Incarnational church

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It has been estimated that somewhere around 95% of Western churches primarily operate on the principle of “come inside and see what were doing.” Other ways of describing this might include “come in here” or “let’s put on a fantastic and entertaining service so that people want to come back again.”

This “attractional model” of church requires unbelievers to enter into a strange place  like a church building to come in here the good news. It requires them to do something that’s not normal for them; something that requires them, on the front end, to do something out of their comfort zone. Even the most seeker sensitive places with the most modern and “cool” styles of worship, coming into this place is something out of the ordinary and requires initiative on their part to make it happen.

But the Scripture is clear that God began to work out his plan to save the world it was not result  of human initiative but rather from a singular initiative of God himself came to us, to where we were, to carry out and get this new message people. We call this the incarnation. This is what we celebrate Christmas.

An attractional  church model, I believe, is of little effectiveness in post-Christendom. Attempts to “get people in the doors”  are increasingly accompanied by the rolling of eyes, even if just metaphorically, and a gradual turning out of those invitations and attempts to bring people into the church building. What we really need is something called an incarnational church; that is a church that “disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of the society” (Smith & Pattison) in order to not bring people into a church building but to become the Church in any given time or place; a church that does not seek to plant new people within its fold but rather to implant itself in the soil of the community where people live.

Can this happen? It is happening in places all around the world. You might not see it,  but it’s there.  You might not read about it, but it’s happening.  But it’s not happening enough.

Be incarnational.

As and individual, as a family and as the body of Christ in your particular time, place, culture, language and location.

Consumer faith

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Many churches…come dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold.  Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic diet discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” which can be managed from pricing our own home. Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community.

~Slow Church, Smith and Pattison

 

Minimize the risk

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The people of God are at the heart of God’s mission for reconciling creation. In the Western world where individualism reigns supreme, there is unfamiliarity, awkwardness and even slowness in our calling to live as a community of God’s people. We are so accustomed to living and acting as autonomous individuals that the idea of being God’s people in the world can be tough to wrap our heads around. Being God’s people is messy at best. We are broken human beings with fears, prejudices, addictions and habits that are harmful to ourselves and others. It can seem more practical and convenient (and even considerate!) to keep to ourselves and minimize the risk that we’ll get entangled in the lives of others.

~Slow Church, Smith & Pattison

 

Fast and Slow

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Many churches…come dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold.  Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a “personal relationship with Christ” which can be managed from the privacy of our own home.  Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community.

~”Slow Church” by Christopher Smith and James Pattison 

 

Broken family

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“I would argue that because the American church has embraced a model of church that is Sunday-centric, one that involves the large gathering of the public space worship services, we have lost the essential capacity to be family and to care for one another [as the early church did, in which all areas of life are shared together]. You can’t be family like this with groups of hundreds and thousands of people. Because of this we have become atomized into our nuclear families where everyone is fending for themselves; where spiritually, emotionally and often economically it can seem like a fight for survival.”   ~Leading Kingdom Movements, Mike Breen

This quote was posted on Facebook and several interesting comments followed.  Let me paraphrase a few:

  • The answer is being involved in a small group.
  • It’s very difficult to get American Christians to commit to anything outside of the Sunday morning worship time (i.e. small groups during the week)
  • Staying connected outside of scheduled Sunday morning worship must be intentional–it won’t just happen.
  • Daily family devotions are essential
  • There is a shift taking place wherein Sunday morning is less about the church (that is, those who have truly put their faith in Christ) gathering in worship and more about being “attractive” to outsider.
  • Sunday morning worship and teacher are watered down to an almost meaningless level for believers, particularly long-time believers.
  • It seems true that more church-goers today really are “fending for themselves.”
  • The church service has become too much about entertainment and engaging with friends in a social setting.

I think there is some truth in every one of these statements.  The “Sunday-morning church service” is going through significant reformation and re-thinking.  Is Sunday morning primarily an opportunity for believers to gather in worship or is it primarily an outreach for non-believers?  Where is the where worship becomes merely entertainment?  Is worship primarily about feelings and sensing the presence of the Spirit or about good preaching and teaching?  Can “Sunday worship” occur only on Sunday?

There are many more questions that could be asked and are being asked.  These are some important questions to think about as we continue into the future as “God’s people.”  The quote above, though, is touching on something different what these questions ask.  Yet, it is a concern that if reflected in each of these questions.  Let’s look a little closer:

Sunday-centricthe focus here isn’t on Sunday as much as it is on “event-based” worship that occurs once a week on a regular schedule.  We have, it seems, traded in “family” for “crowd.”  We gather in groups that are very much unlike family gatherings and very much like concerts or seminars or a traditional teacher-centric classroom.  Think about it, how often do you gather with your family and sit in neat rows all facing the same direction, listening to one person speak or a select few sing a song?  Never, probably.  No, in a family people sit in circles or other random arrangements that allow people to look in each others eyes.  Even if one person is guiding the discussion (which is not always the case) there is a good deal of discussion, back and forth, questions and various opinions bandied about.  Family is interactive and, even in its most planned events, somewhat random and play-it-by-ear.  What would worship look like if we were family?

