Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paul's Church Nightmares

"Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better." Robert Redford
If you are a channel surfer, you probably have seen quite a few "reality" T.V. shows. Among these are a couple of shows which feature a celebrity chef who is invited to help turn around a failing restaurant. After watching a few episodes of "Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares" it is inevitable that one might try to apply the principles demonstrated in these programs to other failing organizations.
Since the “mainline” Protestant churches have been in decline for the past several decades, and in spite of the efforts of some individual pockets of the Church to reform, there remain a huge number of failing “restaurants” out there that somehow manage to stay in business (as long as the old Sunday morning crowd remains satisfied with lousy fare and lousy service).

Watch for eerie parallels between failing kitchens and failing churches as we study the methods of the reality show (with a few helpful ideas from our celebrity Saint thrown in for good measure).

Step 1. There has to be a call for help.
The owners of the restaurant are finally facing up to the fact that they are losing their shirts and about to go belly up.

- Many churches have not faced the facts.
"A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying." 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 (NAB)
2. Analysis of the problems.
The celebrity chef checks out the decor, sits down and tries out the food and service. Problems are usually noted right off the bat as unacceptable food must be spat out, and servers are seen rolling their eyes or shaking their heads as the owners cringe or scowl in the background.
The chef then inspects the kitchen and often discovers stale, rotten ingredients, unsanitary practices, and lack of, or misplaced, authority.

- It often takes an outsider to spot the obvious problems in the church. Those inside have been made blind by a steady diet of an inauthentic gospel.
"For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within?
God will judge those outside. 'Purge the evil person from your midst.'" 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NAB)
3. Submission to authority.
Everyone must be shown what they are doing wrong and admit that the celebrity chef knows best. Many owners, cooks, and staff can't believe that the food stinks, the cooks and owners do not care enough about the stuff that comes out of the kitchen to even taste of it, the staff lacks leadership, and the servers don't know the menu. They thought the chef was just going to come in and rearrange the furniture. This sometimes causes an awful lot of anger, denial, name calling, and usually (but not always) repentance.
"Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?" Galatians 3:3 (NAB)
- Authority is not recognized by the liberal church since there can be no lawgiver, no right or wrong, no truth. In addition, nobody wants to confess that they have erred and gone astray. The demons that infect the Church will kick and scream if exorcism is attempted. In this way, many an exorcist has been scared off.
"So now have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?" Galatians 4:16 (NAB)
4. The clean out.
The old food is tossed out, equipment is cleaned, employees who refuse to repent are fired, owners are made to make the tough decisions.
"Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." 1 Corinthians 5:7 (NAB)
- Most churches never reach this point. The patrons just leave or continue to be slowly poisoned.

5. The make over.
Needed renovations are made.
This usually costs money, and that is something the troubled restaurant does not have. The producers of the television program ante up. A new menu is prepared by the celebrity chef which is within the capabilities of a remade kitchen team.

The problems point to something deeper that is wrong.
"for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 3:11 (NAB)
6. Spreading the word.
Samples of the new menu are handed out to people on the street. Everyone loves the taste and promises to try out the restaurant.

- Try to imagine the most amazing sidewalk evangelist ever. The message is so sweet that you want more of that divine food.
"Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (NAB)
7. Reopening night tensions and problems.
Many of the old problems resurface as hordes of new customers appear for the grand reopening. The lousy cook can't handle the new menu. The staff is not used to preparing and serving such a large crowd. Owners lose focus on putting out a quality product. Old patterns of behavior resurface. The celebrity chef quickly identifies the problem areas, and demands correction.

-As they say in the South, "They heard it, but it didn't take." It seems that every generation has to re-learn the hard way.
"Do not be led astray: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.'
Become sober as you ought and stop sinning. For some have no knowledge of God; I say this to your shame." 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 (NAB)
8. Final changes.
Sometimes these are too painful to accept, but the owner who has learned his/her lesson will step up and make the changes needed to both themselves and their staff.

- How often do we see this happen in the Church?
"If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Marana tha." 1 Corinthians 16:22 (NAB)
9. Promise to do better.
As the chef departs and all promise to give it their very best effort, the chef turns to the camera and expresses his hope that they will indeed change their ways for he knows what happens to those who backslide.

