Thursday, February 19, 2009

My time at the Creative Church Conference

I'm at the Creative Church Conference in Grapevine, Tx. The crowd here skews a little younger than I'm used to...this is not your father's church conference, you might say. I'm seeing a lot of very creative hairstyles containing a whole lot of hair gel...and that's just the guys. But I digress...

I love going to conferences like these because they challenge me. It's not that I feel like I should try to emulate any of the dynamic, successful leaders who speak at these sorts of events, but I do gain new ideas, hear things from a different perspective. Often, I feel fed and inspired in a way that helps me go back to my ministry with a renewed spirit. Then again, sometimes I hear a certain speaker who just isn't my cup of decaf.

That was the case this morning. This guy is very well known and extremely successful, but I found myself critiquing him from the word go. It seemed to me that he was trying WAY too hard to be Jim Carrey, with impressions of famous people, joke after joke, and tons of hyperkinetic eneregy. Not that humor is bad--I just didn't see any depth in what he was saying. In fact, when he spoke the second time, I decided to just watch him as I would a stand-up comedian, and I enjoyed it a lot more. Some of the jokes fell flat, but that's okay, there was another one coming in thirty seconds or so.

And in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

But it got me thinking...once we hang around the Christian world for a while, we encounter preachers and churches we just don't approve of. I'm not talking about doctrine here...I'm talking about style. It may be a famous radio or TV ministry or author that everyone is crazy about...except you. Or it may be a church that is packing people in, and you cannot understand why. What should be our attitude toward this? I know the attitude I often have--the same one I had this morning--we begin critiquing them, and it sure does make us feel better.

BUT...we're on the same team, aren't we? I'm reminded of Paul, writing from prison late in his life. He was hearing reports that some of his former enemies within the church, people who had ruthlessly criticized his ministry, were now preaching in churches he had planted. They were in fact building on his foundation...and tearing down his reputation while they did it. In other words, Paul had real reasons to feel resentful toward these preachers. This wasn't just about style or jealousy. This was personal.

But here is what Paul wrote about such men in his letter to the Philippians (1:17):

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

What difference does it make whether I like a particular person's preaching style, or agree with them on some minor point? As long as we're leading people into the same Kingdom, I should be able to rejoice at their success and pray for their ministry. Even if they begin robbing people from my church (sheep-stealing is the biggest cxrime in religion today), I should not therefore consider them my enemy. I'm serving God, they are serving God, and He'll judge for Himself on that Day who did the job faithfully. Until then, He uses all of matter how true our motives or how "effective" our ministries. And that's reason to rejoice.


Julia said...

Jeff, thank you so much for that encouragement. We really do get carried away on small things like that. I was brought up in a different denomination but in my adulthood I have been part of both Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and in all cases I can truly say I have seen God move in amazing ways. Confirming that we are all God’s children and he can and will use whomever he wants, all he needs is a willing vessel. Yet sometimes it is so hard for us to fathom that the Lord does indeed speak to the "other group". Just like the quote you gave from Paul, I am reminded of what Jesus said to John when he saw a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name yet he was “not one of them”. Jesus lovingly told in Mark 9:40 “For whoever is not against us is for us”.

Clarissa Webb said...

Jeff Berger! You were in Grapevine and didn't call us?! Shame on you! Jk! I realize you were busy. But next time, maybe we can all can hang out whenever you have a break, especially if this same dude is one of the speakers, eh? :-) (again, jk)

Anyway, I appreciate your honesty about this speaker. We went to a marriage conference a couple weekends ago, and I found myself thinking similar thoughts about one of the speakers there. But then I remembered what my mother --- she's gotten wiser as I've gotten older, funny how that happens --- told me once about how we can never underestimate the workings of the Holy Spirit. So from that perspective, I shouldn't be critical of this person's style when God may be using him/her to reach others and meet them exactly where they are.

We're singing an African song in choir right now with lyrics no one can understand. (I mean, we know the gist of it, and it's not like "Word to your mother" or anything, it's good stuff about calling on Jesus, our joy, and things like that.) Though it's been a difficult song to learn, it's a good reminder that God is bigger than one language. God is bigger than one style. God is bigger than one form of worship. And, furthermore, none of it is about us. It's easier to say that than actually thing that and enact that at times, but it's true nevertheless, and sometimes it takes a foreign worship experience to remind me of that.

Anyway, I didn't mean to ramble, but that's usually what happens when I begin to comment on these things, which is why I usually don't. But thanks for sharing! Have a good one.

Jeff Berger said...

Julia, thanks for adding the Mark 9:40 reference. That's at least as applicable as what I quoted. And Clarissa, it's so good to hear from you! I wish we had called you when we were there. I would've enjoyed seeing you guys more than that conference. We miss you.

Satan slips in quietly said...

I agree that it is sometimes bad to be critical of people. I only do it when I am very frustrated with them not seeing the truth after looking at it from an outside perspective. The Bible talks about "a spec or log in your own eye." A couple of verses down I believe it says that you can be critical if you clean your own house. Putting a persons name on the screen nearly continuously while preaching seems to be saying look at how wonderful I am. Stressing the and Kerry name is extremely bad. Why not put " I thought the name Fellowship Church was already taken. Kerry shows that name on the screen for a couple of seconds every broadcast. Why is he also trying to sell books and audio all the time? I think his emphasis is on Kerry and only Kerry. God is just his pathway to make money and to stroke his ego. I feel very bad when I criticize people, but he has gone over the line. I cleaned my house.

Satan slips in quietly said...

I dislike being critical about people especially if they are the ones who are supposed to know the Bible and lead by example. Why is it that so many preachers don't understand the part of the Bible about storing up treasure in Heaven? Kirbyjon Caldwell has an enormous mansion in Montgomery County in The Woodlands. It is public record. If he made the money back when he had a different job and if he is so smart that he can buy a mansion, why doesn't he invest more money and use it for his church? The house is the most expensive of any preacher in Houston. It is also on the opposite side of Harris County from his church. Wasn't there a house closer to his church? If he bought it for an investment, weren't there nice houses or vacant lots closer to his church? The house is so big next to the golf course that it looks big from Yahoo! map "satellite" picture. Why does the preacher at The Woodlands United Methodist Church have two houses in The Woodlands and one that is worth over $600,000. If you go on their website and look at the list of past sermons, what do you see? How many preachers preached last year and how often does the head ministers preach? I guess as long as a misister doesn't have sex with a church employee, have sex with men, or do drugs, everything else is alright.

Jeff Berger said...

I'm starting to regret posting this particular article. I did not want to open the door to negative and defamatory comments about specific ministers. It's not for me to judge what sort of house a pastor can live in. I'll leave that to God. The whole point of my article was that, even if a particular minister is not my style, God can still use him. Now if someone is straying from the core truths of our Faith in his preaching, then he needs to be confronted. That's not the case with any of the ministers you mentioned, as far as I know.