I wrote about pastor Kevin Sutherland in my post, Money corrupts pastors. One of his congregants contacted me via email and asked that I watch a sermon or two to get a better feel for a real "man of God". So I did. This sermon was delivered at Mosaic Miami church on February 3rd, 2013.
I've sat through hundreds of sermons as an atheist. They all seem interchangeable. This sermon was no exception. Pastor Sutherland makes a long impassioned plea for people to come to Christ. He gives ample reasons for doing so, and tells the story in an entertaining way, but it is the same story. Sinners and nonbelievers need Christ and Christians need to let Christ lead their lives. I've heard the pitch so many time and in so many different forms that I could give a convincing performance myself. It is what was missing from the sermon that bothers me about Christianity. Few Christians have an idea what it means to be follower of Christ. They need to be taught an authentic message. They must lean what it means to be a Christian. They don't get that message from an altar call.
Sutherland recalls the healing of the man blind from birth. He goes on to talk of Jesus mixing part of himself (spit) and part of the world (Mud) to symbolize, x, y and z. It is a retelling that I've heard ad nauseam. What I always look for is the pastor who will translate this miracle into action. What can a Christian do to live the example set by Jesus? What behavior can be adopted that will strengthen the message of Christ?
I once listened to a street preacher who told his audience to look for truth. He told them to think before judging. To look deeper than the surface. Look for meaning. Look for truth. He gave examples from current events. He sited history. It was amazing.
I've heard other calls for action too. The key is, rather than relating an often told story, giving a person something they can do to incorporate the teaching into their daily life. It almost never comes. It's easier to stick with the script.
There was another canard related to marriage. Sutherland said, no Christian marriage can fail if… Of course if your marriage fails, and about half do, then you were not really a christian and it was doomed to fail in the first place. It's such a trite message and completely wrong too. Marriages work or don't work based upon many factors. A good pastor can point you to behaviors that will build a healthly marriage, but they so seldom do. To get that message you need a special marriage retreat and a full complement of church sponsored Kool-Aid. Of course, I'm still not certain you will actually get advice on behavior, but more biblical passages and obscure references to what Jesus wants for you.
I just recently sat through another Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment of my personality. It was my fifth time around. I scored my normal INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging). I've had the same score each time I've taken the test over the last 20 years. We do not change. We learn how to offset the weaknesses in our personality type by learning behaviors. I am an introvert. I've learned to offset the problems with being an introvert through hard study at the hands of masters, plus I'm an autodidact. I have a toolset and I use it every day. Some tools are subtle and used with care. Others are direct, and used by second nature. For example. I have a habit of standing up near the door to a meeting and greeting people as they enter. I do this because otherwise I will ignore the people who enter and concentrate on my own thoughts. It's five minutes of stress I would rather do without, but it changes the social perception of me and help me get my job done.
The same concept applies to Christians. There are behaviors that can be learned that will offset the obvious weakness in ones personality and inclination. If you ignore the homeless, which is very unchristian, you can go out of your way to talk to them. If you get angry on Facebook threads, you can learn to self-moderate. The possibilities are endless. Pastors should teach this stuff, bu they rarely do. It is such a wasted opportunity.
Let me give just one more example of learned behavior that can offset a weakness. As an INTJ, I a spend a great deal of time in my own mind with little interest in other peoples thoughts or feelings (or so the profile says). What this means for me is that for a time when I was new to my career, I would sit and daydream about a problem. I would not seek the input of others, instead I would think it out. My boss gave me no end of grief over the day dreaming. My coworkers hate me. I leaned two things that are now habits. First, I close the doors to my office when I need to think, and second, I recognize the behavior and asks other for input even if the input will not help. Making the change has helped cement relationships with my staff and has changed how others view my work habits. Just think of the opportunities for Christians. What one thing could you change about how your faith is perceived that would benefit your religion the most?
I recently discovered that a local Korean church, that holds Korean language only services at their church, is active in my neighborhood doing shopping for elderly shut-ins. The elderly are mostly older white and hispanic people. The Koreans do not advertise their generosity. They simply help the old folks and ask nothing in return. Talk about changing perceptions… This is the same church that converted a local pub to a church, so I was not a happy with them at all. It was the only pub within walking distance of my house after all.
I don't know if Kevin Sutherland is a criminal or a misunderstood pastor. I'll find out in the days ahead. I can tell you that his message is the same as that of a thousands of other hip little churches in America. His church is driven by his personality. His message is simple. Come to my church. Hear my words. Become a Christian. Tilth. Church is a business after all.