Tuesday, December 15, 2009
In the past few weeks, I had shared my concern with others. I talked about it in our house church. I talked about it with my wife. I talked about it with my accountability partners. I talked about it with a house church coach I know. But, somehow I missed talking about it with the most important Person I know. My motivation to read God’s Word and/or to pray had been gone as well. So I guess I figured, “what good would it be to talk to God about it, I don’t really want to.” But after spending a half hour or so on the phone with the previously mentioned house church coach, I realized that the most important thing I could do would be to talk to God about it. I needed to get straight with God and share my honest feelings and struggles with Him. Somehow that conversation encouraged me enough to actually do it.
Yesterday, I opened my heart to God and I told him exactly how I felt. You know what? He listened and he responded with love and affirmation. He directed me to read Hebrews. As I read, I remembered how great Jesus was… correction, how great Jesus is. He is above all. He is greater than the angels. He is greater than man. He is greater than all of creation. He is above all.
In Him, there is mercy. In Him, there is grace. In Him, there is life. What I needed more than anything was to be reminded in a real and personal way, how great Jesus really is.
My life contains many good things. I have a wonderful wife. My daughters are a blessing beyond measure. I have some great friends. I really miss my Congo family right now and am looking forward to Christmas! I have a nice home. I am driving my dream car. I am working with a great group of people in a profession that helps people. I am following God’s call to plant churches. All of those things are really good. But, they all become devoid of much meaning without Jesus in my life. If my purpose is not found in God, then the rest is all for me. How self serving is that? It matters not how much we receive from others, but much more in how much we give to others.
I needed a new, fresh revelation of Jesus in my life. He loves me so much. He longs to display mercy in my life. He longs to give me grace. He longs to lavish his love on me.
I think it is interesting how I and many other Christians can talk so much about how Christianity is about a relationship with God and then we get caught up in outward religiosity ourselves. Can I just get caught up in Jesus loves me?!!
Now comes my confession though. As I read my Bible this morning, looking for something else, God brought something to my attention. If you read my notes/blogs and/or prayer newsletters, you will know what I’m talking about. Maybe you haven’t thought of it in this way, but I was convicted this morning.
I was reading Matthew 7 this morning and it said this…
You cannot serve two masters: God and money. For you will hate one and love the other, or else the other way around. So my counsel is: Don’t worry about things – food, drink, and clothes. For you already have life and a body – and they are far more important than what to eat and wear. Look at the birds! They don’t worry about what to eat – they don’t need to sow or reap or store up food – for your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Will all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothes? Look at the field lilies! They don’t worry about theirs. Yet King Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as beautifully as they. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you. O men of little faith? So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all those things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to.
So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.
This last line is one I need to constantly remind myself. I live so much of my life thinking about tomorrow. Some call that being a visionary. Maybe.
But the Word didn’t say don’t think about tomorrow. It said don’t be anxious about tomorrow.
Why? To be anxious about tomorrow demonstrates a lack of faith in God today. It reveals my lack of trust in the God that loves me so.
I admit, I’ve worried about my finances. I’ve worried about church finances. God has convicted me not to worry. He has convicted me to trust Him. He loves me so. He will provide what I/we need.
There is so much more I could write. But, I will conclude here today.
Know this. God is still speaking. I am listening again. His grace and mercy are greater than my need. He loves me. He loves me so.
Friday, December 4, 2009
In the afternoon, I was preparing a rough draft of our financial budget for our house church network. (For my pastor and parachurch ministry friends out there, I know I've said enough, you understand completely.) However, for those who don't understand, here are a few tidbits. When you start looking at the total amount given and you start looking at what could help you reach the next level as a church/ministry or in our case as a house church network and things don't even come close to matching up, it's easy to have some intense emotions connected to that. The increased part of that for me is the type of idealism that we are trying to reach. We want to create a church system whereby most of our money goes to help those in need. We want to give away more than we use. And of course, we are still in an infant stage, but this is also where precedent can/must be set in many ways. What do we stand for? What are we about? What do we hope to accomplish? What is our vision? I believe WE ARE living those things out for the most part, it just doesn't show up on paper in black and white. Which, I suppose is fine, but it has it's emotional struggle attached to that for me. The question I'm left with is, "how do you live in a church paradigm where your intent is to help the needy instead of using it on yourself in the form of salary, building, and programmatic needs, when you have salary, building and/or programmatic needs?" This is the tough question we are dealing with. And it carries with it a lot of emotion. To be honest, I feel responsible for the failure because my family needs it's portion through a part-time salary to maintain our own survival mode of life. I do see light at the end of the tunnel. My wife may go back to work next school year. I'm going to start a Master's program to be a school counselor that should take 2-3 years. Our house church network will conceivably grow. The economy will pick up. But, all of those things are still in the future.Today, I feel desperate.
Then later in the evening I was reminded of where we are as a people learning how to love one another. In the midst of a nice, friendly discussion learning about organic church, a heated and emotional conversation took place that left me wondering why are we doing this? One of my goals in starting a house church network is to see increased depth of relationship and truly loving one another in Christian community. While I will not say that our flare up was in opposition to this truth (in many ways it was the result of depth of relationship), it still left me wondering. My mind wandered to the other situations that I've experienced with members of our house church network that made me wonder,"is this increased Christian community or is it the same old, same old?" I began to get discouraged.
One reality of depth of relationship is an example of when a couple gets married. I know a greater depth of relationship has this great appeal to it, but with that comes a whole new reality. Consider when a bride is getting to know her new husband. At first, the socks on the floor aren't that big of a deal. But, after some time, somehow it becomes a big deal. Does she still love him? Why, of course. Does he still love her? We think so. But, now the harsh reality of depth of relationship causes them to figure out how to love one another. Sounds rather simplistic and unimportant, but socks left on the floor of a relationship over time lead to harsh emotions of feeling uncared for and/or even abandoned in a relationship. Common, practical patterns of behavior lead to conflict and/or emotional struggle for two people trying to experience a deeper sense of relationship. The rubber has met the road.
The discouragement comes when we forget these realities are inevitable. The encouragement comes when we remember that these are opportunities for growth, for responding to a person's expressed needs, and being reminded of how very much our interactions and lives affect others. Another problem we have is telling a person we have a problem with that we have a problem with them. We think if we sweep it under the rug, it'll be okay. We think if we just talk to someone else about it, we'll feel better. We think if we can try to just manipulate things behind the scenes, we will get our way. The truth is all of these things cause damage. They can destroy a relationship. The best thing we can do is to simply tell someone what our problem with them is and ask how we can do things differently. Remember, problems are created by two. Someone does something I don't like, then I respond in a certain way (emotionally or in my mind, even). Therefore fixing the problem needs the work of two people. Perhaps someone can change the way they do things or perhaps they don't need to, but you just need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Perhaps a little of both is necessary. Perhaps a lot of both is necessary. The key here is to be willing to share the offense you've felt with the person who offended you in a kind way, seeking a solution that will increase your relationship. Of course, it takes two to reconcile. But, as much as it is within your power, seek to live at peace with everyone. SEEK! That takes effort and initiative, not passivity, not avoidance, and not manipulation.
