Thinking Out Loud

March 12, 2018

Cruising the Denominational Spectrum

Over the years we’ve known people who remained loyal to a single church over the course of their lifetimes. This degree of faithfulness is certainly commendable in some, while with others it seems to represent a measurable amount of stubbornness. In a few cases, it cost their children access to children’s and youth ministry which would have served them well; the absence of it having detrimental effects.

Others have simply packed up and moved on a regular basis. One couple I knew had a three-year rule. It wasn’t written in stone — sometimes it would be four years — but when they felt they were “getting too close” a particular church (their words) it would be time to hop somewhere else.

My thoughts today are about an aspect of this which is particular to the denominational choices implicit in moving from one church to another. In other words, we’re not consider church politics here, or situations where someone was hurt by a church member, or a pastor whose preaching was simply deficient. All of those are significant, but we’re looking at choices made for purely theological reasons.

Generally speaking, many of us will choose a church which is simply like the last one we attended. We may be moving from large church to small church (or the other way around) or moving from traditional music to contemporary music (or the other way around) but we’re not looking to rock our personal boat in terms of core beliefs on both primary and secondary matters of faith.

But there are others who want to shake things up and spend a season of life in a congregation which is quite different — perhaps even the total antithesis — of their current church home. Like these people:

Brett attends a church which is planted smack in the center of Evangelicalism. But he keeps hearing about assemblies which identify as Spirit-filled, move more in terms of gifts like prophecy and healing, have a longer, more dynamic worship time, and are equipped to handle issues in spiritual warfare and deliverance. He decides to check it out.

Amanda attends the same church as Brett. Increasingly she’s finding the services too unstructured. She keeps hearing about churches which follow a more pre-planned order of service including readings from both Old and New Testaments, the gospels and epistles. There are written prayers including classic ones from people long departed. For her this isn’t about superficial worship elements, it is a doctrinal thing. It’s about propriety in worship and she’s found a church that offers that without moving into liberal theology.

Both of these people are moving in different directions along the doctrinal spectrum.

There are also people making greater moves. Imagine someone moving from Brett’s new church to Amanda’s new church. That’s a rather significant change of address. Is this a bad thing?

I would be worried about people whose moves from one extreme to the other are more like pendulum swings. I would also want to watch out for people who are making moves too often; too frequently.

Where I would find value is with people who have spent time at various points on the spectrum; people whose background includes a variety of Christian experience.

The people in my opening paragraph have been, in my opinion, simply stubborn. I say that in their case because it has involved a price to pay — their kids’ lack of good youth ministry exposure in their teens and the results of that — that I would say is too high.

On the other hand, if your church gets high marks in all areas that are relevant to your family, you may find no need to move on. If you’re on board with the church’s programs and priorities, if the teaching and worship are to your liking, and if the community involves people you’ve been doing life with and you continue to be invested in their lives (and they in yours) then there’s no need to move on…

…Most people leave a church because of push factors or pull factors. In other words, there is either something happening where they are that has created in them a need to immediately vacate, or this something attracting them somewhere else that has created a desire to want to not simply check that out (for a visit) but to immerse themselves in such a community for a period of months or years.

The challenge comes when the desire is more of a pull, but the destination is not certain; when the name of the church being sought is an unknown quantity. That may ultimately involve some church-hopping. One does need to try some different flavors to know what one might like. That’s not a bad thing. As long as we’re worshiping God somewhere each week, we don’t have a problem. We are members of a worldwide family of Christ-followers and we should feel welcome anytime we drop into any branch of that family.

Eventually God will show us and circumstances will give us the language to describe what we’re seeking. In a large metropolitan area there will be greater choice. In non-urban situations, it may mean driving a half-hour to get to where we need to be…

…In the pendulum pictured above, there is an apple core. That represents our core beliefs. These are being shaped and formed over the course of our lives. Individual doctrinal spectra might have extremes, but I’ve deliberately chosen to rest the pendulum in the middle. Our core beliefs are formed from a balance on various issues.

Where I stand on issue “X” and “Y” and “Z” might be different from you. Hopefully we all agree on doctrines “A” and “B” and “C” and “D” which form the Statement of Faith of most of our churches. I hope even on “X,” “Y,” and “Z” I’m balanced in my perspective.

