Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hell Houses

When I was in college, majoring in youth ministry, I ventured to a church in Texas for an internship. We all know it's not officially summer in Christendom without several sweaty, chlorine laced weeks of church camp. This week of camp was for 4th and 5th graders. The theme of the week was "God". Well, actually, I don't remember the theme but I'm sure it had something to do with God, so let's call it even. What I do remember was one bright and shining example of why the 90s is a decade The Trinity would just as soon forget.

I probably shouldn't be telling you this, so keep it on the downlow. At every church camp there's a secret Armageddon shelter roughly 200 feet below the chapel. It's filled with everything you'll ever need to convert campers: tracts with cartoon characters set ablaze, pictures of strung out addicts, lots of Michael W. Smith and David Meece tapes, 5 gallon buckets of sulfur & napalm, Joan Rivers without make up...you know, death and hell stuff. You must know that this is just too much power for some well intentioned folks. When you put all these things in the wrong hands you get what I'm about to describe.

Jump into the story with me. It's Wednesday and the dean at camp decides not enough kids have accepted Christ throughout the week. So, he's going to pull out all the stops and make a "Hell Walk". This is what he envisions: Let's take some little kids on a shrieking, pitch-black, middle of the night walk through The Bowels of the Earth. Tell the kids they can't make a sound. Have the adults quote Scripture about hell while we walk. Dress some other adults in "demon" attire and have them run around moaning. Then at the end, let's bring in a big dude with a stone cold grey face and bulging eyes pretending to be Satan. Cue strobe lights and creepy music. AND! Let's have him tell the kids how much he loves them and wants their souls. Then have him lunge at them while demons start wailing.

Somehow I missed all the planning but when the event took place I tried to behave and go with the flow. That is, until a little girl in my cabin starts crying because her mom had died less than 6 months before. That ended it for my compliance. Right there when Satan was about to start frothing at the mouth, I decide I can't take it anymore. I stand right up, loudly and adamantly declare, "This is ridiculous. My cabin, UP!! We're outta here." We went back the cabin, tried to calm down, thanked God for heaven, and fell asleep.

While Hell is a real place I think the church gets it wrong when we use it as a means of evangelism. Say what you will, but the love of Christ will not only compel people to come to Him, it will make them stay with Him, too. So, when it comes to Hell Houses, I'm not so much a fan.

But what if we reworked the idea just a bit? If Hell Houses are such a Halloween tradition I think we should have our own, don't you? But it would have to contain the scariest, most horrific rooms imaginable if I'm going to put the SFL stamp on it. Right?

Without further delay, I'd like to walk you through the Stacy From Louisville Hell House. Warning: Not for the faint of heart or weak of bladder!

Scene 1: Bible College
Speaking of holidays, Bible College is a whole holiday in itself. It's a 4 year (or 5 or 6 or 7 year) vacation from reality and common sense. So right at the main entrance to this room you will need a steel wool brush and a big ol' bucket filled with sudsy baptismal water. How else will you brain wash people? Moving on...

Scene 2: Elder's Meeting
This is the only room in the Hell House where the comb over isn't part of a costume. And if you're a girl I'm not sure you're allowed to come in, but just this onec... Remember Pleasure Island in Disney's Pinocchio? Where all the naughty boys with buck teeth start smoking cigars and turn into donkeys? I think this happens at some elder's meetings. Fire the youth pastor because he's got some crazy ideas about preaching salvation? All in favor say, "HEE-hhhaw!" (Okay, that's supposed to be a donkey noise but I've never been schooled in phonetic donkey so get a new cause.)

Scene 3: The Coat Closet
Not necessarily a scary room, just a place for coats. And making out. Which is why I saw fit to include it. Which reminds me, this last week alone I saw three couples grabbing each other's butts during worship service. One man, bless his heart, must not have known how to clap hands. But he seemed to keep time to the music pretty well from the way he slapped his wife's rear in time to "We Will Dance". It was a song about heaven but I was pretty sure I was in hell...

