Month: February 2011

wonder

Who reached more people?

So the other day I ran across this video on Facebook and I have been thinking about it:

Here is my question: who reached more people with their message? The real question I would ask is who reached people who were unsure or on the “other side” and possibly convinced them differently?  What do you think?

A further question: Who more closely represented the message of the Gospel?

eucharist

Rethinking Communion

You will have to be patient with me because this is something that I am still working out in my heart and head, but I wanted to start the process of working through it and have some interaction with different perspectives, etc.

I think the sacraments are highly important within the life of a church. As a United Methodist, this means that I believe that baptism and communion should be a foundation in the life of any church. However, lately I have been wondering if there isn’t a disconnect between our words and the way we practice one of those sacraments: Holy Communion.

This disconnect first hit me a couple of weeks ago when I was at a weekend senior high youth event here in Minnesota. As part of the gathering it has been the practice to celebrate (please note that word) communion on Saturday evening in a dark room by candlelight with soft music playing. It is a powerful time for many of the youth and they often are moved to tears and you can witness the lingering hugs of support and comfort that go on well past the partaking in the sacrament.

Now I am not trying to say that this is necessarily bad, but for some reason it just didn’t seem right. It seemed like this sad time and it functioned as a time of almost movement toward confession and repentance (good things, don’t get me wrong). However, the words of the Great Thanksgiving are ones that are of celebration. Hosanna. Thanks. Praise. When I think of hosanna, thanks, and praise I think of joy. I see pictures of people dancing and clapping and shouting for joy. Perhaps they are weeping, but weeping tears of joy with smiles on their faces.

That is when the wheels began to turn in my head. Have we in practice turned this moment of joy and anticipation into a moment of somberness and sadness? I began to wonder why our practice of Holy Communion within worship usually is so somber and serious. I understand being reverent to the holy moment, but why must reverence be quiet and somber? I started to think about all the elements that go into The Great Thanksgiving Liturgy in most of the churches I have participated in and how the music is often slow and serious. How the words aren’t said or shouted with joy but rather are said in a serious tone.

Why do we do this? Why do we recite words that speak of such joy and not have an atmosphere that reflects it? Why does communion seem more like the beginning of confession rather than a response in joy and thanksgiving that the sins we confessed do not mean death for us because of the life giving love of God we are celebrating?

Let me sidetrack us for a second. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving meal (you know with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Cranberries, Stuffing, etc.) in a home being celebrated like we often celebrate Holy Communion? Everyone sitting around the table, serious and calm and not wanting to open their mouth out of fear of ruining the celebration. (apparently not many people can because I really tried to find an image of a thanksgiving meal where the people weren’t talking and enjoying one another’s company and generally looking thankful to be with one another) Who would want to be a part of that? Yet, our thanksgiving meal where we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord is often celebrated in such a way.

What would happen if we really “celebrated” communion? Would it change how we looked at our faith? Would we begin to really be thankful and to really feel in our hearts the joy that comes from the reality we are celebrating? Can we imagine a celebration of communion where people are clapping, joyfully singing, and joining together in praise to a God that has shown such great love?

I want to work this out more but I wonder if I am the only one? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

(Now do understand that I know that communion is powerful either way and that the true power of communion comes through the presence of Christ there with us in the meal and the grace that is received. I am just wondering if there is a disconnect between the words and how the practice has functioned within worship)

money

Church We Have A Problem!

I happened upon this yesterday over at jesusneedsnewpr.net (via Christian Nightmares via The Good Athiest) and wanted to share. So first watch the video:

Now your first reaction (if you are Christian and value church) might be to get all defensive, and I can understand that position. (In fact that was my initial reaction, but then I thought on it some more) Before you react from that defensive position I wanted to really engage with what the video was saying so I wrote down all the statements from the video:

  1. In America, church is serious business and business is good.
  2. In 1960 there were 16 megachurches across the country.
  3. Now there are more than 1401.
  4. The most profitable makes over 70 million a year.
  5. 63 Million Americans attended a church service last week.
  6. 21 million tithed at least 10% of their income.
  7. And churches just don’t sell hope, they also sell coffee and DVDs and books and private education.
  8. How much money is this? Nobody Knows.
  9. Church income is not taxed and most churches don’t even file a return.
  10. Nearly half of Americans (48%) believe that the federal government should advocate Christian values.
  11. The federal government has obliged.
  12. In 2004, faith based organizations received up to 40,000,000,000 in federal grants.
  13. While many other federal programs had their budgets slashed.
  14. What are they doing with all this money? (picture of mansions/wealth)
  15. Aren’t there more worthy causes?
  16. Causes that don’t mask their motives in a shroud of holiness?
  17. Causes that don’t manipulate the penitence of their disciples for the lining of their pockets?
  18. You don’t need Church to give.
  19. Give directly to a cause dear to your heart essential to your community worthy of your support: education, art, music, shelter, amnesty, clean energy, community garden, yoga, animal rescue, elderly care.
  20. 10% where it counts

I don’t think it is actually too hard to poke holes in the argument (in fact there is so much conflation that one could say the video is a total red herring argument…they have created a picture of “church” that is easy to attack). The video conflates megachurches and faith-based organizations into one unified whole. They create a picture that the church is “selling” a product and that its existence is to fleece you out of your 10%. And so on and so on. One could spend countless sentences, paragraphs, and posts deconstructing the argument and showing its logical errors. However, that wouldn’t really do any good. Why do I say that? Because church we have a problem.

