Why are so many church structures predicated on distrust?
by Skye Jethani
Last week I came across one of those news articles that makes you wonder if we’re all just flying upside down. This headline comes from the UK Telegraph: ”Council sets up scrutiny panel - to scrutinize its scrutiny panels”
A spokesperson from the Wealden District Council said a working party was established in July to oversee the decisions of its three existing scrutiny panels and to “scrutinize the Council’s scrutiny arrangements.” It sounds to me like the citizens of Wealden District are the ones getting scrutted…but I digress. The article continues:
Mark Wallace, from the Taxpayers Alliance, said: “Whilst it may be well-intentioned the council appear to have wrapped themselves up in knots and ended up in an absurd situation. By all means they should review their procedures but there’s no reason why a separate committee to scrutinize the scrutiny panel should be any better than the original body itself…. Local residents would probably prefer they were asked how the council was run instead of adding this extra layer of bureaucracy.”
If my interest were primarily political this article would be raw meat for those who believe government is wasteful, bloated, and inept beyond redemption. But my interests are not primarily political but ecclesiastical. This wonderfully tongue-twisting article offers the opportunity to question how many of our churches are organized and governed.
Surely I’m the only person in the land of Ur whose prayer life occasionally runs aground on the rocks of ministry demands. But just in case I’m not, I thought Thanksgiving might be the right time to explore a few ways Scripture shows us how to give thanks to God in prayerful worship.
More often than not, I struggle to stay focused during prayer, so it helps me to follow the pattern of biblical examples, especially the Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus (Matt. 6:9–13). After each line I pause to praise God for some element of his character and bring specific requests to the Lord. It’s natural at Thanksgiving to praise God for providing our daily bread. But this aspect of the Lord’s Prayer almost always brings to attention material goods I thought I needed but realized I could live without. So as I thank God for providing for my family, he reminds me of my neighbors’ needs.
There is no greater act of thanksgiving than returning to God the honor and glory due his name. In Psalm 96, the psalmist highlights the privilege and purpose of worship by focusing on the public proclamation of God’s sovereign glory to all the nations. This psalm reminds me that God’s people worship in public view of their neighbors. We worship God as we tell these neighbors about God’s salvation (96:2) and his marvelous works (96:3). Indeed, we have a responsibility to declare among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” (96:10)
The danger of replacing Communion with a coffee bar.
by Paul Louis Metzger
It's very difficult for many contemporary Christians to recognize how much we have been shaped by the consumer culture in which we live—it is in the air we breathe and the water (or coffee) we drink.
Consider that in many churches the coffee bar has displaced the Lord's Table as the place where real community happens. Due in part to the neutralizing of sacred space that has been popular since the 1980s, churches began removing or deemphasizing the Lord's Table and introducing coffee bars. Without doubt the desire has been to build community by offering people a culturally familiar setting to engage one another. But we must ask: What formative message does a coffee bar convey?
A coffee bar mostly carries the values of our culture. We've come to expect coffee bars to offer a number of choices to meet our desires (decaf, tea, hot chocolate), and the setting is one of leisure and comfort. We usually gather in affinity groups. We sip the beverages not because we're thirsty but because we're conditioned to want them.
By contrast, what does the Lord's Table convey? It is a symbol of sacrificial love that breaks down cultural divisions and barriers of affinity. It reminds us that life is about being chosen by the Lord for interpersonal communion rather than choosing to consume stuff, and it reminds us we are called to take up our cross rather than seek personal comfort.
There wasn’t much that could have distracted me on the way to the train station on a recent Saturday evening. After two days at an outdoor music festival—in the rain one day and under the blazing sun the next—I wanted nothing more than to return to our apartment for a long shower and some blessed quiet. Lollapalooza was a blast, a great opportunity to see some new bands and observe Chicago’s diverse youth culture. I might have stayed for the day’s final acts, but I’m a pastor and my ringing ears and tired legs needed a good night’s sleep before Sunday morning.
Before I’d walked even a block from the festival, I bumped into a small crowd whose attention was fixed on two men speaking loudly to the bedraggled onlookers. One held a handmade sign that read—I kid you not— “TURN OR BURN!” He spoke into a bullhorn, warning the young people of God’s coming judgment and listing in vivid detail the sins that would lead them to an eternity burning in hell. The other man held an open Bible and vigorously debated anyone who disagreed with his companion’s portrayal of God.