Wow! And to think last night, I was desperate and discouraged. Today is a new day! Even now as I've worked through these issues through blogging, I feel much better! I feel great hope! I know God will help us through as we seek His direction and guidance. I am reminded of his grace and mercy and how much we all need it. I hope you have experienced that as well and are helping others to experience it through a depth of relationship that speaks volumes and volumes of love for others!
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Today, it's different. I question and wonder if all I do is making a difference. But today, I know I'm following God's direction in my life. Not only have I followed the call to plant a church, but I've seen that church reach an important goal of muliplying into 3 churches. Another great aspect of that are the stories I hear from folks in those churches. Great levels of depth of relationship. Folk gettin real with each other and with God. Leadership being exercised. The church being the church. Is there much to be done? Are the churches yet being and doing everything they could or should?
Of course not, but neither is/does my 4 year old daughter. She is cute as all get out and brings me much joy, but she is not a finished product. She still struggles with being away from mom for any period of time. She hasn't even considered the aspects of reproduction (thank God for that!) She can read some (or at least memorize the words my 8 year old taught her -which is an amazing lesson in itself, my 8 year old teaching my 4 year old how to read - that makes a daddy proud and dumbfounded :) but she can't read or understand some more difficult texts. She doesn't have a clue about relationships yet, but she knows she holds a key to my heart.
Now that I think about it, there is much to be thankful for in our church planting efforts. We are still very much in our infancy stages, yet some very good things are happening. I guess my wondering this morning has to do with the finished product aspect and the one responsible for getting there.
I have long accepted the responsibility for things that are not my responsibility. One of my favorite reminders from scripture is, "unless the Lord builds a house, it's laborer's labor in vain." No, I'm not making a difference, if I think I'm the one that's gonna make a difference. :-)
I've been reading Organic Leadership by Neil Cole. It had a great reminder for me/us last week. God is not calling us to be "successful" in the eyes of the world (even the modern church world) but he's calling us to be faithful, fruitful, and to finish strong. We've only just begun.
Now about the fruitful/finished product that I hope to see...
I envision people who don't know Jesus walking with us in such ways that they are introduced to God's Kingdom at work in the lives of Jesus' followers. I see them being challenged with the gospel. I see them making life changing decisions. I see God transforming their lives in ways that could only be explained by the Holy Spirit's work. I see people growing in great maturity in their faith bc of their personal contribution to their house church and the folks they interact with every day. I see people digging deep into God's Word bc they simply want to know Jesus. I see folks responding to God's love in such ways, they begin to give much more than they receive from others bc they are aware of how much God has given them and continues to give them. I see folks working through some difficult issues in their lives, that otherwise they might have stepped away from a church and not dealt with. I see multiple generations of house churches multiplying before our very eyes. (Someone said, if you say multiplying is in your vision, your vision is not fulfilled until you see a church multiply a multiplying church that has multiplied multiplying churches. :) - think exponents. Another aspect I see is when God has enabled me/us to volunteer our ministry to the network. If you want the entire body to jump in and participate, I believe you gotta get away from paying people to over compensate for those that aren't exercising their gifts. (I hope to start grad school at Wright St in Jan to be a school counselor!)
Thank you for reading. Now my question for you is what do you want to see happen? What has God put in you to partner with Him to make an impact in the world?! How will you respond to God's great love for you?!!
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Do you ever find yourself saying one of these things or something
similar? Do feel like you have a lot of reasons to complain? Do you struggle with people, changes, and the like? Maybe you don’t think so,
but how often do you voice your displeasure with something in the shape
of a complaint? Or maybe in the shape of sarcasm? Or maybe in the shape
of an attitude?
I have to admit, one of my biggest complaints, is complaining. I
can’t stand it when others complain. It eats at my core. It gets my
insides turning. Sometimes I want to say, “suck it up.” Sometimes, I
want to say, “get over it.” Sometimes, I want to say, “give some
grace, would ya?!” I wonder if my sensitivity to this is related to my
upbringing. I’m not sure. Or maybe when I was a young Christian, I
read a verse of scripture that said, “Do everything without
complaining or arguing, so that no one can criticize you.” (Phil
2:14-15) and I took that scripture literally. Not that I’m perfect at
it or that I expect anyone else to be, but it just seems that
complaining and arguing seem to be the norm for many of my Christian
brothers and sisters. And, the ideal just seems so clear to me.
Now what are friends for, if they are not there to vent to?! I’m not
referring to sharing our struggles with our friends. That’s what
friends (and mates) are for. But, in this context, our goal is not just
to complain, but to make ourselves better people by sharing our problems
and seeking solutions or sometimes just helping us feel better by
putting words to our thoughts and emotions. Of course, we must think
about how our venting affects our mate or our friend. Who wants to hang
out or share life with someone who is always complaining and tearing
others down?! These conversations, over time, suck the life out of
others, instead of giving them Life. Who wants to be with someone or
give time to someone that takes life instead of gives it?! Of course,
Jesus calls all of us to respond with grace, patience, kindness, and
Which leads me to my grumbling. I’ve never been accused of being a
person who is gifted in compassion. And as I’ve been thinking about my
own complaining lately to my wife, I’ve been thinking about the
connection. I want her to hear me, be compassionate, and help me in
response. That’s what compassion is all about. I read the other day
that compassion isn’t just about feeling sorry for someone, but
compassion, as Jesus defined it in the parable of the good Samaritan, is
an action. What good is it to hear a need of someone, pray for them, and
wish them well and then send them on there way without helping when you
can? Compassion, like love, isn’t just a feeling, it’s an action.
So, my question and my challenge is when I hear others complain,
instead of grumbling about that, do I listen and understand the need
that is not being met in their life, and have compassion on them by
doing what I can to help. Maybe I just need to listen to them. I learned
from the book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, that sometimes,
women just need you to listen and that helps, they don’t need you to
fix their problem. So, listening can be a form of compassion. That sense
of community can be overlooked by men, but is so valuable to so many
women. However, if we have the ability to help someone, maybe we should
respond in love and compassion by actually finding a way to help them.
Sometimes we need wisdom and we need to seek God and ask him for the
best way to do that.
Now about my own complaining, I definitely think that if Paul tells us
to do everything without complaining or grumbling, there must be a way
to do that. So how do I respond when I want to complain? Maybe I need to
rethink my thoughts. Maybe my thinking is all wrong. Imagine that, I
could be wrong. Instead of complaining about my boss or some
rule I have
to follow, I should pray for my boss and be thankful that I have a job.
Instead of complaining about the way things are, I should be working to
make them better. Maybe my problem is me. I’m looking at things
selfishly and want things to be better for me without concern for
others. Maybe pride is in the way and I think everyone should see things
the way I see them. Maybe I need to extend grace to someone who is
having a bad day, a bad week, or is in a bad chapter of their life.
Maybe I need to learn a lesson from God due to my situation. Maybe my
character needs developed.
