Categotry Archives: church

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The Show Must Go On?

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

I’m thinking of old movie, one of those formulaic wartime entertainment feel-good musicals, called Diamond Horseshoe. The plot isn’t too memorable, but there’s an interesting standing joke throughout the movie. The Diamond Horseshoe is one of those old-timey nightclubs with the stage show. Early in the movie, the manager repeats the well-known mantra, “The show must go on!” To which one of the main characters asks, simply, “Why?”

“Why what?”

Why must the show go on?”

This question gets repeated several times through the movie, and it frustrates everyone because, of course, nobody really knows why the show must go on. It just has to. The show must go on, because it must. Because…it just has to.

It’s kind of funny. But if you think about it, it’s not, really. Because whenever you have a mindless axiom like this which no one can explain…it demands mindless obedience from everyone. That is, until some wise guy has the gall to ask why. And then it messes everyone up.

The show must go on. But…why?

Brother Maynard shared some thoughts a few days ago about some sad news coming from the Lakeland Revival. It appears that Todd Bentley has filed for separation from his wife. The following quote is from Charisma’s website:

The board of directors at Bentley’s Fresh Fire Ministries released a statement Tuesday afternoon that praised the “outpouring” in Lakeland led by Bentley, but also acknowledged “an atmosphere of fatigue and stress” that more than 100 daily meetings had created, which “exacerbated existing issues in [Bentley’s marriage].”

Just yesterday, Bentley’s Board of Directors released a statement on the ministry website revealing that Bentley “has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff” and will be stepping down from the ministry for counsel.

Now, I have mentioned some concerns about these meetings, and about Bentley, in previous posts, and I don’t really desire to use this situation to crucify Bentley on this blog. I am saddened, not vindicated, by this news. Blog-land is lit up with people discussing various aspects of this, including some healthy questioning of the so-called apostolic movement. But I want to look at it from a slightly different angle.

There will likely be those diehard defenders of the revival who will blame this on the devil, saying that Bentley was a target for spiritual attack because of the “great work” he was doing. But there is a different way to look at this. The key words are “an atmosphere of fatigue and stress.” That’s actually very telling.

If Bentley’s separation were an isolated incident, it would be easy enough simply to turn the spotlight on him and his personal issues, or to let it reinforce existing suspicions about his sincerity. But in fact, this story plays over and over again. Bentley and his family join a long line of casualties, a long list of ministers and their families who have suffered and/or fallen as a result of “the ministry.” From high-profile failings like Ted Haggard or Randy and Paula White; to the daughter of a nationally-known evangelist who was found wandering drunk and naked in the men’s dorm of the Christian college she attended; to the pastor whose children and ex-wife now want nothing to do with the ministry, or his version of Christianity…the list goes on. Countless ministers falling, countless marriages suffering, countless “preachers kids” being alienated, until we just consider it a normal pitfall of “the ministry.”

But is it? Should this really be happening? Perhaps it’s time we start asking the question: Why must the show go on?

Who said this kind of stuff was supposed to be “par for the course” where ministry is concerned? Do we find this in the Bible someplace? Where did we get the idea that revival should be an “atmosphere of fatigue and stress?” At what point do we stop blaming the devil for this stuff, and start asking honest questions about a religious system that puts a few high-profile people on pedestals for their gifts, placing on their shoulders enough super-human expectation to drive the strongest of them to compulsive behaviors?

I can’t help but be reminded of what Jesus said about following Him: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It seems to me that when our personal lives are collapsing under the weight of our spiritual responsibilities, we must be adding some stuff on that Jesus never intended.

And yet…we keep replaying the same situations over and over, with the same results. Because, of course…the show must go on.

I do believe there is a devil who tries to thwart us, and I also recognize that individuals are responsible for their own bad choices. But I also think it’s far too easy just to blame the devil, or to demonize the person who fell. I think this speaks of a much bigger problem. This might just be one man’s opinion, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s more than just a “spiritual battle”. I think the whole institutional churchy structure, by its nature, tends to over-exalt people, restrict true accountability, and stifle the healing process that we all need (including the guys and girls on the platform). And since so many aspects of our Christian culture are not even found in Scritpure, I wonder why we continue to fight so hard to maintain and defend them–especially if they are contributing to the damage.

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Outside the Box: Not Just About Being Weird

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, food for thought

Here’s a question for any gamers out there. Have you ever been playing some sort of puzzle game and found yourself apparently stuck? Like, you’re in a room with no apparent way out, or you have a door you must open but you cannot figure out how?