Scene 4: Women's Ministry
This room has pastel sequin Easter sweaters, floral centerpieces, and PMS. Apply too much eyeliner, hide SSRIs in your fake Coach purse, and make a straw hat craft. Be sure to turn up the Twila Paris. As people enter the room repeatedly hug them and offer them cheese cubes and brownies. Repeat, until everyone goes completely insane. Then do it AGAIN! AND AGAIN! (infer devilishly high pitched laughter and charm bracelets)

Scene 5: Church Nursery
Take an 8x8 room. Install 3 cribs, 2 rockers and a baby swing that doesn't work. Cover any remaining floor space with mismatched Fisher Price farm sets and teething rings. Hose everything down with high fructose corn syrup and sprinkle with Cheerios. Turn up the heat and put a poopy diaper in front of each vent. Now you are ready for 13 overstimulated 10 month olds. This could also double as the pro-abstinence room.

Well, there you have it. But surely 5 rooms isn't enough. Don't you think I've missed some things? How much should we charge to get in? How do you get out? What scenes did I overlook? Come on SFL readers. You asked for a Hell House. Now let's scare the hell out of each other...


eastern ky pastor said...

I'm with you about hell being a poor evangelism tool. That's not fear of the Lord, but a fear of pain. Perfect love cast out all fear. Since God is love, how can we possibly try to win people to Christ by using the very thing opposite of love. I believe God tells us about hell so that we as Christians will be motivated to keep our friends and relatives away from eternal separation. Okay, I'll get off my soap box and watch the talking heads tell me who won the debate.

jonathan said...

This has to be the first David Meece reference in blog history...

teamstrand said...

we need over diluted orange drink and store brand vanilla cookies somewhere...maybe in the room where the pastor wears shorts one week out of the summer. and there's good reason for it.

Jen said...

What about a VBS room, Bad theme music playing, maybe an obstacle course cause there always seems to be obstacle courses at some point in a VBS week, add orange drink and store brand vanilla cookies here also those cheap cookies that try to doulble as oreos but let's be serious they were always stale.

p said...

great post. my husband did not realize that people really do these things because he converted as an adult and wasn't raised in the church. when he heard my story about a church doing a verision of a haunted house /hell story he was so mortified.

sundog said...

Cliquey Youth Group

Athletically fit, popular kids participate in feats of strength and skill while the rest sit on the sidelines. Aggressive Type A kids run around beating the each other with large rubber noodles while the timid huddle in a corner trying to avoid being whacked. Verbose, witty youth dominate discussions while others sit quietly wondering when this will be over. Drama queens garner attention lamenting the latest crisis in their lives. Shall I go on?

sundog said...

Singles Bible Study or Group

Oh the horror!

Stacy from Louisville said...

Eastern KY Pastor -
Well said. It's good to know there's a real pastor reading this site. Would you like to be the chaplin for SFL Bible College?

Did you get your SFL Trash can of Teriffic?

Mella DP said...

Oh, goodness, I'd forgotten about these! The church whose youth group I attended in HS was notorious.

I personally think you could get an entire Hell House out of Women's Ministry, but if we want to diversify, there's got to be a room for "special music." Possibly even a separate room for human video. And maybe one for the church library (which, of course still has circulating copies of "88 Reasons why the Rapture Will Be in 1988" and Jimmy Swaggart cassettes).

sundog said...

‘Brainstorming’ Meeting Room

Meetings held to generate fresh ideas regarding any ministry held by set in stone leaders. Every new idea can and will be squashed as a liability issue.

fb said...

I am thinking a "Church Decorating Committee Room". You could have two Alpha Females yelling at each other - in Christian love - of course. Things continually get moved from one place to another, and nothing of substance ever really gets done.

sundog said...

Here's a shot at elaboration as you requested Stacy:)

Singles Bible Study/Group

This group gathers weekly under the guise of being a Bible Study or Singles Group. Lurking below the surface is an unspoken sense of desperation... the clock is ticking people! Men, usually in pairs, barely pay attention, while scoping out the selection and setting them up in order for line of attack. They lie in wait, accosting targets as they leave, using lame pick-up lines: ‘Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?’ Moving from one to the next until their invitation to the local bar for a drink is accepted. Women, also in pairs or groups, primped, prepped and primed, eyeing men as if they were in the produce department trying to decide if the peaches are good without touching them. They primly reject invitations, but listen carefully to find out where the guys will be, and show up later. Outings are planned to ‘get to know each other better’… the better to pick you up, my dear.