As I was reading in James just this morning, “when troubles come your
way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when
your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it
grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect
and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God,
and he will give it to you.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)
How do you deal with your temptation to complain or grumble? What helps
you have the right attitude? What helps you develop your character? What
makes you a better person?
Monday, July 27, 2009
As a house church, we've been working through the multiplication process, praying and talking, and talking and praying. At this point, I just want to see it happen. Of course, that is just around the corner and I am oh, so excited. It's supposed to happen on Sun, Sept 13th, unless Jesus comes back (of course, we know he won't yet, right Adrian? :) Seriously, though, I am very pumped and excited to know that we will be multiplying one house church into three. God has provided leadership, hosts, and a plan. Now it's time to see it happen.
That same week, we will also be launching our monthly Community Worship Gathering. It will be on the third Thursday of the month in the Vineyard Church of Springfield's building at 137 E Main St in Springfield, Ohio. They have been extremely generous to offer to let us use there building. They have such a Kingdom mindset. They love to see churches working together and helping each other and they are a great example for all of us to follow. I am excited for the opportunity to gather all of our house churches together for worship, encouragement, and to cast vision, but I'm more excited about what actually happens in a Life House. The Worship Gathering doesn't mean much to us in comparison to the house church gathering. But, I'm excited about this as well, since we'll be multiplying early that same week and I'm sure we'll be missing each other already. :)
We are preparing to take a family vacation this Friday with my wife's folks. We'll be going up the east coast from DC (2 days) to New Haven, CT (1 day) to Boston, MA (3 days) back down to Philadelphia, PA (2 days) to conclude our trip in Canton, OH (1 evening) to see Rod Woodson (my fav NFL player of all time) be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I'm excited about the trip, though a little cautious as well. We've got a lot of traveling to do. It sounds like alot of stuff to do in a short amount of time. My back has been bothering me when sitting for an extended period. But, we've never been to most of these areas (well Boston, NH, CT, ME and the such). Hopefully, the weather will help us enjoy it even more. My girls are really looking forward to DC and Philly, especially my history buff of a girl Morgan (13, a true teenager, complete with earbuds sticking out of her ears all the time.)
One thing I need is some time away. This summer has been rough working long days in the hot sun. Being away from the office has taken me out of my consistency element. My reading has been cut way back. My devotions have been almost non-existent. My prayer life, inconsistent. My sense of God working, much less than normal. So, as our trip winds down and we return to the 'field, I'll start work at CTC on the Monday after our Saturday return. Life will get back to normal. All in time to prepare to launch our community worship gathering and the multiplication of our house church. There is much to be thankful for.
I often look at our checkbook and wonder how we are doing it. Our core group has been so very faithful to help us without any assistance from a denomination or supporting group. Thankfully, some friends and family have also stepped and provided periodic assistance along the way. Without, which, we would never have survived. No matter, how much I whine about our/my situation, God pulls us through and shows up in neat ways. In so many ways, I should simply be thankful. I hope this is the last time you hear me "talk" about money. I'm gonna shut up now and just live the life that God has called us to. We'll trust God to provide.
It has been quite a challenge to start this church bi-vocationally, but it has also provided a neat backdrop. As it relates to the church and the mission of God, I love planning for the future. I love pondering what may happen, but those are luxuries that you don't have when you're working all day, then coming home to your family and trying to find time to fit everything else in. I'll always be a thinker and an analyzer, but when you are on mission, sometimes you don't have time for all that stuff. Which reminds me why we sometimes get into some silly, petty discussions/arguments theologically or whatnot, because we have too much time to sit around pondering things instead of putting them into practice by getting involved in the lives of some people who don't know Jesus and finding ways to serve them. Instead of living everyday on mission, we find ways to handicap the church. Instead of really giving God are all and really loving people, we complain about the way other Christians are.
God help us to get our eyes off of ourselves, spend time loving people where you put us and help us to make the world a better place to live. Help me to remember how much people need you. Help me to show them who you are. Help me to show my family. Help me.
One thing I'm passionate about. God is looking for broken people. The more broken I am, the better he can show up and and show off. God is in the healing business. Let him heal whatever is broken in you today.
Thanks for listening to my ramblings. Until our next time... Hasta...
Monday, May 11, 2009
It feels kinda weird since I was also able to take a walk at lunch and experience a beautiful day outside, as well. God is good. He blesses us and gives us what we need. I am thankful for this moment, also, because I know it won't last long as there is much to do.
We have finished our classes for fostering to adopt. Though the classes were very good and appreciated, they were also very time consuming (40 hrs in 3 months), so I'm thankful that we've finished them. There is much to do yet, such as house inspections and interviews with caseworkers and patiently waiting for another child that God has for us to love. Our three girls are all so wonderful and they too, are looking forward to a little brother to add to the family and love like one of our own. But, until all of that, a moment to breathe.
Track is over for Morgan, which means less after school activity for the whole family. It was kinda neat to see Morgan participate. Girls and boys are so different, though. Sports are still so much about relationships for girls, while guys are so concerned with success/failure. Morgan will have more cheerleading stuff right around the corner, since she made the 8th grade squad (yeah!! for her!!) but we'll have a break for a little while. A moment to breathe.
The NFL Draft is over. Teams are pretty much set. There is little to no sports news that interests me until NFL Training Camps start up in late July (unless perhaps we end up with a Cavs vs Lakers finale). A moment to breathe.
School has been hectic these last two months since OGTs and everyday packed with meetings from the beginning of the day until the end. My head has been spinning. It's been good and I've been thankful, but it's just taken a little getting used to compared to the first part of the school year. But, in a little over a week those will be over, school will be preparing to end, and I'll be off work for the summer (most of it.) A moment to breathe.
Financially, things have been very difficult, though we've managed to pay off some debt (which has been a blessing!) We hope to have a couple of garage sales, sell some stuff on ebay, and use a couple of bonuses to catch things up, so that we are not riding the line quite so tight. Not to mention, if we do some things right in this next year, as we are planning to, we can be completely out of debt (minus the house) in less than a year! I'm looking forward to a moment to breathe.
Whever I start to feel frazzled because of my lack of time, money, or other resources, I am always reminded that God is the God who provides. He gives us what we need. And as his child whom he loves desperately, if I don't have enough money, it's probably because I haven't used appropriately what He's given me. If I don't have enough time, it's probably because I'm trying to do too much and I need to chill out. If I haven't achieved enough "success," it's probably because I need to be patient and wait for God to do His work. Mostly, when I'm feeling stressed out due to a lack of time and constant running, I often and need to remember the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is something I believe we should follow legalistically in maitaining all of these rules of what we can and/or cannot do on Sunday (actually, it was Saturday), but rather it is a place of rest in God's presence. It is stopping and listening to what God has to say to me. It is simply being, not doing. God has a Sabbath for me that is not confined to a day of the week. God has a Sabbath waiting for me with the promise of eternal rest. The Sabbath is a gift, not a burden. It is for man, not against him. The Sabbath is a moment to breathe...
Right now, I need a Sabbath. I've spent too many days working in my own strength and power, free of listening to God's voice and just surviving on my own. God has something better for me. He has and wants a deeper relationship than that. It is time for me to remember that and reflect on God's goodness in God's presence. It is time to take a moment to breathe...
