One of the nice things about moving away from the Specialized Rider’s Club was feeling free to speak on topics that didn’t relate to biking. So far I haven’t done that. So, here’s a few thoughts.
After the Gentlemen’s Ride, we visited some friends in the Minneapolis area. We went with them to their church, which is an extremely large congregation with a very well-known teaching pastor. This wasn’t the first time we had attended this church. Back when my wife and I were living in Minnesota and were trying to find our church home, we visited this church. We didn’t go back.
There were two reasons for this. First, the worship seemed to be too much of a performance. It was difficult to tell when I was supposed to sing and when I wasn’t. The other thing was that we were not greeted or talked to by anybody, despite the size of the fellowship. Of all those people, absolutely none stopped to even say, “Hi.” With a giant congregation that we didn’t know how to plug in to and a distracting worship experience, we kept searching.
I can say that in the last 9 years, nothing has changed. Well, that’s not true. There’s one additional reason I wouldn’t ever consider going to that church full-time. I wouldn’t call that a positive change.
The worship is still a performance, yet they have the gall to declare it otherwise. They say they’re not up there performing, but they clearly are. The congregation is still huge and insular. It might be the very definition of “Minnesota Nice”. The new reason to stew over is the lack of involvement people have. It’s clear that too many of the attendees of that church are only involved at a superficial level. They have limits on the number of children they will accept for Sunday School because they don’t have enough volunteers to staff the rooms. Think of that. This church was large enough that 1000 people left during a specific sermon series and yet still fills up this enormous auditorium. Yet, they cannot find people to give 1 hour every other week to teach kids. They scramble about in this or that mission field, but ignore the mission field in their own homes.
The teaching pastor is excellent, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s clear there’s something wrong at that church that can only be fixed by getting smaller.
On a completely unrelated note, at our church this past weekend we had our annual Missions Conference. It’s not big or flashy. It’s mainly an opportunity for us as a congregation to reconnect with some of our sponsored missionaries. I suppose it’s also an opportunity for new missionaries to solicit some support from the church as a whole or individual members. This year, we had a pastor from a church we have been connected with for several years. He has a passion, and for that I commend him. But there was one thing he said that riled me up.
Before becoming a pastor, he had spent a number of years as an elementary school teacher. He was clear that he was “ashamed” of the time he spent preparing to be a teacher. He looked back at that as years of his life he wasted. This is a sore point for me.
I have been in college more or less constantly since 1997. I have poured countless hours into my degrees and into my job, which is in the field of engineering education. I am sure this is where God wants me to be. I have watched so many talented students walk away from their studies to pursue ministry because they somehow believed it was more spiritual than engineering or geology or whatever. I won’t say that they are not doing God’s will in their lives, but I do believe they may be under this mistaken impression that only people in full-time ministry can be doing God’s work. From a simply practical point of view, ministry doesn’t happen without financial support. That’s part of what I do. The bigger impact is influencing these students with knowledge and character. What happens to the influence of the church if we all withdraw from industry and academia? Who can be a missionary doctor if they don’t pour those hours into learning how to practice medicine? I refuse to let my involvement in my profession become a source of shame.
So to those who have dedicated their lives to full-time ministry, thank you. But please don’t look at the way that I’ve used my gifts and somehow declare that I’ve wasted my time.