Thinking Out Loud

August 14, 2009

Brother Maynard: To Clarify This Journey

Two posts back, Rick Webster commented that The People Formerly Known as the Congregation by Bill Kinnon left him longing for something more constructive, and left us the link to the Brother Maynard piece we’re posting today.   Then Bill Kinnon informed us that Brother Maynard actually had a hand in crafting the The People Formerly…

Both of these posts accurately reflect the aching of peoples’ hearts with respect to church, and since we posted the one, I thought we’d ‘reprint’ the other.   To read it in the original, link here.

Seems there’s some misunderstanding about the journey we’re on. To some, it looks like the journey to leave the church we’re in… which to me is evidence that we aren’t explaining it very well. Given that observation, I thought it might help to take another stab at it in hopes of clarifying it in my own mind if nowhere else.

I long for a church that is low-key. I’m tired of hype, I’m tired of noise, and I’m tired of intensity. I used to like all those things, but I no longer equate these with “signs of life.” I long for something more contemplative, a place that can acknowledge worship as being intellectual as well as emotional.

I long for a church with deep interpersonal relationships. I was attracted to a place that talked about relationships and tried to build relationally, but with growth, time, and change, what started as relational has become merely functional. Faith walks need camaraderie, lives shared one with another

I long for the attainable challenge of Jesus. Put the other way, I’m tired of being challenged, by which I refer not to the challenge of the gospel or the challenge of Jesus, but to the challenge of leaders who seem to continually push for greater levels of sanctification. Ever unattainable, this leaves one straining for an unreachable goal and feeling cast down for falling short. To elaborate, this causes a situation in which a believer perpetually feels or is actually considered “not quite good enough” to engage in ministry. I long for the challenges which God give the grace to attain, rather than the challenges of men which one strives fruitlessly to attain.

I long for a decentralized structure, and I long for servant leadership among peers. Power corrupts, which is a danger in the church as anywhere else… and a hierarchical structure is the breeding-ground for the corruption of church leaders. Jesus talked about this, about what can happen to church leaders who start well but end up enamoured with their positions. Practically speaking, this drives the necessity for decentralization so that the structures can be interrelated but independently manageable in smaller sizes.

I long for a culturally relevant church. I don’t understand why cross-cultural missionaries attempt to understand culture to present the gospel within it, while churches in the developed world tend to simply withdraw from their own culture, often condemning its evils. Unfortunately for them, our culture is filled with people who need to see real Christianity in action — they’ve seen enough caricatures of Christianity already. Being culturally relevant in the early 21st century means understanding -gasp!- postmodernism.

I long for a church that can be outwardly-focused without constantly pushing evangelism on the congregation, and for a church that does not relate evangelism with church growth as an end.

I long for a church that recognizes the value of ancient traditions. I’ve long been saddened by the iconophobia in many evangelical circles, discomfort with symbolism, suspicion toward any type of mysticism, and the ignoring of rich faith traditions from Advent to Passover.

I long for a church that is not uncomfortable with mystery or with the sacraments. The evangelical understanding I’ve been taught on the Eucharist is anemic, and the standard baptism explanation of “an outward symbol of an inward faith” misses the spiritual act, which still has an element of mystery in it.

I long for a church that recognizes the value of story. Scripture is story, and so are the lives it touches. One cannot presume to talk about relationship without recognizing the importance of personal stories.

So this is the path I’m on… I am seeking a place that is in pursuit of the things I long for. If I can’t find a place like that, I’ll find some people who are in pursuit of the things I long for, and together we’ll create such a place. The path I’m on is the pursuit of these things I long for in the church.

Is this path a reaction to church? Partly. It would be easy to list the things I don’t like about the church and give that as the reason to leave… but that really misses the heart of it. Please understand that I’m not mad at the church. I have been frustrated, but the path I’m on puts an end to the frustration and helps me to be able to avoid getting mad. To unpack that a little, I’ve tried for several years to change things. Big things, small things, things that bug me, things I think are wrong. Let’s just say there’s resistance, and leave it at that for now. It does tell me that this church will never be what I hope for, and efforts to change it will only result in frustration and/or pain. In other words, no good will come from my efforts to change it… it is what it is. Now, I’m not dismissing the church or writing it off. On the contrary, I consider it a part of my heritage; for many years it was a rich part, and something for which I’m deeply thankful. On the other hand, I’ve reached the point where I long for different things than the things I longed for when I first signed on.

