Monday, July 28, 2008

i sold my soul on ebay

I finally got around to reading Hemant Mehta’s book, I Sold My Soul on eBay. Hemant is an atheist who is still curiously questioning the possibility of God’s existence. He was raised a Jainist primarily by his mother in his childhood, but jettisoned his beliefs when he hit the teenage years. The story of how he felt freer after losing his religion makes the book intriguing. His comments and impressions of Christians on college campuses are worth the price of the book. Though, uh, it was only $4.99 in a discount bookstore in Myrtle Beach.

And then he came up with the idea of agreeing to attend any church for one year for whatever anyone was willing to pay him on eBay…and to honestly listen and learn. Turns out my friend Jim Henderson (who was on staff here several years ago and never short a creative idea!) beat the bids and came up with an alternative idea for Hemant: visit lots of different churches and give your no-holds-barred impression of Christians, church methodologies, styles and traditions. Be honest and don’t hold back. Journal what connected with you and what left you scratching your head. It’s your basic “pay-a-friendly-atheist-to-go-to-church” deal.

The results were a fascinating quick read for us “churchologists”.

Turns out Hement is extremely respectful and an engaging writer. Understanding where he’s coming from, his age, his background and his personality (which shines through easily) make his “reviews” easier to process. The churches that he felt spoke a clear engaging message may surprise you…and make for great questions. I heard one of his interviews on NPR some months back along with Jim and was captivated by the story.

Here’s the bottom line for me: if a church’s mission statement defines weekend services to be focused on believers, the sacraments and “family business”, then one can skip this book. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, as long as there are other methods of evangelism taking place. But if a church claims their weekend services are one of their primary ways of reaching not-yet-believers, then this book holds invaluable insights for a particular demographic.

And be careful, you Joel Osteen-bashers; that chapter alone will bend your gray matter. Yeah, there’s the obvious: did Hement hear a clear call of sacrificial surrender or did he simply respond positively to a “feel-good” message? Interestingly, he says he heard the gospel message, both obvious and between the lines. But the package was enough to pique his heart…and even get his Jainist mom reading Your Best Life Now and watching Lakewood on TV each week!

Atheists and Jainists watching Joel Osteen? Wow. Different strokes for different folks.

But it got me thinking…


  1. I wonder what Hemant Mehta would say about our church if he saw what I saw Saturday morning. We showed up to help with the Lincoln Heights Block Party. That community is less than four miles from the front door of our church and it is hurting badly.

    When we pulled into the parking lot to prep supplies and load the trailers, I was excited. The parking lot was full! This was going to be a great Block Party. When I stepped into the South Lobby, my heart dropped. Less than twenty people in a church of over 6,000 showed up to do an activity that is at the core of our church's DNA.

    I looked back outside and wondered where all the people were that belonged to all of those cars. The auditorium was full of people, but they were watching television. The speaker seemed dynamic, and was talking about serving in the kingdom. Don't get me wrong--I am sure she is a wonderful bible teacher, but the kingdom is about doing--not talking.

    We managed to still do a wonderful Block Party for Lincoln Heights, but more volunteers would have made it much better. We are doing four more block parties this next month in similar communities that need our help. Coincidentally, there will be another "big screen" event next week in the form of a Leadership Summit.

    I am not against folks getting training. In fact, if you decide to attend that event, it would be really cool. I hope you learn a number of new skills, but do me a favor. Please consider using some of those wonderful lessons you learn during the video conference and put them into immediate practice. Try applying them to helping with at least one of the block parties this month. You could also put them to use in one of the many other outreaches we will be doing as a church over the next few weeks. Just don't take a bunch of notes in a journal and then put them on a shelf to get dusty until next year's summit.

    If we have a huge turnout for that summit next week and then only a handful of folks show up to do the next couple of Block Parties. . .

    Well, it might cause me to do something drastic like list the church I helped start 23 years ago on eBay,

    Ask around, I am not kidding about that.

    --Ken Glassmeyer

  2. Just a few comments at the risk of sounding defensive; I hope it feels more informative...

    I think it’s a bit rash to joke about putting your church on eBay because of minimal turnout for a block party that, as far as I know, wasn’t even listed in the program. The implication is that we don’t care about the community at our “front door”. Frankly, the sum total of the amount of long-term work and investment in Lincoln Heights over many, many years has been huge, from Homeworks projects to tons of bag hunger visits to multiple block parties to helping with legal issues and settling city/residents disputes to being trash collectors during the “garbage strike” there. We have a great relationship with the community liaison there and have nurtured that over many years.

