Thursday, May 25, 2006

Epic Churches for Epic Times


In the midst of one of the greatest transitions in history—from dodern to postmodern—Christian churches are owned lock, stock and barrel by modernity. They havae clung to modern modes of thought and action, their ways of embodying and enacting the Christian tradition frozen in patterns of high modernity.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 28.

The postmodern economy is an “experience economy.” Some call this immersion living.” Others call it “The Emotile Era.” But whatever you call it, experience is the currency of postmodern economics. I the last half century much of the world has transitioned from an industrial economy (driven by things) to a knowledge economy (driven by bits) to an experience economy (which traffics in experiences.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 32.

Total Experience” is the new watchword in postmodern worship. New World preachers don’t “write sermons.” They create total experiences.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 43.

The degree to which we are captives of print and page was made clear at a gathering of Washington Presbyterians. I watched in amazement as the entire congregation of seven hundred people obediently followed the instructions in the bulletin, turned to the page for the black spiritual “Amen, Amen,” and read from their hymnbooks, with heads bowed and legs braced, the one-word song; “A-men, A-men, A-men, A-men.

Leonard Sweet, “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” page 45.

Just the other day, my daughter commented on the “Sunday” worship at Evergreen Presbyterian Church (the church I pastor). She loves me, but she doesn’t love our worship. We have a bulletin, a printed (responsive reading) call to worship, a printed prayer of confession (read in unison), a printed assurance of forgiveness (responsive reading), a pastoral prayer that is concluded with the Lord’s Prayer and we sing the Doxology as the offering plates come forward. We have all the elements of “Presbyterian” worship. Guess what? We have almost no people attending that are between the ages of 16 and 30. Some students from the youth group are there (all but three are there because the have to be in order to go on the Mission Trip!).

Reading what I just wrote you would get the impression that we are your “typical” Presbyterian church—we’re not! Our worship has the best of contemporary and traditional music (slightly heavier on the contemporary side but without a drum set). I never wear a robe! Typically I wear a suit and tie once a month, a sport coat with or without a tie once a month and no coat or tie the rest of the Sundays. We have people in Sunday worship in jeans, shorts, suits and ties, dresses, pant suits—you name it. We use two projection units at the front of the sanctuary and one in the back (for the worship team and pastor).

We are a modern church trying to create an experience for the worshippers. Let me correct that—that is what I am trying to do with the blessing of the leadership of the church. Some people are enjoying the “experience” that is being created. Many (maybe most) don’t understand, “Why?” Our worship has been enhanced but there is still a problem—we are still a modern church!

So… what should we do? It is time for some “love-inspired audacity.” It is time to think outside the box—maybe we should blow up the box. Our Sunday morning is never going to reach the post-modern culture. We should create the best worship experience we can for those who do show up. THEN… we need to create new worship experiences for those who are a part of the post-modern generation. Our Saturday night service is closer to what would speak to a post-modern person. It is still not there yet. We need to keep evolving that service. THEN… we need to create worship experience (that may or may not be at our current location) that will TARGET a different culture. What will it look like? I haven’t the faintest clue!

How are you and your church confronting the post-modern culture? What suggestions do you have for what our church could/should do?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Post-Modern Pilgrims

(Note: Len Sweet, author of “Post-Modern Pilgrims,” is going to be watching the blog! Feel free to leave your comments, questions or insights. Also, I have “fixed” the blog settings so that anyone can post comments. I didn’t realize that my settings kept people from posting. Sorry!!)

Things are confusing! My seminary classes were taught by professors who hadn’t served in a local church for ages (if ever). I was trained to pastor a church in the “modern” intellectual world. I serve as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—a denomination that is heavily skewed to those who are “older.” Neither of my kids (both in college) will end up Presbyterian—it is boring and doesn’t meet their needs or preferences. My kids aren’t typical—not that they have left the PCUSA but because they go to church at all. Denominational loyalty is quickly fading away. “Mainline” churches have become the “sideline” churches. Saddleback Church has jumped with both feet into HIV/AIDS ministry and care—yet, many in the HIV/AIDS care world are skeptical and don’t want them there (a conservative, evangelical church involved with a lot of sick folks, many of whom are gay). MTV has more impact on the youth than most parents do. HELP! Yet, MTV is fading away. MySpace and Facebook are the place to connect with friends and peers.

I am living in between two worlds… the modern and the post-modern. How does the church I serve navigate between these two worlds… or can it?

Leonard Sweet, in "Post-Modern Pilgrims," has some VERY helpful suggestions on how the church can effectively communicate with the post-modern culture while not becoming a part of that culture (or any particular culture, for that matter). The book is a wonderful mix of insightful ideas, appropriate quotes and “faith practices and web interactives.”

Tonight (Tuesday, May 23) the final two contestants on American Idol will sing for a million dollars. Simon, Randy and Paula will evaluate the performances. Yet, it is the millions of people who call in and vote that will decide which person is the winner. MILLIONS want to participate. Millions will participate.