If you feel it’s time to move on, leave gracefully.

If you feel it’s time to simply to do some visiting for a season, then don’t burn your bridges. The place you currently call home represents family, and neither they nor God wish to see relationships fractured. You may want to return at some point, and you’ll do so bringing your charismatic or liturgical experiences back with you.

Like Brett and Amanda, be prepared for some new adventures.

Finally a caveat: Avoid chronic church hopping. When you find a landing place, be prepared to stay. Let some roots — even if they aren’t deep roots — sink in.

 

 

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February 24, 2018

Blogging Daily for Ten Years: Does it Make Any Difference?

Yesterday we began our 10th birthday celebration. Did those ten years worth of articles make a difference? I don’t know if the answer to our title question yesterday is a ‘Yes!’ for anyone reading this, but it’s definitely a big ‘Yes!’ for me. Maybe this media is something that God has used to keep me focused; to keep my attention.

As to the broader readership, I think we have raised some issues here that are important, and seeing what other writers are now accomplishing — Julie at Spiritual Sounding Board, Warren Throckmorton at Patheos, Dee and Deb at Warburg Watch, Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher — in raising awareness of situations, people and issues; all this serves as a reminder that alternative media has become vital in the Christian community and that it is often on the blogs and Twitter feeds that major stories break first.

On this date in 2013, I posted an anniversary piece called Five Years of Thinking Out Loud. It’s actually the only one we didn’t really quote from yesterday, and I want to use it as springboard for today’s thoughts. These are mostly the same points, but a completely fresh rewrite.

In no particular order…

First, God has a very large, very diverse family here. That’s good and bad. On the plus side, the body of Christ has many parts. But as many writers noticed this week with the passing of Rev. Billy Graham, Evangelicalism has become greatly fragmented of late. The capital ‘C’ Church rarely speaks as a unified voice anymore.

Second, in any part of the Christian community, it only takes one person to go rogue — to go ‘off road’ if you prefer — to attract much attention and inure the reputation of that community. Most individuals quietly living out their faith don’t make headlines. Rather it’s people working out what it means to be kingdom people “you in your small corner, and I in mine.”

Third, we are constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the religious culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the religious culture wants to take our simple faith and add to it layers and layers of complexity. History bears out what happens in either case.

Fourth, to our shame, the Christian Church in North American, Australasia, and Western Europe is totally corrupted by materialism and success. This of course is a reflection of the imbalance of wealth and resources in the world at large. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world. There are people who say that fixing this imbalance is within our reach and are working toward this. Because of this improper success mindset, basically all our church metrics are misplaced priorities.

Fifth, when I see people who I find disgusting or reprehensible, I always go back to the idea that even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common, because we are created in God’s image. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we. It’s hard, but try to find the good.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text or write material which is rooted in text. We have a crisis here and the technology is hurting not helping the situation. Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, while only a few will be vocational theologians or Biblical scholars, we all need to be doing much better at being able to articulate our faith. How many of us ever get to discuss our beliefs with someone from another religion? Or describe the essence of Christianity to someone who grew up without any spiritual frame of reference? On a personal level, we should be forming a “God-picture” which comes from getting to know the nature and ways of God and how that reflects in particular doctrines; and how those doctrines fit together to form a systematic theology.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. We are weighted down by having too much stuff. But people who can fit everything that matters to them in a single suitcase are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but often hear of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go; for a year, or for an indefinite time commitment.

Ninth, we need to stop the polarization of groups and the knee-jerk reaction which characterizes every issue as black and white. In truth, the issues are complicated, and there are people in every group who don’t fit the stereotypes.

Tenth, to borrow a term from missiology, we need to constantly be looking for creative ways to contextualize the Christian message and present an analogy of redemption. I really enjoy playing with the Short Stories series we run here, because I get to attempt to say something vital or something familiar in a fresh way. There’s a sense in which we all should aim to do something similar.

Eleventh, we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay to have opinions. It’s alright to express what we think and why we think it to others and not to find ourselves in a situation of spiritual intimidation. I look back at earlier days in my Christian life and realize I was going out of my way to fit in. I should have instead spoken up. Of course, if you do this, and you’re proven wrong, you need to be willing to recant a previously held position and humbly reform that opinion.