After having experiences similar to those mentioned above, I was actually asked to be part of leadership in one of these groups years ago. I was fairly adamant that we should keep the focus OFF of being single and let it be a Christ-centered fellowship for people of all ages and marital status, including Bible study and fellowship activities without the ‘Singles’ label but every suggestion fell on deaf ears. The desperation was palpable.

Beth said...

Hmmm....Don't forget you'll also need a Choir Room:

A musty back room in some forgotten corner of the church basement, fully stocked with at least one out of tune piano, one autoharp, assorted mismatched rhythm instruments (tambourines, bongo drums, etc.) tons of yellowed, dusty, 50 years out of date sheet music (lovingly taped together), one set of current hymn books along with 2 or 3 sets of old ones, and one too small closet full of various length choir robes that don't really fit anybody - beautifully made up in the world's ugliest color and fabric.

Of course you must also gather together some folks to represent the choir at rehearsal. Make sure to cover all 4 parts, but you'll have to have an overabundance of sopranos, at least one person who drowns everybody out, one person on each part who can't carry a tune in a bucket, and tenors are optional.

That would be a really scary room! Can you tell I've had a lot of experience with singing in church choirs?

(Seriously, though....I wish we could stop "scaring people to salvation" especially little kids. I had a dose of that, and even though I was saved at 8 years old, I still, all these years later, struggle with the concept of an angry vengeful God waiting to pounce on me for my mistakes.)

Dog snob said...

A "fellowship" room, (cause "christians" can't just hang out or socialize). Everyone forced to mingle with a group of "know it alls" saying "bless your heart" while eating over or under cooked munchies and drinking watered down lemonade from 4 oz cups.

Oh, and the only womans bathroom has a constant prayer meeting being held by 4 or 5 woman, one of whom is crying loudly.


Beth said...

Ahhh! Women's Ministry, Nursery, and the Choir Room are coming back to haunt me tonight! I nominate we add the Pastor's Office and the Church Kitchen.

eastern ky pastor said...

I would be honored to be the SFL Bible College Chaplin, but only if I get an official ID Badge.

I did receive the weiner's package today. My wife got the hottie mirror and the hillarious tissues. My son has the dino and is so stoked about it. We went to Gatlinberg last week and went to the Dinosaur Walk Museum. So, he's loving it. Now, I'm going to go eat some Boogers - candy that is.

Stacy from Louisville said...

I think I see an adendum to this post coming until we get it perfected.

OK, Eastern KY Pastor needs a chaplin badge or he won't pray for any of us. Dude. That's not nice at all.

Sarah said...

There should be a "Never-Ending Greeting" room, where you are forced to shake the clammy/sweaty/limp hands of various tall, sweaty, smelly, perfumed, and overeager strangers who spit a little when they ask what your name is. Oh, and don't forget the complusive huggers, who really should have remembered to put on their Lady Speed Stick.
After a horrifyingly long period of time, you see the pastor get up through the mass of bodies, and just as you're beginning to think that the Greeting is over, he points you out and calls you up to the front of the church because you're the visitor, and asks everyone to make sure they Welcome You Properly after the Service!!! AAAAAH!

And then, of course, the whole process repeats itself, except with a different set of people at a different church.

Jacob and Andi said...

I think there should also be the following rooms:

the "new building comittee room" where everyone haggles over whether or not Jesus wants a new basketball floor.

the "room o' doom" where you get called into be called out by the pastor, in love.

the "trauma tank" which is basicly the baptismal filled with ice water and grape juice.

eastern ky pastor said...

Stacy, Stacy, Stacy

You keep up that kind of spin and you're going to have to go into politics. I never said that I wouldn't pray for people. But, the SFL Bible College isn't the only game out there. If you want me to be the Official Chaplin, then an ID badge is not asking much.

Princess Bride said...

That kind of thing is one of the reasons my kids haven't gone to camp yet!

How about the hellish room of "Trying to get your 5 kids and yourself ready for church" where you try to get ready without your husband because he had to leave early to "serve" at church so your trying to get the whole crew into a minivan without your minimum morning caffeine requirement and seething with resentment that he's at church drinking coffee with the other ushers?