So the basic thing about this journey is the same as about any journey… it’s not about the place we’re leaving, it’s about the place we’re going. Even if we don’t know where we’re going; it wouldn’t be the first such journey instigated by God.

‘Brother Maynard’ is the pseudonym used by the author of the blog ‘subversive influence’. he/she lives and worships in Winnepeg, Canada.

Church Size:  Big Church, Big Faith?

A few days ago I ran a link to another blog which in but a few short words clearly articulated a case for capping churches at around 300 people.  (Was that 300 adults?   Or like the feeding of the 5,000; do they just count the men?   Sorry, I digress…)

If you missed that, you can read it by linking here.

But it turns out that just the day before, the blog Church Relevance highlighted a Barna Research study which shows that the personal faith — and the adherence to Evangelical doctrine — is stronger in larger churches than it is in smaller churches.   (Except for the area of ‘born-again’ identification, which would be smaller if seekers are interspersed among the larger crowd.)

There was even a multi-colored graph.   I, for one, am always impressed by graphs.   And I think the study is quite significant.   But I also agree with the value(s) of keeping churches at numbers where there can still be intimacy.   (Maybe I should go into politics…)  You can see the Barna study for yourself by linking here.

~Paul Wilkinson

August 12, 2009

We Are The People Formerly Known As The Congregation

bill kinnon

Bill Kinnon put this up on his blog in March, 2007; back when I was reading blogs but not writing one.   I rediscovered it while housecleaning e-mails yesterday.   Based on the piece byJay Rosen, it still still stands up well 2.5 years later, and perfectly describes the place in which many find themselves in relation to “church.”   Some have been in this place for awhile, some others are just arriving there now.  The post also produced a lot of follow-up activity including additions composed by other bloggers (for which parts two, four and five are still valid links)  not to mention many, many comments.  I would suspect it’s one of his all-time top posts; so if you want to link directly, which will also give you the full set-up, do so here; otherwise read on:

Let me introduce you to The People formerly known as The Congregation. There are millions of us.

We are people – flesh and blood – image bearers of the Creator – eikons, if you will. We are not numbers.

We are the eikons who once sat in the uncomfortable pews or plush theatre seating of your preaching venues. We sat passively while you proof-texted your way through 3, 4, 5 or no point sermons – attempting to tell us how you and your reading of The Bible had a plan for our lives. Perhaps God does have a plan for us – it just doesn’t seem to jive with yours.

Money was a great concern. And, for a moment, we believed you when you told us God would reward us for our tithes – or curse us if we didn’t. The Law is just so much easier to preach than Grace. My goodness, if you told us that the 1st century church held everything in common – you might be accused of being a socialist – and of course, capitalism is a direct gift from God. Please further note: Malachi 3 is speaking to the priests of Israel. They weren’t the cheerful givers God speaks of loving.

We grew weary from your Edifice Complex pathologies – building projects more important than the people in your neighbourhood…or in your pews. It wasn’t God telling you to “enlarge the place of your tent” – it was your ego. And, by the way, a multi-million dollar, state of the art building is hardly a tent.

We no longer buy your call to be “fastest growing” church in wherever. That is your need. You want a bigger audience. We won’t be part of one.

Our ears are still ringing from the volume, but…Jesus is not our boyfriend – and we will no longer sing your silly love songs that suggest He is. Happy clappy tunes bear no witness to the reality of the world we live in, the powers and principalities we confront, or are worthy of the one we proclaim King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

You offered us a myriad of programs to join – volunteer positions to assuage our desire to be connected. We could be greeters, parking lot attendants, coffee baristas, book store helpers, children’s ministry workers, media ministry drones – whatever you needed to fulfill your dreams of corporate glory. Perhaps you’ve noticed, we aren’t there anymore.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We have not stopped loving the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor do we avoid “the assembling of the saints.” We just don’t assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets. We connect virtually across space and time – engaged in generative conversations – teaching and being taught.

We live amongst our neighbours, in their homes and they in ours. We laugh and cry and really live – without the need to have you teach us how – by reading your ridiculous books or listening to your supercilious CDs or podcasts.

We don’t deny Paul’s description of APEPT leadership – Ephesians 4:11. We just see it in the light of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10 and Matthew 20 – servant leadership. We truly long for the release of servant leading men and women into our gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We believe in Peter’s words that describe us all as priests. Not just some, not just one gender.