A quote from Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love has continued to haunt my thoughts:

We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression “I believe in God, just not organized religion.” I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live. The expression would change to “I can’t deny what the church does, but I don’t believe in their God.” At least then they’d address their rejection of God rather than use the church as a scapegoat. (pgs 21-22)

I think if we seriously look at the two (the video and the quote) we can look and see they are getting at the same things. The church has a problem and both outsiders and insiders are saying it. Wouldn’t it be so easy to just blame the megachurches, but reality is the whole institution has a problem. We have lost our purpose and our heart. Too many churches have stopped being agents of change in society by radically living out the Gospel through their corporate lives and instead have done just what the video says and become sellers of hope for consumers to buy.

If we think about the church as stewards of God’s gift (you know that 10% that is meant for God and given to the church to steward), are we being good stewards? Is that “tithe” being used to maintain staffing, programming, and buildings mostly? How much of that is being used to provide for those in need (a redistribution sort of thing like in Acts)? If we follow the money is it being used to transform lives? If it is whose lives is it transforming? Are we a beacon of God’s light?

Let me frame this another way: do we look at the money we are receiving and entrusted to by God’s people and asking the question of how we can transform the world with this? I wonder what the world might look like if we did, would red herring videos have as much impact/influence? Would people be able to look at the Church and really see the incarnational Body of Christ?

What do you think? Do we have a problem?

DSC_0305

Rage Against The Machine: Church Edition

Dr. Hall sent this to me via Facebook last night. A current student mashed up some audio from her lectures and put it to Rage Against the Machine. What you need to understand is this: Dr. Hall is one of the saints in my life. A woman who had challenging words for me as a theological student but who also walked the walk. How many professors just offer to watch your child? Well she did that for Stacy and I.

The key is her words are grounded in the Gospel. It isn’t rage for rage sake, it is “raging against the machine” because the machine isn’t always the Gospel. My favorite line is “You’re already dead.” It is a phrase that points to the reality that we have already died through baptism and Christ is raising us up. The question is will we follow Christ or the mandates of the old life which we died to in baptism.

This video gave me renewed energy in the way that Rage Against The Machine gave me angst as a teenager.

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Ministry Burnout?

I have had the privilege of seeing God working in the lives of the youth at Central UMC. There has hardly been a moment where I haven’t been impressed with the energy and passion some of them bring to their relationship with God and the church. I was having a conversation with someone who brought up that someone was hoping that two of these youth, who are doing amazing things in leadership, don’t get burnt out.

I understand where the person with the concern is coming from. That individual sees these two and all the things that they are doing (leading a small group, leading/planning a worship service, serving on ad council, and going to Liberia) and fears that they may be doing too much and will get burnt out. I get it, but I disagree.

Is it probably at times overwhelming for the two of them: yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will get burnt out. You want to know why I believe they won’t? (well too bad I am going to tell you anyway) For the most part the activities they are involved in our life-giving. What I mean by this is that most of the activities that they are committing their time and energy to are activities that are helping them grow closer to God and helping others grow closer to God. I honestly see more energy in them now that they are involved in these activities then I saw in them just one year ago when these life-giving activities were not available.

All this got me thinking about clergy burnout and ministry burnout. Personally, I can tell you that I can understand why clergy get burnt out. You want to know why? (I know, why do I keep asking this if I am just going to tell you anyway…work with my rhetorical style) I believe for the most part the life of the church has been taken over by life-draining activities. Outside of Sunday worship more often then not the majority of the life of the church is contained in “committee” meetings where we talk and talk and talk about everything but God and our relationship with God. Is this the case in every church? No. But in my limited years of service it has been the norm for many of the churches I have seen and it has been the case for the churches I have served.

Instead of freeing people up to spend time together entering into the Story of God and into one another’s lives in real, authentic, and deep ways, we hope they get to know one another while doing the “business” of the church.

But I think amazing things will happen if we live into the other reality. I know committee meetings are necessary, but what if they became secondary to regular small group gatherings? What if the regularly scheduled activities were times set apart for people to gather and pray, read Scripture, and hear how their fellow brother and sister are doing in life and offer support? What if committee meetings only came up as necessary? Would our clergy be changed? Would the time and energy devoted to meetings that was now free open up the possibilities of investing in spiritual leaders and mentoring the leaders of the congregation by having meals and prayer time together? Would the life of the Holy Spirit be opened and let loose on congregations?

I think it would and I believe I am seeing it in the life of these two youth. They are a model for the rest of the church to follow. They have devoted their time to “life-giving” events that connect them with God in deep and transforming ways and they challenge the larger church here by their example. I just hope we see it and follow.