Church in Transition

The Emerging Neighborhoods

Well worth the read, UMC Bishop Ken Carter writes an article making the point that neighborhoods are no longer what they used to be. It is rare that people gather in their geographical neighborhood as their source of community. Now, community happens through networking, which has become the new “third place” for community (the first two being home and work).

The church must pay attention to this reality if we are to develop trusting relationships within our “neighborhoods.” People have long since given up using church (or even church buildings) as a central community place. They do not feel safe doing so. I find this tragic, but true.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg, quoted in the same article by Bishop Carter, recognizes a meaningful and successful “third place” for experiencing community exhibits particular characteristics, some of which are quite lacking in many of our churches.

Oldenburg writes about these characteristics of an inclusive “third place” community:

. . . [T]here are no economic barriers to entrance; there is food and drink; the space is highly accessible; there are regulars, who are usually present, and newcomers, who are welcomed and received with ease.  It is also often the case that a third place has the quality of a neutral space, that the dominant mode of communication is conversation, and that the mood is playful.

Coffee shops have come to fill a geographical niche here, as churches (including Sunday mornings) fail to achieve many of these characteristics. Special interests and participation in particular causes create natural networks that serve to fill our need for community in non location-specific ways.

The point seems to be that as long as churches continue to exist primarily for themselves and their members, and until we create an environment in which all are included (newcomer and charter-member side by side), our inroads into our neighborhoods seem to be limited.

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Categories: american christianity, Church in Transition, missional church | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

New Resource for Congregations!

TheNeighborhoodChurch.flyer

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Institutional Church, kingdom of God, medium church, missional church, small church, suburban church | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Neighborhood Church: God’s Vision of Success”

My new book is available, and at a discount price! Retail is $13.00, but order now for only $10.40 at https://wipfandstock.com/store/The_Neighborhood_Church_Gods_Vision_of_Success
A great resource for congregations who wish to engage more fully in being part of the reign of God in their neighborhoods.

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, kingdom of God, Make Disciples, missional church, Revitalization | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Confessions of a Violent Person

