Rethinking Church – part 2

You can read part 1 here

simple churchA parable: Draw me a  picture

Imagine that I asked you to draw me a picture. I handed you a set of colored pencils and you set to work. But you discover that the pencils are all worn down and the wood is even with the tip. Imagine that you know nothing about a pencil sharpener.

I think you’d accomplish the picture one way or another. But I also think it would have come out much better if someone had taught you about a pencil sharpener.

Translation: I’m beginning to wonder if we are using ineffective tools in our efforts to “be the church.”

Who’s the hypocrite in our day?

In Matthew 15:1-9, Jesus and the Pharisees and Scribes are going at it. In characteristic style, Jesus lets them have it because they are hypocrites.

But they are a kind of hypocrite that I think we may be… if we are not very careful.

You see, those guys had “traditions” in place because they thought they were good… right… best.

Yes – they thought the things they were doing were right.

But Jesus said they were wrong.

Possible modern traditions that need a re-think…

The legally-defined, corporately organized church organization has become the norm, the expected that people in our day define “church”… and there’s much about it that feels like mere tradition to me…

  • Focus on large assemblies (yes, the early church had large assemblies, but we FOCUS on them a bit much I think).
  • Paid staff (yes, a worker is worth his wage… but you can’t convince me that Paul was thinking “salary” and “job description” when he encouraged caring for those who minister the gospel).
  • Facilities (I don’t even know when the first “dedicated” church building came into existence. It was a long time after the first century though).
  • Programs (these have their purpose and use, but why do we depend on them so much?).
  • Order of service (1 song, announcements, 4 songs, offering, 1 song, prayer, sermon, response song… pretty predictable, and I wonder how “Spirit-led”…).
  • A few serve (Pastor, music team) while many watch (congregation). (Of course, there are other places people serve besides Sunday mornings… but again, why the focus on the large meeting?).
  • Official job descriptions for “paid staff” (How would Peter or Paul have responded if their local church family pulled out a sheet of papyrus, listing 27 and a half bullet points of expectations for them, and asked them to sign it? I think they would have cried, on the spot).
  • Membership agreements (this is a new one for me to consider, because I’ve even recently advocated membership agreements. But I’m re-thinking their usefulness, especially if the church were to stay small in number).
  • Organizational By-laws (corporate America at its best… or worst. Why do we do this as a church?)

Yes, I know… many of these things are useful, and none of them are “bad” in and of themselves. But they are things we’ve done for so long, I wonder if we really know WHY we do them… and whether or not we are willing to evaluate whether they are helpful at all.

At this point in history most of these seem to be structures we’ve developed for the sake of expedience and “comfort” rather than for the safe of effective body-life within the church.

Most of them could be termed “extra-biblical” in fact. (Yes, I know – the Bible is “descriptive, not prescriptive.” I’ve heard it… and am not sure I completely buy it anymore).

The questions we should be asking…

  • What is “effective ministry?” I sit about large crowds or is it about true life change? – I have to insist on the later.
  • Is what we are doing as “church” (see the list above… and feel free to add your own!) truly and most effectively facilitating that definition?
  • If not, why are we continuing to do what we are doing? (You remember the definition of “insanity?“)

ANSWER: Tradition

Other questions that should be asked right on the heels of those…

  • Do our current structures enable us to obey the New Testament’s instructions regarding love for one another, unity together, and bearing one another’s burdens? (I struggle to see how they do).
  • Why can’t we, the richest nation in history, accomplish what the poor folks in Acts 2 did (none of them had need)? (My answer: We’re putting all our dough into salaries, buildings, utilities, and retirement plans).
  • Is it possible that in all our good attempts to advance the gospel and the church of Jesus, we have utilized and clung to methods that do not truly accomplish what we are trying to accomplish?
  • Is it possible that in doing so without critical examination, we have given ourselves over to methodology, rote tradition, and structures, rather than to our Savior?
  • Is it possible that as a result, our hearts (like those of the Pharisees and Scribes) are really far from God, while our lips (and structures) appear to honor Him?

I’m not trying to throw stones… just to evaluate why we are doing what we are doing…

I’m just thinking out loud here… what do you think?

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11 thoughts on “Rethinking Church – part 2

  1. You’re hitting on something very important. Where do we cross the lines when using extra biblical methods? Could it be possible that practical and yes, almost prescribed patterns of scriptural normalcy actually hold value beyond mere principles? I would say this deserves much more consideration, especially when the fruit of our efforts is largely lacking.

