Posts Tagged ‘church’

I was at some denominational meetings in March, and throughout them I felt a discomfort. It wasn’t just the fault of church chairs or the brown colored water we usually pass off as coffee. There was something about out conversations about ministry together that left me feeling unsettled. I wasn’t until a few weeks later that things came together in my mind and heart around what made me feel as I did. These thoughts on ministry and the church were birthed from those rumblings.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Be missional,” he told him, and Matthew got up and developed a missional ecclesiology.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be relevant must deny themselves and take up their cross and start an intergenerational ministry.”

Ever since the church first sensed an inkling about 50 years ago that it may be on the outs with greater society, it has done everything that it can to try to re-introduce itself to the West. We have seen – and maybe been a part of – movements like fundamentalism, born again, Jesus freaks, big tent evangelism, What Would Jesus Do, friendship evangelism, emergence, missional movements, and a constant grasping for relevance. The most recent name tag for our lost identity seems to be intergenerational ministry. If we can just get the kids to talk to grown-ups, maybe even their parents, then the problems we sense with the shallow and innocuous faith evident in our churches will certainly be rectified so we can get on with the business of introducing people to Jesus. More than likely though, it’s likely just another bout with amnesia that has us struggling to know ourselves and experiencing crisis over forgetting the name of our beloved. If this name tag doesn’t stick though, it won’t be long before the next travelling book tour makes its way through the Christian publishing marketplace to rename our problem.

At the root of our problems is a lack of a path to real, deep, and transmittable spiritual growth. Even if we examine ourselves deeply enough to realize a lack of discipleship is the root cause of our trouble, how many of us or our churches could really explain what discipleship looks like? Church history has many examples of roads to growth that the early followers of Jesus encouraged new followers to traverse in order to grow in their faith and grow into functional members of the church. Unfortunately, our evangelical anabaptist heritage has left us almost devoid of roads to go down. We are surrounded with biographies, we are over-run with programs for kids, tweens, youth, young adults, seniors, offer small group experiences and Sunday school classes. Often though, these programs lead to the aging out of their members. Until we can define what a disciple is, how one is made, and what growth looks like, we’re likely to continue churning out Christians without a Christ-like identity.

Until we can look ourselves and our issues in the face and realize it’s Jesus we’re looking for we’re going to keep on nervously fumbling with the spiritual change in our pockets trying to look like we know what we’re doing. Discipleship is the lifelong process of coming to know Jesus and then to continually be formed more closely into his image as we humble ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Discipleship can start at any age, so we need plans and processes that can incorporate people into the life of Christ and his church however they may come. A forty year old single father with no church background who decides to follow Jesus won’t have the history of Sunday School to fall back on in conversation. Where does he begin? The high school kid who called Jesus Lord at age four and is now reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics doesn’t likely need an evening explaining how Jesus loves him and forgives all his sin. Where does he fit? People are more complex than our programs.

What we need are not age driven programs, but growth plans based on spiritual maturity giving people starting points and stepping stones to work from as they come to the church seeking to know Jesus and follow him faithfully. It’s going to take actually getting to know people, and letting them into our lives to let them know us. Until then we likely will just keep putting new name tags for Jebus on church ministries instead of introducing people to the life changing person of Jesus.

This past weekend much of the world’s chatter online and around town was about the Academy Awards and the seeming insanity of one Mr. Charlie Sheen as he seemed to appear on every major – and minor – media outlet in the world to spout nonsense and just generally get noticed again.  As I am a pretty regular talk radio listener I could not help but hear a fair bit of the discussion surrounding both those events and everyone’s uneducated opinions on both matters.  The major topic of discussion that interested me though over the past few days has nothing to do with either of these things, but has held interest and created discussion in Christian theological circles on a similar level: the as of yet unreleased new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell.  Rob Bell may not be adding Twitter followers at the rate of 500 per minute like @charliesheen is, but he certainly has pumped up discussion – and likely sales – for his upcoming work.