   I regret to inform the reader that I am a violent person. Let me be clear on this; I don’t hit anyone. I don’t own (and have rarely used) a gun or any other physical weapon. I haven’t been in a fist fight since 7th grade (which I lost most grievously). I am pretty much a pacifist in theory, though I’m the first to admit I’ve never been strongly tested on that. If it were up to me, I’d repeal the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the right to bear arms. And I am sickened by the ongoing shootings, stabbings, bombings and more that are so prevalent in our local and national news.
   And yet I am violent. Even deadly.
   As a participant in U.S. culture and society, I am also a participant in a culture of violence. My own non-violent actions and intentions cannot overcome the reality of my passive support of rampant violence in this country. Because I am part of a culture of violence, I am guilty of it by default.
   My cousin Mary, who is a vehement defender of gun ownership, reminds me that guns aren’t the problem, people who misuse them are. And she is right. Therefore the problem goes well beyond gun rights or gun legislation. It is deeper, and more deadly than that. You see, the problem is that we have normalized violence to the point that we simply accept it as part of our culture, even as part of our humanity.
   When two twelve-year-olds can stab a classmate 19 times and leave her for dead, when yet another college campus can be devastated by a troubled person with an assault rifle, when the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan can continue to claim victims, and we are no longer made physically ill, something very deep is broken. When the highest grossing video games include very realistic gunplay and slaughter, when among the highest acclaimed movies celebrate the violent vengeance of the righteous, and we shrug our shoulders and watch ourselves become more deeply immersed in them, our very souls are endangered. Our most popular professional sport, football, is based to some degree on violence–to the point that professional players often suffer long-term physical and mental health issues. And still many of us rearrange our Sunday lives to watch our glamorized, violent heroes on TV. Something is very, very wrong among us.
   Turning the TV to the Hallmark channel on Sunday mornings isn’t a solution. Nor is boycotting video games and violent movies. Putting metal detectors on college and high school campuses will not change our violent hearts. And gun control measures cannot curb our cultural acceptance of violence. Teen suicide rates continue to climb, weapons present in schools continue to be an issue, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and bullying continue to keep too many perpetually unsafe. We reap what we sow. In a violent culture, violence is considered to be a normal response to anxiety, anger, depression, and frustration.
The few who are outraged are quickly painted as being outside the mainstream–radicals, socialists, or extremists to be discounted and ignored. Yet we are all guilty. Just as surely as our tax money provides for capital punishment, we are all perpetrators of violence.
   I feel helpless even to expose the evil, much less combat it (see? Even talking about an alternative to violence takes on violent terminology). I cannot change this, partly because I cannot live apart from it. Though reigning in expressions of violence (by various means–including legislation), won’t change our hearts and souls, they are necessary. Just as reigning in expressions of racism call to the fore our deep-seated cultural racism, so calling out violence reveals our normalization of violence. These alone don’t solve the problem, merely expose it. Scratching surface, the tip of the iceberg.
   So, powerless as we are, do we simply sit back and watch our children descend further into this brokenness and evil? Hell no. We face it. We acknowledge it. We admit our guilt. And we live differently.
   My own model for this, my inspiration, starts with Jesus. I’m not talking about a belief system or a set of doctrines, but a life. This is one who caught a vision of a new way of being human, a different view of how we live and relate together. Many others have been inspired over the centuries to see the same vision and live differently in the face of broken cultures. Ghandi, MLK, Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai to name a very few.
   I cannot change a culture that normalizes, even glamorizes violence. But I can live differently in the face of that culture. Some will be angry when I show up at a Gay Pride Festival, some will shout loudly when I advocate for the helpless poor among us, and others will roll their eyes and dismiss me when I stand with adherents of other religions and philosophies. I cannot alter my culture. I cannot control those around me who may respond to me violently. But I can strive to live differently. I can attempt to reveal something other than a normative attitude toward violence. Moving toward a non-violent culture won’t happen by making changes around me; only through changes within me.

Categories: american christianity, Church in Transition, faith practices, kingdom of God, racism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beautiful, Broken Congregation: The “So What?” Of Easter

One of my favorite things about being a Lutheran is that we openly talk about being “at the same time, saint and sinner.” This doesn’t mean that sometimes we are good and sometimes bad. It has nothing to do with whether choices we make are holy or evil. It doesn’t even divide us into part saint and part sinner. No, we Lutherans talk about everything we are–and therefore everything we do–is at the same time absolutely broken and yet completely redeemable. The God who can raise Jesus from the pit of death is the same God who brings life and hope and newness out of my most deeply dark places.

I like that. It makes so much sense and explains so much about our life experience. I ponder this aspect of Lutheran theology and find it truly grounding and helpful. No matter how much of a scoundrel I am, God’s goodness and love can bring something new and beautiful out of me. And no matter how wonderful and delightful I am, my brokenness gets in the way.

Consider that next time your best efforts fail miserably. Watch for God to bring something life-giving out of it. And when you are being praised for a job well done, don’t you always know deep down that you’ve somehow kept your inadequacies covered up–at least this time?

For those of you who are involved in a congregation, doesn’t this “saint/sinner” theology make sense for your faith community too? Sometimes I think we are harder on our congregations than we are on other organizations. Maybe because we somehow expect more saint and less sinner in the church. Maybe because congregations are often places where we pretend saint-ness and hide our sin-ness. Perhaps other reasons as well.

But the reality is that the church is made up of people. Not better than anyone; not worse than anyone. Just people. People who are, at the same time, saints and sinners. How, then, can the church–including your own congregation–be any different? The church is completely messed up, broken, and selfish. And the church feeds the hungry, shows mercy to the helpless, and walks with other saint/sinner people at major turning points in their lives. Jesus is Lord of all creation, not just the church, and yet we understand the brokenness and hypocrisy of the rest of the world. We somehow expect something different from our congregations.

