Category Archives: Church

they like jesus

but not the church...

but not the church...

I’m disturbed.

Ask anyone on the street:  What do you think about God?  What do you think about Jesus?  What do you think about Spirituality?

Then ask them:  What do you think about Christians?  The Church?  Christianity?

I’ll bet we’d find that people – from all walks of life, religious and irreligious (with the exception of Bill Maher, perhaps) – have a positive reaction to God, immensely respect Jesus, even practice some sort of Spirituality.

But Christian changes everything.  Descriptives emerge:  bigotted, intolerant, homophobic, subculture, controlling, hate.

How in the world did we change the world to the point that the world likes Jesus (at least in their limited understanding, but like him nonetheless they do) but can’t stand His followers?  Certainly there are wrong perceptions, but the fact remains that perceptions shape people’s realities.  And as Christians, we’ve given more than enough fodder for people’s negative perceptions to become reality.

The question for us is not necessarily how to change their perceptions, but how to change how we shape those perceptions.

In other words, regardless of what narrow (and I mean this positively, not negatively) beliefs we have, how can we communicate love to our world.

More importantly, how can we communicate God’s love to God’s world.

Because as much as people may like Jesus…

…Jesus likes them more.

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projects

As part of my second year at George Fox Seminary (Portland), I’ll be researching two separate topics.  One will be Christianity and Christian history in Mexico.  The second takes a more contemporary bent and will focus on what holistic worship is.
I’m looking for resources (journal articles, books, websites/blogs, papers, etc) that touch on various aspects of worship and what worship means in the evangelical community.  Of late, “worship” has been restricted to a portion of a church service in which the congregation is led in song; it’s got to be more than that – in fact, I’m convinced we do the term and ourselves a disservice when we view worship with this shallow a definition.

I’m interested in your input.  What is worship to you?  What does it consist of?  Are their boundaries to what worship is?

big church and the spirit

The Coming of the Holy Spirit, St. Francis CathedralI have to admit, I’ve often been critical of ‘big church‘. You know, the mega-churches, those gathering places with thousands and thousands of people, pastored by well-known ministers, often well-known for things other than being Christlike.

I’ve been critical because I don’t like big churches. I get lost. I think that a church’s responsibility is to create new communities – new church plants – when they are large enough. I hear of building “expansion” to have larger Sunday services and think, “If we’re/you’re big enough to spend all that money expanding, we’re/you’re big enough to plant.

I’ve probably unfairly evaluated a lot of big church. It’s easy to rail from the outside. It’s easy to point fingers. It’s easy to look at my church and think worse thoughts of others. And it’s plain arrogant.

So, I’m beginning to be more gracious in my thoughts and words about big church. I find it easy to extend grace to individuals; why not to organizations? So, I’ve decided that – big or small – churches should be evaluated on this basis: what they offer to the community.

Now, I don’t mean what services, assistance, or events do they offer, nor do I mean community simply as those in close proximity to the church building.

What I mean is, “Does the church serve its own ends for its own people or does it seek the welfare of the community?” Does it seek to transform society by empowering its members – the body of Christ – to influence their own little worlds? And I don’t mean teaching adherents how to guide someone in “the sinner’s prayer”, as good as that might be. I mean, do we encourage Christ’s Body to act compassionately, the see with Jesus’ eyes the world around them, to give of one’s self and family to those in need, to aid in community development, to give a “cup of cool water” to someone thirsty?

I’m convicted by this blog by Rick Whitter. I count myself of the Pentecostal cloth, but what does that mean? Does it mean exuberant worship services? Speaking in tongues? Giving a “word of wisdom”? Barking like dogs? I think Rick has it right: the real evidence of the Spirit’s infilling was “these people gave.

