12.23.2014

WHAT CAN THE CHURCH LEARN FROM THE FOOD NETWORK?


The other day I stumbled upon an article by Farsch Askari lamenting what has happened to the Food Network.  The article is well-worth reading. In the article, Askari describes how the Food Network provided him a soothing release where he could escape from the stresses of daily life.  Watching the food network was a blissful and inspiring experience, driving his imagination and value for healthy eating as he watched real chefs in the kitchen craft their delectable gourmet dishes. 

But one day this all changed.  The reason: Guy Feiri.  What was once an authentic and stress relieving experience, was now, suddenly, replaced by a so called “rock-n-roll, unhealthy looking, food king.”  Askari goes on to describe how this one figure dramatically changed the entire course of the Food Network.  First, the Food Network became personality-driven.  The billabong wearing, college garage band maniac—circa 1995—had a new method of speaking to audience—he yells and speaks to the people like they’re five-year olds.  Then things got worse. In the wake of Fieri’s appearance, a host of other personalities began to dominate the network, well-known personalities such as Rachel Ray and Bobby Flay. Askari asks, “Did the head of their programming issue a mandate to seek out the most supremely irritating people who may or may not be able to cook decent food…?  

The second major shift is the most perplexing: Healthy cooking no longer seemed to matter on the Food Network.  Guy Feiri is offering “concoctions such as beer-battered meatball sandwiches, wrapped in a pizza and deep-fried in lard” and for desert a “sheet cake dipped in pancake batter, dunked in butter frosting and sprinkled with Pop-Tarts”—and he doesn’t even do any of the cooking.  Consequence?  Askari says, “Guy’s trying killing us.”


As I read the article I thought the most tragic consequence of the whole thing is when Askari laments the mass exodus of genuinely talented chefs.  Quality crafted dishes and culinary art no longer seemed to matter anymore, it became about ratings and personalities, a phenomenon that, in Askari’s eyes, has ruined the Food Network. The real fault remains, says Askari, with those who ever allowed this to happen.

Imagine for a minute substituting everything Askari describes in terms of the church today.  Would it be an unfair comparison?

I remember a time when coming to church was valued. Whether it was ever truly valued as it should have been is not what I am engaging, nor am I singing Mellencamp’s “Glory Days” with regard to the church.  I think know better than that.  But I do speak of a general value Christians placed upon going to church. There was a time when people had a general understanding of the value of worship.  At one time, across denominational lines, Christians used to gather twice on the Lord’s Day for worship.  It was accepted that something special was happening on Sunday’s when God’s people assembled together.

I know it’s out of vogue and considered legalistic to mention dressing-up for church, but dress used to convey in the church world something about what we believed we were doing.  Church was considered to be the most reverent and respectful act we did all week, and it earned our best preparation and response.  It was an escape for sinners, to come in the presence of God and receive from his hand real food and drink of eternal life—sacraments they “used” to be called.

It was intended to be refreshing. We sat intently listening to God’s pastors open His Word with sermons well-crafted, meditated upon, and prepared through the course of an entire week. Agreed, these no name pastors may not have had the “X-Factor”, but they were offering us real food, and it inspired us to want more of that food.  It was satisfying to the soul. We understood the gospel, grace, forgiveness, new life--the core doctrines of the Christian faith--and were inspired to keep our eyes fixed on God’s savior. 

But then one day it all changed.  The reason?  Well, I could answer that with naming about a dozen dominant Hollywood-esque personalities that began to fill the church.  The America Chapter 11 hall of faith (oops I mean “fame”) would certainly see figures such as ______, _______, _______, etc. And what more shall I say, for the time would fail me to tell you of, ______, _______, _______, _______, and_______.  I would fill in the blanks but we’ve come into a time when Christians don’t take well to mentioning of any names and I’m afraid that if I begin to do this many will disregard the entire post. 

But if I could mention a name, it would be Joel Osteen.  Like Askari’s circa 1995 Feiri, Osteen reminds me a lot of Brandon on 90210, less so Dillon, but nonetheless he still takes me to circa 1995--preppy style.  It really doesn’t matter who the figure is at the moment, we’ve become accustomed in Christianity to have one, and I’m sure the next one is already on deck. Shelf-life for these guys seems to be getting shorter and shorter even though a plethora of churches have now adopted the outdated model of yesterday's "Guy." What’s tragic is that in the wake of each dominant figure that arises, we see greater departure from the historic Christian faith.  And the farther we get, the more unrecognizable any Christian orthodoxy becomes for the new generation.

Askari’s overall concern is that Food Network has morphed into something other than a “food network.” Think about the consequences of this in terms of the church.  First, the church today is personality-driven.  We’re all about finding somebody relevant to the next generation. You know this. I am saying nothing new here. But we seem ignorant or at least unwilling to see the consequences of our rock-star Christianity.  We have a host of so-called pastors who are speaking to us like we’re idiots. Is a good sermon now only measured by how funny the pastor was in telling me about his personal home-life? And Christians today seem to love this. Sound familiar? Maybe this: "The prophets prophesy falsely and my people love to have it so (Jer. 5:31)." Askari says the Food Network speaks to people now as if they are in fifth-grade.  What grade-level, theologically speaking, does today’s preaching deserve?  You can answer.

