Friday, April 11, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #3—The New Reformation: Releasing God’s People.

This new reality has to go hand-in-hand with new reality #2 (Kingdom thinking). If we are going to shift our emphasis from building the church to building the kingdom then we must deploy our people in a different way. We will keep offering things for “club” members to do if we want to build up the club. We will have to send people away from the church building if we insist of building up the Kingdom of God.

Doing things away from the “church” building if a fabulous idea—and terrifying! Almost every day I spend time at a local coffee shop doing some of my “work.” I connect with lots of people even though I generally have music playing though my ear buds. There is one accountability group from our church that meets at the same coffee shop. However, almost everything else for the church happens in the “church” building. L There are a few things that happen in private homes. Every Wednesday our “Lunch bunch” meets at the church for lunch, Bible study and fellowship. The Saturday morning Men’s study meets in the church kitchen. The deacons meet in the church library. The Women’s Association meets at the church. The Session meets in the homes of the Elders—just to make sure that they get out of the church building!

Yesterday I mentioned Alive Covenant Church (Poulsbo, Washington). The people of Alive spend most of their “church” time away from the typical church building. They are out in the community. I am hoping to meet with the pastor of Alive in the next week or two.

What would happen if Evergreen moved most of its “stuff’ away from our church building? Here are some possibilities:

  • Move the Presbyterian Women’s (PW) meeting to the Azalea Gardens clubhouse and change its name—Azalea Gardens is a large “retirement” community in the Graham area. Most (if not all) of the ladies involved in PW are the age of the ladies that live in Azalea Gardens. I am confident that that PW group would double in size in just a short period of time. PW would be taking Jesus into the world.
  • Move the Lunch Bunch to a retirement community—The Lunch Bunch has about 25 seniors that meet each week. They could double in size if they were to move to a location where seniors gather, or live.
  • For the men’s group I am still stumped! I am writing this at The Oasis and just asked some of the “regulars” to help me identify where older men in this area go to hang out with other men. We could not identify a single place. We could not identify a single place where the older men could go that would be a draw for other older men. To be honest, the couple I talked to would rather do things as a couple than apart! Interesting!
  • I just found out that one church’s youth group meets at a coffee shop (not The Oasis) on Friday evenings and the coffee shop owner shows appropriate movies.
  • There are two shooting (gun) clubs in the area. We have people from our church that are involved in both of the gun clubs. What would happen if some group from our church would meet at one of the gun clubs on a Saturday morning?
  • Evergreen sponsors a Boy Scout troop. This troop is VERY active. They are gone on an outing every two or three weeks. In the summer they go on at least one 50 mile hike. What would happen if one or two of our men would become the “pastors” of the Scout Troop? These guys would go on all of the trips with the Scouts and lead worship, Bible studies and discussions on all of these trips. They could have a profound impact of the lives of young men!
  • The list could go on and on.

Until we start making heroes of people who decide to be and act like missionaries, we will fail to turn club members into missionaries. Until we bless people who ‘go out’ from us to reach people who may not come to us, we will continue to have a kingdom vision that is shrink-wrapped to church programs and church real estate. Until we start adopting schools and hosting community food banks and teaching parenting seminars and hold financial planning seminars for the people who come to us for food, we will keep fostering club member mentality.

I had just spoken to a group of church leaders in a small town. Representatives of three different churches were present. I pleaded with them to consider doing less church stuff and doing more ministry aimed at the pre-Christian culture. When I finished speaking, a man approached me and introduced himself to me as a deacon in his church. He said, ‘From now on, when some idea comes up for something new to do at our church, I am going to ask the question, Who is this for?’

Who is this for? may be a good way for you to begin your own journey from member to missionary.”

-McNeal, The Present Future, pages 67-68.

Our congregation does a great job of supporting missionaries. Our congregation (including me) does a horrible job of having every person at our church BE a missionary. Churches that make this shift will thrive and make a difference in the world. Churches that fail to make this shift will continue to be “holy huddles,” basically ignoring the masses of people around us who do not know Christ Jesus.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #2—The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth.

This new reality has the wrong title. McNeal makes the strong case for moving the focus of the church’s activity away from the church building and taking it to the streets. I believe that the title should be, “Taking it to the Streets.”

Taking the gospel to the streets would means:

  • Going to where the people already are gathering.
  • Earning the right to be heard.
  • Getting dirty for God.
  • Being able to articulate why we are doing what we are doing in a way that is clearly Christ focused.

“…church leaders didn’t know how to deal with a church that moved from a privileged position to a church in exile in an increasingly alien culture.”

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 21.

“It’s amazing what we don’t see when we aren’t looking… Religious people don’t see people, they see causes, behaviors, stereotypes, people ‘other’ than them.”

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 28.

I was talking with an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor the other day. As a part of our conversation he told me about the Covenant Church in Poulsbo, WA, Alive Covenant Church. Alive Covenant lives McNeal’s new reality #2. Alive meets together for worship once a month (called 4:56pm)—the first Sunday of the month. The gathering begins with a featured artist performing from 4:30pm – 4:56pm. Worship goes from 4:56pm – 6:00pm. One Sunday a month the entire congregation meets in house churches. One Sunday a month each house church does a service project (called 1 Step) in the community. One Sunday a month is Celebration—a time for church folks to gather together to build relationships and enjoy each other’s company (see the link for house churches).

