Friday, December 12, 2008

"In the first century in Palestine Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business. We need to get back to being a healthy, vibrant community of true followers of Jesus."
- Priscilla Shirer

This is a great article I found, and pasted it here. You can download the whole book by clicking here.

Defining "Church" (Webster Has It Wrong) by Roger Thoman

Church according to Miriam-Webster's online dictionary:
1: a building for public and especially Christian worship2: the clergy or officialdom of a religious body3: a body or organization of religious believers: as a: the whole body of Christians b: denomination c: congregation4: a public divine worship

Webster defines church according to the way this word is used today. I was taught this same definition as a little boy when I would put my hands together and recite the rhyme: "Here is the church, and here is the steeple; open the door and here are all the people."
Jesus, however, introduced the term "church" with a very different meaning in mind. He used a word "ekklesia" that simply described a group or assembly of people. This is the original definition of the word. He described "church" as those people who were following Him-people walking in allegiance to him. People. His followers. Nothing more than that.

Jesus did not spend much time describing how to organize his people together or how to do meetings. Rather, his focus was on a lifestyle of loving others and obeying Him: "Go into all the world..." "Let your light shine..." "Do what you see the Father doing..." "Love one another..." Church, as defined by Jesus, was simply his followers living life for and with him.
Over the years, however, the word "church" began to include the many structures and forms that we added to the original meaning: Public meeting places (buildings or storefronts), Organizations of believers who get together to be led by a worship team and preached to by a pastor, or even Denominations that we join.

But, as John Eldredge reminds us: Church is not a building. Church is not an event that takes place on Sundays. I know, it's how we've come to think of it. ‘I go to First Baptist.' ‘We are members of St. Luke's.' ‘Is it time to go to church?' Much to our surprise, that is not how the Bible uses the term. Not at all. No. Not at all. Church is God's people-those who are choosing to live life with Jesus... 24/7. That is it. Nothing more.

But don't God's people gather together? Yes. We do see gatherings take place in Scripture. Many gatherings. Most often informal and simple. Normally in homes (Romans 16:5). Everyone participated (1 Corinthians 14:26). They functioned as spiritual families that cared deeply for one another (Romans 12:10). Yet the focus of the church (God's people) was a lifestyle of Jesus-following, rather than organizing events, attending programs, or joining organizations.

Perhaps the best way to describe the church of the New Testament is as small, vibrant, caring families of believers who are loving others and reproducing themselves into every corner of the world.

The Things I Learned About Church From Bible College
I attended a Bible College as a brand new Christian hungry to live a life useful to God. I loved reading the stories of the disciples following Jesus, traveling with him, ministering with him, doing miracles alongside of Jesus as he poured out his life for others. I thought it was fantastic. I enjoyed studying the book of Acts and seeing God's people going throughout the world, filled by the Spirit, walking in God's purposes and power. But, as a subtext, I was also taught to "do church" in Bible college. It was not a specific class. There was no text book. I simply learned to follow "how it was done" by those around me. Frankly, the way I learned to "do church" did not look much at all like the lives of the early disciples that I was studying and wanting to be like.

Nevertheless, by the time I felt called to pastor a church, I no longer questioned how church was done. We started with a building and a core group of Christians. We invited, and planned, and organized, and put together Sunday events. We built more buildings and started more services to invite people to. We developed programs for young and old, men and women, married and divorced. We hired staff and we organized ministry teams.
Without realizing it, we were following human traditions for church life that were developed over the centuries: cathedrals, pulpit-led services, pews, order-of-service, etc. All of these things may be useful in their place (God can use anything), but they have no place in the basic definition of "church."

Sadly, as the church has adopted more and more traditions and become more and more institutionalized, it has become largely ineffective in its impact on earth. In the western world, where we have created the best organizational church systems that exist, Christianity is declining. In contrast, in parts of India and China where the expression of church is largely organic, simple, and fluid, the church is flourishing.

Our longing is to see the church restored to its essence of life and vitality so that she becomes the full expression of Christ's power and love on earth. This is the great hope of God's kingdom coming to influence, save, and redeem a lost planet. Priscilla Shirer made this comment:

In the first century in Palestine Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business. We need to get back to being a healthy, vibrant community of true followers of Jesus.

Being Church
My Filipino friend, Molong Nacua, wrote an excellent article entitled "Being Church" that reminds us of the true meaning of "church": Church is where Christ lives, not the place where we meet. It is Christ-empowered people, a kingdom of priests for the purpose of winning against the works of the devil and establishing God's Kingdom (1 Cor. 3:17; Matt. 18:19; Ex. 19:6)... Christianity is not about doing church, but being the church. Church is not some place to go to participate in, but it is about being who you are in Christ and thus experiencing His real life in you. Your Christianity was never defined by attending a particular church. It is defined by Christ in you. In other words, you are a Christian 24/7, not because you participate in a two-hour worship service, but because Christ lives in you every minute of every day.

From "The Simple/House Church Revolution," chapter 2 by Roger Thoman. The entire book can be downloaded

Monday, December 1, 2008

Relational Tithe

Up for discussion this week: Tithing! (Again.)

Here's the website for Relational Tithe. You also might want to check out the About Us page.
    ...They believed that there are enough resources to meet the needs of every person, and that the needs of each person are the responsibility of all people. The beginning of Relational Tithe can be boiled down to a question: “What would happen if we all set aside a tenth of our incomes to meet the needs of people we know?”

    ...This network,, is a platform to allow people and groups from around the world to live together in the economy of abundance. It is a tool for connecting people across geographic and socioeconomic barriers and making it easy to redistribute money, wherever it's needed.

The concept is not entirely new, although the ease at which we can transfer money globally is much more handy in the 21st century. Many believe that the Biblical notion of tithing was to gather money to care for the poor among us, and that the 60-85% of current-day tithes that remain "internal" to churches (salaries, mortgages, electric bills) nowadays is completely unBiblical.

So this is a similar issue as the previous post -- how much can be spent on church "infrastructure" before it becomes sinful and directionally wrong?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And later, we'll take a look at Acts 7:48-49

Today, we'll have a discussion of church building architecture, entitled "A Lesson in Extremes."

First, we have Crystal Cathedral in California. An embodiment of light and space, grandeur and intimacy, the glass structure is recognized the world over as an architectural treasure. It was featured recently alongside the Hagia Sofia, Notre Dame, St. Peter's Cathedral, and Barcelona's Segrada Familia in The History Channel's documentary "Building in the name of God."


Next, we'll take a look at the Church Under the Bridge, under I-35 and 4th Street, in Waco, Texas.

It's, uh, a bunch of people. Under a bridge.

Both are places people can go to worship God. Both teach and proclaim Christianity, although I imagine they are probably two slightly divergent "flavors" of Christianity.

Can two immensely opposite "institutions" truly stand for the same God? What say ye?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ray Boltz

A long, interesting article about famous Christian singer Ray Boltz...

Gospel singer Ray Boltz shares coming out journey in this Blade exclusive

I'll leave this one without commentary for the time being, although I'm curious what others might have to say. There's often so much backlash at this type of thing after it happens. I imagine it's only a matter of time before you stop hearing songs like "Thank You" sung at many churches, sadly. (Sadly because the cheesed emotion of the song makes me chuckle every time I hear it.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"I'm Catholic, staunchly anti-abortion, and support Obama"

As election-time looms nearer, I thought I'd revive some of our earlier political discussions. Here's an article from the National Catholic Reporter -- can an anti-abortion Christian support Obama over McCain?

"I'm Catholic, staunchly anti-abortion, and support Obama"

What do you think?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Church Fiction

And now for something completely different. And slightly less serious. The Java Jesus team presents... Church Fiction.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Death of Suburbia?

Check out this story on white flight... to the city.

The Coming Demise of Suburbia
The kind of churches the next generation will plant

I’m at the point in my Church Leadership course when the entire class organizes into small groups to develop their own plans for church planting. Each group is required to develop a full-blown strategy for a new church plant as evidence of their church administration skills in planning, budgeting, promotion, along with attracting and organizing people. Since they are free to design any kind of church they want, I get a unique opportunity to peek at the dreams of the next generation.

What kind of church do they dream about? They dream of planting a downtown church. In the past four years, only two groups (out of 48 groups total) have designed a suburban church. The other 46 groups went downtown.

