Today's straits times talks about two personalities. One is Kong Hee and the other is Michael Sandel. One is a pastor and the other is a philosophy professor. Both are deemed by society to be the custodian/exemplar of ethics, integrity and honesty. One is a church leader and the other started a very popular course entitled Justice at Harvard. However, their fate could not have been more different from their ennobled titles. Kong Hee was recently convicted for misappropriation. Professor Sandel is celebrated for his Justice series.
After a 140-day trial, Kong Hee was described by the Judge as "having a tendency to embellish or exaggerate." It reports: "Kong Hee maintains that he is a pastor and not an expert in legality. Judge See (then) said one did not have to be such an expert (in legal matters) to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity."
Lesson? Three, and it has nothing to do with Kong Hee. God knows that he is being dealt with by God himself in His own way as Kong Hee posted: "I have put my faith and my all in God, and trust that whatever the outcome, He will use it for good in His time and in His way." The lesson here is about the Church.
1) Professor Sandel commented, "When societies are desperately poor, there's a tendency to think that material well-being leads to human flourishing and the good life, but achieving true happiness requires that we pay attention to values that go beyond GDP."
Applying this to the Church, I believe that it is not about the money, or more relevantly, numbers. The church has to go beyond that. The problem here is that many equate growth with numbers. Aggressive evangelism is a Trojan-horse for bigger budget, bigger worship halls, and bigger attendances. These problems usually creep up unknowingly.
An oblique example here would be when Peter cast his net and the catch was so big it broke it. I know the lesson there was not about the size of the catch but what God can do through us. Yet, growth in numbers would still matter when the church becomes intractable, when the church administration takes precedence over members' lives, when the focus becomes obsessive, when the money comes with temptation, when church goal outpaces the maturity and responsibility needed to manage it, and when pastoral ambition - left unchecked - strays into questionable territory.
I recall an account about a foreigner who was out on a long journey with a village chief. He was eager to get to the destination and he naturally outpaced the chief. After a while, he looked back and saw the chief resting at one spot - not moving. He then walked over and asked him what'd happened. The chief replied, "I am waiting for my soul to catch up." Is the soul of the church lagging behind its growth in numbers?
2) Professor Sandel also said, "One of the great weaknesses of societies that are affluent, but lack social cohesion, is that we tend to identify ourselves increasingly as consumers and we forget the importance of other aspects of our identities, as parents, as members of our community."
I can see a parallel here with churches. This is where some churches, whether by subtle design or otherwise, immerse herself in man-centered pragmatism. One pastor Steven Lawson puts it this way, "In a radical paradigm shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performance, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics."
We have thus become a multisensory church, harkening to and craving for many sensations and voices in the vain hope of filling our estranged hearts, instead of the one voice that our broken spirit cries out for, that is, the voice of the Shepherd.
3) Lastly, Professor Sandel concluded: "What I'm trying to do in my own way - and I don't want to exaggerate what a single writer or teacher can do - is invite people to reason together about what a good society looks like, what a good human life consists of."
Mm...I too wonder what a good church looks like? Let's face it, everyone wants his church to stand out. Kong Hee once said that he doesn't want CHC to be just another neighborhood church.
Of course, this post cannot possibly cram in everything I want to say, but I guess our contemporary churches run the risk of becoming what pastor Eugene Peterson calls "a company of shopkeepers."
This is how the master-writer puts it: "...the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper's concerns - how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money. Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sum of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it's still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same."
Sadly, some pastors have become businessmen, therapists, coaches, fun-loving, trendsetters, suit-and-tie, hip-and-hot, event organizers, yoga-like trainers and stage performers to their congregation - anything but a servant on his knees with a basin and a towel.
I will let pastor Peterson bring this post home with this quote: "The biblical fact is there is no successful churches (neither professional ones). There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week...all over the world...In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility to his community that he has abandoned in spades." Cheerz.