Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Army Corp of Engineers have begun pumping the lake formerly known as New Orleans dry. The process will take three months. It will take another three or more months to scrape up the toxic sludge left behind. I assume after three months of soaking in water, every wood-frame structure (meaning most of the houses) will be condemned. In my mind, that raises a question: I'm in a shelter in Texas or Michigan or one of the other couple dozen states taking in refugees. My house is either already destroyed or will be condemned and demolished. Most likely, I don't have flood insurance, or it is not adequate to rebuild my house. Every single physical object that I owned, other than what little I have with me, is gone. Most likely, any means of making a living, doing anything other than shoveling toxic muck, is non-existent and will be for six months, maybe longer. Why would I ever go back? I can't be the only person asking that question. I wonder what the population of New Orleans will be two years from now. I'm guessing substantially less than what is was prior to Katrina.

Some of the people who stayed in their homes continue to refuse to evacuate. One case caught my eye: a man who refuses to leave his dog behind. As a dog lover, that would be a hard call. I do wonder just what these people expect from the government. Daily food and water deliveries brought out by boat? Does any of them have enough food and water to last six months? Many of them are staying on the second floor of partially flooded homes. Are any of them aware of what months of soaking in water will do to the structural integrity of their house? On the other hand, how do you just leave a pet knowing the best you can hope for is that thirst will drive it to drink contaminated water and die relatively quickly, rather than slowly starve to death?

Here is a news site that understands that words are useless to describe just how bad things are. Thousands of photos, each more eloquent than any talking head.

Now that everyone is good and depressed.

Not much happening over the weekend. Debbie is dog sitting at the home of one of her co-workers in Kalkaska. Nestina is settling into her job. I tried to have a couple soccer practices over the weekend, but everyone was out of town. It did give me a chance to work with our new goal keepers, so it was useful. Other than that, not much to report.

Except that on Sunday, Debbie and I went to see the Power Team at the Kaliseum. If you have never seen these guys, they are a traveling evangelical outreach ministry that uses feats of strength to draw in people. It's pretty impressive, especially when they use white gas to set the stage on fire. Our pastor reported over 400 decisions of various types prior to the final program on Sunday. If I had to guess, they probably got another 100 or so from Sunday night. I remember seeing these guys when I was in high school. It was pretty much the same gig, other than I don't recall the stage being set on fire.

I will probably be sticking my head in another hornets nest, but I'm sure there are one or two of my readers that I haven't managed to offend in some way, and I wouldn't want anyone to feel left out. The following comments are based on first-hand experience, either from the show Sunday, or from seeing the Power Team when I was in Jr. High (the primary target) and similar programs over the years, not hearsay from others.

How sincere are decisions made at these events? I saw several dozen kids rush the stage on a dead run the second the invitation to come forward for salvation was given. Many of them were wearing autographed t-shirts from previous shows. Maybe this was arranged so no one would have to be first, but I have my doubts. I saw many that were no doubt sincere. I also saw many that, having spent my entire life in evangelicalism, I would tag as "repeat performers;" those that can't seem to ever pass up an opportunity cry in front of a crowd. I also saw many that were literally being dragged to the front by friends. If anyone thinks that peer pressure only works in a secular setting, you have obviously not spent much time around "church folk." That isn't always bad when we are talking about some self-destructive habit like alcoholism, but, based on the number of teens I have seen get "saved" then drop it like a ...well... bad habit as soon as their peer group changes, I have some doubts as to their sincerity.

What sort of follow-up is planned? I couldn't keep up with a dozen kids in youth ministry. Where is this flood of Christians willing to disciple 400-500 people going to come from? If our entire adult church membership suddenly took on a half dozen each, it still wouldn't be enough. And without follow-up, I can guarantee that most of these decisions won't last until the end of school today, if they make it that long. Cynical? You bet; cynicism born of much experience, including personal experience.

Who will be doing the follow-up? This is related to the previous question, but from a different direction. The Power Team announced the names of a dozen area churches that helped put this thing on. Who gets those 400-500 names? Are they just divided up evenly amongst the churches? Apportioned based on average Sunday morning attendance? Is the entire list given to all the churches so they can duke it out in the "religious market" like McDonald's and Burger King competing to see who can clog my arteries the fastest? Just who are we getting in bed with? Most of the churches involved differ more in practice than theology, but I know a couple disagree with us on what I would consider to be basic doctrines that define the very term "Christian." Just who are we climbing into bed with for what amounts to a marketing campaign?

Are big, one-shot campaigns better than sustained, long-term effort? This is probably one of the most contentious issues in evangelism. Historically, churches suffer a partial or complete loss of identity when they assimilate a large lump of new members. This can sometimes be positive, sometimes not, but the assimilation process always results in a significant fraction of the new members just walking away because they never feel accepted, as well as a loss of existing members that can't make the transition. What if the resources devoted to this one big event were instead used in a sustained, years-long campaign of evangelism? What if the same number of people "made decisions" over the course of one or two years, rather than being concentrated in four days? In terms of long-term impact, would this be a better strategy than the Big Bang approach? On the other hand, is there a congregation anywhere in North America that would devote the time and money, evenly spread over the course of an entire year, that can be brought to bear on a single event? Is it easier to convince someone to put 40 hours of work in one week to bring about 400 decisions at a single, large event, or to put one or two hours a week indefinitely towards a sustained goal of maybe one decision a week? Again, my experience is that the former is much easier than the latter. Not that either one is easy, but people prefer a big, short-term splash for their effort over long-term results. If you doubt that, compare the money spent on the lottery vs. the national savings rate, which was negative the last time I looked.

Does that mean that The Power Team and their like should be disbanded? I'm not prepared to say that. Does that mean that no one has ever truly become a believer at this type of event? That is most assuredly a false statement. I guess I'm just saying that some thought needs to go into how these events are conducted and promoted. There certainly needs to be better preparation of Christian kids that attend these events. It isn't about the personalities on the stage, and rushing the stage during the invitation to grab your souvenir chunk of broken concrete is, at best, a distraction.

And that is probably more than enough for now.

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