Posts tagged church
How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology (with pastor Mike C. Manea - part 2)
why adventism (41) Cropped.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, pastor Mike and I sat down and talked about the challenges posed by Last Generation Theology and how to heal our local churches. In this episode we dive a little deeper and discuss questions such as:

  1. Can we have assurance of salvation? What did Ellen White mean when she said we should “never be taught to say that [we] are saved”?

  2. Did Jesus finish his work/ atonement at the cross? Or not?

  3. Do we have to reach a state of sinless perfection before the close of probation?

  4. Must I remember and confess every sin or else God will bring it against me in the judgement?

  5. How do I free my local church from these beliefs?

The goal of this episode is to show how rejecting LGT does not mean a person has to go to the opposite extreme of cheap grace and can instead revisit each of these themes through the beauty of God’s heart revealed at the cross. The end result is a narrative of belief that can fuel mission and nurture local churches capable of effectively connecting with the lost.

Listen below!


For a more indepth analysis of LGT, including Ellen White quotes on assurance of salvation, see the article “REclaiming Adventism”. Click here.

To explore the connection between the sanctuary and assurance of salvation in more detail, see: “How Adventism Ended the Gospel Wars” Click Here.

Further Reading

hardbackstanding2left_1300x1638 (5).png
7.00
Add To Cart
hardbackstanding2left_1300x1638 (4).png
7.00
Add To Cart

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Copy of Copy of Copy of SUBSCRIBE BELOW (2).png


Is Your Adventism Beautiful?
why adventism (37) Cropped.jpg

Jewelry.

It’s a word that ruffles lots of feathers in Adventism. Some Adventists believe you can’t possibly be Adventist if you wear it. Other Adventists believe there is nothing wrong with it. And others still take a functional approach that supports the use of jewelry (like watches, tie clips, wedding bands) while rejecting jewelry that only serves adornment purposes (like ties I guess?). But to be honest, I kind of don’t really care. In fact, the whole debate pretty much bores me. But there is an angle on the whole theme of adornment and jewelry that I never hear during these debates, and its the one that I happen to find really interesting.

In Isaiah 61:10 the Bible says,

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Now notice the imagery here. The text is saying that God adorns us like a bride adorns herself in jewels. Picture that for a moment. A bride getting herself ready for her wedding. She is careful to comb and braid her hair just right. Her skin is brushed to perfection. She hangs a necklace around her neck and earrings that match. The jewels themselves can’t be just any old jewel. They have to be just right - not so strong that they steal the show and not so weak that they look out of place. They have to compliment her eyes, her dress - even the shape of her jaw and the length of her neck. It’s a work of art intended to enhance her beauty and draw attention to her joy.

The Bible says that this is what God does for us. He adorns us. He clothes us in his promise of salvation, in a robe of his perfect life and love. The picture Isaiah is painting is clear. God isn’t interested in dragging us into a religion full of rules and weird standards. The exact opposite is happening. God courts us romantically and then, the day we embrace him, he adorns us in all the beauty heaven has to offer.

In other words, God wants us to be beautiful.

David put it best in Psalm 90:17 when he wrote, “let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us…”

In other words, its not simply that God adorns us with his grace and forgiveness. According to David he adorns us with himself. He is like a jewel that enhances our beauty and draws everyone’s attention to his heart. (Too bad this amazing point is often absent in our silly debates over jewelry.)

But it goes deeper than this. God is not simply an adornment upon you and me that others see when they interact with us. Instead, the Bible paints an even crazier picture. Notice what Isaiah says in chapter 62 verse 3.

You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us!

Did you catch that? Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us! Imagine God placing a crown on his head, or a royal ring upon his finger. That crown and that ring represent you and me. It’s not that God needs us to make himself more beautiful because he is the height of beauty. However, in some weird way I don’t fully understand God still describes his people as jewels he wears upon himself. I would suggest that because the great controversy is a battle over the character of God - is he good or not? - then the biblical picture of God wearing his people as jewelry has theodical significance. In other words, when we live beautiful lives we beautify God in the eyes of people who think he is ugly. Our lives are the jewels that catch their attention and enable them to see the true beauty of his heart.

Zechariah also captured a similar picture when he wrote, “The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” (Zech. 9:16) and speaking through the prophet Haggai, God said to Zerubabbel, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you…” (Haggai 2:23)

So let me ask again. Is your Adventism beautiful? Is your faith like a jewel that God would want to wear? Because buried beneath endless ping pong battles over whether jewelry is cool or not lies a narrative significantly more meaningful and important for us to ponder. I have never met a lost person who rejected church or Christians because they wore too much jewelry. But I’ll tell you what I have met - countless people who have turned away from God because supposed believers live lives that make God look ugly. Judgmental, arrogant, disconnected, sectarian, holier-than-thou, argumentative, critical, fault-finding, condemnatory, negative, obsessed with rules, traditions and mindless customs, tossed around by conspiracy theories and full of hatred toward those different from themselves. That’s the sort of stuff that makes God look ugly. Not your necklace or wedding band but your character.

So my question today is, is your Adventism beautiful? Is your life beautiful? Are you adorned with the character of Jesus? Are you kind, fun to be around, and encouraging? And on the flip-side, if you were a jewel would he put you on? Would your life be filled with care for the poor, the vulnerable and the lonely? Is it the kind of life that would make others say - “wow, God really is beautiful.”

