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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Truth About "Trolls & Truth"

The truth is, it is a good book. I chose Trolls & Truth (subtitle: 14 Realities About Today's Church That We Don't Want To See) from the public library in hopes that it would challenge me to stretch beyond some of my comfort zones. Jimmy Dorrell, pastor of Church Under the Bridge in Waco, TX, does an impressive job of delivering what the cover of the book promises: "a wake-up call for today's church." I could spend time going into some of the theological differences I have here and there but that's really not the point of the book and that's not the reason I picked it up. How many books do we agree with 100% of the time anyway? I'd rather focus on what Dorrell gets right because its significant.

Many American evangelical churches today are comfortable, homogeneous, and inwardly focused. Not exactly ground-breaking news. We're comfortable with our rigid routines, fancy facilities, and morale-boosting messages. Our congregations are homogeneous socio-economically, ethnically, and respectability-ly. Yes, I made that word up. What I mean is, our churches usually consist of the respectable folk. You don't find many "trolls," as Dorrell puts it, in our churches. Thirdly, we tend to be inwardly focused with our attractional services, pleasing programs, and sub-culture enclaves. I can't back that up with a scientific survey (Barna probably has one out there somewhere) but what I have just described characterizes much of what I have experienced in 20 years of local church membership. I suspect many others can relate.

Church Under the Bridge (CUB) runs against the grain on all of the above. Pastor Dorrell startles our status-quo mentality consistently throughout the book as he opens each chapter by relating the story of one or more of the trolls. CUB's trolls are a "ragtag group of misfits" whose community has grown from a small Bible study with Dorrell, his wife, and "five troll-like, homeless men" who met "under a noisy, graveled underpass" to "a church of over 300 folks" who meet "52 weeks a year outside the same Interstate 35 bridge." If you're wondering how you too can grow your little Bible study into a church of 300, you've picked up the wrong book...and you're missing the point. The point here is first the "who" and then the "what."

Dorrell relays this illuminating description of CUB from the
April 2004 issue of Christianity Today:

'CUB's calling is to be a church to the unchurched of all socioeconomic levels and races and to serve the poor and marginalized. Ex-prisoners and food stamp recipients worship with the well-heeled and educated.' Without steeple or 'church clothes,' something genuinely New Testament happens each week in this open-air tabernacle with 18-wheelers zooming overhead and a ragtag congregation below. In this concrete wasteland, 'God is doing a new thing' (Isaiah 43:19) among the marginalized and mainstream, 'black, white, and brown; rich and poor; educated in the streets and the university.' This unusual model of church renewal has emerged as yet another evidence of God's dynamic and organic body of 'called-out ones.' Purpose driven they are, yet not from a book study or accountability group, but from an intuitive rightness that somehow guides culturally and economically diverse followers of Jesus to know it is good to be together as brothers and sisters despite the differences.

This description goes beyond challenging to disturbing and serves as a stark contrast to the typical church I construed above. Sometimes it takes something "disturbing" to arouse ourselves out of complacency.

Dorrell takes up the task from the very outset with the story of Kruger, a man "certified crazy by the VA" who "cried out to God to change him and unweave the messes of his life" while in jail for burglary. After his unusual release from jail (see the book!) Kruger thought he was doing the right thing by heading to church the next Sunday. After Dorrell sets the scene by alluding to the "only clothes" Kruger owned, "his mangled beard," and "unwashed hair," you can predict what happens next. After being turned away, Kruger asked himself, "If I in my poverty am acceptable to God, why am I not acceptable to His people?" Ouch. Kruger's truth? "Looks don't matter." This is the title to chapter one. Dorrell spends the rest of the chapter expounding upon the following idea - "The church has been seduced by pagan concerns of appearance and people's approval. Most of the rejected poor accept others despite their external appearance." Again, ouch.

In Trolls & Truth, Dorrell shares this and 13 other stark truths drawn from distressing and challenging stories from members of Church Under the Bridge. Each chapter extends a pointed challenge to the church. Challenges such as the needs of the poor among the body of Christ (ch. 14), our lack of acceptance of those with mental disabilities (ch. 3), accepting the value of both evangelism and social action (ch. 8), overcoming prejudice (ch. 4), and more. As the subtitle of the book indicates, these are challenges that "we don't want to see" but we must.

I wish I could offer simple answers to the challenges presented by Pastor Dorrell but, obviously, I cannot. However, as Charlotte's story (ch. 2) illustrates, "change is hard but the church must." Trolls & Truth can serve as a mirror for the church, reflecting blemishes we have ignored or overlooked for too long. What we do about this reflection is up to us.

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