Body, Mind & Spirit

By Todd Outcalt
toutcalt@calvaryunited.org

Recently there was an outcry from the medical community when a new rating system for physicians was made available to the general public. The new system allows patients to check a doctor's history and record pertaining to malpractice and/or effectiveness, or fill out a questionnaire, subjecting the physician to a rating on a simple ten point scale.

The church, likewise, is not immune to this trend.

A few years ago, following a new member class, a well-meaning young man approached me and said, "I really like your church. We shopped for a long time and believe this is the place for our family. This church is a seven; maybe an eight and we really enjoy your sermons. We'd give you a nine!"

He said this with such bravado and without a hint of sarcasm that I had no idea how to respond. On the one hand, he was trying to give a compliment. On the other hand, I felt as if he had just punched me in the gut. I thanked him, but realized that his approach to the church was not unlike the approach he and his wife had probably taken toward selecting a new car or a soccer team for their son.

I'm not the only pastor who has noted these trends.

In so many ways, these are the trends that are at the core of recent discussions about discipleship in mega-churches, the continuing decline in church attendance, the effectiveness of preaching, our style of music and even clergy morale. We realize that we are being evaluated and ranked like everything else in our culture. And this stirs reaction.

There is a part of me that wants to brace against this trend. I'd like to rally the church, form a bulwark against this tide of public opinion. I'd like to be able to say that it doesn't matter what popular culture thinks - we'll just go on being the church, singing the Lord's songs, preaching our sermons behind Plexiglas pulpits.

But there is another side of me that wants to rate the church, too. Not because I long to adopt the trends, but because I realize that the church has always been reacting to culture. I realize that - like the parable of the soils - not everyone will hear or receive the message in the same way. But we have to prepare good soil. In one way or another people have always been ranking the Christian movement - giving Christ high marks or low.

In the Gospels, some people continue the journey with Christ, and others turn back. Some go all the way to Jerusalem. Others stop at the edge of Galilee.

Initially, we may find such opinions scandalous or offensive. We don't like to be judged - especially by those who don't share the faith. But we can learn from those who give the marks, even from those who hang around on the periphery of the church and pass judgment.

Todd Outcalt serves as senior pastor of Calvary UMC in Brownsburg, Ind. His new blog is toddoutcalt.blogspot.com and some of his latest writing can be found in digital form on www.Amazon.com.