Stacy from Louisville said...

Eastern KY PAstor,

Politics? I was thinking more along the lines of "Survivor". I uderstand the competition for quality clergy is fierce, what with there being so many fictious Bible Colleges out there. Which makes me think... Maybe I should run a capitol campaign???

The work of a Bible College founder/dean/administrator/
professor is never done....

Bethany said...

I never experienced the "hell house" as I became a Christian in college. But, all I could think was, too bad we don't have a heaven house where we could actually tell kids who they are in Christ and how much Jesus truly loves them.

But then, I thought, how cheesy could we make that. 1 part heaven, 1 part the love of Christ and you have the perfect recipe for Christian cheese at its best.

Love your blog! Keep it up!!

Rick the Polonian said...

How about the "Church Business Meeting" night?
Budgets and election and hurt feelings, oh my!


I can't say anymore. It gives me the willies. Thank God they are only once a year.

eastern ky pastor said...

If you gave out ID badges you wouldn't have so many jobs to do.

As for fictious Bible Colleges, according to some, any other Bible College but their's is really fictious.

I know this is a little late to add rooms, and perhaps is a little too pastor-centric...

Church phone in the parsonage room - to get calls in the middle of the one night you had free to spend with family, calls on holidays, calls from drunks at 2:00 a.m. because they want to talk - get the idea?

Ordination Room I've seen grown men sweat, stutter, stammer and cry like little girlie men, all because of this room. You are surrounded by strangers who ask you out of nowhere personal questions, doctrinal questions, church polity questions. Please note, some questions will come straight from the twilight zone. (Seriously, during my ordination council, I got asked by an older preacher if I had a tatoo. I told him, "No, but I always wanted a Superman logo." My sponsoring pastor explained that I was joking. Little did I know that it was a major for some.)

Deacons Meeting Room My deacons are great men and love my family and me. Yet, I've heard stories that would put goosebumps on an ax murderer. This room must have a warning for pregnant women and those with heart conditions.

Pastor's Wife Room This room is so scary that merely reading a description has been known to cause weeping and gnashing of teeth. It begins in the idealic white picket fence home, when your husband comes home and says, "Honey, I need to tell you something really important. I think I'm going to have to quit my successful career and maybe move away from your family. I think God is calling me to preach." I cannot responsibly describe this room any further.

Stacy from Louisville said...

Eastern KY Pastor,

So am I to assume you did this song and dance to your wife when you were called to ministry? I think she deserved the "hottie" magnet if that's the case.

My only frame of reference would be if my CPA husband came home and told me he wanted to be a rodeo clown. Shocking.

eastern ky pastor said...


I actually met my wife while I was in Seminary. She knew when she met me, that pastor's wife was part of the package deal. It was hard for her at first, because she had the white picket fence dream. However, she has responded admirably. I've yet to meet a better pastors wife. And she is definitely a hottie, although she is trying to figure out what to do with the magnet, because she's also a woman of modesty and doesn't like to think of herself as a hottie.

Yet, I've met families where that very conversation came up. That's a hard transition to make. And it's hard on pastors too. Unless you are called to a larger church, accepting God's call often means major financial challenges. You're eating fillet mignon one day, the next ramen noodles. I've been very blessed by a church that provides for us well.

Yet, there is always a degree of uncertainity, that you have to live with. One pastor friend used to say, "We live one business meeting away from being homeless." I'm much more optimistic than he. Still, there are pastor families that face that kind of pressure all the time. All this to say, it's Pastor Appreciation Month; please let your pastor know that you respect him and appreciate his sacrifice. And if I might be so bold, pastor appreciation ideas might make a great post.

oh, btw - so you equate pastors with rodeo clowns. I'm pretty sure that's a 2 Kings 2:23 kind of offense! I'm holding out calling on the bears, but an ID badge would make it a little easier to do!

Stacy from Louisville said...

So I gather you want a badge...

Rodeo clown is a poor parallel. I appologize. It was the most extreme opposite I could think of for my husband. But I've heard Rodeo ministry is the new "campus ministry". FCA, meet FCRC, Fellowship Of Christian Rodeo Clowns.

Prodigal Jon said...

Great post Stacy, as usual.