Category Archives: faith

The Church vs The Body

Ok, I know, I’m probably taking this all way too seriously.

I started with an almost random thought in “What is the Church?” and perhaps should have let it go but continued in “Consumer Spirituality” I’m just trying to sort out how this whole “one body with one head” works in light of what seems to be an accelerated rate of division in the church.

To be fair I’m not trying to blame anybody here. I’m just pointing out what I feel is a disturbing observation, made even more disturbing for the fact that it seems to mirror the rapidly decomposing and increasing adversarial political landscape.

If I were to try to roll up all the comments I’ve had on the last two posts the theme that seems to emerge looks something like this:

“Yes, the global church should be more unified and it is something we need to work on but were all just broken, wounded people so it is good that we’re at least able to worship together in small groups or in local bodies.”

Wow. “Sorry Jesus, we know you’re the head and we’re supposed to be one body but we’re all broke up just now so we’ll get back to you.”

I wonder though…not to let us off the hook but, is it perhaps more of maturity issue?

Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Is Paul saying here that spiritual gifts were given with the intent in mind that they’d be used to bring the WHOLE Body to maturity and unity? Is it an end state or goal rather than an ongoing operating model? If so shouldn’t we be working towards that end?

In light of all of the “church advertising” that seems to want to say, “we’re more relevant than your old church” or “we do church different” or “we’re different that your parents church” or “we’re protestant not catholic” I wonder when we start to cross the line from being one Body unified in Christ and become a house divided against itself?

If this state of unity of the Body is a mature end state or goal what can we do today to help individuals and churches move in that direction?

Consumer Spirituality

Warning: Thinking out loud to follow…

On Monday I asked the question, “What is the Church?”

The answers some of you provided were all pretty solid. But they left me wanting.

Most of them took the tack of either describing the “real” church vs. something else, or the “localized” body vs. the larger all inclusive body. What I’m struggling with is the fact that almost everyone I know immediately takes the global body of believers and breaks it down into something more manageable.

I think we do it because we don’t see the global body functioning like one.

The trouble with that is that we go to a denominational distinction, or a theological distinction that separates, divides, sorts out rather than including and fostering unity. But should we be fostering unity? Yes, yes I know the New testament calls believers to unity in the faith but as soon as you start talking ecumenical-ism people get all fired up and start worrying about the One World Church of the Anti-Christ!!

In order to avoid THAT entanglement people start to talk about individual faith. Which leads to comments about individual faith experience, which leads to existentialism, which leads to Nietzsche, which is NEVER fun.

And while we’d like to think we don’t go THAT far…what about comments like these:

  • “We’re church shopping at the moment”
  • “The Bible calls us to give financially and you really ought to give where you’re being fed.”
  • “We really enjoy more of a contemporary service.”
  • “We’re looking for deeper teaching on Sunday.”

Nothing necessarily wrong with those right? Except that they sound an awful lot like someone trying to select a great restaurant: Right for the occasion, value for your food dollar, ambiance, interesting menu…

Is it possible that we’ve become so good at consuming that we’ve fit church into our shopping basket mentality too?

Before you go condemning the consumer wholly, (I REALLY wanted to typo there and go with Holy), you have to ask if the church models through which we browse doesn’t in some ways facilitate such thinking.

Churches can’t exist without offerings and we’ve all known church leadership folk who have bemoaned a congregation that isn’t giving and we’ve all heard THOSE conversations start to talk about the services the church provides and what might need to be cut if giving doesn’t come up…which sounds a lot like restaurant management conversation.

Please don’t hear me casting blame in ANYONE’S direction here. I’m just trying to sort it all out in my own head, but it seems to me we’ve gone off track somewhere along the line. If we’re all a part of the body, one body, with one head, what does that look like?

Maybe I asked the wrong question the first time. Maybe the question isn’t What is the Church. Maybe the question is:

Are “The Church” and “The Body” the same thing? If they are, why so many bodies?

 

 

 

 

What is the Church?

What was your first thought when you read that question?

Is it possible that your fist inclination there was influenced by your denominational background?

Do you even have a denominational background?

I grew up in an incredibly solid Bible teaching, but not thumping, church. I spent more than a decade working in vocational ministry. I’ve taken classes at several different seminaries. My answer would have been:

The Church is the Body of Christ alive and active in the world today.

And while that is probably theologically accurate it is almost useless from any practical day to day perspective. Or is it? I’m not sure at the moment, hence this post.

Suddenly the question starts to get a little cloudy so we illuminate it with qualifiers: Do you mean the Church universal? Do you mean the local body of believers? Do you mean a group as defined by a denominational affiliation?

