Tag 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?

 

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?

Take this Simple Integrity Test

I was speaking to a room full of about 175 Jr Hi kids, this was before the term “middle school” became vogue, and the question I posed was, “What would it be like for you to tell nothing but the truth for the next 48 hours?”

That meant no subtle twisting of the facts, no avoiding the question, no little white lies and no “I was just kidding”‘s. Interestingly only about half the kids were willing to take on that challenge.

I was closing the meeting in prayer and asking that God put each kid who was taking on the challenge in at least one situation where it might be uncomfortable for them to tell the truth. Just as I was getting to the “amen” someone, somewhere near the front, let one go. It wasn’t a huge rip but it was loud enough, and the room was quiet enough that everyone heard it. (For those still unsure as to what I meant the kid passed gas, queefed, had flatus, farted, etc.)

With the ‘n’ of the amen still resounding in the room, eyes starting to look up , and snickers being  painfully if ineffectively repressed throughout the crowd I simply said, “Ok, I hate to ask but, who did it?”

One little seventh grade guy, about three rows back, eyes wide in terror, slowly dropped his head and raised his hand. The room exploded in a mixture of interesting laughter.

Some of it was just what you’d expect from a Jr Hi audience, that mocking tone delivered at another person’s demise. But some of it was a sort of relieved laughter. They’d seen someone take on the challenge and their laughter was part relief that it wasn’t them and part pity on the kid in the spotlight. But some of it, to these kids credit, was actually congratulatory laughter. They had seen their friend in the worst possible timing come through with flying colors!

Integrity is, in one sense, adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character, or honesty. But in another sense of the word it is simply wholeness. Allow me to suggest that in terms of how we live integrity can be said to be the level to which our actions are consistent with what we say we believe…wholeness.

You may not hold to the same set of moral standards that I do but if you live out what you claim to be your moral standard to the same degree that I live out mine we are equals in terms of integrity.

So here’s the little test, you’ll need to write these down:

1. Without thinking too deeply about it, first things that come to mind, make a list of the 5-10 things you hold as your most important beliefs or values. Go.

2. Without thinking too deeply about it list 10 people you are around on a consistent basis. Only 3 can be intimate friends or family.

3. Now next to each name write the number of items you think that person would guess correctly from your first list.

Done sincerely it’s an interesting exercise. Did you list “spending time with family” as important? Would your colleagues at work have picked that? Did you list honesty? Would your kid guess that after watching you do your taxes?

If you want to take this to the extreme create a multiple choice list that includes twice the number of items you picked in part one and hand that out to the people listed in part two and see how you fare.

There is a crowd watching. Some want to laugh at you, some want to laugh for you, and some want to laugh in celebration of you. The more consistently we live the larger the third group grows.

Did you take the test? How do you think you scored?