    Second, VCC has launched a holistic care adventure that involves hundreds of volunteers every single week (not just a one time event) at a radical concept called The Healing Center. And there have been more Habitat-related projects, more global missions teams, and larger seasonal outreaches and “touches” than ever. What’s more, we are attempting to make typical servant evangelism projects more organic, more of a lifestyle, than having the church always needing to program an event. There is more going on with small groups than ever before.

    Okay, now I feel “dirty” blowing our horn here. But it sounds like a tinge of arrogance regarding the “church that you helped plant”. Are we doing enough?—never. Are we aware of that?—always. Are we trying hard to listen to the voice of the Spirit on what we should be doing?—regularly. Are we satisfied with the status quo?—nope.

    But “selling my church on eBay”? I don’t think that’s a wise statement; your last line made it more ominous than clever. We’re in this together, we’re a Body. Let’s fix things together. The attitude and tone were hurtful.

    And let’s not make “training” versus “an outreach event” a black-and-white “either/or” issue. Tell that to the people that accepted Christ at the simulcast Saturday morning.

  3. Dave,

    You are probably right about it not being wise to sell VCC on eBay. If we continue down this path of becoming a "fortress mentality" church we will be like the hundreds of other churches in the region, so there will be no market niche and the bids would be low.

    You were here at about the same time I was, and you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. It isn't about brick and mortar (or plasma screens and monster cables), but rather about doing church OUTSIDE of our four walls--well I guess we have more than four walls, but you get the allusion.

    I am sorry if my words strike a sensitive chord, but I did mean to sharpen the iron a bit. I am doing my job in nudging our body back to the core of our DNA. Our church has a specific call to DELIVER COMPASSION to the city. I am pretty sure you were in the same room I was when God made it very clear that our mission was to "take it to the streets." I could be wrong, but I don't remember anything being said about making more parking lots.

    I know I am perceived as a salty, old dog prone to grumpiness, so if you believe my message is in error, just ignore my growl. That is all it is. I don't bite. I will trot off and continue to do outreach, if others in our pack join me, great--we will have BIG FUN. There is plenty of room at the kennel for those that prefer the life of a lapdog.


    For those of you that don't know Dave or I very well, please do not be alarmed. We have known each other for over two decades. We still love each other very deeply. This is just how we wrestle when we are both passionate about something, but happen to disagree.

  5. So I'm late on this, and I may be sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong, but what you (Ken) are communicating in a public forum is neither loving nor clever. It reeks of arrogance and bitterness. If you judge your church by how many of its members show up for a church-sponsored outreach, then maybe you need to consider selling your outdated idealogy on eBay.

    I haven't been at the Vineyard for 23 years, but I have run into many who have been around from the beginning who are living in the past. I once heard a wise person say the most damamging members of your congregation will be the people who refuse to move forward because they constantly sit around and remember the glory days of "how things used to be."

    I know Dave too, and I know he is always trying to learn and grow and seek God's heart. God help you if you stopped that process 23 years ago.

  6. LEGALISM is legalism, whether it comes in the form of the traditional churches from which many of us fled or someone deciding he can declare which ministries of the church "DELIVER" more "COMPASSION".

    This church offers SO many wonderful opportunities to give ourselves away, everyone cannot be everywhere for all of our outreaches.

    I spend alot of time at the Healing Center, on the front line helping whoever walks in our doors. Does that make me less compassionate than those who do block parties?

    How about the amazing people who work in our childrens ministries, taking care of the kids so that a single mom can worship in peace? Is their ministry less valid because it takes place within the "bricks and mortar"?

    People should be encouraged to serve, NEVER guilted into it. Personally, I don't give a rats rectum how long you've been at VCC, you, like the rest of us obviously have alot to learn.

    And keep your legalism, brother. I got freed from that death sentence and will not go back to its bondage again!

  7. Gee Tom and Anonymous,

    I must have touched a sore spot in both of you. In some ways I am glad, and in other ways I am sad. Hopefully, you will convert and utilize some of that anger into something productive and go OUT and SERVE somebody this week.

  8. Interesting that you chose not to engage and answer my questions to you, but just spout your lines again.

    I do not need to "convert my anger into somehing productive" because as I said, if you bothered to really read my post, I am already serving in several areas at VCC, even if they may not be "Ken approved" service areas. Funny, I have not seen you at the places I serve, but I never thought to feel superior to YOU about that...