We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We do not hate you. Though some of us bear the wounds you have inflicted. Many of you are our brothers and our sisters, misguided by the systems you inhabit, intoxicated by the power – yet still members of our family. (Though some are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing.)

And, as The People formerly known as The Congregation, we invite you to join us on this great adventure. To boldly go where the Spirit leads us. To marvel at what the Father is doing in the communities where He has placed us. To live the love that Jesus shows us.

Addendum: This is a polemic. The first-person plural pronoun, “We”, is not used as Pluralis Majestatis (the Royal We) but rather is based on the post-charismatic/post-evangelical conversations that are occurring in the blogosphere. I have no more right to speak in this voice than any other person living in the liminal reality of the church in 21st century.

Please note also that I have many good friends who lead within a more traditional church context for whom I have great love, as well as deep respect. They are doing their very best to be missional within their worlds.

~Bill Kinnon, originally posted March 28/07

February 17, 2009

Bible College and Seminary Grads Want Paying Jobs

not-hiringI have been part of this discussion before; the issue being that after emerging from seminary or Bible college,  many students expect to find an entry level position at a multi-staff church that offers a regular salary, book allowance, conference allowance, paid vacations and health benefits.    Despite this, many also expect to find employment in a setting that is postmodern, or missional or Emergent; so that they can live out many of their ministry dreams and ideals.

At his website, Andrew Jones, a.k.a. the Tall Skinny Kiwi raises this issue on a post from last week:

I have seen a number of Seminary graduates come overseas to hang with us and to potentially find work in the “emerging church”. After a short time, they have gone back to USA disappointed that there are no paid positions. Huge and wonderful opportunities . . . puny financial benefit…

I found this discussion through Jordan Cooper’s website, where he offers some kind of explanation:

I think Andrew has some good things to say here but he is missing the point that a privately funded (this means paid for by massive tuition bills and student loans) theological education creates a system where all by the wealthiest have to find full time ministry jobs just to service the student loan debt.  Right from the time we start to seriously educate church leaders, we ask them to embrace a worldview of debt…

Okay, I agree with that as a kind of background to the issue.   But obviously the system is flawed somewhere.    While I don’t usually cross-post my comments at other blogs, here’s what I responded at the time:

Expanding the concept of seminary is a start, but what if we’ve already got alternative vehicles for ministry education, but we just aren’t recognizing them as such? For example, I’m not a YWAM-er, but if I were on the personnel committee for my church and someone applied who had done a YWAM DTS and maybe one or two of their other schools, and all the appropriate field-trip components that go with it, I would weight that equally with the applicant with the BTh from a Bible College. And that’s just one example.

Another lifetime ago, as a student at U. of T., I served on a Communications committee that was screening applicants for a paid job in campus media. They asked one guy what formal training he had and without blinking he said, “No formal training, but lots of doing training, which some say is better.”

But that doesn’t mean the end of Bible Colleges and Seminaries. Generations ago, the University of Waterloo advanced the concept of co-op education at the post-secondary level. Many students leave their programs with their education fully paid for; some actually leave with money in the bank. This does however mean the end of field-placements and internships as Seminaries and Bible Colleges have traditionally understood them …it goes a long way to meeting the debt-servicing issue you’ve correctly raised.

But here’s another point that I wished I had added:

Churches can go a long way toward easing the situation for seminary students by budgeting something each year to go towards both students from their own congregation and direct gifts to the institutions concerned — designated for tuition aid and scholarships, not the maintenance of the infrastructure or staff salaries.   This should be part of the missions budget of every church.

What do you think?

January 29, 2009

Can You Recite Your Church’s Statement of Faith?

statement-of-faithJonathan Brink, blogging at Missio Dei, has had an interesting discussion running the last few days about statements of faith:

There is an interesting discussion going on over here at this post regarding statements of faith.  And in the process of dialog something stuck out to me.

First, I get statements of belief.  Their the little list of things we say we believe.  They include very important components to our faith.  I personally have no problem with people having them because they can very much be a working out of the belief process.  I do get seriously concerned with fixed constructs of what we say we believe, which is not the same as what is truth.  Truth exists as a construct all its own.  It just is.  How much we capture of that truth is highly relative based on a huge number of factors in our life (mentors, location, access to Scripture, community, etc).  And in many ways our statements of belief create unnecessary barriers to relationship and even our own spiritual development.

And here is my point. What if our statements of believe are neat little tricks we play on ourselves?

