Friday, December 14, 2007

Seeking a New Approach To Church

Ever wonder if our 21st-century approach to church is entirely wrong?

I have conversations with many people that are rather disgruntled at the state of "the church." And they don't always know if the problem lies with the leadership, or the congregants. After all, a good portion of many church-goers are once-a-week attendees that really have no community with the church body. They come, they enjoy a nice show, they are spoon-fed some sermon points, and they go home and go on with their lives. They have nothing invested whatsoever.

It's a cycle, really. The more that people expect to be Sunday morning consumers, the more the church provides it on a Sunday morning. The more they provide it, the more consumers show up. And to an extent, if we're talking about numbers, it's a great way to grow a church. A church can grow into a megachurch 10 miles wide. And two inches deep.

We talk about what the root cause might be, and whether it's theological, or a problem with vision, or leadership, or just 21st-century consumer culture. But I have another suggestion.

Perhaps the seeker-sensitive church approach is entirely backwards.

Let me explain. All of my life, I've heard from other churchgoers about how they need to invite non-Christians to church. After all, if they come to church on a Sunday morning, they'll listen to some nice songs, and they'll hear about Jesus! Then they'll become a Christian! It happens all the time!

Technically, that might be true. It does happen occasionally. People go to a Sunday-morning service, hear about God, and they become Christians. And then they come back the next Sunday morning, and the next, and they are spoon-fed every week. In fact, they'll continue to hear about Jesus for years without ever needing to DO anything.

Instead, try this: Don't invite people to church. Build a relationship with them and tell them about Jesus. Tell them about Jesus' life, death on the cross, and resurrection. Tell them about how you are a new creation, and how God has worked in your life.

If the spirit tugs on that person, and that person understands, you know what?

He or she may very well become part of the church. Right there. Then, it might be a good opportunity to tell them about a group of Christians that gets together in your house on Monday nights for small group. Or Wednesday nights for a meal. Or Sunday mornings for a celebration service. Invite them to come along.

A church that caters almost exclusively to non-Christians, or even nominal Christians, might be nice for evangelism. But it's not really The Church. The Church is made up of Christian brothers and sisters, and they are living, working, learning, and serving together. If you try to make everything about the church "sensitive to the non-believer," what's going to happen?

The people that ARE new converts are never going to grow past that two-inch thickness. The possibility will always exist that they'll remain Sunday-morning consumers for years. They were spoon-fed a show, and that's what inspired them to come forward and accept Jesus in the first place... So isn't THAT what Christianity is? A Sunday-morning show?

Well, we say, the Sunday morning service can be seeker-sensitive, because if people want to grow deeper, they need to get involved in Sunday School classes and other areas.

Seriously? Why would they need to get involved anywhere else? We've shown them that all they need to do to be saved is to come to a Sunday morning service and hear about God.

Relational evangelism is SO important, and it's so much more than inviting someone to church. I'm starting to seriously question a "seeker-sensitive" approach to church. Are WE, the people of God, to be "seeker-sensitive" when building relationships? Of course we are. But are church services supposed to always be "seeker-sensitive"?

I'm starting to think that's a bad idea.

What say you, random blog readers?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

O Come!

My favorite Christmas hymn is “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” a 12th Century Christian hymn originally written in Latin:

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, Who orderest all things mightily; To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go.


O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory over the grave.


O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.


O come, O come, great Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times once gave the law In cloud and majesty and awe.


O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree, An ensign of Thy people be; Before Thee rulers silent fall; All peoples on Thy mercy call.


O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Spoiled, But Still the Bride of Christ

You probably won´t care much for this post, but I feel it expedient to get it off my chest.

The last 4 months have been the most eye-opening and humbling period of my life since, oh, I don´t know, Junior High.

Spiritually speaking, anyway.

I´ve been on my own journey on the purpose of the church after years of railing about the deficiencies of the Body. I´ve been sourrounded by a worship experience that most of us would dismiss as "devoid of excellence" and "irrelevant to the seeker." The PowerPoint, when it has the correct words, isn´t color-coordinated to match the pews or carpet. The "sound system" is less than pristine. In fact, most of the time, the sound that it emits is unintelligible to my tired ears. The worship services are far longer than the 1:10 limit that we Americans say are more than sufficient. And the worship facility? Don´t plan on cushy pews with lush carpet. It´s plastic chairs and cold marble. In fact, the picture that I attached is First Christian Church of Valencia.

Impressive, isn´t it? To me, it´s absolutely delightful. In 4 months, I´ve started understanding what Christian love really is. It´s not bound to the Sunday worship hour. It´s the pastor calling, asking "how´s it going?" It´s brothers and sisters volunteering to drive to your town at $6.50 per gallon for gas, for the opportunity to pass out publicity in steaming hot weather for your new business. It´s inviting those less fortunate than you to your home for a hot meal.


Let´s face it: we´re really, really spoiled in the US. We have privilege, resources, and facilities that most Christians around the world will NEVER have.

So, next time you complain that the church isn´t "meeting your needs," I ask you, how are you meeting the needs of the church?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In This One Body to Reconcile Them Both to God

"For he himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations."

This post is not for "Theologs", but for everyone.

Here is a glimpse into my spooky side, what really is going on in Joe B all the time. I just try to express it in theological terms, not knowing what else to do with it. The stuff below was written to an old campus ministry comrade, one of the many now on the front line of foreign missions while I fight "The Battle of AT&T." I confessed:

"I just feel the heavens swirling around me again like in some days past. Something big is building in heaven and in the hearts of men, and I cannot articulate it but somehow I understand it. The huge post-christianity world-view shift of this generation sees dawning a new vision of God, and I just see the temple courts (you know, just outside the sanctuary?) filling up with unwashed nations of tax-collectors and prostitutes, entering with joyful force. And I see the priesthood of the sanctuary divided: whether to exclude them to keep it holy, or whether to risk defilement by passing thru the torn veil, by breaking the bread and pouring the wine of the Eucharist. Will we recognize the day of our visitation?"

"If that paragraph were spoken it would have had that spooky "prophesying" sound to it. This thing has been swelling for seven years as God has kept me peering into some mystery of
Eph 2:11-22, especially v14-15. These last two years God has stirred me to pray that the "church" will remain whole, and not a branch broken off as a new shoot is grafted in. I see well-meaning Dividers on the Inside and on the Outside, MacArthur v. McLaren, and I cry and say "must it be so?" (I'm much better at crying than praying.)"

"It sounds so foolish to be swept up in cosmic things when my life is such a speck."

I know this is personal, but it is profoundly ecclesiological too. And all of you are a part of it. What is the Spirit saying to the Church?

Monday, December 3, 2007

In the Image of God

Let me just shed a tear here on Java Jesus for Emily Sander. I never heard of her before I read the gleeful, smirking stories in the press: "Missing College Student May Have Had a Secret Life as a Porn Star." But, she had a secret life as a human being, too. It didn't matter that much, though, until they found out we could see her boobs on the internet. Still I see a sparkling specimen of humanity, a kid who just yesterday was climbing a tree or riding a bike, or writing on her backpack. In the Image of God.

I wish I could have shown her some sort of kindness in the days of her short life. I wish I knew something kind to say about her, and I’m sure there is something that could be said. I want to pray for her, but she is dead. Tissue and specimens and slides and samples. Something to be studied, no more to be loved.

Here in the end, only God knows the depth of wonders and the real beauty that lived in this little child of his. May God receive her soul, and vindicate her name, and may he crown her with life in the Resurrection of the Dead.

Goodbye, little girl.