I have a sure-fire way of getting out of those predicaments: go to a hints website and find a cheat. 🙂 No, seriously. I have no patience with stuff like that. Actually, what intrigues me about finding a hint is how simple the solution usually is–if only you approach the problem from a slightly different angle. When I get the hint, I usually have a V-8 moment. (*Smack* “Why didn’t I see that before??”)

One of my favorite moments in the movie Apollo 13 is when Mission Control is trying to find a way to rescue the stranded astronauts. At one point their carbon dioxide levels are getting too high in the cabin, so a group of problem-solvers gathers in a room back on earth. This guy dumps a bunch of gear on the table–stuff that would be found on the spacecraft–and basically tells them, “Find a way to fix this situation using only this stuff.” And they do it–because they have to. No matter how impossible it seemed at the moment, creative, out-of-the-box thinking got it done.

It’s pretty amazing how many seemingly-impossible problems can be solved simply by looking at it from a different perspective.

I’m thinking of another movie, one I’ve mentioned recently here: the classic movie Sister Kenny starring Rosalind Russell. Sister Kenny was a bush nurse in Australia who, years before the polio vaccine was discovered, “accidentally” found a method of treatment that caused patients to recover fully from the disease, without crippling. Yet when she presented this to the medical community, the doctors resisted her methods for years. Because their years of research were based on faulty assumptions about the disease, they simply did not have a grid for understanding how any treatment could prevent crippling–to the point that they dismissed her “cured” patients by saying that they could not possibly have had polio. This is a classic example of what it means to be limited and restricted by in-the-box thinking. The whole reason Sister Kenny found this new method was that she had not learned the classic institutional research on the disease, and so was not limited by it. She thought outside the box, used some common sense, and managed to view the problem from a different angle; and that made all the difference.

I think this is basically why I am questioning institutional Christianity. I know there are those who consider it an enemy because they have been hurt within (or by) the “system”. I understand that, because I’ve been hurt, too. I also know there are those who simply feel like they are outcasts or oddballs–people who, even though they love Jesus, just feel like they don’t fit in the institutional systems. The Wild One is very much like that. But taking all that into account…the more I look at it, the more I see problems and issues in relating to our world that institutional Christianity is not able to solve. It’s like we’re stuck, stalemated, and the way out is not easily seen. This begs the question: do we keep using the same old “tried-and-true” methods out of loyalty (even though they don’t work anymore), or do we look at the problem from a different angle?

The classic character Sherlock Holmes often said of his methods of deduction, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This is the crossroads at which I think we’re finding ourselves. The church itself (especially in the West) is in a place of crisis because we are becoming less and less effective at reaching people. When you have done all you can to solve the problem within the parameters of the institutional church, to little or no avail…then by process of elimination, you have to start asking whether the institution itself is part of the problem (no matter how improbable it seems). In my humble opinion, we are coming to that point. When institutional methods no longer work, you need to re-think them. It is simply irrational not to do so.

So being outside the box is not just about not fitting in, or being “weird” by some peoples’ standards. For many, it’s an honest attempt to look at the problems facing the Body of Christ from a different angle, to try a whole new approach. After all, some of the most formidable obstacles have been overcome by simple, out-of-the-box thinking.

As a point of balance, it should be said here that I realize there are still many institutional churches that are doing good things, and having good results, and I respect this. Looking at the overall trend, however, we see that on a larger scale the effectiveness of institutional Christianity is on the wane. Also…I don’t believe that these are problems that can be solved simply by the mind. I believe the Holy Spirit is already at work in the earth, and He knows what needs to happen; and I believe we must rely on the insight of God even in the midst of our re-thinking. Going back to the gamer analogy–God is where we get our “hints” when we feel stalemated. And as we do this…I think we’re going to be pleasantly surprised at how simple our answers will be–just by seeing things from a different perspective.

That’s what I think, anyway.

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The Subculture of Christianity

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Categories: church, food for thought, Meanderings (look it up)

So I’ve been pondering how my thinking has changed over the past few years, and how I can’t stomach so much of the Christian-ese lingo and churchy behavior anymore–which is funny because I used to be all about that stuff not too very long ago. I don’t go near Christian television anymore, I don’t listen to Christian radio hardly at all, and I usually can’t stand to listen to sermons anymore. And I feel very out of place in most church meetings.

And I know why I’m like this now. And it’s not that I’ve abandoned my faith.

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Defending the Christian Label (or Traveling Light)

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Categories: church, food for thought, Rantings

Yesterday we went to a local retail hobby store, and there was a “now hiring” stand with lots of employment applications folded like brochures stuck in it. Out of curiosity, The Wild One picked one up.

The amount of red tape required just to get employed at this store was daunting. Drug/alcohol testing, background checks, aptitude tests (none of which I am opposed to, BTW)…but then there were literally two pages of fine print about an “arbitration agreement”, where anyone who wanted to be employed there must sign a binding agreement to resolves disputes through arbitration (read: you can’t sue us). NO ONE gets employed unless they sign the agreement. I know; it says so about four different times on the application.

Now, bear in mind that none of this is inherently wrong. But this wasn’t an application to work at a law firm, or a coal mine, or a nuclear power plant, or to be an astrophysicist, or to work at Area 51. This was for a retail store. I moonlight in retail; I deliver flowers. I didn’t need to fill out more than a couple of pages to apply, and I didn’t need to agree to arbitration. At one flower shop, I called and said, “You guys need any help?” And they called back and said, “Yep. Come on in.” That was it; no butt-covering, no positioning, no self-protection.

Yet everything–everything–about this retail store’s application was designed to cover the company’s @$$. It was all about self-protection, like every potential applicant was poised to screw them over or something.

This is the part of the rant where I tell you that this is a Christian company–a large retail chain owned by a nationally known Christian businessman. They play instrumental hymns on the store soundtrack and are closed on Sundays. This businessman also recently made news when he effectively “rescued” a major Christian university in our town that had been rocked with scandal; he did this by donating millions of dollars and offering to reorganize the board.

The whole thing reminds me of someone else I know, who at one time attended a local mega-church. She asked someone about volunteering in the church in some capacity; she was handed an application to volunteer, requiring all kinds of information, including submitting to a background check. I’m surprised they didn’t draw blood right there on the spot.

Now, in some ways–and to be merciful–I can understand why this particular mega-church was so cautious. They had recently suffered scandal when one of the teachers in their school was found to be a pedophile and went to prison, and they were getting sued by multiple families for it. So obviously they wanted to be very careful about who was helping out.

Believe it or not, I can also understand why a Christian business wants to protect itself–because it seems like when you call yourself a Christian and you own a facility that’s open to the public, there are always some folks who want to hold you to a higher standard than the rest of the world, or who might sue you just because they figure you’re a Christian and won’t fight back.

But I guess for me, this begs the question: Is this need for self-protection just a by-product of our culture…or is it that we’ve created too much that needs protecting? Could it be that the very institutions we have built in the name of promoting the gospel–whether it be church organizations or businesses–are now getting in our own way?

Is it really our job to set up church buildings and label our businesses “Christian” and then set up huge amounts of red tape to make sure the wrong people don’t cause us damage? Is our number one priority in the world to make sure we don’t get hurt or stolen from? Or is it to engage the world with the love of Christ? It’s as if we are extending one hand to the world while using the other hand to block any punches we might receive. Can the world really take that love seriously if we are in such a defensive posture?

When Jesus sent out His disciples, He said He was sending them as sheep in the midst of wolves, and that they should be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves. Then He did something interesting: He told them not to carry extra clothes or money bags. Now, I’m not about to interpret that as a policy of poverty, as some have done; but I do think there’s an interesting principle here to uncover. Why would Jesus tell them that? I can think of two possible reasons. One is so that they would be inter-dependent with the communities that they were going to–that they would have to engage people and allow their needs to be met that way. The other possible reason, and the one I’m chewing on right now…is that by traveling light, they wouldn’t have anything to protect. They would be free to be “sheep among wolves” without worrying about what they had to lose.

I think that’s the opposite of what we have in our world today. Creating massive institutions and labeling them “Christian” has given us huge amounts to lose. We’re so busy trying to avoid exploitation that we cannot be nearly as effective. These institutions are essentially fortresses that we have built. Do these fortresses really keep us “safe”–or have they just become something we must defend? When you really think about it–which is protecting which?

I cannot help but think that this is just another way in which we’ve missed the point. I can’t help but think there must be a better way to engage our world. I can’t help but think that the church, while using buildings from time to time, was never meant to be contained in them. And I’m certainly not opposed to Christians owning and running successful businesses; but I can’t help but wonder if affixing the Christian label (instead of just being Christians) is doing us more harm than good.