Lastly, we need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. To paraphrase Phil. 4.8, we need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. We need a window into the wider world of Christianity and be inspired by people who are bringing energy, creativity and paradigm-shattering vision to fulfilling the love commandment and the go commission. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.

February 10, 2018

Testing for Christianity

Several years ago my doctor sent me for a particular test. He told me upfront that this test can be inconclusive but added, “Right now, it’s the only test we have.” (Everything turned out okay, in case you’re wondering.)

I was thinking about that this morning in terms of church attendance as a test of Christian faith. This particular test can be inconclusive for a variety of reasons.

I know people whose spirituality runs deep. They pray and meditate on the scriptures, they read Christian books, they give to Christian causes, and their faith graph continues to move up and to the right. But they have no connection at all to a local church. For some of them it’s been 3-4 years, for others 8-10, and yet others much, much longer.

Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.

However…

There are eight things you can’t do when you (or you and your spouse, or you and your entire family) exist as isolated Christians.

  1. Corporate worship
  2. Corporate local/world intercession (and being made aware of these needs)
  3. Corporate liturgy (hearing the word read out loud and speaking it out loud yourself)
  4. Corporate prayer covering (this, for when it’s you that needs prayer, your faith community steps in)
  5. Corporate giving (and being made aware of special needs)
  6. Fellowship (everything from asking, “How’s it going spiritually” to talking about yesterday’s game)
  7. Communion / Lord’s Table / Eucharist
  8. Sitting under a teaching you did not choose (or in a Lectionary church, the pastor him self did not select specifically)

But there is an ninth thing that happens when you are part of a body and that is

  • Identification as a member of the local church

It’s this last thing I was headed toward today specifically with the medical test analogy. It’s the only test we have. Without participation in a local church there is both the perception and the possibility that your doctrine has moved away from orthodoxy. There isn’t a church locally which satisfies your needs, therefore your beliefs must be somehow different. Or worse, that your beliefs have simply migrated to some other faith system, or just plain died.

Listen…I have heard the stories. I know you may have been hurt. I know the preacher on the TV/podcast is such a great speaker. I know the bed never feels more comfortable than it does on Sunday morning. I know there are people in the church who are just taking up space; some who don’t believe any of it. I know the people in your local church are jerks because I am one of them.

But without identification among the numbers of people who publicly identify with the crucified and risen Christ, you’re simply part of the crowd. You may have been part of a church 25 years ago that was committed to reaching “unchurched Harry and unchurched Mary,” but over time, you’ve become unchurched Harry or unchurched Mary.

I’ll leave the last word to The Beatles:

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged

 

 

July 13, 2017

6 Areas Where Church Dropouts Miss Out

FellowshipWe are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

Some will argue, “I haven’t wandered from the faith, I’ve simply had it with the local church.” Believe me, I get that; I get that more than you can imagine, even if you’re a regular reader here. But every Sunday I get up and make the trip. Not because I’m obeying the commandment to, or because I’ll feel the Evangelical equivalent to Catholic guilt if I don’t, but rather because the benefits clearly outweigh the cost.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. In that context, as Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world. Giving is an act of worship.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. You might be able to approximate some of these individually, and if circumstances require that, then you certainly should try. But I believe these things were intended to work best collectively.


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

September 2, 2016

Doing the Church Hop: The How and the Why

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

Think church-hopping is just a summer thing? Do your hopping off-season and blend in with the natives.

This is a 2014 article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, a webpage launched that year by Christianity Today. He called it,

Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.


I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


Five Reasons to Church Hop This Week

church-hopping bunny 2I didn’t write this one either. Maybe I wish I had. Credit goes to Kirra at the blog Thoughtful. (Click the title below to link.) While some people consider church-hopping to be some type of rampant plague or scourge, the point is that most people are very faithful to their faith family week-in, week-out. This was written to encourage them just to one-time consider a one-off visit somewhere else. Is that such a bad thing?

5 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Different Church Next Week

If you’ve been attending the same church for more than a year or two, it might be time to visit another church next Sunday. This isn’t a permanent change but just one Sunday to do something different.