Moving from church growth to kingdom growth is difficult! North American Christians have been conditioned to huddle together every Sunday. We have been conditioned to have a Sunday School, a VBS and an organ. We have been conditioned to being keepers of the truth instead of being workers of the kingdom.

Making the shift will be difficult for liberal/progressive churches and for conservative/evangelical churches. We are all vested in the current system. We fight for our causes. We believe that we are keepers of the truth. All the while, we are irrelevant to the surrounding culture. Both types of churches spend most of their time hiding inside of church walls.

I have a crazy idea… it is too crazy to even put in print at this time.

Personal notes:

  • Glenn, let’s set to a time to talk and begin praying about this crazy idea.
  • Kyle: Your wife told me that you liked the photos of my dahlias last summer and fall. I have some dahlia tubers and plants that I am going to give you guys as a “baby present.”

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #1—The Collapse of the Church Culture. (continued)

North American Christians think in terms of its institutional expression, the church, as opposed to thinking about Christianity in terms of a movement. This shift in thinking is so profound that it resembles a deconversion, a deprogramming that we typically associate with helping people escape the clutches of a cult. Deconversion will require a disentangling, and intentional self-differentiation from church in order to gain perspective, a willingness to abandon church club member mentality for the sake of following Jesus.

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 11.

[Note: The next quote is referring to the 2002 mine collapse in Pennsylvania and the rescue efforts to save the minors.]

The church in North America far too often resembles these miners. Feeling trapped in the collapse of the church culture, club members are huddling together in the dark and praying for God to rescue them from the mess they are in. This is the refuge mentality that pervades the mentality of many congregations and church leaders. Instead, the church needs to adopt the role of the rescue workers on the surface. They refused to quit, worked 24/7, and were willing to go to plan B or whatever it took to effect a rescue.

That’s the church’s mission: to join God in his redemptive efforts to save the world. People all around us are in darkness. They are going to die unless someone finds a way to save them. Trouble is, the church is sleeping on the job. Too many of us have forgotten why we showed up for work.

Even worse, many of us never have known.

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 19.

There will be a membership class at Evergreen on May 18th. People are going to join the club—I mean the church. Many of those headed for the class have been worshipping with us for a year or more. They are an integral part of our congregation—but they aren’t “members.”

Next week I will be writing letters to 25 people who are “members” of Evergreen Presbyterian Church--ome of which haven’t been in worship for years. They are on the active membership roll because of “family members.” “We could lose ____________ if we move their kids to the inactive roll” has been heard in many-a-church session meeting.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) resembles most of the local service clubs in our communities. The only difference that I can see is that the local service clubs REQUIRE their members to be at the meetings on a consistent basis!

McNeal’s idea of “deconversion” carries a bite that hurts—it hurts a lot! I see a need for local churches. We NEED to worship with other believers. We NEED to stand together in spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6 and notice that the back is left unprotected). Too many of our churches are like a club. Too many of those in our churches cannot articulate a saving experience with Jesus. Too many of those in our churches do absolutely nothing to reach those who are apart from Jesus. The North American Church does need to under go a deconversion experience.

McNeal’s example of huddling together like the miners is powerful. Last week I was at a Presbytery meeting. One person tried to guilt us into taking a special offering for a particular project. One report talked about those churches that had failed to pay their per capita (our membership tax) for 2007. We had the first reading of a policy paper on how to deal with congregations that may want to leave our little club. We had a “talking circle” so that we can get to know each other better. I felt like I was sitting in a Graham Business Association meeting! The meeting was filled with people with gray hair, no hair and died hair. There was no discussion on how to reach the 1000s of people who have moved into the bounds of our Presbytery. There was no discussion on how to reach the two generations that are missing from our churches. To the Presbytery’s credit we did talk about the continued efforts to assist the flood victims of the devastating 2007 floods in our state. For the most part it felt like we were huddling together, hoping that the world would change.

McNeal’s reality # 1 is that the church culture is no more. There are lots of reasons why this has happened. Blame can be spread all around. However, here is the key point—what are we going to do about the new reality? Wanting things to change is not the right answer—it is living in denial.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Present Future—New Reality #1—The Collapse of the Church Culture.

The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both. [bold text and parenthetical phrase are in the book]

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 1.

A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith. They contend that the church no longer contributes to their spiritual development. In fact, they say, quite the opposite is true. [bold text is in the book]

-McNeal, The Present Future, page 4.

Help!?! I am caught between two worlds.

I live, work and serve God in an institutional church of a previous world order. Evergreen Presbyterian Church is a great church. We have been able to make significant changes at the church over the past seven or eight years. But one thing has remained the same—we still look, feel and act like an “institutional” church.