For the past two days, I’d watched these young people pursue beauty and friendship and community. Groups of sunburned 20somethings had made their way from one stage to the next, avoiding mud puddles and speaking with awe in their voices about their favorite musical experiences of the weekend. And now, as they left the safety of the festival grounds, they were immediately confronted with Jesus. Or at least two of Jesus’ representatives.
It's easy it is to “speak prophetically” when you know it's what people want to hear.
by Bob Hyatt
Every once in a while I find myself preaching for the nod. That’s when we try to hard wire a bit of ego-stroke into a Sunday morning message. We do it a lot, and it’s so easy—insert that small comment, that little aside, or even that main point that we know will appeal to the sensibilities of certain listeners. You know, the left-leaning (or right leaning) political comment. The doctrinal aside that scratches the itch of that person so prone to give up the "Amen" or the vigorous head nod.
Preaching for the nod has less to do with what we see in the biblical text and more to do with what we want people to see in us. And there lies the danger.
The most God-centered, John Piper-esque sermon or community-centered dialogical discussion can be completely me-centered if my intention is to get certain people to tell me, “Good words today, Pastor!” If my intention is to get certain people to see me as sufficiently hip and relevant (or standing against the tide of culture), or progressive (or appropriately conservative), or doctrinally adventurous (or steadfastly orthodox), then I have traded the proclamation of God's Word for the proclamation of myself, regardless of how I dress it up.
And all for that little nod.
Man, it's like a drug—the rush of agreement, of assent, of affirmation. Many of us would sell our souls for it. And some of us do.
To build or not to build? Sign-up to ask your questions during our live webinar.
by Eric Reed
Until recently, churches responded to growing attendance by building larger facilities. But the faltering economy makes raising large sums for building projects harder to accomplish. And combined with the aversion of younger churchgoers to the bigger-is-better ministry philosophy, these tight-money days are demanding imaginative alternatives. For some churches, the question has become, "Should we build at all?"
"We have told many clients in the last couple years, 'You're not ready to build, because you aren't sure what your ministry is,'" said Ed Bahler of the Aspen Group, a church design firm. "So what once took a few weeks has become a six- to twelve-month process: determining what their vision is and what they really need to do that ministry." The firm now focuses on guiding church leaders through the vision process.
"People ask us what ministry will look like in ten years—with the impact of technology and the desire to attract younger people driving many of the choices they make today," Bahler said.
A few days ago, Drew Dyck (managing editor of BuildingChurchLeaders.com) sent an email to Skye Jethani (managing editor of Leadership Journal) asking to borrow a book by Dave Ferguson. Drew parenthetically commented that Ferguson looked like Edward Norton the actor. That got the ball rolling.
With the help of Drew Dyck, Tim Avery, and others, Skye created a post on his blog of church leaders and their celebrity lookalikes. It was so well received that I decided to post some of the more popular images here. Of course I'm always open to more. Send me your ideas.
For the sake of clergy self-care, let's stop talking about clergy self-care.
by Lillian Daniel
I do not think clergy need more lectures about self-care.
It seems that at every ordination or installation service I attend there is a charge given about clergy self care. One minister stands up and tells another minister that they know they are about to work themselves to death, so resist the temptation. “Take your day off…set boundaries…don’t try to be all things to all people.” All this is done in front of an audience of lay people who are supposed to be impressed that we clergy would need such a lecture. It has become a cliché, and seems to have trumped prophecy, theology and the love of Jesus.
To lay people it seems strange, since they work hard themselves. Should they raise this, they will be treated to a lecture from these same overworked clergy about how they, in bravely trying to take better care of themselves, are “modeling” appropriate self-care for the laity. Such talk is condescending to the laity, tedious to listen to at ordinations and most of all, unsuccessful in changing clergy behavior.
I would personally like to declare a moratorium on all clergy self-care conversations, in the interests of clergy self-care.
What do tweets reveal about what pastors really value?
by Scot McKnight
Social media like Facebook and Twitter have received an abundance of critique, not the least of which is that social media users are self-absorbed. But I wonder if we might turn answers on Twitter to the question “What are you doing?” or on Facebook’s status update into an opportunity for self-examination. It might even be an opportunity for Twitter and Facebook users to examine not just what they are doing but how it aligns with our mission.
I’ve spent some time observing pastors who tweet or regularly update their status on Facebook, and I’m far from convinced it’s simply self-absorption or an attempt by little people to make themselves famous. But these updates do reveal what is uppermost on the mind. But let me begin with a confession: I use these social media tools to draw folks to my blog and to the concerns I have there. In addition, on Facebook I have a good time with my “Friends” discussing sports or the news.