My students think living down town is cool. They think life in the suburbs is hollow and fake. No wonder. On TV for the last generation Seinfield, Friends then Sex and the city portrayed city life as the ideal. More recently, Desperate Houswives and The Sopranos reinforced the idea that suburban life as a place of despair and moral decay. Even when students are forced to develop a church planting plan in a town of 30,000, they still pick the “inner city” for their new plant. They do not despise storefront churches like their parents do.
We may be at the tipping point for suburban churches. Beltway churches have reigned supreme at the top of the food chain among evangelical churches. They may be at their zenith. Large sprawling churches with mall-like parking lots are still the envy of most boomer pastors. Now comes a younger generation who dismiss both the size and the location of top rung of the ladder. They prefer simple coffeehouse accepting storefront churches with active social programs providing a chic comfortable Starbucks-sized atmosphere. My student’s heroes are pastors like Adam and Christy Lipscomb, not the famous suburban Boomers pastoring sprawling mega churches. They don’t despise mega churches, they just dismiss them. The Lipscombs are the indy bands of the coming generations and mega church pastors have become mainline pop.

Until this week I thought this trend was only a generational shift among ministerial students. Now I’ve read Chris Leinberger’s article (to appear in the upcoming March 2008 issue of the Atlantic) and think is it more than that. This is a massive cultural trend I’ve missed by assigning it only to ministerial students. Leinberger is a fellow at the Brookings institute and a professor at the University of Michigan. He outlines the history of the rise and fall of the suburbs in vivid text that is so common for the Atlanticmagazine. It is convincing. If he is correct it will mean a massive shift for churches and church planting in the coming 50 years. I think he is right. In the next 50 years or massive “big box churches” may wind up with grass growing in their parking lots as their building decline, the younger population moves back into town and they increasingly cater to an ageing leftover population. They are the old downtown churches of the future, still bragging about their stained glass windows (or landscaped parking lots) while their children attend elsewhere. Leinberger outlines this enormous shift in the culture predicting the suburbs are headed for 50 years of decline while downtowns revitalize. Are we seeing the first signs of this tipping point?

Consider these factors:
1. Fashion. Generation X & the millennials already have shifted their dreams downtown. While the church jobs for young ministerial graduates are still in the suburbs, their heart is downtown. It is no longer cool to be on the beltway. As millions of the “greatest generation” move out of their homes the emerging generations won’t be buying them—they’d rather have a downtown apartment. Who will buy them? Poorer families will buy (or, more likely rent) these declining homes. The younger people will have moved into quaint (but cleverly decorated) downtown apartments and mini-homes. The market follows fashion—as demand for suburban homes declines so will prices. Chic is moving down town.

2. Sub-prime mortgage crisis. We already see the precursors. The suburban housing market is collapsing and prices are falling. Millions of homes have already been abandoned and turned back to the lenders. They sit unoccupied, as vandals tear out the copper wiring and squatters move in. Prices fall monthly until homeowners are relieved to simply “walk away” from their mortgage and forget recouping their down payment. The supposed “equity” in many homes is a fantasy, especially so for any who have owned their home less then 5 years. As the market floods, prices will spiral downward. Renting a home has become smarter than buying one today—and renting out empty homes is better than leaving them empty so suburban markets will go rental and that usually means eventual blight.

3. Suburban blight. We may see a reversal of what happened downtown in the 50’s and 60’s. Then, people moved out of the downtowns to the suburbs and inner city home values declined. Poorer families moved in and the properties (now owned now by landlords who had scooped up cheap houses) simply “milked” the properties. We may see the reversal of that and the “trading places” is now headed the other way. Suburban space (per square foot) is already cheaper than downtown space. Builders notice such disparity and “the market follows the market”—new building will move downtown. Downtown space is gentrifying. In the coming decades suburban housing will decline and poorer families will move in. Landlords will divide giant McMansions and they will become “rental units.” Neighbors will fight it at first but eventually they’ll sell out too, if only to escape the crime and blight. Deterioration in suburban homes will be worse than the downtown homes of the 60’s and 70’s though. Most suburban homes are built cheaper than those old downtown homes (same with suburban churches.) Suburban building features hollow core doors, 10-year shingles, cheap drywall and plastic trim. These will not survive renter’s abuse like the old downtown solid oak doors, slate roofs and plaster and lath. A suburban home can get trashed in three years. By 2020 we will see “suburban ghettos” emerge. They will become as infamous as the former inner city ones were and we’ll see them on the news each night. The plot of Escape from New York will be reversed. Upscale young people won’t be moving to the edges of town—they will head downtown where all the newest and most exciting churches will be located. Suburban churches will continue with their brightly lit big boxes with tiered theater seating and praise teams on stage while the younger folk will seek out dark flat-floored club-like or coffeehouse atmospheres that Boomers will dismiss as “not a real church.” By 2020, many cheaply built suburban churches will be 25 years old or more and their bathrooms and classrooms will feel like the bathrooms at the mall. Mega churches will still ‘stack them higher and sell them lower” but younger people won’t be at Wal-mart, they be shopping over at J.Crew, G.A.P. and Abercrombie and Fitch… and at the local Salvation Army outlet.

4. Decline of malls. The temples of Boomer suburban life have been its malls, big box stores and mega churches. Yet shopping malls have fallen out of fashion as the owners milk their former investments and board up empty stores. Big box stores are still at their peak, as Mega churches are. But the cutting edge for developers is neither shopping malls nor big box stores. The cutting edge has moved to developingfaux downtowns—complete “cities” with narrow streets, tiny shops and hidden parking lots built at the edge of town to cater to the desire to return downtown. Yet these edge-of-town cityscape faux downtowns are missing one element: churches. They offer banks, shops, coffeehouses and exercise spas but no churches. Where are all the Boomer church planters? Still chasing the mall crowd and buying property on the beltways. Denominations who do not seek space in these faux downtown cityscapes will be left out of the future wave of culture. And it will be expensive—just like beltway property was compared to declining downtown or rural land. Denominations who ignore the great cultural shift back downtown (either faux or real) will be left paying off debt on their declining megaplex monstrosities filled with baby-boomers-using-walkers. They will become just like the old downtown congregations of the 1980’s. Will boomers support this trend that undoes their own great works or will they fight like the old “downtown association” of retail shops did in the 70’s?

5. Walkable living. More than any other trend, this one mystifies Boomers. Boomers can’t imagine life without a car. Some younger folk can. Suburban life is car-driven. Downtown life is walkable. None of my ministerial graduates could survive an interview in a suburban church if they admitted they have no car and don’t intend to buy one. They’d be laughed at by Boomer interviewers! Yet, in the coming 50 years the “walkable lifestyle” will increase. I know several of our graduates who moved into downtowns and have no car whatsoever. (I am not making this up!) They ride bicycles, use public transportation, hire taxis and get cheap rental cars to take on long trips, or even borrow their friends’ cars. They have crunched the numbers and say they save both money and the environment. Boomers are bewildered at such ideas. We don’t consider you grown-up if you don’t own a car. the walkable lifestyle is a central feature of downtown life. What will this trend do to our notion of church planting? I notice this trend every time my students plant their dream church. Most envision a neighborhood church—reaching out to those near at hand. Where do they get this? Yet they “see” it when asked to let their vision loose. Perhaps more than all other cultural trends, this one will affect the kind of churches we become in the future. These younger people will either change the kind of church we plant, or we will change these younger people’s values and vision.
The bottom line is suburban churches seem to be hitting their zenith. We may soon see a cultural tipping point when the suburbs (and suburban churches) enter a 50-year period of decline. The suburbs had 50 years to do their thing. Now it is the downtown’s turn. Downtowns began their period of decline in 1946 (when suburbs were invented). The next 50 years saw a period of decline and deterioration for the down towns. Most downtown churches declined along with their neighborhoods. These downtown churches became drive-back churches for the moved-out members of the “greatest generation.” their boomer children didn’t drive back. Instead, we founded sprawling suburban mega-centers patterned after our beloved shopping malls. Now, 50 years after the founding of the suburbs have seem to have reached their own zenith. The fashion is shifting back down town. Will boomers be just like the downtown stores of the 70’s, believing things will never change? Will Boomers never listen to the different ideas about lifestyle and churches the newer generations cherish? These younger folk don’t dream of suburban mansions and megachurches far away from the downtown. They seem curiously satisfied with modest downtown apartments where they and their neighbors “do life together.” When my students dream up church plants they design churches that would appeal to the characters in Friends,Seinfield and Sex and the City… and themselves. They dream of a church that is socially active in caring and sharing with their community who “does life together.”

