Thinking Out Loud

April 14, 2014

Should Couples Hold Hands in Church?

Church behaviorDifferent denominations have different ideas as to the appropriateness of what is sometimes called PDA — public displays of affection — in the context of Christian camps or youth group meetings. Any rules that might exist are usually put in place with the intention of applying them to teens and twenty-somethings. Some churches have very strict standards on this, while in others, you’re probably wondering why this topic is here today.

Hand holding is a mark of commitment. If people want to know if it is true that the divorced usher on the east aisle is seeing the alto in the choir, walking in arm and arm should clear up that mystery in a hurry. In the context of gay relationships, in addition to being a gesture of affection, hand holding is really making the statement, ‘Yes, we are gay;’ and so doing this in church is a bold declaration of that situation.

But today I’m not looking at PDAs as physical status updates nor am I as concerned with the puppy love in the youth group. I’m talking about couples who have been married for some time and have nothing they’re trying to broadcast by being affectionate.

Yesterday I attended three different church services. I am always aware of men who put their arms around their wives during the service — and sometimes it’s the other way around — and there are times I do this myself. Whether the church in question has pews or chairs, I like to stretch out anyway, so whether there is an empty seat or it’s my wife sitting next to me, I am likely to do this, though I probably have my arm around her less than half the duration of the sermon.

On the other hand — pun intended — there are the couples who sit really close and the hug lasts the duration of the sermon.  (Except in summer in one church I visit which has no air conditioning.) I always see this as a church service = movie date type of posture. I would hope that in worship we see ourselves as standing before God individually even though as we sing we are worshiping corporately. The worship time is our personal response to God, and not something I can do with my spouse. (A possible exception might be if the worship leader invites everyone to join hands and sing a classic like “We are One in the Spirit,” or “Father Make Us One.”) I would also like to believe that in an ideal world, during the sermon we are busy taking notes, or looking up passages in our Bibles, even when the words are on the screen.

I also believe that during the actual time of the service, our “arm around” is broadcasting more than we realize.

  • It says to everyone that we are happy and committed. (Oh, if only they could see the chaos just ten minutes before we left home!) So in that sense, we are modeling what we consider to be the normal husband/wife relationship. We’re saying that the church family is a place where we are free to express that. It might be the only time we’ve had all week to just sit together.
  • It possibly serves as a major distraction however to singles. It could be a jarring reminder that they are sitting alone; that they have no such relationship; no hand to hold. I’m not sure this is the intention, but with all the other things the church does which tends to cater to couples with 2.4 children, I’m not sure we need one more. (Especially the one where, at the end of the benediction, the couple shares a quick kiss.)
  • It does equate to something we might do at a concert, play or movie. In that sense, we are saying that we are observers; that we are the audience; when the worship environment should be one where we are participants.
  • It gives the aforementioned kids in the youth group unspoken permission to do the same, which when combined with the current trend toward low lighting levels in our modern auditoriums, should beg all kinds of other questions. Can teens with raging hormones get all turned on while the preacher is discussing righteousness and judgment? (It’s a rhetorical question.)

HandsSo while I realize the intentions and motivation in the first case may be pure enough, and while I hate to be The Grinch that ruined the only moment of affection you and the significant other had all week; the second, third and fourth points seem to suggest a more conservative approach. I’m not saying you won’t catch me next Sunday with my arm around my wife, but it’s good to occasionally stop and think our actions through.

What do you think?
Any stories to tell on this subject?

 

 

April 8, 2014

Back on Message

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:14 am

A year ago at this time, I got a lot of heat from a lot of readers over something I — for the most part — did not write. It was a reprint of a comment a reader left concerning a prominent American megachurch pastor who ditched the usual Easter Sunday message in favor of commencing a sermon series on personal finances. ‘Rather odd,’ I thought, but a newsy blog post anyway — since most pastors see Resurrection Sunday as a high point in the church year — so I posted it not realizing how passionate and loyal his followers were. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” I was told, though not in those words. If you really want to, you can read that story and the comments here

…I just skimmed over and relived all those comments all over again. I think it’s great to be loyal and supportive to your pastor. I also think it’s great to be able to step back from that subjectivity and weigh big-picture issues against the counterweight of data from other churches and ministries. The problem that took place in the comments section was that nobody was truly hearing what those on the other side of the discussion were saying…

…In any event, I decided to see what’s planned for the same church this year. I can only hope the following represents truth in advertising…

Easter 2014 at Harvest

 

April 4, 2014

Communion Service: Just Me and God

Church Established AD 33

Church Established 33 AD

A variation on this story appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.

