Categotry Archives: church

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What Makes It "Church"? A Followup Question…

36 comments

Categories: church, Things that make our brains hurt

Thanks to all of you who put in your two cents’ to the question on my previous post, about what specifically makes church “church” for you. (Let’s see…I think that currently adds up to 14 cents.)

That converstation has prompted me to ask a followup question:

Several of you made references to the church involving the gathering of believers. Where does this idea come from? Not to say we shouldn’t gather, but what exactly prompts us to include the idea of gathering in our definition of “church?”

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What Makes It "Church"?

11 comments

Categories: church, Things that make our brains hurt

I haven’t been on here in over a week–sorry, been juggling lots of little appointments and assignments while battling fatigue–but if you’re still on board here, time for a little interaction…

I was thinking about something that happened about 3 years ago, a friend of mine from a mega-church attended a weekly Sunday evening worship gathering we had in our home for awhile. He particularly enjoyed the worship time and the teaching, but he stopped coming. A few months later, I saw him, and he explained that he had no trouble with us, and he loved what was going on in our living room–but because it wasn’t on Sunday morning at a church building, he just didn’t feel like he’d been to church.

So my question is…what makes it “church” for you? Bearing in mind that Christ-followers collectively are the church…what qualifies any particular expression of the church as legitimate in your own mind? What does a particular gathering have to look like for you to consider it a gathering of the church?

No right or wrong answers here–feel free to draw from your background, beliefs, interpretation of Scripture, whatever. Just tell us what you think.

It’s gonna be really quiet around here if you don’t start talking….

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Creating Community, or Finding It (part 3: Our Journey)

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, community, food for thought

So read parts one and two to catch up…

With my changing views on community, I think what I’m about to share here is the most significant factor–because it really demonstrates what can happen when we let community happen instead of make it happen. (And this is just what our journey looks like–not an inference as to what yours should look like.)

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Creating Community, or Finding It (part 1)

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Categories: church, food for thought

One of the most profound paradigm shifts I’ve had over the past few years is my understanding of community, particularly the community of believers and individual communities of faith. It goes right along with the realization that the church really is the people, not the building with the steeple. (See, I made a rhyme! Do it all the time!)

Anyhow…ahem.

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On How We Ought Not to Just Talk About the Bad Stuff, and Start Doing Something Different

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Categories: church, Meanderings (look it up)

Conversations from both here and over at Communitas Collective have got my mind running, so thought I’d better jot these thoughts down before I forget. 🙂

My blogger friend Kansas Bob, and newer blogger friend Al, together sort of made the point that it is not really enough for those of us disenfranchised folk to just point out the stuff that’s wrong with institutional forms of church…that we need to live out the positive effects of change in our lives. I truly agree with this, and I think it’s important to process that idea, to embrace the truth of it more than just verbally assent to it.

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On the Politics of Church Leadership and Completely Missing the Point

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Categories: church, food for thought, Rantings

It’s a common theme in movies and television. You see a group of friends all hanging together, and one of them comes into sudden good fortune: wins the lottery, gets famous, something like that. All the promises are made that nothing will change between the friends, but everything does. The movie or TV show becomes all about how the money or prestige changes people, and changes the relationships, usually for the worse. A lot of times the focus is on the person who won the lottery, or whatever. But look more closely, and you see that there’s just as much (if not more) change that happens with everyone else around that person. Makes for a great story every time.

Why does everything change like that? In my opinion, it’s because there’s something that happens when we perceive one of our own has “risen above”, it upsets the equilibrium–even when we are happy for that person’s success. From that point, human nature tends to respond in one of two ways: coveteousness or resentment. Either we kiss up to the person, using him/her to climb the ladder ourselves (coveteousness), or we start digging at the person, attempting to knock them off the ladder (resentment). Most of the time these responses are expressed very subtly, but reactions are a subconscious attempt to restore balance–or our perception of balance. No one can be “higher” than the others.

