Friday, August 04, 2006

In the World But Not of the World

Walls separate believers from non-believers (and also the formerly churched). There are all kinds of walls that the church puts up: we have our own language, most churches have an unwritten dress code, we are one of the few places where people sing songs that are 200 – 300 years old, and the list could go on. However, the most challenging wall that the church constructs is in fact the walls that enclose our buildings.

Our citizenship is in a kingdom that is not of this world; our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. Our earthly passport should read “resident alien.” The passport could read “ambassador from the Kingdom of God.” WE ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD.

Our problem is that we have so separated ourselves from the world that we do not intersect with world—interact with people in the world to share the good news of Jesus. We are like a secret society. We hide behind walls like a secret society. We gather together each week to sing, pray, study and talk about sharing the Gospel of Christ. Yet, all of this goes on behind our walls. This failure to intersect with the unchurched continues after we leave the church building. The longer that a person is a Christian the less time they spend with non-believers. At least one Christian writer has said that we are cheating our brothers and sisters out of their spiritual growth when we spend time with unbelievers. This kind of thinking seems to reinforce our ignoring of those who don’t follow Christ. The problem is that the New Testament is full of examples where we are told to go into the world to share the Gospel.

Moving beyond our walls can be scary. It is like going into a foreign land. The culture is different. The language is different. THINGS ARE DIFFERENT.

Have you ever witnessed people from the USA as they travel in foreign lands? It can be embarrassing. I have traveled to the British Virgin Islands a couple of times to go sailing. It is considered very inappropriate for a woman to wear a swimsuit or a man to be shirtless away from the pool, boat, beach or beach bar. Yet, every time I see many thoughtless American tourists dressing in ways that are inappropriate for the culture they are visiting. I have seen people from the USA being exceptionally rude to waiters, waitresses and shop keepers. People from the USA seem to forget that they are visitors to a foreign land. Things are different in a foreign land.

We need not fear going out into the world. Christ commanded us to go into the world and he said that he would never leave us. So, he ventures into the world with us. We need to go beyond the walls of our church and interact with the people of this world. As pastors we need to live this and preach it. Move our Bible studies to venues away from the church building; hold our committee meetings in coffee shops and restaurants. GET OUT OF THE BUILDING!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Early Thoughts on a Plan of Action

Evergreen Presbyterian Church (the church I serve) has already put in place some of the ground work for this new paradigm for ministry. We have adopted the Purpose Driven model for ministry and focus our efforts on those five purposes. We have a systematic process for the spiritual development of those in our church family. Our process has a lot of bugs that need to be worked on, but at least we have a good place from which to start. The biggest struggle is that Evergreen still has “walls.”

The First Step – Prayer

The Session of our church is going to be asked to spend time praying about Evergreen becoming a church “without walls.” This prayer would be a part of our Elder’s regular prayer time. If this effort isn’t led and empowered by God then it will be of human hands, and will fail.

The Second Step – Pray as You Drive

We are a part of the car culture. We drive. We drive. We drive. (note: our church is 1.5 miles from the nearest public transportation line) I am going to suggest to our Elders that as they drive to-and-fro they pray that God will reveal what new ministries he envisions in our area and where those ministries should take place. We don’t ask, so we don’t receive. We don’t look, so we don’t see. We don’t listen, so we don’t hear.

My guess is that new paradigm ministries could be started in all of our communities if we did these two things. It is too easy to keep being the church we have always been. We need to find ways to take Jesus to the masses rather than waiting for the masses to walk through our church doors.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Passion

My “office” away from the office is a Christian coffee house/café called The Oasis. When I really need to get things done I head for The Oasis. Pastors of small churches that have musical ability often become very involved in the worship music. This morning my task was to transpose a song or two from Newsong’s Rescue cd and from the new Passion cd called Everything Glorious. Working on the transposing nearly brought me to tears. Do I really believe the words of these songs? Does my church? Does my denomination (the PCUSA)?

Some of the words from these songs are:


I need You, Jesus, to come to my rescue, where else can I go?

There’s no other name by which I am saved;

Capture me with grace; I will follow You; I will follow You.

This world has nothing for me; this world has nothing for me;

This world has nothing for me; this world has nothing for me.

I need You, Jesus, to come to my rescue, where else can I go?

There’s no other name by which I am saved;

Capture me with grace; I will follow You; I will follow You.

By Jared Anderson, Copyright 2003 Vertical Worship Songs

Used by permission, CCLI #1011516


Glorious, over us, You shall reign glorious.

Glorious, over us, You shall reign glorious.

We lift our hands in praise to You, lift our hearts in worship to You, Lord.

We lift our voice to You and sing,

Our greatest love will ever be You, Lord, You Lord.

Glorious, over us, You shall reign glorious.

Glorious, over us, You shall reign glorious.

By Chris Tomlin and Jesse Reeves, Copyright 2006 Songs/sixsteps Music

Used by permissioin, CCLI #1011516

If we believe the words to these songs we will DO SOMETHING!! The largest church in our area just moved fifteen miles so that they can do urban ministry. Mars Hill Church in Seattle is opening two or three new campuses. They believe… and are doing something. Do I believe? Does my church believe? Does my denomination believe? Do you believe? Does your church believe? If the answers are “yes” then what are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A New Paradigm

Most pastors and church leaders want their church to experience growth: increased attendance, increased devotion to Christ and increased mission support. This model pictures these “things” happening within the current facilities. Most of our church buildings are vacant for many hours during the week. New worship services can be added on Sunday morning, afternoon and evening, or even on Saturday night. I believe that this model was effective during the “denominational/Christian” era of the United States. People would seek out a church, even a denominational church. The expectation was that people would come to us, rather than us (poor wording?) going to them. This model is not as effective in our current context—at least not in my context.

