Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Perfect Church

As a pastor I get to meet many people who are looking for a church. From time to time I find people who are forthright enough to tell me they are shopping for a church. This concept use to drive me absolutely crazy. In many ways it does because it is very consumer based in its language even if not in practice. I also get to interact with people who have spent their whole life in the church and have some specific understandings of what the church should be. The conclusion I have come to is people are in search of the perfect church.

For a long time now I have said the perfect church is the one you attend only once. As is often found out the more we learn about the church the more we become aware of the challenges. I have taken time to ask people what their perfect church looks like, and how it would function. The answers are far and wide, inward and outward. What is the perfect church and how do I find it? Well the perfect church does not exist this side of the return of Christ.

All churches, no matter what our impression, or how much we think they are doing it right, have a common denominator which keeps them from perfection, humanity. Yes the church is God given, and established by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, however it has been entrusted to the minds, hearts, souls and beings of humanity. At the risk of being too much like Calvin, humanity is lost, his words totally depraved. The reality is, we are fallen and imperfect. Still the God has entrusted to humanity this thing called the church, and with stunning regularity we mess it up.

So, what are we to do in the in between? Follow God with all you have. Churches will come and go, some will fit our fancy and some will not. There is not a church out there that will meet all our criteria all the time. What matters is are we following what God has called us to? Pastors are not the only ones who are called to come and go from churches, I think we are all called to radically follow the wind of the Spirit and go where we are called. This will mean the death of the 50 year member of churches. Great fear comes from that thought for many. for some, like myself, there is something exciting about watching the Spirit of God move. We must remember it is not about our little local church, it is about the Body of Christ, the real church, the Bride that will be claimed at the return. Then and only then will experience perfection in the church.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mission and Values

Every church has a mission which is guiding it. This might not be a stated or even known mission, nonetheless it is a mission. A mission is most simply defined as what a church does. Along with the mission are values which a church holds. Once again these are both spoken and unspoken. Thrown in with the mission and values is the vision, what is the next step for the church in accomplishing the mission. These three work together, but they do not ensure movement to the mission.

For example, a church could be following all the values with great excellence, and still not accomplishing the mission. Without noticing a church can elevate the values ahead of the mission. When there is a diffusion of the mission focus, there needs to be a focus, that is usually on the values. Now not all people hold the same level of importance on all the same values. The tendency is to hypefocus on one value and hold it up as the key to the church. This will cause the church to decline and die.

The mission is the foundation of what drives the church, over the long haul. The values and the vision work to support the vision, but they are not more important than the vision. The role of the leader is to help the church remain focused on the mission to which God is calling them. This will require attention to the values and the sharing of a vision. Still the mission must be the thing which all other aspects comeback to. The mission is what the church is all about and the values and the vision are how the mission will be recognized. What is your focus?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mecentric Faith

The great cry of the evangelical church has been the need for individuals to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While I think every single person must decide what they are going to do with and about Jesus, no where do I find the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus in the scriptures. When someone comes into a relationship with Jesus, it is done in the context of community. In fact more often than not when someone has a life changing encounter with Jesus, they are restored to a community from which they had been estranged. Still there is a focus on the individual relationship.

The results of this individual focus has reached tragic proportions. The life of the church has been greatly impacted by the individual focus. More and more people are only concerned with what they experience and what they get from their interaction with church. Lost are the days of being concerned for others and how they might find their way into community with God and other followers of Christ. The media all around us does not help in this struggle. Marketers, and scriptwriters help to focus each person on themselves. At an alarming rate there are people who live life like it really is all about them, and only them.

Even more dangerous than what happens in the church is what happens with our relationship with God. When we are 'me' focused we start to think life is about me, and should happen on the terms I set forth. This line of thinking is completely and totally out of line with the teachings of Scripture. In Mark's Gospel we find Jesus declaring, "If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34). The times when we fail to do this we make ourselves to be god. When we make ourselves god, we often end up growing apart from the true God.

No where in all of Scriptures do I find evidence that our relationship with God is only about us. Our faith and journey are always to go beyond the "me" zone. Denying ourselves goes against all that is within us and around us, yet that is what it takes to encounter Jesus in the deepest levels. This will mean putting aside my own hopes, dreams and desires, exchanging them for the call of God for the community of God.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ridiculous Pace

I have been taking more time lately to return to one of my long time favorite activities. I like to find a comfortable place to sit, a good cup of coffee and a view of people. When I was a senior in high school we had to complete a form of an ethnography. Essentially we would sit in the same place at various times of day and watch what people did. A log of all the activity was created. After several days of watching and recording observations, we were to make some conclusions about the setting we have studied. Recently I have been doing some studying and observing, and now have conclusions.

The most outstanding feature I have found is the pace at which people exist. From the way people walk down the street, to the way in which they eat their lunch. It can be seen in the conversations people have and their willingness, or lack there of, to stand in line. It seems life is continuing to speed up and we as humans in North America, are stuck in a life of ridiculous pace. I understand not every person and people group suffers from this, still by and large I am finding an increasing number of people who are.

