Saturday, December 17, 2005

Re-Doing the Church

If you could re-invent the church, what would it look like?

Real Live Preacher asks that in his blog -- you can read his vision in his December 5th posting.

Real Live Preacher goes onto to describe a church that looks like most of the churches I've served -- at least in some ways.
--We would meet once or twice a week to worship together. This meeting would be a very high priority in our lives.
--We would make these friendships intentional ones and make it a point to spend time together.
--We would agree to pray and study the scriptures together and on our own.
--We would nurture each other and care for one another, especially if one of us was hurting or in need.

But he goes onto say some things that are quite different...
--We would never pay anyone to be a professional Christian. There would be no staff, no paid ministers, no salaries, and no overhead.
--We would never purchase or rent a place to worship. Homes would suffice.
---If there is preaching, it would be done by everyone. All who feel ready to share would take their turn. You would have weeks or even months to read your passage of scripture prayerfully. Then you would simply share the wisdom you found in the scriptures with your good friends.

Hey, anyone out there remember the 1960's and 1970's?

Real Live Preacher describes EXACTLY what was happening in the church during that time. We called it the Jesus Movement, and people referred to us as Jesus People.

We had no paid staff.

We met in homes.

We collected offerings and they were always at least a tithe of what we made. We gave the money to missions or to the poor among us.

We never advertized, or even had press releases -- but people found us even though we worshipped every week in a different home.

Anyone could preach, and we never knew who was going to preach at any given time.

It was wonderful. It had passion and drive. We were bringing people to know Christ.

So what happened?

The money we gave away was often wasted, because there was no structure for discernment. Someone asked us, we gave it.

The groups got too big for homes, so each house church birthed newer house churches. But none of them were large enough to do mission work effectively, and so we found ourselves moving to larger, more traditional congregations.

Because anyone could preach, anyone did. We heard a lot of heresy back then. One of them was the Children of God movement. One of my friends became caught up in the sex and drugs that cult was famous for.

Eventually, we moved more and more into traditional churches, and called on them to offer contemporary worship. Yep -- there is nothing new about contemporary worship. I find them very nostalgic. They offer pretty much the same format as we were offering in the 1970s --- except we've gotten rid of the overhead transparency in favor of the power point presentation.

I am not putting Real Live Preacher down -- not at all. I think his vision has courage and I share some of this thoughts. My church has a motto of sorts -- reformed and always reforming.

We ought to always be rethinking the way we do church.

We need to be careful, however. There are lots of dangers here!

We could create just another human institution, rather than rebuild the Body of Christ.

It is easy to lay aside 2000 years of lessons we've learned -- forcing us to live through the same mistakes.

Everytime a group wants to re-image the church, they often accomplish only one thing -- another division in the unity of Christ.

If a group does re-create the church, it must realize that the church needs two things -- a body and a soul. The organization and the purpose. The structure and the mission. Alban Institute refers to these as the mission and the enterprise of the church.

The enterprise is the part many have longed to get rid of -- structure, buildings, committees, and such. We need order -- which means some form of government and some way of saying who gets to teach and what confession or doctrines will they preach and teach.

And on the other hand, there is the part that excites those of us in the church -- it is the church's missional aspect. That means our soul, purpose, passion and mission . Think tithing, fellowship, mission work, Bible study, and such.

The enterprise of the church is what enables the mission of the church to happen.

I have found that when a church does both of these two areas well -- THAT is where you find a great church.

When they do either poorly -- you will find that is a church that can't function.

So what's my vision?

1. Church members would not be allowed to radiate Gamma Radiation (see previous entry).

2. We would have smaller sessions, so that everyone has a voice and we get things done quicker and more effectively.

3. Elders would visit more, pray with people more.

4. Members would invite friends and strangers to church.

5. Every church would be multi-cultural. In 25 years plus of ministry, I've only served one congregation that was of one race -- I didn't like it.

6. On Sundays I could preach as a prophet without being crucified by Friday.

7. Speaking of talking prophetically, I could tell Adam he is an ass hole and he would agree to stop being an ass hole. I could use anatomically correct terms in the conversation and not be crucified by Friday.

8. People could tell me I'm an ass hole, and do it in a loving way -- I'd listen and figure out how to improve my life. That would be much better than what they do now -- "Good sermon preacher, good sermon preacher, good sermon preacher," as they shake my hand at the door.

