Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Church

I've been thinking about church a lot lately. Even on vacation. My two weeks away from being a pastor took me to our denominations regional conference (with Neil Cole), to the Cornerstone Festival (the Jesus People), and to two different worship services (one within our denomination, but not at all like our church; and one was an AG church).

"Church" is such a peculiar term. It means something different to almost everyone. On one hand it is good that there are different strains. But on the other hand it can make it difficult. For instance, I know people - very good friends, and family - who really need a church... But you can't really just tell them they need to get involved in "a church," because depending on the church they choose, it might not be what they need. Some of them are even involved in churches, but they are not anything like what I mean by "church" and then it leaves the person thinking the church isn't the answer, or doesn't have anything to offer.

While we were back in our old hometown we attended two different Sunday morning gatherings. One at our old church - and even that group has two completely different worship services. The one we attended had a Korean worship leader, who also happened to be preaching that day. The service we attended was very laid back. The music was done with electric guitars, drums, etc., and everyone wore jeans or shorts. Communion was 'self-serve' and there was an altar call at the end. I felt very comfortable there, and felt like I had a good worship experience... I felt like God spoke to me.

The second Sunday we attended the People Church in Princeton. They are currently holding four services in their teeny building while trying to build a new one. This is a newer Assemblies of God church (though I think I recognized the sermon series from southern baptist origin). It was similar to the experience at our old church, but the atmosphere was completely different. They dim the lights during the singing time, their music - while it was guitars and drums too - was perhaps done better, and for a younger audience - and the preacher was much younger, and much more engaging. I really liked this service too, and felt equally moved by God.

Even our time at the Cornerstone Festival - while not a "church" necessarily - it was a worship gathering (though it was outside, and lasted a week). Very laid back, very loud music, very varied in the style and dress and demographic even of the attendees. Yet God spoke in a powerful way still.

Now... and I want to walk softly here (don't hear what I'm not saying)... I have to admit that while I was attending each of these gatherings, there were a lot of thoughts running through my head about my own church I am involved with. Some of them were good (we do a lot of things well that other churches don't), but some of them were not so good. I thought about how terrible our worship space is - from the lighting, to the pews, to the stage, to the sound system, to the entry way... And I also became very frustrated about passivity. As Neil Cole says, "If people coming on Sunday are passive, un-engaged consumers, then we have a weak church." To be perfectly honest... we have a weak church. We have a leadership problem, we need a new worship leader and musicians, we need more people who care about the spiritual welfare of people other than themselves... shoot, we need more people who care about others, period! Anyway, there were a whole host of things I was thinking about our church. There were a whole host of things I was thinking about other church initiatives I am involved in.

Eventually it all seems to come back to something that I was thinking at the beginning of my vacation. While at the MRC Convention I attended a break-out session on church planting. After the session ended I asked the leader a question. I wanted to ask him because he had been a mentor of mine, he is a regional church planting guy, a good friend, and someone that I knew would be honest with me. I'd also been a part of his team when he planted a church once. What I asked him was something along the lines of... "What is the most base definition of a church?" In other words, what's the minimum you need to have or do to call something a "church"? Well, I was a little disappointed in his answer. But then Neil Cole was our main speaker for three sessions, and someone asked him the exact same question.

Neil talked about the need to lower the bar on how we 'do' church (so everybody can do it), and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple (so people will do it). I've heard that before, and believe it... But I'm still not sure about the second part. Because the disciple part seems to be the hard part. I mean, it seems like I spend almost all of my time as a pastor trying to resuscitate disciples; or I spend all my time trying to disciple disciples. It seems the people who are supposed to be disciples don't think of themselves as disciples, and still want someone to be discipling them, and then no one gets discipled because the disciples don't think they're disciples. So then it just becomes easier to 'do' church and occupy ourselves with that, and we end up with no one being discipled.

I suppose that's a little harsh, and maybe not all that true. It's just what it seems like on my first day back in the office after being gone for two weeks.

Anyway, someone asked Neil Cole what his definition of "church" was. He had a specific answer... according to Neil, "Church" is... "the presence of Jesus among his people, called out as a spiritual family to pursue his mission on this planet." I suppose that sounds alright. Pretty good for a surfer, even. But, to be honest, I don't really know that it helps me any. Like, what exactly does that even mean?

The little motto for our church is: "Finding direction by following Jesus." I think I'm going to just talk about that this Sunday for the sermon. What that means and stuff. Because I don't really know if I know what it means to be the church. While listening to Andrew Jones last week he was talking about all the people that would question him about the 'emerging church,' or the 'missional church,' or the 'house church,' and on and on and on. Finally he said he didn't really know what the differences were or that it even mattered. Basically he said something about just living as God's child and loving people like Jesus. I like that.

I just finished reading the book 'To Transform A City' by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams. Towards the end they talk about changing the scorecard - something we've been trying to do at our church. They say... (p.192-193)

For churches to really engage in community, they must first change the metrics of effectiveness. Churches have been great at counting noses and nickels, but that may not be what God is most concerned with. It's not just our Sunday morning attendance that matters. It's not just having activities in our church - it's about people actively serving in the community. It's not about the money we receive; it's about the money we give away. How many suffering people have no one to comfort them? How many children are alone in the streets of our community? Maybe we need to change our scorecard so that it matches God's and begin measuring success by the right standards - kingdom standards.

Yeah... I think that's right, but... I don't know. Like I said, I've been thinking a lot about church lately. I didn't think this post would be so long. Anyway... In the meantime I'm just going to work at loving God, and trying to love the other folks I come in contact with. I could use some help with that, Jesus.

Peace out; and in.