It seems that your congregation (and mine) deserves a break. We will never, ever be whole and magnificent and holy. We will never reflect God’s love the way we should. We will always fight and be divisive and mean. Everything we do will have selfish motives. Just like each one of the congregational members. Just like each one of us.

And at the same time we are forgiving, merciful, and go out of our way to love. Somehow, God’s grace and compassion and life-giving ways still find a way to be lived out in and through our congregations. Sometimes in surprising and unlikely ways, but it happens!

It’s easy to bemoan our congregational deficiencies. It’s easy to blame someone else for our congregational problems. But it takes God’s gift of faith and hope to trust in God’s redeeming activity–in your congregation and in mine.

Easter is fast approaching, and we Christians celebrate victory of life over death, of newness springing forth in the midst of hopelessness. This Easter, I plan to re-emphasize my confidence in the God of life, of hope, of mercy. In my life, and in the life of my congregation. My church is, after all, a broken and divided community that reveals God’s love and grace in the world in ways that are beautiful beyond description. And you know what? So is yours.

Categories: Church in Transition, Institutional Church, kingdom of God, missional church, Revitalization, spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Making Disciples: Helping the Church or Helping the World?

It’s time to quit making disciples. At least, in the way we’ve recently come to understand it. In Matthew 28, Jesus does tell us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Let’s be honest, we’ve historically took that to mean “converting” them, getting them to believe what “we” believe, getting them to come to church and become one of us. Is that what Jesus really meant? Or is that our own cultural self-righteousness and judgment oozing forth–quite in contrast to pretty much everything Jesus said and did.

The church’s typical understanding of making disciples sounds more like the Borg–“We will assimilate you. Resistance is futile.”

Instead, I think, Jesus lived and spoke about loving people. It would seem that authentic, caring relationships do that best. If we approach the people of the world with an attitude of changing them, “saving” them, or making them somehow better if they believe a certain (my) way, we are in opposition to the gospel that Jesus was all about. And in opposition to him.

Loving them, however, looks much different. Typical discipleship-making serves the church, loving others serves the world. Consider the difference in the following statements, and see which way best conveys your approach to making disciples.

–Get them to serve the church, or get the church to serve them.
–Change their beliefs, or see God already present in their beliefs.
–Point out the errors of their lack of faith, or listen authentically while they point out the errors in yours.
–Preach to them, or get to know them.
–Continue to refer to them as “them,” or recognize the ever-blurring lines between those who serve with a church community and those who serve in other ways.
–See boundaries between who’s in and who’s out, or see all people as created in the image of a God who loves all of us.

So, how’d you do? See the difference? Something to think about, anyway.

It seems to me that following Jesus means going where he goes. With his love. For all. Unconditionally. Period.

Categories: Church in Context, Church in Transition, Institutional Church, Make Disciples, missional church | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is Liturgy Relevant Anymore?

“Because it’s always been the bedrock of worship.” “Because it’s scriptural.” “Because it’s trustworthy.” “Because we’ve been using it for centuries.” “Because if we don’t use it, we’ll descend into chaos.”

These are some of the answers I found when asking the question, “Why do we use a liturgy for our Sunday corporate worship?” Some answers were really helpful, such as, “Liturgy passes on the faith,” and, “Liturgy connects us to something larger than ourselves.” Others were less so, like, “We’ve always done it that way,” or, “It’s what makes us Lutheran.” But underneath all the answers–helpful or not–it seems to me that liturgy, as rich and full as it is, doesn’t do anything that can’t be done by other means equally well. Many things pass on the faith–some much better than liturgy. Actually mentoring a young person in the faith comes to mind. And there are lots of things that tie us to the church catholic–scripture kind of being an obvious one.

So, “Why liturgy?”

