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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October 31, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to another Wednesday Link List. We have no plans to mention the October 31st thing here.

  • The blog Sue’s Considered Trifles is a fun place for people who love words and love language. Most posts contain related phrases and sayings, usually ending with a short scriptural or faith-based thought. You can refer friends to individual posts, or copy and paste and send as emails.
  • “Because it’s only once in awhile that we get to hear Jesus talk about brutal self-mutilation as a sign of discipleship.” So begins a sermon on Mark 9: 42-48 by Nadia Bolz-Weber you can listen to or read at her blog.
  • A consultant for the U.S. State Department brings a rather sobering article on the long term prospects for Christians in the middle east.
  • Our Creative Writing Award for October — if we had one — would surely go to Hannah Anderson, for this piece about being a mother of three at church offering time.
  • Does liturgy work with the poor and uneducated. Consider: “The liturgy has been, at least initially, a barrier to our illiterate population. After one or two months, however, they have it memorized.” Learn more at this interview.
  • Pete Wilson cites Adam Stadtmiller who suggests that our present model of what we call “singles ministry” is quite unsustainable.
  • We frequently hear stories of the desires of the people who hold the movie rights to the Left Behind books to re-make the existing films. This version gives the starring role to Nicholas Cage.
  • For my Canadian readers: If you remember the story from a few years back about the Ponzi scheme that impacted people at 100 Huntley Street and Crossroads Christian Communications, here is an update.
  • If you don’t feel there are enough Bible translations currently available, then you’ll be happy to know the International Standard Version is getting closer to being available in print.
  • And speaking of Bible versions, if your 66-book collection of choice is the King James, and the King James Bible only, then you probably want to date court someone who feels the same. For that you need to put your profile on King James Bible Singles. (You don’t need to join to read all the profiles — in great detail — already posted.)
  • Rachel Held Evans answers all your questions about the book that is causing so much controversy.
  • On a similar theme, Bruxy Cavey equates the Old Testament’s Levitical purity laws as akin to Spiritual Cooties. This 2-minute clip may not be safe for work, or any other environment.
  • Meanwhile, Kathy Keller, wife of author and pastor Timothy Keller offers some criticisms of Rachel’s book in the form of an open letter. If you click, don’t miss the comments.
  • But then you wouldn’t want to miss this review, which suggests there are Rachel Held Evanses in every church.
  • In other book news, Kyle Idleman, author of the chart-topping Not a Fan is releasing a new book, Gods at War in January.

September 30, 2012

Finding A Good Church Fit

A strange thing happened in church this morning.

During the first verse of the first worship song, a family came in: Husband, wife, teenaged daughter.  They took a seat in the 2nd last row. Then we started into “One Way Jesus,” about the edgiest song we do, or as edgy when it can be when most of the worship team is in their mid-forties and the sound is being mixed by the most conservative sound team member in the rotation.

And during the first chorus of that song, the family headed for the exit.

Apparently our church had one chorus to ‘wow’ them and we didn’t. Or maybe they were expecting a more conservative church that would sing from a hymnbook. Either way, it was like we were all X-Factor and the three judges has just given us all three giant Xs. (Or is that X-es?)

I wanted to run outside after them and get the backstory, but I was actually part of the worship team in question and dropping my guitar and running out the back door would probably have alarmed some people, including my wife who was leading the worship this morning, and would have assumed me to be in some type of physical distress.

I wanted to do this for two reasons. First, of course, I wanted to know where our church let them down. Did they not phone during the week to find out about the style of worship? Should they have done more research?

Second, I have an unusually high degree of knowledge about what’s going on in other churches in our community. I could have hooked them up with two churches within a few miles that do actually still use the hymnbooks, both of which have a start time a half hour later than ours, putting them there right on time.

But I don’t even know if it was a music thing. Someone suggested they had seen that the building was open and had come in to use the restrooms, and found themselves ushered to a seat in the auditorium. Now if that’s true, then I really would have wanted to hear that story, just because it’s so funny…

What I did find however, is that witnessing the whole thing from the rather clear vantage point of the platform, the whole scenario completely unnerved me. I played a couple of wrong notes and was completely distracted for the rest of the worship set and well into the sermon. Why had they come in only to leave so quickly?

So, today’s question: What’s the weirdest thing that ever happened in your church involving a visitor or group of visitors who clearly didn’t fit in, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time?

If you have trouble leaving a comment, email it using the “contact us” page in the list of pages further down the sidebar.

September 25, 2012

Weekend Worship: We are at a Crossroads

For several months now I have had some misgivings about the sustainability of our present worship paradigm. Now someone has confirmed it…

They’ve grown up dancing, so they long to kneel.  They’ve grown up with masterfully orchestrated services, so they long for worship that may be planned, but never rehearsed.  They’ve grown up with the latest, so they long for the oldest.  They’ve grown up with, “God is here, let’s celebrate!”   They long for “God is here, let’s kneel and be silent.” 

They’ve grown up being urged, “Now, everyone can just worship God however you might want.  Just let the Holy Spirit move you.  We are all different.”  So now some are seeking worship where the implied advice is, “Now, everyone leave your hyper-individuality at the door.  Let’s say words together.  Let’s make gestures together.  Stand together.  Kneel together.  Let’s listen to the wisdom the Holy Spirit has given over the centuries.”

continue reading Sneaking Into Worship by Tom Lawson at Adorate

August 21, 2011

Changing Churches for all the Right Superficial Reasons

I don’t plan it out this way, but some of the best items here dealing with church issues end up getting posted on Sunday.  This piece at Vic The Vicar’s blog really got me thinking.

…We go to a church because we like the way they play music and yet in doing so ignore the quality of the teaching, the theological truths and the essential tenets. We swing from Anglican to Baptist because they have better coffee and by so doing move from paedobaptism to anabaptism. We move from Pentecostal to Anglican because of the teaching and suddenly we’re into proper liturgy (should start a fight ;) )!

We make our consumer choices without realising the theological and spiritual statements we make.

We make decisions about what our churches should be – we decide that pews restrict the use and then struggle to move or do anything because of the stacked chairs (we always forget to have a room to store stuff!). We speak of open, fluid spaces, which allow us to do so much and then put the chairs out in the same way the pews were…

It’s true, and since I read this a few days ago, I encountered two people who said they changed churches because of the music, and in both cases the change represented a dramatic shift in doctrine, one of which was so extreme that I can’t actually print it here as I have local readers who might immediately recognize the story.

Anyway, I posted this comment at Vic’s:

…I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of someone changing churches because as they were studying a particular scripture they became convinced as to a particular doctrine. It is, as you say, often coffee or music or…

On the other hand, I’d like to see churches offer both decaf and regular coffee, but alas I digress.

Vic the Vicar also has an excellent piece about churches which are given historical site designations which end up hampering their ability to do anything with their building.

  • …One of the members of the offending society visited the building and explained that we were effectively ‘guests’ in a building that was a monument to William Morris…
  • … I did ask whether the society would like to take on the running and maintenance costs of the building as they held it so dear but apparently it wasn’t that dear!!!

Although North America doesn’t have the wonderful old buildings that they have in his native England, this problem is increasingly showing up in Canada and the U.S.

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