Mecca: The birthplace of Mohammad and considered the holiest city in Islam. All devout Muslims are to make a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
Mecca (Nazarene Version): The hub of Nazarene-dom. The greater Kansas City area is home to the church headquarters (known now as the Global Ministry Center or GMC); the Nazarene Publishing House; the Nazarene Theological Seminary (at least for the time being); and one of the Nazarene universities (MidAmerica Nazarene University). There is no required pilgrimage to Kansas City but if there was I think it would be as much for the barbeque and jazz as it would be for our religious heritage.
For the last eight years, I have pastored in Mecca. Lenexa Central Church is the only Nazarene church in the same municipality as the Global Ministry Center of the Church of the Nazarene. We have hosted general church gatherings and several people in the congregation receive their salary because some person somewhere dropped some money in an offering plate and that local church gave to the World Evangelism Fund (WEF).
Prior to my eight-year foray in the hub of Nazo-world, often I heard at preacher’s meetings and other gatherings a little distain for “Kansas City.” The majority opinion seemed to speak of “Kansas City” as if it was the evil empire in Star Wars or the IRS or worse (it’s hard to be worse than an organization led by Darth Vader). I heard how “Kansas City” issued edicts that were unrealistic to the “real world.” “Kansas City” was filled with waste and mismanagement. “Kansas City” didn’t get the grass roots. And of course, the real question and consternation: Why does “Kansas City” need so much of our money? (Sadly, even in the church it all boils down to money.) The World Evangelism Fund (WEF) was likened to “franchise fees” or “taxes.” The Publishing House materials were expensive and the seminary was a bubbling caldron of liberalism not worthy of our investment.
This weekend a moving van will be taking me away from my “Meccan” home and deliver me to a place (Flint, Michigan) where if someone mentions the “GMC” they think of a truck manufactured by General Motors and not the Global Ministry Center of anything. If I tell someone I am a “Nazarene” in Flint, I am just as likely to have my new Michigander friend ask, “Did you say ‘Nasty Green’ or Navy bean’?”
“Neither,” I will say, “I said, Nazarene.’ It’s a church. I pastor a Church of the Nazarene.” A blank stare is what usually follows.
So as I head back to the world where most of the people who do not attend a Nazarene church (and probably a few people who do) couldn’t describe a Nazarene if Phineas Bresee was standing in front of them. Here’s what I have learned living in Mecca (Nazarene version) contrary to some of the notions I have heard:
The people I know who work at the GMC—love Jesus, love the church, and most generally could be making more money working at a job someplace other than 17001 Prairie Star Parkway. They work hard. Many of them view their job as a ministry. They do this all for little recognition. Little pay. And too often, too little support from those outside of Mecca (Nazarene version).
No one is getting rich at the GMC.
Not the administrative assistants.
Not the ministry leaders.
And not the general superintendents.
There are no slush funds.
There are no extravagant parties.
I did not witness obvious waste and mismanagement.
Your WEF dollars are doing what we were told they would do—funding the mission of making “Christ-like disciples in the nations.”
Would I spend the money differently if I were the Nazarene Czar? I am sure I would spend a little less here, and maybe a little more there. But overall I would not make drastic changes. That’s no different than if I gave you the opportunity to audit my personal spending habits. You would probably spend my money a little differently than I have spent it (I’m guessing you would not have as much Detroit Tiger apparel in your closet).
Likewise, the Nazarene Publishing House is not rolling in cash. In fact, it’s tough these days in the publishing world. Have you noticed how newspapers are going the way of the horse and buggy? If we want materials printed or disseminated from a Wesleyan-Arminian, Biblical worldview, rather than griping over the price of a the toddler Sunday school material or the cost of a book we should be in daily prayer for our Publishing House and then order one of the Publishing House’s newest, not-even-off-the-presses-yet-book like, Chronic Pain: Finding hope in the Midst of Suffering. (I apologize for that shameless, self-serving plug). As a soon-to-be Nazarene Publishing House author, I can assure you I am not taking any trips around the world or buying any Rolex watches with the royalties from my upcoming book.
The Nazarene Theological Seminary is not a hot bed of liberalism. While none of the NTS professors attended the church I pastored, several students and support staff have attended. Again, they are not living in an ivory tower. They do not have their heads in the thin air of academia. They are not closet New Agers. The people I know from the seminary love Jesus; love the Church of the Nazarene; and have a deep understanding and appreciation of our heritage.
All this to say, Mecca is not the evil empire.
As I leave Mecca, I do so with a deep appreciation for the church and the people that are leading the way. Far from disillusioned or with some bitter taste from being immersed in our Nazarene world for eight years, I am departing with a renewed hope for the future. I love our message of holiness and heart purity and believe it is exactly what our world needs to hear. I love our willingness to be the hands and feet of Jesus and compassionately serve wherever a need arises. I love our commitment to make “Christ like disciples in the Nations.” I love the church.
Good bye Mecca! You’ve made me proud to be a Nazarene.