I have a nasty habit of questioning things that sometimes seem to be taken for granted. “In the Lutheran tradition, we talk a lot about trusting the priesthood of all believers. So why should I wear a clerical collar when it’s origins are all about separating clergy from laity?” (Scotland, 17th century). “Why is some level of understanding a pre-requisite to receiving Holy Communion? I don’t understand gravity, but it still works.” “Since the efficacy of the Eucharist rests in God alone (again, Lutheran tradition), why does an ordained clergy-person need to preside?” It gets me into trouble sometimes, but launches some great conversations. I keep asking and studying and listening until I am satisfied with an answer that seems to work scripturally, missionally and contextually–at least for now. If I can’t discern a legitimate answer, I tend to do what makes sense scripturally, missionally, and contextually. Just so, “Why liturgy?”

Here’s where I am today: the great ordo around which liturgy is framed (gathering, word, meal, sending) makes sense because it is real life. We gather at the breakfast table, talk about our plans for the day, eat our pancakes, and send each other off to work/school. Then we do it again at work/school, then we do it again when we get home at night. There are innumerable “mini-ordos” that happen throughout the day as well, e.g., water-cooler conversations, meetings, homework study groups, and so on.

If liturgy is to be part of our daily discipleship, it should reflect daily life. The ordo does that. But it needs to go both ways. Our daily life needs to inform our liturgy as well. Together, our Sunday gathering and our daily living need to form a continuum that relates one  to the other at a deep and significant level. When there is a disconnect between liturgy and life, Sunday corporate worship becomes irrelevant (anyone every hear that criticism before?). When the order or form of liturgy takes on a life of its own apart from Monday-Saturday, that liturgy has failed. It serves only to separate God from our lives instead of reveal God in the real rhythm of daily living. Unfortunately, too many of us have come to revere (or even idolize) the comfort of classic liturgy for its own sake.

So what would liturgy look like if informed by daily life? How about using the language of daily life as our liturgy. Try this on for size.

In my tradition, the “Gathering” of the ordo includes an invocation, kyrie, gloria patri, and prayer. What if the invocation served to simply ask God to be with us? Like a prayer we could say when we first get out of bed Monday morning, “Bless our day, Holy God. Help us serve you and follow you today.”

“Kyrie,” Greek for “Lord” (and short for Kyrie Eleison, or “Lord, have mercy”), could allow for individuals to bring into the assembly those things causing them anxiety, stress, or concern. Those who wish could say out loud, “Today I’m really worried about [the health of my Aunt Sylvia]. Lord, have mercy.” And the assembly responds, “Christ, have mercy.” A real-life Kyrie.

In the same way, a “Gloria” could follow a similar pattern, “Today, I’m grateful for [my homeless friend Henry moving into his first apartment]. Glory to God!” And the assembly responds, “Glory to God in the highest!” Get the picture?

In the “Word” portion of the ordo, centered around scripture, there is a gospel acclamation, a fanfare revealing the importance of the gospel being read among us. How about everyone shouting (or singing), “Get ready, everyone! Jesus is entering our conversation! Let’s listen!” Be sure to invite households to do something similar at home when they are planning their day ahead.

During the “Meal” part of worship, we often utilize a Great Thanksgiving, including the words of institution over the bread and wine. What if, as the Great Thanksgiving, we together prayed, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen!” What would happen at home the next time children prayed that table prayer?

The “Sending” at the end of liturgy includes a benediction and a dismissal. Can we consider as our sending making a bunch of peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches to distribute to the homeless?

If we step back a bit, acknowledge the false idol many of us have regarding a particular form of liturgy, we can use this ancient corporate worship framework to actually help us live as disciples, joining God in the world during the week. Liturgy informed by daily life according to the rhythm of the ordo: gathering, word, meal, sending.

But, again, this has to go both ways. If life informs liturgy, liturgy must also inform life. What would daily life look like when informed by, rather than separated from, liturgy?