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Well, there are many reasons. The more you get to know us and spend time with us, the more you’ll understand. But, let me share a few of the main reasons.
When I first came to know Jesus in a personal way, it was through the influence of a “normal” church. In those early days, I was reading my Bible and more specifically, the New Testament and what I had experienced in minimal ways in church to this point and what I was reading about in the stories of the early church were two very different things.
Years went by and I grew like crazy! After some initial struggle, I followed God into “full-time” ministry as a youth pastor in a “normal” church. I spent almost 10 years doing that, learning the ins and outs of church life, loving teenagers and learning leadership in a local church. We had lots of fun playing football, having late night worship services, and just hanging out together. One thing I noticed in that time is that our mission trips and small groups were the most beneficial to our own spiritual growth, as well as the impact that we could have on those outside of the church. House Church is in many ways a hybrid of mission trip and small group combined.
Then God started to lead me once again into church planting. I wrestled with him for some time over this, but ultimately submitted myself to Him and His leadership in my life. As I began to take steps toward following this leading, I began to ask God what kind of church he wanted me to plant. Through a series of events and conversations with many people that I know, love and trust God opened my eyes and heart to this new idea of “house church.” Many of these people had come from “normal” churches and many were still in “normal” churches. However, I began to simply know that God was leading me to start something new. It was new to me, anyway. God kinda started this a little while back in the book of Acts.
There is much more to tell. There are many more reasons. All of us in Life House Community have come with our own stories of how/why we are here. Why don’t you come and get to know us and hear our stories for yourself? Maybe you’re story will overlap with ours and we’ll spend some time on this journey of life together, discovering what it means to be a simple expression of Christian community that brings glory to God by following Jesus.
Monday, March 30, 2009
It's true, I won a Wii!!
No, I really won a Wii!!
This is not a hoax.
This not a sweepstakes.
This is not a con to get you turn over your bank accounts.
No matter, how I start, it sounds phoney.
How about this?
My FREE Wii arrived in the mail today!
They delivered my Wii today that I won!
No matter, how it starts, I know how it sounds.
But, truly today at my house near South Charleston, UPS delivered a brand new in-the-box Nintendo Wii that I won through a random purchase at Blockbuster last fall. The funny part is WE ALREADY OWN A Wii! Now, I know what you're thinking, well, he's a nice guy, why doesn't he just give it to me(us). :~)
Well, you're right, I am a nice guy. But, I'm so nice right now, that we are living on, well let's just say less than we are used to and less than we are comfortable with. The good thing is God has blessed us and provided. He always does. Even better, we have been figuring out how to pay down debt, all while dealing with a much lower income and fun surprises that come up (ie, dishwasher going out and school deciding to buy new cheerleading uniforms during some of the worst economic times that we've seen in a while.)
Now, I'm not complaining. I'm just saying...
Here's what I'm saying...
Who wants to buy a brand new Wii sealed in the box for retail cost? ($250, no taxes :)
Friday, February 27, 2009
Should we, as a house church network plant, join a denomination? If you want to weigh in on the discussion feel free. Just realize, as we have, that it may sound like a very dividing conversation. While I don't normally like these kinds of discussion (b/c they are not usually very productive or Kingdom of God centered), for us, at this time, it is extremely important. It affects the direction and future of our house church network. How much it affects us, is open to opinion, b/c we are who we are, yet, it will still affect us.
Most of us in our group desire to join a denomination for the following reasons.
Accountability. We want to be accountable to someone else so that we don't sway off our own way, but keep our roots connected with orthodox Christianity and theology. While we believe that God has given us vision to doing Church differently than most these days, we don't want that to be license to completely go our own way and disconnect ourselves from any accountable relationships. We want to be able to fairly easily address questions or concerns of heresy being taught or discussed within our Life Houses, but we do want some freedom to wrestle with and think about the scriptures and how they apply to our lives today.
Support. We hope a denomination will desire us as much as we desire them. Relationships don't work so well, if one is deemed to be sucking Life from the other. We want a symbiotic relationship. We hope for prayer support, a small amount (for a church plant) of financial support, and mentoring relationships. We want to be able to contribute to a larger network of Christian relationships in many different ways. (potentially district events and/or worldwide missions) We want to be a people that a denomination is proud to have as one of their churches.
Reputation. House church is outside the box for most and we certainly don't want anyone to wonder if we are a cult. Being connected to a denomination should help relinquish any of those kinds of concerns. (Interestingly as I've talked to folks outside of our group about this, some have pointed out that all of those negative cult situations, actually come from one person being given too much power, not from a shared leadership/participation type of group, like house church.)
However, I'm not sold on the fact that we need to be a part of a denomination.
Part of it comes from the fact that when I first became a Christian, I rejected the idea of denominations. It all seemed way too divisive. I would answer folks with what denomination, I held onto, but rather I simply said, "I am Christian."
Control seems to be an issue through our discussions. Some denominations want lots of control over a local congregation and some give lots of freedom to local congregations. Many aren't sure how and would have to work through how to have a relationship with a house church network versus a traditional style church. I am okay with (though I'm not a big fan of) being a part of a denomination because of a particular view of systematic theology. (I'm not a big fan of systematic theology) I'm not a big fan of a denomination mandating some gray areas of morality for not only a national church, but an international church. I do believe that the community of faith has something to say about how we should live morally, but more in the context of those who are in truly in relationship to one another (ie small group, house church, etc.)
One last thing that I'm finding. It's seemed to be a challenge and/or many challenges ahead of convincing a denomination or a board within a denomination of our vision for house church. I'm struggling with that. If you want someone to marry you, I'm not sure you should have to tell them why you're so great. They should just know it. Or they should just accept who you are. Context once again is also a reality. We are pursuing them at this point and not the other way around. Most of them don't really know us. (However, there is one denomination that has been pursuing us.)
Lastly, I've had some very good people who I trust, love and respect talk to me about their concerns regarding us joining a denomination. Mostly, they are against it. Not really too many folks have encouraged us to join. (except for maybe one friend) I find that interesting and curious. I wonder if those folks would be willing to pony up some financial support in place of that denomination. :~)
Well, I must go for now. I'm sure this discussion will come up again. Please pray for us. We will be doing the same. God knows we want to follow His direction.
If you've got something to offer in productive and helpful ways, please share. We are definitely willing to listen, consider, and dialogue about.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Frank and George seem to be at odds with human spirit-led leadership. Frank talks an awful lot about every-member participation (which I appreciate) and Jesus Christ leading meetings as the head of the Church in open meetings. They seem to have a problem with a human leading or facilitating a meeting (not to mention the spirit leading you prior to a meeting to share something that was planned in advance, ie order of worship). Frank claims that he has participated in these Christ-led (not human led) meetings where Jesus pulls it all together.
This is an area that some have challenged me with. It seems to come from our theology. How do we understand God? How do we understand the Trinity? How do we understand human leadership? How do we understand God's way of working with His people?
