falling off the (band)wagon

I had an interesting experience of reading two seeming unrelated, though similar, stories juxtaposed against each other in a span of minutes.

The first one being an op-ed column by a religion writer for a large media outlet, concerning the drastic drop-off in the practice of tithing among both mainstream and evangelical churches.

The second one being a terse business report, showing a significant plunge in popularity for University of Texas apparel at Walmart stores statewide.

How are the two related?

Well, I’m certainly not meaning to imply that all UT supporters are necessarily “church-going” folks, or even that the ebb and flow of church attendance has anything to do with the Longhorn football team’s mediocre performance this season.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc and so forth. Simply because one followed the other, or even they occurred near each other in time, does not necessarily mean they must be connected. Instead, the correlation between the two is far more circumstantial.

All the technical parsing of language aside, there are two indisputable facts: the Texas Longhorns stink and churches are running out of money.

But how can this be?

Are not each of them positioned so advantageously as to both succeed and prosper?

UT is the largest and wealthiest university in the South, wedged smack-dab in the middle of the most fertile schoolboy recruiting grounds in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Every year, they get the “cream of the crop” of graduating high school athletes banging on their door. Very little actual recruiting is even necessary.

With their boundless resources (and not insignificant political clout) they have every reason to do well and no excuse to fail.

So, if the Longhorns fail to succeed, is there not some grievous disconnect from resource to result? Surely the raw material is there…  it’s the failure of those in oversight to manage it properly.

Churches are, according to the Bible, one of the primary means by which most (if not all) people encounter and experience the Creator of the Universe. Those who operate within these institutions, presumably, possess a far superior level of wisdom and moral character. Such that they are discerning and skilled in their art, that they can carrying out and accomplish the task(s) at hand.

Thus, if these institutions become outmoded or obsolete, must not the blame must fall upon on the shoulders of the infallible? Surely an omnipotent Lord is capable of keeping what is truly His.

My conclusion is that there are some that are ill-qualified to be in the positions they keep. That they are many who have no business being in the positions they hold. That they are many who are simply heading in the wrong direction. That there are many who, despite their obvious failure, continue to lurch blindly ahead, wreaking havoc and driving people further and further away.

…and also that the Longhorns really, really stink.
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Now, I’ve read some interesting perspectives concerning both of these matters.

One sportswriter made the argument that the parity of college football, as a result of the sheer volume of schoolboys coming out of Texas high school football programs, makes the recruiting process harder than ever before.

Though true, I don’t buy it as an adequate excuse for home losses to UCLA and Iowa State. Iowa State? Are you kidding me?! I mean, c’mon, saying “recruiting is hard” is comparable to saying: “We weren’t outscored, we just ran out of time.” Give me a break! Every program has it tough, and most have it far tougher than UT.

A possible parallel to this is a study I read contending that vast cultural and technological shifts in our civilization have rendered the entire tradition of church attendance to be irrelevant to the lives people live.

Now there just might be something to this.

Speaking from my own experiences, it’s difficult to understand why many in the church believe so strongly in cultural approaches that were only practical 50 years ago. I mean, why stop there? Surely there were countless of successful “outreach programs” in the 1,950 years anno Domini that many such proponents would deem irrelevant to the present day.

Many churches have wholly embraced an overtly modern style of worship, but what will happen when the winds change again? Should we just keep mimicking the cultural agenda around us, while failing to interact the spirit of the Age as Apostle Paul so eloquently did on Mars Hill? When do we start understanding the world around us and dealing with the context in which we walk?

Conversely, I know a lot of Longhorn fans are ready to part ways with offensive coordinator Greg Davis, but how will that stop the rampant penalties and poor defensive play that cost Texas against Kansas State and Oklahoma State? Maybe more coaches or players need to be “thrown under the bus” in the desperate plea for an Independence Bowl bid, or a .500 season.

As someone whose money and support is directed toward the University of Oklahoma, I don’t care if UT ever gets better. They’re only my concern one weekend out of the year.

However, as an ordained minister, I care very deeply about the Church and how/if/whether it brings glory to God. These are my concerns night and day, day after day.
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An issue with tithes is not a mere matter of finances, for the Lord will certainly provide, but it clearly illustrates how people no longer see the church as a worthwhile “investment” of their resources, financial or otherwise.

Now is the time for churches to get back on mission and to truly “put aside foolish things.” The time to cling to outmoded or arbitrary fealties and affectations is over, and has been for a while now.

If anything is going to truly change for the better, wisdom and discernment are required. Courage also, to cut through the ensnarements and entanglements of our Adversary.

We must have a clear eye for the future, while standing strong in the present, without forgetting the lessons of our past.

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