I wonder how the incorrigibly suburban boomers will react to this massive cultural shift? How will suburban churches respond? How will denominational church planting efforts “church daughteringstrategies” address this coming shift? How will Boomers respond to the dreams of emerging generations to go downtown and start the kind of churches again the boomers left long ago?

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Generation and "The Churched"

...The study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals.

I'm in the midst of reading a book called unChristian, by David Kinnaman, the president of The Barna Group (good recommendation, Ron!). It studies Christianity's "slipping image" among young people. These people don't necessarily have a negative impression of Jesus, they just have a negative impression of CHRISTIANS.

I think that says something that we seriously need to take a look at. We discussed some of these same impressions back on this post.

Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%).

The "hypocritical" and "old-fashioned" doesn't surprise me. But three fourths believe that present-day Christianity is too involved in politics? Do American evangelicals need to seriously rethink their approach?

When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was "Christianity is changed from what it used to be" and "Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus." These comments were the most frequent unprompted images that young people called to mind, mentioned by one-quarter of both young non-Christians (23%) and born again Christians (22%).

Young people think that Christianity in today's society no longer looks like Jesus. What does that tell us?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

CFW Walther

Another "no comments necessary" post. I wanted to share this link to the 25 theses set out by CFW Walther in his magnum opus The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. One page, great reading. Thanks, Elephant's Child!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Link to Doofus article

Don't stop your great discussion on the other post. I just wanted you all to have the live link to the article Big Doofus recommended. It is required reading for anyone in the intellectual, cutural, or teaching leadership in Christ's church. I'm not kidding, it's that good and it's that important. Thanks Rog!

The Gospel in All its Forms
by Tim Keller

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mixing up the Gospel?

Big Doofus posted a very thoughtful comment on the worship music post which I think is at the crux of a huge doctrinal tension. I thought it deserved a whole new thread of its own. It read, in part:

"I really think that our corporate worship should reflect united praise to God for who He is, what He has done, and what He will do...I just don't want to mix up the real gospel with the results of the gospel in our lives--if that makes any sense."

The whole reason we discuss things here is to make unified sense of differing views. We Caffecclesiologians obviously are looking at this differently, so let's tackle it. DOES it make any sense?

What IS the gospel? What IS its result in our lives? What truth is at stake if the two are mixed? Or, what is at stake if we fail to mix them?

Does Christ Jesus separate the gospel from the results of the gospel in our lives? Or are they actually one thing in Him.

What did Jesus say?
What did the apostles say?
What did the prophets promise?

(I think I scheduled this to post on Monday AM. I don't want to cut of the great discussion on the last post.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Worship Music, the Phenomenon

Continuing with the theme of posting quotes from books, just because I find it generates some fascinating discussion...
    Quentin Crisp once said, "A lifetime of listening to disco music is a high price to pay for one's sexual preference." I'm not saved and don't think I ever will be, but if such a miracle were to take place, I can't imagine anything worse than being forced to pay for my salvation by listening to worship music for the rest of my days.

    Worship music is the logical conclusion of Christian adult contemporary music -- not just unappealing but unbearable to anyone not already in the fold. Every song follows the same parameters. It opens gently with tinkling arpeggios or synthesized harp glissandos that portend the imminence of something celestial in glacial 4/4 time. In the second verse, the band -- invariably excellent players -- soft-pedals in, gaining in volume to the bridge. And then the chorus. Heavens, the choruses. They could put U2 out of business for good, they're so huge. Another verse. A middle eight. Then, a breakdown when the audience takes over singing. Another massive chorus. Fin.

    This isn't music to appreciate; it's music to experience. People at a worship service close their eyes and, as ecstasy spreads across their faces, begin to rock rhythmically, arms out, mouthing the lyrics. It's more than a little sexual and a tad uncomfortable if you're sitting next to an attractive person who's been overcome by the Spirit.

    Worship tunes tend to evince an adolescent theology, one that just can't get over how darn cool it is that Jesus sacrificed himself for the world. "Our God is an awesome God." "O Lord, you are glorious." "How can it be/That you, a king, would die for me?" Moreover, it's self-centered in a way that reflects evangelicalism's near-obsession with having a personal relationship with Christ. It's me Jesus died for. I just gotta praise the Lord.

    Not for nothing is "Amazing Grace," which marvels at the author's salvation, one of the few traditional hymns to be regularly included in modern worship services. Absent is any hint of community found in hymns such as "The Church Is One Foundation" -- the Jesus of worship music is a mentor, a buddy, a friend whose message is easily distilled to a simple command: praise me. Not "feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner." Simply thank Him for His gift to you (and make sure to display copyright information at the bottom of the screen so royalties can be disbursed).
This diatribe comes from Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock. It was (obviously) written by a non-Christian, but actually, this passage is more harsh than the rest of the book reads. As a whole, the book is a fairly engaging stroll into the world of Christian music, arts, and culture, as seen from an "outsider."

This particular passage fascinated me because, like many things within the "church," I've been around worship music my entire life and I would have trouble looking at it from an unbiased, inexperienced point of view. I understand that we can't expect someone who doesn't know Christ to understand how or why we worship -- I get that.

But at the same time, do we ever truly step back and look at how or why we worship? Why is so much of the music the same? Why is it the way that it is? Why are the lyrics the way they are? Have we settled for bland mediocrity in our worship music, just because that's the standard, the base, that we understand? What about his points about the lyrics pointing to evangelicals being self-centered in their faith?

At the very least, it's interesting to acknowledge the point of view of people outside the church. This is far from the first time I've heard from people who absolutely abhor worship music. This isn't a critique of God or Jesus, this is a critique of a certain part of Christian culture.

I think his entire argument -- and especially those last two paragraphs -- are worthy of discussion.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Building Christian Communities

Today's post will be generated almost entirely using quotes from a book I recently finished reading.


We are actually facing the need, not simply to reorganize the institution of the church... but the need to create something that is not there now -- a community; that is, an environment that has a real unity to is, an organism. Organisms are not legislated. They grow naturally. In other words, an organic process of change is needed to form basic Christian communities... Leaders in the Church today need to understand community dynamics and not just organization dynamics.

Today's church is primarily a service institution, providing worship services and sacraments for all who come to them.

Churches instinctively look for a specific solution to the specific problem (a structural solution to a structural problem, a financial solution to a financial problem, etc.). They can accept the fact that spiritual renewal is important, but they cannot see how it has direct application to the specific problems which are clamoring for attention. And so they naturally try to deal with the pressuring problems first and do not get around to turning their attention to the problem of spiritual renewal.

This approach has to begin by the recognition that the church needs subcommunities and that these should be considered an integral part of the church life. It should involve forming the communities in an organic way -- that is, not be assigning people to form a community, but by fostering the beginnings of community among a group of people -- and encouraging and guiding their growth into a basic Christian community... Eventually, as there were a number of these communities that were successful, everyone in the church might find a place in such a community, and the church building would be a service unit at which a number of communities might gather and it could also provide some services that basic communities might find difficult to provide out of their own resources.

Although there are many factors which go into making a community vital, the most direct source of vitality is purpose and the commitment of the members to that purpose. If a community has a purpose that is clear and compelling, one that seems to be of real importance, and if its members are committed to that purpose and therefore put as many of their resources as possible into fostering that purpose, the community will be a vital community. If the community has no purpose, it will not last, no matter how well-structured it is. might be possible to think that what the Church most needed was sociologists or community organizers. But this is not at all true. What the Church needs most is men of God, men who can and will function as pastors, evangelists, spiritual directors... Communities are not formed primarily by sociologists and community directors. They are formed by leaders of men who are dedicated to something.

A functional approach is work-oriented. It is oriented to getting a job done. An environmental approach is interaction-oriented or value-oriented. It is oriented to getting a group of people together who share certain values or concerns. It focuses on the growth of the relationship among people and on how people are being changed for the better... Some business executives are effective at getting production but poor in their ability to draw people together.