We could wake up and ask for God to be with us today (invocation). We could automatically plead for Jesus to have mercy when we are anxious (kyrie). We could thank God for working in the world without even thinking about it (gloria patri). We could recognize the presence of Jesus in our everyday conversations (gospel acclamation). We could be aware of God’s grace and presence in the school cafeteria (great thanksgiving). We could plan, as a household, a day to volunteer at a local homeless shelter (sending), or together collect a portion of our allowance/salary to help eradicate malaria (offering).

When our Sunday corporate worship gatherings become part of the purpose of the church rather than a separate, sacred silo that cannot be touched, liturgy is doing what it was intended to do. When the lines between our secular, daily lives and our sacred, Sunday morning time become blurred, liturgy is serving the church well. Alleluia, Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Categories: american christianity, Church in Context, Church in Transition, faith practices, kingdom of God, liturgy, missional church | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

On the Impossibility of Revitalizing the Institutional Church

More and more, denominations are coming to the realization that starting new ministries is the most effective way to reach more people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in this era of “nones” and declining church participation across the board, reaching more people is in higher demand than ever. Regardless of what we may say to the contrary, church is still primarily a numbers game, and bigger certainly wins.

They may be right.

But for good or for ill, as a pastor, that isn’t what I’m called to do. Instead of forming a new ministry with no weirdness outside of my own, I’m called to deal with decades of previous, overlapping, compounded, criss-crossing weirdnesses in addition to my own. Instead of energy put into mission in the world, I’m called to deal with energy around preserving what has been. Instead of shaping a ministry from the outset to deal with the realities of 21st century culture, I’m called to deal with memories of church in the 1970s and 80s. Although I have never been a new mission developer, I have overseen that work, admired (envied?) those with the gifts to do it, and have an understanding of the intensity of work involved. I have celebrated with new mission developers who, in part because of their exhaustive work and dedication, have seen their ministries explode in growth. I’ve wept with new mission developers who, despite their exhaustive work and dedication, had to shut down their ministries before they ever got off the ground. By and large, developing new ministries is a pretty effective way to reach new people we haven’t been able to reach before, e.g., ethnic groups, LGBTQ folks, and Millenials. It’s exciting, invigorating, and exhausting!

And yet, I’m called to reach those people through the ministries of existing congregations. I don’t have the gifts, the aptitude, or the extroversion to start a new congregation. Since I believe with all my being that the church–whether 3 minutes old or 3 centuries–is created and called by God to proclaim and participate in God’s mission in the world, I have a choice to make. I can work to preserve and maintain an institutional congregation or I can attempt the impossible–revitalize one so it can embrace the LGBTQ community in the neighborhood, the Spanish-speaking in the neighborhood, and a new generation of those largely uninterested in anything the institutional church has to say in the neighborhood.

For me there is no real choice. I’ve spent almost 30 years feeling like Don Quijote, jousting at windmills. Many say the work that I (and any number of others) are trying to do is a waste of time, since it is so rarely successful. Sometimes I agree. I can’t begin to count the number of sleepless nights I’ve spent because my congregations  have chosen status quo over mission. My wife still experiences post-traumatic stress at congregational meetings because of the hateful and anti-Christian comments that have been said about her husband over the years. I believe I could fill a lake with tears spilled over people we’ve hurt in our stubborness, neighbors we’ve neglected in our obtuseness, Spirit-given opportunities we’ve missed because of our institutionalization. My children have seen the dark under-belly of the church, and have no illusions about how badly we can behave. I’ve yelled at God until I’m hoarse, begging for some tangible sign of success or mission advancement.

Is revitalizing an existing, institutional congregation impossible? I will never believe that. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same God of these status quo fortresses. Some of these institutions will die in the next generation. Others will manage to hang on. And a very few will be moved by the Holy Spirit to die to themselves and be raised again as communities boldly overflowing with mercy and grace in their surrounding neighborhoods. A very few.

