Tag archives: church

Pope Francis Interview

I’m working my way through the interview with Pope Francis appearing today in the Jesuit publication America, but I liked this bit. Important word to people in leadership positions, especially in the church.

John XXIII adopted this attitude with regard to the government of the church, when he repeated the motto, ‘See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.’ John XXIII saw all things, the maximum dimension, but he chose to correct a few, the minimum dimension. You can have large projects and implement them by means of a few of the smallest things. Or you can use weak means that are more effective than strong ones, as Paul also said in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

Francis is talking about the corrections John XXIII oversaw with the Second Vatican Council. So some people might say that’s a pretty big “little” that John XXIII tackled. And if that’s the minimum dimension, it gives you a sense of how big the maximum dimension must be.

Builder’s Remorse

Whenever I visit a church with a huge campus — or even a disco ball — I always remind my self that covetousness is a sin. A recent article by Ed Stetzer suggests I might not feel that way if I pastored the church meeting there.

I think many churches are going to wish they had not built gigantic multi-thousand seat auditoriums… I served as an interim pastor for a church in Nashville with a 3,000-seat auditorium. Meeting with the staff before I left, we all agreed that if the church were started today, we would not build in the same way.

It’s a good article. (As usual; if you’re not following Ed Stetzer on a regular basis, I recommend you do.)

But on the question of buildings, what makes a great place to worship? How does that assist the entire mission of the church? How does it compete with the church’s mission?

I know a church that’s under tension as one bloc within the congregation advocates for leaving the denomination. Suppose they succeed, and their opponents leave the congregation. Or suppose that first bloc becomes discouraged and they leave. How will the remaining members pay for that awesome building? How will that financial burden take away from the rest of what they’re doing?

A Great Time to Be a Pastor

I’ve recently come across two articles that illustrate why this is a great time to be a pastor. Or, for that matter, a follower of Christ.

Presbyterian leaders in Pittsburgh reeling from latest exodus:

At least 200 other churches have similarly left the 1.9 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) since 2007. The most prominent issue was acceptance of local option on gay ordination, but those departing say that changing sexual standards reflect a broader disregard for the biblical authority. Defenders of the changes compare them to earlier reinterpretations of scripture involving women’s ordination, divorce and slavery.

Tod Bolsinger’s blog: Hemorrhaging Pastors:

Three. In one day. On Monday, I heard of three of my pastor friends who all resigned this week. No affairs, no scandal, no one is renouncing faith. But three, really good, experienced, pastors all turned in resignations and walked away. Two are leaving church ministry all together.

I have been hearing from more pastors these days. Some of it is related to my work with TAG Consulting, a lot of it is because I am, well, one of them. We chat and email and text and the common thread is always the same: “The church is stuck and we don’t know what to do.”

For the record, I’m not planning to resign anything. I like my work and my church. But that doesn’t keep me from seeing the problems. Problems in my denomination, problems in the local church, and my own problems as someone trained to lead a church that no longer exists.

The Church is in crisis. People who don’t see it are kidding themselves, especially pastors. The lay leaders in a congregation ought to know, or certainly ought to suspect. The church as we know it is dying.

But in a perverse way, that’s good news. As Samuel Johnson put it, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

A few weeks after World War II began, the English writer C.S. Lewis gave an address to students at Oxford University called “Learning in War-Time.” In it, he said this:

War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right. All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centred in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realise it. Now the stupidest of us knows. We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.

The same is true of the church. In North America, the Church is in a crisis like nothing it has experienced before.

But God is still in his heaven, and Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus told Peter that was the rock upon which he would build his church, and the gates of Hades would not overcome it.

Christ’s Church endures. The programs and buildings and even the friendships we have mistaken for the church may not endure — or let’s be honest: many of those things certainly will not. But it’s not our church, it’s God’s. “Many are the plans in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
—“How Firm a Foundation

Ross Douthat offers some welcome relief from all the post-election GOP bashing. This part caught my eye:

The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is probably the “spiritual but not religious” seeker, or the bright young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. But the typical unchurched American is just as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community in general.

What unites all of these stories is the growing failure of America’s local associations — civic, familial, religious — to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.

… But if conservatives don’t acknowledge the crisis’s economic component, liberalism often seems indifferent to its deeper social roots. The progressive bias toward the capital-F Future, the old left-wing suspicion of faith and domesticity, the fact that Democrats have benefited politically from these trends — all of this makes it easy for liberals to just celebrate the emerging America, to minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities, and to treat the places where Americans have traditionally found solidarity outside the state (like the churches threatened by the Obama White House’s contraceptive mandate) as irritants or threats.

Stained Glass in a Small World

I don’t know who did the stained glass at Turnagain United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska:

Woman at the Well

but it looks a lot like the stained glass at Desert Hills Presbyterian Church in Yucca Valley, California:

Roadrunner

Church and State

When I hear Christians talking about something “we” ought to do, it often disturbs me how easily they confuse what “we” should do as individual Christians, as the church, and as citizens of a secular state.

Christians from the ideological right often ask the state to base its policies on a Christian understanding of marriage, or sexuality, or the point at which life begins. Christians from the left ask the state to base its policies on a Christian understanding of generosity and responsibility to help one’s neighbors.

Take this article about Republican Paul Ryan, who was chastised by (his) Catholic Bishops. (The article summarizes and critiques an original article in the Washington Post.)

I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t help their less fortunate neighbors. Anyone who’s read Matthew 25 should tremble at the responsibility Christ lays on we who are his disciples. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that Christians have the responsibility to help their neighbors by implementing a welfare state, any more than they have a responsibility to help their neighbors by providing for prayer in public schools.

