Wednesday, July 2, 2008


My friend, Frances, keeps a blog she calls Cracked Clay Pot. Instead of replying to her June 19, 2008 post entitled "Spaghetti Sauce and Church," I decided to write about the topic here. You will want to read her entry before you continue (or risk serious metaphorical confusion).

Not only am I inclined to agree with her thinking on diversity, I feel a fundamental issue is curiously ignored in most discussions of church style/form/experience. [1]
"Why do Christians take everything so personally with Christ, ya know? It's like, not only do you have to worship him, you want everybody to. It's like, I like lobster. Do I go around pushing lobster on people? Do I say, 'you must like lobster? Eat lobster; it's good, it's good!' It's not only where you live. You go to Africa. You travel all over the world. 'Eat lobster. Have some more lobster. It's good! WE WANT YOU TO HAVE LOBSTER!'" - Larry David, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
A growing number of people don’t want plain, spicy, OR extra chunky spaghetti sauce—a reality I believe to be widely overlooked by the church (and most believers in Christ). They don’t want spaghetti sauce, regardless of variety, because more and more people in America don’t like Italian food. They don’t care what Prego or Ragu or any one else produces because they find Italian food to be distasteful or overly simplistic or a key contributor to epidemic human obesity. If they do like Italian, they don’t understand why sauce should be required or they want only the sauce… noodles have WAY too many carbs. Or, maybe, they like Italian food just fine… just not exclusively. What’s wrong with Asian or Mexican or French cuisine?

My point: Only those who value spaghetti have a sauce preference. I wonder if this wasn’t among the reasons Jesus spent so very little time (comparatively) talking about the formation, structure, style, even purpose of faith community. He spoke rather, in words and example, to the formation, structure, style, and purpose of the believer. In fact, the apostles spent an inordinate amount of their energy trying to mitigate problems within and minimize the distractions of early Christian community.

I am not saying the fellowship of believers is bad or even unimportant. By no means. Even so, at what point did we come to understand organization to be the primary outreach tool? When did we shirk the personal responsibility to be what Christ challenged us to be? When did this become something we merely encouraged instead of the foundation of who we are? Why is it something we program, administrate, even cash in on? I wonder if the American aversion to Jesus is not more an aversion to a church who has used His name and message as a marketing tool for building its numbers.

"Between the first persecution under Nero in 64 to the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians experienced 129 years of persecution and 120 years of toleration and peace.” [2] During periods of persecution, Christian fellowship was an underground movement. Yet, it was in concurrence to said persecution that faith in Christ spread most rapidly. How was that possible without a local, socially relevant meeting, effectively advertised, with flexible catered structure and presentation to appeal to the diverse masses? When did worship (by way of style) come to bear the weight of ecumenical relevance in our culture? When did organizationally sanctioned children’s programs become the principle entry point for introducing kids to Christ? When did biblical instruction and evangelistic preaching of the Gospel become synonymous? Weren’t these once two different things? (see The Holy Bible: New Testament) Will a shift from traditional church thinking to community (mission) guided church thinking (organization) without a decided shift in the responsibility taking and vision of the individual believer really get it done in the long run? Is that what the organization is even for?

It is my conviction that we do not draw disciples largely because we do not equip disciplers. We do not empower disciplers largely because we have not really made disciples of Christ in the first place. What I mean is, we have made disciples of our church, our form, our style, our understanding… but it might appear that few people are meeting Jesus and engaging in deep meaningful relationship with Him—a relationship from which springs a deep and desperate passion to share His life, love, and spiritual rescue with others (even in the face of severe persecution). Sadly, it seems Larry David has not yet met a Christian whose testimony of Jesus is born of God’s desperate love and concern for… well, Larry David. We are not commissioned to propagate the church-going species. If that is all this is, then we ARE just pushing lobster—and it is ridiculous! God’s love for others must transcend our organization and be the fundamental motivation of its membership.

Getting someone to church isn’t necessarily getting them to God. Helping someone connect to God will not necessarily mean they will connect to your church. Building the Kingdom of God is not the same thing as building a ministry. Jesus didn’t die for churches, He died for people. He did not commission an organization, He commissioned disciples. Consequently, these people, these disciples are the Church… His Bride. When do we get to start talking about “the Church,” an entity (with common responsibility to Christ), instead of “my church,” an organization or schedule or style or event?


1. Please note: (for those who read my post entitled “Two Thumbs Up”) This commentary is in no way intended as external criticism of Christ’s Bride. Rather, it flows from the growing personal conviction of a Christian leader. These issues strike me, as a foremost offender, squarely between the eyes. This blog is a dedicated forum for such discussion and discovery.

2. Maurice M. Hassatt, "Martyr." The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IX (Robert Appleton Company, 1910).