*Note – Please do not read this post unless a) you plan to read the whole thing, and b) you promise to read the next post, entitled “The Truth In Love.” Thank you.
My wife and I have decided to become the connossieurs of small-town fireworks shows. I believe that our city is unusual for its size (160,000 or so) in that it boasts a Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza that runs upwards of 100,000 attendees and produces more second-hand smoke in one night than the cigarette smokers of Poland and Belarus combined. For a year.
Of course the local smoke I’m referring to is from the fireworks. This is because our nation, unlike those of the Eastern Bloc, is becoming increasingly tobaccophobic. But also because this Patriotic Extravaganza is run by the largest church in the region, a church I will refer to as “James River Assembly,” because that is its name.
Maybe if I had a secret informer among the many secretaries of this 5,000-odd member church, I would know the primary reason why they would choose to spend untold wads of Benjamins to be the producer of the only game in town. But based on what I have gathered from attending the production several times, allow me to hazard a guess.
Every church has a block party. Or a fall festival. Or a Vacation Bible School. Or something that helps them to either a) bring as many people into one place as possible and trick them into hearing the gospel, or b) make sure everybody knows what a cool church they are. I will not accuse James River of letter B, because it would be non-disprovable. But letter A is pretty sure-fire, since the planners of their event make certain to take prime moments within the program to sneak the gospel in, and have an altar call. And sure enough, people come.
But then what? You get saved by a program, and then a few hours later, the program quite literally goes up in smoke. The guy that preached the message is already packed up in his black SUV, and the guy who prayed for you is nowhere to be seen. You’re holding a Bible and a little pamphlet that outlines the next few steps. Although James River tries ever so hard not to seem pushy about you becoming a member of their church, naturally they would be quite happy to see you show up on Sunday. Learn some Christian songs, greet the people who happen to be seated nearby, listen to an upbeat diatribe, then “plug-in” to a group of other single, college-educated, broken-family, upwardly-mobile, green-eyed ladies between the ages of 26 and 32 ½. And this is the name of the class.
Are you going to connect with these people? I guess there’s always a chance.
Is anyone else feeling more and more like it’s not the Church’s job to get people saved? That God didn’t supernaturally weld us together for the purpose of producing a mind-blowing Jesus show? I think that maybe… just maybe the Church is supposed to be for Christians, and then Christians are supposed to be for everyone else. Sure, you could argue that their church members are the ones putting on the “God Loves America” celebration, but how much of that work do you suppose was done by hired hands? I, personally was twice among the 40% or so of the orchestra that was paid $250 for two rehearsals and a performance. And by gum, I was glad to get it.
But can’t we see what this amounts to? That $250 was tithe-money. Somebody out there worked for a month to pay me their tithe to play the saxophone so that a lot of people would come and hopefully hear the gospel if they’re not busy counting their change from the cotton-candy vendor, while the tither himself is sitting in a special tent provided especially for his own Sunday School class. Could you imagine if the thousands of James River Assembly members actually interspersed with this colossal crowd, to build relationships and make connections and show people that they’re not trying to fool them into hearing a few Bible verses, but they actually like them? Could you imagine if the Church spent its resources and energy on fostering a real, intimate, accoutable, loving community, and equipping and encouraging Christians to find as many points of contact with society as possible, to love people just like they are?
And to be fair… I’ll bet there were a decent number of people who did do that last night. My parents went to a similar event in Kansas City, where they were quickly invited to share some tarp-space and snacks with a family from the host church. So perhaps I’ve been a bit hard on James River. Perhaps I’ve made some unfair assumptions. But I know what I’ve observed of our churches over the years. I know the mentalities and the methodologies. I’ve seen the frantic committees scurrying to make each event “bigger and better” than the year before, because somebody’s going to, and if it’s not them, they’re sunk. I feel sorry for them.
But maybe there’s no truer way to be an American than to make sure that what you’re doing this year is bigger and better than last year. That is exactly what my wife and I were trying to rebel against last night. We looked on the web for the smallest town in our immediate vicinity that did a little fireworks show. Someplace that would be satisfied to do it pretty much the same every year. So we made our pick and showed up in Marionville, Missouri around 8:00 pm. We threw the frisbee, ate some munchies, then settled in at dusk for the “really big shoe.”
So the announcer comes on over the loudspeaker: “Hello… thank you everyone for coming out tonight. We really appreciate the support… we think you’re really going to enjoy the show. The City Council has worked hard to keep making our Fourth of July celebration bigger and better each year…”
Pack your bags, honey, we’re moving to Poland.