Thinking Out Loud

May 18, 2017

The Case for Online Church Community

Like “real” church though, you need to be all in…

I wrote this almost exactly eight years ago. At the time, what I had in view was the blogging community to which I had become a part. The word podcast wasn’t in my vocabulary though there was a healthy choice of online sermons on demand. There weren’t so many full service broadcasts (live or delayed) back then because of a nervousness concerning the worship song copyrights.

Also, more blogs allowed comments back then, and people engaged more. Today comments are closed at many sites and you also have a number of key bloggers who migrated to Twitter and other platforms. To relive those days, check out our post from Monday, A Golden Age of Christian blogging.

For those of you reading this on a PC, or subscribers who have always wondered, the default font for this blog’s theme is very small and to this day we take a minute to manually enlarge every paragraph. However, for a few years we also were putting everything in bold face as well.

Remember, this was all about community. It doesn’t purport to address the five other things I see as central to actually showing up in person at a physical church: Corporate worship, corporate prayer for others, potential prayer for your own needs and concern, corporate giving, and communion. I also think the level of personal accountability is higher when you’re there in person. 

I do know there are people for whom physical attendance at weekend worship is currently impossible for a wide variety of reasons. For those of you in that category, I hope you will endeavor to develop the type of online community I had in view when I wrote this. Many churches now have a online pastor to cater to the needs of those who don’t attend in person. 

Two “finallys”: Again, remember that I wrote this at a time when I envisioned the blog community becoming a surrogate church for some (which it did.) Also remember there’s nothing new about this; for generations the church wrestled with the issue of people dropping out on Sunday mornings to stay home and watch services on television. (I wonder what that would have looked like if it had a chat or discussion option as did blogging?) 

How can online churches better address the issue of community?

If your background is mainline

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “the passing of the peace.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake (or in a few places, a “holy” kiss) and say, “The peace of Christ,” or “The peace of Christ be with you.” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “And to you also;” or “And to you also, the peace of Christ.” If the church is smaller, you know these people, at least by name, but if it’s larger or it’s tourist season, you may not know them at all.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the pancake breakfast and the strawberry tea held each year.

To get to know people a little deeper, or other people, you can join the choir, or volunteer for a host of guilds or committees that are always in need of help. You’ll also find a lot of the same people serve on civic projects and thereby will run into them in other contexts outside of the church itself. Don’t expect to break into the core community until you’re a “regular,” which occurs after you’ve attended and been involved for a gazillion years.

If your background is Evangelical

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “greeting” or it may be formalized as “the ritual of friendship.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake and say, “Good Morning;” or “Did you happen to catch the game yesterday?” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “Is that a new car I saw in the parking lot?” If the church is smaller, you might know these people, at least by name, or if it’s a mid-sized church, you can look them up in the photo directory when you get home.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the annual potluck lunch and the annual bowling night.

To get to know people a little deeper, there isn’t a lot to volunteer for, since everything is done by the paid staff. The mens’ and womens’ retreats would help, but that’s $120 and $130 respectively. Better to join a small group. That way you’ll get to spend time in at least one person’s house each week, and get to know them and about four other families (or eight other singles) more intimately.

If your option is blogging community

There is a possibility that there will be people in your fellowship who you do not have any idea what they look like, or exactly where they live. However, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to engage conversationally. Those opportunities occur at any time and may produce a variety of responses from a variety of people.

Through those conversations you will learn about their likes and dislikes, events in the life of their family, where they stand on a variety of issues, and what challenges and needs they face. You’ll possibly learn the names of — or see pictures of — their kids or their parents, be given insights into their job, and you’ll almost certainly know a little about every book they’ve read since they started blogging. And they’ll know the same about you.

You may find very quickly that their prayer requests become your prayer requests; you feel drawn to the needs of these people as one might with someone in their church family. If Twitter enters into the picture, you’ll know even more about their daily routine, the various thoughts and challenges that burst into the brain brought about by various stimuli. And if you Twitter, they’ll have that input from you also.

