Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Wittenburg Church Door

Okay, so we've had many discussions on what church should be, and what church seems to be lacking.

We know we want action. In fact, I *feel* a call to action. A call to do something concrete, rather than just the bitching and moaning we've been doing for the past many weeks months years.

Wait, can I say "bitching" on a family-friendly blog?

Too late.

So I think it's time for some specifics. If something is wrong, what is wrong? And if something needs fixed, how can we fix it? What do I *desire* to see out of a church?


Bloggers love lists. Martin Luther loved lists. Have you seen High Fidelity? John Cusack. Good flick. His character loved lists.

Let's begin, shall we? This list will be fluid, as these are all up for discussion, debate, and editing. I doubt I'll come up with 95, but it's a start. Please feel free to add your own or argue some of these.

  1. Church is a community of believers, and much of the focus of "church" should be on that community.
  2. Obviously, the focus of a worship "service" should be on God.
  3. The purpose of "church" should NOT be to get people to sit in a pew on a Sunday morning. A church that is too "Sunday morning-centric" is not healthy for the church as a whole or Christians individually, as it fosters institutional thinking within the church and a "once-a-week" mentality within Christians.
  4. A worship service should be careful not to fall into a routine. If it lacks creativity or any discernable change on a week-by-week basis, it becomes problematic (we may need to explore the "why" here some more).
  5. A worship service should be careful not to be performance-based. When it becomes a production, when it becomes all about excellence, then it becomes less about God and the Holy Spirit.
  6. The Gospel of Christ, of love, of His kingdom... All those things should be preached. There is nothing wrong with "seeker-sensitive" worship services, but psychological self-help, chicken-soup-for-the-soul type of sermons are a problem.
  7. The church is smart enough to follow a sermon without needing blanks to fill in.
  8. Giving the Holy Spirit room to maneuver during a worship service means that occasionally, things may not go as planned. We should allow this.
  9. God doesn't care if there is feedback, or if a screen flickers, or if a microphone doesn't work.
  10. Along the lines of #4 and #8, worship services could be drastically different from week to week. That could mean a week of all singing and scripture reading. That could mean a week of drama and prayer. That could mean people coming forward to give testimonies.
  11. Other teachers could be raised up to preach on occasion. These don't even have to be paid staff or elders or someone with a PhD.
  12. A church needs a common vision, something to work towards and bring people together, moreso than just a generic mission statement. (This one is up for debate, as one could argue that the New Testament church did not have a specific "vision" beyond Jesus' call to make disciples of all nations.)
  13. Honesty and vulnerability is tantamount in a church. If the church is in a major financial bind, the congregation needs to be aware of that. If Sunday morning worship services are the main meeting time for the congregation, it is obvious that during a Sunday morning worship service, honest talk of finances is vital.
  14. The "success" of a church is not measured by its weekly worship service attendance in numbers, or by its "growth" in numbers from year to year. If numbers must be used to measure real "growth," then small groups, Sunday School classes, and other specific ministries are probably the best way to quantify.
  15. Along with #13, vulnerability and openness within a church needs to be fostered from the ministry staff. REAL vulnerability and openness, including sin and repentance.

That's only 15, but I don't want to hog all of these. Any thoughts on these 15, or additional ideas?


void77 said...

Well, that's quite a list! And as I've said before: well written. At first read-through, I'm pretty sure I agree on each item. And your list seems be pretty inclusive of most of the criticisms and ideas we've discussed at various times. So, good job!

The only thing I'll comment on is the "excellence/performance" issue (of course!) I agree that it is a problem when the "worship team" (including teaching, tech, drama, music, etc.) begins to lose sight of the purpose and focuses on the execution alone. However, passionately pursuing excellence in everything we do to glorify God is not a sin! In fact, aren't we supposed to be striving to follow the Christian walk as best as we possibly can? Yet, we must still understand that we're human creatures with sin in our lives. We're broken. We're not perfect. And praise God for his salvation! So I don't live in a constant state of guilt; I just understand that I can do things better for the glory of God. And I work hard to do that.