The answer to these simple questions is the difference between a life of missional effectiveness and failure. So today I want to invite you, regardless of what your convictions on jewelry are - stop and think if you are adorned in the beauty of God and if, in turn, God would adorn himself with the beauty of you.


Help me create a YouTube channel that answers Bible questions millennials ask from an Adventist perspective.

Plus, help me release the first Bible Study set designed to study the 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the SDA Church with millennials and post-moderns!

These things cost lots of money, but with your help we can make it happen! Click below to learn more.

Why the Modern Church Has Failed

I grew up in a traditional church that was more interested in hanging on to its formalities than it was in open-mindedly assessing why it was losing its youth. My own youth group was quite large but by the time we had reached 18 the vast majority of us had walked away from the church. As a result of these experiences I have, for a long time, been quite interested in the topic of youth and church.

Enter the modern church. Among many other things, the modern church was an attempt to create a church culture that was both attractive and retentive of its youth. However, after many years of going down that road we are still publishing books on how youth are leaving church in droves. It appears the modern church has failed.

But why? The answers are as complex as the problem, but allow me to present a paradigm that I believe contributes, perhaps more than any other reason, to the youth exodus that plagues churches everywhere.

HEARTBEAT.png

Before I do so, allow me to dissect the church into three chunks. The first chunk we will call the "heart beat" of the church. This is what gives the church its life, breath and relevance. In other words, the heart beat is the purpose of the church. The second chunk we will call the "muscle". This is what enables the church to live out its purpose. In an Adventist local church this would include- in part - the "business meeting" (most powerful meeting in the church which involves every church member), the "board meeting" (where appointed leaders of the church meet to implement the decisions of the church and to steer the church through representative decisions) and "ministry meetings" (where ministry leaders of diverse ministries get together to plan for the year). In other words, the muscle of the church is its system. The third chunk is the cosmetics of the church. This is the stuff everyone sees like the age of the building, its cleanliness and it's upkeep. But this also involves the church's style like its dress code, its musical niche, its interior design etc. In other words, the cosmetics of the church is its style.

Now that we have divided the church into these three chunks allow me to introduce what I believe is the major problem with the church today. Jesus gave the church a heart beat: the great commission. This task to make disciples of all nations is why the church exists. It is its purpose. The muscle of the church is thus fully employed in bringing this purpose about. And the cosmetics of the church adapt to the different cultures and generations that that particular local church is speaking into. However, at some point in history the church seems to have lost its heart beat. Once it lost its heart beat (making disciples of all nations) it became obsessed with itself. As a result the muscle of the church switched from an outward focused system set up to facilitate the accomplishment of the great commission to an inward focused system set up to keep the church members happy. The end result of this was churches that cared little of how they were perceived in their communities and instead focused on keeping one another happy. The cosmetics of the church thus evolved, not as a tool for speaking into culture, but as a celebration of nostalgia.

Then one day, a well meaning member realized that all the youth were totally not clicking with church. So this well meaning member spoke with another well meaning member and together they decided something had to be done. What can we do to attract and retain our youth? They asked. And the answer was always the same: We have to make church cool.

OK, maybe no one ever used those exact words. But that's what it all boils down to. Most of the modern church is ultimately concerned with being "cool" enough so that its youth feel comfortable and perceive the church as relevant. But it hasn't worked. We are still publishing books and funding research on the "youth exodus issue" and church leaders across the board know that youth are still leaving. In addition, the modern church's attempt has become the object of scorn both in the church and in the culture the church is supposedly reaching. Check out the video below, by Nick Thune, which communicates exactly how many secular post-moderns perceive the church of today.

This video is both hilarious and sad. Hilarious because the dude is funny! Sad because the modern church has become so predictable, shallow and "cool" that it can be so easily caricatured and ridiculed. And the worst part of it all is it hasn't worked.

But why? Well, here is my theory. Remember the whole heart-beat, muscle and cosmetic thing? When the church lost its heart beat its muscle became useless and its cosmetic gradually lost touch with its culture. When well meaning members decided to seek a solution, however, rather than go to the core of the issue and fix that (the church had no heart beat) they simply tweaked the cosmetics. But what do you get when you wash a tomb white? You get a white washed tomb. Its pretty on the outside, but inside its still full of dead men's bones. So what do you get when you take a church that has no heart beat with an atrophied muscular structure and simply change the cosmetics? You get a church that's pretty on the outside, but fundamentally it is still dead, irrelevant and useless. It only takes the youth (who might be initially attracted by your coffee bar and contemporary Christian worship band) so long before they figure out that your contemporary church is, apart from the cosmetics, no different to the traditional church that they ran away from. It's still boring. It's still irrelevant. It's still exists for nothing more than the appeasement of its own membership. It has no lasting, impacting or legitimate reason to exist. And without that heart beat you can change your cosmetics all you want and you will end up with nothing more than a shallow and cheesy version of Christianity that hardly resembles the world changing movement Jesus intended us to be.

Am I against the cosmetics? Of course not. There's nothing worse than walking into a church and it feels like you just stepped back 100 years. There is nothing worse than churches who clearly have no interest or knowledge of the culture and its language. But here's my point - the cosmetics should be the result of having a heart beat. They are not the thing that causes it. Change them all you want, but it wont revive your church, keep your youth or attract your neighbors. But a church with a heart that beats for the broken and lives to share the gospel to its community by acts of mercy, justice and service is a relevant church that will impact its sphere of influence for decades to come.

Lets be that kind of church.