...From this point of view, much of what happens in the Church today is not very effective. There are many activities and many organizations. They do things which are good. But they do not build up a community of people committed to Christ and so they are ineffective in meeting the main pastoral needs of the Church today... [Even if] the Church were primarily an institution which was supposed to provide certain services (educational services, worship services, and social change services), it lacks... But if the Church is primarily supposed to be a community of people committed to Christ, there is an even more serious problem -- the lack of any community being built up through these activities.

A good term for the type of leadership that is natural to a community is "elder." An elder has a position. He is one of the recognized heads, and he has an openly accepted responsibility for the order of community life. But he is chose because he really is one of the elders, and not only in name. He is chose because he has a natural positions of respect and leadership in that community. His opinions and decisions "count" more than most people's... This would be true even if he did not have the position. In a properly functioning community, the position reflects the reality.

Watching for leaders as they emerge does not mean making the mistake of picking the people who are already in Church organizations, because they are usually there because they volunteered and are frequently ineffective in forming Christian communities. Nor does it mean electing people, because there is not enough community in the Church today where an election would be a good indication of how the community accepts a person as a leader... It means observing where real Christian communities are being formed effectively and picking the people who are responsible for that process.

The solution to the problem of climate and of coordination can be provided only by those who have positions of pastoral leadership in the Church. For instance, acceptance and understanding on the part of Church leadership is of great importance to those who belong to a movement. It can make all the difference in their loyalty to the Church and their willingness to work for it. The lack of it can lead to alienation among those who could be the strongest supports of the Church.

The process has to begin by putting the emphasis on community formation, not on programs or activities. If what is needed is forming communities which make it possible for a person to live a Christian life, the beginning is to actually have such a community. A person cannot begin by forming structures and programs and expect communities to come out of the hopper on the other end. Communities grow, they are not produced. If a process of renewal does not begin with an environmental approach, it will probably never get to one.


The book is Building Christian Communities: Strategy for Renewing the Church, by Stephen B. Clark. The fascinating thing about this book is that it isn't some brand-new, 2008 book from Willow Creek Press. This book was published in 1972, by Ave Maria Press. Not only is it 36 years old, it was geared specifically to the Catholic church. I took the liberty of substituting the word "church" for the word "parish" in most of the quotes above.

This is a fairly short, simple book, but I've heard that it was used as a stepping stone for a number of intentional communities that were formed in the 1970s. Much of the book is geared towards Catholicism, and there are a number of issues that are specific to issues and movements of the late-60s and early-70s, but as you can tell by the quotes above, it's still quite relevant for churches today.

Many of us have been talking about this type of thing for quite some time, so while this "organic approach" is fascinating, it's not exactly a huge revelation. The book isn't exactly a step-by-step instruction manual for how to create Christian communities -- it's not intended to be. But it is intriguing to see some of these relational/holistic ideals being suggested, and then put into practice, before I was even born.

How cool that those crazy Christian hippies were so emergent!

The question remains, how do you foster this kind of attitude? How does Big Huge Megachurch encourage the formation of these Christian communities? Even if it begins as a movement within a church -- can it happen at all in a large church? Can it happen if leadership doesn't have a passion for it? And would a large enough percentage of the attendees be able to understand what it means to throw your life in with a group of people, rather than just showing up at a building for a weekly ritual?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thanks God!

There are some times that God tells you... "You know, here is a little gift for you. Just to let you know that you are on the right track."

God has given me a few of those lately. Today in staff meeting, we had a discussion... on block parties.

If you know me well at all in the last few years, you have heard me talk about block parties. I have talked about how we need to be doing them, we need to be intentional about them, etc. I don't mean block parties out in the church parking lot, I mean block parties that you organize with people, *gasp*, on your block!

Today in staff meeting, one of the issues that was on the agenda was block parties. Obviously, I was curious about what they would say about them.

Currently, there are two staff members that are talking about them. Our music minister's block is having one, and our senior minister is wanting to do one. John's block does them quite frequently. The discussion today was about how to take church money and support them.

We are talking about letting them use tables and chairs for free, we are talking about using outreach budget to furnish some things, like bounce houses and food. We are talking about doing outreach with the express purpose of reaching out to our neighbors, regardless of whether they go to our church, the church down the street, or if they even go to church at all!

There have been several God moments already in the last couple weeks that I have been here. Thanks God for talking... I am trying to listen!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm dumb!

Our preacher at the MacArthur campus was preaching on the affection of Jesus today. He was sharing about how while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It was good stuff, and then he said something that I have never realized before

34Then(AO) the King will say to(AP) those on his right, 'Come, you(AQ) who are blessed by my Father,(AR) inherit(AS) the kingdom(AT) prepared for you(AU) from the foundation of the world. 35For(AV) I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you(AW) gave me drink,(AX) I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36(AY) I was naked and you clothed me,(AZ) I was sick and you(BA) visited me,(BB) I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And(BC) the King will answer them,(BD) 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these(BE) my brothers,[f] you did it to me.'

I don't know how many sermons I have heard on this text, but it's a lot. He read that passage and said as much, you have probably heard this text many times.

He went on to say, "Notice who was Jesus here. Not the ones doing the serving, but rather the one's receiving the service. When we serve, we are not being Jesus to people. We are serving Jesus."

DUH! I'm dumb. That makes so much sense. It makes so much sense about the Kingdom of God. Those who are weak, those who are broken, those who are poor and troubled. Those people are Jesus! It is the job of us christians to serve Jesus!

Yup. Just thought I would share.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Slow Death of Pews, Sermons, and "Ministries"

The "functional" aspect of the American church continues to distress me.

The hallmark of the early Church was "see how they love one another." Not "see how efficiently they work together" or "see what a fantastic show they put on." Yet we still have SUCH a hard time picturing a shift in focus from ministries, functions, and Sunday mornings towards a community of "love-relationships" -- building each other up and helping each other live a better life for Christ.

In a late-night conversation many of us briefly had on a recent Saturday night, we were discussing how statistics show 20-30 year olds very interested in Jesus, yet running from the church like the plague. Why is that, we wonder. How do we get those people into our local churches?

Some might suggest trendier services on Sunday mornings. Being more seeker-sensitive. Louder music, some hipper clothes on the preacher. A fancier website.

I say all that is like polishing the brass on the Titanic. It looks nice, but it's all going down.

Societal changes in the past 30-40 years have been vast. Society has changed a lot in a short time, in a way that it didn't for hundreds and hundreds of years previously. We went from a "Christian" society (not that everyone was a Christian, but it was the expected thing to be, and there was an environment of Christianity surrounding people) to whatever you want to call it now. Post-modern. Post-Christian. Post-Church. Biblical Christianity is NOT normal now. Most people are NOT surrounded by a Christian environment.

And even more so, people are NOT interested in "the church." We've presented the church to them as a place to go on Sunday mornings, rather than a community of Jesus-followers that love each other. To society, a big Protestant church looks like a huge fancy building with a bunch of paid staff. And it does the following: A) produces a nice show to watch on Sunday mornings, B) has a bunch of "ministries" you can "serve in" to keep the gears turning, depending upon your demographic, and C) exists pretty much to get other people to attend on Sunday mornings. To add more people serving in ministries, plus of course more money in the offering to pay the bills.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't see the church keeping up with society in the 21st century. That doesn't mean it needs to change its Biblical understanding or water down the message of Jesus (not that the church has necessarily done a stellar job of teaching the message of Jesus in the first place). But I do think we need to open up our minds to radical changes that are bigger than just changing up a Sunday morning service or adding additional "ministries" to the mix. I think it needs to, somehow, completely back off from the Sunday morning-centric focus, and begin putting time, people, and resources into forming a COMMUNITY of love. I think people are drawn to love, and people are drawn to community. Even the 20-something crowd.

That probably doesn't mean one big community of 1000 or 5000 people. It's nearly impossible to have a true love-community that big. You'd have to have a number of smaller communities. They've got to commit to one another.

We're a nation that is ruled by functionality. We think of ourselves in terms of our jobs, our careers, and the tasks that we do. And Christians, nay, church-goers, think of themselves by the ministry-tasks that they do. They'll say, I run sound at church. I play some guitar with the praise band. I help out in the nursery. I'm a greeter at the front door. I'm an usher and I pass the communion trays.