Plus, they will introduce you to their online friends, and you might pick a few of those to subscribe to or at least bookmark, and over time, perhaps their friends will become your friends also. It’s not unusual to pick up e-mail addresses from comments you’ve received and send out some off-the-blog messages. (In fact, two weeks ago, I sent out about 60 such e-mails about a project I wanted to get going that needed an off-the-blog start-up.)

Finally, if you want to get really hardcore, you might find yourself contemplating attending a bloggers event which sometimes take place in conjunction with other events, and at other times are stand-alone events. Not because online fellowship is insufficient, but simply because the relationships are already well established. (And nobody’s pretending to be a 17-year old girl from Ohio; at least I hope not!)

So at the end of the day, online community isn’t better or worse than Sunday church fellowship; it’s just different. And I would argue it’s a good different. One can’t entirely substitute for the other, and hopefully people using online community as a surrogate for a physical community that is currently absent from their life would, over time, find themselves drawn back to something resembling a church or house church; and then maintain a balance between the two relational paradigms.

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January 15, 2017

Christian Bookstores Wondering What Happened to Christmas

Only a small handful of you would know that I also write a blog specifically for Christian bookstore owners and managers in Canada. This past week we’ve heard from a few about how their year ended, and the common theme seems to be that the bottom fell out of the month of December. One store apparently had a 20% drop from the same month a year previous, others reported less severe drops, and I suspect many of our brothers and sisters in the US experienced a similar year.

So what happened? Were there weather factors? Was there a gravitational pull to other types of retail to buy hot items this Christmas? Was it the Trump effect?

I can only say that I know the value of these stores and the ministry that can take place when such a place exists. The “category killing” of bookstores in general may not have stopped people from reading, but where Christian stores are concerned, the loss of stores is a loss of a neutral meeting place for Christians of all denominations and the loss of potential referrals to those churches.

Someone put it this way:

we-heart-christian-bookstores-2

Tomorrow we’ll take another look at why the stores are hurting.

 

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.

March 13, 2016

Christian Community: Priceless!

Christian College Student Discussion

Last night we sat down for an hour and ate our supper with a handful of students at Tyndale College and Seminary students. Highlight of my week. I’d pay the student tuition fees just for moments like that.

There is something about Christian community that is simply unmatched by any other type of real world social experiences. Though we clearly were coming from a variety of doctrinal and denominational perspectives, the mood celebratory and not condemnatory.

I was able to fill in a few historical information points, but I was also the learner; impressed with their attitude and desire to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in wherever their lives take them.

It was reminiscent of another type of meal around a table; the fellowship we enjoy when serving as volunteers at a Christian summer camp. The evening conversations while playing table games also rank among my life highlights.

Maybe I’m just a social person. Or maybe it’s having greater proximity to the energy and optimism of youth. (My daytime ministry demographic tends to skew older, though there are refreshing exceptions some days.)

And then, as we’re leaving, my son’s comment, “Dad, I think you fit in here more than I do.” Yes, the echoes from my own mind of the life that might have been, had I pursued formal theological education.

For a moment anyway, a chance to be all there. To forget that I was just a guest taking advantage of my son’s meal credits in the cafeteria and pretend that I was a student or — let’s stretch things a bit — maybe an adjunct professor.


photo: Abilene Christian University

December 6, 2013

Knowing the Whole Person

Filed under: relationships — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:46 am

Today a name came up of someone I know rather superficially.

I think I know what energizes him.  I know what he’s passionate about. What drives him. What he talks about when it’s his chance to control the conversation. What is probably the first thing he thinks about when he gets up in the morning.

And in a way, that’s how people know me.  They know what energizes me. What I’m passionate about. What drives me. What I talk about when it’s my chance to control the conversation. What is probably the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning.

Sensing a pattern in them paragraphs?

But there’s a reason why I say know this person rather superficially, and it occurred to me in the car driving home from work.

I don’t know what breaks him.

To borrow from my old sociology notes, I know what holds him together, but I don’t know what tears him apart. This is the problem in the church, we really don’t know each other.

And in a way, that’s what people don’t know about me.

They don’t know what breaks me.

June 9, 2013

Social Justice: Why I Got Arrested -Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Sometimes when you take a stand for social justice, there is a cost. It might mean separation from your family. It might mean facing detainment and criminal charges.

