Monday, September 29, 2008

Cart before the Horse

Future Pastor, back to your question about how often the Church of the Future would, or should, gather.

I believe this question is irrelevant, or at least too early at this point in our discussion. The inquiry is seems more concerned with function, not fruitfulness. We should first want to concern ourselves with what exactly are we wanting to create.

I planted a few apple trees in my back yard, about seven years ago, and every year at this time my daughter asks me when the apples are going to be ready. I shamefully tell her that yet again we don’t have apples to pick, to which she quickly asks, “How come?”

“It’s hard to say.”

“Be fruitful and multiply” was the original freedom given to us as human beings, and I believe that process is implicit in all living organisms. Everything around us is fitted with the ability, or at least the longing, to grow and leave behind a reproduction of itself. So when it comes to your desire for expanding the Church of The Future, do you have in mind what you want the fruit to look like? What you envision is what you will reproduce.

I know what good apples look like, but what shows up on my trees isn’t that. But if scrawny, infested or shriveled was the standard, then I would consider myself successful every year.

If qualities like attendance, giving, or volunteering are going to be used as the sign of good fruit, your approach will take on a certain method, looking much like the existing plan of the Church As We Know It. But if you want to see greater faith, more genuine love, and an empowered, hopeful demonstration, then worrying about how often you need to get together will take a back seat in lieu of leading and inspiring these ideals.

Future Pastor, we need to examine and see if the Current Orchard is producing the right type of fruit. Once we deal with that, we can start figuring out methods and procedures.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trends or the Blowing of the Wind?

One of the hardest things for a leader to discern is the difference between the development of a trend and a the moving of the Spirit.

When I was in student ministry, we were constantly trying to reinvent ourselves in an attempt to stay ahead of the ever changing curve of the student population. I was directly involved in it for 18 years and saw a significant shift during those times.

Smaller to Larger

I watched the explosion of mega campus groups, primarily in the south, but in places like Waco and College Station emerged a much sought after phenomenon. It started from something called a “bible study,” usually a handful of students and a leader seeking to be used to reach their campus, and in a short time it transforms into a weekly gathering of thousands. God is given credit for an amazing outpouring.

The Worship Band

When I started at the University of Nebraska, worship bands were unheard of. Ours was the first that emerged. Being a frontrunner gave me several opportunities to speak out about the role that worship would play in transforming our campuses. Within a few years, it was the exception for any fellowship to not have some type of band, regardless of how small. What would have been sufficient for an acoustic guitar now demanded that plus drums, bass and a sound system. All for 20 kids.

The Kurt Cobain effect

His death, from my perspective, ushered in a season of angst where it became vogue to project little hope. To be positive was to be shallow. To not live in a constant state of questioning meant you weren’t authentic. Candles and couches snuck in during this season. We wanted to be closer to God this way.

Larger to Smaller

Toward the end of my tenure, the glory from the larger groups seemed to fade. Like Moses' diminishing glow beneath the veil, something was changing, and we weren’t really sure why. Do we blame it on God or the generation?

In each of these expressions, I look back and ask myself if I was following and forming a sociological trend, or if I was really in touch with the Spirit of God and what He desired for us. Answer: I may never know.

I see a similar wave building, and look on it differently now as an outsider and not as one shrouded by his culture he has helped create. It is the Inward to Outward display. I predict the next wave is going to move away from the inward, contemplative worship and teaching expression to a more outward focus of social issues and ministry. Could the next “worship band” be the ministry who has the best trips to help Hurricane Ike victims or the coolest soup kitchen outreach?

I don’t mean to sound cynical, but as a watchman I want to recognize what lies in the outer reaches of the landscape. If I am to awaken others to respond to what I see, I don’t want to be guilty of crying “wolf.”

Monday, September 01, 2008

Politics and Religion

I try to keep my political opinions to myself and keep them out of this blog. Religion is enough to think and worry about for me right now. I can’t imagine trying to do justice to both.

I know many families have the general rule, when they get together, of no talk of either politics or religion. They both cause the same trouble and lead to the same arguments. It’s because religion and politics don’t mix very well. Just ask Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant Magazine. Who would have thought that being invited to say a prayer at this year’s DNC would cause such a ruckus? It’s a prayer, crying out loud.

I have to admit that when I saw Rick Warren throw himself into the political arena by hosting a debate at his church, I was a bit worried that he might yet become another evangelical leader seduced by the power that politics provides. The only reason he got the opportunity to do that was because he has power in the religious arena. Selling millions of books gets you noticed.

I’m not saying people of faith shouldn’t be involved politically. All I ask and hope for is that they don’t make the same mistakes in politics as has happened in the Church As We Know It.

People on the Right, or the Left or In The Church have this in common; they have the tendency to act as if their worldview is iron clad and has no holes.

You will never hear James Carville, Sean Hannity and The Bible Answer Man allude to any kind of doubt or question or uncertainty with whatever position they are defending.

I just wish for once, in the midst of all the hype and spin, that I could hear some honest struggle. Tension exists between the Left and Right, but seldom can we talk about the tension within.

It always bugged me as a young man of growing faith that I could never get an answer from a person in clergical authority that was not in the form of chapter and verse defenses. I would walk away feeling I was wrong and he was right, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

I guess I carry that same suspicion into this election season. I seldom find people on either side politically who are fully committed to their cause that can tell me anything they are concerned about in their own position.

Future Pastor, as you feel the need to become more politically active, don’t be quick to proclaim certainty without humility. State your beliefs, and do so with an awareness that your position will always be held in tension with others around you. Be gracious to those who misunderstand you. It’s more important to love well than to be right.