As I watch the pace of life we are living I cannot help wonder what the impact is on our relationship with God. There are times when God moves us at a high rate of speed, by in large however, we run faster than God. People suffer disjointed and disconnected lives and the common solutions is to do more at a higher rate of speed. From where I sit I cannot see that as a solutions that is working. At the end of the hectic week we find ourselves exhausted, frustrated and distant from God, only to find the week ahead is more of the same.

This ridiculous pace gets lived as a search for importance, meaning and significance. In the end we are just lost. I know in my life and in the lives of those around me, it is time to slow down rather than speed up. The time has come to eliminate from my life the things which are not what God would have me do. This will mean saying good bye to good things, godly things, in order to focus all of my energy and effort on what God is calling me to. Perhaps it is time for you to do the same.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Designer God

There is not much debate about the teachings of Scripture that we, humanity, are created in God's image. In this we get clearly God is creator and we are created. Still there is an interesting, some would say alarming, trend taking place among humanity, we are creating God in the image we want to see. Not only have the roles of creator and created been reversed, but the buffet has been opened and each person may pick and choose what God will look like and be to them. In this process humanity has created not one God, rather several designer versions.

Now there is a great struggle here because God is bigger than any one understanding, and God connects with people where they are at. This allows for each person to have a unique experience of God. At the same time, God is not limited by one person's experience, and one person's experience does not show the totality of God. In the midst of this tension we end up with a God that has become a designer God. A God where we manipulate the image of God to meet our lives.

The time has come to remember who the creator is and who the created are. When we find our lives, feelings, and desires do not match with our understanding of God, it is not God who needs an image makeover. Yes God is bigger than we can imagine, at the same time not every image and understanding of God is accurate. How are we to know then if we are inbounds or out? Seek God with all we have and all we are.

How I understand God today is very different than how I understood God ten years ago. It is not God who has changed, it is my understanding. Rather than create a designer God, who looks like I want, I am working on becoming a designer person, who looks like the creator wants. This means putting into practice the words, "Thy will be done". Over the years this has meant change in my life, thinking and practice. This has meant I do not always know what is best for me. This has meant some of the things I really want to do and think I should do, I have had to deny myself. Fore it is not unto us that God lives, it is unto God that we live.

Monday, July 6, 2009

God Exists For Us

From time to time those who follow Christ develop a distorted view of God. This distortion can have tragic consequences is left uncorrected. The way we view God matters, in fact folks like A.W. Tozer remind us the way we view God is the most important thing in our lives. Our individual lives suffer when we have a distorted view of God, more significant, the church of Jesus Christ suffers when the people of God have a distorted view.

The way this distortion shows up is in the way we see who was created for who. Was God created for us, or were we created for God? When the visual distortion continues the people of the church begin to think it is God who exists for them. That it is God's job to serve us, meet our needs and do what we tell God to do. We are real good at putting this in religious terms, and sounding holy and righteous. Still in the end it is the same, we are trying to tell God what to do.

The reality which clears up our vision problem is that we are created by God and we exist for God. The follower of Christ, and the church of Jesus Christ exist for one reason and one reason alone, to serve God and God alone. The question of what's in it for me, is not to be a part of the vocabulary. Church members do have rights and privileges, actually they have one right and one privilege, to serve God with all that we are and all we have.

Those of us in the church have lost sight of who the church exits for. It does not exist for humanity. The church exists for God, and is build with humanity to embody the kingdom of God here on earth. It is not about our personal desires and the way we think things should happen, it is about the call of God. The church of Jesus Christ exists to serve God period. No more, no less.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Revolution or Evolution

I have just started reading the book, "Take The Next Step" by Lovett H. Weems Jr.. In the introduction Weems contrasts change via revolution and change via evolution. While not mutually exclusive the two are set up in tension. This got me thinking, there have been times of development in the natural world as well as the developed world that revolution has been the necessary evolution. Small incremental change is still change, yet there are times when the system needs the great shock of revolution.

Now the stated concern about change via revolution is the break in continuity with the past and the people of the past. My challenge to that concern is there are times when a radical break from what has gotten us to this point is exactly what is needed. The evolution of change, remembering not all change is beneficial or leading to health, can bring us to the point where it is the very past and continuity which is causing the problem.

Do I think that is where we are at in the church? Yes and no. Do I feel like there needs to be a revolution yes. Do I feel like we need to throw everything out, no. There are structures, mindsets and practices of the church which no matter what their historical continuity need to be abandoned. This will be a difficult and pain filled process. Still if this does not happen the witness of God through the church will be greatly diminished. At the same time we must remember the roots of who we, the called and sent people of God, are. Jesus Christ remains the center and head of the church. God remains to be the ultimate direction of all activity of the church, and the Holy Spirit continues to be our guide, counselor and empowerer.

The evolution of the church has brought us to the point where half measures will result in just that, half measures. The time has come for the next step to be a radical change in the church. This may not be popular by all, change rarely is. To accomplish this change will require leaders willing to step out, and lead the church into the next steps. This will require leaders who will build collaboration and community in ways that the kingdom of God will be not only talked about but experienced by a broken and hurting world.