Three Steps to Spiritual Hydration

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you drink and drink and drink but can’t seem to slake your thirst? Typically you wake up and find out you were REALLY thirsty in real life and THAT is why you couldn’t fix it in your dream.
I think I woke up a bit this morning. I realized that in real life I am spiritually thirsty.  Perhaps it was the fact that the message was spot on this morning at church. Perhaps its because the last three or four weeks have been jam packed with stress on just about very level.  Whatever the cause the experience of “waking up thirsty” reminded me of a few things this morning:
  • Spiritual thirst sneaks up on you. You typically don’t even know you’re thirsty until refreshment catches you by surprise. The truth is we typically wind up spiritually dehydrated before we even knew we needed a drink.
  • Spiritual thirst affects our vision. It becomes the lens through which we view life. We didn’t put the glasses on but our vision is shaded all the same.
  • Spiritual thirst affects all of our relationships. Because it shades what we see it shades how we think, act, and feel and THAT rubs off on the people around us.
So how do you beat something that insidious? If I don’t even know I am thirsty how can I ever expect to drink enough to satisfy it? Allow me to suggest three steps to spiritual hydration.
Step One: Guzzle, don’t sip.
What is it that wakes up your soul? Is it a particular piece of music? A picture, a place, or spending time with a particular person perhaps?  As we come into the heart of the Christmas season there will be stressors and time demands enough to distract even the most spiritually diligent of us. So go to your favorite passage of scripture, your favorite carol, or your favorite Christmas tradition. Seek it out and take the time to relish it, to drink deeply of it.
Remember, the trouble with spiritual thirst is that we don’t know we’re thirsty until we get a drink. But that single drink that identifies thirst isn’t enough to quench it so when you take that first drink be prepared to drink deeply and repeatedly.
Step Two:  Look beyond the cup. 
That thing that you identified in step one is really the cup from which you’ll start to drink your spiritual refreshment. As with real thirst it isn’t the cup that satisfies, it is the contents.  So in the spiritual sense you need to ask yourself what is it that the cup is pointing me towards? What is it that my soul is thirsting after?
Step Three: Identify the cause.
Most of us would probably be surprised at just how close we are to physical dehydration. That’s because we drink beverages that don’t truly hydrate: coffee, soft drinks, beer, wine…good drink that may even temporarily satisfy thirst but don’t hydrate.
The only way to truly spiritually rehydrate is to discover what it is that is making us thirsty. What are we drinking in that leads us to think we’re satisfied?
Find a minute this week to take a spiritual drink for it is only by drinking that we discover we’re thirsty. Drink deeply and attend to that for which your soul thirsts. Pause just long enough to discover what it is that is contributing to your thirst…then go back to the top and drink again, and again.
What are the cups that hold spiritual refreshment for you? What is it that your soul thirsts after?

Observations on the Church and Discipleship

The five observations that follow have been born out of ten plus years of discussions about the church. These are some of the key thoughts that have formed the foundations for a new way of thinking about discipleship:

1. The church no longer enjoys its former position of societal influence “at the head of main street”. Rather than trying to recapture that position as the place where the community comes to gather together the church must learn what it is to identify and move outward into the cultural and societal centers that have taken center stage.

2. As the church in the west continues to pray for “revival” it gathers together in an upper room and waits on the Lord. Is it not possible that the Lord wants to visit revival on the church even more passionately than the church wants it but that He is waiting for his people to go outside? I believe that the next revival will be one that moves the church out into the world rather than moving the world into the church building.

3. The church in the west has forgotten, if it ever truly knew, what discipleship is all about. It has taken the biblical command to “go and make disciples” and added the phrase “of Jesus”. This works well enough in a community where people are naturally drawn to “attend church.” I believe the verse really means that each of us should progress in our relationship with the Lord to the point where we serve as the equivalent to a Jewish Rabbi….and have disciples. (The disciples of Curtis or Scott or Anne). This calls us to a much higher responsibility in terms of our own relationship with Christ AND calls each of us to move outward. (Jesus found some of His disciples at the beach!) Discipleship today in most cases is nothing more than the process of taking someone who has prayed the sinners prayer and enrolling them in an intensive bible study that lasts somewhere between 12 weeks and a year.

4. The result of the church having taken this approach is that we have several generations of people who should be making disciples who have never themselves been mentored in that way. This in turn means that if we are to turn the tide there will be at least one to three generations of people who will be mentoring without any personal experience to draw from. Of course…this means we need to look even more closely at Jesus process of disciple making.

5. More than anything discipleship is about relationship. Using Jesus example as a model the process begins BEFORE “conversion”. That means that each of us is already in relationship with people we should be “discipling”, whether they are post-conversion, pre-conversion, or formerly converted.

Please feel free to poke holes in any of these observations. The conversation is well worth it. But even as you do so consider these questions:

Is the idea of “pre-conversion discipleship” too radical a departure from traditions you’ve been raised in to examine the possibilities?

If there are folks in your daily circle of relationships that you can identify as potential disciples what would keep you from pursuing that type of relationship?