And I want desperately to be part of one of those. I want to be in a faith community that uses its tradition and heritage as tools to be fully present in a broken world. I want to see the lights come on in the eyes of an 80-year-old guardian of the institutional church when he passes on his great faith to a teenager in baggy pants with his belt below his butt. I long for this.

And I’ve seen it.

Glory to God, I’ve been part of it. It doesn’t happen every day. It doesn’t get the glitz and the press of new mission starts. But I get glimpses of the reign of God present in the institutional church. I’ve seen a martriarch who fought me over every little change put her arms around a single mother and hold her. I’ve seen a stoic defender of the status quo mist up when serving holy communion to a disheveled stranger. I’ve watched as neighborhood children suddenly have advocates, as a quiet young mother prays with a sick and elderly woman, as a child actually shouts for joy after taking bread and wine with the rest of her congregation. I’ve been part of a church community where the mentally ill are accepted and the differently abled are treasured. I’ve been partners with the most disagreeable alligators who serve food in a homeless shelter every week, offering dignity and grace in addition to a plate of food and a warm bed.

You have too.

Honestly, there probably won’t be a lot of existing, institutional congregations that will look like exciting new mission starts. And some of our existing congregations need to recognize that their days are coming to an end. But God will not be denied. Resurrection is real. Perhaps our success isn’t to be measured in bunches of shiny new participants but in the straggly and disheartened ones who are touched by Christ’s love through us but will never step into our old buildings. Maybe the conflicts over carpet and wallpaper don’t overshadow the foundational love and compassion that are often shown in the neighborhood but even more often go unnoticed.

And, perhaps most importantly, we battered, bloodied, and sometimes exhausted clergy-types need to support one another in seeing God at work in our midst. Attempting to be part of the revitalization of an exising church is lonely, difficult, and endless work. The rewards are few and far between. The glamour is usually non-existent. So perhaps it would be a good idea to call a pastor in your neighborhood and take them to lunch. Listen and find ways to affirm what they are doing. Ask them to do the same for you. God’s reign is happening all around us–let’s make sure we don’t miss it due to weariness or discouragement from attempting an impossible job.

Categories: american christianity, church growth, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, Institutional Church, kingdom of God, missional church, religious, Revitalization, spirituality | 4 Comments

“I’m Just Fine Without Your Religion”

Finally, some in the  church are getting it. People aren’t looking for a church with great youth programs, good education, relevant preaching, historic liturgy, or a solid band. No, they aren’t looking for a church that will support them in difficult times. And, no, they arent looking for a place from which to be buried. The fact is, they aren’t looking for a church at all. Period. That is all.

Once we get that, we are free to be an authentic church, in relationship with our neighborhoods. From there, we are best equipped to participate in, and reveal, the reign of God. It all starts, however, with listening–something at which the church has been historically bad.

Check out this outstanding blog post by Laura Everett to get a clue about how different the future of the church is looking if we are faithful.
http://reveverett.com/2013/06/11/religious-nones/

Listen, listen, listen to those outside the church. People don’t want a church. At least not the way we’re presenting it. Perhaps not at all. Can we live with that? What does that mean for how we see ourselves? For our measurements of success? For our relationships with our neighbors?

Categories: american christianity, church growth, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, missional church, religious, spirituality | Leave a comment