I fall in the category of believing God, the father is the one calling the shots, so to speak, but he does so with love (self-less giving) and a servant spirit. In the same way, I believe that God has entrusted men in the Old and New Testament with leadership to provide direction and vision with love (self-less giving) and a servant spirit. This type of leadership is way different than wanting our own way and requires great responsibility and accountability.
My question for Frank would be, why can't God manifest himself through human leadership? Isn't that exactly what he does? There are at least two categories within the house church (and other's too, I suppose) on leadership. One says that God calls a leader to provide vision and direction, spirit-led, of course, to a group of people. Another says that God calls a group of people to collectively provide vision and direction. I'm not talking about a leadership board or vision team, I'm talking about the whole group. But, even within a leadership board or vision team, you must have a leader to faciliate and provide leadership within their function. Does God's Spirit not work through an individual in such a way?
I wonder if Frank may have experienced a bad situation with poor leadership in the past. I wonder if Frank's personality traits lend away from control. Leadership does not constitute or replace every member functioning, in fact, good, healthy biblical leadership would encourage it, equip it and help it to happen. Leadership does not provide all the work, it proves the direction of the work. And it must be done in self-less, servanthood, and loving ways. While others not in leadership, interact and help to provide feedback to the leader, ultimately they follow, trusting God to guide the leader by his Spirit.
Too many have experienced poor leadership or leadership that disagrees with their decision. Too many have been hurt by selfish or hurtful leadership. This doesn't negate our need for it, it simply reminds of the type of attitudes that leaders must have and that their job is not to take all the work away from the people, but to serve the people by providing vision and direction.
Leadership must be balanced and checked with the Bible, with accountability groups, and with followers and supporters, but servant-leadership is a human service to God and others.
Some in the church have called Frank a heretic, but I don't think anyone has ever called George Barna one. In fact, he is considered THE Christian statistics guru and is probably one of the most quoted or referenced persons in Christendom, at least through our modern day sermon.
Now that I'm ready to blog about my experience with this book though, I think a better title for the book should probably be Pagan CHURCHianity. The book deals with the "evolution" or modernization of the historical process of the how the church has come to it's current form. The basis of the book is this. Most churches would claim that everything they do is by the book, er the Book. However, much, if not most of how we do church has evolved from it's original form due to the influence of it's surrounding culture, ie Pagans, Greeks, etc.
Clearly the church has changed from its original early church experience. That cannot be denied. How, why and whether this is a benefical thing to the Kingdom of God is where this book can create division and a variety of differences of opinion. Has the church evolved? (changed in order to survive) Has the church developed or matured? (changed due to its growth) Has the church become secularized? (changed due to worldy influence) These are the major questions with major implications.
The book discusses most of the major practices of how we do church. The Church Building. The Order of Worship. The Sermon. The Pastor. Sunday Morning Costumes. Ministers of Music. Tithing and Clergy Salaries. Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Christian Education. The New Testament (order and breakdown).
When I first became a Christian, I was really enthused with church. Why do we do this? Why do we do that? How come the Bible says this, but we don't do that? How come these themes come up repeatedly but, go untalked about in church? I had all these questions. The Scriptures didn't seem to line up with the church(es) I had attended. It's not necessarily that my church experience was in opposition to the Scriptures, but they just didn't line up clearly. Such as the trivial issue of dressing up for church. I was reading through the New Testament and Jesus seemed to be focusing so much on the heart and the motive, not outward appearances. And yet, many seasoned, veteran Christians were telling me I need to look my best on Sunday morning in order to show God respect and honor. These teachings just didn't seem to match up with any Scripture. There was certainly nothing to say dressing up was bad (at least not clearly), but it sure didn't seem to say what was our common church experience (more especially at that time than now).
So, it was amazing as I read through this book that so many memories came to mind, where I remember wondering why do we do this like this and I was given a pat answer, that more often than not was completely uneducated and something they had just been told to do (toll the company line!) presumably, hopefully by well intentioned people who weren't quite sure themselves. How many times have I done that? Egad!
If you've been trained in Christian ministry at college or seminars or wherever, you're brain right now may be considering these implications, as mine did throughout the entire book. Methods change from time to time, culture to culture, but the message never changes. Therefore, of course, the church has changed. The methods have changed due to times and culture that it existed in to meet the needs of that culture. The question is not do we use other methods (as the culture that we live in necessitates), the question is when we use other methods, are they helpful to what they Church is called to be and do or does it ultimately undermine or even significantly hinder the message and the people called to deliver that message. (ie, all Christ followers, not just pastor types) An extremely important part of this discerning process is to remember is what the early church was and what the Bible actually teaches rather than simply our human traditions based on the progression (or regression) of the church for a certain time and culture that no longer even exists.
I will admit that Frank and George seem pretty harsh toward our modern church(es). Even, too harsh for me sometimes. But, if I trust their words, it is because they love the church that they can come across so strongly. That and though they did not say, I would guess at least Frank's spiritual gift would be that of prophecy. (Prophets love to point out sin or atleast that which has the appearance of sin and call Kingdom people to repentence. :) Or course, our culture is not so enamored with these kind of gifts. They kinda hurt sometimes.
In each of these categories, (The Church Building. The Order of Worship. The Sermon. The Pastor. Sunday Morning Costumes. Ministers of Music. Tithing and Clergy Salaries. Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Christian Education. The New Testament (order and breakdown), Frank and George argue that when they changed based on their culture and time, that these changes have been for the detriment of the church. In some cases, I totally agree. In others, I'm not buying it. At least that it's as bad or as clear as they make it out to be. But, let's quickly look at each one.
The Church Building. The early church knew no "church owned" buildings. They met in homes and public arenas. (not even rented locations) Because of this, they had little overhead and most of their giving went to help the poor and those in need. Why has the church building been created then? Why to accomodate larger numbers, of couse. (many other reasons as well) But, if we multiply our churches instead of growing them larger, (ie, simple/organic/house church) then space is not the issue that we now see. (There are other issues as well, but those are dealt with as we go along here)
The Order of Worship. A great pastor friend of mine likes to remind me that all churches pretty much do the same thing. We sing, we pray, we preach, we give (money). Then, we go home. He's right. That's pretty much it. Nothing wrong with that, but the order of worship, though more flexible in some circumstances than others, is still pretty much the same. We sing. We pray. We give. We listen. Maybe we sing some more. Frank and George trace these origins to other religious rituals of their day and time, yet the early church knew no such type of order of worship. These were free flowing meetings with great participation (not a show to observe, but an experience to participate in, not just philosophically, but practically as well). I'm not sure how much this matters, in my opinion. I definitely see the need to be open to the leading of the Spirit of God. Never should we quench the Spirit and not allow him to move because of OUR schedule of events, but that has usually not been my church experience. Many pastoral leaders I know plan a great deal during the week, but are also very sensitive to the leading of the Spirit in the midst of the worship service. I just heard a story not long ago of my home church pastor being sensitive to the Spirit during a Christmas Eve service, so much that an individual gave their life to Christ because of it. If ever there would be a time to stick to the plan, it would have been Christmas Eve. I definitely see a great need though to give opportunity for greater participation by the attenders either through discussion, leadings of the Spirit, prayer, teaching, or some other interactive way of expressing Christ to each other. We need to return to our roots in this matter. This is how God made the Church, to minister to each other, not just the paid professional doing all of this.