We have a host of so-called pastors who are not trained.  Consequence?  Just as Guy Feiri never does the cooking himself because he is not a trained chef, and forces upon the audience food that slowly kills, the church today is fueled with so-called pastors who no longer preach. Is that a choice or it is because they do not know how? Whatever the answer, I do know this: training for the ministry doesn’t seem to matter at all anymore. And this has created a vacuum in which people no longer know what true preaching even sounds like.  Thus, the craft of preparing a sermon has little to do anymore with the actual Word of God and explaining its meaning.  It’s now about how witty the pastor can be in ticking the ears of the people by determining how best he can give them only what they want to hear.  It’s for this reason that the church often amounts to nothing more than being obnoxious and silly, and that seems to win the favor of the people.

Second, healthy food no longer seems to matter in church today.  We are spiritually getting “sheet cake dipped in pancake batter, dunked in butter frosting and sprinkled with Pop-Tarts.”  What ever happened to the meat and potatoes?  Yes, sometimes as a child my mom made me eat the brussel sprouts, even though it wasn't always a pleasant experience, I needed them. Why can’t we have meaty expositions of God’s Word that show the whole plan of salvation in Jesus Christ throughout redemptive history?  Do we even know what that tastes like anymore and the spiritual nourishment it provides?  If I may use Askari’s concern: don’t we realize the food we are receiving today is killing us and our children? 

But then comes the most tragic of consequences.  There is now becoming an “exodus” (shortage) of genuinely called pastors.  If you find them, generally speaking, they will be on the fringes, their churches small, full of struggle, undervalued, and under a great amount of pressure due to the “Guy Feiri’s” next door offering the “deep fried lard.”  And I come back to Askari’s concern that the real blame has to do with those who ever let things get like this.  Will the “Food Network” ever again be what it was designed to be? 


9.17.2014

DON'T BE A PASTOR IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE A PASTOR

 In his book, "A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural," Wendell Berry writes,
Because of the obsession with short-term results that may be contained with the terms and demands of a single life, the interest of community is displaced by the interest of career.  The careerist teacher judges himself, and is judged by his colleagues, not by the influence he is having upon his students or the community, but by the number of his publications, the size of his salary and the status of the place to which his career has taken him thus far.  And in ambition he is where he is only temporarily; he is on his way to a more lucrative and prestigious place. Because so few stay to be aware of the effects of their works, teachers are not judged by their teaching, but by the short-term incidentals of publication and “service.” That teaching is a long-term service, that a teacher’s best work may be published in the children of grandchildren of his students, cannot be considered, for the modern educator, like his practical brethren in business and industry, will honor nothing that he cannot see.
I can't imagine a greater caution for those entering into Christian ministry (especially the Reformed pastorate) than to apply what Berry is saying to our context. Consider the painful application. Like modern teachers, pastors today are driven by short-term results. We are most concerned with being judged by ourselves and our colleagues as wise, intellectual, and accomplished. The ministry today is no longer driven by concern for the spiritual lives of our people, but instead, it's become a career, a platform for our own personal advancement. The ministry has become a stepping stone to the next and better thing, something more "lucrative and and prestigious." This manifests itself in constant restlessness. We're not really satisfied.  We look over the fence constantly to the bigger and better.

All of this creates a disconnect between what is a calling from God and our own aspirations of what we want ministry to be. What is lost is the sense from the people that we pastors love the sheep, are in it for the sheep, that we are servants given as sacrifices for the service of their faith.  Because of our displaced motives, our pastoral work is no longer judged by the nature of what constitutes pastoral work. The consequence of this lack of investment in people's lives is apparent, we now live in a generation that measures and judges our pastoral work by the "short term incidentals"of our publications and accomplishments, as we justify our displaced aspirations in the advancement of our names under the guise of "service." Does this mean that all incidentals are wrong? Of course not. But the motivations of our service should be checked as to whether they are an investment in us or the sacrificial love we are called to demonstrate to Christ's sheep.

What most interests me here is Berry's astute observation that teaching is a long-term service that the modern interpreter will never appreciate since he cannot see the results.  Berry says the best work of teachers is published in the "children of grandchildren in students." Oh that we would think of ministry this way!  This means, of course, that long-term investment in people's lives will often seem unsuccessful and lackluster, and will receive little approbation from a church world obsessed with numbers and immediate gratification. If God gives us to see some of the fruit of our pastoral labor in this life, then we should praise him for his kind providence. But our best work will be known tomorrow. Our faithfulness will be known in the generations to come, after we are dead and gone. This is God's way of doing ministry. It makes sense. This way glory goes to him as our motives remain challenged.

Pastors who adopt this modern paradigm for their ministry, dependent on being sustained by their big name, personality, and so-called "service," lacking any real investment in the lives of the people, tend to fall as quickly as they rose to power. This is, in my estimation, happening right now to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church.

So I humbly caution those entering into the pastoral ministry. Brothers, we're not careerists. Are you in this for the up building of Christ's church, realizing that you may never live to see the results of your work, or are you in it to make a great name for yourself today?

Don't be a pastor, if you don't want to be a pastor.

5.29.2014

ABOUNDING GRACE RADIO Now AIRING In the CENTRAL VALLEY OF CALIFORNIA--Fresno, Visalia, Bakersfield

Great News! We begin airing Abounding Grace Radio in the Central Valley of CA beginning next week, June 2 M-F at 4:00-4:30 on KRDU 1130 AM. Coverage extends from Ripon to Bakersfield! See coverage map. Visit their website at http://www.krdu1130.com/main.html or visit us at www.agradio.org

Abounding Grace Radio now covers the areas of San Diego, CA, Central CA, and the Pacific Northwest into the lower mainland of Cananda, Vancouver, B.C.

Our website is newly updated, visit us at www.agradio.org for podcasts and to subscribe!