Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Buiding Vs community

I have been thinking a lot lately about new church starts ( read that as about 6 years of thinking). I have seen a lot of theories come and go in that time. I’ve seen what constitutes success in a new church, change and evolve (in good and bad ways).

for a long time now one of the success markers has been a congregation that is able to purchase property and build a building. That's something I’d like to see evolve and change.

It’s funny the more I serve long standing existing congregations the more I hate buildings. But the more I talk to friends and colleagues in new church settings the more I hear them say “if we could just have a place we call our own, we could....” I guess everyone else's problems and issues look better when you are neck deep in your own huh??

Now don’t get me wrong there are some great things about owning your own place. In my present situation I love that we have a sanctuary that is specifically set aside for worship, not hot dog suppers, or youth dances, or basketball tournaments... just worship. There is something sacred about that place. When you walk through the doors it feels different. (maybe that's just me I’m one of those pastors that likes mystics and untouchable things so take anything I say through that filter) I love that we have a place where if we want to have a Tuesday night Bible study all we have to do is unlock the door and walla! we have a space to do that. Or if we want to have a Seder Dinner on Holy Thursday (which we are) We can have a 100 or so people gather in the fellowship hall with little problem. I like that everyday several thousand people drive by our building and read our bill board and know we are here every Sunday.

Now for the other side of the coin - I hate that it costs us a butt load of $ to heat that same sanctuary, keep the toilets working, keep an insurance policy active just in case...
I hate that if I want to use a small wooden lectern to hold my notes instead of the big ol’ pulpit someone will be pissed because so and so made that pulpit or it was gift from... I hate that I have heard the statement “if this church uses chairs instead of pews We will leave”. I hate that Orchards United Methodist Church is commonly knows as the building on 4th Plain across the street from Burgerville instead of a spiritual Christian community of people that care about one another and the community we are a part of.

In our little part of the Christian community stewardship is a big issue and quite frankly our congregation is learning what it means to be faithful in the area of finances. Corporately we do incredible things with the meager amount that we receive as tithes and offerings from our members. Individually as members of this community is our faith reflected in our finances?... Not so much. part of the reason why I’m frustrated that by far the largest amount of finances we spend as a congregation go to maintenance and insurance and utilities for a building, that has become somewhat an identity for us, rather than the community. Imagine the service we could be providing in our community with those funds. Imagine the staff and support we could be providing the members of the church to be in ministry. Imagine, instead of unlocking a class room for a gathering, welcoming someone into your house or apartment. Imagine, if instead of worrying if the homeless person stole the lawn mower or left his sleeping bag on the porch we brought him lunch and learned his name...

I know all these things could be, and can be, done with a building and a generous community of faith. But, as a friend of mine said this week as we were talking about new churches, “What you gather people with, is what you gather people to” If it’s the flashy shinny multiplex, with million dollar sound and lights, why are we surprised when the next meglo-church down the street gets better sound and lights our members go there. Why shouldn’t members go there? After all that's the value we built the congregation on.

In a consumer society where churches produce a product to be consumed, I wonder if our worship of buildings and flash helps us to be the body of Christ in our communities or are a hindrance to it.

I think you know which way I’m leaning.... Your milage may vary

First Robin of the season

No Big Whup - But just thought I’d let you know I saw my first robin of the season on Friday. All be it he was a bit haggard, windblown and puffed up but I guess being the first of anything takes its toll.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Christendom and its dimming light

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about being a “Missional Church”. The problem with any phrase that people rally around is that it can be interpreted in various ways. The term “Missional Church” for many of our churches was interpreted to mean that they had a missions committee or supported missionaries. For other congregations it may have meant more than just supporting missions but actively participating in them. The problem is that both those views of the “Missional Church” I think miss the mark of what the phrase really means to those of us that are striving to be Missional in our faith.

