About that day I stood on a stage OR what is church commitment?

Multicultural groupI stood on a stage in June 2013. Well, it was more like a platform where they pulpit resides. I stood with several other people in front of the congregation. We were reciting vows. No, not saying “I do” in matrimony but definitely making a commitment to the local church.  We professed faith in Jesus Christ. We agreed to be involved in the life of the church. And, wait for it…we agreed to be submitted to it’s leadership and including, should the need arise, agreeing to church discipline.

“Wait, whoa, what? You actually agreed to THAT? That’s what cults do!” I might be the reaction of the reader. Of course, this came after a 12 week class on basic Christian doctrine, the definition and role of the church and Presbyterian specifics. We each met the pastor and one of the elders to give our testimony and share with them where we are spiritually. This does give one the opportunity to see if this is something they want to be committed to. (On a side note, I have made similar commitments before. But prior to joining the PCA, I came from a place with very loose commitments and little accountability and it showed.)

But given the reaction to the recent social media explosion over The Village Church, I can bet that this scenario immediately inspires thoughts of control, abuse, and squashing love for members. Now granted, there was some fumbling on their part especially considering the highly sensitive and painful nature of circumstances. They did apologize for the careless and insensitive way in which is was handled (not that it will ever be enough for public outrage calling for their pound of flesh). Nonetheless, I’m not writing about that specific incident because there’s been enough ink spilled already. Rather, I want to address the mass response that I saw that by and large rejected any type of commitments to pastoral intervention in the lives of its members. It made me question what exactly do we consider being part of the life of the local church.

I’m no fan of J.D. Hall of Pulpit and Pen nor the site, but I think he delivered what I believe to be a fitting and poignant commentary regarding the situation and specifically the reaction against making any kind of covenant with the local church as unwarranted, unbiblical and otherwise unnecessary. In this post here, he states, Continue reading

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

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

On Loving the Body…even when we think it doesn’t look right

At the end of 6 1/2 years of seminary in Dallas, I can tell you that I look a bit different than when I started.  I put on quite a bit of weight, more than I am comfortable with. There are certain parts that just flat out embarrass me, which is why I try to take pictures from certain angles. These are the parts that have really been impacted by the weight gain, like my middle section. I hate what it looks like and long to be back to a certain weight. I want my body to look a certain way, at a certain size and it just doesn’t.

megachurch_2Well, if you are a Christian and reading this I think you know where I’m going with this analogy. If you are committed to a particular church model/structure/paradigm, we might find that there are those practices that are out of step with Scriptural faithfulness. When I consider my very eclectic doctrinal journey through varying church paradigms, I confess to having a two-fold reaction. On one hand, I cringe at some of the stuff I’ve been exposed to and foundation for abusive tendencies. On the other hand, through that journey, I’ve been privileged with the example of so many who sincerely love the Lord and want the best for His church, even if I thought the methods were not supported by Scripture.

I came across this post a while back, What if a Presbyterian minister gave a good, old-fashioned altar call? Now that I am in a Presbyterian church, I can’t imagine this ever happening. Just mentioning altar calls (and other forms of experientially oriented “worship” tactics) reminds me of the many years of emotional manipulation I observed. But I was sobered by the balance of the article; Continue reading

Have You Heard of My Pastor? Why it’s probably good that you haven’t

As the Mark Driscoll drama has unfolded, I continue to reflect on how this has happened and what it says about contemporary evangelicalism. Clearly, his behavior and myriad of charges against him have simmered under the surface for far longer than it should have. Now, that it’s boiled over, one thing is clear – everybody knows who Mark Driscoll is.

rock concert_man on stageIn fact, he was pretty popular even before the eruption . . . For a long time. And people praised and applauded him. They loved the splashes that he made, or more like the tidal waves he caused with machismo brand of Christianity and his (rather stunted) version of the new Reformed movement. And for me, this just further confirms the celebrity factor in evangelicalism.  Just look at how his story was displayed in Vox, Megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll was an evangelical rock star.

Yes, a rock star. Famous. Known. Applauded

I believe this was a contributing factor to the longevity of his antics. Over at Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson wrote a pointed but needed commentary, Driscoll Drama: to those who sold tickets. He rightly criticizes other notable evangelical leaders (we may be able to translate that “celebrities”) who not only gave a pass to what should have been obvious disqualifications for pastoral leadership, but actually endorsed it.

Let’s not be fooled. It’s not just the leaders but the fan base in general. Yes, fans. Because that’s what happens with celebrities. It really didn’t matter what was going on in the course of actual pastoral relationships, Driscoll drew a crowd. He got men to come to church. He wrote books (well, kind of). He spoke at conferences and challenged the status quo (or at least what he thought needed to be challenged). And, he had a big church. A really big church. And people praised him.

This is why I cringed when I saw this article on the Blaze, He Survived Brain Cancer and Now Leads a Church of 11,000 – but have you heard of him? No, not Driscoll but Matt Chandler. Now, I am in no ways comparing Driscoll to Chandler. I’ve heard him speak a few times and know people who attend the Village Church where he pastors. He certainly doesn’t have the reputation that has surrounded Driscoll. Continue reading