Thinking Out Loud

February 6, 2016

Can Internet Tirades Accomplish Any Good?

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It started with an article on Huffington Post. In A Tirade For The Trendy Church, writer Jack Levison described a field trip — he’s a professor at Seattle Pacific University —  to a hipster church where his non-conforming band of visitors was somewhat ignored by the regular attenders.

You don’t shake our hands.
You don’t smile.
You don’t tell us your name.
And admit it. You know we’re not one of yours…

And then:

I’m angry.
I’m bored by hipster inhospitality.
I’m irked by Bohemian indifference.
I’m annoyed by trendy aloofness.
No, that’s not right.
I’m sad. Disappointed that a church which, on its website, claims that thousands have been touched by its members, couldn’t greet strangers in their midst.

which I condensed and posted to Twitter with a link to the HuffPo story.

And then a longtime acquaintance replied:

I am bored of complaints about Churches, bored of complaints period, but I guess positive blogs don’t get noticed as much.

Which really got me thinking.

It got me thinking because the same thing happened to us, not once but three times as we occasionally frequented one of the more “cool” churches in another city. A church where the welcome time happens in the middle of the service with many types of beverages and snacks including fresh strawberries in February.

And we didn’t know anybody. And nobody wanted to know us.

So I Tweeted back:

I hear you. But the ignoring of visitors is a recurring theme in the modern church; something that needs to be addressed.

To which he replied:

I agree – but I still think to people who are not Christian it all sounds like whining and bickering.

I give him the last word:

Maybe instead of a blog post – they should request a meeting with the Pastor. This blog post doesn’t achieve anything.

It doesn’t?

So as I said I kept thinking about this for nearly two weeks. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

First, the airing of issues affecting the church on various forms of social media has helped bring about much positive change. Thanks to the whistle-blowers, the watchdog websites, the survivor blogs, the abuse confessionals; we have a handle on church life in North America, Australia/New Zealand, and Western Europe as never before. It’s now difficult for a pastor, or Christian author, or televangelist to act anonymously, secretly or with impunity. From megachurch pastors to shepherds of congregations that are lucky to get 50 people on a Sunday morning, everyone is subject to scrutiny; everyone is under the microscope.

As a result,we have unprecedented accountability. While this seems to reveal a horrid list of sins including financial improprieties, moral failures and control issues, I would argue that it also prevents a whole lot more from taking place. The walls have ears like never before. The internet makes it difficult for people acting inappropriately to do so in secret.

Second, with the internet there are few Christian-only websites, blogs and news feeds. Everything is open to the broader populace unless you go out of your way to restrict membership and require passwords. Even in those cases, there’s bound to be someone in the closed group who knows how to copy and paste. So my Twitter correspondent is correct, these things are seen by people who aren’t Christians.

To some, this probably does sound like bickering and whining; a tempest in a teapot if you will. But to me, it shows we’re willing to be transparent. It shows that our institutions, made up of people like ourselves, are fallible, fragile and fraught with failures. We, the church, are indeed the community of the broken. We get it wrong sometimes. And that hurts. We don’t meet our ideal targets.

Third, as a general rule, pastors are not interested in service reviews by people outside their community. As one church leaders said to me once in another context, “We’re here to serve our people, not the city of _______.” (Yes. Actual quote.) In other words, take it or leave it; we’re doing what we do, and if you come into it as an outsider, your perspective is irrelevant because we’re not here to serve you.

A meeting with the pastor is useless if you’re not part of the target demographic. It would be like me demanding to meet with my pastor to offer my opinions on having visited their women’s Bible study. (‘The leader didn’t make a single sports reference, and they served cupcakes instead of donuts.’) My opinion doesn’t matter in this context because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

…I would definitely send the pastor a copy of the blog article after-the-fact though. Well, maybe. There are times you have to choose your battles. I’d like to think the pastor would think about maybe doing something to create a more welcoming church culture. But maybe he already knows. Maybe he’s satisfied with the status quo.

One more time, here’s the link to Jack’s article: A Tirade For The Trendy Church

 

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February 7, 2015

Weekend Link List

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Our theme for our opening and closing graphics today is literacy. I really like the fact that the creator of this graphic realizes that kids are going to encounter all types of literature and that each potentially contains elements of truth and/or elements of deception. Does knowing the Bible well give kids an edge when it comes to discernment? I think it definitely can. (Click the image for source.)

Here are the weekend stories appearing at PARSE.