Believe it or not, the same dynamic happens in the presumed divide between clergy and laity in the church. It didn’t start out this way with the church, but over time (despite Jesus’ warnings not to lead one another in the same way as the world around us), the church began to perceive its leaders as “above” the others. The “ministry” became a place of special prestige, and the clergy became an elite class. People who were “called” to ministry became venerated, not just set apart, but set above in the minds of others. And this continues to this day. And right along with it, you see the same two gut reactions from people toward the clergy class: coveteousness or resentment. It’s more subtle in some than in others, but for many–we either cozy up to our leaders to curry their favor (or aspire to the ministry ourselves), or we criticize and judge them in our hearts, holding them up to a microscope, looking for any flaw or fault that we can use to cut them down to size.

Why? Because deep within, we feel there is an imbalance that must be restored.

Now, let me say right now that both coveteousness and resentment are part of our sinful human nature and are un-Christlike. These two reactions fuel most of the politics in our culture–politics in government, in the workplace, among friends, and even in the church. (Especially in the church, it would seem.) I have experienced these feelings as a churchgoer, and I have experienced their sting as a leader. As believers, we are challenged to do the opposite–to share in the joy of others without being jealous, and not to look at someone else’s position to compare our own value to theirs. Paul puts it this way: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; neither slave nor free; neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ.”

And that’s just the point. While it is not right to be coveteous or resentful toward anyone, including leadership…at the same time, I think the false prestige we’ve attached to church leadership sets us up for needless temptation. If I’m looking at Scripture correctly, then at its heart, this whole equilibrium/balance thing is a myth–a matter of false perception. It isn’t that church leadership is a corrupt concept; in fact, there is much in Bible to support it. Rather, it’s that being a leader doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. It’s a function, a role; it was never meant to be a social class. The authority one carries (or the money or honor one has, for that matter) does not change that person’s DNA, or the color of his/her blood. It only changes everyone’s attitude. The things that make ministry positions so coveted and/or resented are things that don’t even exist in the eyes of God.

This competitive prestige thing was a stumbling block even for the earliest disciples, who apparently got in several arguments over who was the “greatest.” Jesus’ response (my paraphrase) was: “Fellas, you’re missing the whole point. See this child? If you want to be great in My kingdom, learn a lesson or two from her. And those who want to lead–you get to be everyone’s slave. Still want the job?”

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The Snare of Self-Importance

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Categories: church, food for thought

I might have quoted this line before…but in the movie Pearl Harbor, when Ben Affleck’s character (a fighter pilot) volunteers to participate in the Royal Air Force as they battle the German fighter planes, one of the commanding officers essentially asks why an American would do so. “You anxious to die?” he asks.

“Not anxious to die,” the American pilot replies, “just anxious to matter.”

I think at some level, we all have this natural desire–call it a need–for significance. Whatever we’re doing with our lives, we want to know that it matters that we are doing it. Nothing inherently wrong with that; in fact, I worry about people who don’t have that kind of motivation–and there are a lot of them out there. For one reason or another–usually involving hurt or disappointment–sometimes people grow passive and stop caring whether their lives have meaning or not. But I don’t think this is how we start out; I think people created in God’s image naturally carry the seeds of significance within them. In our short span on this planet, we want to know it mattered that we were here.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this desire for significance carries over into ministry settings–especially for those who are starting some sort of organized ministry-related work. We (sometimes desperately) want to know that what we’re doing is making a positive difference in the world, and promoting the kingdom of God. Again…nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s honorable.

But looking back at my own experiences, and the various projects I have launched or worked on as a minister/pastor…where I think it goes off track is that we don’t have a clear perspective on what is actually important and significant. It isn’t that ministry doesn’t matter; it’s that we don’t understand the difference between what matters and what doesn’t–so basically everything matters. We start majoring on the minors. And that’s when a search for significance turns into self-importance.

When we were working so hard to “grow a church”, when we were trying to gain momentum with public worship events, and so on…we wanted everything to go according to plan. We would worship in a room of 10 people as if there were 1000 people there. We gave a lot of attention to detail, because we had a passion for excellence (and we still do, by the way). We demanded commitment and excellence from our people, too, down to the smallest details. This, we surmised, is how we glorify God. And we did have some amazing encounters with God.

But looking at it all now, I sort of cringe at the things I thought were so important, and the sense of panic I felt if a sign wasn’t put up in the right place, or there were no pens on the table for the fill-out thingys, or if the room didn’t fill up with people (which it actually never did). As I’ve had the time to de-tox, I see the sense of self-importance I carried, and the self-imposed rat race it created–the drive that we had to do these meetings, that we had to get it right, that we had to “break through”–because what would become of us, or our city, if we didn’t?

