The story is that Alexander the Great had a mistress named Campaspe. She was beautiful and he was proud of her, so proud, that he took her to the famous artist, Apelles, who painted her in the nude. Alexander loved this painting. He noticed something, though. The reason Apelles did such a good job at the painting, was because Apelles saw Campaspe’s beauty more clearly than Alexander did. Now you would think, Apelles would get in trouble for ogling the Great’s girl. But Alexander chose instead to give Campaspe to Apelles as payment for the painting, which he took home to his palace.
Have you heard this one?
Baptist: How many disgruntled members does it take for your church to change the pastor?
Methodist: Oh we don’t have to worry about that. They change themselves.
Many churches are in conflict today. Often these fights have become abusive, traumatising parish leaders. I can give at least three reasons for why the American church scene has become so rancorous:
1) The steady decline in American church participation has caused us to feel depressed in our church work. Depressed people are risk adverse, passive aggressive, and argumentative.
2) The constant emphasis on church growth and how laity are keeping their pastors from being successful, has made us all feel ashamed. Shame-based cultures shuffle blame around rather than dealing problems in an objective fashion.
This week in Illinois, I had a lay person complain to me about his church. The church had been one of those success stories. A small congregation in the 1980s, receives a dynamic and gifted pastor who stays for over 20 years. In that time, the church grew. It became a large church with staff. When that pastor left, however, a rapid decline set in. They went through a series of pastors and now they are a small congregation again. “Wow,” I said. “I have just heard the same story from a church in Pennsylvania.”
About once a year, I attend the contemporary worship service at a church adjacent to the University of New Mexico. I like this church and enjoy the informal, but well organized, youth-oriented service. The praise band is lively, but punctual. The pastor knows how to give an appropriate message for that setting. The church has invested heavily in lighting and sound, so that the fellowship hall is ideal for contemporary worship. But, where are the college kids? I didn’t see any.