Monday, May 30, 2016

If You Build It

There are several new church buildings along my regular routes around town. Some are recently completed and others still being constructed. Most of them are existing congregations that are relocating to a larger facility. As I pass them, I feel a peculiar ache in my heart. I have searched my innermost being to assure myself it is not just jealousy over another church having greater resources than my own. I sincerely believe this feeling is simply a disdain of priorities. These grandiose structures do not speak to the glory of God for me. They remind me more of the Tower of Babel. Perhaps there is a real demand for these large structures. Then again, perhaps they are operating on a Field of Dreams philosophy: “If you build it, they will come.”
One of my past assignments as a pastor was to help start a church. When I came on board, 200 people were meeting at a 2,000 seat country music venue in Pigeon Forge. After a while, we moved to the New Center area and met in the Triple C Dance Barn. (I still miss being able to play a game of pool before the worship service starts.) From there, we moved into an old garage that had allegedly been used as a pornography studio. We sanctified the place and redeemed it for years of wonderful ministry.
The motto for this church was “Not About a Steeple, All About the People.” Not having a regular place for church helped me appreciate how helpful it is to have that asset. It also gave me some perspective on its relative insignificance in terms of the Kingdom of God. We are to be good stewards of the resources we have and should take good care of our buildings, but there is a tendency to let them become the tail that wags the dog. I recall hearing of a church years ago that discontinued its day care program because the kids were too messy. I have served several churches where maintenance issues such as HVAC units, carpeting, painting and windows dominated far too much of my time.

All this leads me to wonder how this money could be better used to genuinely help God’s children? I have a colleague in ministry who was recently spearheading a movement to build a village of tiny houses for the homeless. Unfortunately, the surrounding residents petitioned to have the project stopped. I cannot help but believe that a good many of those folks are good church going Christians. I imagine them standing before the Lord on Judgment Day trying to explain how they believed helping the homeless might lower their property values. It just does not seem quite right. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Looking Like the Preacher

I was somewhat insulted by the funeral director as I arrived to do a service a couple of weeks ago. As I walked down the hall to the chapel, he greeted me by saying, "You look like the preacher." Ugh. That is a designation I have avoided for all the years I have been in ministry now.
When I answered the call to ministry, the Lord and I had an understanding he was getting me pretty much "as is" and not some typical or stereotypical embodiment of a preacher. I am a preacher's kid, former train robber, movie fan, Parrothead, and an avid people watcher.
I have been reasonably successful in this effort as I strive to maintain a sense of humor and humility and let my personality shine through the lens of my vocation. I take my job and responsibilities seriously, but humor has always been my default defense mechanism against the absurdities of life. I continue to resist the perception of what most people think of as "Christian" in today's world (solemn, reactionary, self-righteous, judgmental, ignorant, etc.).
Well, before I entered the ministry, I enjoyed writing. So with the encouragement (read: practical insistence) of my amusing muse of a wife, I am going to enter the blogosphere with some of my ramblings.

No matter which or how many churches I am assigned to officially, I have also developed another congregation of sorts through the years. It is comprised of a variety of people I have encountered along the way. We do not meet regularly and do not have a building. In it are old friends who would not go to church otherwise, or regularly. Some members of this church are family, and some have been in churches I used to serve, but now they do not go anywhere. It is a diverse group made up of old hippies, train robbers, Parrotheads, potheads, LGBTQ folks, and even agnostics and atheists.
Some have never had church be a part of their life or they have gotten out of the habit or perhaps even been hurt or alienated by the church. Some just have issues with organized religion. Yet, I am their pastor. I am the one they call when there is that kind of need. It is one of my greatest honors because that is a relationship out of choice and not obligation. I have performed weddings and funerals, counseled and held hands in the hospital. I have decided to call them the Rocking Flock.
One of the elders in the Rocking Flock is my best friend and local radio personality Jay Adams. He was the best man in my wedding and I in turn performed his wedding ceremony. We have gotten into trouble and gone on mission trips together. He often refers to me on air as the Minister of Movies, the Sultan of Salsa, and The Right Reverend Doyal. Thus, the name for this blog comes from the fact that those who know me best also know I am not quite right.