Jesus spent almost no time focusing on the list of beliefs but instead on the action of belief.  In other words, he looked for the fruit of believe in each person’s life.  Did they step up?  Did the follow?  Did they put something on the line.  It mattered very little what they said, but instead what they did.

What if Jesus understood that our little belief statements can become just as much a hindrance as a help?  What if he understood that we’re likely to bullshit ourselves.  It’s what we do isn’t it?  We’re broken, prone to lying and deceiving, even to ourselves.  And what if Jesus understood that our lists can actually keep us locked in a perpetual state of arrested development.  Because once we say we believe something, it becomes much harder to shift gears even when we don’t believe it. (Unless that’s the point of the lists.)

I appreciate the way Blake put it in the previous post.  He said,

“I’m not interesting in something else that I have to confess or sign off on.”

Which in some ways drives home my original concern.  Statements of faith often become insurmountable barriers to entry.  They close us off from relationship.  And if the point of the mission is love and restoration, we can’t do that very well from afar, or when the barriers we have created keep people from engaging what is supposed to be called Good News.

And it is so easy to say we believe.  But Jesus even said, don’t look for the words.  Look for the actions, the fruit of our lives as the true indicator.  But we don’t like that do we.  We like lists that look pretty on paper.  We like lists that people can read and assume good things about us.  And the best part is we don’t actually have to believe the list.  We just have to say we do and it is generally accepted that we do.

I would suggest it is actually harder to not have a statement of belief.  It’s harder to live instead in the tension of becoming, of growing, and of asking do we really believe.  It doesn’t mean we ignore belief.  It means we hold lightly the things we have convinced ourselves of, leaving the true work in our lives to the Holy Spirit.

I would offer that it would be more powerful for a community to live into what it believed, wrestlign through that discovery process over time and then recognizing that we do believe.  And then holding that lightly as true, as a growing process, as something that is now.  Because things might just change.

Sorry, I tried to edit some of it out, but it was all crying to be printed here.   If you want to engage more, check out the original post linked in the quote, and then check out the comments for both posts.  (I’m #13 at the first article.)

Oh yeah… about the graphic.  To see this one full size; flames and all; link here.  (Even Christian motorcycle clubs have statements of faith…)

January 22, 2009

The Re-Launching of WWJD: Frost and Hirsch

…The WWJD campaign invited us to imagine how Jesus would respond to the cultural and religious issues of our day.  However, this question tended to become captive to a religious pietism that limited the issue to private morality and then further trivialized into an international campaign that focused almost entirely on the sexual ethics of young adult Christians.   This is unfortunate, because WWJD has in it the capacity to become a global movement that takes the claims that Jesus makes over all of life seriously indeed.   We would like to relaunch the campaign but this time keeping the borader issues in mind as well.   What would Jesus do in the consumptive world in which we live?   How would he respond to the environmental crisis?  What would Jesus do with the banal depravities of reality television?  What would Jesus do with our money and our resources in a world of poverty and in need of grace of grace and rejesus1mercy.   …The lordship of Jesus cannot be limited to personal piety and must extend to all issues common to human experience.   WWJD must extend to the issues of economics, environment, and politics if we are to truly unlock the world-renewing power inherent in the question.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch in ReJesus – A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church, © 2009 Hendrickson (USA) and Strand (Australia), p. 47

January 8, 2009

Are You Mino – Missional in Name Only?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Faith, missions — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:13 pm

Last month, Benjamin Wheatley suggested that some ‘missionals’ might be more so in name only.   Of course that could be said of Christians in general, hence the word ‘nominal.’   But here’s his thoughts:

If all the talk is all about ‘going’ and no one goes anywhere – you might be Mino.

If the majority of your money, your leaders time and your buildings are still used to meet your needs – you might be Mino.

If your idea of church is still just one hour out of your life each week – you might be Mino.

If I can come to your church, be anonymous and just blend in – you might be Mino.

If you like to talk about being missional because you think it might help grow ‘your church’ – you might be Mino.

If you bare no resemblance to your surrounding community – you might be Mino.

If you bare too much resemblance to your surrounding community – you might be Mino.

Read the whole piece here at Brackish Faith 12/19/08

[ via: Kouya Chronicle ]

September 26, 2008

Welcome to our Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:18 pm

The problem in the church isn’t to be found studying the churches that are seeker sensitive; the problem is dealing with the churches that are seeker hostile.

~ source unknown

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