Why is Church So... Blah?
why adventism (3) Cropped.jpg

Have you ever felt like church just doesn't seem to matter? I mean, its cool and all. It's not like you are angry at the church or with anyone in particular. It just seems as though the only major thing that would change if you stopped going was how you spent your Sabbath morning which is quite often kind of, well, blah...

If you have ever felt that way, consider yourself totally non-weird. Many people, especially in today's generation, feel that way. In fact, many pastors feel that way and I am definitely one of them. I'm not a huge fan of "church" and there is so much about it that I simply don't connect with.

However, there is something weird about all this. Whenever I read about the church in the New Testament I get stoked. I especially love the book of Acts which chronicles the journey of the early church. But for some reason that sense of excitement hasn't always transferred into my local setting. It's almost as if there is a big difference between the church in Acts and the church in my city. One is pretty cool. The other is... blah?

But why do we feel this way? Is it because the Acts church was perfect? Not at all. They were messed up. In fact, the New Testament testifies to how messed up the early church was (one church even had a guy hooking up with his stepmother!). They were certainly far from perfect. Is it because the Acts church was trendier? No. There were no hipsters then. They didn't even have a Snapchat account.

And yet, when I read about the church in Acts one thing is clear. They lived and died for the kingdom of God. They impacted the world around them. They were a force to be reckoned with. If you left the church, it wasn't just your Sabbath morning that changed, it was your everyday life that changed. Church wasn't simply a tack on to the week - a religious ritual to adhere to. Church was a movement, a way of life, identity, purpose, and the force that was responsible for ushering in the kingdom of God. Perhaps few have said it as well as Francis Chan:

Church today has become predictable.... You go to a building, someone gives you a bulletin, you sit in a chair, you sing a few songs, a guy delivers maybe a polished message, maybe not, someone sings a solo, you go home.

Is that all God intended for us?
— Francis Chan

I think that closing question is one all of us can relate to. And yet, here is another question. Is there hope? Can the modern church go back to its roots? Can we restore what it means to be the church?

I believe the answer is Yes. However, it will never happen if we all sit around and wait for the leaders to do it. Leaders are amazing, but they also have a lot on their plate. The typical pastor is dealing with interpersonal tensions in the church, administration challenges, families going through crisis and theological controversies threatening the church's unity. If you think you can just tack on "church revival" to his or her list of things to do, then make sure you get a comfy chair. You are going to be waiting a while. 

My belief is this. Pastors need to commit to church revival yes. But it begins with the everyday church member. You are the one with the power. Most pastors will support any initiative for church revival and optimization if they know there is a core group in the church already working in that direction. But if they are the ones who have to initiate and run the entire thing, its often impossible.

So I want to challenge each of you to go against the current. I want to challenge you not just to be counter-cultural in this sinful world but to be counter-cultural in the church. Stand up and make a difference. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Don't be discouraged. Yes, the church is quite often comfy and doesn't want to do much but that should not surprise us. Jesus told us the tares will remain with the wheat until the final judgment and the book of Revelation also predicts the Laodecian phase of the church. It's to be expected so don't let it wear you out. Fight for change knowing that God is on your side. 
  2. Don't complain. Do something! Leaving the church because its dead, or gripping about what is wrong with it wont do a thing. Instead of criticizing the church lead the church. Critics may have good points but they are all yap. Leaders on the other hand zip their lips and get to work. 
  3. Find your passion in building the kingdom of God and milk it for all its worth. Get books on it. Watch videos or read stories of other people who are doing the same thing. Get stoked! And get to it. 
  4. Surround yourself with people who feel like you. Yes, they can be hard to find. I get that. But the beauty of the modern age is, if you cant find anyone locally you can still connect with people who share the same burden all over the world. Join a Facebook group! I currently host a group with over 300 members called "Adventist Evangelism & Church Optimization Group" where we share, inspire and challenge each other. Join us here!
  5. Start a ministry. Anyone can do this. You don't need permission. Start it and get people plugged in. Take advantage of the networks you built in step 4 to gain wisdom, insight, and encouragement. On the other hand, consider joining an existing ministry if you have the chance. 
  6. Remember your circle of influence. God hasn't called you to change the entire world. He has called you to be faithful to your particular circle of influence. So stick to that or else you will burn out. 
  7. And lastly, keep yourself entirely connected to Jesus. After all, its his kingdom we are building not our own. 

If each of us where to do this we can begin to restore a sense of relevance, purpose, and fire to our local church. It's certainly not easy but nothing of value in life ever is.

Note: This article was originally published at www.livingstonsda.church/livo-blog

5 Characteristics of Bad Church Leaders

We have all been in a church where the pastor, elder or perhaps even the entire leadership team was - for lack of a better word - horrible.

These are the kinds of leaders that negatively impact the vibe and culture of the church to the point that attendance begins to dwindle and the vibrancy of the community of faith withers and fades. When confronted with the results of their poor leadership I have heard some of them say things like "It's only the weak ones who have left. The ones still here are strong in faith and that's what we want" or "Some people just can't handle the truth!"

Yikes.

The worst part is rather than admit their faults, these terrible leaders baptize them in Christian cliche's in order to excuse them. So today, I want to "unbaptize" 5 common characteristics of a bad church leader with the hopes that we, as leaders, can grow.

1. The Boss

There is a gargantuan difference between being a leader and being a boss.