Next Sunday morning, Presbyterian pastors will get up if front of congregations and preach God’s word. People will sit in the pews (chairs) and quietly nod their heads in agreement. It is a monologue, pure and simple. It is as far from the American Idol experience as one can get. Two different worlds—American Idol is bigger today than at any time in its history; the PCUSA is in membership free-fall.

Our look at "Post-Modern Pilgrims" will help us to see the world through new eyes—Sweet’s eyes. See you tomorrow as we begin to dig into Epic Church for Epic times.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Taking the Leap

“The Radical Leap,” by Steve Farber, is a must read by people in the business world and by those in the church. Go buy the book today!

Once again, the main points are:

  • Cultivate Love
  • Generate Energy
  • Inspire Audacity
  • Provide Proof

Our individual churches need Extreme Leaders who follow Christ. The PCUSA (or any denomination) needs Extreme Leaders who follow Christ. Are you and I going to stay with the status quo? Or, are we willing to take the LEAP?

Beginning tomorrow I will be looking at a book by Leonard Sweet called, “Post-Modern Pilgrims.” Sweet will help the Extreme Leader grasp the changing world context so that the LEAP will be in the most effective direction.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Love-Inspired Audacity

“Audacity is ‘a bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints.’”

-Steve Farber, “The Radical Leap,” page 111.

“Love-inspired audacity is courageous and bold and filled with valor. It’s the kind of audacity that’s required to change the world for the better. Ego-inspired audacity is just a pain in the ass. In other words, some people aer audacious just for the purpose of drawing attention to themselves; they’re not concerned about anything other than their image.”

-Steve Farber, “The Radical Leap,” page 112.

“”This will be the age of love-inspired audacity,’ he continued, picking up a full head of steam. ‘Now is the time for all of us to take our power back and become, eachof us, Extreme leaders in our own right. We have to set a new example of that’s right in business and everywhere else. We have to be audacious enough to follow the examples we respect and challenge the ones we don’t.’”

-Steve Farber, “The Radical Leap,” page 114-115.

Churches like things stable. Churches like things normal. Churches like things to be the same. Churches struggle with the idea of change.

Presbyterian churches are filled with people who are “older.” It is hard to imagine the changes these wonderful folks have lived through. The “world” they were born into no longer exists. Imagine a world without computers or even televisions! Now we have wikis, blogs, streaming video on the net and Ipods that show videos. Change. Change! Change!! Everything has changed.

These folks enjoy some of the changes in their world. The microwave oven makes cooking much faster. The riding lawn mower takes the physical effort out of a weekly chore. The motor home is more comfortable than that old leaky tent. The air conditioning makes a hot summer day more comfortable. Some enjoy e-mailing their families and friends. But there is only so much change that can be easily absorbed.

Sunday morning is “church time.” Church is the one constant in their world of change. Many may be thinking, “The world may be changing but don’t you dare change my church!” It is their stable rock in a river of change.


For churches, another way of saying “audacity” is “thinking and acting outside of the box.” We simply cannot keep doing church the same old way in the PCUSA—our declining numbers demonstrate this fact. Churches that don’t want change don’t want Extreme Leaders. Let them bring in a hospice pastor to walk with them through their final years of life. Let these churches worship God in a way that is meaningful to them. They can have a meaningful ministry to “older” adults—but they had better not complain about low attendance or the lack of younger families and children!

Think outside of the box. Extreme Leaders need to be in churches that are willing to change. The church will need to know that the pastor loves them and is willing to die for them. This love will generate an energy that will be the catalyst for change. The church will then be willing to think outside of the box.

What kind of crazy, audacious, ministry is God leading my church and your church to undertake? What old norms and constraints need to be challenged and changed? One of those norms is what we call denominations. Their mission and objectives will need to change. What will denominations look like in the future? IT IS UP TO YOU AND ME!

Speaking of denominations, we need to ask if God is calling our churches to stay in the PCUSA? Maybe. Maybe not. The Bible says that new wine doesn’t go in old wineskins. Is the PCUSA (and any other denomination for that matter) so dried,tired and old that it is not the place for new wine of the Spirit? We will soon find out.

Let’s forget about the PCUSA for a moment. What does God want your church to do to change the world? Is your church/my church even thinking about changing the world? It is better to close a church that that tried to change the world and failed than to keep a dying church on life support for decades. Who is reaching the divorced moms in your area? Who is helping kids with after school tutoring? Who is providing homes for low-income families? Who is reaching the new people in our communities for Christ? Who is looking at the postmodern culture and trying to find ways to communicate the love of God in a way that will be understood? THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX!!!! (Note: Following this series I will be looking at a book of Leonard Sweat, a Christian futurist, who writes extensively about ministry to the postmodern culture.) MAKE A DIFFERENCE! CHANGE THE WORLD!

The cross was audacious! Healing the sick was audacious! Peter going to the home of a Gentile was audacious! Paul singing while locked in a Philippian jail was audacious! Martin Luthor posting his criticisms of the Catholic Church on the Wittenburg door was audacious! Bill Hybles starting a church in a movie theater was audacious! Rick Warren moving to Southern California to start a church was audacious!

What audacious steps is God calling me to take? You? Will we be willing to follow him and be audacious Extreme Leaders?