So last weekend our friend Brenda — the one who wrote the short poem that’s been in the sidebar of this blog for the past three weeks — took us church hopping.  It was a storefront church in the central business area of a smallish town.

There, we participated in a most unusual communion service. The elements — the bread and juice — were placed on a table in a self-serve style. Nothing unusual so far, right? But to get to them you walked behind a curtain, single file, one at a time. Suddenly, you were in there, all alone, just you and God.

Others were waiting and they joked ahead of time that they’d ‘tie a rope to your feet and pull you out if you stay too long,’ but you had these brief seconds to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’ and express to God in a whispered prayer whatever you would say to Him, or listen to whatever He would say to you. But you did have those few seconds, and I found it rather awe-inspiring.

It’s a communion or Eucharist that I will never forget.

It brought home the idea that although we worship corporately at weekend services, ultimately, our relationship with God is individual. We’re not saved, or counted among God’s people because of what our church does collectively, but because of our personal response to God.  Consider the difference between these two phrases:

  • ‘We had communion at church this Sunday’   or
  • ‘While in the service today, I communed with God’

That got me thinking about the broader aspects of making our experience(s) with God more individual.

I think that sometimes people are critical of the phrases “accepted Christ” and “personal Savior,” when the problem can be solved with a rearrangement of one or two words. Consider the difference between:

  • ‘I accepted Christ as my personal Savior’   and
  • ‘I personally acknowledged Christ as Savior’

But then, the personal has to go beyond the initial conversion experience. It’s got to stay personal. Consider phrases like:

  • ‘We’re now part of local congregation’
  • ‘I’ve joined a weekly small group Bible study’

Each implies the idea of assimilating into the larger body, and that’s right and good, but total assimilation would mean the loss of personal identity. (We once visited a church that had someone listed among the staff as ‘Minister of Assimilation’ or maybe it was ‘Pastor of Assimilation. Seriously.)

Your relationship to Christ cannot be expressed in terms of a relationship to a Church or study group; neither can it be defined in terms of your place in a biological family.

Rather than concentrating on the body you are part of, these more personal statements on for size; say them out loud if necessary; and see if they fit you:

  • ‘I am growing in my understanding of the ways of God’
  • ‘I am more fully aware of God’s presence in my life’
  • ‘I am increasingly making decisions subject to God’s desires’
  • ‘My appreciation for what Jesus did is a daily factor in my life’
  • ‘I am so thankful for God’s grace’

These I/My statements — and others like them you can add in the comments — should be at the core of our spiritual identity, not statements like:

  • ‘I’m really enjoying the church I’m attending’ or
  • ‘My pastor is absolutely amazing’   or
  • ‘Our lives changed when we joined this church’

Maybe your pastor is amazing, but he will have to give his own account to God, and you will have to give yours. Maybe all your life you’ve wanted to be part of something larger, but again, your spiritual life can’t be defined in terms of membership in a group.

Or maybe you need your own personal ‘Holy of Holies’ experience to remind you that it’s God that’s amazing.

II Cor. 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (NLT)

Romans 14:12

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (NIV)

March 31, 2014

How Evangelicals Miss Good Friday

good-friday

If, by someone coming here via a search engine, I can help even one church make their Good Friday service more meaningful, this will have been worth the effort.

I’ve always found it interesting that no matter how contemporary or how alternative some churches are, many of them often begin their communion service with the “words of institution” from I Corinthians 11. It’s like a little, tiny slice of liturgy in an unexpected place.

Today, I want to propose we add another little slice of formality, namely the construction of the Good Friday service, if indeed your church or community has one. If this were a song by Jamie Grace* the line would be, “We need to get our Anglican on.”

I wrote about this two years ago:

Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday…

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together… Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable.  Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They really need a producer…

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.”  Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying.  Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us.  We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

My concern now as then is that we are rushing toward Easter, rushing toward celebration, wanting to scream out at the top of our lungs, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

But the disciples didn’t know from Sunday. Their memory, etched so clearly, was of the life draining out of Jesus’ broken and bloodied body. At worst, rejected Messiah’s were supposed to fade into obscurity, not die a criminal’s death at the hand of the Romans. One by one they disappeared…

We need to feel that.