Going to the People

We can no longer expect masses of people to drive to our current church buildings. There are lots of reasons why we need to change our expectations of the unchurched. First, they are UNCHURCHED! Leonard Sweet has said that our current generation of teens is the first generation that has been raised by a generation that had chosen to be apart from the church. They have no church to go back to! These young adults are raising their young kids without a thought of the Church. Second, many, if not most, families are over committed. Some teenage girls at our church play softball year round! Between softball games and practices they schedule in girl scouts, youth group, church, vacations and school work. They come to Saturday night worship on those weekends they have local tournaments. Our younger kids have soccer, football, dance, piano, baseball and basketball practices to attend. Competitive sports (in our area) begin in kindergarten! Families are so committed to various activities that church isn’t even on their radar screens. Third, traffic is a royal pain, even on Sunday mornings! The current paradigm of most churches envisions people coming to us. This model needs to change.

The Stryker Force

Fort Lewis is home to a Stryker Brigade. Its mission is to “fulfill an immediate requirement in the Army’s current transformation process to equip a strategically deployable (C-17/C-5) and operationally deployable (C-130) brigade capable of rapid movement anywhere on the globe in a combat ready configuration.” (Army Fact File) Our churches are like the US military in that it takes time to mobilize and deploy. When deployment occurs it takes a lot of infrastructure: time, money and effort. The Stryker force was designed to meet the changing deployment needs of the military. They can be deployed to any point on the globe in just a few days. They are highly mobile, skilled and equipped. The PCUSA needs to develop a “stryker” mentality for reaching the unchurched masses. We need to be able to mobilize and deploy rapidly.

“Church Deployment for the Spiritual Battle” or “A Church Without Walls”

It is time for the church to begin tearing down the walls. Evergreen Presbyterian Church (or your church for that matter) should not be defined or contained within the walls of a building. Church “outposts” can be one way of taking the church to the people. Think of this model as one church with many campuses. Coffee shops sit vacant in the evenings. Schools can be rented for less than $50/hour. Store fronts can be rented. The church my daughter attends meets in a building in a park. Gatherings can be held in homes. Hold a service in the community center of a 50+ community. Strategically target specific groups. Staff these outposts with trained lay people who are on fire for the Lord. Deploy. Take the church to the people. Some of these outpost ministries will not succeed; others will grow and flourish. It is alright if an effort doesn’t take root. Try again someplace else.

Tell me your thoughts…

Monday, July 31, 2006

It's Time to Plant

A L-A-R-G-E challenge for the PCUSA is our continued membership loss. Continued losses will mean additional staffing reductions within all governing bodies. More and more churches are having a difficult time affording a fulltime pastor. It is as though this cycle keeps repeating itself: membership losses mean less giving, which affects programming and staffing, which leads to more membership losses which lead to less giving…

It has been said that it is by far more difficult to redevelop a plateaued or declining church than it is to start a new church. This leads me to the question, “Why isn’t the PCUSA planting more churches?” A former GA staff member who work with new church development told me that the way the PCUSA has done new church development has been a failure. This week I am going to explore possible ideas for planting new churches.

Celebrate the Past

Aunt Joan celebrated her 80th birthday in June. She is a dear lady who is suffering from osteoporosis and Parkinson’s disease. Her mind is sharp but her body is failing. We had a fabulous birthday celebration in her honor. Family members came from five different states for that special day. Photo albums and scrapbooks came out of storage. It was a grand day for Joan and the entire family.

In this day of declining membership in the PCUSA we must remember and celebrate the past. Many of our declining churches have had a great impact on people’s lives and neighborhoods: baptisms, marriages, youth lock-ins, women’s gatherings, Bible studies, Sunday school classes, Christmas pageants and memorial services. Those churches have seen smiles and tears. They are filled with memories. We MUST remember and celebrate.

Will our “remembering” and “celebrating” bring back the glorious past? No, that’s not the point of doing it. Aunt Joan didn’t get a single day younger after her big party. The party didn’t add a single day to her life expectancy. What it did was let her know that we care! Our struggling churches need to know that we care!

In the ten years that I have been at Evergreen the Presbytery’s General Presbyter has never been to Evergreen (except the one time we hosted the Presbytery meeting). During those years the Committee on Ministry has never visited our church or Session (even though they are mandated by the Book of Order to do so). Don’t get me wrong, I’m their not visiting is fine with me. Things at Evergreen are fine. My hope is that they would skip visiting a church like Evergreen and make a special effort to visit those churches that are having a hard time keeping the doors open. The visit wouldn’t be for programmatic reasons; the visit would be for the purpose of celebration. Have the Presbytery pay for a catered dinner where people could bring their photos from the church’s past. Invite former members and pastors. Remember! Celebrate! Party!

These celebrations may not add a single day to the life expectance of the church. It will let those at the church know that their ministry through the years is valued and appreciated. This should be a precursor to planting new churches.