  • Lessons from the Altar Girls Controversy – David Murrow would be well-versed on the broader topic, so he picked up on this story right away. “Girls were excited to begin serving at the altar back in the ‘90s. But once girls became the majority (and performed so well) boys began losing interest. So more girls stepped forward. Eventually altar service became a female-dominated activity. At this point no self-respecting boy wanted to have anything to do with the altar because it was seen as something that girls did… Star of the Sea [parish] also noted that girls generally did a better job than boys – which further discouraged boys from serving. Boys are intensely competitive. Once a male realizes he’s no good at something (or a girl is better than he is) he often feels like quitting.”
  • On Church Being Fun – This is an excerpt from John Piper at a recent conference. “I think one of the reasons so many worship services in America are so playful and amusing and entertaining and casual and flippant and jokey and trifling and downright silly is that there is so little sense that anything ominous is really at stake in this service. This service is for secure believers to have fun and for unbelievers to see them have fun; so they will know Christianity is fun. And “fun” has become the most common word among pastors to describe their happiness in ministry. It’s very telling. . . .” There’s also a link to the full transcript and video, but also, at the same blog there’s this discussion on ‘Jovial Calvinism.’
  • Church Culture: The Welcome Card – “In other cultures (often far from our own), communicating through a card would be an affront, impersonal if not rude. Newcomers are welcomed only through a gracious and lively conversation, one that elicits all the information the welcome card seeks: name of spouse, names and ages of children, whether the visitor is new to the area, and so forth… And then there is the box next to ‘Would like to know more about being a Christian.’ You just don’t say that to the stranger sitting next to you in the pew, not in this culture. But on this welcome card, you can hint at your sense of emptiness, your guilt or shame, your fear of death — and your desperate hope that there is an answer.”
  • Things We’re Not Supposed to Think or Say – “We need to dialogue about common doubts evangelicals often feel they’re not allowed to express.” Sample: “Both Jesus and Paul held progressive views about women. In the cultures of Jesus and Paul, men were not even supposed to speak to a woman in public. The fact that Jesus included women among his followers was nothing less than scandalous. While scholars disagree on Paul’s view of women overall, Paul clearly credits women as leaders within the church…”
  • That TV Commercial Festival They Kept Interrupting to Show Football Scenes – “Of course, the art of advertising is to make the audience associate something positive with their product. It doesn’t matter if you put a sexy woman next to a big sandwich or a powerful looking guy in the driver’s seat of a car. You want the audience to make subliminal associations between the product and what people really want… Unfortunately, there isn’t much about our culture that makes it easy for us to have the things that really matter to us… People are the only things in the world that can give other people what they deeply, truly want. We cannot substitute a product for a person.”
  • Christians, Groundhogs and Superstitions – “We also need to remember that Christians are not immune to superstitions either. Often, without even meaning to, we behave in a superstitious way. For example, if $6.66 pops up on a cash register while buying groceries, some Christians freak out and ask to pay another price. Christians might cross their fingers (to make a cross), an old Christian superstition, for good luck and protection. Or a bride might not want her groom to see her before the wedding so she doesn’t bring bad luck into the marriage.”
  • Conversations After Church – Read a synopsis and watch a 2-minute preview of a forthcoming documentary: “Six ordinary individuals, committed to the church and seeking to serve God, encounter a dark night of the soul moving them beyond organized religion through the door of a personal faith crisis. What started out as a mounting tension between personal experience and the old forms of faith and community forces each individual to radically reexamine their worldview and change their lives to move beyond the fragmentation.”
  • Secret Church Simulcast – The next installment of David Platt’s Secret Church multi-site live events happens near the end of April. This one deals with the topic of the church and culture. “How does a Christian respond to the rapid rise of so-called same-sex marriage and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality? How does a Christian live in a world of sex slavery and rampant pornography, a world where babies are aborted and widows are abandoned? How does a Christian think in a culture of pervasive racial prejudice and limited religious liberty? What does a Christian do in a church that exalts prosperity amidst a world of extreme poverty?” On the technical side, all your church needs to host this is a reliable, high-speed internet connection. On the commitment side, you need people willing to stay up until midnight! Costs vary by church size.
  • The Eclectic Jewish Community in Wal-Mart’s Hometown – “‘The fascination in the Bible Belt with who we are and what we believe is amazing,” said [Rabbi} Lennick, who developed a ‘Taste of Judaism’ course to address the locals’ desire for knowledge. ‘I’m constantly invited to teach church classes. I look at this as an opportunity to break down stereotypes and build alliances.’ Interfaith families, and even non-Jews, often attend services at Etz Chaim. Some come to expand their understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition, while others are seeking new answers. In the latter category is one family of 10 — with kids ranging in age from 9 to 24 — who came to Lennick as devoted Baptists. After asking a lot of questions, they have become regulars at Etz Chaim and are now pursuing ‘becoming Jews by choice,’ as the rabbi put it.” Read about the strange, interfaith, syncretistic world of religion in Bentonville.
  • From The Archives – (By internet standards, February three years ago constitutes ‘archives.’)  “Since some are saying that we are entering a period of heightened tension between clergy and laity in the American church, it might be helpful to recognize some areas in which we might diligently work in our understanding of each other...Pastor and people need to work hard at communicating at a heart level to get each other…”
  • Can’t Get Enough of Me? – Check out my other blog project, which is growing at a time that many blogs are waning. Daily devotions and Bible study since April, 2010:  Christianity 201

It would probably take shelving on this scale to hold all the books in my personal library…what seems like a blessing could be a problem if we decide to move.