We need to feel what it meant for him to (a) enter into the human condition, (b) always give preference to others, (c) experience physical death, and (d) have that death be the most excruciating ever devised.

Music plays a big part. In another essay here that referred more directly to Easter Sunday, I quoted:

“Every Christmas Christians whine and complain about secular and atheistic efforts designed to take Christ out of Christmas yet more and more Christian pastors have committed an even worse offense and have removed Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection from the grave from their Easter sermons,” said Chris Rosebrough. “Far too many pastors have played the role of Judas and have betrayed Jesus. Rather than being paid 30 pieces of silver, these pastors have sold Jesus out for the fame and adulation that accompany having a ‘growing, relevant ‘man-centered’ church’.”

My own thoughts that day included a study of songs churches in the U.S. had used:

[I]t’s amazing to see the difference between the worship leaders who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

…there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

 

So returning to Good Friday, here is my manifesto:

  1. We need to set a tone at the very beginning of the service; allow a ‘holy hush’ to come over the crowd.
  2. We should then incorporate other silences throughout the service.
  3. As far as possible, every word spoken should be planned. We need to borrow from our Episcopalian friends for this service.
  4. We need agreement from participants on what we will not do. No, “It’s good to see everyone;” no “It’s finally warming up outside;” no “We do this in anticipation of Sunday;” or the worst, “I hope you all found a place to park.”
  5. If your service is interdenominational or has many participants, do not introduce people at all, i.e. “And now Delores Jones from Central Methodist will favor us with a solo accompanied by her husband Derek.” Don’t waste words.
  6. We need to skip the final verses of some hymns or modern worship songs if they resolve with resurrection. We need to immerse ourselves in the moment.
  7. If your church uses a printed program, consider the idea of the congregation whose Good Friday bulletin cover was simply a folded piece of black construction paper. In other words, use other media to reinforce what is taking place at the front, and remove things hanging in the sanctuary that might be a distraction.
  8. No matter how big the crowd, and how tempting this makes it, don’t use Good Friday as a fundraiser for a church or community project.
  9. Preaching needs to be Christological. This would seem obvious, but sometimes it’s not. It’s not about us, except insofar as he suffered and died for us.
  10. That said, we also need to be Evangelical. What a wonderful day for someone to stand at the level ground of the cross and look into the eyes of a loving Savior who says, ‘I do this for you;’ and then have an opportunity to respond to the finished work on the cross.

Finally, if your church doesn’t do Good Friday, consider starting it. I worship between two small towns which both have an annual interdenominational morning service, but several years ago, my wife’s worship ministry did a Good Friday evening service and over a hundred people attended. She assembled worship songs, solos, video clips, readings and had a local pastor do a ten minute homily. It will forever be one of my favorite, most cross-focused Good Friday events, even though I was busied with the planning and running of it.

 

 


*see comments

March 27, 2014

So What If I Told You…

So what if I told you that about half of all people employed by Christian organizations and churches in North America are in no way necessary to the completion of that organization’s or church’s ministry?

The statistic is hypothetical, but I’d still like to propose the possibility that the thesis is correct. There is a lot of fat in a lot of organizations. As attendance grows at weekend services, many churches opt to either go into building program or to hire more staff. At parachurch organizations, structures and hierarchies become bureaucratized and complex. People grow accustomed to their weekly paycheck, and long-time employees appreciate the burden-sharing and never question the additional expenditures. Why rock the boat, or admit that the job you do each day isn’t a real job? Too few charities and church denominations ever take the step of hiring people from the business world who know how to make cuts.

So what if I told you that about 90% of the people employed by churches and Christian organizations are completely isolated from any opportunity to do front-line ministry?

Again, a hypothetical stat, but when you average in all the people in various support services, office staff, etc., and the various agencies that come alongside these same missions and camps and churches are included, it shows that the structure really does mean that, like an iceberg only reveals a tenth of its mass, only a very small percentage of workers are exposed to situations requiring a presentation of the gospel or engagement with those outside the flock. 

Years ago, I remember hearing the phrase, ‘Making a living off the gospel.’  It’s sad to think that this probably takes place today to a much higher level; a much greater degree. Organizations ask for help meeting a payroll that probably doesn’t need to be as high as it is, but perhaps fruit-of-the-spirit virtues like kindness prevent the hard-nosed restructuring that might be needed. 