A lot of the opinion and tirades started here, then were rebutted here, and then finally found some balanced opinion and sanity here.  Just as quick reminder – this book has not even been released yet.  No matter where you wind up on the issue of the destination of people when they die – and there is a fair bit of leeway on that will let you be considered orthodox regardless of what some might say – I think the biggest story coming out of this issue is not even the issue itself but how it seems to be handled more and more often within the church and society as a whole.  People are quick to jump to quick and brutal opinions which they wield like a blunt object without ever feeling the need to fully explore a situation or contemplate the facts and what the best course of action is.

What ever happened to thoughtful meditation and consideration over a shock and awe approach to Christian discourse?  Digital media certainly enables a lot of great things to create and continue discourse among otherwise disconnected people, but I think this kind of infighting shows the dark side of what it can do and unfortunately emphasizes the things wrong with the church instead of what it can be when it is great.  I do not write this to express an opinion on the matter yet, I have not yet read the at this point still unreadable book, but I do right it as a call to grace and charity when any discussion of the things of God is to take place – especially if it is in regards to a topic held dear.

John 13:34-35 – 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens

Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens by Neil Cole

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I loved this book. Cole’s ideas about the church being an organic living entity rather than a mechanical machine really ring true. His ideas about the simplicity of sharing one’s faith and “doing church” really resonated with me and honestly, really make me want to leave the institutional church and live the Christian life in a smaller, organic church much the way he explains. This is where my real problem comes in though: how do I as a career pastor of an institutional church do this? How can I be a part of a small organic church and still support my family? I really feel my heart drawn to this, but the realities of life seem to make it impossible at the time. I really think this is the future of the church as I’ve said before, but I don’t know what to do in the awkward in between transition time. So in that this book was spectacular in giving me a vision for the future and what to be working towards, but frustrating in the sense that I don’t really know how to get there from where I am. I’m changing what I can to be more “organic” with the youth ministry that I can control, but unfortunately I can only change what I can change.

View all my reviews.

as_i_lay_dying_-_frail_words_collapseIt’s been said that children are the future, but what at what point does the future have to finally become the present?  This past Sunday night Swift Current held it’s annual ecumenical prayer service, and this year it just happened to be held at our church.  It’s supposed to be a time when people from all the different churches and denominations can gather together to pray and build unity within the body of Christ.  We had eleven pastors or lay leaders from different churches help in leading the service, and I would guess about one hundred people in attendance.  If I left it at that it might sound encouraging, unfortunately for me it was really deflating because I know the true story these numbers reflect.

Eleven pastors or lay leaders from different churches sounds good until you realize we have thirty-one churches here in Swiftyvillerton.  Only a third of the churches in our community were represented in a unity building service.  One hundred people in attendance sounds good until you do the math and see that means there were only about nine people from each church who’s pastor was there, and I know that a good chunk of those people were from our congregation because it was held in our building.  One hundred people in attendance sounds good until you realize that I was easily the youngest person there by twenty-five to thirty years at the age of twenty-eight.  We were missing an entire two or three generations of people in a city wide service intended to express and build unity within our churches.

Growing up I often had conversations and heard conversations about how much better the church will be when us young people were in charge and we could run the church the way we want (music, services, boards, ministries, etc.).  The seniors were often blamed for holding back progress and wrecking the church for the young people: “the future”.  Where is this glorious, burgeoning, generation now that was going to fix everything wrong with the church?  Where is this group of young people that are supposed to have a real understanding of living their faith, that believes in prayer, that is open minded and tolerant of other people with different beliefs than their own, that is going to take the world by storm and see the Kingdom of God built in their midst?  On their couches at home watching the season premiere of “The L-word” waiting for Obama to be inaugurated so they can finally have a president that represents them and will fix things that “the old generation wrecked”?  Enough talk and blame already.  It’s about time that “the future” finally grows up and becomes “the present”.  Not to oust anyone, but to show they aren’t completely useless to the church or the world they live in.  Enough complaining about the only generation that keeps the current church afloat.  The church isn’t perfect by any means, but if the young people that think it’s broken or damaged don’t do something to actually be involved and try to fix it their problem will be solved soon enough without them because the church won’t be around to complain about anymore.