The Church is Not for Me

I suspect you are reading this post for one of three reasons. One, that you follow this blog and find it interesting enough to continue. Second, that you read the title of this post and were hoping for more reasonable arguments you can use against your persistent church-going friends. Or, third, you know I like to play with the titles of my blog posts and were curious where I might be going. Well, you decide as you go along.
Our culture (U.S. American) is changing, and quickly. The Generation that was going to save the world–the Baby Boomers–is now retiring without having saved much. GenX is now middle aged and, by many accounts, hasn’t lived up to the hype. The Millennials are now the hope for the future, with a Generation Z (sometimes referred to as the “Homeland Generation”) being born right on their heels.
Lots of research is being done in church circles as to how to “reach” the Millennials. Some of it is helpful–especially when it comes from those who are of that generation. And some of it is unintentionally humorous, especially when it comes from Boomers who are struggling to make sense of people so different than they are. Millennials are not coming in droves into our churches, and with good reason. Our churches are not for them.
I am a late Boomer myself, so I’m part of those struggling to present excitingly good news to people who aren’t hearing it that way. My generation is now famous in the church for “seeker worship,” “entertainment evangelism,” and “safe anonymity.” Come and watch, keep to yourself, and see if there’s enough in worship to hold you. The generations  above me, the Silent Generation and the Builders, put up with this–but not happily. They’ve had their own struggles with church.
The point that has often been  made from generation to generation is that “the church’s worship isn’t relevant.” Pardon my cynicism, but it’s kinda trendy now to talk about being “spiritual but not religious,” and to avoid the church because it is “judgmental, hypocritical, narrow-minded.” Or tout new ways the church can look, e.g., “emergent church,” “ethnic-specific ministry,” “age-specific ministry.” It’s not uncommon now to even refer to the church as the source of all manner of evil. I’m not disagreeing, I’ll just deal with that in a different post. The point being that we struggle so deeply to connect to our culture to our worship (or theother way around) that we lose our anchor in the storm, i.e., the church’s purpose.
The other side of that involves churches who claim the high road of continuing the way they have been “doing church” for decades and expecting those who aren’t inside the church to connect to liturgy. Again, cynicism, but sorry; 17th century hymns and chants don’t automatically reverberate in the hearts of those not brought up with them (or even some who were).
It seems to me that we keep struggling to help the church meet every new generation in worship. What will they like? What will appeal to them? How can we get them to come? How can we convince them that what we’re doing in worship is really appealing? And so, in our desperation to be relevant, we’ve missed the point of being church. We’re still focusing on getting those outside to come “in,” even though our purpose has always been getting those inside to go out.
So how about if, instead of starting with worship as the focal point, we began with what God is doing in the world. Instead of discussing which form, style, emphasis, music, ritual, tradition, or volume of worship was better, we discussed how our worship connected those present with God’s mission? This is dangerous talk, because if we take this seriously, the church becomes less about “me,” or more about “the world.” My agenda and preference for worship style won’t be what decides how we worship. Those who control what happens on the inside of the church won’t get their (our) way. If our emphasis is on connecting worship with God’s missional activity, we don’t pick songs and hymns based on what those who come every week prefer.
For many congregations, this is scandalous at best, and a declaration of war at worst.
So, typically, my congregation is stepping in to this quagmire. This is one of our summer projects. We have had two forms of worship for about 13 years, and although there have been real benefits (including an expression of the gift of diversity), one negative outcome has been a container to hold a divided congregation. “My” worship vs. “your” worship, and never the ‘twain shall meet. For us, our disunity has affected our vision and ability to support one another in missional movement forward. So we are stripping down worship and starting over. We will pack everyone into one worship service each Sunday to express the reality that we are unified in Christ with one purpose. Our first week will be bare-bones, deliberately not appealing to “early” worshipers or “late”worshipers, but a simple service with (gasp!) no music at all. Based somewhat on congregational input, it will evolve over the summer (music will be added the second week–whew!) but the emphasis will deliberately be on unity in purpose. We exist not for ourselves but to be part of what God is doing in the world.
Worship should never have become the barometer for measuring a successful church. If we want to measure worship, it needs to be how what we do corporately on Sunday connects people to God’s missional activity around us. The church is not for me. No, it is for (and has always been for) the sake of the world. And that includes worship.
Since we are unclear as to what worship will look like at the end of the summer, I would value input and conversation around what the intertwining of God’s mission in the world with Sunday worship looks like for you. I believe we would all benefit.

Categories: church growth, Church in Context, Church in Transition, Evangelism, missional church, religious, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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