Bosses don't care about their people. They have a job to do and they will twist arms and pull teeth until they get the job done. Sadly, many churches have leadership teams full of bosses. They attempt to excuse their control with things like:

  • I gave control over to others once and they messed it up/ didn't come through so now I do it all myself.
  • I know whats best for the church.
  • If I let others take control they will not be as faithful as I am.

They may not say these things but that's what they think. These types of "leaders" often micromanage things, are extremely stubborn in their views, resistant to change of any sort, get angry when they are challenged and display various levels of arrogance. This makes it very difficult to approach them openly.

Don't be like this.

2. The Footless 

Leaders need to be able to think and act on their feet. But more so, they need to be able to think and act quickly in a way that will benefit the people.

Bad leaders are indecisive and its often for one simple reason: They have competing agendas in their own head. Should they benefit themselves? Should they benefit someone who they want to impress? Should they benefit the people? These multiple competing agendas in their head makes it hard for them to think on their feet. They lack clarity of thought, often have no vision to guide their decisions and when they finally do, it's generally for self-benefit of some sort.

People under these kinds of leaders quickly lose respect for them and once respect for the leader is gone, passion for the mission begins to wane as well.

3. The Visionless.

Directly related to the previous point is the leader who lacks vision.

When a leader lacks vision it shows. They are here, there and everywhere. They are not communicating a clear and compelling message. And they are not taking their people along on a journey toward a goal. These kinds of leaders often busy themselves with maintaining the status-quo and are incapable of motivating and equipping their church for mission.

4. The Voiceless

This is a big one. It doesn't really matter how cool you, your ideas and your skills are. If you don't communicate you don't lead.

Springing things on your church board, elders team or church members at large at the last minute is a fast way to irritate people. It makes them feel as though all that matters is your decision. By not keeping people in the loop and updating them continually, allowing them to be part of the conversation, you send the message that the only thing that matters is you. When you finally fill them in, they feel patronized.

5. The Blamer

I see this one all the time.

  • The church members are not supportive!
  • The church members are not committed!
  • The church members are not spiritual!
These points are usually raised in discussions over low Sabbath School, prayer meeting or Business meeting attendance, lack of church-wide support of missional projects or people showing up later and later to church. The problem is always the same. Its "them". And what can we do about it? Nothing. So we keep on dragging along or we hope that someday, somehow the church will just wake up.


Allow me to step on your toes today leaders: As a leader you do not have the luxury of ever, ever blaming anybody other than yourself. 

You don't like that idea? Then don't be a leader.

Seriously, leadership is hard. It's painful. It's lonely. And it can keep you awake at times. Leaders don't have the luxury of passing blame. Is it true that church members are unsupportive, uncommitted and unspiritual? Maybe. But that's only a tiny part of the story. Instead of passing blame ask yourself,

  • How many of these members do I personally know and love?
  • How many of them have I had over to my house?
  • How many have I visited in their own home?
  • How many of them have I been there for in their hard times?
  • How many of them have I had open conversations with regarding the issues we face as a church?
  • How many of them have I sat down and listened to and then implemented their ideas?
  • How many of them have I invested myself in empowering and equipping for ministry? Or am I too busy running everything myself that I don't even notice the weaknesses in my own leadership?
  • Do the church members here believe I care about them deeply? If not, how can I change that?
  • How often do I seek to improve my own leadership skills through reading books, attending leadership training and asking my own church for honest feedback on my leadership?
I can go on and on, but by now I think you get the point. Church leaders often pass blame onto people and in my experience, they don't even know who those people are. We have a word for that. Its called "judgmental". Don't do it. It doesn't lead anywhere good. Instead, find how you can lead them from where they are to where you know God wants them to be. It will require you to grow as a leader because you can't lead someone unless you are capable of inspiring (not requiring), motivating, equipping and investing in people. It's a long and self-less journey, yes. But its awesome when you start to see the results.

So there you have it, 5 characteristics of bad church leaders. There are more, but I will stop there for now. How many of these do you see in yourself? What can you do to change and become a better leader? Comment below!


     ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
My Take on Why Teens Leave Church

Young people are leaving the church in droves and despite our many attempts to keep them, they continue to fall away. Growing up, my church had more than a hundred kids and teens running through its corridors, but today few of them remain in the church. For some time, many concerned Christians have sought to understand the reasons why young people leave the church. I believe that the answer is simple. They leave because they find no relevance in Christianity and most importantly, they have not fallen in love with God.

Christianity lacks relevance for many young people.To them, being a Christian involves nothing more than following senseless rules and participating in church services that are disconnected from their reality. Ask any teen in church about how they perceive Christianity and nine out of ten will most likely describe to you three things: the church service, good behavior, and telling others about Jesus. While none of these things are wrong, in and of themselves they have no relevance. Teens today are faced with multiple obstacles such as drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, self-mutilation, rising divorce rates, promiscuity, homosexuality and abortion among many other things. So the question is, How does the church service empower them to deal with this? What exactly is good behavior? Is it what the Pastor says? Or is it what society accepts? And why tell others about Jesus when our post-modern culture embraces the philosophy that there is no such thing as truth? When Christianity fails to answer these questions and fails to provide direction and practicality to everyday life, teens begin to see it as unessential to life. This sets the stage for disregarding God altogether and embracing the godless culture of the day. “What’s wrong with godless?” They might subconsciously ask, “God was never that important anyways.”

A friend of mine recently told me a story that I believe illustrates this point very well. He had just returned from a mission trip to Malaysia. During the trip he and several other students had preached to the local people. Among the sermons where many interesting topics, but for one student, as interesting as they were, something was missing. In her attempt to express how she felt she asked the question, “What does this have to do with the price of rice?” This question, silly as it may be, underscores the foundational flaw in our Christianity – irrelevance. In order to keep our teens in church we must demonstrate to them that Christianity is applicable to everyday life and that is has the solution to the problems of our lives.

While many teens leave church because they think it is not important, the greatest reason for falling away is that many have simply never fallen in love with God. In the Bible, the apostle John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” The idea is simple, Gods love for us awakens in us a love for Him. That love motivates us to have a relationship with Him. However, in the church we often seem more concerned in teaching our young people how to be good church members instead of helping them fall in love with God. For many, upholding the standards of the church is more important than leading young people to experience the love of God. The end result of this model is catastrophic because it fosters a spirit of division between the old and young generations. The old generation assumes the role of “good behavior police” while the young are left to feel incapable of ever living up to the standards imposed on them.

I once knew a pastor who would never speak to the youth. He had no relationship with them whatsoever and the only time he would speak to them was when he was correcting them for dressing inappropriately in church, and in my experience, having hair that was too long. This is a perfect example of trying to force teens in church to look and act like good church members while avoiding relationships with them that help them to experience the love of God.

Without the two foundational principles of relevance and love, young people are set up to fail in the Christian life. As Christians, leading the youth into a love experience with God and demonstrating to them the relevance of Christianity in our world must be our top priorities.

     ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
Church is Not for Saints



How can we create a sense of connectedness within a church and between a church and its community?

One of the main stumbling blocks for many believers is that we have come to see ourselves as insiders to a certain club and everyone else as outsiders. While it is true that there are lost and saved, the idea that there are the insiders and outsiders does not follow. The tragedy is that for many being an "insider" leads them to see church as a place that exists solely or primarily for those with the "insider" card. Any talk of making the church relevant for "outsiders" is interpreted as a threat to Biblical faithfulness and orthodoxy.

In this mindset the church is an institution or a club where only a certain class are fully welcome. This picture of church is exclusive. So long as you fit the role perhaps you will be embraced. But if you don't fit the role, then your chances are better off elsewhere. In the best of cases, if you don't fit the role then so long as you make all the necessary changes to fit the role you can be allowed into the club. Unbiblical as this concept may be it is an accurate picture of what church has become for many. Over the centuries Christians have transformed the church into a citadel for saints. As such, we have become defensive about anything that appears to threaten the sanctity of this most sacred of places.

The Bible leaves little room to argue about what the church is. The Greek word church (ecclessia) literally means "community" or "group of people". Not once in the NT do we get the impression that church is meant to be an exclusive club that exists for the benefit of those who fit a certain criteria. Instead, the church is commanded to grow and embrace people of every nation, tribe, tongue, and culture (Matt 28). As such, this community of people exists for more than nurturing itself. It exists to embrace the "other" with intentional passion.

Likewise, not once in the NT do we get the idea that the church is a building. The NT uses repeated metaphors of the church such as "body of Christ", "bride of Christ", "pillar and foundation of truth". Only once is it described as a building and guess what? The stones that make up the building are people not slabs of carbon carbonate and granite (Eph 2:19-20). So this is not a literal building but a metaphorical one. Thus the church is not a place, it is a phenomenon. It is a people. And take a moment to think about that phrase "body of Christ". Why is the church referred to as the body of Christ? Well, what is the body of Christ known for in the Bible? It is known as that which was beaten, bruised, tortured, scourged, crucified, and killed for the salvation of humanity (1Corinthians 11:24). So if the church is the "body of Christ" I wonder, Should we be seeking to simply nurture ourselves? Or should we be seeking to become bruised and wounded for the salvation of our communities?

So if the church is not a fortress for saints or a physical building, then what is it? Clearly it must be a community for people on a journey with God. And note this: When it comes to seeking God we are all outsiders. None of us is on the inside. That's because none of us seek God (Rom 3:11). We are believers only because God has sought us (John 6:44). If there really is an "inside" you are there by virtue of Jesus' perfect life, death, and resurrection - not by virtue of your own character. In other words, I - a pastor - am as much an outsider to the family of heaven as is the militant atheist or the heroin supplier. The only reason why I am on the "inside" is because of the grace of God. But if it were not for that grace, I would be further on the outside than anyone I know.

So back to our initial question: "How can we create a sense of connectedness within a church and between a church and its community?" I would begin by rejecting the notion that there are insiders and outsiders. Sure there are saints and sinners. Found and lost. Redeemed and rebels. But there are no insiders and outsiders in the sense in which we use those terms. In reality, we are all outsiders. And those of us who are saved are saved simply because we responded when God sought us and pulled us out of our mess. However, if it were not for his atoning sacrifice we would have nothing within ourselves which we could offer as a qualification for heaven. It is Jesus-only that qualifies us and in the words of Billy Graham, "Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world."

And this is what the mission of the ecclessia is all about. God calls his family - those of us who have been adopted by his grace - to become his hands and feet toward those whom he is still chasing. To be the community for those whom he is seeking. To be the church for those whom he is pursuing. So if we want to hold on to the "insider/ outsider" concept I would argue that the church exists for the outsider. In other words, the church should not function merely for the nurturing of Christians. Instead, it should seek out every possible means by which it can make the journey of a seeker as simple and encouraging as possible. Surrendering the heart to Jesus is hard enough. We should not make the journey harder by creating a culture that only speaks to mature Christians. Instead, church should be a community that exists to aid in the repentant journey of the sinner rather than over-complicate it by catering only to those with the access card. As Paul so eloquently put it, "[W]e should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15:19).

Nevertheless, there are still people within this community at different stages in their faith journey. How do we help those who are further along without ignoring those who are just getting started?

First of, I would say that the greatest need of those who are further along is to be actively ministering to those who are lost. If you want to grow as a Christian go reach someone who is not a Christian. Sadly, many of us (myself included) have developed this cognitive approach to Christianity in which spiritual growth is related exclusively to theological knowledge. But such is not the case. You can be a knowledgeable Christian but that doesn't make you a growing Christian - it just makes you a smart one.* So if you are a believer and you want to grow in your faith then make your life's priority about reaching others.

But what about growth in theological knowledge? While my next two paragraphs would require an entire article all on their own, allow me to say it anyways: I grow increasingly skeptical of the idea that theology is meant to be split between newbies and old timers. The only reason why we do this is because us old timers often assume that newbie theology is all about Jesus while oldie theology is all about "other stuff" like prophecy or end time events. Sorry to start on something I wont be finishing here - but I just don't buy it. There is never a time where we ought to graduate from Jesus. Jesus should always be the center of everything we do and say. As such, I'm not convinced that Daniel and Revelation was written exclusively to help Jesus-veterans grow. In fact, God says he predicts the future to prove he is the one true God (Isa 41; 45:21). Sounds like something a newbie needs!

So what am I saying? That the theological bifurcation we often promote (Jesus for the newbies, Prophecy for the oldies) is lame. If Jesus is the center of everything we do then theology reclaims its role as the story of God - a story which puts broken lives together again. And everyone, both newbies and old timers should be constantly basking in the light of that story. Newbies don't need neutered theology and oldies don't need Christ-less discourse. All of us need the whole story as seen in Jesus-only.

So here is my summary. The church is not an institution. It is not a club. It is not a coterie, clique, inner circle, gang, band, clan, league, or alliance. There should be no in-crowd. There must be no access card. The church is not a place. It is not a location. It is not a site, spot, scene, setting, point, area, or region. The church should not be a building. It must not be a thing. Let it be a community for those seeking God. Let it be the body of Christ which was sacrificed on behalf of sinners by sacrificing itself constantly for the salvation of our fellow "outsiders" where we would all rightly be were it not for the cross. In short, let's stop adding our own agendas to what church is. Instead, let us simply allow it to be that which God intended it should be.

__________

*Thanks to Andy Stanley for this insightful concept in his book Deep & Wide.

     ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
How to Get Rid of Worldliness in the Church




When I was a kid my father made my brother and I wear church clothes to go to public school. In our public school system there were no uniforms. Everyone just wore whatever they had which usually meant really cool clothes. I would see all of my classmates wearing Fila's (they were pretty cool back then) and trendy Tommy Hilfiger shirts and jeans (yes, I'm obviously a 90's kid) and then there was me. Wearing dress pants and church shoes with a button up shirt from K-Mart. As you can imagine this made my brother and I stand out. We were immediately branded as nerds and losers. And we got picked on.

Life wasn't horrible. We did have friends. Mostly all the other nerds and losers in the school (love you guys--snif, snif). But it was pretty hard. As we got older it got even harder. Until one day, my rebellious mom got into an argument with my dad over it, and then went out - completely against his wishes, and got my brother and I some trendy clothes. Which led to another argument because my dad was really upset (thanks ma', for sticking it to the man).

Why did my dad do this? He had one simple reason. He didn't want my brother and I to be like the "world". He wanted us to be different. So he made us wear church clothes to public school.


This experience led me to wrestle with questions such as, "What does it really mean to be like the world?" And since my dad derived his ideas from the Bible, I figured I might as well go there and find out what all this "worldly" stuff was about.

Which brings me to my text today. James 3:1:
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
In my home church there was an elder once who I wont name. He was a really nice guy. I liked him a lot. He preached better than the pastor too which was cool. And he was deeply spiritual. And, like many of us, he had a concern for what he referred to as the "world creeping into the church" which is a fair concern. But something happened during one of the board meetings. A certain annoying gentleman came into the board meeting to do a presentation. Now this gentleman was a very divisive and problematic kind of guy. And our dear elder had had it up to his neck with this guy. Now here is what you don't know. Back when he was younger, this elder was a Kung-Fu student. His wife met him kicking palm trees. This guy was hardcore. And at some point during the meeting this annoying gentleman began pushing his buttons, and next thing you know the head elder gets up ready to drop a bolo on this other guy. It was so bad that another one of the elders had to grab him so he wouldn't punch this guy. That night, my dear friend discovered something profound. He was worried about the world creeping into the church but it had been there all along hiding inside his own heart.

Notice what James says here,
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?
Now the interesting thing is that James is paralleling something Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:3:
You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?
James and Paul are saying the same thing here. That the quarrels, jealousy and fights among the church members come from a single place - worldliness in the heart.

This blew my mind. Up to this point I was convinced that worldliness was purely external. I have since discovered that the church talks too much about the worldliness of fashion, and too little about worldliness of the heart.

But not James. James is calling out worldliness in the church. And here is what I discovered about worldliness in the Bible. Whenever the Bible speaks about it, it never has anything to do with culture, fashion or styles. My dads definition of worldliness was small. For him worldliness was about what haircut you had and what clothes you wore. For my elder it was about what songs we sang in church. And I am not discrediting any of those concerns. I do believe that those are relevant things for us to discuss. But what I am saying is that if your definition of worldliness stops there you have a very small picture of what worldliness is.

James adds,
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
Notice how James repeats himself. This is a method of emphasis among the Bible writers. Rather than using caps, or underline or bold (no Microsoft Word back then) they repeated points they wanted to emphasize. And twice he says, if you want to be a friend of the world you make yourself an enemy of God. A Christian who seeks friendship with the world is an adulterer. But notice how he defines this friendship. He doesn't say anything about culture or fashion. He speaks exclusively about character.

When church members rile up and point fingers at each other and fight and bicker and defame one another and drag one another through the mud - James is saying that these people, noble as they may think they are, are committing spiritual adultery. Rather than operating under the fruit of the Spirit, the are operating under the law of the flesh.

Here is what I discovered guys. Worldliness in the Bible isn’t “the youth are wearing Roman skirts instead of Jewish ones.” Worldliness isn't "the music sounds a little too Greek or Persian". Worldliness in the Bible is Christians who gossip like the world. Christians who hate like the world. Christians who argue like the world. Back stab one another like the world, criticize each other like the world. Christians who are lazy, uncompassionate, merciless, unloving, indifferent and judgmental. That’s biblical worldliness. Not wearing trendy clothes - as my dad believed - but talking about the elder behind his back, mistreating your youth, inciting division, and gossiping about your fellow believers. That’s worldliness.

I discovered something scary after studying what worldliness is in the Bible. I discovered that it’s perfectly possible to be a good conservative, orthodox, traditional Adventist who does everything by the book and still be worldly. Worldliness is not just culture guys, its character.

But why does this matter? Why preach on it? I watched a video last night called "What People Really think about Jesus VS Christians" (below). These guys walked around the street asking random people what they thought about Jesus and their responses were mostly positive. They spoke of his kindness and love. Of the way in which he cared for people. And when asked to define Christians, their tones changed completely. They spoke of rigid people who were over bearing on others, unkind and judgmental. And that's the reason why this matters. Because so long as we continue to allow worldly attitudes to govern our lives we will continue to damage our witness in the world.



So the question that screams at me is this - what is the solution to this? How do we overcome our natural inclinations to be vicious, divisive and arrogant? How do we overcome those worldly tendencies buried deep within that entice us to gossip about one another, to show favoritism and to act in antisocial ways? And most of all, where will we find the wisdom to differentiate between true holiness which leads to love, and false holiness which leads to bickering and demonizing one another in the name of "faithfulness?"

I am thankful that James gives us the answer in four simple words:
...he gives grace generously (6).
Grace. That is the answer. Grace is always the answer. God gives grace. And grace in the Bible has two primary functions. Grace cleanses us from all our sin. Grace gives us a new beginning. Grace wipes the slate clean. And grace also transforms our lives. It sets us free.

I had a friend one who was so divisive and critical (in the name of holiness of course) that he even started to divide his own family. I distanced myself from him for a while to get away from the toxicity, but about a year later I ran into him. He had a huge smile on his face. He walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, "I'm a brand new man Marcos". And then, without me ever having said a word to him he began to talk about his judgmentalism, his critical spirit and his pride. He spoke of how he would always write people off when they didn't live up to what he considered holy. In other, words, he spoke of his worldliness disguised as holiness.

But now he stood there. With a big smile on his face. And he said to me, "I have encountered Jesus. I have encountered grace." And he was never the same again. We became good friends after that and I saw the work of grace in him. Jesus oozed out of his smile, his calm spirit and his sermons. He was a new creature. Grace had saved him. Because grace saves the wayward soul whether it be in the alley way or in the pew.

I want to encourage the church today, let's not be like the world. If there is any fighting, scheming, or jealousy among us let's humble ourselves before God. Lets come to him for grace to pardon and grace to set us free. Lets come to him and humbly pray, with Paul, "it is no longer I who live! Let Christ live in me. I can't do this. I can't be like Jesus. Lord, let him take full control. Let his love flow through me to others. Set me free of the worldliness inside my own heart. May my life be a reflection of your love."
Are We Getting in the Way of God's Salvation-Story?


Have you ever been so angry that you did something dumb? I got so angry once that I punched the steering wheel on my car and broke the horn. From that day on the horn would honk on its own whenever it wanted to. It didn't matter if I was at a stop light, in a parking lot, or driving down the university campus on a clam Sunday morning. The car would honk and honk and honk until I got so fed up I pulled the fuse and was left utterly hornless. The car died soon after, so no, I never got it fixed.

As I think about this moment of ridiculous anger I am reminded of Jesus in Matthews biography, chapter 21. Here Matthew recounts the time that Jesus went into the Jewish temple and the following took place:
Jesus came to the temple. He drove out all those who were buying and selling. He upended the money-changers’ tables and the dove-sellers’ benches (12).
We don't often think of Jesus as an angry guy and with good reason. It's hard to imagine him with a whip, flipping tables and chasing people around. And yet here he is. Jesus is angry. To be more precise he is furious. Some may even say Jesus has lost his cool. There is a fire in his stomach, a rage that boiled over and is now spilling out onto the onlookers. Gone is that gentle, pensive face. A frown adorns his brow, his breath is heavy, his heart is thumping, his thoughts are racing. Instinct takes over and Jesus, our gentle Jesus, appears to have lost control.