I guess making an allusion like this may show my age a bit, but old men like me are allowed to wax poetic about the good old days once in a while; after all I did turn 28 today.  Don’t you all wish that you had a place like Cheers to go to?  Even if you’re not a drinker, I think the idea that there’s a place where you could go “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.  You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same.  You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.”  It was this wonderful place where people from different walks of life all came together laughing and crying while sharing their lives with eachother.  I think we all have a desire for this kind of community – something beyond ourselves – but finding it is a totally different matter.  I think ideally the church is supposed to be this for people, but I don’t think it often is or at least it hasn’t been in my experience.

A couple decades back I think churches started to realize this too.  Once you get a couple hundred people together at a time you might have a shared activity but it’s not a substitute for shared lives.  With that many people it’s nearly impossible to make many meaningful connections as people generally keep within their own social circles in large groups; it’s a sociological thing.  So the care group/cell group movement started and it worked out well for some people.  Having a small group of a dozen other people to meet, pray, share, and study with gave them the kind of connection and community they were looking for.  What about those of us who care groups don’t work for though?  They’re great for some people, but any time I’ve tried to just make myself fit into a group like that it feels very forced and contrived.  They aren’t people that I know or maybe even have anything in common with but I am instantly expected to be share my deepest thoughts and feelings with them in a bi-weekly meeting.  It’s even more awkward as a pastor because everyone else instantly wants to defer to you and rarely shares difficult around you lest the pastor know they aren’t perfect.  I know I’m not alone in this feeling, as a lot of people – guys especially – don’t look forward to coming to these get togethers even though they need some kind of community to be a part of.

I’ve had that kind of community before when I was in college.  I lived in a dorm with 36 other guys for four years and loved pretty much every moment of it.  It was great to have friends within shouting distance at all times; people you knew honestly cared about you as you did them.  I was never close friends with more than a dozen of them but in a tough time you knew that every guy in that dorm would be there for you.  This isn’t just me being nostalgic again as I have a habit of doing.  This is me coming to the realization that I need a community of real people to be a part of but not knowing where to find it.  People in the church I’m at look at me and treat me differently because I’m a pastor so that doesn’t work very well.  I can’t go to the bars to try to find my own “Cheers” because it would likely leave me without a job as churches frown upon pastors that hang out in bars (I what Jesus thinks of that . . . but that’s another post altogether).  So I’m stuck in the hard place of knowing my need and not knowing anywhere to find a solution.  Facebook, phone calls, blogs, and online gaming are great, but they are no substitute for real face to face community.  So I guess until I find it or someone finds it for me, I’ll just keep trying to help other people find it themselves.

I’m Trippin’

Posted: October 19, 2007 in church
Tags: , , ,

roadtrip.jpgForgive me for the pathetic late 90’s slang, but I thought it would at least get your attention.  I’m going to be heading out on a youth retreat this weekend to West Bank Bible Camp with the kids from our youth group.  It’s going to be a fairly intense spiritual retreat with a focus on social justice; helping the poor and oppressed amongst us and abroad.  The curriculum we are going through is called “The Justice Mission“.  It should be a fun time for the kids to get closer to God and learn his heart for the poor and oppressed.  It is also going to be an exhausting weekend for me as I speak 5 times in 36 hours, lead music, lead games, and try to sleep and eat somewhere too.  So sorry if I don’t reply to your comments for the next couple days, but I’ll be back on sunday.

beat-the-clock.jpgThose of you have known me for a while now know that I love listening to news talk radio.  When I still lived in Regina I was a regular listener and caller to news talk 980.  One of my most noteworthy calls was into Dave Arnold’s morning show to play the “Beat the Clock” game.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it essentially involves a non-existant “clock” counting up dollar amounts from $0 up to $1000.  You can yell stop at any point and keep whatever the last stated dollar amount was, or you can let the clock keep counting up, but if you get too greedy the buzzer may go off and then you get nothing.  When I played I yelled stop at $380.  Then Dave gave me the uprecedented option of carrying on with a guarantee of half that money ($180) even if the buzzer went off.  I decided to give it a go, and was propmtly greeted by a loud buzzer within two seconds of the clock starting again.  Fortunately Dave felt sorry for my plight as a masters student trying to pay off my tuition and graciously offered me the full $38o when I came to the station to pick it up.