My Library

May 26, 2011

Small Is Big: Exploring the Simple Church Concept

As churches of all size discover the ‘small group’ or ‘cell group’ concept, many choose to call what they do ‘home church’ or ‘house church,’ the latter term heretofore reserved for entirely different.  So Tony & Felicity Dale, longtime pioneers and advocates for the other kind of house church, have chosen to go with the term ‘simple church’ to describe their efforts and their vision. 

The full title of the Barna Books paperback is, Small is Big: Unleashing the big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches, and is itself a revision of a title from two years earlier, The Rabbit and the Elephant.  (A gratis copy was provided by Tyndale House.)   Unlike its oft-confused counterpart, a true simple church is a freestanding model lacking nothing in terms of resources that a larger church might have to offer, though with obvious downscaling of programs and amenities such as nurseries, youth ministries, worship bands, etc.

Having said all that, toward the end of the book, the authors relate ways in which simple churches and megachurches are in fact sharing resources, and how megachurch staff are studying the intimacy and community of the microchurch to see what might be learned. 

But in another section, where there is discussion of people exiting larger churches missing the diversity and excitement of the larger crowd, they refer to a period of ‘detox’ while withdrawing from the large church experience.  Personally, I think the language might have offered a better term, because whether or not the authors intended it, there is the implicit suggestion that there is something ‘toxic’ from which the former parishioner must be cleansed.

The authors’ experience and knowledge of this movement both in the UK and the USA is probably quite unrivaled. As I read it, I thought of people I know who are doing this very thing, and considered that this could be a ‘calling card’ of sorts to fully explain what they do to anyone curious.  This book defines both the blessings of this rapdily growing type of church experience, as well as the pitfalls and dangers of beginning incorrectly.

One of my concerns about the house simple church movement has always been that it tends to attract those from the charismatic end of the larger evangelical spectrum.  Several times here, the language used to describe their gatherings talks about ‘prophetic words’ and ‘moving in the gifts of the Spirit;’ terms that are familiar enough to many of us, but equally unfamiliar to, for sake of illustration, Baptists.  And I suppose that if the simple church movement is really going to sweep across a broader or more mainstream Evangelical landscape, I’d like to see people doing simple church in a way that, for sake of illustration, a Baptist would be comfortable attending. 

Or maybe I’m wrong on that altogether.  Perhaps the simple church movement is in fact a movement in a slightly more Charismatic direction; that in the absence of structures and programs and hierarchies, dependence on the Holy Spirit has to be elevated.  This is reinforced when you consider that if you were to attend a simple church with Tony and Felicity, one of the first two things you might notice is that no one individual is in charge and there is no prescribed ‘order of service.’  While the worship might consist of a few songs you know, there is also spontaneous worship and what we know as ‘sermon’ is often replaced by a much more interactive time of people sharing insights into God’s word, and linking testimonies to teaching.

There are some aspects of Small is Big that reiterated material I had already covered in books by Michael Frost and Frank Viola and Wayne Jacobsen, and reinforced many things I already believe.  But if the simple church concept is new to you, I would suggest (a) read the book, as it is a complete encyclopedia of everything you need to know about this subject; and (b) find out if there is a simple church meeting somewhere nearby and make arrangements to attend.

It might be the closest you get to experiencing what the early church in Acts experienced.

May 14, 2011

Not All Church Migration is to Megachurches

“This disco used to be a cute cathedral”
-Steve Taylor

We see them all the time.  Former church buildings being converted to antique stores, daycare centers, or condominiums.  Sometimes the congregation moves on to a different location, but not always; sometimes the church just dies.  And occasionally, the building will be bought by a newer kind of church that had been meeting in a school, and occasionally those churches will actually pick up members of the former congregation due to their love of and history with the building.

But for the most part, we tend to picture dying churches as being out of touch, or irrelevant, and imagine the greatest appeal lying with contemporary churches.  To be honest, I can’t picture most of the people in one of the dying churches we visited recently being in the least able to connect with the contemporary, megachurch option.  But that’s fuel for another discussion.

I’m currently reading Small is Big; I’m about a third of the way through, and will do a review of it when I’ve completed it.  Authors Tony & Felicity Dale are proponents of the house church movement, aka simple church; so this book fits in with various titles I’ve reviewed here including So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore by Wayne Jacbosen, and Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola, and several of the books by Michael Frost and/or Alan Hirsch.

They remind us that the simple church format continues to attract people; that the (capital-C) Church as a whole is not dying; something anyone who attends one of the large megachurches would never consider, but wouldn’t consider it in the context of looking at what’s happening with home church groups.

So two things today.  First, visit this website House2House.com to learn more about this movement.  Second, our question of the day: Have you ever or would you consider attending a church that meets in someone’s home?  Note: This does not refer to a home study group or small group that meets as an extension of a brick and mortar church.

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