9. I would love to see churches cluster in cooperation. One office building for several churches. One copy machine, one secretary or two, maybe one educator, one youth director, etc. Perhaps share pastors. The church buildings would be for worship, fellowship and education, but not for business. Cut a lot of cost there and enjoy more cooperation. It's a way of getting toward what Real Live Preacher desires, while accomodating the culture we are in.

10. I would like elders learn that a church budget is nothing like a government or business budget. It is a cash flow system that depends on the generousity of others, and that pledges are not a guarenteed income. You don't have to balance a budget with pledges that "insure" we will have enough to cover expenses. Elders should understand that they control the budget, the budget does not control them. Can you tell we approved our budget for 2006 this week?

11. Worship would not change, at least in my church -- I like the traditional at 8:30 with Communion every week. I like the 11:00 with the wide variety of music and worship styles. I like the Saturday 5 PM contemporary.

Hmmm.... that's a beginning of my thoughts -- what's your vision?


Anonymous Lorna said...

very thought provoking :) I wonder what the advantages of non-paid staff and the loss of the hierarchy of clergy would be???

I recently it heard said in our church that A) we dont' give as the church doesnt need /use our money and B) I don't serve as we emply our pastor and secretary to do that

as a lay preacher I found both comments profoundly disturbing, as a candidate for ordination I find the whole question of paid staff disturbing too

I'm not paid to do what I do now. Should I be? Yet without a husband who agrees to our thrifty budget I couldn't work (part time) and study part time and serve God like this, and still have time for our family.

That's the crunch. I wonder what others think of this? Bivocational pastoring sounds ideal - but is it really a recipe to burn out? Or is that inevitable in church service anyway - with many pastors working 60h weeks, with one day off if they are lucky.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Being a Baptist is difficult because of the “freedom” to change. Every new pastor, lay leader and mega-church guru has a new vision for relevancy, authenticity and “moving with the Spirit.” After these movements, no one’s grown in truth, knowledge or understanding. No one’s more confident in the gospel (and usually, we forget about the gospel in pursuit of some new vision or goal).
The primary problem with the “organic” model – the one that allows us to follow the Spirit (Holy or Zeitgeist, I’m not sure) – is that it never acknowledges that the Church is Christ’s through the ages, not only for a mood and time. It doesn’t learn from the creeds and doctrines of past ages, nor care enough about such hard-fought battles to value theological education and training.
The bi-vocational or non-paid pastoral model is an excuse for a congregation (a congregation of at least one hundred people) to avoid giving away authority. The contemporary models are often about rejecting, or reserving, authority: the authority of a theologian/pastor, of elders, of creeds and confessions, of traditions and, ultimately, of the gospel. It’s about being a democracy, withholding peace and money when unfavorable decisions are made – believing that all actions must be corporately approved, and true success is simply numerical growth.
Unfortunately, it’s become an unspoken agreement between many congregations and leadership: “You (pastor) keep us entertained, and we’ll (congregation) keep you paid.” Or, “You (congregation) keep busy and make this thing look like it’s fresh and relevant under my leadership, and I’ll (pastor) give you the best pop-therapy your tithe can buy.”
We Baptists will keep changing and dividing; we’re a reactionary group by nature. But it sure is a shame to see so many Confessional and Liturgical churches looking more like 1976 California than their ancestry in the Reformation or the great councils. Before long, the only distinction between Calvary Chapel and the Presbyterians will be that the Chuck Smith folks have the newest upgrade of PowerPoint.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

I would be interested in knowing if pastor's really try to discern how their church fits into the body of Christ. What does it do well? What doesn't it do well. Is any thought given to how it might serve not just the community but other churches in the area?

I do not hold one form of church as better than another. But I do believe that we have a particular mission and that just as He crafts individuals for His purpose so he also crafts the local church for His purpose if we will so allow.

10:54 PM  
Blogger St. Casserole said...

John, this needs to be published so more people can read it.
Like you, I see the contemporary worship as nothing really new as I recall the house churches and outdoor worship of years ago.
Your vision is close to mine.
My elders do visit and pray for the congregation. I love this everytime I think of it!
I wish I could communicate what you've said about church budgets v. business plans. Well said!
Thanks for this. Helpful!

6:06 AM  
Blogger ts said...

i appreciate your wisdom concerning house church stuff. that's some good (hard-earned?) insight.

1:50 AM  

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