Wreck the Temple Monday
Lounging back in the old pleather recliner of my apartment, I looked around at the group of about fifteen sojourners sprawled out across my living room floor and silently prayed that God would miraculously fix my air conditioner. He didn’t. The apartment maintained its mugginess, and cigarette smoke – courtesy of my neighbors downstairs – drifted through the open windows only to combine with the smell of scented candles and a room full of sweaty people. The occasion was my community’s annual event called “Wreck the Temple.” As we wiped the sweat from our foreheads, we spent the evening pouring out our hearts to one another about why the Church makes us want to flip over tables like Jesus did.
I wrote an article last week about this community practice of “Wreck the Temple.” Quite simply, as a church body divided into our missional communities, we spent the second day of Holy Week in a similar way to which Jesus spent his first day after Palm Sunday – drawing attention to the damaging yet seemingly standard practices of the religious establishment.
“Wreck the Temple” is unlike most of the special events on our church calendar. There is no prayer. There is no music. There is no message. Outside of telling the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, the event is centered on a conversation about the Church. It is an invitation to express yourself regardless of your beliefs or backgrounds. It is an opportunity to tell your story. It is a time to kick dirt on a Church that so often wants to make itself look blameless and clean.
Though moderately uncomfortable because of the broken air conditioner, I could see once again how God used this “Wreck the Temple” event for the goodness of His Kingdom. There was a healthy balance of skeptics and community members in our group this year, so the conversation revolved mostly around the big “C” Church and less on our little “c” church. Every year is different, and if I recall correctly, last year was the opposite.
Over the past few days I have been in reflection about the night. What is so special about “Wreck the Temple?” Why is this event consistently significant year after year during our Holy Week schedule? Having spent the last couple of days debriefing with myself and other leaders, what I discovered is that “Wreck the Temple” itself was a counterargument to most of the concerns raised by the people about the Church during the night. Let me explain.
“Wreck the Temple” was Honest
One of the most common tables that was “flipped over” that night was a frustration about a lack of honesty in the Church. Christians and churches too often present themselves as if they have everything together. Christians follow a Jesus who was a friend of prostitutes and sinners, yet are more concerned with upholding a clean image and judging others for their beliefs and practices.
“By condemning others, isn’t it a lot easier to hide your own skeletons?” questioned one of the leaders of our group. Her point led into a conversation about how Christians should have a posture of humility, being honest about how they often fail, but strive to be more like Jesus. The condemning methods of preaching and evangelism that many had witnessed in the church had left an aftertaste that Christians think they are better than everyone else. The takeaway was that a church with a superiority complex is not a church we want to join.
Jesus came to the world to save the world, not to condemn the world (John 3:17). Christians need to be honest about their identity in Christ. With no honesty, the Church becomes like a country club, where keeping up a facade is prioritized over responding to God and appearing holy matters more than loving your neighbors.
The wonderful realization is that as people were sitting together frustrated by the Church’s lack of honesty, there we were being honest with each other about our beloved church’s imperfections and stains. “Wreck the Temple” became a vehicle of honesty for our church.
“Wreck the Temple” was Focused
When the night began, we made the main point of the night crystal clear – this is a space to express thoughtful grievances about our church, the Church, or Christians in general in a way that is healthy. It was a communal act of confession between those inside and outside of our church. Yet, as we identified during the conversation, the church isn’t always so focused in its attention and practices.
“They are completely missing the point!” exclaimed the self-proclaimed “spiritual but not religious” girl who I had just met for the first time at the cheese table earlier that evening. She was speaking in reference to the recent World Vision debacle, where thousands of individuals across the United States stopped sponsoring the education, medicine, and basic needs of poor children around the world because of their unrelenting passion in the gay marriage debate.
Once the World Vision conversation started, even the quietest among us spoke up in frustration. “How can so many Christians be getting it so wrong?” “Are they even reading about the same Jesus?” Doubts about the Church were expressed. Whether it was politics, social issues, or money, there was much conversation about the Church being unfocused and having bad priorities.
Alarming stories were told, yet I held a calm sense of peace about the direction of the conversation. This was not the brand of Church bashing that you might see on the Bill Maher show. We were flipping tables. Our frustrations were real but they came from a place of hope. We know that the church could be so much more if it were focused on the purity of hearing and responding to God.
We sat there that night focusing our attention on Jesus. Once again, “Wreck the Temple” became an example that the church could focus its attention on Jesus and walk away motivated to be more.
“Wreck the Temple” was Intimate
The third major theme of the evening was that the group had frustrations with a church that was more interested in controlling and less interested in empowering. However, as I have reflected on the theme, it all came down to intimacy. The frustration was that, by becoming more intimate with the church, they would be handing over their individuality for purposes they were not interested in serving.
“Outside of this evening” remarked one young newcomer, “I have always felt like the church only wanted to tell me what to do, without even knowing me.” This conversation was interlaced with talk of money, power, and rules. Many had experienced a church that created a space to be controlled for programmatic purposes, not a family where one could belong and be discipled.
The idea of a church which empowers its members was never mentioned. However, I do not think it needed mentioning. “Wreck the Temple,” an organized church function, stood as a tangible instance of intimacy without a burden. Those who came were able to enjoy community, share personal stories, and leave. There was no catch. People are looking for a place to belong before they are looking for a place to be controlled. “Wreck the Temple” provided that space of intimacy with no strings attached.
Wreck the Church
The conversation which I was a part of on Monday night was an isolated event involving people in my circles of influence. However, the themes which were expressed at “Wreck the Temple” are not unlike to the trends that have been uncovered in third party research about the Church’s reputation. Yet, the culture of your neighborhood or city is going to be different than mine. Even more, the culture and problems of your church are also going to be different than those of Missio Dei Church.
We need churches that are honest, focused, and intimate. Create a space for your church to freely express its grievances. Empower your disciples with an opportunity to flip some tables. Invite those who admire your community, but who have been hurt by church in the past, to come tell their stories. People feel valued when they know that they have been heard. With a posture of humility, you’ll be amazed by how much healing can come to a community when people have an opportunity to share what bothers them.
Do not be afraid of flipped tables in your church. Our God is in the business of restoring and revitalizing, and it is His will for His Church to be a light to the world and a city shining on a hill.
“May we live our lives in such a way that they stand as a counterargument to the widely held frustrations our neighbors hold against the Church. Jesus, may we continue to learn how to love you and our neighbors with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. Amen.”