Acceptable worldliness in the Church

contemporary church service2Well, I’m going to say upfront that I might say some things that will rub some Christians the wrong way, especially those in the non-denominational world. I’m just putting it out there. In fact, it’s safe to say that this post might get a bit ranty. But I have observed a kind of worldliness that has been brought into much of contemporary evangelicalism that gets a pass.

No, it’s not having a hot band playing secular music or what some might associate with secular music with Jesus lyrics. Nor am I referring to sexual immorality with fornication and adultery going, although of course that can definitely be classified as worldliness worthy of some serious discipline.

I’m referring to the way we do church. And by that I mean, structuring church according to the philosophies of this world including borrowing leadership principles and techniques in the name of church governance. I’m talking about creating corporations with the senior pastor as CEO, elders as the board of directors, staff as the implementers of whatever vision was cast by “leadership” so the church achieves its outcomes for the consumers called the congregation.

I don’t know where it started. I don’t know when pastors/elders turned from being shepherds of Gods people with qualifications specified in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9  into Jesus PR marketers, thought leaders, transformational strategists and vision casters. I don’t know when this informed the qualifications of leadership, with pastors being dismissed for ‘not being a good fit’ or ‘carrying out the strategies of the organization.’ I don’t know when it became acceptable to abandon the care of the visible church according to the vision Jesus already gave to come up with innovative techniques to run the company and franchising it out through satellite churches. I don’t know when pragmatism ran all over liturgy and kicked it out the door. I don’t know when the apostle’s teaching as specified in the NT, turned into storied, life principles and other cute methods to attract people, instead of boldly proclaiming the whole counsel of Scripture. Continue reading

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On fear, Islam and a better way

muslims prayingI confess I’ve not studied a lot on Islam. But these days am investing more time to understand for reasons I’ll get to in the post. Islam seems to be gaining more of a presence, not just globally, but locally as well. To be sure, there are growing concerns and quite amount of fear lingering in Christian circles because of the rise of ISIS and other attacks perpetrated under the name of Islam. I’ve observed that this fear has caused strong reactions among Christians against Muslims and the desire to repel them from out midst.

But there is a reality Christians cannot afford to overlook. Islam continues to grow. According to this article, Muslims are projected to be the 2nd largest U.S. religious group behind Christians. The Pew Forum indicates that Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. By 2050, this religious group will equal that of Christians in size. Now we can advocate for the U.S. to remove all Muslims as I have heard many Christians decry. Yes, I’ve actually heard Christians say this!

Qureshi_Seeking Allah coverConcerns are valid but I question if our fearful reactions aren’t counterproductive to people who are to be salt and light. There is disagreement on whether these extreme groups actually represent authentic Islam. The short answer is yes and no and it depends on who you ask. I’ve been reading through Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity. Nabeel Qureshi recounts his journey from Ahmadi Islam to his conversion to Christ, explaining Islam and distinction among groups along the way. I found this excerpt compelling, from his thoughts about what happened after 9-11;

In the twelve years since that day, I have learned that the question is far more complex than it first appears. The most important consideration is the definition of Islam. If by Islam we mean the beliefs of Muslims, then Islam can be a relition of peace or a religion of terror, depending on how it is taught.

In the West, Muslims are generally taught a very pacific version of Islam. Just like Baji and I, Western Muslims are taught that Muhammad fought only defensive battles and that violent verses in the Quran refer to specific, defensive contexts. Jihad is here defined as primarily a peaceful endeavor, an internal struggle against one’s baser desires. When asked about their religion, Western Muslims honestly report what they believe; Islam is a religion of peace.

In the East, though, Muslims often have a less docile view of Islam. They are taught that Islam is superior to all other religions and ways of life and that Allah wishes to see it established throughout the world. They often define jihad as a primarily physical endeavor, a struggle against the enemies of Islam. When asked about their religion, these Muslims will honestly report what they believe; Islam will dominate the world.

So if we define Islam by the beliefs of its adherents, it may or may not be a religion of peace. But if we define Islam more traditionally, as the system of beliefs and practices taught by Muhammad, then the answer is less ambiguous.

The earliest historical records show that Muhammad launched offensive military campaigns and used violence at times to accomplish his purposes. He used the term jihad in both spiritual and physical contexts, but the physical jihad is the one Muhammad strongly emphasizes. The peaceful practice of Islam hinges on later, often Western, interpretations of Muhammad’s teachings, whereas the more violent variations of Islam are deeply rooted in orthodoxy and history.

Of course, like all people, Muslims in the East and the West generally just believe what they are taught. Rarely is there much critical investigation into historical events, and the few that invest the effort usually do the same thing I had done in TOK class: attempt to defend what is already believed, potentially ignoring or underestimating evidence that points to the contrary. This is only natural, since it is extremely difficult to change beliefs that are dear to the heart.