We should do good for several reasons: because Jesus told us he credits good done to others as if it were done to him, or the golden rule (Leviticus 19/Luke 10). We do good as a way of “putting on Christ” — of stretching ourselves, or more accurately, allowing ourselves to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. And we do good to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. It’s not at all clear to me that there is a role for the state in any of that.

To be sure, people can take off their Christian hats. Then they can argue in their capacity as citizens that the state should do something or other for reasons of state. We should help the poor to reduce crime, or to build a solid middle class, or whatever. But it’s not obvious to me that Christians are expected to do any of those things. (We may do them, of course, but there is no obligation to reduce crime.)

(If it did, that would lead to another discussion, which is whether or not a government program is the best, or even an effective, means to do something. After all, Jesus was unmoved by the argument that nobody realized it was him they were seeing hungry, naked, in prison, etc. How much less will he be impressed with an argument that we voted for a program, but didn’t bother to ensure it was doing what it was supposed to?)

So there may be a “marriage of convenience” where the work we do as Christians, and the policies we favor as citizens, reinforce and support one another. But we should be very cautious about tying the knot. The history of Church-State interaction is fraught with peril.

Church Web Site Up

Hey cool! Soon after I got here I asked the people who do that stuff to migrate us from the old web hosting service to the new one. And now, here you go: the new web site of Jewel Lake Parish. Yay!

For the technically inclined, here’s why. First, it’s marginally less expensive. That’s not a super-important factor, but we want to be good stewards.

Second, it lets us run the CMS software we want, and that software integrates with my blogging toolchain. The current website is essentially a blog. I hope to begin podcasting again soon, and that will be another blog.

There are other minor technical considerations. The email is (IMHO) better, and I like the domain registrar. But the really big win is that the hosting company provides shell accounts, so whenever I need to, I can just scp over there get things sorted.

Tab Sweep – Small Groups, Hitchens, Mainline Planting

A quick list of some things I’ve read lately that are worth sharing:

First, the short but provocatively-titled “Taking Our Groups Off Life Support.” Key graf:

If we are going to take our groups off life support, we are going to need permission to re-imagine what gospel-centered community looks like. We will not change the preconceived view of groups by making participation a requirement for membership or by changing the names of our programs from “ministries” to “groups.” Small groups will thrive when they become the place where we experience life-giving transformation.

Second, “Learning from Christopher Hitchens,” an appraisal by Albert Mohler that is less a eulogy than, well, what it says: “Lessons Evangelicals Must Not Miss.” Mohler lists five such lessons, such as this one:

4. Hitchens did not hide behind intellectual scorn and he did not fear the open exchange of ideas. … Hitchens … was willing to debate evangelical Christians and to allow the debates to be publicized and published. He did not attempt to shut down debate by insulting his ideological and theological opponents.

Very much worth reading. If an outspoken atheist were admirable in so many ways, should not Christians be equally so, if indeed, not admirable in many other ways as well?

And finally, Landon Whitsitt tells young mainline pastor types to plant a church:

Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Not only do we want to “screw up the church,” but we also want the little old ladies pay for it? And then we have the audacity to be aggrieved when it doesn’t pan out? Come on. I thought we were smarter than this.

I’ve had concerns about the local-church-as-fixture (you know, “First XYZ Church of Anytown, U.S.,” celebrating a hundred years of doing the same thing) ever since I read Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways. I’m not sure convinced a local congregation was ever meant to survive for more than a brief season. Our expectations to the contrary seem to me to be baggage we’re carrying from Christendom. See also Whitsitt’s follow-on.

Age-Segregated Worship On the Way Out?

Here’s an interesting sign of the times:

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale now offers only one service at 10:15 a.m. with, essentially, blended worship – that means no more separation based on age, likes and comfort.

For years Coral Ridge was the best-known Presbyterian Church (PCA) in the country, due to the influence of the late Dr. D. James Kennedy. But now, under Senior Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, it’s ending its practice of offering two distinct worship styles (“contemporary” and “traditional”).

The article assumes that preferences in worship style is synonymous with age, which is not always true, but it’s right a lot more often than it’s wrong.

My camp of Presbyterians, the PC(USA), believes that children should be part of worship, as stated in our Directory of Worship, §W-3.1004:

Children bring special gifts to worship and grow in the faith through their regular inclusion and participation in the worship of the congregation. … The session should ensure that regular programs of the church do not prevent children’s full participation with the whole congregation in worship, in Word and Sacrament, on the Lord’s Day.

If that’s true of children and worship, how much less reason is there to segregate different groups of adults?

(Sorry I can’t provide a better link to our Directory of Worship. There don’t seem to be many people in our denomination who understand things like open standards, permalinks, etc.)

The Church and Working Class Americans

Here’s an interesting finding, reported by LiveScience today:

In the 1980s, the researchers found, there was little difference in religious participation between high school- and college-educated whites. But by the 2000s, a gap appeared. Today, 46 percent of college-educated whites go to a church, synagogue or equivalent institution at least once a month, compared with 37 percent of high school-educated whites.

Whites without a high school diploma were the least likely to attend church in the 1970s and remain so today. In the 1970s, 38 percent attended church at least monthly. Today, only 23 percent do. (Blacks and Hispanics do not show the same declines.)

I wonder why this is. Are better-educated people more responsive to outreach? Do churches seek out and minister to better-educated people? And is there a difference between those questions? How can churches be more effective at communicating the gospel to people who aren’t as well educated?