Sure.

But which ever definition we land on will carry with it a set of expectations. Expectations that will be met or, in the failing of their being met cause significant grief. We EXPECT “church people” to act a certain way and if they don’t they hypocritical.

I remember our high school winter retreat my senior year. I was one of the “leader kids” in our church youth group. We probably had somewhere between 100-200 kids at our bigger meetings. On the retreat we may have had 40 or 50.

We were having that sharing and prayer time that anyone who has been on one of these retreats knows oh so well. That time when people actually open up and share stuff that is sometimes deeply buried.

So it came as a bit of a shock to a lot of the kids when I, the leader kid, the guy the younger guys looked up to, they popular kid, said, “You know a lot of times I feel a whole lot more accepted by my non-christian friends at school than I do here.” Let’s just say it opened a bit of a can of worms which I am sure the youth pastor was glad to be finished with at the end of the night.

Now, I’m not saying the kids in our youth group were hypocrites, they were great. But there was SOME set of expectations alive and at play there that night that differentiated church people and non church people and the church folks were coming up short.

I have a worrying feeling that “The Church” today is not being what it ought to be. I have a worrying feeling that we’re redefining what we mean when we say “The Church” so that we don’t have to stare that shortfall in the face. I have a worrying feeling we’re trying to get over failed expectations by redefining how we answer that question.

So I’ll ask again…

What is The Church? And…what expectations are engendered by your answer?

 

Marketing the Church

Image courtesy of linder6580 at sxc.huNow that’s a loaded statement isn’t it? What do I mean by “marketing” and what do I mean by “church”? What constitutes a church “customer” and how do you know if they’re satisfied?

Way back in the day, when I was employed full time as a pastor, I often said that there was an incredibly fine line between marketing and ministry.

As youth guys we toed that line all the time…creating events that would have mass appeal to a teen target market in order to get them to attend:

  • All night scavenger hunts
  • Beach trips
  • Ice Cream Wars
  • Sanctuary baseball
  • Terminator laser tag
  • Disneyland trips

…just to name a few. We did all in the name of ministry and growth.

Having spend much of the last couple decades in marketing and watching the church from this side I’m afraid I can’t tell where the line is any longer.

It seems to me we’ve moved from trying to differentiate the church from the world into trying to differentiate one denomination from another, one local body from another, one style from another and of course the easiest way to differentiate is to show why “yours” is better than “theirs”.

Funny thing is that on top of that you hear a LOT of complaints about a consumer mentality that has “crept into” the church.

By way of contrast consider this little biblical nugget:

Acts 5: 12-16 (The Message)

Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter’s shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.

Seems like the objective of growth was accomplished without marketing.

Now I’m not saying we ought not be creative. I’m not saying we ought not create programs that appeal to our community. I just wonder what happened to the line.

How do you think marketing and ministry ought to play together? What does “customer loyalty” look like in the church?

 

Church Movements, Evangelism, and ol’ Jacques

In the center of town around High Street and Main
five churches were started in 2010.
Two bought out old chapels, one met in a bar
one met at the Bijou and one in the park.

Each sought for a word to distinguish their flock
from the other four gatherings there on the block.
Community, Village and Friendly all worked
some called it a Meeting, still others a Kirk.

But when names weren’t enough to set each one apart
each sought to distinguish the core or the heart
of their groups unique style of spiritual improvement
by coining a term to inspire a movement.

One said, “We’re Emergent and by that we mean
something new coming out from the old Christian scene.”
Another said, “Close but that’s not quite the thing
instead of emergent we are Emerging

One tied to their heritage lit on Resurgent.
While the ones on the narrow path, they chose Divergent.
The fifth and last church sadly took a long time
Before choosing “Mosturgent” because they liked the rhyme.

Well one fine summer morning ol’ Jacques came to town
to check on the doings and have a look ‘round.
He saw all the churches ensconced at the center
and tried to determine which one he should enter.

Each one’s vinyl banner puffed up by the breeze
declared why their own was far better than these.
The MOSTurgent, Emergent, Resurgent all cried
Divergent, Emerging said, “Please, come inside”

‘Ol Jacques chuckled because he had heard each ones claims
as he took the first letter from each of their names
saying, “I’ve listened to all of you now and I’ve heard
your irregular movements combined into MERDE.”

So ol’ Jacques left the town satisfied in his search
Having never once darkened the door of a church
For he thought, “Now if that is the best they can offer to me
then perhaps I’ll just watch politics on t.v.”