Atomized in nuclear families — Interestingly, though worship is increasingly focused on large groups and (mostly) passive observers, we have at the same time defined family as almost exclusively parents and children.  We understand that grandparents, siblings and others are “family”, too, but these other parts of family are mostly secondary and not considered to have the same authority and importance as parents.  We have essentially isolated our small family units even as we exist within increasingly large worship groups.  By contrast, many smaller worship groups tend to have a wider radius of and understanding of “family”, sometimes even extending beyond blood relationships.

Should the church be family?
If so, how do we recapture this?
Can we begin the move from “event” and “entertainment” back to “family” and “sharing?”

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We Didn’t Go To Church…

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In our most recent newsletter I wrote a short article entitled “We Didn’t Go To Church.”  In the article I told the story about a Sunday morning when we didn’t join the gathering of the church where we normally attend, but rather went to a non-Christian religious service being hosted by our neighbors across the street.  When I tell these stories I have several goals in mind, including:

  1. Give the reader a little taste of the culture and people among whom we live;
  2. Give the reader a glimpse into the hows and whys of some of the things we do;
  3. Challenge the reader to look and think about things from a different perspective;
  4. Encourage the reader to think about the way they think about and approach the situations and people in their world;
  5. Hope that reader will respond with questions, ideas, stories of their own experiences, etc.

So, yes, we didn’t attend the gathering of our local church community on this given Sunday.  This isn’t as shocking to some people as it used to be as there are some stateside churches that now have a once-a-year “Service Sunday” or something of the sort.  Yet, I think it is worthwhile for me to take a moment and share a few more thoughts related to this story, the potentially confusing concept of skipping a church gathering as a form of worship, and how this all relates to our identity and purpose as the church, the body of Christ.

  1. Gatherings of the church are important…REALLY important.  Gathering with fellow sojourners regularly and frequently is essential to Christian growth, discipleship, accountability, and worship.  I am neither condoning nor supporting any form of I-love-Jesus-but-don’t-need-to-go-to-church expressions of faith.  Neither am I suggesting that skipping church gatherings is okay for any and all reasons–even for good stuff like family togetherness and such.  No, being in community is VERY IMPORTANT.
  2. If the church gathers only on Sundays, there is already a problem.  Earlier in the week I had coffee with one of my BIC’s (brother-in-Christ) took another grocery shopping following his ACL surgery, spent time chatting with several couples who are part of our church gathering at our kids soccer games, played basketball with many of my co-laborers on Wednesday night, and chatted, texted, and talked on the phone with several most throughout the week.  Living in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot happen only on Sundays, only in large group worship, and only in formal settings.  In fact, many of the most important times of community happen Monday through Saturday, at all times of the day, in private conversations or groups of just 2 or 3, and informally at times when people relaxed, comfortable, and willing to be vulnerable.
  3. When we got home following this event, reeking of cigarette smoke, we spent time as a family praying and reading Scripture together.  Remember, Christ is dwells in the midst of 3 or 4 gathered in a home in his name and worshipping simply just as he does when 300 or 400 are gathered together in church building “worshipping” with all the bells and whistles.
  4. We didn’t attend this event just to be able to say we went, but rather with a very intentional desire to pray for, and be a blessing to, these neighbors of ours.  Yes, the smoke was distracting, as were the distorted speakers.  The “preacher” was so charismatic I found myself laughing even when I had no idea what he was talking about (this, my friends, is half the battle of cross-cultural adaptation–just know when to laugh and keep nodding your head.  Of course, this can backfire when you suddenly realize you have volunteered yourself to come up and preach or teach or give a testimony).  Through it all though, we prayed and we smiled.  We talked with people, prayed for people silently, and tried as best we could to show the kind of kindness and openness we are sure Jesus displayed when he ate at the homes of tax-collectors, sinners, and the sick.
  5. It’s easy to tell a good story, but rest assured, we don’t always do all of these things well.  Some days we are just plain tired…a little too grumpy…and not the best examples of the ideal to which we aspire on our best of days.  We keep learning and growing every day.  We can’t do it alone and neither can you.  We all need each other.  It’s taken me some years to learn this, but I’m finally catching on.  This why community and fellowship are so important.  Occasionally we choose to miss a Sunday morning gathering in order to worship and serve in other ways, but even in doing this, we realize how much we need the encouragement and companionship ship of our fellow sojourners.