Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Church Nightmares?

As if I hadn't enough to keep me busy, I've become a Gordon Ramsay junkie. I don't have cable TV, but I managed to catch every episode of Hell's Kitchen Season 4 on And when I get time, I watch episodes of Kitchen Nightmares (UK version, of course) on YouTube.

For the uninitiated, Gordon Ramsay is a world-class, Scottish-born, f-bomb-dropping chef with twelve Michelin stars and millions of dollars per year in revenue from his various restaurants worldwide. On Kitchen Nightmares, he spends a week at some tanking restaurant somewhere and, at little or no cost to the establishment (as I understand it), works with might, main, and brain to pull them out of the soup.

Time and again, the featured restaurant is going down because the owners/head chefs have some fixed idea of what their eatery should be like, but it bears no relation to what they can actually cook and serve, what ingredients are affordable and available, or what the potential customers actually like and want. And Chef Ramsay's fix generally is, "Find out what you can do and do it attractively and well. Let your customers know what you have now that you have your act together. Stop trying to attract the type of customers who aren't out there. Stop trying to be too clever-- keep it simple and uncomplicated. And while you're at it, clean out your f*cking [sorry, wouldn't be GR without the f-word at least once] deep-freeze and kitchen!!"

But O! the nightmare! It never fails: The owners/chefs seldom listen to Ramsay. Often they sabotage what he's trying to do. They want to go on doing exactly what's got them in the mess in the first place. But O, Chef Gordon, save us! Pull our chestnuts out of the fire!!

Last Sunday, I couldn't help but think of Gordon Ramsay and Kitchen Nightmares. I was being interviewed for an Interim Pastor position at a church over in an adjacent county. And practically the first thing I heard from the interviewing committee was how wonderful it used to be with them back in the 1980s, when their youth group was bursting the church at the seams. Practically the first question I got was how good was I at relating to youth.

But do they have any teenagers among the church membership right now? Apparently very few. Are there gangs and gangs of unchurched teenagers in the church's catchment area right now? Apparently they have no idea.

Is it a good thing to be a church with a lot of families with well-involved teenaged kids? Oh, certainly, yes. But is that where this church is now? No. Are families with teenagers the type of people who are living in that area, spiritually starving for the good news of Jesus Christ? What if they're not?

But they want to hire an interim pastor who can come in for a year and miraculously revive their image of themselves as the church with all the kids. Never mind the unchurched people of whatever age who are actually there in the neighborhood and need to be ministered to. Never mind that the talents and gifts of the people of the church might go better to serve a totally different demographic. We have our image of what we want to be, and you'd better buy into it, Pastor, whether it's realistic or not!!!

I told them, yes, I'm pretty good at working with kids--if I'm allowed to be an adult and a mentor and not a superannuated ersatz-teenager buddy. But maybe, I suggested, what if the Holy Spirit just might be leading them to other fields of ministry that better fit who they are now . . . ???

I felt like Gordon Ramsay telling the owner of a pub in Lancashire to knock it off with the exotic Asian stuff out of mixes and try serving up good fresh honest pub grub for a change.

I can't take the Kitchen Nightmares analogy too far: There's one fixed item on any church's menu that can not and must not change, whether the public thinks they want it or not: Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and risen for our life. But how the church lives out that good news in 2008 may not be just as it was in 1985!

I wouldn't be surprised if they don't hire me. They also want their new IP to generate a lot of new programs, and I told them that programs have to follow needs, and be run by the members. And they're hoping their new Interim Pastor will move into the manse. No, not feasible. Not for a one-year contract. Alas! that's another dream of theirs I've destroyed.

But I can't rule them out myself. This dream-on attitude is endemic with most struggling mainline churches. It'd be the same anywhere else!

If I were to be taken on at this church, I'd have it easier than Gordon Ramsay in one way-- I'd have a year to redd up the place, where he only has a week. But it'd be a lot harder, too-- I can't overawe anybody with the ecclesiastical equivalent of twelve Michelin stars . . . and unlike Chef Ramsay, I am not permitted to cuss.


Sandy said...

Sometimes it is so hard for a church to live in the present. The church I attended for 33 years and was in existence for 75 years just couldn't grow. The members couldn't (or wouldn't) listen to the new pastor trying to steer them in a new direction that would let the church grow. So they closed their doors after 75 years. I am glad my Mom was gone -- it would have broke her heart. It broke mine.

Mile High Pixie said...

Holy crap, that would be hilarious if you could do "Ecumenical Nightmares" as a show! The camera shows you screaming "Stop f-ing around!" to the steering committee. Brilliant!

I'm glad you had the ovaries to suggest to the church that they might not be meant to have a big-ass youth group right now. It's hard to wrap one' mind around, but you might be able to lead them into reality.

St. Blogwen said...

Oh, I know! I'd love it if I could show a church board I moderated an episode or two of Kitchen Nightmares, UK version, and draw some good lessons from it. But the elders would be too busy being shocked at the language, they wouldn't hear what they needed to hear.

No, actually, they wouldn't be shocked at the language . . . it's dollars to donuts they go to films with talk like in them that all the time. No, it'd be the idea that I was listening to GR's f-bombs. Hey, I'm ordained! I'm supposed to be too good and pure (and useless) for the world!