Continue reading

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Christian, what if your hurt had a higher purpose?

crowd_cheeringLet’s face it, we live in a therapeutic culture. Billions of dollars are spent each year on self-help tools, psychologists and other fixes to make hurt go away from our history, mistakes, present realities or future fears.

The church is not exempt, especially where triumphalism reigns supreme. Yes, you can grieve for pre-approved purposes but that has time limits. Whatever, your issue the predominant expectation is to “let it go.” Get over whatever you need to get over so you can be healthy because that would be victorious living.

Now, I get that we don’t want to live in dysfunction. We don’t want the pain of the past controlling us but rather to be controlled by our spiritual identity in Christ. Certainly we want to reconcile whatever brokenness exists in our lives. And seriously, no one wants to hurt emotionally or psychologically.  There is nothing pleasurable about pain and our desire is to remove it far from us as possible.But I wonder if that means that we should work to remove all hurt.

I am coming to the increased realization that suffering comes in many forms and is not so easily remedied by our trite prescriptions. Some things in life, people just don’t get over even with the assurance of a new heaven and new earth where all things will be made new. I confess, that I admire those who can just flip the switch and move on unfazed from whatever has pained them. But for many of us, we feel the prickly thorns of loss, discrepancies, failures, histories, etc. It’s so easy to ride on a pollyanna puffy cloud. Continue reading

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Because first time church visitors are people

welcoming-church__fullThom Rainer put together a pretty good list of things not to say to guests who are visiting for the first time. I think the central theme behind most of them (I would exclude #10), is that the guests don’t really matter.

I would add a few more things to his NO list of 10 items;

11) Make people stand up during service and tell them about themselves: Now I realize this doesn’t happen in large churches. But really, having everybody stare at you is not the best way to engender welcomeness. And the poor introverts will tremble!

12) Take first time visitors to a separate room and give a speech about the church: This actually happened during a 3 month church search when I moved to Dallas.   It was eerie, to say the least. However, the mood was lightened by my then 11 year old son who introduced himself to the associate pastor as Bobby Boucher.

13) Give them a doctrinal survey to determine their spiritual state: yeah, this is important. But really, whether they are Christian or not, they are probably there searching for something. If they are not Christian, relax. If the gospel is preached, they will hear it without going through your battery of tests. Making them feel like they have to jump through hoops is not very endearing. And if the church is serious about membership, they will get to those questions eventually.

Other ways we can treat people as they don’t matter is to be interested in what they can bring to the table to ‘help” the church. Seriously, this is dehumanizing. People are not stupid. They can usually sense when they are being treated as a church widget and not a person. People are not projects. They are people.

people greeting at church_menSo this got me to thinking about what has endeared me to congregations, including my present one and why it made a difference. Now I’m not big on how-to’s because different situations warrant different interactions plus, I’m just not a fan of the how-to lists.  But from my experience, I think I can safely commend the following things to say to new visitors. Continue reading

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How much excitement does your corporate worship really need?

hands-lifted-in-worship1The title of this post represents a question I’ve been chewing on for some time. I say that because of a mindset that seems to pervade contemporary evangelicalism that our corporate worship services must have some level of excitement in order to keep our attention. In fact, this is a question that I believe many Christian leaders ask in relation to their congregation – who can we make church interesting enough?

That’s not to say people go to church to be entertained. I wish we could dispense with this trite accusation. People can get entertained anywhere but I believe they attend church to get something more in search of something that satisfies the soul. That is true whether they are non-Christian seekers and believers in Christ. The problem is not in seeking entertainment but equating sensory responses with interest in church. If it’s not interesting enough or the music not good enough or if people aren’t lively enough, then it’s possible to equate that with an unsatisfactory church experience.

I used to have this mentality. I often reflect on the trajectory the Lord has had me on for the past decade or so, from radical to Reformed as I call it.  The bulk of my Christian life has been spent in nondenominational churches with Pentacostal and Charismatic foundations. That meant a corporate worship experience should be one that engages all the senses and creates a sense of euphoric elevation equated with “God moving.” Lord forbid, you would leave the same way you came in. The worst thing a church service could be was boring.

In 2006, that began to change, as I indicated on my About page. As the discrepancies and inconsistencies began to unravel, I left the charismatic movement and church I was in, and ended up at a small Bible church. The services were more sedate than I was used to but a funny thing happened when the “energy” that I equated with necessary “spiritual” experience was stripped away. I could focus on what was being said, on the Scripture that was being read and the word that was preached. The music portion didn’t have the lively quality I was used to. But I found in that, I could focus more on the Lord and offering praises to him without the stimulus of environmental factors. I found this incredibly refreshing. A bonus: it was here that I was introduced to the discipline of theology. Continue reading

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