Fin

No hard feeling towards any particular movement, just the competitive nature they’ve all seem to have taken on. What does it say about being “in but not of” and “striving for unity”?

5 Ways the American Church is like a High School Kid

Turn on any “coming of age” film or nighttime drama targeted at teens and you’ll see all the stereotypical high school cliques we’ve come to know and, well, maybe not LOVE but at least recognize:

  • The popular kids
  • Jocks and cheerleaders
  • Stoners
  • Band geeks
  • Wannabees
  • Gamers
  • Nerds

The themes are consistent over time too. The struggle for popularity, peer pressure, sexual and chemical experimentation, you know the drill. For some high school was/is “the time of their life” for some it is recollected with a shudder typically only reserved for the darkest of nightmares.

What has started to become more and more apparent to me lately though is just how much the church in America is starting to resemble high school. Now, to be clear, when I say “the church in America” what I mean is the closer to mainstream evangelical slice, and even THAT is hard to define or defend, but I think you get the picture.

I’ll offer up as evidence 5 ways in which I think this slice of the church is starting to look, feel, and smell and LOT like high school.

Fitting in

High school kids want desperately to fit in. Wearing the right things, saying the right things, hanging with the right people are all a part of the equation measured against the most popular kids.

It’s sadly comical how hard the church is trying to “fit in” these days with the popular kids. I’ve seen media centric church web sites that are cutting edge snazzy but say nothing about what the church believes or even how to contact them outside of email or text. They look COOL but feel hollow.

Defensive comparison

The constant evaluation against the popular kid standard results in defensive comparisons. “I’m not like her, I’m my own person” or “That guy tries too hard to be like the popular kids. I’d never do that”

It seems like 90% of the “church advertising” I’ve run across lately is based on defensive comparison, “We’re not like those other churches that make you feel guilty, we’re caring, authentic, accepting, etc. etc. etc. “

Shock value

The rise in social media now allows kids to “hide” behind the shield of the internet and say or do things they would never do first in real life.  You see kids who seem to have one personality in real life and a radically more aggressive, shocking one online.

In trying to fit in with a media saturated-what’s the latest sensation-what’s broken through the malaise-culture churches are trying more and more outlandish tactics to be noticed. I read today of a church in Pennsylvania that kidnapped youth group kids at gun point (not loaded) staging what looked like a real life abduction to dramatize what life is like in countries where Christians are persecuted.

Lack of confidence

Oh there are the cocky kids to be sure. Even most of them are hiding a lack of confidence behind the bravado. That lack of confidence breeds defensiveness in conversation.

Do I need to say anything here? Yes, I believe the church in the US is under attack. Yes, I believe that we need to be ready to defend our faith but no; I do not think we need to go about that defensively.

It’s funny how attractive the right level of confidence can be. And if we truly believe we “win” in the end why be defensive?

Rejection of parental norms

This is a given in high school yeah? Though most people will say the kids wake up and come back in their lat twenties.

How many examples of this do I really need to provide in the church?

  • “Expository preaching is dead”
  • “It’s about experience more than learning”
  • “None of those boring hymns”

Sad really that there isn’t a parental role over the church in America, someone who could offer up some wisdom and much needed discipline.

What does that say about the notion of being “one body”?

Am I wrong here? Is it ok that the church is going through it’s teen phase? Or am I just missing the point entirely?

4 Strategies for Surviving a Full Frontal Assault on Christianity

Sorry for the long title, just tired I guess.

Let’s make no mistake about it any longer there is a full frontal assault on Christianity in our country. It’s direct and it’s subtle, it’s overt and it’s clandestine, it’s emotional and intellectual and clever and base all at once. And, if we were watching the evening news trying to keep score, you’d have to conclude the Christians are losing ground. Yes, we are. No, you can’t convince me otherwise.

Ok, so what do we do about it?

Allow me to suggest four strategies that I believe will not only help you survive the onslaught, assuming of course that you’re a Christian, but also help to, in the end, win the war.

Strategy #1: Shut up
I know, it’s an odd start, but remember this ultimately isn’t a battle against flesh and blood. We either throw cliche’ re-quotes of religious slogans that were fresh in the 40’s and 50’s as Facebook stati or throw ‘those people’ under the bus because ‘our version of church’ is ‘fresh and different’. Thus strategy one, shut up.

If we bash each other it makes it easier for others to bash us. Most non-Christians will tell you  they “don’t want to hear it”, as was evident in the midst of the Tebow phenomena. Ok, let’s oblige them and NOT preach to them.

