then it seems the plot thickens with internal affairs. From my observation, my friend’s growing disenchantment has been with a church that is unwilling to change (may actually be going back in time). And, most of the responsibility in this case falls on the leadership. Stop the madness.

His church is unfortunately slowly joining the ranks of a variety of churches that (in my opinion) look like Costco, advertise like Wal-Mart, manage like IBM, and hire like temp agencies. They offer a great variety of things to the church consumer that may keep them coming back but . . . so does Old Country Buffet. That isn’t necessarily a good thing in the long run. Even with the frequent coupons.

Artists have left the church in droves. Sometimes, I get calls or emails from some of my artist friends saying there "isn’t a place for them and their gifts in the church." One friend told me recently his pastor was going to make him take down a painting that was displayed because it was “hard to interpret and ran the risk of causing someone to go away confused.” The pastor let the painting remain after an explanation was given to the congregation of the symbolism, metaphor, color, and . . . “point” . . . of the painting.

I am angry and frustrated.

I recently had another talk with a person I respect in ministry over this “stripped-back-simple is better—just the essentials” (a quote from him that I don’t really understand) approach. Their problem with art and aesthetics in church boggles me. They seem to be responding to some kind of fallout of “tail wagging the dog” experience from their not too distant past with programming and art “getting in the way” or “distracting” people from God.

Along with this is some crazy idea that God does not want us to live in the world of tension and it is our job to provide them with all the practical answers they need (if possible, before the message is over), wrap it up with a song, and seal the deal.

Sidenote: never start a church or change ministry direction abruptly based on the appeal of a program or flavor you like better than your own or simply based on the disdain you have for your current philosophy until you have learned to deal responsibly with your emotions (run on sentence, I know). Reaction to ineffective ministry philosophy isn’t always bad but, in my experience, immediate reaction most often leaves collateral damage.

Back to the discussion . . .

It seems to me they are buying a lie. The lie is that God is a God of straightforwardness, simplicity, and . . . mediocrity. They are more happy with creating “art” (cringe) of the clipart and die-cut variety that robs people at arriving at intelligent conclusions on their own, asking pertinent questions, probing deeper, envisioning the spiritual landscape in the mind of the artist beyond what is hanging on the wall, etc.

This is frightening thinking to me. Especially because I wonder sometimes if God himself is not intentionally ambiguous to invite questioning and provoke us to ponder new insights.

This approach to church is like the guy I met recently who “reminded me” that “it’s all about the Word” and how “if God wanted us to use things like movies and art to convey his message he would have made the Bible a picture book.”

I can’t imagine how many people rolled over in their graves after that comment. Go back to sleep Ansel Adams.

This offends me on so many different levels—not the least of which is how this argument limits God to that of a written communicator. It also suggests that God’s word can’t compete with any other communication or art form when, in fact, any literature scholar and aficionado will tell you the Bible is one of the most well written, captivating, and compelling pieces of literature of all time— on it’s own –with or without the inspiration part of the equation. Rest easy my friends, no one has to be afraid of the Bible loosing the Celebrity Death Match against the Wachoswski brothers.

A little encouragement to those of you who are okay with tension, believe that God is a big “boy”, are okay with your art being a dialogue rather than a thesis, are okay with people leaving on a Sunday with more questions than when they came, and sometimes believe you are going crazy with all the ideas you try to convey through image and media because words just aren’t enough sometimes and you . . . to you artists, pastors, and artists who are killing yourselves working with a paintbrush (knife/clay/welder/pen/camera/etc.) in one hand and fighting off your own comrades eating off your other arm at the same time . . . keep going. God is smiling. We need you.


Anonymous said...

Wow dude, you really cut loose on this one, eh? Sometimes a field has too many rocks firmly planted in the soil to receive a plow...

Anonymous said...

I echo your frustration. Like your friend, I too have slipped out of the cage of corporate vocational ministry. I look back at my last five years and see that somehow the artist in me was slowly being sucked out until I woke up one day and realized it wasn't there anymore. I think I am on a path to finding that part of myself again.

Anonymous said...

dude... I almost bagged ministry earlier this year...a long story...

so...all that to say you hit me, in a good way, with your words...sigh

Bobby said...

I am sitting in my office, about to walk into my bosses office, to discuss my future here, and the future of the dream God has given me. I needed to know that i am not crazy, and that God values his dreamers.

Thanks bro...i needed that.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that! How dare we present a one-dimensional view of God and force him to live in that box we've created with our own feeble hands. Thanks for reminding us that we can't box God into our own understanding of Him. He is too huge, too magnificent, too multi-dimensional to be encapsulated inside of words alone. My dad thanks you too :)

Anonymous said...

Insightful! Here's a little quote form someone else who agrees: "In modernity, the ultimate intelligence of the universe was assumed. What was still unknown was ultimately knowable. Also assumed was the highest faith in human reason to replace all mysteries with comprehension, superstition with fact, ignorance with information, and subjective religious faith with objective truth. As a result, in modern times, narrative, poetry, and the arts in general (which yield softer, more impressionistic returns than science, math or engineering) took a back seat, or else they were asked to leave the car entirely to hitchhike on their own." (Brian McLaren from A New Kind of Christian)

Anonymous said...

wow bro, been a while since dropping in on your blog. and what a time to read this when we're embarking on "Sleeping Beauty" in fusion. man, i know what it's like out there in baptistworld lutherville or methodonia for the most part. am so glad we're part of a body that holds ipac values high.
keep on dreaming, keep on with the brush, chisel, pen what have you.

and thanks for being pastor, coriolis, friend.
... i feel a craving for a single malt!

...and i feel for those out there hitting their head on the wall.