If Simon Cowell ran a church......

In our many musings about how to do church my wife and I were struck by the, not original, thought that much of what we do reflects the culture in which we work. In once sense this is in keeping with an incarnational model that looks to express the gospel in the words, images, and memes of the world in which we find ourselves.

As I have expressed before each of us will have a narrative of our lives and a subsequent narrating voice that will set the scene. I have long wanted mine to be like Clint Eastwood or Liam Neeson with the resultant 'Go ahead punk; make my day' or 'I will find you and I will kill you'. It all sounds so masculine; so Mark Driscoll. I fear that my narration is done by Alan Bennett simply expressing 'he sat down with a pot of tea and a garibaldi biscuit'. (Use your imagination here)

What, however, would the church look like if the narration of our church was done by Peter Dickson, the announcer on the X-factor and other Simon Cowell shows: 'for ONE NIGHT ONLY our first hymn is TO THINE BE THE GLORY'. (Again try your best to imagine this spoken by Peter)

So what would a church look like if Simon Cowell was in charge and he used the same methodology employed on shows like Britain's Got Talent. Firstly let us look at the key features of Simon Cowell's TV model.

1) It relies on the involvement of as many people as possible so that a few talented people could rise to the top and shine. The numbers game is very important here and only a few stories become relevant.

2) Some people are given a voice for a moment as long as it serves the presentation as a whole. Little care is given to how they might feel after the programme is aired.

3) The production is maintained by a group of people who have managed to make their way through the original rounds in order to fill appropriate positions. All of them, however, will be motivated by the possibility of being noticed and elevated to a more prominent position, even though most of them are unlikely to achieve their aspiration.

4) The key players, Simon and his judges, experience the joys of the seclusion and rarified air of the Green Room so that they don't have to mix with those that are merely commodities of the process. The statement 'The Queen thinks the whole works smells of Magnolia paint' fits here suggesting that everything they experience is removed from reality because others have been there before to prepare the way.

5) Even if someone reaches the centre stage or wins the competition they will never fully shape or inherit Cowell's empire.

Of course church is very different from television so perhaps our Simon would not be able to fully have his way if he became a mega church pastor. After all if he did we might see churches where the following were key indicators:

1) Success would be marked by the numbers of people who attend.

2) Any story would be included as long as it was positive and affirmed the main vision of the church. Afterwards there would be little support for the person themselves.

3) People would be valued as long as they served the vision. It would be constantly suggested that service would produce fulfilment and success in life.

4) The main leaders would generally be separated from most of the church community. They would smell the magnolia paint if you will.

5) Even when someone has been a key player, whether they have written songs or served on the main stage, they will reach a stage where their gift is redundant. They will more than likely not be a key figure in the future of the church.

I am just glad to say the Simon is not a church leader and churches that follow this model do not exist: or do they?

When making the rules means missing the point!

During my theological training in Cambridge I had the pleasure of attending several lectures by Dr Edward Kessler of The Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations. Central to much of his teaching was a passion to help Christians understand the Jewish world of both the Old and New Testaments.
He detailed how Jewish thought placed wider teaching around the central idea of loving God in order to help adherents to remain faithful. You will see this depicted in the diagram below. Given that the central teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures is that we should love God there is a need to place a set of laws, the Ten Commandments, around this to ensure that we remain faithful to the instruction to love God.
Our need for certainty doesn't stop there are we look to build a further fence around these laws in order to ensure we do not risk failure. These are known as the Mitzvah which represent the other 613 laws detailed in the Old Testament.
In order to ensure adherence to the Mitzvah another fence is added called the Halakha. This literally means walk and contains instruction on he the laws might be lived out.
All of the above is informed by commentary writings known as Midrash.
So we see how each fence, aimed at ensuring obedience to the central instruction, removes us further away. In the end it becomes harder to see what the main point is and so our discussions become focused on the rules rather than on God.
At this point it might be easy to consider the pictures of the Pharisees in the New Testament. Before we paint them as necessarily having wrong motives we should pause for a moment. Could it be that that in their genuine search to remain faithful they created too many extra fences. We in the church seem to find it all to easy to fall into the same trap.
I read a blog recently reminding us of Wayne Grudem's attempt at providing 83 rules to help churches know when are where women are allowed to serve (link below).
As I read this list I was reminded of Dr Kessler's teaching about the Pharisees.
How does a church become so focussed on rules that, in producing 83, it fails to see the God who longs to liberate all without reference to gender.

To listen to my sermon on John 3:16 in which I explain some of the above, click on the link below: