Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More Diverse II

The answer is to raise up more and more leaders, empowering them to shepherd the Church by giving them permission and trusting them to walk in the Spirit and be themselves. We don’t need to spend all our energy on getting people in one place. I heard a pastor once say at a building dedication service, “Isn’t it great to see everybody together under one roof.” I know how that’s good for the you and your church staff, but remind me how it benefits the guy in the chair? Unity in the Church of the Future is not likely going to exist if we continue with methods that call for sameness. Meeting at the SAME time, in the SAME place, listening to the SAME preaching, trying to get everyone to believe the SAME thing by signing the SAME document. At what point does this implode? This attempt for so-called unity is too small. Unity requires a bigger vision. The call for gathered unity is often justified by the use of the passage in Revelation 7. It is the picture of every tribe, nation and tongue surround the throne of God. Too many leaders try and reproduce this on earth by organizing it around singing the same songs and listening to the same talks. The reason it works in the text is because we will all be gathered around the one SAME thing that holds power over all of us, the transcendent God in all His glory, not a pulpit, speaker and worship band. I don’t know anymore how important getting everyone together for a night of worship in the name of unity. Maybe instead of getting people on the same page of the song, we get them on the same page regarding faith, hope and love.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

More Diverse

The Church of the Future will be more diverse in its expression. A sense of unity was easier to achieve 25 years ago. The Church had a recognizable body of songs and hymns from which it sang. Preaching was presented in a familiar form. Certainly there were denominational differences, but if you were to ask any 10 random people on the street to define church, they would probably give consistent answers that include Sunday morning, a Building, some Singing, a guy Preaching. Unity is something I was, and still am, very interested in, except now I’m trying to look at it from a different vantage point. I’m not sure the Church of the Future will be as easily gathered together for a Worship Night or City-wide Unity rally, at least in this country. I was among the crowd that wanted to rate success by the number of people who would attend these outings. Needless to say, I got very frustrated. One reason is a language barrier. Not because more people are speaking Spanish or Chinese, but because there is a greater diversity of the language of the soul. I might not know your songs if I come to your deal. I may not know what to do with the guy with the Mohawk slapping paint on a canvas during the sermon. And I’m probably going to be weirded out by the call to mass meditation and getting in touch with my inner child with 250 other people I don’t know. These things might work for you, but please don’t ask me to do them with you, unless its in a setting that is conducive for it. The simplicity of our world has given way to complexity, speed and options. These can work in our favor, and to our detriment. My dad joked about the era when he and mom got married; they were too poor and didn’t own a clock, so they didn’t know what time it was. 50 years later, he said, they owned several clocks and still didn’t know what time it was. Like it or not, the future generation will not know what to do without options. And the problem with that is the Church As We Know It thinking that it needs to provide all those options. This is when the program reads like a menu: We’ve got Country Church, Headbangers Church, Coffee Church, Traditional Church, Ham and Cheese Church….. I don’t see this as an answer.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Smaller Contexts II

I believe another factor that is pushing the Church into a smaller form is cynicism. It is an example of how a negative can unveil a positive. A cynic is one who appears to not care about anything, but I deem it’s just the opposite. People who are cynical are simply wounded people. At the core of the cynic’s heart is a longing and passion that stings, so it gets anesthetized by sarcastic remarks and actions. One does not have to look far to find cynicism. And in some regards it makes sense to be cynical. What can one really believe in anymore? Where are politics taking us today? Any news outlet or talk show reveals evidence of further divisiveness and distrust of those is in control. What about business? The Enron Scandal is a case in point. There might be a million good companies out there, but it only takes one example like this to create a generation who thinks anything corporate is equivalent with evil. Even Bill Clinton’s escapade helped define for them what was sex and what wasn’t. This is where the Church As We Know It needs to be aware. That drive to build a bigger and better facility so we can get all the people under one roof might backfire someday. That new sanctuary may have been built on the money of the parents of the future generation, but will that next generation want to sustain all that brick and mortar? If the Church As We Know It continues to pattern itself after a business model, and its leaders continue to immerse themselves with marketing strategies and keep worrying about who moved their cheese, they will create a form for which a cynical generation will be suspect and not want to have any part of it. It will be in the smaller context that people will be able to see past marketing images and funky websites and find community, the one thing the heart of the cynic longs for. Sermon themes, rock and roll praise bands and pod casts are all fine aspects, but what percentage of our energy is going to be used to sustain those things? If that number out weighs the attention given to the smaller context, I think it might be a waste of time.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Smaller contexts.

I used to attend a church of around 600 people in attendance on Sundays. During a leadership transition period, there was a fairly sizable exodus from this church to another larger church in town. Many of these people I know personally. Not one of them describe their feelings for the new place with words like, “I love it!” Instead, I hear statements like, “The preaching is good,” or “We really like the children’s program.” Or worst of all, “Yea, my wife likes it OK.” One guy I know who made the switch told me one Sunday he saw a friend from the previous church during the break between services. In the sea of people that resembles a cattle drive, he said to him in a loud voice over the drone of noise, “Oh, you’re coming here now, too? Isn’t this great? To leave a place where you don’t know anybody and come to a bigger place where you don’t know anybody?” The new guy didn’t catch his sarcasm right away. When will men get the idea that they don’t have to settle for that? Sunday morning stress and anxiety of getting up, getting the kids ready, trying to hold it all together on the way there, working your way like a salmon through the stream of people to get to the right place. The original memo of Sunday being a day of rest is must have gotten placed in the round file. Since leaving that world, my Sundays are much simpler now, much more relaxed, much more oriented around my family. My wife and I reconnect, drink rich, dark coffee, read the paper, have some time with our kids to talk about spiritual things and learn Scripture together. It really is a day of rest for us. The day I used to dread leading up during the week is now my favorite, as I think was its original intent. The Church of the Future will be gathered in smaller contexts simply because men will realize they can. Once they get over the fear that they are sinning or doing something wrong, they will find that doing so will lead to a more fruitful, enjoyable experience. All I needed was permission but I looked for it in the wrong place for the longest time; to the Church As We Know It. Of course it wasn’t going to give it to me. But I found one Source of Permission, and once I discovered it, I see it was there all along.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What I see (or rather, hope) is on its way.

My next few posts will be my view from the point on the wall as I look out on the Church As We Know It. I’m no Tom Sine, so I can’t say with any authority that this is what the Church of the Future as a whole will look like, nor am I a George Barna, with facts and data to support my case. I’m just a watchman, peering into the night, looking for what is coming our direction and how to awaken others to be ready for it. So instead of a prediction, maybe this is more of what I hope the Church of the Future will be like, because it is the kind of church I want to try and help build. I believe The Church of the Future will be:

  • Gathered in smaller contexts.
  • More diverse.
  • More free.
  • Less polarizing.
  • Led by ordinary people

Whether we like it or not, the morphing generation behind us is the one that will replace us, so will they push us out of the way and create on their own, or will we have anything to hand off to them as we pass on? Follow my thinking in the next few days, and offer any input, as it is always appreciated.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Moral dilemma #37

Had I known that toting fresh bread around town would make me a hero, I may have started selling bread when I was 15. I was not aware how bread invokes such deep responses in people. At the storefront today, a woman asked, since we had good bread and played Van Morrison CD’s, could she just move in and live here? I said there might be room for a cot in the corner. But on today’s delivery, how’s this for a moral dilemma. He was fortysomething, with classic male-patterned baldness, plus a little doughy. The frumpy sweats with street socks did not help the man’s appearance. What I’m trying to say is, he did not look like a Casanova. He approached me with a smile on his face as I placed my 25 baguettes into the store’s display basket at the end of the aisle. Leaning a little too far into my personal space, he whispered, “I used your bread to wine and dine a woman last night and it helped me score. Best damn four bucks I’ve ever spent.” And he walked away. Ah, the power of bread. What should one do with that revelation? Do I feel bad that the man used our bread to commit an act of fornication? Or do I use that story to sell more bread by proclaiming its aphrodisiacal powers? Do I stop selling bread because it led a man and woman to “sin?” The Apostle Paul did refer to food causing my brother to stumble. But if the man was not a person of faith, am I off the hook? This is the danger of any thing of beauty. It’s easier to follow a rule or do without it than to give folks a freedom to choose as they will. And it didn’t stop Jesus from turning water into wine (his first miracle.) I would guess he trusted the good folks at the wedding party wouldn’t get drunk on the wine Jesus created out of water. Why do I have a hard time believing that?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Come to Jesus and Give Up a Bunch of Stuff

I stopped in today at the Vegetarian Church as usual. In a small way, I feel I have achieved rock star status when I arrive. My job is probably like delivering flowers or driving a beer truck. Who’s not cheered up when you see one of those guys coming? Such is the case with me and my bread delivery. Folks swoon when they see the five grey trays on my hand truck, loaded with sourdough, ciabatta and baguettes only about 3 hours old. A few Kling-ons have taken to walking me out to the door, hoping for a freebie of day-old loaves. I gladly oblige. As I described before, I get a foreign feeling when I look around the store. I see signs and stickers in the storeroom there that I don’t have on my VW vanagon or cross-stitched on a pillow, like, “” and “IF YOU'RE NOT OUTRAGED, YOU'RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION!!!!!!” I don’t have anything against kale or being outraged. It’s just not a part of my daily lifestyle. Vegetarians and Christians have something in common in that they seem to be noted by what they can’t or don’t do. Both are full of rules of behavior. I don’t eat meat vs. I don’t have premarital sex. I’m struck by how the limitations are the part that is most visible, instead of the benefits of living according to the perspective values and lifestyle. Is this to be expected when living according to a law? I’d become a vegetarian if someone proved that his life was filled with more joy and happiness than mine, by showing me the benefits of giving up bacon for tofurkey. Why would I want to give up a juicy burger once in a while, just so I could eat FauxBeef? Are the three weeks added to my life worth giving up the pleasures of dairy for drinking soy milk? I’m just not interested in putting limits around my life that I don’t understand or even have a value for. I believe this is the state of the Church As We Know It. For a season the Gospel has been equated with forgiveness and morality. This is where I met the Good News twenty some years ago. I was told I needed to be forgiven and that God expected me to step in line and change my behavior, so like a vegetarian who can’t eat meat anymore, I was a Christian who could no longer listen to certain kinds of music. His FauxBeef was my FauxMusic. Is there a difference? This is where the Church of the Future has got to be characterized by more than limitations. The Gospel is not a call to morality, so it cannot be explained in those terms. It is an invitation to a life of faith. It is a call to Life itself, and when one is truly alive, he is only limited in ways that threaten that source of Life. This is why the joy of the Lord is our strength. And if it doesn’t bring me joy, I don’t want any part of it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

To My Woman in the Red Dress

Happy Valentine's Day to my Woman in the Red Dress. The best is yet to come.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sleeping In

Since I get up at 4:30am every morning six days a week, it’s a bit hard to sleep in on the seventh. For me, sleeping in is the equivalent of 5am, instead of the noon of college days. I really am getting old. Soon I’ll be eating dinner at four and breakfast the night before. So I’m awake today at five, but not to worry, since the rest of the family won’t be up for another three hours or so. I thought I would take time to listen to the mix that Jack of All Trades made for me. His instructions were to listen to it in one setting, and so that is what I did. Here is what occurred: I put the disc in my laptop to listen while I did my usual web and blog surfing. As each song unfolded, I realized the theme of each selection was of freedom and hope. I was struck by how far I have come in my journey, and how much I feel I have changed since leaving the Ministry As We Know It. As I listened and surfed, I hit a link that led me to the Passion ’07 website. Having been involved at the start of that movement ten years ago, I was curious to see what had changed. After a quick browse, I concluded the biggest change was me. What drew me to the Passion Movement was its desire to see a spiritual awakening occur among college students of the world. As a watchman, I’m convinced that hope awaits us. I’m just not convinced in what form it will come. I do believe since we are in a post-modern age, that whatever occurs will look extremely different than awakenings of the past that arose in modern and pre-modern times. But as the music in my ears lay juxtaposed against the images on the website, I felt an enormous wave of grief. I felt extremely alone. The photo gallery showing the faces of students, the thousands gathered in worship, I remembered the feeling from ten years ago. I felt so connected then, so alive. I thought I had found the tracks of the coming Great Awakening. But today I find myself going down a different path. I don’t experience God in those large corporate gatherings as I once did. Part of me wishes I still did. Part of me wants those old days again. Part of me wonders what I’ve done wrong, considering the cliché, If God feels far off, guess who moved? must be correct. The other part of me believes I’m where I should be. The Passion Movement was an important time in my life and I believe it will continue to be so for many others. But I’ve got a Warrior and a Man of God with me on the journey, and that’s most important right now and I look forward to what we will find in Uncharted Waters.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Trying to Gently Open a Can of Worms

