Warning: I’m about to go ON topic with this blog post. I say “on” topic because this blog is supposed to be about my full-of-dirt walk with God but I really don’t post enough about that relationship. That’s going to change in 2013.
Anyway, I’m a reader (and adorer) of a fantastic blog, Rage Against the Minivan. Go ahead and click on over and meet Kristen. She’s a clever, bold woman and I dig that. She’s also not afraid to get dirty, so that fits right in with mantra. She recently posted a response to mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll in response to one of his famous twitter jabs and I really felt like she was right on. If you don’t know who Driscoll is or what the big deal is, click the links in her post.
That said, at the end of her post she mentioned churches in the Acts 29 Network, which Mark Driscoll led for many years, in a way that seemed negative. Both churches I’ve loved and been a part of over the last few years are Acts 29 Churches. Now, I know, based on her responses to comments, that Kristen does not believe that all or even many of the churches in this network operate like Señor Driscoll, but I noticed that a lot of the other readers didn’t catch that distinction. In fact, a couple of folks who left comments said that as result of the information in that blog post, they’d never go to an Acts 29 Church.
That made me sad and I told Kristen so in a comment. I also told her that I understood what she was trying to say : that when you join a church, particularly one affiliated with a – how do you say – notorious? bombastic? leader like Mark Driscoll, you ought to ask questions about how things are done in that church and remain vigilant in looking for truth. Fact is, pastors are human and they are going to screw up. Good pastors admit it and do what they can to fix it. Scary pastors condemn their critics and keep on keepin’ on.
I thought back to just a few years ago when I hated God and the church and bible thumpers and goody-goodies, but was convinced by a friend to go to an Acts 29 Church and realized that when I first visited that church in NC – a healthy, loving church that has never been perfect, but works so, so hard to humbly preach truth and love the people – that I would have had no idea what a good leader looked like. I was lucky: the pastor and leaders at that church are truly humble, thoughtful people who really care for the community they live in. But, when it comes to our walk with God, I don’t think luck is good enough.
I asked Kristen (via comment – but I’m commenter number 6 bazillion, so she may not see it) if she would perhaps come up with list of questions a new church-goer could ask leaders to help them discern “good” from “maybe-good” from “not-so-great” to “outright-terrifying” leadership. I hope she’ll do that because she’s probably wiser than I. But just in case, I thought I’d pull together my own. So, if you’re going to a church for the first time, whether as a new believer, a skeptic, a long-time church attendee or just out of curiosity, consider asking the pastor or other leaders these questions:
- Do you have a mission statement? Statement of beliefs and values? Can I have a copy? (A solid church will have both thought these things out and typed them up somewhere. Read them and ask questions.)
- What do I have to do to be a good Christian? (Hopefully your pastor will explain that being a Christian is about following Christ and not about checking off a list of deeds in order to be deemed “good”)
- I have been doing a lot of [drugs, crime, extramarital affairs, other sin] lately. How do you feel about that? (Confession of sin should be met with grace and a determination to help you overcome it, NOT judgement, disgust, hate, anger, or dismissal. It also shouldn’t be glossed over)
- What if I disagree with something you preach? (a good pastor is a teacher, not a dictator. He or she should be willing to discuss disagreement or to at least point you to another leader or resource about the issue)
- Who did you vote for in the last presidential election? (churches are not campaign offices. A pastor may choose to answer this, but if he or she gets up on a political soapbox or assumes you would already know who he or she voted for, you may be looking at a politicized church. )
- Do you have any friends who don’t believe in God? (This one’s kind of tricky, but being a Christian is about spreading the word of Christ. If your pastor doesn’t have any non-believer friends, he’s going to have a hard time sharing the word of Christ with non-believers)
- What kind of rules do I have to follow to go to this church? (Again, a little tricky. Generally speaking, God intended his church to be open to anyone, welcoming and loving of all people, because Christ loves us all. A church that tells people they can only join if they don’t drink beer is failing to show Christ to a whole lotta beer drinkers. However, some rules make sense. For example, most churches are not going to be cool with someone preying on its members in some way. So, if you’re going to church in order to recruit victims for your pyramid scheme, that’s not cool. Still, a solid church will first intervene with this kind of behavior in an attempt to bring you out of sin and only as a last resort boot you out of the building.)
- What does God say about my identity as a [female, male, addict, member of an ethnic minority, homosexual, prostitute, homeless person, Patriots fan, circus clown, etc]? (If the response to this makes you feel demeaned, less-than, dirty, bad, hated, or disgusting you have my personal permission to end the interview and walk right on out of there. When he walked this earth, Jesus didn’t make the people he encountered feel that way. The end.)
- If my spidey-sense tells me that your leadership is harmful in some way, is there another leader I can talk to about this? (Good pastors are willing to take rebuke and submit to a system of checks and balances. If a pastor has absolute rule, be wary.)
In general, solid, loving church leadership should be willing to discuss difficult or controversial topics, answer questions, accept differences, and welcome people of all walks of life with the intention of shepherding – not controlling or manipulating - them towards God.
Now, I’m sure I missed some good questions in here. What else would be good to ask?