The Sermon. Never had I thought much of this. I had assumed that the way we preach (though the New Testament clearly doesn't give us direction on HOW to do this) was similar to what was originally done. Frank and George make a great case for how and why the sermon has changed from the New Testament style of preaching. In turn, it gives us great cause to change the way we preach. I think most of us would agree that our current preaching, no matter how inspirational or great of a speaker, only lasts for a short while and does little to truly change lives, which of course, is why need our fill again so soon afterwards (ie Sunday morning, sunday night, and wednesday night, not to mention revival services, of course, those have greatly shortened over recent years).
The Pastor. I'm guilty. Here's an interesting fact, that I never considered. The word pastor is never mentioned in the New Testament. PastorS is mentioned once as a function, not as a title or a role. The shepherding role or function is mentioned numerous times, but not in the way that we experience today. This will cause quite a bit of controversy today. Both to those filling called to this role and to those who have experienced the demise of our current pastoral role. How many conversations have I had with other pastors on the unbelievable amount of pressure and expectations of a pastor. So many people in this role have been chewed up and spit out! Jesus could never fulfill these expectations that people have for a pastor in our current system. They are CEO, Shepherd, Teacher, Preacher, Mercy Giver, Community Representative, Perfect Dad and Husband, Money Managing Expert, Hand Shaker, Baby Kisser, Hug Giver, Administrator, Prophet, Evangelist, and much, much more. While the rest of the Church, sits around and pays him/her to do it. Many pastors break free from the constant tugging from all of these directions, and a few even stay in ministry and do it. Another thing that I think is a sad reality. Since we do pay pastors, if they are able to encourage and equip the church to actually do the ministry (the context of that one pastorS passage), then people would start wondering, why do we pay him/her anyway??? I definitely sense this and wonder a bit myself even as I am taking a part-time salary (very part-time, mind you). Paul was paid, you say? So did I. He was paid because he was a traveling church planter, not as a pastor of a local congregation. Is this to say the Bible condemns being a pastor? I wouldn't say that, nor would Frank or George, mostly because the Bible doesn't say that. However, does paying a pastor discourage everyone from giving to the community because that's what we pay him for and does it take up extremely valuable finances that could be used to help the poor? These are tough questions that we do have to consider. Jesus clearly calls us to help the poor and Paul clearly calls the entire church to serve one another and their community.
Sunday Morning Costumes. I don't feel like I need to say much here, but know that dressing up for church came from other cultures and religions and was completely unthought of in the early church. Most churches and Christians have gotten over this.
Ministers of Music. They argue that our development of music (choirs, worship band, etc.) have hurt the every member funtion even of worship. I tend to disagree, since everyone is involved and participating (not leading, but participating) but money could be an issue here as well.
Tithing and Clergy Salaries. Much has already been discussed on clergy salaries. The main part of this section is on tithing. Frank and George argue that tithing is biblical (ala Old Testament), but not a part of New Testament Christianity. The few times that they say to set money aside in the New Testament, it is not called tithing and it is clearly for a specific context/purpose and is in no way stated to be done for all churches at all times. Also, tithing was a part of the Old law system that Christ did away with with his death on the cross. (ie we don't give sacrifices anymore, restrict eating certain types of meat, etc.) While I will admit their argument is persuasive and doesn't leave much substantial argument on the other side (due to a lack of source material), the New Testament is not clear on this teaching, in my opinion, so let everyone do as God puts in their heart as the purpose and principles of tithing are taught out of joy and not out of compulsion by man.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Oh my goodness. Let me just say, I totally agree with them here. This is something I've been passionate about for a long time, since I first read the New Testament, but most totally disagree with me. Baptism in the New Testament took place immediately after a person desired to become a Christian. It was used almost in the same way as our "sinner's prayer" that we use today at the altar when someone desires to become a Christian. It was not a formal ritual that we invited all of our friends and family to and took pictures. It was simply a part of becoming Christian. It was not a growth step. It was not a maturity issue. It was not a "now I've cleaned all the big sin in my life up" kind of a process step. It simply happened as people became Christian. Secondly, the Lord's Supper or communion as we've come to call it was a faith community meal. When they came together every week to celebrate the resurrection, they ate a meal together. This was the Lord's Supper. This is why some ate too much, some didn't get enough to eat and some got drunk during the Lord's Supper in the early church. (of course, Paul yelled at them for these things) It was because the Lord's Supper was a meal (as in the Last Supper). It was not a cracker and shot of juice kind of dark and dreary kind of experience. It was a life giving, thankful appreciation and celebration kind of a meal that in we were reminded of the body and blood that was shed. Although these things aren't completely clear and Frank and George explain how they think these things did develop in the church based on their research, the reality is that tradition is hard to break once you've done something for a couple of years, try a couple thousand (or almost a couple thousand). While I believe both of these things to be true, baptism immediately after becoming a Christian regardless of opportunity for ritual/family/etc. and Lord's Supper as a meal, not a cracker/juice kinda thing, I know that the emotional ties that come with these things, most well meaning people will never change their practice of these traditions. Emotional ties run deep and mean alot to people, even if they aren't true expressions. How much do they hurt the church in their current form? That's a tough question. I'm not sure it is much, but maybe how we practice them could make up for how much they take away.
Christian Education. This is not huge for me, but it does make sense. Christian education in the early church was life on life, mentoring, experiential OJT kind of learning. Our current collegiate/seminary system creates brain/information/theoretical learning, but not much hands on practical learning, that comes when you get to your first church and they eat you up for breakfast. (in pastoral roles) Or in Sunday School extra preaching kind of ways if your just a laymen (sarcasm in the just a laymen thing). I will say there are a lot of good mentoring/discipleship type of programs in our church today that could be similar to the early church type of education, as long as they are relationally/practically based on not simply adherance to some theoretical knowledge of facts.
The New Testament (order and breakdown). The New Testament was put in an order other than chronologically. They argue that if we had it in chronological form, it would be easier and more apparent some of these issues that the early church was dealing with and the context for the letters that were written to different churches. While I would definitely agree and am intrigued enough to get a New Testament rearranged in chronological form, I'm not sure how big of a deal this is. I guess I'll have to read it this way to find out. He also argues about the section/verse breakdown causes us to miss the context of many verses of scripture that we misuse constantly and out of context. While this may be true, I've learned it also makes it much harder in groups to follow along (ie using the Message with the NIV).
Overall, the most important things that I took away from this were to not assume a biblical basis for why we do many of the things that we do in the church. Many of them actually have a Pagan or Greek or Secular origin. And if that is okay for the church to change with the times and culture (I do believe it is), then when we change, we must evaluate that according to the purpose and life that we as a Church are called to.
