Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Church Impossible or "To See Ourselves as Others See Us"

Okay, I've become addicted to Restaurant Impossible, a kinder and gentler version of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.  The premise of the show is this:  celebrity chef Robert Irvine sets out to save a failing restaurant, given just 2 days and $10,000.  Often what you see makes you never want to eat in a restaurant again.  Dated decor, filthy kitchens, uninspiring food (often from cans and without such basics as salt and pepper), vermin, surly owners and unsanitary food storage.

It makes you wonder, "Can't these people see this?"  The truth is, quite often, they cannot see it.  Why?  They are so immersed in it.  It is their world, seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day.  Even if they wish things could be different, they have no idea how to make them better.  They need an outsider, an expert, to come in and show them the way.  Usually, what Robert finds is by teaching them a few techniques, giving them a new start, and a few pep talks, he can transform a restaurant. At the end of each show, they give a brief update from three months later.  What would be more interesting is how the restaurants are faring a year or more down the road.  Were the restaurateurs really capable of change, or will they fall back into familiar yet ultimately destructive habits?  Several of those he tried to save have indeed closed.

I have remarked to my wife that it would be great to have a Church Impossible --someone to come in from the outside and look at the facilities, the worship, the decor, the culture and demeanor of a church and its pastor.  The result would no doubt be painful, but, when we are immersed in our own world, it can be so difficult to see how others see us.  We think we are nice people, why don't more people join with us?  Or, we think we know how we need to change, but our own opinions are very much colored by our own subjectivity.  An older friend in ministry told me once to write down everything negative you notice during your first six weeks because, after that, you won't have the eyes to see it any more.

Every church has a mythology about it.  Outsiders may see us, our facilities and worship, our staff and membership, very differently than we perceive ourselves.  Often a pastor, as an outsider, can see these things, but meets great reticence to change or improve.  He doesn't have the built-in credibility of a long-time member, and fights the institutional inertia that plagues every group of men and women under the sun.

Some things we might write off as superficial really aren't.  God deserves our best, he deserves us doing whatever we do, well.  So, some questions we might ask ourselves are these:

Are we really a friendly church?  How deep does the friendliness go?  Are we quick to invite visitors over for lunch, to bring new members into our circle of friends?

Do we do our music well, whatever style it might be?  Does the congregation sing in a way that is worthy of the worship of God?

Do the sermons exalt Christ and invite others to know him, and, for those who know him, inspire them to follow him more faithfully, in every area of their lives?  Are they accessible, yet challenging?  Does the pastor seem to care about both truth and people?  What could he do better?

Is the facility inviting, well-kept, bright and easy to navigate?  Is the nursery convenient to the sanctuary?  Are the spaces open?  Are the bathrooms bright and clean?  Do the lights all work?  How is the sound?  (These things may seem mundane, but they send a message --do these people care about their facilities as the place they gather to worship God?)

There are many more questions that could be asked.  So, what would you ask?

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely right, wise, and crucial. I wish more pastors understood this, Ken!

    Tim Keller