Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Saddleback Approach or the Monastic Approach?

Today is Rick Warren's birthday. He wrote The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? which has sold over 30 million copies. I have always wondered if people picked up that book without realizing its Christian focus and then were confused when what they thought would be a self-help book turned religious on them.

I have read that book, and while I didn't agree with all of its theology (it seems to discount free will in a way that makes me uncomfortable), I didn't find it egregious. I also read The Purpose-Driven Church.  I remember that it had some interesting suggestions, but I also remember thinking that a lot of his ideas won't work for a lot of churches.

For one thing, he suggests taking out the pews and putting chairs in the space.  On the one hand, it makes sense.  You can then arrange the chairs in whatever way makes sense for the service you're planning.  But most of us in established churches have a sanctuary that is designed for pews.  In most church buildings I've seen, you'd take out the pews, but you'd still have to put the chairs in rows because of the space.

His approach also seems more suited to people who are in churches that are more free-form and non-traditional.  I'm part of a liturgical church, which means that services will likely have certain elements. We're not going to throw away centuries of tradition.

I've read books that talk about appealing to the unchurched, books that talk about removing crosses and other sorts of theological symbols that might make people nervous.  Yikes.

I'm a poet, so my approach would be to stuff the sanctuary with more symbolism.  When I first went to Mepkin Abbey, I was fascinated by how the sanctuary changed throughout the day and from day to day.  For example, the monks had artwork that they used to enhance the worship, and the artwork changed depending on the festival of the day.

The more I think about Rick Warren's approach, the more I decide that I have more in common with monastics than with the Saddleback preachers of the world.  I love the monastic approach of calmly and quietly doing what the community has been doing for centuries.  Some years, the world approves, and seekers come.  Some years, they live in obscurity.

However, I've met more than one person whose life has been changed for the better because of a megachurch.  I understand the need they fill too.

Happily we live in a wide world, where there's room for both approaches and all sorts of experiments in between.

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