I couldn’t say it better than this:

The DNA of the Spirit at work in the people of Acts is identified in their helping, their giving, their sharing, their feeding of the hungry, their clothing of the poor, their getting involved in correcting social injustices. As one with a Pentecostal heritage, I think I can offer a healthy criticism of our current operation. We have made Pentecostalism a style of worship. The Bible never does that. Pentecostalism is first and foremost a set of convictions that demands compassion by those who wear the label. A truly Spirit-filled person will get involved in efforts to address the needs of the less fortunate. A Spirit filled church really can’t be one unless they speak out and act on behalf of those who need help. Agreed, being Spirit filled it is about the manifestation of the gifts, no problem with that. It is about the unprecedented unity that they enjoyed, no doubt. But it is also about making a difference in the lives of hurting people. Not just praying for a miracle for those who are hungry, but creating a miracle by feeding the hungry. That is the work of the Spirit. That is what will make a difference in our world.

That’s enough for us to spend the rest of our lives perfecting.

That’s evidence of the Spirit.

gospel truth

I’ve just begun A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. I hadn’t gotten very far into the book when I stopped to chew on something he wrote:

The kind of gospel we preach shapes the kind of church we are;

The kind of church we are shapes the kind of gospel we preach.

I don’t know about you, but this is pretty convicting – especially to imagine how we, as local churches, have shaped the Gospel to fit the kind of church we are…

I hope you wrestle with this, too.

gated christian communities

You’ve seen them – from outside the key-coded gate. Maybe you’ve even tried to slip behind a resident and get under the gate before it closed on you. You know who you are…

Gated communities.

They keep people out: undesirables, less-affluent, more-affluent, those not-on-the-approved-list. They just do. They are safe-havens, isolated and intentional communities, a pick-your-own-neighbor life.

But this isn’t about the merits or downfalls of gated communities. No matter where on that continuum it falls, it is nowhere as insidious as the gated Christian communities.

You know what they are. You’ve seen them. You might not be aware if you are in one, but you sure as anything know if you aren’t. And these communities are sometimes harder to break into than physical gates. These gates communities have multiple gates.

You’ve attended church services and felt out of place. Or you have neighbors who claim to be Christians. Whether a Christ-follower or not, you know when you feel on the out of something in. And sometimes, no matter how how many gates you get through, there always seems to be one more. Here’s a few I am thinking of.

Gate #1 The Language Barrier: We Christians have our own lingo. We go to a church service; during that time we like to praise and worship; some of our favorite words in praise and worship are hallelujah or hosanna. After church we fellowship in the foyer (or lobby or vestibule – or the worst, the narthex); on Sunday nights we go to small groups (or life groups or home groups); in Bible studies we talk about spiritual warfare and principalities and powers…any of this sounding a little familiar? Then we talk about salvation and justification and getting saved or being born again. Learning this language can take years!

Gate #2 The Christian Smile: This is what you meet when you walk into the church and are handed a bulletin (this language thing is going to get messy, I can tell). It’s also what you see when you drop your kids off at kid’s church. Then you see it on faces when you finally locate a seat in the santuary (does anyone else hear Quasimodo bellowing in the recesses of your mind?). You’re first thought is, “dang, these people are happy.” Everyone you greet with a, “How are you?” returns a, “Great, thanks! How are you?”, which naturally begs you to return the same response. That’s when the smiles start to seem like plaster. Sure, there are a lot of genuinely happy people in church, but as my pastor’s wife says, “these people are bleeding all over the pews and no one knows it.” Then you try the experiment: when someone asks you how you are, you decide to respond, “Terrible, thanks. How are you?” And you answer this at least 4 times before someone realizes you said, “terrible”. Good luck getting the passcode for this gate.

Gate #3 The Christian Inside Jokes: This hit me in a brief service planning meeting that I had with our senior pastor and associate pastor. After talking about a few things, I said something christianese like, “the Bible companion guide to the pseudopigrypha.” We all laughed, and then I realized that no one outside our elite group would have got that joke. Did it make me feel good and superior? You bet! Did it make me feel woefully inadequate to interact in normal, non-churchy conversation? Nope. Should it have? Maybe. But come on, admit it: pseudopigrypha is funny!

I’m going to stop with those three gates. Heck, one is too much, and I’m mildly depressed having written all that about barriers to Christian community. There’s got to be a different and better way. Sure, we’re goign to stick out and seem a bit exclusive – every group does. Perhaps we need to understand the way we as the Church, as Christians, look and work hard to counteract that.