For example, when I first started sensing God calling me into planting a church, one of my first ideas was to have church in a theater. It's a building that is built similar to a church sanctuary and lies unused most Sunday mornings and most newer ones are a lot nicer than most churches. It is in the community and people are already used to going there. It is contemporary and uses modern technology. Everyone goes to the movies, while some people are afraid the roof will fall in if they go to church. (I disagree dad.) There are plenty of great reasons to "do" church in a theater. However, a theater also carries the connotation of being an observer of a good show, not a participant in a world changing movement of a family showing people the Father. However, since I'm not the only one in the church, we, together, as a community must evaluate our methods according to God's purpose for the church and when they don't line up, let's go back to our original practices and see how and why they helped the church thrive so much in it's infancy.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I've had a passion since I was a kid about this subject that I am going to raise today, but I've been afraid to open my mouth. It seems I'm getting brave in a lot of ways these days. I've been afraid, though because as soon as I open my mouth it leaves me open to criticism. But, that's okay. Open up, fire away.
Our black and African-American friends and brothers and sisters have been treated poorly. Certainly that's obvious through history. We all are aware of that. Many have spoken up about that throughout history, both famous and some not so famous. The majority of those that actually do speak up, though, are those that have had to go through it.
How many actually speak up that haven't had to experience it?
Racism. Prejudice. Profiling.
They are ugly words. They are even uglier to experience. They hurt. They destroy. Sounds kinda like sin, huh?
I've experienced these things in very minimal ways when compared to others. I was the little guy and was therefore picked last in games when I was in elementary school. I was a teenage guy, which I'm sure prompted police attention during my driving days more than once. (I didn't notice this until later in life, now that the police seem to ignore me as an adult and/or family man.) I've been passed up for a game or two of basketball due to my short, whiteness. Mind you, I told you these were minimal compared to what others have experienced.
One movie that made a huge impact on me as a kid was Soul Man with C. Thomas Howell. He played a white character who pretended to be black. He got away with it for a while and was expecting to understand what it was like to be black in our culture. He got an idea, but by the end of the movie realized how little of an idea he got since he was then able to be white, once again.
Then a few years back, I saw Amistad. Talk about crusing me! That movie destroyed me as I balled for over a half hour in response to the way these humans were being treated due to the color of their skin and cultural heritage. Sad. They were treated so much less than human.
I've always known instinctively how wrong it is for us humans to treat each other so differently simply based on the color of our skin (or any other innate reason.) I've never understood why others treat each other differently for this reason. They cannot intermarry. They cannot be best friends. They cannot let them in our house. They cannot go into business together. They cannot hire them. They cannot accept them in the same way as anyone else. Mostly, it doesn't even make sense.
Then I saw Crash. Oh my goodness. If you haven't seen this movie, you have to. Yeah, there is some "offendable" content (ie sexuality, language, violence) but the lessons and reality that it teaches is so much greater. If you must watch an edited version, I'm sure it's been on TNT or something. I actually own an edited, milder version if you want to borrow it. The movie was mind blowing and helped us see the reality that racism, prejudice, and profiling isn't owned only by white people but is a problem across multiple, if not all races. It's an ugly thing. It also helped me to see the different ways that I've probably been guilty of in the past myself and how it occurs so regularly right before our very eyes and we don't even recognize it because we are not the offended party.
Some blame biblical reasons. (Sad, they don't know or understand their Bible very well.) Some blame experience. Some blame ignorance. Some blame the media. These are not excuses. They might be reasons, but they are definitely not excuses. In my experience, more often than not, the greatest reason or excuse has simply been sin.
God created humankind equal. There is no supreme or better race. Why haven't we learned this lesson from the Nazis? Why haven't we learned this lesson from history? We are all children of the same God, whether we recognize or believe that.
I know about now, you might be saying, "you're not so innocent yourself." You're guilty too.
That may have been true from time to time. But, it certainly has not been intentional or I was not aware of it. One of the reasons that I am so passionate and have been so for much of my life is my experiences as a child. Not from experiencing these things myself, but in seeing others experience them in different ways. I don't have some vivid memory of a specific incident. I just remember how apalled I was as I heard of each incident and time that it happened.
This is a reality is today in our culture, at this day and time. Coming from our immediate, past for the United States, these have been some ugly and growing years. We've come a way. Yesterday is proof of that. But, how much is that saying when you consider how ugly the past is.
Today I am thankful for President Obama. I am thankful that he was able to be elected primarily on his gifts, experience and ideas. His race has been for the most part pushed into the background. I am sure that many didn't vote for him (because he was black), but I also heard just yesterday of at least one (white) person who voted for him simply because he was (black.) So, hopefully those ignorances balanced out. While I don't think that's the best or even a good reason to vote for him. It's an even worse reason to vote against him.
No matter what political persuasion or opinions you hold. Yesterday and today are beautiful days in America because we now have a black president. It is beautiful that it is now possible. It is a momentous occasion indeed. I was nervous and excited all day. I was in awe and appreciative.
Mind you, I don't think that racism, prejudice and profiling have now gone by the wayside, I am just grateful that we have reached this step.
I believe that has become possible in large part because of our younger generation. Certainly not all of the older generation would have a problem with this, but I find that the younger generation are much more open to these things. They are more sensitive to ignorance people that are racist. Mind you, they are not innocent, for many fall into the same trap, I'm just saying they are more open. Popular youth culture has had an impact on this, but young ideals can be a helpful thing as well.
Have you ever noticed how true the words of a kindergartner can be, even if they themselves cannot live up to them? (Why are people so mean to each other? Why can't we all just get along?)
Today, more than ever, I want to do something to bring racial reconciliation. I'm never sure what to do or how it will be received, but I want to do something.
There is one thing that I/we are preparing to do as a family. We are planning to foster to adopt a baby of another race.
Hopefully, this will help us to overcome any "unseen" racism/prejudice in our own lives and snuff it out. Hopefully, this will help create and build relationships with others of a different race than our own. Hopefully, this will spur conversations and ideas in others for how to create racial reconciliation.
Our primary reason for fostering to adopt is that hopefully, God will use this to give a child, that otherwise might experience a different kind of life, a new life. One filled with hope. One filled with love. One filled with a family.
But, we would also love for God to use it in racial reconciliation as well. We are willing to accept criticism. We are willing to sacrifice. We are willing to stand for what is right. We are willing go outside of our comfort zones.
Are you? Are you willing to create racial reconciliation? Are you willing to stand for what is right? Do you have the courage? What can YOU do? What WILL you do?
Monday, January 12, 2009
I'm sure you have. We all have. It's part of growing up from childhood to adulthood. Things seem so simple, then we realize how complex they are only to find out at the end of life, it was rather simple after all. Love others and be loved. Solomon, was it, said that the after everything he had went through, that life is all about serving God.
Okay, maybe this is not quite so profound, but it's been rocking my world. It answers alot of questions that I've had that I let go of because I never got a straight answer. It has much to do with my early discipleship in Christ and early ministry q&a.