It might mean both

Today I have another one of those situations where I would like to simply say, “Ya gotta read this for yourselves;” and then people would click through; but experience teaches me that for maximum exposure I need to simply carry this here as a re-blog. The author is Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who has been featured on these pages many times before.  The circumstances here are not as important as the principles which shine through, so don’t feel you’re coming into the middle of a story. This is the story.

This is a letter to his children.

To read at source, click here.


A Letter to My Kids: Why I Got Arrested

Dear JaiMichael and Nora,

Since we went to Moral Monday together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve wanted to sit down and write to both of you to tell you why I got arrested—why I wasn’t home that evening to read you your stories and say prayers with you. I’ve rarely felt happier than I did that evening when the bus pulled out to take us to jail. I looked up and saw the two of you standing with mom, waving good-bye even though you couldn’t see me through the wire mesh of the bus window. Thank you for being there for me.

As you both know, we live in a hospitality house and share our life with other people because God has given us this way of life as a gift. It’s not always easy to greet every knock at the door, eager to see Jesus in the stranger. But that’s what we try to do because this is where Jesus promised to meet us. Indeed, the two of you are teaching me much about how to do this as you grow up at Rutba House.

One of the things we know about God’s family is that we don’t all look the same. Even though you are brother and sister, your skin is not the same color. Uncle Matt and Uncle Vern are not the same color. This is how it is in God’s family.

You also know the story of how Grandma Ann, when she was working to integrate the schools here in Durham, became friends with a white man who had led the Ku Klux Klan. Some people say strong black women and white men in the KKK shouldn’t become friends. But Grandma Ann and Mr. Ellis realized that when poor black people are pitted against poor white people, all children suffer. They became friends because they learned a better way.

Some people say that parents should work as hard as they can to give their kids all the opportunities that are available in our society—that this is what it means to be a good parent. I know you’ve been disappointed at times when you didn’t get to have a video game or wear the coolest new clothes. But your mom and I believe that the best life for you (and for us) is a life in the beloved community that Grandma Ann and others worked for—the life that God wants to give us in relationship with others who are not like us.

The men who run our Legislature in Raleigh right now are people who love their kids like I love you. They are afraid because they believe that the inheritance they have to pass on to their children is the wealth that they’ve been able to accumulate. They do not want to see that inheritance squandered by others whom they think undeserving. They are determined to defend their way of life at any cost.

But we believe they are wrong because we know a better way of life. We have asked them to consider the pain they are causing others by pursuing their own interests. They have refused to listen. Because they have power right now, they don’t have to listen to what we say. They can have us arrested and taken away.

But what they are doing cannot last forever because it is not true. God will stop them; we don’t have to. But I chose to get arrested because I don’t want those men to miss out on God’s great party. I want them to know that there is a better way—that they do not have to listen to our worst fears and re-play the worst chapters of our past.

I want them to know that God has invited them to be part of the beloved community too.

Thank you both for being there in Raleigh with the thousands of others who want a better future for our state. And thanks for helping mom get everything done at home while I was gone. I know it is not always easy to invite everyone in—even the legislators who do not want to listen. But, like I said, I’m grateful to both of you for showing me how to extend the invitation with enthusiasm.

I love you both,

Dad

Two other arrest perspectives appear on his blog from a Political Science professor, and a School Board member.

January 19, 2013

Weekend Link List

Weekend List Lynx

Weekend List Lynx

Lots of stuff that can’t wait until Wednesday!

  • This one is must reading. Matthew Paul Turner asks former Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Shane Hipps all the questions I would have asked about the church, hell, Love Wins and the man he succeeded at MHBC, Rob Bell.

    “This is one of the biggest misunderstandings.  Rob doesn’t have a position or a concept of hell, he is an artist exploring possibilities and making unexpected connections, not a theologian plotting out a system.  In other words there is nothing to agree or disagree with.  It’s like saying I disagree with that song or that painting.”

    Read more at MPT’s blog.

  • CT’s story of the week concerns gay students at Christian colleges. That’s not a typo.

