I’ve been thinking about an old short-cut on Windows (back when I new how to use it!). When things stopped working, or one got the “blue screen of death,” as a last resort you could re-boot the computer by hitting three buttons at once, though the instruction for them was always in the same order: Control-Alt-Delete (or Ctrl-Alt-Del)…
It occurred to me one day last month that, in some ways this three-key combination is reflective of a pattern I sometimes see played out in churches. Not a particularly positive pattern, mind you, but one that might be familiar to others. So I thought I’d take a few moments today to reflect on this pattern and then, in a subsequent post, draw a potential and positive response from (no surprise here) an Apple OS shortcut.
The same song, with different refrains, from different churches:
…an older man who had run a successful business was the single greatest financial supporter of the church and its building projects; he was also the single most influential voice on how things were done…
…a lay woman who had previously been treasurer, and the only one who knew about certain “designated funds” in different bank accounts, who exercised great control over the workings of the subsequent treasurer…
…a small group with a particular political ideology that influenced what missions and outreach opportunities the church would financially support, and which it wouldn’t…
over and again, I’ve borne witness to issues of control within the church. In some settings I’ve seen, “official” or elected positions have little to no real power, while certain individuals – either through natural and positive leadership ability, or negative but powerful influence – exerted greater control over the decisions and activities of the church. (And we all know, of course, that in established churches it isn’t the pastor who has real control, but the secretary!)
The early church had such difficulties, too. Throughout the New Testament, there are passages directed toward Christian leaders and disciples having to do with struggles regarding power or control in the church. Even Jesus faced the issue among his disciples:
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35)
Sadly, struggles over control in the early church have all-too-often led to schism or separation; rrom the “Great Schism” that drove the Roman Catholics apart from the Eastern Orthodox, or the Protestant Reformation that separated the church yet more, to the local skirmish that led the church down the block to split into two different congregations. (Don’t laugh. I’ve known contemporary congregations whose past origins were related to family feuds [they couldn’t worship together anymore] or who separated from a church still worshiping a mile down the road.)
And, when some of us experience the difficulties over control in the local church – not to mention in the larger venues of denomination or ecumenism – many of us turn to, and hope to establish, some “alternative”…
We’re all about “alternative” in the church today. We hope for alternative worship services (something different from “traditional” or “contemporary” options, something that speaks to modern/contemporary/new people), alternative faith communities… even the open welcome of alternative lifestyles.
Once again, this is not necessarily something new – the roots of the reformation were in the hope that the Lutherans, and subsequent reformed church communities, would provide positive alternatives to what was perceived as the “corrupt” or “imperfect” nature of the Roman Catholic church. New worship services/styles, and new church starts, have sought to provide positive and relevant alternatives to younger generations.
Even Jesus had something to say about providing alternatives to the “old” or established. When asked why his disciples didn’t behave the same as John’s disciples, Jesus said:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22)
We – individuals and the church – try alternatives regularly. Sometimes even aggressively. I’ve witnessed some congregations taking great risks in offering ministries, programs, worship services [I once visited a congregation with three worship services that were all radically different in style, yet could all be called “contemporary”], or institutional reforms. I believe that most of us in church leadership know that change is not only inevitable, but necessary -prescribed by God, even!
I think that these first two observations occur not only in organizational or institutional ways, but also in individual lives. Some individuals, involved in churches, struggle against the perceived conflicts over power and control, and so seek out alternatives. They might seek an alternative within the church (through reform, addition, etc), or without (pursuing spiritual growth in other arenas). Yet, such alternatives may fail to fully embody what we hope for or expect, leading some of us to give up on church…
I would posit that the perceived failure of some alternatives to the existing church has led to both a larger societal movement, as well as individual personal decisions, to “delete” church and its relevance from our current, “post-modern” world/reality.
Individually, having become disillusioned with existing churches, some folks try out “new” churches, but when disappointed with the results there, or feeling that the others in the churches they’ve been a part of haven’t lived up to the example of Christ, some give up on church, deleting it from their lives. Some just give up on church because both the old versions and the alternatives seem irrelevant to their lives and impotent in impacting/transforming the world.
Culturally, we seem to have experienced over the last few centuries a great diminishment of the relevance and respectability of the Church. Just two and a half centuries ago, clergy were such respected and well-educated leaders in the community that they were influential in the formation of our nation and government. Today, too many in our culture at large equate clergy with either used car salesmen or televangelists!
What I’ve sought to share here, through the shorthand of an old Windows short-cut, is what I observe as a recognizable trend: problems with control (CTRL) in the church lead to the search for or creation of alternatives (ALT) which, when perceived as failed or incomplete, can lead to the deletion (DEL) of Church or its relevance. Tomorrow, I’ll return to share why I think an old Apple shortcut for opening a new document (eg. Command [or, the old “open apple” key” – O) may be a positive foundation for a Christ-honoring “alternative” (or “new wine skin”).