When we go to the same church for years, we get comfortable. We know the people, we know the songs, and we know the church. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is good for us to leave what makes us comfortable once in a while. There are many good reasons to visit a different church once in a while. Here are five.

1. Remember what it was like to be a guest.
If you’ve been attending the same church for a long time, you may not remember well what it is like to attend a church for the first time. You don’t know anyone. You don’t know if the place you chose to sit if that space is someone’s “spot.” Will they serve communion? How will they serve communion? Will you know any of the songs they sing? When you visit a new church and then come back to your home church, hopefully you will find yourself more sensitive to those who are attending your church for the first time.

2. Appreciate a different style of worship. If your church sings hymns, try one that has a praise band. This is not just about music; if your home church is casual, try out a church that is a little more formal or liturgical. Put on a tie or a dress. Church can be done in many different ways; you don’t have to love the new style, but learn to appreciate the different ways the church worships.

3. Get a different perspective. If you’ve been listening to the same one or two preachers for a while, listen to someone else’s teaching. You might not agree with everything they say, but sometimes the best way to sharpen your beliefs is to consider the ideas that you disagree with. On the other hand, you might learn something that you find rings true that you’ve not heard taught before. Just be sure to weigh carefully what you hear, whether at new churches or your home church.

4. See what other churches are doing. Observe their methods, programs, and activities. How do they do Sunday School? Do they order the service in a way that seems more conducive to worship? If you see something you especially like that you think could work at your church, approach the leadership and humbly offer your suggestion.

5. Recognize the body of Christ is all over the world and all over your city. The people at the church you choose to visit may be strangers, but we are all going to be sharing heaven together. Christ only has one body.

January 26, 2015

Encyclopedia of Modern Churches is Difficult to Read

Yesterday at Christianity 201, instead of using an excerpt from a book, I drew the day’s thoughts from a table of contents. I wasn’t given a review edition of the book anyway and was using a borrowed copy, and second, I had not looked at the individual chapters at that point. The table of contents is impressive supported our theme verse for the day

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Cor 12:4-7

We had a pastor who repeatedly said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Every church has something special to offer. The parish system — where you simply attend the church located closest to where you live — has some things in its favor, but for centuries now, Protestants have chosen their place of worship based on a variety of factors, some doctrinal and some, if we’re honest, that are totally superficial.

I also had a missionary friend who said, “Every denomination is an overstatement.” What he meant was that if you have a particular distinctive, you are going to emphasize that above everything else, which means that sometimes other priorities will fade into the background. So our churches often feature a particular facet of ministry life, but may do so at the expense of something else. Hopefully nothing that should be absolutely central is diminished beyond recognition.

Ten Most Influential Churches - Elmer TownsThe book is, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today by Elmer L. Towns, published by Destiny Image. I did not quote index verbatim here, I just wanted to give readers there an overview. And it turned out there were more than ten churches covered; there are more than ten chapters! I combined a few, and warned my readers that listing does not imply endorsement.

  • The worldwide Pentecostal movement
  • House church / Home church movement
  • Churches at the forefront of racial integration
  • Church structures using a network of cell groups under a central administration
  • Churches built on Christian Education / Sunday School outreach
  • Churches using non-traditional teaching methods
  • Churches targeting seekers, skeptics; the non-churched
  • Baby Boomer churches
  • Worship/Praise driven churches
  • Integrated media, or internet-based churches
  • Churches promoting multi-generational appeal and programs
  • Positive-thinking or prosperity teaching churches
  • Churches built on personal evangelism
  • Churches focused on foreign missions
  • Multi-site churches with video teaching
  • Churches modeled after the concept of using church plants to evangelize

Now remember, with a couple of exceptions above, this has nothing to do with doctrine or teaching. You could map this on to a variety of denominations and many of the models would fit.

What’s your reaction to this?

Mine was generally positive. God us using many people in many different ways to accomplish his Kingdom Purposes. Yes, some of these have emerged more driven by the culture than by anything the First Century Church knew and some of these styles may be unknown a generation from now. Some are more likely to lead people into a deeper walk with God, and some are more entry-level; their converts will eventually feel the need to settle in another congregation.