The scary part is I've only just begun. I'm just starting to read about these things. Yet, somehow I know that it has significant implications for my life, for our lives, for our ministries. If I'd known about this years ago, many struggles would never have been struggles to begin with. Many questions would have been answered immediately. It wouldn't have been so hard and confusing. Remember at the beginning of the Matrix when he said, if you take the blue pill, you'll wake up and everything will be as you've always known it. But, if you take the red pill (or did I get it backward) then your eyes will be opened to an all new reality. I am becoming aware of this new reality.
Now, as it pertains to life, I've already experienced this eye opening experience. It was when I met Jesus. He rocked my world. He changed everything. He turned me upside down. He made me aware of my own selfishness, cleansed me from all my failures, set me back on my feet and started cleansing my heart and life. Nothing's been the same ever since. I see the world different. I see people different. I see "God" different. I see my purpose differently. My eyes have been opened to new realities that I know others are closed to.
This new thing is similar. It's not life changing in the sense of coming to Christ. It's not life changing in the sense that you may notice that many differences in me. But, it is life changing with how and why I do ministry a particular way. Ministry has been my "vocation" for over ten years. Initially, I wrestled with that. This answers alot of those questions. I didn't have the gifts, abilities, experience, education, etc to be and do the ministry. If only I'd known. I had so many questions going in because what I thought I was supposed to be and do (based on my limited experience in the church) were not really necessarily what I was supposed to be and do. Plus, I kept looking for the scriptural backing. "Our culture is so different from that of the Bible. That must be it," I told myself. But, I always wondered, why?
You see, since I didn't grow up in the church, I had little background and so I simply trusted those who were teaching me and showing me the way. Mind you, I questioned them, some would guess too much, but overall I trusted them and kept going. These were great people and none of them purposefully (ignorantly, maybe) mislead me. But, they gave me alot of pat answers instead of investigating the realities and complexities of my questions. If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about.
Here's what I'm talking about. I'm reading this book called Pagan Christianity. (http://www.paganchristianity.org/)
It shows the historical evidence for how we got the church we got today. It explains the "evolution" of Christianity and church practices from the early church to our current version. As I was an young Christian growing, I wondered how/why what I was reading in the Bible was so different than what I experienced in church at that time. I would ask questions like why do we do this in church? Why is this important? When, as I read the New Testament, I could not find any real evidence or emphasis for my questions. And like I said, people gave me pat answers. So, even though it didn't make sense, I accepted it (kinda) and kept moving on.
In this last year or two, I've been putting some of those things aside, since now I've not be only responsible for a youth group but adult ministry and now the creation of a brand new church. So, I've been letting my convictions lead instead of doing things how others said I needed to do them. I've been speaking, er... preaching my mind. The messages that glare in the New Testament have become messages that I am speaking often, though in much grace, because they are not the messages that have been often proclaimed. For example, this idea of holiness = following more rules and staying away from sinners is hogwash. That's not the kind holiness that Jesus lived. That's not the kind of holiness that is continually talked about throughout the New Testament as different authors battle the early Christians desire to add rules to their relationship with Jesus.
Anyways, the book, of which I'm about 1/3 through traces the "development" of the church from the early church through the third century, the middle ages, Martin Luther, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and our current consumeristic Sunday morning show. I've read about the "development" of the church building itself, the order of worship, the sermon and am currently working on the pastor. (ouch!) Not only does it trace these origins and the reasons that these things changed over time, but shows us the 2 most important aspects of them.
1) The way we do these things is not rooted in New Testament practice or scripture.
(You just can't say we do things "by the book," because it's more than likely simply not true.)
2) The we do these things actually work against the type of life that Christ calls us to.
The quick and easy argument against the book is that the church has progressed and has changed with the culture and times. (ie, methods change, but message never does (although that is an argument to be had in its own right)) However, that doesn't mean we have entire freedom to use whatever methods we want.
If our methods ultimately work against the message for which they exist, then we must not accept the methods.
Now that's a discussion worth having.
But, a few issues that have already arisen in my reading...
- The Church building did not originate in the early church and costs so much to maintain that it works against our call to love others, especially the poor. It focuses our time and attention on ourselves and our programs causing us to invest most of our resources which in turn cause us to be a "come and see" kind of people instead of a go and serve and tell kind of a people.
- The Order of Worship focuses more on the "show" that Sunday morning has become where we "go to church" (this mentality was non-existent in the early church) and observe/consume/watch the show and get emotionally excited/encouraged by the "paid professionals" instead of participating and encouraging one another the way they did in the early church. Our one direction type of monologue from the "paid professionals" to the "don't try this at home" type of people discourages people from using their gifts and letting the spirit lead them to exhort, encourage, prophesy, or teach one another. (except for those few churches that allow for a couple of minutes of this some weeks)
- The sermon origins are scary, yet kind of understood. The great greek philosophers provided much of the origins for our current "sermon." As I read about the purposes and philosophies behind the greek oraters, I was both dumbfounded and feeling ever so slightly guilty for following in their footsteps. This is the classic case of using the culture of the day to communicate a timeless message. Maybe it had its place for a while, maybe not. We could probably debate that. Maybe it has its place today, maybe not. We could definitely debate that. However, the modern sermon requires 1 hour of preparation for every minute spoken (according to my wonderful (that is not sarcasm) professors in college). Okay, most weeks, that's 30 hours. Maybe I've never given it quite that much, but it sure provides the necessity of paying someone to sermonize b/c volunteering an extra 30 hours a week only to speaking is not realistic. The costs that go toward paying someone to do what we all can and should do (if we're not following the modern sermon, but the biblical ideal) is not a wise use of money when we got people we need to love with those finances.
- The Pastor in most churches plays way too many roles and attempts to be SuperMan! Not because he cares that much or is that committed (though he may be) but usually just to keep people from complaining about what the Pastor isn't doing, after all, isn't that what we pay him for, to do the job(s) that we don't want to do or feel "super" enough to do? Even in those churches whose pastors spout from the pulpit about the Body of Christ doing the work of the ministry do way more than the scriptures mandate. Here's a scary note: the word pastor is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. PastorS is mentioned only once in the context of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers as they all prepare God's people for works of service. It is not a title to be used. It is a function of shepherding that is to be performed. Now let's be honest, today's pastor does 100X more than just shepherding!
Okay, so maybe you have to read it for yourself to get it. I doubt it, but maybe it'll help you understand and convict you as well. Maybe you'll just shrug it off as hogwash. You can't argue the historical origins, George Barna's (the guru of Christian statistics) participation helps that. We can debate whether you believe our current mode of churchianity inhibits the church from BEING the Church. But, you can't say we've been doing it by the book and therefore go on without even considering the implications. We haven't been and the implications are great! The church is in a dying position in our culture. It is no longer impacting the culture, but it is being impacted by the culture.
We just read this week how in 1 John 2:15-17, we are called not to love the world, but to follow and do the will of God. That is a question we must wrestle with. Are we following the world and culture or are we changing the world and culture because we give Life the way Christ gives Life.
I admit the answers aren't all easy and they are open to debate. But, I know where I'm at in the debate and the convictions that God is placing on me. It's messing me up. It's turning my world upside down. And it's a good thing. A good thing indeed.