There is nothing wrong with any of those tasks. But we need to radically rethink our focus. The "church" is dying.

Monday, July 14, 2008


We raise our Starbucks glasses... We eat some Mango Habanero chicken wings... We down a pint or two of Guinness... All for our good friend Soebs, who is leaving our little community for the bustling town of Springfield, Illinois. Later this week, he'll be starting at a new church serving as senior high minister.

We wish Soebs well. He's really a man that desires to see God's people get excited about ministry, about evangelism, and about serving the poor. He's got a heart for all that stuff, and he's never been short on laughter and encouragement. He's not afraid to let his voice be heard (after all, anyone within a two-mile radius can hear him) and, like many of us, he's got opinions and passions that he'd be happy to share with you.

Darin departed just a couple of months ago for a preaching job near Atlanta. Joe is no longer serving as an elder. Macca is an ex- (recovering?) worship minister himself. The makeup of the contributors to the Java Jesus blog has changed greatly in a short period of time!

Of course, the great thing about the Internet is that we can continue to discuss and debate our ideas, philosophies, and methodologies, even if we're spread out a bit. And this way, we can add smiley emoticons to diffuse any loud arguments.

Thanks for that, Internet!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Left Behind, the Insurance

I've seen a lot of things sold in the name of Christianity, but this one takes the cake. Basically, for $40 a year, you can ensure that your pagan relatives get access to your "stuff" when the rapture takes place through a service by No, I am not making this stuff up.

Here's how it works: Jesus splits the skies. The dead in Christ rise. Those who are left are taken away. What's left are the poor pagans and procrastinators who meant to become a Christian but never got around to it. Since the 5 owners of youvebeenleftbehind are all claimed to be Christians, they've programmed their system to send out thousands of emails to the unchurched loved ones of those who are gone. The email will say something like, "I'm sorry that you didn't make it, but here is the pin code to my bank account, as well as all my passwords. I won't be needing them anymore, and with tribulation coming, you could probably use a little bit of cash." How does the computer system know that the Rapture has occurred? It's currently programmed to hold back the flood of emails so long as 3 of the 5 website owners log in at least once every 3 days. So, after 6 days of no logins, a flood of information will go pouring out over the internet to comfort the poor saps.

I probably won't subscribe to this service, but really, who wouldn't want to have one more chance to say, "I told you so?"

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Kickin 'em to the Curb: More Fun With Admonishment

Is the church actually called to excommunicate people?

The term "excommunication" denotes something very... Catholic... in our mind. We like to think that us Protestants (at least us "emergents") don't "kick people out" of the church.

I've had spiritual discipline on my mind lately. Maybe not "spiritual discipline," per se, but at least the topic of church leadership trying to run people out of church. Granted, it's probably not easy to do in a big, seeker-sensitive church -- it's unlikely anyone is going to file a restraining order to keep people away on a Sunday morning. But multiple people have pointed out that it can be done in other ways. Psychological ways. Cutting them off from participating in different groups. Perhaps not letting them sing on the worship team anymore, not letting them lead small groups or Sunday school classes, or just generally ostracizing them from the community.

I think most of us would agree that is probably NOT the ideal Biblical model of admonishment, by the way.

As much as I dislike the notion of "kicking someone out" -- people already have such a negative view of the church as an exclusive club -- there is plenty of scripture and historical basis for it. We could find plenty of writings of Paul in the New Testament (Titus 3:10, I Corinthians 5, I Timothy 1:20, etc) where he encourages churches to cast people out of the fellowship in certain situations. (Paul was all about the church discipline!) And we often use Jesus' model of admonishment in Matthew 18.

The question becomes, how do we fine the line between a relational, loving church model, and upholding the Biblical standards of church discipline?

When do you actually cast a brother out of the community of believers?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Controversy for the Sake of Heaven"

Today's post is lifted straight out of Keren Hannah Pryor's "Taste of Torah," a weekly email that goes out to a mailing list. It fits in quite nicely with some of the debates we've had online and offline.

    “Controversy for the Sake of Heaven”

    Pirkei Avot (The Sayings [or Ethics] of the Fathers) is a compact and outstanding collection of ancient Jewish wisdom. Avot 5:16 states: “An example of a controversy for the sake of heaven is a disagreement between Hillel and Shammai, while one that is not for the sake of heaven is the argument of Korach and his followers.” Hillel and Shammai were renowned rabbis of the Second Temple period. Each founded a school devoted to Torah learning and the expounding of halachah (the detailed oral laws and observances that govern daily life). Traditionally Beit Shammai (the school, or literally the House, of Shammai) held to stricter, more conservative rulings, whereas Beit Hillel was more flexible in its decisions. In general the rulings of Hillel prevailed.

    Yeshua was a contemporary of the revered grandson of Hillel, Rabbi Gamaliel (of whom the apostle Paul was a student), and Yeshua’s teachings reflected many of Beit Hillel’s views. Although Hillel and Shammai disagreed on many complicated spiritual issues, it is recorded that they still met as friends and at times enjoyed Shabbat dinners together. Their dispute was based on respect and friendship, and thus honored God.

    The heart of this type of positive disagreement is that the parties involved each “Love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19). The distinctive elements of a controversy for the sake of Heaven may be described as follows:

    1) The aim of the process is the search for truth and justice in accord with the will and Word of God.
    2) The dialogue does not preclude or endanger the possibility of “loving one another” at its conclusion and thereafter.
    3) The result should be the establishing of deeper relationship with God and one another in friendship, shalom, peace and love.

Positive disagreement. For those of us that enjoy debate, but also enjoy love and peace, this is a wonderful reminder. The reason we discuss church, religion, and philosophy to the extent that we do, is that it is very important to us. Most of us are striving to find the "will and Word of God," and we wouldn't be so passionate about it otherwise.

Having disputes that can still be based on respect, friendship, and love can, indeed, honor God.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ethics 101: A Discussion of Moral Philosophies

Okay, before we get started: This topic isn't really "church" related, and it's one of those issues that has almost no real-life application. But it's an interesting debate, and I think that there are things to be learned here.

Monday night, Soebs and I were having another go-round at a discussion that many of us have had before. I know Darin feels the same way that SoeBeck does, because I think I've had the same debate with him.

This is the question, in an oversimplified nutshell:

For non-Christians, and specifically, those that believe in no higher power such as God (we'll use the generic term "Atheist" here), what reason could they logically have for living a moral life?

On one side of the argument, the reasoning is that if one believes he or she is not accountable to any God and that there will be no afterlife, there is no logical reason to do anything but live a "life for self." It doesn't matter who you step on or what you do, just get what you can, while you can, because you've got no moral code or accountability. Living any other way seems to be at odds with your own belief structure.

From a logical standpoint, I strongly disagree with that argument. I believe that this line of reasoning is flawed, and it makes jumps from "no God" to "no moral code" without proper correlation.

Although I love the topic of philosophy, I didn't take enough of those classes in college to really have a deep well of ideas in my brain to pull from. Why I thought "Paris and Berlin Art and Architecture in the 1920s" would be more helpful in the long run, I have no idea.

I do know, though, that philosophers such as Immanuel Kant made very strong arguments for the existence of good will, duty, and imperatives, apart from any notion of being "accountable to God." Kant's "Categorical Imperative" says, in a simplified manner, that one should "act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Epicurus observed that indiscriminate indulgence sometimes resulted in negative consequences. The greatest good was prudence, exercised through moderation and caution. Utilitarianism, described 150 years ago by John Stuart Mill, essentially states that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility in maximizing happiness as summed among all persons in society. Or, simply "the greatest good for the greatest number."

All of these ethical ideals give differing reasons for living a "moral life." Granted, what is considered "moral" will vary slightly whether you subscribe to the Categorical Imperative, or Utilitarianism, or the Hebrew God. My point is that I could also be "accountable" to any number of other things: Love, family, society, or government and the laws of the land. Each of these worldviews will bring about some semblance of morality, although again in each case the details of my rulebook will differ.

From an observational standpoint, we know there are plenty of good, moral people who don't believe in God. And at the same time, we also know there are plenty of people that claim Christianity, and yet they are mean, immoral people. So the argument itself is more theoretical than practical.

But I do think there are important details we can glean from this debate. We often think that Christianity and religion has the market cornered on morality, but the truth is that forms of ethics within society were around before and apart from Judaism, and they would most likely still exist without Christianity or religion in general.

Luckily, I'm not the smartest one here, so I'm ready to see some comments. What do you think? For nontheists, what reasoning might they have for living morally?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Slain in Suing the Spirit

Today's discussion on Pentecostal church services comes to you via a lawsuit in Tennessee...

Man Falls After Receiving Spirit, Sues

    Last June, Matthew Lincoln was attending an evening service at his nondenominational Tennessee church when he approached the altar where a visiting minister was offering individual prayers for parishioners. Assigned "catchers" were present on the altar in case congregants fainted, fell, or otherwise lost control. When the minister, Robert Lavala, slightly touched his forehead, the Knoxville-area man "received the spirit and fell backwards." Except nobody was there to catch him, Lincoln charges in a $2.5 million lawsuit filed yesterday against Lakewind Church and its pastors. Lincoln, 58, claims that he fell backwards, striking his head against the "carpet-covered cement floor," according to the Circuit Court complaint, which was first reported by Courthouse News Service. A copy of Lincoln's lawsuit can be found below. Since he already suffered from a "degenerative disc disease of his neck and back," Lincoln, a former church board member, contends the fall exacerbated the pre-existing condition and has caused him "severe and permanent" injuries. As a result of the fall, Lincoln, a recording engineer, claims that he is no longer able to care for his disabled daughter. Lincoln alleges that Lakewind and its pastors were "negligent in not supervising the catchers to be sure that they stood behind the person being prayed for...should they have a dizzying, fainting, or falling in the spirit as had occurred on many occasions before." Lincoln's lawyer, J.D. Lee, told TSG that the church's insurer, Zurich of North America, rejected an insurance claim, asserting that Lincoln should have realized that no catchers were situated behind him. [from The Smoking Gun]
Is it really the "power of the Spirit" when it gives you severe and permanent injuries?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Monday Night Starbucks Should be Globally Mandatory

Man...I miss Monday nights.  There are plenty of Starbucks around here just outside Atlanta that is for sure - but only one Java Jesus group.  Maybe it needs to franchise...we need to incorporate and start opening branches.  
I'm starting my blog back up but a little at a time I guess. Pathetic Rambling is what I'm using.  
The kick I have been on - 
why do we teach people to "witness"??
i wonder if we have to teach people to witness because they haven't really seen - or perceived - or maybe even really believe...
i find it amazing how many in our churches have to be poked, prodded and or threatened with guilt in order to see any spiritual movement at all - 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A must see

Hey guys...i know i don't post much - but i had to this time.
I wanted to post this video - you really need to take the time to watch it.
I know that it is lengthy but it is worth it...
It shook me for some reason - sometimes I think I lose my way...
I needed this...

Monday, May 26, 2008

I’ve been formulating this entry for a while as I pondered how to get it off my chest.
By and large, American Christian Culture is disconnected from reality and in some respects, downright creepy. Yes, it's creepy. Downright weird. A mockery of that which we are re-born to proclaim.

It doesn't take long to see that our faith is lampooned in the media. The Simpsons (which I enjoy immensely) feature an evangelical Christian family led by patriarch Ned Flanders, who frankly makes me wince, as his noodly-doodly portrayal makes us wince when he comes out with such gems as he prays, "Lord, forgive me for the impure thoughts that I had about the girl on the raisin box." His children Rod and Todd are portrayed as robots incapable of generating a creative or original thought. Wife Maude is quoted saying that "I went to Bible Camp to learn to be more judgemental."

Laugh or cry, it demands a response, because this is how the media portrays us, as innocent but wacky Kool-Aid-guzzling weirdos proclaiming a faith that makes no sense, devoid of relevance. In some respects, they're right. Our faith would much rather imitate the world, rather than coming up with an original idea. I found a parallel rant from this blog:

People like Coldplay? Then let's find a band that sounds exactly like Coldplay, but injects Christian words and themes throughout their lyrics. Doesn't matter if they are unable to match the musical ability, creativity, and vocals of Coldplay. They remind people of Coldplay, and they sing about Christian stuff.

People like video games with violence? Then let's make a violent video game about the end times. We can slaughter enemies of the kingdom in the name of Jesus.

People like brand name t-shirts? Then let's slightly change the wording of the t-shirt to have a Christian theme.

To a world watching what we do, how we present ourselves, and how we function and communicate, Christians tend to come across more like a Disembodied Hand than they do an Easy Button. We've shortchanged the church by bypassing the difficult, yet so necessary creative/inventive/innovate process and instead we've chosen to rip off popular culture. With one hand we wag our finger, condemning popular culture for it's debauchery. With the other, we pick its pocket. And the result is a disembodied hand that looks downright strange to a culture we're trying to impact.

Are we really THAT weird? Disconnected from reality? Certainly, we've been called to be different, not participating in the evil practices of the world. But weird to the point that it alienates us from the rest of the world that we're supposed to be reaching?

I was dumbfounded when I read an article in Rolling Stone titled "Jesus Made me Puke," by Matt Taibbi. His article is an excoriating, embarrassing exposee on a Christian retreat that's beyond weird. A nonbeliever himself, he posed as a seeker and attended a weekend experience that is beyond strange. Granted, the practices that he experienced are way beyond the norm, but they are, I feel, how nonbelievers see us when we are in our element. He says,

When most Americans think of the Christian right, they think of scenes from television — great halls full of perfectly groomed people in pale suits and light-colored dresses, smiling and happy and full of the Holy Spirit, robotically singing hymns at the behest of some squeaky-clean pastor with a baritone voice and impossible hair. We don't get to see the utterly bats**t world they live in, when the cameras are turned off and their pastors are not afraid of saying the really dumb stuff, for fear of it turning up on CNN. In American evangelical Christianity, in other words, there's a ready-for-prime-time stage act — toned down and lip-synced to match a set of PG lyrics that won't scare the advertisers — and then there's the real party backstage, where the spiritual hair really gets let down. I was about to go backstage, to personally take part in the indoctrination process for a major Southern evangelical church. Waiting to board the bus for the Encounter Weekend, I had visions of some charismatic ranch-land Jesus, stoned on beer and the Caligula director's cut and too drunk late at night to chase after the minor children, hauling me into a barn for an in-the-hay shortcut to truth and freedom. Ridiculous, of course, but I really was afraid, mostly of my own ignorance and prejudices. I had never been to something like this before, and I didn't know how to act. I badly wanted to be invisible.
What followed is something that every believer needs to read. It's an embarrassing indictment of our practices and faith (even if we don't go to the extremes that this encounter reaches).

He nails the typical Christian male:

My disguise was modeled on other men I'd seen in church — pane glasses and the very gayest blue-and-white-striped Gap polo shirt I'd been able to find that afternoon. Buried on a clearance rack next to the underwear section in a nearby mall, the Gap shirt was one of those irritating throwbacks to the Meatballs/Seventies-summer-camp-geek look, but stripped of its sartorial irony, it really just screamed Friendless Loser! — so I bought it without hesitation and tried to match it with that sheepish, ashamed-to-have-a-penis look I had seen so many other young men wearing in church. With the glasses and a slouch I hoped I was at least in the ballpark of what I thought I needed to look like, which was a slow-moving hulk of confused, shipwrecked masculinity, flailing for an Answer.

He recounts his experience in a small-group breakout where he was forced to tell his life history. I admittedly doubled over in laughter at how ridiculously funny it was (and reminded me of a few small group life-sharing experiences from my days in campus ministry), but the sad thing is that his small group bought the story:

"Hello," I said, taking a deep breath. "My name is Matt. My father was an alcoholic circus clown who used to beat me with his oversize shoes."

The group twittered noticeably. Morgan's eyes opened to tea-saucer size.
I closed my own eyes and kept going, immediately realizing what a mistake I'd made. There was no way this story was going to fly. But there was no turning back.
"He'd be sitting there in his costume, sucking down a beer and watching television," I heard myself saying. "And then sometimes, even if I just walked in front of the TV, he'd pull off one of those big shoes and just, you know — whap!"
I looked around the table and saw three flatlined, plainly indifferent psyches plus one mildly unnerved Morgan staring back at me. I could tell that my coach and former soldier had been briefly possessed by the fear that a terrible joke was being played on his group. But then I actually saw him dismissing the thought — after all, who would do such a thing? I managed to tie up my confession with a tale about turning into a drug addict in my midtwenties — at least that much was true — and being startled into sobriety and religion after learning of my estranged clown father's passing from cirrhosis. It was a testament to how dysfunctional the group was that my story flew more or less without comment.