You may be wondering where exactly I’m trying to go with this right now.  I could just leave this story as it is, and have a moderately interesting anecdote to add to my blog, but fortunately this story actually relates to a conversation I had today.  It kind of came up out of the blue during coffee break this morning as myself, the secretary Ruth, the senior pastor Cliff, and the custodian Joyce, chatted shortly after the rep from Mennonite Bretheren Biblical Seminary dropped off some pamphlets at the church and hit the road.  The conversation turned towards the church and leadership development.  It wasn’t the eye-rolling, yawn inducing conversation you might have expected though.  I explained how in reality, there was very little incentive for any right thinking person to get into pastoral ministry.  This came as somewhat of a surprise to Ruth and Joyce, and Cliff grinned slyly in the corner seemingly with some kind of understanding of the skeleton’s I was about to unearth from the church’s closet.

I explained that there are very few reasons that an intelligent, hard working, young person would want to enter into pastoral ministry.  The pay is low.  The tuition is often close to twice as high for a bible college degree as compared to a similar four year BA at a university (tuition has doubled in the last 4-8 yrs to over $800/class in many cases).  As soon as people learn you are a pastor their guard goes up and it becomes difficult to make real relationships with people.  It is quite often a job that involves constant conflict as members of the church claim ownership over the church, and thus its staff as well.  I don’t think you could likely find a Christian that hasn’t been aware of an ugly situation involving a pastor in their church at some point.  All in all there are a lot of deterents to being a pastor and many of the benefits aren’t realized this side of heaven.  There may be the occasional “good message” on Sunday after church or Hallmark thank-you card found in your church mailbox, but all in all there aren’t a lot of earthly perks to the job.  All in all, no right thinking person, apart from divine revelation and intervention, would choose to be a pastor.

This is where the part about “beat the clock” comes in.  I also voiced my opinion that the way the church and our culture is going, the biggest deterrent to becoming a full time pastor is that it may not be a viable career choice in as little as 10-20 years.  As it is, many churches have difficulties keeping the finances balanced and as the older, more afluent, generation passes away the finances will likely only get tigher.  Even in our church, which is fairly well off, we have to have the treasurer give the “money talk” a few times a year when giving slows down.  I know of at least a couple churches in town here that are talking about having to let staff go because they just can not afford to keep them on any longer, and this is at wages that most college/university grads would scoff at.  I think the era of the full time career pastor is drawing to an end.  Not only is it fiscally difficult to keep viable, but even the model of the church itself is moving more towards a lay-led ministry rather than a pastor centered ministry; a move which I applaud.  The church was never meant to be dependant on one or two people to make it run, the church is supposed to be a co-operative endeavour.  That why the author of Hebrews called us a nation of priests.  We are all supposed to be doing the ministry, not just paying a few people to do it all for us.  There will always be a need for leadership in the church, but I’m not so sure that the model of the paid full-time pastor is going to be the long term model.  The church survived for around 1900 years before we adopted this model, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that this model won’t last forever.

All that being said, I do feel a little somedays like I’m playing “beat the clock” with my career.  Now before you get all huffy, yes, I realize that being a pastor isn’t “just a career”.  It’s a ministry.  It’s a full time calling to leadership within the church, but we have to be really delusional not to admit that it is a career for pastors to.  So in my case, being only in my late twenties, I have to look forward to what I’m going to do with the rest of my life to support myself and my family.  Can I really expect to be able to work as a full-time paid pastor for another forty years until I retire?  Will it really even be an option twenty years from now?  The way the church is moving right now, I’m not so sure of it.  As a Christian, that doesn’t bother me, in fact I think that’s exciting that the members of the Church are starting to feel empowered in that way.  As a pastor, it makes me start to think about whether I should be yelling “STOP!” and getting out of the paid pastor scene before I get too old to retrain myself to do something else.  I don’t want to be the one that waits until I’m hearing numbers in the $900 range on the clock but then getting buzzed out and receiving nothing because I held on too long.  I’m not going to yell “STOP!” yet, but I am at the very least trying to stay aware of the world around me so I don’t get buzzed out.