When someone talks incessantly no one wonders what they’re up to. When someone is quietly and effectively about their business it makes people wonder what they’re thinking…and eventually those people start asking questions…

Strategy #2: Live it
I think we passed through a period where it was important of Christians to be socially relevant. I’m starting to think that time has past. Daniel and his buddies are the classic example. If you’ve forgotten the story read it again. Overt social disobedience coupled with respect, a very interesting approach.

This strategy is easy to dismiss because it sound so familiar but I think in our context today living it means:

  • Caring for those in need in your immediate surroundings without hope of recompense
  • Taking a stand, not vocally but economically, against mind poisoning media
  • Finding joy in a relationship with Christ that shows in your face no matter what the circumstances
  • Being often enough in the word and in prayer that we’re confident in what we believe

Strategy #3: Choose Wisely
My wife Libby and I had a chat this afternoon en-route to IKEA about this very topic. It struck me that Jesus typically only “preached” in a couple settings:

  • The synagogue
  • With the Disciples
  • In small group settings where people came to hear him
  • In large group settings where people sought him out to hear him

I doubt he would have been tweeting the beatitudes or “rendering unto Caesar” as a Facebook status. Oh He was ready to tell it when the opportunity arose but I can’t find instances where he went out and created public opportunity. It seems to me He more often tended to pick and choose when, where, and with whom.

“But wait”, you might say, “He commanded us to go and make disciples.” Yep, He did. And how did HE go and make disciples? He chose wisely.

Strategy #4: Pray
…for opportunity to exercise the other three strategies.

I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to go to my daughter’s middle school and teach improv skills to a couple of drama classes.  One of the concepts you always teach in that kind of setting is “show me, don’t tell me”. Don’t say “I’m sad” show me sadness in your face, don’t say “I’m hungry” show me hunger in your actions. It’s the same thing here.

In the face of full frontal assault it’s time to stop telling and step up the showing.

Which of these strategies do you find the most difficult to master? Why do you think that is the case?

Will You Know, Will You Care: Four Belief Systems

There has been this random thought bubbling around in my head lately. I suppose it is an outgrowth of getting older, or something.

That random thought went with me to the movies yesterday. We went to see the movie The Grey. I won’t spoil it for you in case you haven’t seen it yet but neither will I recommend going to see it. NOT a feel good film. It does, however, touch on themes of eternity and ultimate destination which brings me back to the original random thought.

Now, there may be more than the four categories I list below and if you know of one then feel free to add it but, the question is: After you die, will you know and will you care?

1. If there is NO god – (ex: atheism)
No one will know, we’ll all die and be dust, so no one will care

2. If there is reincarnation –  (ex: Hinduism)
There we’re in the midst of it now and it seems only a select few know and most folks don’t care

3. If we join a higher consciousness – (ex: Buddhism)
We may or may not know but we won’t care

4. If there IS a God – (ex: Judaism, Islam, Christianity)
Everyone will know and everyone will care

You may well argue that YOU won’t care either way but that’s not the point. The point is that by the tenants of the system listed you WILL (or will not, based on the system) care which make sense because each of these represent an eternal eschatology that is bigger than you.

Told you it was a random thought. But one worth exploring.

If you have a fifth or sixth option how will we fair on the know and care scale?

Three questions you should ask yourself about truth

For those of you just joining us this is the second in a series of posts regarding truth. The first can be found here and comments on the notion that truth is intolerant, is the basis for rational discussion and is worth seeking. This whole topic of truth and the nature of what is true is still causing an itch on the underside of my skull.

A number of years ago I was employed as an EKG technician working with heart transplant patients at Stanford University Hospital. As a part of my job function I obviously had access to the medical records system. Realize that this was lonnnng before we all had to start signing confidentiality agreements just to put on bandaids. Nothing too unusual is all this except that the cool part for me was that I had been born at Stanford Hospital. This meant that I could actually look up my OWN medical records. Which I obviously did…and got quite a surprise.

You see, I had believed for twenty some odd years that my birthday was July 13. I had been told that by my parents, seen it on a printed birth certificate, established it on my drivers license and celebrated numerous yearly passing’s annually on that day. The trouble was my medical records said I was born on an entirely different day!

Clearly the first thing to do was the be certain these records were really mine. Yup, if there were another Curtis Owen Fletcher born in July of that year to a mother named Phyllis and a father named Lee with a middle name Burdette that would have been WAYYY too big a coincidence. I confess I was really puzzled, almost stunned, for several minutes. What was the deal? Why had I been given false info about my birth date?