That said, I don't expect for the world to understand us. Viewing the meaning and power of the Cross is backwards and upside-down to unbelievers. They can't grasp it. They see us as pig-eyed, bigoted, narrow-minded robots who have been programmed to view the world with racist eyes. Taibbi concludes:

By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to "be rational" or "set aside your religion" about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you've made a journey like this — once you've gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It's not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that's the issue. It's that once you've gotten to this place, you've left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. You make this journey precisely to experience the ecstasy of beating to the same big gristly heart with a roomful of like-minded folks. Once you reach that place with them, you're thinking with muscles, not neurons.

When Peter (the Apostle, not Frampton) declared "that we were a peculiar people," he didn't mean wacked-out or creepy.

When I look at Jesus, he wasn't weird. He was certainly unconventional, but he did everything within the cultural context of the people that he wished to reach. Supernatural results followed him, but they drew people to God, rather than weird them out.

Maybe we've become disconnected from reality because we've become disconnected in some important way, from the Head of the body.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is Christ actually the "head of the body"? Or is that really a metaphor about authority delegated to apostles, elders, and ministers?

There is a minor discussion going on among some church leaders regarding what is a "biblical" leadership scheme.

Some seem to feel the bible teaches a basically top-down heirarchical organization, wherein a key principle is Heb 13:17 "Yield to your leaders and submit to them. They keep watch over you as men who must give account (jrb)." It is based on benevolent but binding authority, and leaders are the mediators of God's will for the church.

Others seem to feel that the New Testament teaches a bottom-up organism. A key here would be Eph 4:16, "From (Christ) the whole body, fit and held together by every bond, from the proper working of every part, grows and builds itself by love (jrb)."

The world has plenty of examples of organizations based on power relationships. The whole world is, right? Well, is it possible to have organizations based on just submitted LOVE RELATIONSHIPS, under the direct authority of Christ Jesus?

Monday, May 12, 2008

But Should They Get Stock Options?

Things have slowed down on the ol' Java Jesus blog, which could be attributed to three things:

1) spring weather;
2) busy jobs, busy families, and busy life;
3) complete and utter burnout on church-talk.

From the weary looks on your faces, I'm thinking #3 is probably the correct answer.

Too bad. The Internet masses are clamoring for a new topic.

Something that's been discussed briefly in these circles before is the notion of paid ministry staff. One could find Biblical backing for either argument -- to pay or not to pay. Old Testament Levitical priests were provided for. The New Testament apostles were, I assume, housed and fed as they went from city to city. Yet many of the people that were "teaching" still had a job (tentmaker, fisherman, that sort of thing) as a source of income.

The answer that I'm looking for here isn't so much "what's the Bible say to do?" I'm looking at this on a different level. I realize that in this day and age, it makes perfect sense to have full-time salaried "employees" who run the church, coordinate and administer the stuff, and teach or preach to the members. Yet at the same time, I wonder if all of that feeds our current "Sunday-morning-centric," top-down church ideology.

If the church was truly run by people that held day-to-day jobs, just like everyone else, would the average churchgoer feel like he or she had more of a vested interest in the happenings of the church? Would we feel more like part of the leadership? Would it help to dissolve that chasm between "minister" and "laymen"?

Or does appropriate 21st-century-pastoring truly require a 50-60 hour workweek?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Stuff Christians Like

I realize this is another in a long line of ripoffs from the "What White People Like" website, but I still found it quite funny (and often spot-on).

Stuff Christians Like

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Year of Java

Sometime back in the spring of 2007, a couple of guys went to a Starbucks late on a Monday night, just to discuss theology and church and whatever was on their minds.

The next week, they went back again.

Over the following months, a core group of people were showing up late on Monday nights. These people were passionate about God and about the church. They were passionate about changing the church into something more Godly and more effective for the 21st century.

We've been getting together pretty much every Monday night for over a year now. No agenda. No "teaching" or specific lesson plan. We just get together and talk. We debate scripture, philosophy, and "how to do church." Sometimes there might be more than a dozen people, sometimes there might be just four or five. The common denominator is that all of the guys (yes, it's mostly guys, but we're always looking for some female input) are passionate about God and about church and about relationships.

And now, one of our core group members is leaving. Darin has resigned from his ministry position and his family will be relocating near Atlanta in a few weeks to begin serving at a new church.

This blog is intended as an open discussion and debate among anyone on the Internet, but it grew out of many of the discussions that we've been having in person on Monday nights. This Monday night group consists of a number of church ministers, elders, and people heavily involved in the matters of God's church. We often speak of a collective "Church," but the majority of us having these discussions are all a part of one local church body. And the majority of us are eager for some change.

It's sad to think of Darin leaving. And it's sad to think of the others that are considering leaving, as well. When we aren't happy with "how things are," we push and push for change. If the change doesn't happen, if it is refused or if it can't happen under the present structure of the church, then eventually, some people are going to decide they need to go in a different philosophical direction.

This isn't just about Darin. I would guess that a large percentage of us, whether paid pastoral staff or just church members, have considered whether or not we need to part ways with our church over matters we consider to be of vital importance. And this isn't just random church shopping over petty issues of worship style or how padded the pews are. As I said, these men are passionate about God and about church, and when passionate men see problems that refuse to be corrected, they will eventually consider the costs of moving on.

So here's to Darin, and his passion, his sense of humor, his teaching, and his push for Christian community. Starbucks is going to miss him greatly.

*Edit 4/30: I'm hiding comments on this post for the time being.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We Eat These Chicken Wings in Remembrance of You

Our discussions of prayer and creationism have slowly moved into some dialogue on communion. What is communion? Why do we do it the way we do? What does the scripture really say, and is some of it misunderstood? And what about the Catholic "method of communion" -- do they have some aspects more "right" than many Protestants?

On one end of the spectrum, you have people taking a sacrament (a sip of juice/wine and a little cracker) as a means of individual reflection, and remembering Christ's death. On the other end of the spectrum, you might have a group of people having a communal meal together, fellowshiping around the table, in a sports' bar or wherever... and remembering Christ's death.

What "makes" something communion? Why do we do it with wine or grape juice, other than the fact that it's what Jesus did? Could we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus with any food that we're eating around a table?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Where DID Cain get his wife?

A plausible, but radical, alternative to standard Six Day Creation theory is what I call "Second Creation" theory. It will freak people out, but it elegantly harmonizes a lot of difficult details in Genesis. I want us all to break out our scripture sticks and give it the “pinata treatment.” Or, prop it up and see if it fits into the panorama of scripture. Let’s see how it holds up to scrutiny:

A few folks suppose that Genesis 1 says that in a six-day period, God created a world full of light and sky and fish and sea and animals, and…men and women. But at some point (in Genesis 2, either on Day Six, or maybe ages later) God separately and specially “formed Adam of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils so he became a living being." Eve was taken and fashioned from Adam himself, so she too was a “living being.” As were their sons. Get it? Adam and Eve were not the first and only people created, rather they were the first of a CHOSEN RACE of people. All the other men were of God’s likeness, but not of the same God-breathed character, since they were not “inspired” in the same personal way, with God blowing up their noses. So, man began in Gen 1, but "humanity" began with Adam in Gen 2, when God breathed life into him.

This does several things. First, it asserts a literal creation and a literal Adam and Eve. But it also can accommodate a scientists' claim that the Earth is a zillion years old, and that some human remains appear 10x older than Adam. It also accounts for several problems in Genesis:

(1) Whom did Cain fear would kill him if he left the vicinity of Eden? (4:14)
(2) Where did Cain get his wife, or why was incest God’s design for the first generations? (4:17)
(3) How is it Cain was building a city when he had just a wife and one son? (4:17)
(4) In Gen 6:1-4, who exactly are the sons of God, the daughters of men, and the Nephilim ( “the "fallen") and what do they have to do with anything? (In this theory, the sons of God are Adam and the sons of Adam, also called "sons of God" in Gen 6:2, who went out from Eden and took the "daughters of men". Pretty slick.)

