Thinking Out Loud

May 17, 2011

They Like Church But Not Jesus

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:23 am

Several years ago Dan Kimball wrote a book (which also became a DVD) titled They Like Jesus But Not The Church.  It was a much needed book at the time which pointed out a sector of western society that has a high regard for the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but a rather low regard for the institution that bears his name.   The publisher blurb was:  “An overview of the six most common objections emerging generations have with church and Christianity along with the biblical answers to these objections and examples of how churches are facing this challenge.”

But I often wonder if now there isn’t a need for a corresponding book titled They Like The Church But Not Jesus.  I’m thinking of the people who live for the committees, the meetings, the ‘business’ of church.  I’m thinking of the people who thrive on the worship band or choir, the programs, the Sunday event itself.  I’m thinking of people who get excited talking about the missions conference, the Sunday School picnic, the current sermon series. I’m thinking of people who are, as one person put it, “So into the things of the Lord that they’ve missed the Lord of the things.”   What could we call them?  Churchaphiles?  Church junkies?

I write from personal knowledge.

I think there are times when I get so consumed, so distracted, so sidetracked by the excitement of what we do when we go to God’s house that we sometimes forget that the host of the party longs to meet us at the front door, but in the rushing past, we miss Him.  Okay, we don’t exactly don’t like Jesus, but we’ve got blinders on because we’re too busy doing church.

And here’s the kicker:  I think the odds of this happening are just as great in a small, rural country chapel as they are in an urban megachurch located at the intersection of two freeways.  Furthermore, I think those of us who blog and read blogs and are really into what’s going on in the big-C Church run the greatest risk of getting so caught up in church that we miss Jesus.

 Revelation 2:4-5a“But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen?…Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste…  [The Message]


Classic and modern worship
If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are now listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs with spirit and substance.

March 17, 2011

Turning Up The Spiritual Volume

An updated post from something originally appearing in March, 2009…

 

god-is-with-us

Lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it means to expect God’s presence in all that we do “at church.” I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here. No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way. Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting, or a church clean-up day are good examples of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities? What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mail-out and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?  (Update: Saw this done recently, and it was awesome!)
  • What if every pot-luck lunch was actually more like the upper-room meal Jesus shared with his disciples?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.

god-is-with-us1

Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me for free at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse. At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to find an opening, but I couldn’t find a place to jump in.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today. I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program. (See this post, Blocking Peoples’ View from exactly three years ago, for another way of describing this.)

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us. But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen. And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things outside of church. We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives. Nah. That’s way too radical.

…After committing to write this piece a few days ago, I came across this today from Kaybee, a regular visitor here, on her blog Important to Me. She looks at the way we approach our local church as a sign of what our expectations are. Do we expect that God is really waiting to meet with us?

May 4, 2010

The Busyness of Church Business

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:30 pm

It was a classic house church moment.   Not just any guest speaker, but the itinerant minister who was different than the rest; who was shaking things up.   He spoke with authority.   He proved that authority.     It was a meeting you didn’t want to miss.

Too bad one of the co-hosts missed a lot of it.   Two sisters.   Two different takes on what mattered most.   One busy in the kitchen doing all those behind-the-scenes things that seem so necessary at the time.   Like, these gatherings don’t just happen by themselves, do they?   The other intent on getting a good seat to not miss anything the guest might say or do.

…Twenty centuries later…

I couldn’t help but notice that his wife and kids were saving him a seat.   It was an aisle seat.   Easy to slip in and out with minimal disturbance to the other people at church.  The service was just about finished when he finally appeared, though when the preacher was pronouncing the benediction, I noticed he had disappeared again.

He had to.   He’s a very important person in that church.   He had some very important things to do.   Most Sundays I observe him taking over a desk in the church office from where he does the things that need to be done.   Church management and organization doesn’t just happen by itself, does it?

Some of his counterparts on the leadership board don’t interpret their role in exactly the same manner.   They seem genuinely intent on getting a good seat so as to not miss the worship; to not miss the teaching; to share in what the entire church family is experiencing;  to take a few minutes out from church government to rest in God’s presence.

I would send the link to this, but it would not be well received.   I would be told I don’t understand the complexities of his role.   I would be told, as I have been, “There are things going on that you don’t know about.”

Yes.   Things that can’t wait another hour.

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;  but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”   ~Luke 10: 41-42 NASB

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