Monday, July 10, 2006

Gilded Cage vs Launch Pad

With the successful launch of the space shuttle Discovery into orbit this past July 4th, I am reminded of the importance of the humble, mundane launch pad, the place where every mission into space begins.

In the wonderful, diverse world of Christianity, there are really only two kinds of local churches, and I don't mean Protestant and Catholic. There are churches that are launch pads, and there are churches that are gilded cages.

The "gilded cage" type of church has a nice pastor, a wonderful building, and lots of plans and programs to keep the people busy. There's good teaching, wonderful sermons, and nice music. All the gilded cage church asks of you is your continued attendance, and your continued financial support--the "professionals" in ministry take care of the rest. And not only do they take care of the rest, there's a subtle yet prevalent undertone that lets you know--without even having to ask--that you are to stay on your side of the laity/clerical boundary, and don't even think about crossing over. In my experience it seems that most churches are like this, whether they be Catholic, Protestant, or whatever. Back in the day, the Protestants use to really take the Catholics to task for the invisible barrier erected between the laity and the clergy, but most of today's Protestants churches are no better in this regard, and are sometimes even worse.

The end result of a gilded cage type church is a lot of people who come back Sunday after Sunday to hear yet another teaching that tickles their ears, without it really changing their lives. As long as they keep coming back, and even invite friends and neighbors to hear the wonderful teaching, then the mission is accomplished.

In the "launch pad" model of church, the leadership realizes that the congregation is there for purposes beyond just hearing yet another Sunday sermon. In the launching pad model, the leadership realizes that the people in the congregation have as much right and responsibility to minister as they do, and perhaps they might even be better at it! In this type of church, the leadership does what they can to find out what sort of "vision" or ministry God has given to each and every individual member, and they work to help that person develop that ministry or "vision" to it's fullest potential. There's also an active and intentional effort to encourage the people in the congregation to minister to each other, in whatever way God so leads. So instead of the leadership providing all the ministry, the leadership teaches the people how to do ministry!

The end result of a launch pad style of church is a people who are continually challenged and encouraged to go further with the giftings God has given them, with plenty of opportunities to use them. Some might call this "body" ministry, where as the whole church, which is referred to as "the body of Christ", engages in ministerial functions, each according to his ability and means.

For most of church history, the "gilded cage" style of church has been the norm, with occasional "launch pads" coming in out of existence at various times. Often, the launch pads succumb to the institutional mindset, and then start acting and behaving like the very type of church they were initially dissatisfied with.

Now don't think I've posted this article just to put-down the gilded cage type of church. There is a place for this kind of church, and it will most likely be the most dominant style of church until the end of time. The benefits of this type of church are many, but most important is the tiny burden it imposes on those who make up the congregation. Going to church is only a bit more difficult than turning on the TV, and often, sadly, even less entertaining and enjoyable. Yet if you are caught up in the business and pressure that pervades life in America like a dense fog, then a low-commitment, low expectation church fits the bill very nicely. Who needs a church that expects things out of you when you are busy enough raising children, working a job, and doing everything you can to survive and prosper for yet another day in this miserable little life of ours. As things only get busier and more hectic, the gilded cage type of church becomes more and more attractive--as long as you don't mind the emptiness you feel after another Sunday morning service.

The "launch pad" style of church will always be in the minority, if you can even find one at all. A church that actually expects and encourages its people to live a life according to Kingdom of God principles is a hard sell. Its one thing to talk about Christianity, and hear lectures about it, but its another thing to live according to its radical principles. Living a truly selfless, God centered life is not easy, otherwise everyone would already be doing it! People like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Francis of Assisi would be the rule rather than exceptions.

Yet there is something the great saints have found, that many of us secretly long for: a life of meaning and purpose; a life that goes beyond earning our bread for another day of existence. Rather than sitting back in a pew and listening to yet another wonderful sermon about Jesus, they are out there, in the real world, being Jesus to those who are lost and hurting.

But, as you can imagine, such a wonderful life does not come without a cost; without sacrifice. What will it cost us to follow Jesus in such a radical way? Only everything we have--everything.

But the rewards are out of this world!

<>< TM

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