"For even if I saddened you by my letter, I do not regret it; and if I did regret it ((for) I see that that letter saddened you, if only for a while),
I rejoice now, not because you were saddened, but because you were saddened into repentance; for you were saddened in a godly way, so that you did not suffer loss in anything because of us.
For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.
For behold what earnestness this godly sorrow has produced for you, as well as readiness for a defense, and indignation, and fear, and yearning, and zeal, and punishment." -2 Corinthians 7:8-11 (NAB)
10. The revisit (optional). On occasion, the series returns to see how the restaurant is faring. Sometimes the place is closed or sold to a new owner. On other occasions, the celebrity chef's interventions have been tossed out and the place has gone back to serving poorly prepared or even canned food to small numbers of non-discriminating customers. Sometimes, the chef returns to find that everything is going swimmingly well to the joy of all.
"I am writing this while I am away, so that when I come I may not have to be severe in virtue of the authority that the Lord has given me to build up and not to tear down.
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you." 2 Corinthians 13:10-13 (NAB)

WWPS (what would Paul say) if he came to your church as a consultant? Several things come to mind, but he has probably already written them down. In modern language, perhaps he might say:

1. What have you done to the menu I gave you?
2. Your food is lukewarm.
3. Your staff needs to study the menu, deliver the menu, and let the meal work its magic.
4. Where has your passion gone, do you not care anymore?

"I never eat in a restaurant that's over a hundred feet off the ground and won't stand still." Calvin Trillin (1979)


  1. I'm reminded of the "spit you out of My mouth" bits of the letter to Laodicea in Revelation.

    Fun, but spot-on analysis/analogy. The problem seems to be that no one can see the necessity of that first call to the "celebrity" chef.


  2. Anonymous1:26 AM

    UP the minute you start equating God with the foul-mouthed violent Gordon Ramsey or his current replacement, the steroidal Robert Ervine, I am forced to asked you have ANYTHING to do with your time? A job, perhaps, a girlfriend, a fish, a volunteer job of any kind if you can't get work?

    This will never see the light of day, since "all comments must be approved by the blog editor." But it might behoove you to remind yourself of one of the most important scriptural passages---and one that religious bloggers never remember: "Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven." Now get off your computer and go do something SPECIFIC and concrete to improve your church!

  3. I find it interesting that Anon 1:26 sees an analogy between Gordon Ramsey or Robert Ervine and God in "Paul's Church Nightmares."

    It was Robert Ervine's "Restaurant: Impossible" that inspired me in part because his language is not as offensive as Chef Ramsey's.

    I print anon's post because of the unspoken questions it raises if one, like anon 1:26, carries the analogy to another level.

    1. Can God ever be angry at His church?

    2. Can God vent His anger upon the Church?

    3. What would God say if He paid a visit to your church?

    4. Is # 3 a frightening thought to you?

    5. Who wastes over an hour of their time perusing 80 pages of this off the beaten track blog after midnight anyway?

  4. Yikes!

    Anon 1:26 needs to become acquainted with the literary concept of "the extended metaphor/analogy."

    Beyond that, let me suggest that nothing about UP's post equates God with Ramsey. It merely points out the necessary methods employed by one person to rescue failing institutions of all types.

    As I suggested in my comment, the first step is always acknowledging the existence problem, i.e. my life stinks or my business is horrible.

    Thereafter follows seeking one who can put things right, i.e God or the celebrity chef; Then follows conviction of the nature of error, i.e. sin or a crappy kitchen.

    Then a willingness to change, i.e. confession v. following the advice of the expert.

    With that one get's forgiveness: Grace or a new decor, freely given.

    Finally, there is repentance. Continued living according to God's will for us or continuing to do what the expert says.

    As UP points, out whether one stays the path is the next question. For the answer to that, one needs to insert the Parable of the Sower.


  5. ToilNotSpin1:29 PM

    I am confused about Anon--what exactly is he/she complaining about? I don't watch either Ramsey or Ervine (isn't that spelled "Irvine") because the restaurants themselves make me sick. But what does that have to do with Paul? or UP's personal life? Maybe I'm just too old. I have a problem with some of UPs responders but I kind of like UP. In fact, if Anon doesn't like UP, why read these postings? But don't be too harsh on those of us who blog after midnight---old folks like me don't sleep that well and I think I mostly type after midnight!

  6. I forgot to answer your questions, UP.

    1. I'm not sure "anger" is right word, inasmuch as The Church, by definition, is "the Bride of Christ" and His institution. Therefore, any judgment he makes concerns individuals and congregations and perhaps denominations within The Church.

    2. With respect to the above, I think He his more grieved/disappointed, than angry, per se and attempts to lead us back to him, gently if possible, more firmly if required, and painfully as a last resort. To the extent God/Christ vents anger and judgment on the world, members of His Church may be collateral damage, simply because we are in the world, if not of it.

    3. Our pastor recently went through the admonitions of Christ in Revelation to the churches of Asia Minor. We discussed, frankly and sincerely, what our faults were, and determined we were like Ephesus as a congregation (lost our first love), but many individuals confessed a Laodicean lukewarmness.

    4. You betcha. Who wouldn't be mindful of God's judgment?

    5. I've been a visitor here for awhile, so this question is not applicable.

    (I've commented twice in this thread. You can punt this one, if you wish.)


  7. Thanks Randall,

    Watch out for the big thaw predicted to cause flooding this year in your part of the country!