    “Leaders at Christian colleges and universities around the country told Christianity Today their schools are rethinking the way they address the needs of [same sex attracted] students on campus.”

    Read more at Christianity Today.

  • If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might remember “visitation” by pastors and church elders. These days, you’re more likely to get a house call from your doctor.  David Fitch’s guest author Ty Grigg thinks you might not have anybody drop in these days:

    “It is not a cultural norm to have neighbors or even friends over to our homes for dinner.  If we want to be with people, we go out.  The restaurant has replaced the space that home once occupied in society.  Typically, for younger generations (40’s and under), a visit will be at a coffee shop or to grab lunch.  In our suburban isolation, the home is too much of an intimate, sacred space for most non-family members to enter.”

    Read more at Reclaiming the Mission.

Other links:

  • Canadian readers will remember a national pre-Christmas story involving the theft of $2M worth of toys from a Salvation Army warehouse in Toronto. Here’s a follow-up on how the organization is working to protect itself by having a solid ‘whistle-blower’ policy
  • Want a taste of that theological educational experience you missed? RegentRadio.com, the internet broadcasting arm of Regent College, frequently offers free lectures by its professors. Currently it’s wrapping up a twelve-part series with Gordon Fee on the Holy Spirit in Pauline Theology with a new lecture available each day.
  • We linked to this about six months ago, but it’s worth a revisit. Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed links to a 9-minute video where an orthodox priest explains various theories of atonement.
  • Sarnia is a Canadian city across the river from Port Huron, MI.  Pastor Kevin Rodgers blogs at Orphan Age and reminds us how a shared meal is a great way to build community.
  • USA Today religion editor Cathy Lynn Grossman looks at the larger religious issues in Monday’s Presidential inauguration ceremony.
  • A New Jersey substitute teacher is fired for giving a student his personal Bible as a gift after the student kept asking where the saying, “the last shall be first” came from.
  • New blogs we’re watching this week — okay new to us:
  • Talk about California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day: Our closing shot this week is from a Facebook page dedicated to books. The picture combines two of my favorite passions: a day at the beach and reading.

Beach Library

January 18, 2013

Review: Awakening of Hope – The Video

Several months ago I reviewed the book Awakening of Hope by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, which looks at several of the elements of what is sometimes called the new monasticism.  While there’s no mention of vows of poverty or silence, and nobody is wearing matching robes (or even hoodies), the book is an excellent study of everyday people who either choose to live in community, or find themselves living communally due to circumstances. The link in this paragraph leads you to a list of the six topics actually under study, which include the concept of a shared meal and the importance of pacifism.

Awakening of Hope - Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveI was quite taken by the book. The text is rich, and JW-H has a wealth of travel and experience to draw from in his writing. But all this time I was dying to know what the accompanying video would be like. Finally, I got my wish.

If your perception of Zondervan curriculum involves packages hosted by Philip Yancey or Andy Stanley, you’d be a little out of your depth with this one. Owing more to NOOMA than anything else, the six 15-minute sessions involve some very raw footage — with varying sound levels — that may or may not be in focus. In the very first minute Shane Claiborne is interrupted by a child at the door of the house where he’s filming, Chris Haw is distracted by backyard chickens and the people whose dining room Shane is using come home to find a film crew in their house.

More to the point, the segments are more of an extension to the printed book. When you’ve read the chapter and people have gone around the circle and discussed the various take-outs, you then start the DVD and are immersed in the topic on a whole different — and probably unexpected — level. The interviews — including one with L’Arche founder Jean Vanier — complement rather than continue what the book was discussing. (The book also contains the DVD study questions, there is no additional resource needed.)

I asked Gary O’Dwyer, a local pastor friend who is working with both the book and the DVD to confirm this and he agreed,

“The video is not tied directly to the book. The main portion of the video does offer some very interesting/inspiring individual examples of Hope as well as living Christ’s message.”

The six segments are somewhat equally hosted by Shane and Jonathan, and the DVD also contains nine short bonus clips, including Shane’s story of how The Simple Way got started.  Running time is about 90 minutes total with a U.S. retail of $26.99. Click the image above to watch a three minute preview. If you can only choose one item to purchase, I would suggest getting the book.