But instead of bemoaning the particular styles you personally don’t care for, I think we need to celebrate what God is doing around the world. There are a few styles listed there that I know will cause eye rolls, but I’ve been to some of these and have found a depth of devotion and Bible knowledge among some adherents beyond the stereotypes.

If the gospel is presented clearly and is unobstructed by distractions, people will come to Christ through all types of churches, and those already in the fold will find avenues for greater growth and discipleship.

But let’s talk about the book itself.

I found this deeply disappointing on a variety of levels. Because I attended The Peoples Church in Toronto during some very formative years, I was looking forward to reading its listing in the section that goes beyond the author’s top ten choice, but after reading the first paragraph and turning the page, I discovered there was only a cursory listing for the additional churches.

Large sections of the book are copied directly from Wikipedia. While attribution is made for these, they appear in isolation, so the author then is forced to backtrack to give some of the chronology all over again. I guess if you don’t have internet…

Inexplicably, there are a large number of blank or mostly blank pages. At one point I checked to see if I was actually reading an advance reader copy (ARC) where information was waiting to be dropped in later. I was not. This was the finished book. I can see this as a style thing with the first ten chapters, after that it was basically a waste of good trees.

The book is very U.S.-centered. While there is mention of Peoples and four churches overseas, I can’t imagine a list of this nature, purporting to represent the most influential churches of the past 100 years not including Holy Trinity Brompton, which brought the world The Alpha Course.

There’s no mention of several prevalent styles. Because there isn’t a single church to represent them, a number of things are skipped over. One is the alternative, counter-cultural type of church like House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Or arts-based churches like (I believe) Mosaic Church in Hollywood. Another I would call prayer-based (or better, prayer-bathed) churches like the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. A third would be the New Calvinist type of churches such as the Sovereign Grace churches with their deep teaching and modern hymns. And finally, if you want an anti-role model, if you’re talking churches of influence, you might even mention Westboro Baptist.

Because of the liberality of the mostly blank pages, churches like Peoples and the Crystal Cathedral could have and should have had their section extended. I should also mention that I have attended some of the churches covered here on more than a single occasion, and thought the chapters on Willow Creek and Calvary Chapel would present this history well to those unfamiliar.

Elmer Towns is no novice on this topic. Although the book is well footnoted, he also drew on his own memories of these churches including interviews he did with the major players during times of explosive growth. I just think the book suffered more in the planning, editing and layout stages; the transition from concept to finished product could have been refined to give interested readers more information and better flow.

September 25, 2014

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

I’ve written about this before, but was reminded again after reading an article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, the newest page launched a few days ago by Christianity Today. He called it, Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

It begins:

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.


I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


Related:

March 10, 2013

In 94 Seconds, Everything That’s Wrong in the Church

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:54 am

This item is about a 94-second video, but I’m not going to embed it here because it is simply too repulsive to put on this blog. You can follow the link at the bottom.

I would like to think that it’s a joke, but it’s not. The guy on camera is dead serious and truly believes his greatest potential for God’s kingdom could be realized in making a short, angry video. The anger isn’t overt, but it’s there. Trust me, you’re better dealing with this guy at a video’s link than you would be in person. That would get unpleasant. 

This is what happens when people are just smart enough to sound articulate, but not smart enough to know when to shut up. This is spiritually bullying.

True, he’s only one guy; but he is representative of very many. The type of people who would rather argue over doctrine than deal with a spiritually dying world. Who would rather be remembered for what their faith isn’t instead of what it is. Who think God is somehow pleased with their offering of spiritual bigotry. Who believe they are scoring points for their denominational brand, a brand that loses stock value each time they post another upload.

The creator of this video is just a guy with a small following. But as a ‘type,’ he’s the reason your neighbors don’t want to go to church with you. He’s the reason your relatives don’t want you to give them Bibles for gifts. He’s the reason your colleague at work doesn’t want to get into a faith discussion.  He’s the reason your teenage kids are counting the days until faith is an option.

This video is representative of thousands of similar ones, and tens of thousands of blogs and websites. And should you agree with its premise, that’s fine for right now, but if you find yourself on the opposite side of the table as this guy on some other doctrinal issue, you don’t want to know what he thinks of you.