Let’s start a movement: NMGCC – No More Gated Christian Communities.

shhh…don’t tell

forgive.jpgOur church is currently working its way through the book of Matthew. This past Sunday, I spoke from Chapter 6:1-18. It communicates something vital to us about “spiritual transformation”, something that Diogenes Allen writes of in Spiritual Theology. Allen believes that the aim of spiritual transformation is to become more and more like God’s character and that, in order to get there (though it is not really an arrival) is to travel the road built of spiritual disciplines. Traveling this road culminates in what Allen calls, “love of neighbor”, the hallmark of following Jesus.

Matthew’s first 18 verses are divided into three passages, each dealing with a spiritual discipline contrasted against hypocrisy: Good deeds/giving (vs.1-6); prayer (vs.7-15); fasting (vs.16-18).

In brief, Jesus teaches his disciples (and the crowd that continues massing to listen) what it means to be a continual part of the kingdom of God (which is to be found within us, here on earth). When teaching these three disciplines, I find it interesting that Jesus uses the phrase, “When you give…pray…fast…” instead of “If you…” He implies that these are already, or should be, active in His followers’ lives as the way of developing a relationship with the Father.

After teaching on these disciplines, Jesus ends each with a secrecy clause – do it in secret, in humility. The kicker in each teaching is not the doing of the thing itself (for both Jesus’ disciples and the hypocrites participate in such), but the motivation behind the action: is it done for the Father or for personal recognition? Is it for a deeper relationship with God or for the admiration of others?

Perhaps the “reward” Jesus speaks of is personal/spiritual transformation. This transformation into His likeness continues to occur in disciples to the extent that the motivation is toward the Father.
Does following these disciplines with right motives enhance our relationship with God? Does it endear us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? What is one of the most powerful indicator of this inward change? Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 6, verse 12: to forgive others the sins committed against one’s own self. This is “love of neighbor”.

temptation of the urgent

house-construction-process.jpgOver the weekend, our staff met with about 20 leaders from our church to begin a discussion on vision. A few months prior, at a day retreat, our staff watched a seminar produced by Willow Creek Association on vision planning. Bill Hybels was the featured speaker and what he said made a lot of sense: when pastors think of “vision” they generally think of something God drops into their heads to present to the church. It become ‘top-down’ leadership with an outside vision forced on the congregation. What Hybels advised was in fact much different than the traditional model of “vision-casting”: involvement of as many interested parties as possible. In other words, one person’s vision of what God wants to do in a church does not translate very easily to the congregation. Sure, the pastor can be passionate about it, maybe even the staff is totally on board. But this type of leadership and thinking only reinforces what is the common misconception:

“Ministry is what the pastors and staff do; being led is what the members do.”

Thus the idea of mass-involvement surfaces. The theory is that the more people who are involved in the vision casting of the church (since it does not belong to the pastors, but to the members), the more active role in fulfillment of that vision those members will take.

The key concept is ownership: how easy do we find it to “own” someone else’s vision? What if we believe that God has something different for the direction of our local body? What voice do individuals have?

So, to counteract the thinking that “ministry is what pastors do”, we began the long process of inviting church members and leaders to a common table to prayerfully discuss what God wants Mirabeau Chapel to look like in five years: if we could gaze into a crystal ball and see our church in five years, what would be its hallmarks? What would the community think of us? What does it do on a regular basis? What does it offer and look like? We’re inviting all sorts of people because when people are part of the process, passion comes out and commitment to vision is fostered. Ultimately, the vision for our church is for the whole church and thus should come as a result of hearing the cumulative voice of God through the church.

But this takes time. Lots of time. Months, maybe more than a year.

This process is the opposite of urgency. What this process helps facilitate, however, is more committed vision, more involved “church-goers” and much more structured and effective ministry. The downfall in too many churches, including ours, is the rush to begin “a ministry” without thinking through the process. We get to consumed with the urgency of need that we bypass the planning that could guarantee success.

The temptation of the urgent: do and do and do and do and do as fast (and as ineffective) as one possible can.

It’s antidote? Process. Formulation. Structure. Big scary words that don’t sit well with me, except that I believe in them because of the end result: better equipping of Christians and more effective ministry.