…actually it was just a walk around the neighborhood. But picture it with me, because the setting is important. It’s a small town, about an hour from the major metropolitan city center. It could be any number of these type of towns. Mostly rural, but that doesn’t mean folks don’t have all the markings of city life, from fancy cars to fancy ideas.
My wife likes the local charismatic church, as does my step-son. (I choose the word “like” over others intentionally, as any Baptist should. So mark that.) It’s hard not to like the church. On Wednesday nights the foyer is lit like a nightclub, and the parking is full like a bowling alley’s on league play.
I had just arrived after ducking out of the Baptist church’s Wednesday night programming early, that is, when the games started. Baptists have recently switched from AWANA to “Kid’s For Truth” and this particular Baptist church was on its first effort with the new program. Suffice it to say, the night did not go well. Lots of scrambling, lots of evidence of lack of preparation. Lots of scapegoating that it was the “new programs” fault that things were not running smoothly.
This morning then—starting last night really—my wife and I chatted about the different experiences I had as we continue to seek out a church home. I love these types of conversations and discussions, and my wife enjoys them enough to indulge me.
Without walking you through the hour long chat moment-by-moment, though that was an eye-opening experience itself, I want to give you an analogy which captures the result, or where we landed.
The mystery of the modern protestant church is best likened to two engineering schools that teach from one specific written curriculum how to build one specific item—boats.
Now imagine that one of the schools is packed with students and that the professors all believe they are teaching how to build boats. Moreover, all the students really feel like they are learning how to build boats—the professor’s all agree—and they talk all the time about boats and their design and construction.
But they never build boats.
Mind you, no one needs any boats. It’s not like there are customers calling to ask, “Where’s my boat?” That’s just not happening. What is happening, to repeat, is there is a school which uses one specific written curriculum to teach how to build boats, there are professors teaching how to build boats, and there are paying students believing that they know how to build boats. All this, but no actual boats.
This is the first school.
The second school, using the exact same curriculum, has trouble finding professors—often resorting to retired professors and temporary professors—but they teach the curriculum to the letter. A person could build a very good boat based on their teaching. Regarding students, there are only non-traditional (25+ year olds) who actually are just auditing the course. Every once in a while, a real student shows up and pays to learn, but they often quit attending and ultimately (and quietly) stop submitting assignments. The older auditing students happily provide the materials for the boats—often one-upping each other in quality of supplies—but the students just seem to need other students around and so they keep quitting when they realize that they are the only one in the school.
So again, like the first school, there are no boats being built.
And like the other school, the written curriculum is there. There are capable, if not likeable and consistent, professors. Different than the first school, at this school there are even all the necessary supplies and tools, to build the boats, but the trouble is there are no students—and so no boats.
Now enters the problem. In what everyone sees retrospectively as a “should’ve known” moment, a bizarrely miraculous but terrible event occurs. Everybody, all people—not just students of those two aforementioned schools—fall into their own personal sink hole of varying sizes that contains themself and everything they have ever built. If one man built a lego set, it’s in their sink hole. If another built a paper airplane, it’s there. Many individuals have many items. Some have none. If someone built their house, the house is in the sink-hole. If a person built a boat, they have their boat. If a baby built nothing, there is a rather small hole with just a baby (probably crying). You get the picture.
There is no way out of these sink holes. No ladder can reach the top. No one is above who can throw down a rope. No flying machine has fuel. Everyone is stuck by themselves with whatever they built.
Then it starts to rain with no sign of stopping.
As this rather precarious and new, if not oddly predictable, situation continues to unfold, suddenly, the entire planet, and all its occupants, all its plants, everything instantly burns up. Nothing is left.
Finally, everyone gains awareness that they are still alive. Some are amongst a trash fire, unaware, and never becoming aware, that any change to their misery is possible. Others find themselves in what words cannot quite describe, but when pressed maybe something like blissful communion with what feels like an old friend and mentor, communion that has an odd mixture of familiarity and constant newness and overall is simply awe-inspiring.
That’s it. That’s the analogy.
In short, for my dad and readers like him who feel they want to understand but aren’t there yet, I’m saying the problem with church-shopping is that the church doesn’t direct where we end up after the fire.