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How to Tell if your Church has become a Club instead of a Church

  • You care more about the style of music than the about other people in the church.
  • You get annoyed if the sermon is too long. Because lunch.
  • You don’t care to get to know the newer people. You just hang out in the same old circles.
  • You get irritated when you have to stand in line for coffee behind people you don’t know.
  • You think that being spiritually fed is the most important thing and you often mention that you aren’t being fed.
  • You don’t like the pastor because you aren’t getting what you want even if he or she might be doing what the church needs in the big picture.
  • You have stopped caring whether the church survives past your generation. But you really care that it doesn’t change too much while you are alive.
  • “Worship” has become a code word for the music part of the service.
  • You don’t invite your friends to church because — since you don’t like it — they wouldn’t like it.
  • You are trying to outlast the pastor. And you are staying in touch with people who left the church because they didn’t like the pastor.
  • You worry about whether the facilities are being kept up well enough.
  • You notice that the people being baptized are not really the kind of people we want in our church.

Tax Exempt

It\’s a matter of time until churches have to pay taxes on their facilities. What will happen then?

Big churches that are financially sound will adjust. For the rest, it will be a challenge.

One possible solution would be aggregation into larger congregations. The larger congregations could easily organize as smaller, more familiar ones. That is what megachurches are already doing. There might be only one church of a denomination in a large city, and that church might be able to afford to stay alive.

Another solution is the underground one. House churches are already doing this one, mostly for reasons other than taxes.

It seems to me that the concept of paid clergy will diminish, at least full-time pay. There is only so much money. Without full-time clergy, the church will be less slick, less professional. I guess we\’ll go back to the New Testament model.

Will it Happen?

  • Will churches take sponsors like sports arenas and stadiums do? Will it be the strategy that extends the life of the church as we know it?
  • Will a conservative church win the day by advertising as \”The Church of the 7% Tithe\”?
  • If we are customizing worship styles to different groups of people so they won\’t go to another church, shouldn\’t we also adjust the message we are presenting so people aren\’t offended?
  • Will we provide sushi-style menus to worshipers so they can all have exactly what they are looking for? Will the trick be to come at the right time and leave at the right time so you get what you want? How many separate rolling services will it take to provide what people want so badly that they threaten to leave the church if they don\’t get it? Or can it all be done with video editing?
  • Will people realize that separate worship service styles makes separate churches with separate focuses and separate goals? Will people realize that is against everything we read in the New Testament? Do people care?
  • Will the denominational construct survive another ten years?
  • Will the evangelical church have a revival wherein Jesus is put back in charge of the church and we cease to be consumers and become disciples again?

Prophecy

I\’ve been reading a lot of OT prophecy lately in my normal course of reading. Right now I\’m reading Jeremiah. Here is what I\’ve noticed:

  • There is not a lot of predictive prophecy. Most of what the prophets say is just talking about how the folks have screwed up by worshiping other gods and stuff.
  • A lot of the predictive stuff is conditional. If you don\’t straighten up, you\’re going to get messed up. You don\’t have to see the future to make those kinds of predictions.
  • Apparently no one listened to the prophets. Because Israel is gone and Judah was conquered. The written prophetic collections were mostly used by the Second Temple Jews to remind themselves to not let that happen again.
  • There are not charts and timelines in anything I have read.

In my opinion, the most often misused Bible verse

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NRSV)

Jerk that thing out of its context and you have an all purpose verse. You can pull it out when things are going bad, or when you have an unfulfilled dream, or when you want to encourage someone.

That verse is the Christian equivalent to the third grade teacher telling her students that they can grow up to be president of the United States. Of course, it is possible. But it is so highly improbably that the teacher probably shouldn’t go there.

These days we are into building self-esteem and we are good at telling people they can be anything they want to be. Patently untrue, but that’s what we tell people. We have limitations because we are humans and because we don’t all have the same mental acuity and because our physical makeups vary. I may want to be an NBA player, but it isn’t going to happen.

We do the same thing with Philippians 4:13, but point to a powerful God rather than to our indomitable human spirit.

