this church limps as it walks
There’s a pattern emerging here. I go to do the monthly breakfast down at the drop in centre and I return with a head full of thoughts about the nature of Christianity and the state of the Church. Yesterday it was the bacon that did it.
A pork-related incident occurred towards the end of the breakfast, when one of the – what do we call them: clients? Diners? Customers? – anyway, someone came up and asked for a bacon roll. She’d been on the computer for a while and had missed the rush, and as there was no more up with us at the serving hatch, my little buddy went back to the cook to see if there was any more that was ready to eat. There was. Just four rashers. Cooked and lip-smackingly-ready to get bapped up. But there was a problem: these last rashers were not intended for local homeless and rootless. They were for the cook.
It struck us as wrong, so we liberated said bacon and served the lady in question.
Part of me wanted to be able to slate the cook. I mean, you don’t turn up to serve at a breakfast for local homeless people and then deny them the very breakfast just because you feel a little peckish. What was it, a reward? And what’s with the four rashers; there were seven of us on the team – was he planning on trying to do it without us noticing?
But I couldn’t go through with the character assassination. For all his weird motives, awkwardness and curmudgeonly-air, this guy had given up his Sunday morning yet again to place himself alongside the poor. He had served, faithfully, in front of people he clearly struggled to connect with, when there must have been any number of excuses to give it a miss. Heck, the guy had even bought all the bacon. Did I really feel OK slagging him off?
My curly little tail somewhere between my legs, I left and came home. But the thoughts stuck with me for the rest of the day. How tempting is it to want to point out when fellow Christians get it wrong? How keenly do we feel the need to jump up and down and gesticulate wildly whenever we come across someone who acts in a way that is at odds with all that we understand to be at the heart of following Christ? How badly do I want to apologise on behalf of all the others who fall short of my standards?
A friend emailed me some thoughts about a book written by a wounded and saddened ex-member of Australia’s Hillsong church. She comes across better in this interview than she does in this article, something to do with the fact that I suspect that she’s not 100% convinced about some of her criticisms. But you should check them out for yourself.
There’s nothing new about the criticisms of Hillsong. In fact, many of these words could be said of thousands of other churches around the world. And for every church there must be a whole load of pre-prodigal sons, backs turned, wounded, saddened.
Perhaps that link’s a little clumsy. I don’t want to imply that Levin has no cause to complain or little ground to feel the pain and sorrow that she does. But it just strikes me that she’s writing a story that’s far from finished. What comes after the anger? What follows the pain? She talks of finding new hope in a quieter church, but she’s not fooling anyone: there’s bile and claws all through her article.
So, I have a challenge for Tanya Levin. It is this: you’ve written the book, but what about the rest of the story? Hillsong messed up, and your sales figures will reveal quite how much of a shared experience that is. But what comes next? Retelling the Worst Of… is easy. Grab some fellow Christians – the wounded, the ex-members, the gloriously-still-attached-at-the-heart and help them on the journey out of all this. Build something stronger, something bolder, something that fixes the bugs you’ve experienced.
And I have a challenge for Hillsong. You’ve found a message that resonates with people all over the developed world, but will you lean on and learn from others? You’ve been criticised for years, but is staying quiet really working? Will you step out, will you bring to the Church the very best of what you are and learn to refine that which needs work? Will you humble yourselves, strip back the signifiers of success and hear the questions?
This Church – global, local, fragile, human, incredible – it limps as it walks. There are signs of failure and error all over what we do, and yet this Church still walks. Even with our held back bacon, our bitter indignation and plastic-lite version of celebrity culture… this Church still walks.
That’s the story I’m interested in hearing about. That’s the one that’s got my attention.
- the death of busyness
- does charity need reinvention?
- social media, christianity and the whiff of hypocrisy (or why I get annoyed with christians on twitter and Facebook)
- Deciding Enough Is Enough
- the way the river flows