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.

December 11, 2012

The Gifts We Bring

On October 30th, I was a guest blogger over at The Master’s Table, the blog of Clark Bunch. I decided to pick up on the ‘table’ theme and used that as a springboard to look at what it means to add value or substance to a situation where we find ourselves; the issue of conflict and unity in Christian community; and creating ministry environments and community where everyone is given a voice. You can read by clicking here, but I’ve also reproduced it below.

What Do I Have to Bring to the Table?

I don’t do a lot of formal meetings in the course of a year, but when they come up, I like to arrive prepared. If there are multiple people involved, sometimes I will say nothing for the first twenty minutes, looking for the idea that’s being missed, the implication that’s not being considered, the parallel to another situation that’s not being remembered. Then I will interject something that I feel is helpful. I want to make a contribution, not simply nod in agreement or call for the vote.

When moderating comments at my blog, I often tell people I’m looking for “value added” remarks. Something that furthers the discussion. If you attend one of those churches where the pastor still goes to the back door as you’re leaving, you’ve probably heard people say, “Good sermon;” the way the kids on the midget soccer team bump fists with the opposing team and say, “Good game.” It’s all very pleasant but it doesn’t say anything. Try something like, “As you were dealing with that chapter of Romans, it reminded me of this passage in Hebrews where…” Your pastor will probably collapse in shock. Adding value is a way of letting everyone know that you “get it.” That you’re willing to take it to the next level.

In a circle of Christ-followers, people will speak of “the gift of encouragement,” but true encouragement is more than saying “Good game;” it’s about building people up. When I was a weekly worship leader in a local church, I once asked our congregation, “What do you have to remember to bring with you on Sunday mornings?” Some people teach children and have to bring their lesson plan. Most bring their tithes and offerings. Some bring a casserole dish (full) for the church potluck or a similar container (empty) that they’re returning to someone who brought them a meal when they were ill. However, sometimes I think we need to bring a word, a thought, a concept, a scripture verse that will encourage someone, or the overflow of a book we’ve read or a sermon we downloaded that we can’t help but want to share with someone receptive.

Bringing something to the table is intentional. It’s part of a type of table fellowship where everyone gives and everyone receives. It’s about making the people who come in contact with you leave richer because you connected.

The problem that we have as Christ-followers sometimes is that nobody wants to make waves, or be the one who is simply rocking the boat. We want to avoid the friction created by challenging traditions and norms, so we tend to make contributions that we feel lead toward consensus. We’re basically asking the question,

Are We All on the Same Side of the Table?

One of the features of the Christian blogosphere is the way things tend to get very polarized. Issues become black-and-white, and people who postulate a different interpretation or a different take on one individual element of doctrine are immediately written-off.

The point is here is that we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We should be able to entertain differences while at the same time affirming our overarching unity in Christ. I can read something on Clark’s blog that I feel is totally wrong — and he on mine, though I can’t possibly imagine what it would be — and perhaps even suggest in a comment that not everyone shares his view. But I click back to see what subject he’s covering the next day.

Too many times in the body of Christ we shoot our wounded. The bottom line is that we all “see through a glass darkly.” We’re not going to be on the same side of the issue on every item on the agenda, but the person with whom I disagree the most at this moment may prove my greatest ally ten minutes from now. I think that’s also why it’s important to ask ourselves,

Is There Room at the Table for Others?

I love the equal opportunity that the blogosphere offers. People can, in fact paint graffiti all over my walls if they so desire. I see people coming and going all the time and in many respects, this ought to be the model of all Christian community, with what we call church (i.e. weekend services and midweek events) being but one expression of that community.

That’s why I love the vulnerability of pastors who have Q&A times at the end of their sermons. It invites even the first-time visitor to have a seat at the table and there’s nothing at all that they can state or ask that God’s Word isn’t capable of responding to. No comment or opinion cannot be deflected with the same ease that Jesus, when they were ready to stone him, demonstrated by disappearing into the crowd.

We don’t have to defend the body of doctrine by excluding people from the discussion; because ultimately, it’s His church, not ours; it is the master’s table.

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