And I’m not alone. The idea of both Facebook and Twitter is to share with friends – real friends and not just cyberfriends – what you are doing. We all know that this can slip into silliness with tweets like: “Having a chocolate macchiato latte, double shot espresso with a raspberry scone” But we should also admit that tweets can be a valuable communication form. And another thing is clear—Twitter and Facebook are here to stay. Over time the craziness will wear off and the abilities of social media will become more clear.
May I vent for a moment? If I stumble onto another blog, article, or conference advertisement for anything having to do with video venues or multi-site models of church growth, I just might lose it. Everywhere I look within our odd little subculture these days I’m barraged by debates and diatribes about the glorious merits or awful shortcomings of venues and sites. On one side are proponents who seem to believe that only really good sliced bread can compete with their innovative ministry models for the title of “greatest thing ever.” Opposing these trendsetters are Marshall McLuhan’s disciples, those who fear the Good News message has been distorted by an unholy medium.
To be clear, I understand the nuanced distinctions between multiple sites and multiple video screens. I get that there are theological concerns embedded within this conversation that bring out the passionate sides of characteristically composed people. To be honest, I’ve followed this debate with some interest and could earnestly argue my own position about these ministry models. But I don’t want to. In fact, at this point I’d rather talk about almost anything else. Here’s why:
The downside of trying to re-brand your Christian identity.
by Jason Byassee
Anyone can understand the desire for an alternative to the word “Christian.” There are plenty of “Christians” I’d rather not be associated with. I’d much prefer to maintain my relationship with Jesus while making clear to others I am not in relationship to Pat Robertson or Jack Spong.
Lisa Miller, true to form as an excellent religion journalist, has brought attention to efforts to follow Jesus without calling oneself a “Christian.” Non-Christian Christ-followers even seem to have some scripture on their side. The first name of the Jesus movement in the book of Acts is “followers of the Way.” There are plenty of other fully-biblical alternatives: disciples, apostles, friends of God. Apparently the movement has legs: more than 900 Facebook groups call themselves some variant of “follower of Jesus.”
There’s some sleight of hand here. Imagine a banker in the current financial crisis objecting when you name her job description. “I’m not a banker, I’m a cashier.” You would be unimpressed. Or a Major League Baseball player seeking distance from the steroid scandal this way: “No no no, I’m not a baseball player, I’m a second baseman.” It’s as if my alma mater, Davidson College, disgraced itself in some horrible way. When people cluck their tongues at me, I cleverly respond: “Not me, I’m innocent, I’m not from Davidson, I’m just a Wildcat.” I’d be fooling no one. So too with these non-Christian Christians.
Christianity Today International, Out of Ur's publisher, and The Lausanne Movement, a worldwide movement of evangelical Christian leaders, present The Global Conversation: a year-long series of essays, short films, and photo essays about issues facing the church worldwide. These videos highlight topics to be addressed at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization being held in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010.
In November the Global Conversation focuses on the prosperity gospel—the teaching that true Christian faith results in material wealth and physical well-being. While it has its roots in America, it has found fertile soil on other continents as well. To accompany the lead article in Christianity Today by Ghanaian scholar Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, director Nathan Clarke went to Ghana to explore the forms the prosperity gospel takes in that West African nation.
What liturgical church leaders and the Catalyst Conference can learn from each other.
by Andy Rowell
According to data from the National Congregations Study (2006-2007), 38% of people in the United States associate themselves with liturgical churches (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, etc.); while 46% associate themselves with free churches (Baptist, Pentecostal, non-denominational, etc.). The 14% of people associated with Methodist and Reformed/Presbyterian churches sit atop this watershed—some sliding down the liturgical slope, others down the free church slope. Liturgical churches emphasize historical and global continuity in their worship services; whereas the term “free church” is related to the relative autonomy of individual congregations. Almost every heated discussion about the church tends to divide along these liturgical / free church lines.
Liturgical clergy see their role as being a faithful steward of historic Christianity. This consists especially of serving the Lord’s Supper and preaching. Free church pastors tend to see their role as equipping their congregations for evangelism and social justice. Because of their different understandings of their roles, it is not surprising that free church pastors are open to insights gleaned from megachurches, church planters, and business leaders; while liturgical church clergy see these sources as consumeristic, arrogant, and hopelessly misguided.