At the heart of the communication gap is the cultural gap that we are experiencing as Christians in the Western world. For centuries the prominent world view of our culture was the Christian world view. It had its benefits because it gave us a common language and platform to talk about moral issues and “good vs bad”. This Christendom was also a problem, because one could share the world view and not have it rooted in the relationship of a loving God. As a result Christendom also gave us examples of society treating the less fortunate or outsider in terrible ways because they were “bad”. How many of us have heard the terrible stories of the unwed mothers and their treatment in earlier times, or the physically abusive husband who was never confronted because he was the “man of the house”.

In Christendom we could be missional by just saying “do what you know is right”. But in a culture that was increasingly rejecting that same world view, doing the right thing meant something very different to various audiences. So “Missions” in may of our Christendom churches amounted to “christianizing” people by having them subscribe to a set of beliefs and behaviors that will hopefully lead to a deeper understanding of Christ, and a vital, personal intimate relationship with Him.

So if being Missional isn’t about convincing some one of a set of beliefs or behavior to lead them to a spiritual awakening, what is it? Well let me give it a shot.

Being Missional is not about supporting missions in the traditional sense. It is about being the mission in a new sense. That means refusing to see our churches as a place where we serve each other, and reinforce our world view and inward focused society. It means seeing our churches as a community that serves the world. Instead of targeting the sinner and presenting a “gospel” and demanding a response, the Missional church sees itself as part of the world, proclaiming Christ by way of service and, as Brian McClaren calls it “building spiritual friendships”, thus relying on community and Spirit to speak to lives - rather than intellect and arguments.

It’s a fine line I know, but as our cultures and communities move further way from Christendom, will we still be viewing mission in its dimming light? Or will we be the mission reading Christ’s story into the culture that surrounds us, sharing our stories, making friends and being instruments used by the Spirit to reveal truth and Life.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It’s been a busy few weeks. I was hoping to be able to put a few more thoughts on this blog about my thoughts on Lent, but my schedule with travel and stuff hasn’t allowed me to give much attention to this venue.

During the last two weeks I have been interviewing candidates for elders orders and full membership in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. (if your not a United Methodist and you have no idea what that means basically I have been examining candidates who hope to be ordained clergy members in our denomination) The process involves the candidates answering theological and professional development questions as well as sermons and bible studies. Needless to say I have been involved in a quite a bit of theological discussions over the last two weeks. Hearing others formulate and defend (for lack of a better word) their theological thoughts always helps me formulate my thoughts on theology and doctrine. As look back on my own journey of theological thought it seems that my thinking is becoming more and more broad rather than more and more narrow.

I’m finding that more and more the church has had a tradition of doing the opposite. I spent a lot of my life trying to figure out the systems and formula that God had put in place to either grant me salvation or at least offer me some life benefits. The problem with that was that I found myself in a position of earning the free gift of Grace by right belief or correct behavior. the more specifically I could define the belief and adhere to the correct behavior the more faithful i felt I was.

My thinking has changed from God simply revealing himself to us through formulas and exclusive means that our Modern Philosophical view has ingrained in us to a revelation happening in a broad way that includes communities of faith, scripture, poetry, story, beauty, science, mysticism and ways that I probably never assumed God would use.

It seems that the history of our church has been moving further away from the Canon that the first Christians used as their spiritual core. The earliest Christians relied on not only the written text and the scriptures they had compiled but the communities of faith they lived in, the clergy and apostles, their histories and traditions. In Billy Abraham’s book Canon and Criterion In Christian Theology he states that there are ten spokes in the wheel that all made up the canon for the earliest christians.

Then all the other parts were made subject to the apostolic office of the Bishop in Rome. So the Pope effectively told us what was important at the expense of the others. What traditions were valid, what teachings, what the scriptures said were all subject to the pope. Then Luther took us a step further and it was solely scripture. Then the Princeton scholars that gave us the fundamentalists, narrowed it further to be not just scripture but the “inerrant verbal plenary inspiration” - that every jot and tittle of the “original text” was the inspired truth of God. Not as a theological decision but mostly as reactions to the growing liberal theology of the day.

I think our modern Protestant expression of faith and revelation is a mere shadow of the richness God has intended for us