Now, if there's feedback, or a screen flicker, or I forget the words, that may or may not be a problem. If I've blown off my rehearsal time, or NEVER looked into the sound situation, or could care less enough to walk behind the screen and check out the projector, then I think I'm insulting God and not striving for excellence. However, if I've worked hard, checked every cable possible, tried my best to squash that problem frequency, then I just have to realize that I live in a broken, sinful state/world, and still praise God.

So, it comes down to motives. And yes, unfortunately, following a script/schedule/ritual on an extremely regular schedule (Sunday mornings at 9:00 and 10:45) can lead to an emphasis on performance rather than authentic worship. All the more reason to hold each other (ME!) accountable.

scott said...

Amazing how much this past weekend tied into all of these points! Something for us to discuss on a future Monday night, I'm sure.

Joe B said...

The difficulty of approaching something like this with a list of theses is that it ends up looking like nit-picking. It is clear to me that there is some single problem at the root of all this. Of the 15 theses, 10 are about "how to have a worship service." I was tempted to say that that misses the point, but maybe I should cut one level deeper and ask "WHAT is a worship service? Why do we have these things at all -- just what is it we are DOING?

Historically the heart of corporate worship a la King is COMMUNION, the eucharist. This is what Jesus instituted as his family Feast of Remembrance, a celebration of The People of God, this nation of kings and priests. "They will be mine" says YHWH "in the day when I assemble my treasure." [Mal 3:17, JoeBV]

Everything about "formal" assembly of The People should emanate from that central fact. It seems to me that "the gathering" should last about the whole day, and include cooking, cleaning up, distributing goods, planning, deciding, singing and praying and constantly reconciling differences thru cooperation in all these processes. Most of all, it's not a mere abstraction, it's real life. Not something on a stage.

So I say those 15 scathing theses are about 80 short of a reformation. I say one must start over from scratch and reconceive corporate worship entirely. The Jesus feast these days is reduced to a vestige from which most meaning is stripped. We forget that everything from Jn 13-17 happens AT the Lord's table: footwashing, prophesying, kingdom scheming, and theologizing. And it is all on a personal scale, not a mass production. The way we do it nowadays--a presentation that 90% of the people just come and watch--is a pretty bizarre notion of how to celebrate God's Gathering of the Select People (the ekklesia, the Church.)

Dare I say it? We need to quit going to worship and start going to CHURCH!

scott said...

I wholeheartedly agree that when I look at it, this list looks like nit-picking. But I thought it would be good to write out a few things, just to get a clear picture of what we are talking about. Because, as you said, perhaps there is some single problem at the root of it. So thanks for going in that direction.

And everything you wrote, Joe, deserves a post of its own. I just picked up a copy of NT Wright's "Simply Christianity" at the library, and there is a chapter on worship that might be worth a post as well.

"What is worship supposed to be" is a key question. I think we (I) often forget that the formal assembly of The People should revolve around communion. Is this something that Catholics get somewhat "right," but maybe we don't?

I love everything you wrote in the last two paragraphs. But the problem becomes the execution... How do you transition into this type of community? How does such a radical change come about in an individual "church"?

Anonymous said...

I think if we buy a set of tom-toms and a rainstick we will be the One True Church.

Robotface Shumway said...

I'm new here and I'm an old friend of Scott's. Let me make a comment about point #4 from your list which reads as follows:

4. A worship service should be careful not to fall into a routine. If it lacks creativity or any discernible change on a week-by-week basis, it becomes problematic (we may need to explore the "why" here some more).

This sounds like a neat idea. However, I think you dealt with the REAL issue via #8--giving the Holy Spirit room to maneuver. THAT'S the important thing. However, this doesn't mean that church "services" should not be orderly. In fact, scripture suggests otherwise:

"But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner."
--1 Cor 14:40

In my older age (38) I've come to see that it IS important for there to be order in the church services. Done properly, it can actually free people up to worship corporately. When you know that there is a certain order to things, you can let your guard down, be vulnerable, and worship. Sure, you can choose to be a robot and not get anything from the service, but that has nothing to do with the order of things. We all need to be open to the HS as individuals and as the body of Christ.

By the way...this is a great blog. If you're ever on the west side of Indy, I think you'd like our church: