Hunger Games and Church Districts
I remember the first time I heard about The Hunger Games was from Timmy Martens. He was sitting in my dining room and complaining about the way the first book ended and pretty much spoiled the ending before I ever cared to read it (thanks jerk). A little bit later on, my wife Danyelle began reading the series after she had finished off the Twilight Series. She became completely engulfed in the storyline and was telling me about and how much I would enjoy it. So, I picked up the trilogy on Kindle and burned through it in no time. The books truly were a great piece of fiction. The concept of people being forced to slaughter each other to keep the peace and that some people actually were overjoyed at the concept was truly horrifying. The movies never quite hit the graphic depictions the book laid out for us, but the idea was still there.
If you aren't fully aware of the Hunger Games, the story centers around a place called Panem, and is split into 13 districts and the Capital. To remind the world who is in charge and to crush any idea of rebellion, every year, two people from each district are put into the Hunger Games and are forced to battle to the death on an event televised to the whole world. The last person standing is the victor of the Hunger Games, and then a year later this process repeats. To ever think that any form of lasting peace or control could be established by tearing each other apart is truly farcical. This is why I literally had no qualm with Katniss' decision with President Coin. She was quickly going to destroy and progress they had made. The system had to end. True, only 23 people were murdered by the system annually, but 23 was too many. Recently at a conference of ministers, I noticed animosity towards newer churches, bitterness toward older churches, and stuff that seemed like seriously shady politics and it hit me -- churches act like they are in the hunger games. They see the other pastors and church planters in their region as competition that must be slaughtered in order for them to succeed. Sometimes this results in one church attacking another or rallying together with a church they don’t see as a threat in order to take down the one they both feel hostility towards, but in the end they are just trying to be the last one standing.
This is so far from the concept of how the Church should operate, it's unreal. We are actually instructed in scripture to do the exact opposite. Paul teaches and even begs for us to remain united.
"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been
reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers." 1 Corinthians 1:10-11
Paul knew that as the Church we must remain united to accomplish the goals that are set before us and bring peace, comfort, and reconciliation to a broken world. Only when we are united can we make, instruct, and nurture disciples of Christ and be the hands and feet of the Gospel. That is the exact reason Satan stirs up so much division and rivalry inside the Church, because if we stand together, we would be an incredibly powerful force. It's the same way The Capital not only kept the District's rebellion at bay but also kept them divided, because they would always root for their own people's survival instead of the survival of everyone. It's an extremely effective method if the people are gullible or fearful enough to fall for it. As long as there are churches that think their survival depends on the defeat of another church, these congregational hunger games will continue. I remember sitting in a church business meeting once when a pastor I served with was announcing we would be partnering with another church that was going to be planting just a few blocks from our own church. One of the church leaders boldly proclaimed, "We don’t need anymore churches in this town! We already have enough! If we have more they are just going to steal our people." It was a hard fact for me to accept that people truly felt that way.
This is why we see Paul continue to beg the Church, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." Philippians 2:1-3
I do understand that we have plenty of churches. Just in the town I minister in alone there are churches probably every 200 yards or less. There are different denominations, styles, and doctrines, sure, but still the Church. But even though there are so many, there still aren't enough to hold 1/4 of the people in the city limits if they all decided to go. The town has roughly 3,000 people in the city limits, and it's also a college town which brings about 7,000 students in and out. So even with 10,000 people and space in church buildings to hold less than half of those people, we still fight. Since the last book came out, I planted a church. It's the third location of a church in a neighboring city, but still, it’s a new start. I planted this church along with 35 people right down the street from my previous church, and directly across the street from the university I had ministered to for 10 years. I didn’t plant this church because I wanted to pick a fight or steal anyone from another church; in fact, I didn’t ask a single person that was committed to my old church to come with me. We planted this church because we believed that there were people, particularly students, in the community that God could reach through us uniquely.
As I write this our church has been in operation 7 months. I was shocked when I did the math because it felt like it had been so much longer. But in 7 months we have seen over 20 people meet Jesus, 9 people get baptized, and many more have taken deeper steps in their faith. We've partnered with the university to reach out to students and the community in amazing new ways. I literally have been blow away to see it. But often we face opposition in our community, and usually not from non-believers, but from other churches. People I had served and some I served with for years have been downright hateful towards me, not because i have wronged them but now that I serve in a different church, I'm automatically the enemy.
In the Hunger Games there is a huge turning point in the second portion of the story when a chunk of the victors start working together in the Quarter Quell to protect Katniss. This culminates with them all working together when they reach District 13, realizing that using Katniss as an icon is the only way to win. So they film propaganda videos to unite the people with Katniss making personal appearances. They show the other districts that they aren't going to succeed in opposition against each other and that the only way they will ever win is if they finally unite to take down the capital. Once they are united, it's over. They don't all agree, they may have different agendas and allegiances, but the districts, the rebellion, and the victors unite with the goal of taking down President Snow and the capital. This finally establishes the freedom they wanted. Sadly, I don’t think I can film some cool videos on social media and convince other local churches we are on the same side (although I might try). I don’t think I can make guest appearances in the worship services, throw up three fingers in the air while whistling Rue's song and expect them to stand beside me in spiritual warfare. But here is our situation: Ephesians 2:2 tells us that Satan is the "Prince of the Power of the Air" and that basically he is in the capital of this world and he is very successful in dividing up the churches, and as long as he has us in districts and trying to take each other out, he wins. We have to make the effort to look beyond our preferences, selfish ambitions, and see not our little "c," individual church, but to see Jesus's big "C," the Body of Christ, Church and unite. This will take years of work and the right heart attitude poured into our people. We have to aim for unity.
"Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort
one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."
2 Corinthians 13:11
But also watch out for other people and churches who act like Careers pumped up on Tracker Jacker venom.
"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive." Romans 16:17-18
This will have to be a revolution to change the way these games are played in the Church, and someone will need to be that proverbial Mockingjay. Will you volunteer as tribute? If so, may the odds be ever in your favor.