What do you think? Do you know people who have a career with a Christian organization, but maybe don’t exactly have a job? Do you think a person would ever have the conviction to tell their Christian employer that their job is completely unnecessary? Do you know of a church that simply has waaaay too many staff positions?

March 23, 2014

“We are the final arbiters of what God can use.”

Yesterday I made the mistake of wading in to the comment section of a blog which was very dismissive of a recently-released Christian film. The movie takes on a rather difficult subject and involves some doctrinal positions on which all might not agree. But ultimately, it’s a story of a young man’s courage in the face of spiritual opposition and his willingness to attempt to rise to the challenge and defend his faith in God’s existence.

The blog in question was agreeing with another blog that had totally dismissed the film. Completely. No redeeming qualities. Nothing of worth. I wrote,

…I can easily imagine a demographic who would be greatly encouraged by it, especially pre-university students.  It is, after all, the stuff youth group movies are made of.

And in that sense, this particular picture follows a long line of similar films. Not perfect. Definitely flawed. Scenes we would have written differently. Characters that might have been more developed. A plot line that seems contrived.

But isn’t that the basis of all Christian fiction? Doesn’t each novel begin with a plot contrivance that moves the story along? Aren’t all Christian novels and movies likely candidates for debate as to their spirituality?

I then wrote,

This type of review is simply all too-dismissive, and that’s where credibility is lost. Apparently there is absolutely nothing redeeming in this film. I totally get the reviewers concerns — perhaps the script is indeed rather lame in several places — but within the range of English communication there’s got to be a way to express those caveats that is less dogmatic, less damning.

And then I got attacked.

I should say that I have seen a couple of different previews of the film, so my remarks were not made in a vacuum, but I made the mistake of conceding I had not seen the full production, and that only provided a further opening.

And then I just felt sad.

I should never have commented on this particular blog. I am clearly an outsider. I am an outsider because I don’t go along with the party line, I don’t add my “like” the established consensus.

I think for myself.

I covered a lot of this fifteen months ago in a piece called Protect the Brand at all Costs. I guess I just needed a reminder of what I wrote at that time:

What I have issues with is … bloggers who only read their own authors, only quote their own leaders, only attend their own conventions, basically now only use their own Bible translation, and — this is actually happening — only sing their own songs.  I have written before how a previous generation longed to see a coming together of The Body of Christ in unity and now we are seeing increased fragmentation. And this fragmentation even extends to exclusivity, which is a mark of cult faith. And the printed and online output by Calvinists is so out of proportion to their actual numbers that they tend to dominate everyone’s lists of best books and best blogs.  Basically, a doctrinal preference has become a fortress wall.

There was a link to a review of the movie that raises the serious concern that the apologetics used in the film are weak and won’t withstand criticism in the real world. I can see that only because I see that happening in all our apologetic attempts. Some of our best books and many of our best arguments do have vulernabilities. That’s why someone so correctly observed that ‘it’s not any one argument that wins over skeptics, seekers, atheists and agnostics, it’s all the arguments combined.’

But to dismiss another person’s offering of their best to God in the form of what was no doubt a costly and time-consuming project is to me even more dangerous. As I learned in church this morning, there is a difference between judging and passing judgment. (Matt. 7:1-5, Romans 2:1)

The latter reference reads this way in The Message Bible:

1-2 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

Defend your own brand if you feel you must. But don’t call another man’s work trash.

March 16, 2014

When Did Jesus Experience Grace?

coffee time

A conversation joined in progress…

“…she never brings anything to a potluck dinner, they just show up. He never comes to a church work day. They don’t attend Bible studies or prayer meetings.”

“But what’s that to you?”

“I think we’d all like to know if they’re all in.”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“Because it would be nice to have a conversation with them that wasn’t superficial; that wasn’t just all about the weather and the school their kids go to. It would be nice to know where they stand.”

“Why don’t you just ask them? Say, ‘So what’s God been doing in your life lately?’ Or, ‘What’s God been teaching you lately?”

“You can’t just start a conversation cold like that.”

“Maybe not at the grocery store, or with a relative stranger, but this is church, you sit in the row behind them every single week.”

“It would be awkward.”

“So here’s a question for you: Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“Wait. What?”

“Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“That’s just wrong.”

“Did Jesus ever experience grace?”

“Grace is for sinners. Jesus was without sin.”

“Are you a sinner?”

“I was a sinner; but now I’ve passed from death into life.”

“Have you ever sinned since? Maybe even this week?”

“Yes. Absolutely. So have you.”

“Does the grace of God meet you in that place?”

“Yes. But that’s different; second Corinthians 5:21 says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ He had no sin, or some translations say he knew no sin.”

“You just happen to know that verse?”

“It was on a Christian radio on Friday while I was driving to work.”

“And you memorized the reference?”

“My sister’s birthday is 5/21 so that helped. So when did Jesus experience the grace of God?”

“What is grace?”

“Grace is unmerited favor with God.”

“So the answer is, ‘At his baptism.’ A voice from heaven, the voice of God, says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”1

“And…”

“He experienced the favor of God even though he hadn’t done anything yet. This was the outset2 of his public ministry. He hadn’t taught anything, he hadn’t called disciples, he hadn’t healed anyone. It was unmerited in the sense that he hadn’t commenced his spiritual work.”

“But he had been alive for 30 years at that point. He always had the favor of God. Luke 2:52 says, ‘Jesus grew…in favor with God and man,’ so this was something he had earned over time.”

“But the people at the Jordan River didn’t know all that. To them, he was simply one of many being baptized for the forgiveness of sin and then God says he is ‘well pleased’ with him. We tend to think of that as more of an end-of-life pronouncement from God, as in ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ 3 In other words, he has already been made a recipient of the favor of God.”

“But that has nothing to do with works, he was well-pleasing to God because of who he was, not according to anything he did. It’s the same with us, like that verse that says, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done…but because of his mercy.’4 There’s nothing that we do that ultimately earns us the grace of God. It’s who we are not what we do.”

“Exactly. So maybe it wasn’t grace in the sense of being freed from punishment because Jesus was, as you said, without sin. But it was a favor with God that preceded everything he was about to do over the next three years.”

“Okay. You could think of that way I suppose, but how did we get on this topic again?”

“The family that sits the row in front of you at church…”

“…Oh…yeah…”

“Could it be the grace of God is working and operative in their lives in ways you just don’t realize?”

“…Hmm…Maybe we need to get to know them a little better…”


1 Matthew 3:17

2Harmonization of the Life of Jesus

3Matthew 25:23

4 Titus 3:5

March 7, 2014

Scandal Tracking: Prominent Christian Authors

Some of you know that for the last [oh my, has it been that long?] years I have done the buying for a chain of Christian bookstores that has now been reduced to a single location. Cutbacks in the industry necessitate very careful buying and frankly, I don’t need a lot of excuses to cut back on any given author’s quantity commitments, or even skip a title altogether.

So all the recent discussion that is taking up a lot of space on Christian news pages and in the Christian blogosphere certainly tempers my buying for these writers, and saves me some money in the process. Maybe I should thank them.

Anyway, if you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest ones, here the current top five — Pat Robertson and Jack VanImpe are assumed — and if you can think of others I’ll add them.  And we’ll give Joyce Meyer a pass on the private jet for today; maybe it is more efficient than booking commercial flights.

Mark Driscoll

  • allegations (proven) of widespread plagiarism over several years involving many titles and three different publishers
  • allegation that he manipulated the system by which books appear on the New York Times bestseller list for the title Real Marriage
  • suggestions that church funds were used to facilitate the NYT list placement
  • question of ethics over distributing copies of a book on the grounds outside the Strange Fire conference (may or may not have been escorted off the grounds by security staff, depending on version of story)
  • requires church leadership to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing any discussion of church policies or revelation of insider information
  • various questions about church discipline and shunning and dis-fellowship of members who voice dissent
  • various concerns about ultra-conservative views on the role of women, to the point where spouses of staff members may not work outside the home

James MacDonald

  • allegations of various types of financial improprieties and secrecy concerning compensation and benefits and/or concerns over lavish lifestyle, resulting in many staff and leadership departures and the creation of a watchdog blog containing a variety of other revelations concerning the authoritarian style of church government
  • linked to at least one gambling venture with Jerry Jenkins (see below)

Jerry Jenkins

  • concerns over Jenkins’ “hobby” as a “recreational gambler” in Las Vegas and timing/relationship of relaxed standards for Moody Bible Institute faculty and staff (but not students) for which Jenkins is board chair