In this theory, Adam, Cain and his brothers were not the genetic fathers of every person on earth, they were the men from God who would rule and subdue the Earth and its inhabitants on His behalf. In Gen 4 we see the sons of Cain introducing agriculture, art, industry, and government into the earth. No wonder they might be called "the heroes of old, men of renown." This gives a great significance to the otherwise strange Ch 4 closing verse: "At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord" seems perhaps that Adams race, the sons of God also introduced the men of the earth to the One True God. This also gives an interesting slant on The Fall, very much in sync with Jesus’ teaching: perhaps the sons of God were “sent into the world not to judge the world, but that the world through them might be saved." But Adam chose the fruit of judgement instead of the tree of life.

In many respects it fits neatly into the whole Bible story line: A chosen but fallen race whose mission of subduing and ruling the world for God is always thwarted by their sin until Christ, the Last Adam (a half-breed God man, himself) comes to redeem their lives, to lead them in a reconquest of the Earth, to rule them in justice, and to share the fellowship of eternal life with them.

The Second Creation theory has never been in the main stream of thought so far as I know. So here is my question: Is this theory soundly debunked by the scriptures? I mentioned that Adam named the woman Eve because she was the mother of all living, but it was pointed out to me that “living” is defined in Gen 2 by having God blow up your nose. So that wouldn’t necessarily K.O. the Second Creation theory. Let’s get critical and see if it stands or falls.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Prayer: Just Do It?

We've had a couple of interesting discussions over the last week concerning prayer. Some of us apparently have a slightly skeptical attitude about prayer -- we know we are supposed to do it, and we know it's important to be in communication with God, but at times, it can be a struggle to have faith in prayer.

We live in a fallen world. We know that pain, suffering, evil, and death are inevitable. That problem of evil will always be a paradox for us on earth. Why does God allow so much suffering? Why do the prayers of the righteous go seemingly unanswered?

Because of sin, and because of free will, we think we know the answer to the above questions. "God knows best, it's part of his plan, etc." Or, as the great theologians Mick and Keith once wrote, "We can't always get what we want."

The issue of unanswered prayer becomes more of a quandary when we look at many of the passages in the Bible that seem to be so straightforward on prayer.

Matthew 7:7-11, the words of Jesus --
    "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"
John 14:13-14, again from Jesus --
    "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
How about 1 John 5:14-15 --
    This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.
And of course Mark 11 --
    "'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered. 'I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.'"
There are a couple choices here, and we could take them as deeply as we'd like. First of all, we could look at these verses more in context, to find what they are truly speaking to. Eric suggested that in John 14, Jesus is speaking specifically to the apostles (and only to the apostles), as he sends them out to work miracles.

Secondly, we could say that everything here hinges on knowing what to ask and having those requests be in God's will. That's the easy answer, that's the "Sunday School" answer (nod to Soebs and Darin), but perhaps it's also the RIGHT answer.

But if it is, it begs a lot more questions.

First, let's be uber-Biblical today and throw out some more verses.

    When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

    You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:14-15)

    "This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven...'" (Matthew 6:9-10)
The problem is that we don't KNOW what God's will is. We want to pray specifically, and we want to pray for what we think we need. Often, those feel like righteous prayers. We pray for a child, dying with cancer, to be healed. Surely that is a righteous prayer! We pray for a good job, to support our family. Surely that is a righteous prayer! We pray for a friend's marriage, that it would be reconciled. Surely, a righteous prayer!

But the young child dies a painful death.

The job we needed falls through, and a family has to declare bankruptcy.

The marriage breaks, a couple divorces, and a family is torn apart.

These are all realities of life, even sometimes when you have a huge group of Christians praying around the clock. We can't always get what we want. We tell ourselves that it just wasn't part of God's will. That it's part of some "master plan."

Maybe. But it doesn't make people feel any better. Nor does it do much to convince people of the loving nature of a God who wants us to bring our requests and petitions to him.

What DO we pray for? How do we know when our motives are "pure"? Do we just offer up vague "may your will be done" prayers? Do we make them specific, but then realize that it's quite possible that they won't happen?

Or do we need to change our entire prayer model, and make it more about God and less about us?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Code, Pt II

This post is to tag-team with Scott's "The Code" post. His dealt with the social issues of dress, modesty, and hypocrisy. Part II looks inward at the eye, the motives, and the intents of the heart.

"The lamp of the body is the eye. Then if your eye is wholesome, all your body is light. But if your eye is evil, all your body is dark. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Mt 6:22-23, Green's Literal Translation)

I think this strange saying from the Sermon on the Mount holds enormous power for the life of faith. It follows the seven "but I say unto thee's", and is couched right in the greed and worry verses. The broad theme is that faith triumphs over greed, lust and ambition. Here is my commentary.

The "eye" is your outlook, more or less. Do you look at that cute rear end with evil intent? Are you cursing that kid by wishing evil things upon her? Like adultery? Like debauchery? Maybe worse? Do you resent her beauty because you can't rub up against it? If so, the evil eye you cast on others fills you with darkness--you become the evil you project with your eye.

Or, when you see that Sweety, are you blessing with your eye? Do you see a child of God? Do you wish her life and peace? Is this God's handiwork? Is this another man's bride? Is this where babies come from, the hope of humanity? Are you humbled by God's art, content to love her as just a fellow-human? If your eye is wholesome, then all the hips and lips in the world will only fill you with light. You will not stumble or fall.

It goes back to LOVE, "for to love thy neighbor is the sum of the law." THIS is the righteousness from God that comes by faith in his son.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Code

In this week of Easter, in this time that we ponder and celebrate the death and resurrection of Yeshua as a sacrifice for His church, I think it's time to discuss something really important.

The dress code.

On Easter Sunday, all sorts of people will show up at church. A lot of people that aren't normally there. And people will dress up. The men will wear a suit, or maybe a tie. The women will wear bright yellow dresses and maybe even a big weird hat. Kids will be in uncomfortable clothing that makes playing on the floor practically impossible.

That's fine. It doesn't matter much to me what people wear to church. A suit is fine, shorts and tennis shoes are fine. I'm not terribly concerned either way.

It does become more of a problem when people get upset about what OTHER PEOPLE wear to church.

This is quite common, and it comes in many forms. First of all, you have the people who claim that we must "dress up" to show our respect for God. If you aren't wearing the appropriate clothing, God apparently isn't going to be pleased with your worship.

God likes his ties silk, by the way. No cheap imitations.

But worst of all is the Cleavage Police. These are the folks that believe that if women wear anything too tight, too short, too cute, or too provocative, that it's not at all appropriate. The reasoning for this generally seems to be that men can't control themselves in the sight of attractive females.

Evidently, if a pretty girl has a skirt on that doesn't go below the knee, all the men's minds will be filled with lust and they won't be able to listen to the sermon without visualizing themselves in an all-out pew orgy.

These rules seem to have a certain pecking order in churches:

  1. They only apply to women,
  2. They only apply to attractive young women, and
  3. They especially apply to attractive young women on stage.

This means that if you are an attractive woman who is a singer, or in drama, or in choir, or maybe up front to give the announcements (or preaching)... Please wear multiple turtlenecks, lest the men in the congregation try to molest you when you step off the platform.

Men. They're animals, I tell ya.

I've never understood these arguments, because they don't seem to give Christian men any credit whatsoever. They imply that 1) women need to cover up attractiveness, as if being cute isn't "reverent," and 2) men have no self-control over their sexual thoughts.

Never mind the fact that we're seeing women's legs and arms the other six and a half days of the week. That two hours a week on Sunday morning might just send me over the edge.

In I Timothy 2, Paul asks women "to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God."

I understand that women are to keep in mind reverence for God when they are choosing clothing. They shouldn't be putting stuff on merely to attract an eye of admiration, or to show off. It's something men should keep in mind too, but for some reason, all of the church "clothing rules" only seem to apply to women.

This is, admittedly, a silly topic. But it's also one that I know a lot of people have strong feelings about, and that's why I'm posting it. What do you think? How far do we go, as a church, in policing the clothing choices of people in attendance and people that are "up front"?

And you thought ecclesiology was just about the important issues.