    As to a "sore spot", you bet your behind its sore. I was raised in legalism and will become angry anytime someone lobs a bondage bomb at the general membership of a giving church because they want to feel "better than".

    Words mean things, Ken. Unless you just like to cause problems, which you may, I suggest you convert your superior legalism into more positive communication.

  9. Anon,

    I am very sorry for hurting your feelings. You are correct, there are many opportunities to serve at our church and all of them are of incredible value. I have helped in all of those areas at one time or another, but never at the expense of also serving OUT in the community.

    As for legalism, you may be missing your mark. I am the least legalistic person you could meet. Some would describe me as downright irreverent. Would a legalistic guy joke about listing his church on eBay? I think you might be misreading me. Look, it isn't about earning church merit badges, I am just suggesting we consider the biblical wisdom demonstrated by Jesus. He never stayed in one place long. He never sat back and made people come to him--he went to them.

    I am just trying remind folks that we need a healthy balance. It is not, and has never been, an "either/or" with our place. It has always been an "AND" when it comes to the balance of ministry focus. My original post was simply an observation. It was a reminder that we are, and will always be, a group of people called to go OUT and serve.

    Of course, we need interior ministries, only an idiot would suggest we don't. I help in several of these areas every month, but I balance that with making sure I do at least as much service OUTSIDEof our campus.

    I am sorry if you felt like I was peeing in your pool. I am sure you are a great person, and work really hard at what you do. If I knew who you were, I would invite you out to do some SE with me, and I would even buy you lunch afterwards so we could talk this out.

    My comments were based in love, not arrogance. I just don't want us to slide into a place where we no longer go OUT and deliver God's mercy. We need to bring his love to people and never become comfortable with only sitting back to dispense it to those that manage to wander into our church.

  10. I thought Ken’s original point (i.e., this is a big church, where is everybody??) was a good one (although I really didn’t care for the Ebay comment!). Since this thread has taken on a life of its own I thought I’d jump in, too.

    It’s not really a secret to those pulling the wagon (the leaders and workhorses) that there are a LOT more people ON the wagon than PULLING the wagon!

    Everybody riding the wagon is certainly welcome, please don’t get me wrong! Some of us are just not quite ready to get involved. Some of us are not ready because we have some things to learn first, and some of us are just checking things out. Some of us are in need of healing right now. The day may soon come when it will be your time to serve others, but EVERYONE is welcome on the wagon.

    The thing is, it would be really great if we could get more people involved on the team making it go!

    Whether you are thinking about getting more involved at Vineyard Community Church or already are, I hope you will take advantage of at least one of the great opportunities listed in the “Vineyard University” handout that was distributed at the celebrations this past weekend. For example, there’s one called “Finding Your Place on the Team” but there are many, many others.


    P.S. also has a link for Vineyard U.

  11. Ken,

    I want to respond quickly to this line: "Hopefully, you will convert and utilize some of that anger into something productive and go OUT and SERVE somebody this week."

    Are you being serious? Do you actually believe the only way people can serve the world is to participate in church-sponsored events? Ken, please tell me you don't believe this. Please tell me I am misreading you. Because if not, wow.

    I try to love and serve people every moment of my life. Of course, I fall short all the time, but Jesus doesn't want us to settle for serving at church-sponsored outreaches. In many ways, it's easier to show up once a week to a block party and then hit cruise control for the rest of the week. What I believe Dave is trying to communicate is that we are called to more. Serve all the time, wherever you are. If the Vineyard is doing fewer SE projects but loving and serving friends, neighbors, and co-workers all the time, are you saying that is a bad thing?

    If I am home building relationships with my neighbors instead of joining you at a block party, is that a bad thing? Come on man...think before you speak, because you sound really silly and bitter right now.

  12. Steve,

    You are misreading me. I know you are on the faculty at UC so I will try typing slower. . .try to keep up. My emphasis had nothing to do with "church-sponsored" events. My emphasis is about OUTSIDE versus INSIDE, hence the term "fortress mentality." I did not say we were already imbalanced, I simply offered a gut-check before we become imbalanced. You might want to go back and actually read everything I have posted (and some of what I have published) before you jump to conclusions.

  13. Ken,

    Nice jab about UC.

    If I misinterpreted your original point then I apologize. I get what you are saying about internal vs. external churches and I agree.

    My point: I think it would be inaccurate to assume people are skipping your block parties to live inward-focused lives. You don't know what the other 5,980 people were doing Saturday. Maybe people have graduated from SE projects and are becoming more personally involved with their communities (friends, neighbors, etc). Wouldn't that be a good thing?

    I attended the Leadership Summit and it is a wonderful event that fires up leaders and gets them recharged to go back into the world to love and serve people. Even Jesus took time to be alone with the Father. Even Jesus needed to refuel.

    From what I know about you, you have a good heart and care about people outside the church. That is a very good thing. And I know you are trying to "sharpen iron" with your comments. (And I assume a lot of your comments have been written in jest to overstate your points and get a reaction…at least, I hope that is the case.) I get that...but just cut people a little slack who also have good hearts and are doing their best to follow Jesus. This guilt-trip you are throwing out isn't helpful to anyone. And your condescending attitude (you know, the one where you think you are the smartest guy in the room and the rest of us are so naïve and uneducated) continues to undermine your credibility.

  14. Steve,

    Sorry about the jab at UC, but as a Miami guy, well I just couldn't resist. You guys have pretty much owned the Victory Bell since Big Ben graduated.

    Anyway, you are right, I am given to hyperbole and fits of sarcasm. I wasn't aiming at you or others that are moving towards a more outward focused lifestyle. I apologize for the affront. I wouldn't want to insult a guy that noticed I am usually the "smartest guy in the room." Yeah, I am choosing to take that out of context as a compliment.

    Anyway, keep plugging away in your community. I especially like what you had to say about building relationships with your neighbors. If you have an interesting story to report about your efforts, please get in touch with me and maybe we can use it in an upcoming issue of "SERVE!"



  15. Wow...I gotta say that. WOW! Dave, I'll bet you never thought one post could generate so much conversation.

    First, I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thanks! I'm so grateful to Jesus and to how He chose to use you to bring this recovering legalist into the light of grace. I got the message that VCC clings to..."receive Jesus' love and then out of that love, you can't help but love others!" YEAH! That's it!

    Most of my life I heard, "love God, love others, have more faith, read your Bible, get baptized, oh and never ever miss a day of church." That's just not it though and for the life of me, I could never figure out why, if I'm doing all these things, do I still have so much guilt...b/c I was doing it backwards!

    BUT then, He gave me the awesome blessing of being a part of an awesome family of Him there in Cinci and b/c of that message of grace, I'm now down here in Savannah, GA hoping to spread that same message.

    So...I just wanted you to know the impact your talks and VCC as a whole has had on me as the Holy Spirit has spoken decibals!!! Be encouraged, my brother! I LOVE YOUR HEART!!!

  16. Do I have just cause to file a complaint against my church, when someone in the VCC/HR department[G. S.], interviews me for a job that I am well qualified for, tells me; “we have a problem hiring you because you are NOT MARRIED to your girlfriend and living under the same roof”, & “because it is standard practice of the our church to hire only individuals that are married to their loved one and not co-habiting with one another…based on the Holy Bible and the honor of marriage” [Greg S. & Dennis B. of Vineyard Community Church of Cincinnati {Sept/02/2008}]. My girlfriend and I honor the Bible and it’s laws for marriage by sleeping separately in two different rooms, and abs cent from sex until our future plans of marriage. And I did indeed inform both parties in my strong Christian standards in which I exercise completely/daily, (based on the laws of the Old Testament). We are under the same roof, but living as roommates do, just like a coeds in a Coed College Dorm.
    Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
    If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
    Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
    Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
    The Bible
    Ecclesiastes 4

    This goes deeper than that…we have an associate (division) pastor for approx. 3-4 years, from England within our church, “Keith”, which this individual has two drug convictions of marijuana(1982), whom is allowed on staff, and this church does background checks, but will allow such individual to be a part of our church, in a leadership position. I have nothing against any person(s) whom choose to better his/her way of life. He was given a chance to prove himself…all I ask for is that same-equal chance to prove myself as well. I have a felony conviction(Jan./2000), myself, and the church will not allow me in any volunteer programs and/or employment within the church. In the scope of these things, the church is exercising a “double standard”. I have applied for several volunteer programs since I started attending VCC in Oct./2007, to say the least for employment within as well.
    When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.
    Richard Nixon

  17. Just was looking up some things to help me reach out to my cousin who is a hard core athiest. Such a neat thing about the athiest going to a church for a year! I want to know more!!!

  18. Isaiah 41:11-13
    Exodus 14: 13,14

    Luke 9: 1,2
    Luke 9: 7-9

    Luke 2: 29-32
    Luke 6: 43-45