For the past fifteen (or so) years I have seen the “institutional” church in a death spiral. I have witnessed denominational and presbytery leaders fight with all their might to try and keep the institutional beast alive. They have reorganized, reshaped, re-thissed, and re thatted (how is that for a new word). Nothing has worked. The PCUSA and most denominations should call the denominational hospice folks to find a way to die with dignity.

It is amazing that this morning I took part in one of the surveys of the Presbyterian Panel. There were lots of questions concerning my health. It wanted to know whether I thought that I am healthy and what I was going to do about my health. I was horrified that the survey didn’t ask me about my weight or % body fat. The survey wanted to know if I thought that I considered myself young, middle-aged, old or very old. As if it matters if I “think” that I am middle-aged or not. I am 51! I am middle-aged whether I think that I am or not! The father of a person at our church is 85+ years old and in a care facility. He hates being there with all of those “old” people. His daughter had to point out that he WAS one of those old people. Our perception may be our reality but it does not change REALITY.

McNeal does go on to say that the church of Jesus Christ is not going to die! I firmly believe this. The institution of a previous reality is going to die.

Evergreen Presbyterian Church in many ways reflects what the institutional church is facing. We have a HUGE population of wonderful, old people (late 70s and older). If we keep doing things the same way we have always done them we will be in peril within a few years. The leadership of our church is already beginning to tackle this problem. We are going to deal with issues that will make some people feel uncomfortable.

Just the other day I was at a Presbytery meeting. It was “church” as usual. Nothing of substance was dealt with. There was nothing there that would cause me to ask one of our “employed” elders to miss their work. The worship was wonderful—but I worship every week at Evergreen and in my daily life. I saw a bunch of people who are vested in the “church” of a prior time trying to hold on for all their worth. One report was given and the presenter tried to guilt us into taking a special offering for a particular “mission” effort of the Presbytery. This mission became a part of the Presbytery because of the interest of two or three people, our General Presbyter and on church. No one asked Evergreen what we thought about this mission. We support a mission effort in Chile, a village in Alaska, and other short term mission efforts around the world. We are not going to be “guilted” by the institutional church (Presbytery) to support a pet project of a few people.

The Presbytery isn’t my “church,” even though that is where I am FORCED to have my membership. I view myself as a member of Evergreen even if the denomination says that I am not a member there. This is the thinking of a prior church existence.

So I am torn. I live and work in the institutional church. I lead a congregation that is seeking to face the new reality of an unchurched culture and the later stages of the life of the institutional church. My kids are a part of a generation that moves and lives apart from denominations.

Will the Presbyterian Church be so rooted to the past that we will once again be the losers (like in the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings)? Individual churches will thrive. Individual churches will die. Denomination will come and go. The church of Jesus Christ will thrive—with us or without us.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church.

Once again I have stumbled across a book that has caused me to think (yes, there are actually times when I sit and think!). The book is by Reggie McNeal and is called The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. I will be looking at this challenging book over the next few days.

Ministry and the church have been my world. But it is a world that I increasingly find difficult to feel at home in because it lacks spiritual purpose and missional vitality.

I’m talking about the church world in North America. A world that has largely forsaken its missional covenant with God to be a part of kingdom expansion. It has, instead, substituted its own charter of church as a clubhouse where religious people hang out with other people who think, dress, behave, vote, and believe like them.

-McNeal, The Present Future, pages xv-xvi.

This morning I spoke with a young pastor who has hopes for the future of the church but is currently captive to club members in the congregation he serves. “I wonder why I am still doing this,” he sighed. He’s only thirty years old! Some of us are asking this question after many more years of investment. If you are, I am writing to give legitimization to your concerns and doubts about the church culture, but also to give you hope. I want to help you by giving you ways of starting conversations that might lead you out of church captivity and into the adventure you anticipated. (Note: bold text is in the book)

-McNeal, The Present Future, page xvi.

The “church” is in trouble!

A couple of years ago my wife and I chartered a narrow boat and spent a wonderful week on the canals of England. We had the pleasure of seeing the countryside at 4 knots (a little over 3 mph for those land lubbers out there). We stopped and walked into every village we came to. Every town/village had a church. Most churches have very few people that attend services. My heart wept as I had glimpse of what might be the future for the North American church. I know that there are churches that are alive and well in England. The problem is that they are few and far between. The “church” in England has moved well beyond the point of being in trouble!

I have been teaching a class on church history. As a Purpose Driven Presbyterian Church Evergreen is striving to produce well-rounded disciples of Christ. Most Christians have no concept of church history. We need to understand the past in order to move into a preferred future. We have just looked at the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings in the United States. The Presbyterian Church was one of the “big losers” during those times of God’s pouring out of his Spirit. The Presbyterian Church missed the wave because it was so vested in doing things the way they had always been done.

The “church” is in trouble!

Too many churches have become a country club. Too many churches have become a political action committee. Too many churches have become so inward focused that they can’t see past the walls of the church. Too many churches have become so interested in changing social structures that that they have forgotten that people are going to go to hell because they have not been “born again” (Jesus’ words, not mine). Too many churches have lost spiritual purpose and a missional calling.

The “church” is in trouble!

The Present Future is going to challenge us—it has sure been challenging me! Let’s journey together in looking at the present future of the church.