Having a time away from all that activity, and seeing that God is still here and that He hasn’t fallen off His throne, that He’s still touching people, and that the earth hasn’t fallen out of the sky because we stopped–it’s given me some perspective. And now, when I see good-hearted people of God launching ministries and having meetings and doing those things we were doing, my heart goes out to them. Not because I disdain what they are doing in any way, but because I can see how terribly important it is to them. I find myself in my heart being that guy that asks the spoiling question: Why must the show go on?

What, in the light of the true kingdom of God, is really important? And how important is it?

  • How important is it that we hold meetings and crusades and special events?
  • How important is it that we start on time?
  • How important is it that we stay on schedule?
  • How important is it that we do the right songs, or play them the right way?
  • How important is it that we meet when it snows?
  • How important is it that we wear the right thing?
  • How important is it that the visitor cards get filled out?
  • How important….?
Mind you, all these things might be important to having a good meeting or growing an organization. But how important are these things, really, to the furthering of the kingdom of God? Is someone going to be less ministered to by God if we didn’t get the visitor cards out, or we lost our way in the program for a moment? Is our God so small that we are going to get in His way if everything isn’t “just so?” If God wants to encounter a person who comes, do we really think we can mess it up for that person if we happen to start late?

For that matter…do we really think He won’t set up a divine encounter with that person if we happen not to have a meeting that day? Do we really think we are that important to the equation?
Look, I’m not saying none of these things are important; just that we need some sense of perspective. If we’re doing a certain thing because we are truly being led by God, or if it’s apparent that what we’re doing is affecting someone’s life for the better…then yes, it takes a high priority. But if we’re honest with ourselves (which we rarely are), we’ll realize that a lot of what we’re doing only makes us feel important for doing it, and really isn’t going to have a lasting impact where the kingdom of God is concerned. When that’s the case, it’s self-importance. Self-importance happens when we do things because we feel important for doing them–not because they actually are that important.

And self-importance is a counterfeit for significance.

As I write this, I’m thinking about Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha in Scripture, how once when he came to their home for a meal, Martha was consumed with details in the kitchen while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. When Martha got exasperated over this, Jesus said something quite profound to her:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:41-42, NASB, emphasis mine)

I ponder this, and I see how so often we act like so many Marthas running around our details, trying to get it right–when in the perspective of Christ and His kingdom, those details really aren’t that necessary. Mary wasn’t being lazy; she just focused for a time on the one thing that was necessary. It was a matter of priorities. I think we’d do well–myself included–to remember this. I think in the long run we’ll be a lot more effective in what we’re doing if we don’t major on the minors, but give the most attention to what is most necessary in the scope of the kingdom of God. To borrow a cliche…this is working smarter rather than harder.

And if we calm down a little bit, and take this approach, perhaps we’ll lose our self-importance, and actually find the sense of significance we were looking for all along.
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It’s Different Here

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Categories: church, food for thought, religion

We’re still finding our bearings around our new digs–not just within walking distance, but also in the area.

Comparing Denver to the Bible Belt…it’s different here.

I might submit that last sentence to a “best understatement” contest, if I can find one. 🙂

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Church as Business (part 3–The Alternative)

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Categories: church, food for thought, Rantings

Part 1, Part 2

“So…if we’re not meant to be a business, what are we meant to be?”

How about a community?

How about a family?

How about a living organism?

You see, with all this businesslike structure we’ve shoved the church into, we have forgotten that the church is not a business–it never was. The church is people. When we make it about the other, we are trying to be something we are not. And the suit doesn’t fit.

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Church as Business (part 2–The Bottom Line)

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Categories: church, food for thought

Let’s pick up the thread from part 1 by repeating something I wrote at the end of it…

This leads us to the most painful truth about church being structured as business…Because what is the bottom line in any business?

Money.

The bottom line is that when church is structured as a business, money naturally becomes the primary factor in the decisions that are made. And that can often create a huge conflict of interest between the interests of the organization, the best interests of the people, and the interests of the kingdom of God in general.

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