Maybe we should take a cue from the disciples. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe we could learn how to stop worrying about how we might get hurt by the wolves. Maybe we would worry less if we learned how to travel light.
(Photo by Ben Earwicker.)

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Coming Soon: Traveling to Encourage the Brethren

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Categories: church, travel

I haven’t done much ministry-related travel in the past few years. I used to devote at least one weekend a month to visiting churches and ministering–sometimes alone, sometimes with the family. However, during the intense season of de-construction, it just didn’t seem like the right time for travel. There was so much changing so quickly in my heart and mind, and so many stories still being written, that if I had shared something one week with a church, by the next week I might have felt completely different about it.

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Retooling our Gifts for a New Season

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

My mind has been drifting back to some previous posts (see here and here) where we were discussing individuals who function in various ministry positions (like pastors and worship leaders), who find themselves displaced when they no longer feel they belong within institutional Christianity. Their gifts don’t go away, but they no longer know what to do with them. My blogger friend Glenn has talked about it; I can certainly relate; and I know there are others.

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Following Up on "Pagan Christianity"

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Categories: books, changing mindsets, church

As of the time of this writing, there haven’t been an abundance of comments to my recent review on Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. (I recognize I’m a bit behind many other bloggers in my review, and many have already moved on from this conversation.) However, of the four comments I’ve had so far, three have sided in favor of the book. Their thoughtful remarks, and reading some of the follow-up content on Frank Viola’s website, have prompted me to follow up a bit as to why I reviewed the book the way I did, and where I was coming from.

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A Long-Awaited Review of "Pagan Christianity"

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Categories: books, church, Rantings

Okay, so it’s so long awaited that probably most of my current readers do not even know that I was planning to review this book at all. 🙂

A few months ago I posted this entry, alluding to a book that was ticking me off. I withheld the name but promised I’d give it a full review when I was done with it. But I guess I was not so subtle about it, because my commentors immediately guessed it was Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. Yesterday, when I read this post on bob.blog, it reminded me that I hadn’t actually given the book its fair due. This book has generated so much talk that now there are folks even poking fun at it. I submit the following video as evidence of this.

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Fluid Church

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, food for thought

When I think about how God has been re-shaping my perspectives on the church in general, one analogy I like to use is based on science–particularly, the properties of water, and/or the properties of solids and liquids.

We most often think of water as a liquid, because that’s where we identify with it, mostly. A liquid, a fluid, easily takes the shape of anything that contains it, and can be poured from container to container. It gives way when you dip your finger in it. It is movable, flexible, easily changed. And yet, liquid water molecules tend to stick together. Droplets of water on glass tend to find each other and merge together. It is a loose structure, but there is a natural cohesion of the molecules.

When water freezes, it becomes a solid. Its molecules form set patterned connections with one another, and it becomes very hard–hard enough to injure someone who falls on it. Whatever shape it held when it froze–that’s the shape it’s going to have. No flexibility.

The early church that the Scripture describes acted most like liquid water. It was a fluid, loose-knit connection of believers who felt a cohesive bond but as an entity could easily take whatever shape worked best for it. The early church met in homes, in caves, even in the Temple courts. And it’s apparent that different gatherings of believers in different communities and cultures also operated a bit differently from each other. But their love for Jesus (and for one another) were the bonds that kept them together, kept them drawing close to one another.

As time moved forward to the days of Constantine, and “Christendom” emerged, the church changed and began to function more like a solid. We set up established structures, protocols, hierarchies in leadership, and methods; we institutionalized. We became a separate, stand-alone entity that was inflexible and immovable. And instead of sticking together because we were drawn to each other, we were stuck together because we were, well, stuck. Every molecule in its place according to the established order, and any challenge to that structure dealt with swiftly (and often severely). And this is pretty much how we have existed going into the present day.

Now, I can already hear the jokes–“frozen chozen” and “First Church of the Frigidaire”–but I’m not really talking about the spiritual temperature or “icy conditions” right now, although that was an issue; I’m talking about the way the church is shaped and structured. 🙂

Anyhow, these days I’m witnessing (and seem to be part of) a major shift and change. Apparently the ice block that has been the church is melting. Most of the Body of Christ is still sitting in solid form; but more and more believers are sort of “melting” off the ice block, and the church is becoming fluid again. We are returning to the flexibility we once had, and re-learning the natural bonds that cause us to want to cling together even if we are loosely structured. And we are learning that we are not defined by the structures that have contained us, but we are defined by something simpler, something more basic. We are defined by our connection to Christ, because He has redeemed us.