To make a long story short, in digging through the rest of my file it was eventually easy to determine that someone had fat fingered the date on one entry. I don’t remember now if it was the 23rd or the 14th but it became apparent it was a clerical error which I was able to soon remedy. The experience did, however, cause me to take pause for a moment.

So before we jump to the three questions let me ask YOU this:

What do you believe is absolutely true?
This doesn’t count as one of the three questions, this just sets you up. I believed it was absolutely true that I had been born on July 13. Once you have in mind the thing or those things you hold to be absolutely true I believe there are three question we need to ask ourselves about those things we hold to be absolutely true.

1. Why do I believe this to be true?
I believed primarily because my parents, whom I loved and trusted, had told me it was true. Interestingly they had also told me at one point that Santa Clause existed but that is another story.

We need to know WHY we believe something is true is we are going to be able to have sincere dialogue in searching after deeper truths with other human beings.

2. What are the implications of me believing this to be true?
The implications for me were pretty extensive. Every piece of ID I had ever had confirmed a July 13 birth date. I made a difference in when I could start playing baseball in the summer because you played little league based on birth date. It in part determined what grade I was in based on when I had started school.

If there are no implications to those things you hold to be absolutely true go back to the preamble question and pick something a little more significant. If the thing you picked WAS significant and there are no implications to that truth than you either don’t actually believe it is true OR you don’t believe that its been true really matters. Which leads to the third question…

3. What are the implications if this turns out to be false?
If the implications of my birthday being July 13 were big the implications of that turning out to be false were HUGE. It meant my parents were either pathological liars or really dim when it came to remembering dates.

The fact that the implications of my July 13 belief being false were so staggering drove me to discover the truth of the matter. If there were no implications then I probably would have laughed and closed the file.

Examples of the types of things that we might hold to be true that are worth this investigation are statements like:

  • I’m a decent person
  • I’m performing well at work
  • I treat my spouse with respect
  • I believe the Bible to be true
  • I believe there is no God

Many times we make these statements without really examining why we believe them or whether that belief really holds any ramifications for how we live. To often people claim to believe something is true when their lives don’t reflect that truth. Hopefully, with the application of a few simple questions, we can all avoid becoming a person of that ilk.

What do you hold to be true?  Given that how do you answer the three questions?

 

 

Christmas in Three Acts – Act 3: Herod

The third of three Christmas season monologues. This one once again uses the on stage screen to display the lines of a second character thus putting the audience members in the place of that character.

For Herod I used an accent similar to something generically middle eastern. Pick almost any local character from any film about the crusades.

Feel free to use any of these monologues as you have need! Merry Christmas.

<Graphic on screen:” Your Highness?”>

<reading from an imaginary scroll, holding up a hand> A moment…<putting down the scroll> Yes Shimri, what news of the easterners?

<Graphic on screen: ” Forgive me your highness but…they have left the kingdom”>

 <frowning> My instructions were clear were they not? Did I not tell them to find this child and report back to me? Were they not shown the courtesy of MY palace coming begging at my door looking for this ….how did they put it…he who was to be born king of the Jews? They defy me in my own kingdom, seeking their would be usurper?

<growing angry> King of the jews?!?! I am Herod…THE GREAT.

<losing it> I am king of the Jews!!!!!

<pacing, growing slowly cold and calculating>

 <Graphic on screen: “Yes, my king.”>

They claim to have seen signs these…astrologers…and yet my own wise-men do not deny that it may be so. Whether or not it is true there will be others who will follow after these three, others who share their …belief. And then what will happen? If they were to somehow manage to bring their belief to bare fruit, where would we be then? Unrest? Rebellion? Death? And where would that lead, an upstart king who has no knowledge of the delicate balance we must maintain with Rome. No, no…not that. I must protect my people. I must protect my throne…MY throne.

<paces a moment more then pauses as though struck by an idea>

 Shimri, you are a scribe and I see you carry your scrolls with you today. Good, good…read to me the passage concerning Pharaoh and the Hebrew mid-wives, I believe you know the one.

<Graphic on screen:The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.” >

<listening, then holding up a hand>

 You see Shimri we shall not make the same mistake. If this usurper is to be a king, then it stands to reason it is a male child. But we shall entrust this duty to soldiers, not to simple midwives. As it is written…so shall it be done.

<Curtain>

Herod’s perspective on the birth of Jesus was obviously self centered and self serving, something we can all to easily fall into ourselves. Picking him as the third of the three characters was the choice of the pastor doing the teaching but it made for an interesting change in perspective from the traditional conversations about the nativity.

How might looking at Christmas through someone else’s point of view help you clarify your own?