I grew up in the shadow of one of the greatest amusement parks in America: Six Flags Over Georgia. At least one reason I can say that is because I knew the layout of Six Flags. As any amusement park freak would tell you, the more you know the layout, the less ‘standing around’ time you waste and the more ride time you enjoy!
I could make a beeline to The Great American Scream Machine (perhaps the greatest wooden coaster in the world) or, if I was in a mood to go upside down, there was The Mindbender. If it was a typically hot and humid summer day, I could shoot to the Log Flume without a pause to gander at the map. And, if my honey was in tow, I knew right where the darkest parts of the Okefenokee Swamp were!
There was one ride, however, I never learned to enjoy. It was called the Drunken Barrels. It was located right where Lickskillet and the Cotton States Exposition sections of the park run into one another – very near the back entrance.
Essentially the ride was made up of barrels that could hold up to 6 reasonably sized teens. There was a wheel in the center of the barrel that gave you control over the spinning direction and speed of your barrel.
Each barrel was on a platform that held 6 total barrels and would spin in a certain direction.
There were 4 such platforms on the ride base, which would spin in the opposite direction.
Finally, the whole base was on a lift that tilted and rolled in all directions before the ride was complete.
Here is how it worked: The whole base was tilted while spinning in a certain direction. The 6 barrels on your platform were spinning in the opposite direction. And, your barrel was spinning in any/all directions that those crazy enough to step onto the ride wished for it to go… and at the speed you corporately desired! [My head is spinning just remembering…]
It was motion-to-the-max. You never wanted to be on the ride soon after eating – or with anyone else who was on the ride soon after eating!!
It did not matter what time of day I rode the Drunken Barrels – when I stepped off I was tired, dizzy, and a little bit nauseous…
A lot of my vocational hours are spent with paid holy people (Php) and/or the churches that they serve. A few weeks ago I found myself in a run of conversations that reminded me of the Drunken Barrels ride at Six Flags.
I was visiting with two separate leaders who, so far as I know, don’t know each other and certainly don’t hang out together. They were both lamenting some part of their work and, along the way, reviewed the history of their separate congregations.
Here is what they had to say, independent of each other:
An aggressive, Type A/High D personality had driven their Church (as an institution) to what they called outreach in more or less programmed ways.
There was Good News presented. And, along that way some people did manage to make some decision toward Christ and His claims.
Those people, however, were more or less driven to “sign on the dotted line” after hearing a somewhat formulated and oversimplified view of the Good News Jesus talked so much about. (That’s what they said, not me)
In short, there was no cost-counting; just counting. Nothing like the way Jesus cast His Father’s claims on a human soul.
In no time at all, those congregations became frustrated by a ‘lack of leaders,’ which they reasoned was because of all of that outreach. In short order they surrendered to a faith fatigue – a congregation-wide sense of exhaustion.
In one case, the congregation rose up and fired their Php. In the other, the Php thought them no longer worth the effort and submitted his own resignation.
The knee-jerk reaction of both churches was to look for a totally different personality type and focus on what they now called spiritual growth.
Only, this so-called spiritual growth wasn’t really Christ-centered, it was more me-centered… what I wanted to study or was curious about. It was, at first, a warm-fuzzy. And the people did, indeed, grow… closer to each other.
As they grew closer to each other they managed to become closed to people around them who were still without faith – a condition that didn’t resemble Jesus at all.
Inevitably their numbers – stable for a while – began to show decline, with people moving away and no one very contagious in faith.
Frustrated and dissatisfied with their leadership, again, the congregations rose up and either fired their once-savior Php, or made life intolerable for the person who ultimately submitted their own resignation.
Guess what those churches went out and found? If you guessed a Type A/High D leader-person then you win the rubber chicken!
With one story, they were just in their 3rd generation of madness. With the other it was oft repeated and nearing yet another turn.
As I thought about those conversations I felt like I had just stepped off of the Drunken Barrels… tired, dizzy, and a little bit nauseous.
- What happened?
- How did the Church (or a Church) ever get this way?
What caused a living, dynamic Bride (the Church) – deeply in love with an all-sacrificing Groom (Jesus) – changing her life to pursue His mission – to become so crass, so calculating, so accepting of this endless, dizzying, nauseating, organizational ride?
How have I contributed to it all?
And, most importantly, how can I arrange life to be changed myself, and help her?
These are the sorts of stories, feelings, and questions that drove my research and the current conclusions you’ll find in To Love And To Cherish From This Day Forward: A Portrait of a Healthy Church.