"Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better." Robert RedfordIf 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.2. Analysis of the problems.
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)
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?3. Submission to authority.
God will judge those outside. 'Purge the evil person from your midst.'" 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NAB)
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."6. Spreading the word.
1 Corinthians 3:11 (NAB)
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.'8. Final changes.
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)
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),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 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)
"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)