It’s important to understand that whether solid or liquid, water is still water. It retains its most basic properties, whatever its form. We believers have always been the church, and for most of us, our faith in Christ has not changed. Our defining properties aren’t changing; only our form and structure.

One word of caution is in order with this analogy. There is one more form water can take, and that is gas, or vapor. Water vapor is still water, but the molecules have no connection with their counterparts; they simply float around loose in the atmosphere. I recognize that there are some in this process that for one reason or another may feel like they are floating around like a vapor right now. They are still believers, but they feel no sense of cohesion with others in the Body of Christ, even though they might desire it. (Water molecules, after all, do want to stick together, even if they aren’t currently doing so.)

I would submit to you that using this analogy of the three forms of water–the form the Scriptures seem to support most for the church is the form of liquid. Little is said in Scripture about having strong, immovable structures for the church; at the same time, a significant amount is said about our need to stick together. Whether solid, liquid, or gas, water is still water; likewise, the church is still the church, regardless of her form. But we seem to function best and healthiest when we function as a liquid. When we are solid, we are limited; when we are vapor, we are intangible and ineffective. But when we are fluid, we are adaptable, flexible, visible, useful, and, I believe, most effective. (We have far more uses for liquid water than we do for ice or vapor, don’t we?)

There are those who are fearful and concerned about this melting trend. Personally, I think it’s the best thing to happen to the church in centuries.
(Photograph by littleman on stock.xchng.)

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Community Where We Find It

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Categories: changing mindsets, church

So I’m continuing to ponder–to re-imagine–what church community could look like if the church itself wasn’t defined by its regular meeting. (Read this previous post to get the background.)

My blogger friend Ben left a heartfelt comment on that post about how difficult it is these days to build community. It seems like there is so much in our culture that works against it; not only do we tend to be more private and secluded as individuals, but we also are so busy with things like work, school, soccer practice and so on, that we no longer have time to invest in church community.

But I think all the studying I’ve been doing on the missional approach is finally starting to soak in, because even as I found myself relating to Ben’s comments, my mind started kicking into gear in a whole new direction….

What if we’ve been looking at the equation from the wrong side? What if we looked at this from another angle?

Earlier today I was blogging in a gourmet coffee shop in downtown Tulsa. It was toward the end of lunch, and the place was full of people. I looked around and realized that I was the only one with my laptop open; everyone else was busily chatting with one another. (Shame on me.) What was happening in front of me? Community.

As individualistic as our Western culture is…community still happens. It’s a need in the human soul that runs deeper than culture. As a species, we can’t do without it, and when we deliberately shun community for an extended length of time, we start to go nuts. Community for us doesn’t look like it did 50 years ago, but it hasn’t gone away. We just have to know where to look for it.

Think about it…in all those places that take up so much of our time–work, soccer practice, PTA, whatever–community is happening in some form. So what if, instead of trying (in frustration) to re-generate interest in typical church activities, we began to build community where we find it? What if we started adapting to the changes in our culture instead of trying to compete with them?

What if we started looking for where people hang together, and built relationships there? And what if out of those relationships, we were able to minister Christ’s love to people as they began to trust us? And what if some of those people came into a saving relationship with Christ because of encounters like that? The result? Christian community, within community. Isn’t that actually how it’s supposed to be done?

What if we changed our approach from trying to draw people back into our buildings and programs, to teaching our people to take this sense of community out where community happens? Wouldn’t that even bond us in a way that no multitude of meetings could do?

This is actually what I mean when I say we need stop being defined by our regular meetings. What if we saw ourselves as the church all the time, and not just on Sundays? We don’t really need more meetings, or more organized activities, or even necessarily more organized ministry opportunities. We just need to change the way we see ourselves.

Again…we need to gather, we need to assemble. To meet or not to meet–that isn’t the question. 🙂 The question is, how do we get beyond letting our meetings be the end-all, be-all of our church experience? How do we truly be the church and not just go to church, without piling on more commitments than we can bear? I think at least part of the answer is to be the church where we are–to be the church where people are–to learn what it means to build community where we find it. It will look different probably every time, because community and culture differ from place to place. But when we start thinking this way, I think we will all start looking a lot more like Jesus to the world.

These are just my thoughts on the matter. What are yours? Any other ideas?

(Photo above courtesy of murielle on stock.xchng.)
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