    • Hey Don… It’s so hard to say what in scripture is a “must do” and what is a “best practice.” But I think it does us good to reconsider our own “traditions” to make them fit the PURPOSE of church better. And yes, when the fruit is lacking, we must examine the tree…

      • Great comments. I think I’m still wrestling in general with the constraints the seem to come with the modern western church. Whether you’re a pastor, attendee, deacon, etc. there are rules to follow that are very often extra-biblical. This often puts folks with good intentions in positions that end up doing more harm than good. Youth leaders want to evangelize and equip the youth, but they’re put in a position where that happens in youth meetings on Wednesday nights, apart from parents (usually). This in turn enables parents to “outsource” the teaching of their children. This relieves them of responsibility so they don’t mature, etc. I think it’s going to be strenuous and often painful to break out of these contexts and have a fresh and objective look at what we’re doing.

      • Yep, very painful for some… a welcome sigh of relief for others. I’m seeing more and more people dissatisfied with the “institutional” church – which could be a move of the Spirit to bring about a closer community that actually bears one another’s burdens and grows as it should. We’ll see what the LORD does…

  2. Here’s food for thought. First, the Spirit is leading me to also look at the “organized” (too organized?) church. And I have been blessed with the opportunity to see churches in three different continents. One thing I would like the American church to get better at is knowing our neighbors. So often we shutter ourselves into our own routine, our own lives, our own relations and that’s it. Even in the very “Christian” city I reside, there seems little community because no one knows anyone. As we invest in each others’ lives, we get to share in their heart, their joys, their sorrows, etc. I, for one, like the idea of a smaller church because it is in that setting that I can get to know my neighbor.

    • Can’t agree more. Smaller DEMANDS accountability and intimacy. In a larger setting we have to manufacture those… and I’ve never seen it work well. Community… the one-another principles are what the church is to be about when it gathers. How well can that happen in a large context?

  3. Mike and I went to a new church with friends on Saturday night. The pastor was an excellent speaker, the sermon was inspiring, but it felt like I was watching a performance, especially the band as they had these long musical solos which really showed off the quality of the performers, but didn’t do much to enhance MY praise opportunities. The church was pretty utilitarian, but the seats were very comfy and the lighting was dim and I had a very difficult time staying awake, which is unusual for me. No one spoke to us except our friends and the greeters (who said “welcome” when we entered and “have a good day” as we were leaving). We could have gone to the welcome tent and received a welcome package, but, in our past experience, that is basically someone handing you some pamphlets and asking if you needed directions for where to take your children. The church’s budget is $6,000,000 per year. There was no indication of where that money goes (i.e. how much is salary and how much is used to help others). Programs were good, but most of them seemed to benefit the church congregation rather than anyone outside the church. This means that people pay tax-deductible tithes to the church so that they and their children can get free services. I KNOW there has to be a way to do church that actually makes a difference. As you know, I really like the idea of home churches, but we are having trouble convincing anyone else that this is a viable option. for now we are leaving it up to God knowing he will make it happen if it is his will.

    • Yep, it is hard to un-learn what we’ve been taught for so many years, for the sake of finding something better. My hope is that we can truly learn how to BE the church instead of feeling like we are DOING church. A site you might want to check out is http://www.simplechurchrevolution.com – there’s a bunch of free downloads you can get that lay out some possible ways of working toward it.

  4. Hey Carey, Sorry for the delayed response – I’m recovering from some surgery.
    I think there’s certainly a place for soberly evaluating how we are fulfilling the mission of the church and for determining what about us is pharisaical. However, I’m also afraid of falling into the opposite extreme. I think there’s the very real danger of wanting to be so counter-cultural that we throw out a lot of great things about the church.

    • I’m with you… I love the church and have given 20 years of my life to it so far. So I in no way want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. For me it’s not about being counter-cultural, it’s about figuring out what cultural practices have inhibited us from BEING what we are supposed to be AS the church.

      • I agree Carey – this needs to be about being God’s people and exercising discernment about practicing our faith. We have to ask the question – “What’s informing my faith/walk?” We are all influenced by culture, people, God, etc. But we have to think critically and pray about the influences that distract or detract from our relationship with God.

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