Look at the context. Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. He was, he admitted, having some questions about whether he would come out alive. His friends in Philippi were worried about him, quite naturally, and they sent him some help.

Paul’s answer was meant to allay their worries. “Hey,” he says, “I’m hanging in there. Some days are better than others, but every day God gives me strength to endure because Jesus is here with me and I am in him.”

Paul isn’t claiming a special superpower of the Christian to arise and overcome all. He isn’t claiming — a la Peale or Schuller — that your dreams can all come true. He is saying that Jesus gives him the strength he needs to make it through another day and, by implication, so can we.

Let’s be careful about how we use God’s word.

The Time of Elves

The time of the protestant denomination is over. The church cannot thrive with that anchor strapped to our backsides.

In LotR it always makes me sad seeing the elves get in the ships and leave because their time is over. It also makes me sad to see the system I\’ve been part of my whole life end.

But it doesn\’t work anymore. We can\’t afford it. Let us detach ourselves lest we go down the tubes with our denominations.

The Evangelical Center?

Yesterday Geoff Holsclaw unearthed something like a founding document of the so-called Gospel Coalition.

Originally called “The Pastors’ Colloquium,” this ministry began as a group of just under 50 pastors, invited by co-chairs Tim Keller and Don Carson to consider together whether it is possible, in the US, to re-capture the “center” of confessional evangelicalism.

Source: Gospel Coalition | Henry Center | Henry Center

Well, la dee dah.

The neo-reformed Piper Cubs are as far from the evangelical center as the Jehovah\’s Witnesses. Only a group this arrogant would presume to represent Christians they don\’t represent. I\’d rather be represented by Creflow Dollar.

TGC has a habit of banning anyone who disagrees with them. They are, thus, a total echo chamber and probably don\’t realize how weird they are.

My recommendation: avoid anything connected with TGC, just to be safe.

A Reluctant Prophet

So yesterday I was reading my Bible, minding my own business.

Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. (Ephesians 5:10-14, NRSV)

Just my reading schedule, some in Kings, some in Proverbs, some in Ephesians. No big deal.

But verse 11 struck me pretty hard. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. It isn’t enough to refuse to take part. The unfruitful works must be exposed.

And Paul isn’t writing about dark works of worldliness. He is writing about unfruitful works of darkness in the church. These instructions are for the church. Paul knows how easy it is to let things slide, and he says to expose them.

Well, I’ve been trying to do that for years and what it has gotten  me is a lot of heartache and loss of friends. People in church take their stuff seriously and if you point out that it is unfruitful and possibly even bad, you can lose friends quickly. And I have done.

OK. Moving on to my reading in Grasping the Word of God, a book I’ve been reading in preparation for a podcast I have planned. And a pretty good book too. Section of the day: how to read the Old Testament Prophets.

Five minutes into it and I’m crying. I realize that the Old Testament prophets were called to do exactly what Paul said for Christians to do in Ephesians 5:11 – expose the works of darkness.

What did the prophets get for their trouble? The same thing I always get for my trouble. Lots of heartache and loss of friends.

For the last couple years I’ve been coasting. I stopped blogging because I get in trouble with my blog posts. People think I’m overreacting. People think I’m on a hobby horse.

But yesterday I sensed that God was telling me to get back on the horse and ride, come what may. I’m calling it “Postmodern Prophet”.

Please do not interpret that to mean that I think I’m inspired. I’m not inspired in any special way and don’t claim to speak in the voice of God. I’m going to get some things wrong and some things right. I have developed a little more humility recently. No one who interprets the Bible without some level of humility is worth listening to.

I have more questions than answers. When I see problems, I’m going to point toward them. If I see a potential solution or two, I’ll probably mention them.

All I want is for God’s church — the church of Jesus — to survive this strange postmodern era we find ourselves unhappily inhabiting. I care not a fig for the institutional church or for the ABCs — attendance, buildings, and cash. I care about the church itself.

The church is God’s people together. It doesn’t have to be organized, though I suppose there is nothing wrong with organization. But what it does need to be is loving: loving God in Jesus the Messiah, loving one another, and loving others. Without any of those three, it is something less than the church.

So here I go, Lord give me strength. I am going reluctantly.