John McArthur

  • concern that the Strange Fire book and conference has now polarized the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and non-Pentecostals; that his rant goes too far and is dividing Evangelicals

Steven Furtick

  • concern over $1.75M home he is building and statements that the home is paid for from book royalties
  • allegations that he used the same New York Times Bestseller sales strategy as Mark Driscoll to plant his new title, Crash the Chatterbox on the list. (Driscoll and Furtick are friends.)
  • possible implication of involvement of church funds in so doing
  • concerns that strategic placement of volunteers throughout the Elevation Church auditoriums manipulate the response to baptism altar calls
  • questions as to whether Furtick’s contemporary and creative preaching style may leave new Christians confused as to the fundamental application of popular scriptures and themes

It should also be noted that several of the megachurch pastors have a ‘council of reference’ that includes other megachurch pastors, and it is these, not the local church boards or directorates, that advise on salary issues. Many of these pastors are also compensated for appearing at each others’ conferences; the whole conference subject being an issue for another discussion entirely.

March 6, 2014

John Ortberg’s Congregation Votes to Exit US Presbyterian Denom

John OrtbergZondervan author and former Willow Creek teaching pastor John Ortberg is about to lead his congregation, Menlo Park Presbyterian, out of the Presbyterian Church USA, but the church will have to buy its way out of the affiliation. Religion News Service reports,

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving…

…The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

[...continue reading at Religion News Service...]

But the Presbyterian name will stay with the congregation as it affiliates with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, making it the second 4,000-member sized church to do so.  A five page Rationale for Change gives reasons for both exiting the PCUSA and joining the ECO. The document does not directly address issues of sexuality and thereby makes clear that this is not the central issue. Menlo Park also operates satellite campuses using a video feed, a rarity in PCUSA churches. (A Canadian two-campus church, Connexus, is a former Presbyterian church now part of the North Point ministry family.) 

Prior to the vote, Ortberg led his congregation through a message titled “Immeasurably More” based on Ephesians 3: 20-21

Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ortberg’s bio on Wikipedia notes:

Ortberg has published many books including the 2008 ECPA Christian Book Award winner When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, and the 2002 Christianity Today Book Award winner If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Another of his publications, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, has sold more than 500,000 copies as of 2008…

…Ortberg earned his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College, and his M.Div. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

His latest book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You releases April 22nd with Zondervan.

Menlo Park Presbyterian

Update: Christianity Today reported on this one day later with some helpful background links.

March 4, 2014

Churches Feed on Fresh Blood

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

The title of today’s piece may seem a bit dark and that’s not the intention. What I want to do here is make an observation that I believe applies more in the small(er) church environment, but may also manifest itself if you worship with a greater number of people.

Local church volunteersChurches love new people.

That’s not a bad thing. Especially if somehow, despite the potential obstacles and blockages, people who have no previous church background, or have been away from God for a long time suddenly show up on Sunday morning. Without smothering them, we should certainly let them know that we’re glad they came and do everything we can to retain them as attendees.

But churches can be especially affectionate toward people who transfer from other congregations, especially if they have a gift-set they bring with them. They are quickly fast-tracked to the front of the line for service opportunities like Disney tourists with a Fast Pass.

I say this not out of resentment, because my wife and I have been that fresh blood several times; mostly together but sometimes one and not the other and vice versa. At one church’s annual meeting, a woman stood up and asked, “So, can anyone just walk in off the street and get a job here?” She was referring to me. The chairman wisely called for the coffee break to convene at that exact moment.

(After the break I was then asked to explain my previous experience and detail the eight-page questionnaire that the denomination required; a form which establishes personal testimony and doctrinal beliefs.)

But I’ve also seen it happen where senior church leadership is quite happy to fawn all over people who arrive from other assemblies with the requisite pedigree to be thrust immediately into high-profile positions. And I’ve seen those same people decide, six months in, that this wasn’t the right church after all and disappear as quickly as they arrived. They might have decided this sooner had they not been put to work so quickly.

The bottom line here is to know that this phenomenon exists and, insofar as it depends on you, try not to promote the feeding frenzy to extremes. It’s great to work with new people and allow them to get involved and share their gifts, but it’s also important to give newcomers time to settle in and get to know the tenor of a local church’s ministry.


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