Here’s a question for which I’ve never really found a good answer. Another good thing about not being a professional pastor anymore is the freedom to ask such questions and not feel like I might lose my job if I opened my mouth. When Jesus was nearing the end of his days on earth, he was readying his disciples for his departure. He obviously knew more about what was coming than they did, which is why he said he had more to say, but they could not bear it. In John 16, as he hints of his leaving, he assures them that they will not be alone, that another termed the Counselor will come to take his place. This Counselor will help them determine right from wrong, and how to judge between the two. He assures them they will be better off when this happens. My curiosity wonders, “Why didn’t he say I will send you a Bible?” But today, in my tradition, the sermons I’ve heard about the Bible, the admonitions to read, study, memorize and defend the Bible, far outweigh the ones on the Counselor. In some ways it feels like I have replaced Jesus’ word for Counselor with a modern one named Bible. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve missed something here. I don’t find many who meet me here in the middle ground of this question. There is the one side, who upon hearing the question, scream “heretic” and hand me a 32 disc series of suppository preaching from John MacArthur, while the other side would not engage the conversation either and say its just a bunch of bullshit anyway. I don’t plan on throwing out my Bible any time soon, for it is the Bible that is leading me to these questions, which endears me to it even more. But this way of thinking about it won’t do for those in authority in my tradition. The Bible is Answer. It is Science and Hard Fact. It is Evidence That Demands a Verdict. In this way, it is also modern. And as the leader of the Church of the Future, one must be aware of this partiality. Failure to do so indicates that the church will continue to reach only modern minds, of which there are fewer and fewer. I’m beginning to consider the Bible like good art. Great art never seeks to satisfy, but only to point to a larger story, often that story is what lies deep within. It’s why artists are usually on the fringes, frequently misunderstood. They are doing their job. I’ve never met an artist who wants to hang his work on the wall; hoping people will just glance at it, and walk away.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Free Advice

Note: This should be “subscriber level” content, but since I am feeling generous, I am offering this advice free of charge. Valentine’s Day is coming up and if you’re like me, you always find yourself in a lose-lose situation. You lose if, to cover up forgetting, you treat it like a Hallmark-created holiday and proclaim to your sweetheart that every day is Valentine’s Day. You lose if you buy a dozen roses because you get chastised for spending money on such a fleeting gift. You lose if you go the lingerie route because it confirms you have a one-track mind. Since it is a no-win, may I suggest the lesser of all evils? Stay away from jewelry. I’m not talking about the earrings from Wal-mart or the handmade bead stuff that you buy from your co-worker out of sympathy. I’m talking diamonds, gold and precious gems. I was at the mall one day by myself and for some unknown reason decided, or was moved by some harmonic force, to pause at a jewelry store. The clerk must have been bored out of his skull and saw me as a sort of savior from his franchised prison. Despite the, “I’m just looking” excuse, he must have interpreted my words as “I’m here with wads of cash and I need to spend it in your store right now.” I also must have fit the profile in the training manual that indicates I had been married a few years since he was very eager to point out the Special Limited Edition Anniversary Band. His description of color and clarity and a few other “C” words was over my head. But I took note when he said, “A ring like this is great investment. It will only increase in value.” Now I wasn’t born yesterday, though my wife would argue otherwise, I didn’t fall for the investment line. That’s a load of crap. And here’s why. No self respecting woman in her Golden Years is going to say, “Honey, lets trade in that diamond ring for a new Harley.” It ain’t gonna happen. That ring you gave her that cost you a grand may have appreciated twenty times, but its always going to stay in the family. You’re not going to see any profit from that “investment.” So here’s my advice. If you’re really serious about an investment, put your money in a mutual fund marked “Motorcycle” and say your prayers.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

If I had a million dollars...

I had a thought as I stepped into the shower this morning. As I do most mornings, I reached down and made sure the washcloth was hanging over the drain handle so the tub won’t fill up with water. It then occurred to me, do rich people live with quirky little things like this? I don’t know how long the spring has been broken, but its one of those things you just kind of live with. The bad thing was that it made me think of all the other busted stuff around my house, like the leaky kitchen faucet and the fridge that drips water during the defrost cycle. That led to thinking about all the cabinet doors with broken clasps and the pocket door that always falls off the track and the 3 light ceiling fan with two operational sockets. Then there’s our minivan without a heater, the pesky leak in the roof, and the……. You get the picture. Not a good way to start the day. Then it got worse with “If only I was rich...” Thankfully, I didn’t stay in that frame of mind too long. I’ve lived long enough to know that there will always be something else to worry about. Once I got the tub drain fixed, I’d probably look at the chips in the tile and think, “Should I replace those?” If I trade the van in for a new one, I’ll worry about it getting door dings. Prosperity always brings with it a new challenge. One challenge I find interesting is how prosperity has the tendency to create distance and diminish a sense of community. What is one of the first things a person wants to do when he/she come into a large increase of salary or inheritance or windfall of some kind? Get a bigger house. More room plus more space equals more distance between each other. If one is not careful, prosperity can buy us out of each other’s way. Here’s where we need to be diligent to ensure that blessing begets blessing. Acquiring wealth always carries with it an insidious temptation. Once you get it, you want to keep it. The more you obsess on keeping it, the less free you become. The gift morphs into the burden. No one wants that. So tomorrow when I get in the shower, I’ll drape the washcloth on the drain handle and remind myself that I’ve got it pretty good.