This is the work of Satan, masquerading as a theological or doctrinal statement. It’s purpose is create division.

This is what it looks like when a man pours gasoline on a fire.

February 24, 2013

5 Years of Blogging: What Really Matters

Blog AnniversarySo what have we learned so far? I can’t speak for “we” but I can speak for “me.”

First of all, God has a very large, very diverse family here. Even the most prominent are but a very tiny piece of much larger puzzle. And we can be puzzling at times. We have to learn to see those who believe differently on peripheral issues not in terms of the differences, but in the light of our agreement on the core principles of our faith.

Second — and this is related — only a few of us ever attract attention. Some make the headlines for good reasons, and some for activities not so God-honoring. But the great majority of those of you (us) who follow Christ do so “in your small corner, and I in mine.” We quietly work out what it means to be kingdom people. We try not to be star-struck.

Third, our best hope of kingdom living, our best desire to do what The Book says we should do is constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the church culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the church culture wants to take our simple faith and make it into religious observance.

Fourth, the western church is totally corrupted by materialism and success. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world.

Fifth, for the most part, even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. Far too much — including what you’re reading right now — is being written that doesn’t start with scripture or isn’t rooted in Bible text. (The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text.) Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. This is an area where I have failed. We have too much stuff. But people who have their suitcase packed are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but I’ve heard of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go.

Ninth, we need to stop always characterizing behavior in terms of right and wrong, and recognize that in many cases, missing the mark means missing God’s best. While sin is sin with God — He has no gradients — we need to think in terms of: good, better, best. Then we should work to promote and practice the best but not alienate those currently settling for the good (or less).

Tenth, we need to do what Henry Blackaby calls ‘coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is at work.’ We need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. We need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.

~Paul Wilkinson

January 5, 2013

Five Reasons to Church Hop This Week

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Church HoppingHey! I didn’t write this. Maybe I wish I had. Credit goes to Kirra at the blog Thoughtful. (Click the title to link.) While some people consider church-hopping to be some type of rampant plague or scourge, the point is that most people are very faithful to their faith family week-in, week-out. This was written to encourage them just to one-time consider a one-off visit somewhere else. Is that such a bad thing?

5 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Different Church Next Week

If you’ve been attending the same church for more than a year or two, it might be time to visit another church next Sunday.  This isn’t a permanent change but just one Sunday to do something different.

When we go to the same church for years, we get comfortable.  We know the people, we know the songs, and we know the church.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it is good for us to leave what makes us comfortable once in a while.  There are many good reasons to visit a different church once in a while. Here are five.

1.  Remember what it was like to be a guest.  If you’ve been attending the same church for a long time, you may not remember well what it is like to attend a church for the first time.  You don’t know anyone.  You don’t know if the place you chose to sit if that space is someone’s “spot.”  Will they serve communion?  How will they serve communion?  Will you know any of the songs they sing?  When you visit a new church and then come back to your home church, hopefully you will find yourself more sensitive to those who are attending your church for the first time.

2.  Appreciate a different style of worship.  If your church sings hymns, try one that has a praise band.  This is not just about music; if your home church is casual, try out a church that is a little more formal or liturgical.  Put on a tie or a dress.  Church can be done in many different ways; you don’t have to love the new style, but learn to appreciate the different ways the church worships.

3.  Get a different perspective.  If you’ve been listening to the same one or two preachers for a while, listen to someone else’s teaching.  You might not agree with everything they say, but sometimes the best way to sharpen your beliefs is to consider the ideas that you disagree with.  On the other hand, you might learn something that you find rings true that you’ve not heard taught before.  Just be sure to weigh carefully what you hear, whether at new churches or your home church.

4.  See what other churches are doing.  Observe their methods, programs, and activities.  How do they do Sunday School?  Do they order the service in a way that seems more conducive to worship?  If you see something you especially like that you think could work at your church, approach the leadership and humbly offer your suggestion.

5.  Recognize the body of Christ is all over the world and all over your city.  The people at the church you choose to visit may be strangers, but we are all going to be sharing heaven together.  Christ only has one body.

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