But he hasn't lost control. Had Jesus lost control he would have destroyed that entire temple and everyone in it. In his fury and power he could have split open the ground to swallow the entire place. No, he hasn't lost control. He knows what he is doing. He is perfectly in control.

And yet, he is beyond furious. Why? How is it that the one whom the OT describes as "slow to anger" now suddenly appears very quick to it? How is it that the one whom the prophecies have described as the "prince of peace" is now waging war with the salesmen in the temple courtyard? How is it that the Jesus who would someday patiently endure abuse, mockery, and torture at the hands of Roman and Jewish leaders is on this day seemingly impatient? How is it that the one of who it is said, "as a lamb he was led to the slaughter... and he opened not his mouth" now shouts at the top of his lungs "get out!" You can try to wiggle out of this one all you want but here is the truth. Jesus got angry. And there is no interpretive gymnastics that can get us out of that conclusion.

In other words, Jesus is not the teddy bear many of us have made him out to be. There is a side to Jesus that is shocking. There is a side to Jesus that doesn't come with a smile, a gentle word, or a cool and collected vibe. Instead, Matthew introduces us to a side to Jesus many of us would rather pretend is not there - an angry side.

What are we to make of this? Is Jesus bipolar? Is he perhaps mildly schizophrenic? Did his biographers get confused and introduce a contradiction into the story? Or was Jesus a really good actor - able to put on a facade of gentleness and self control, only to show his true colors on this random day? Or maybe, just maybe, there is nothing wrong with Jesus mental health, his biographers were not inconsistent, and Jesus himself lived authentically. If this is the case then the problem shifts to me. Maybe I am the one who has misunderstood Jesus. And by misunderstanding him I have presented a cheesy and unrealistic picture of a complex and emotional being. Maybe the problem is I have only accepted the parts of the Jesus-story that I am comfortable with and conveniently left the other parts out. But whatever the case, I can't get away from the conclusion. Jesus got angry.

Now that I have come to terms with that reality, I am left with another question. Why was he so angry? Was Jesus short-tempered like me? Was his ego so offended that he reacted in a fit of anger that puts my broken car horn episode to shame? I have already concluded that he did not lose control as I did. So the answer must lie elsewhere. If Jesus anger was not fueled by his ego, then what was it fueled by?

The answer is found in the narrative of the temple. In his book "It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity is about More than Going to Heaven when you Die" Jefferson Bethke points out that in the Old Testament the temple was considered the place where heaven and earth met. In other words, Bethke explains, it was the place where the human dimension and the heavenly dimension collided. If we could imagine two circles with one representing the human realm and another the heavenly, and then we overlapped those circles (below) the point of overlap, says Bethke, is the temple.


But what was the point of this overlap? What was the point of this collision? God himself answers that question when he said, "Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them" (Exodus 25:8). The temple in Israel was not just a place of worship, it was a theater of sorts. All of its services and rituals were like scenes in a movie. It told a story. That story was simple: God wants to live with people. He wants to be close to us.

So when people came to the temple, they didn't come for mindless rituals. They came to connect with a God who wanted to be with them. They came to speak to a God who wanted to be close to them, to bless them, and to heal them. They came to discover and rediscover his beauty and his love.

And then Jesus, the eternal God in human flesh, shows up. He who spoke the words, "Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them" is now there, in person. And when he walks into the temple, when he enters the place where heaven and earth collided and where his story, and his glory, and his love where meant to be experienced and celebrated this is what he found:
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money (John 2:13-14).
So Matthew tells us that Jesus "drove out all those who were buying and selling. He upended the money-changers’ tables and the dove-sellers’ benches." But then something amazing happens. Something that single handedly makes sense of all of this. Matthew adds,
The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them (14).
So Jesus cleanses the temple, but no sooner had he done so than blind people, and paralyzed people show up at the same temple. But here is the question Matthew dangles before us. Why weren't these people already there? The answer is obvious. They were being excluded and kept away by the money makers. In other words, God was trying to tell the world about himself, his love, his plan, his grace. And his own people were getting in the way.

The Jewish temple no longer exists. But Jefferson Bethke brings an interesting conclusion out of all this. He says that according to the New Testament we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. Us. Believers. Individually and collectively, we are now the temple. In other words, we are the place where heaven and earth collide. You are a walking temple. You are a living and breathing temple and in you and in me the human realm and the heavenly realm meet. And in the same way that God wanted to communicate his love to the world through a physical building in the OT, he continues to do so now through us, individually and collectively, via the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. We are the place where people can see the beauty of God.

And yet the story of Jesus cleansing the temple brings to mind a sobering question: If we are the temple, if we are as believers the place where heaven and earth meet and the lives through which people can come into contact with Gods story of love then we must ask ourselves, What things are there in our lives and in our church that keep people from seeing the love of God? In what ways are you, and I, like the money makers, getting in God's way?

I can't pretend to have the answer. There are many answers in fact. Sometimes our traditions get in the way. Sometimes our self-confidence gets in the way. Sometimes our attitudes get in the way. Sometimes our structures, agendas, and hypocrisy get in the way. And Matthews story is clear. When we get in the way you had best believe that God gets angry. This is not light matter. The one time Jesus demonstrated his wrath as a human being was when his own people got in the way of his salvation story. Are we getting in the way? If we are, I think perhaps its time we repented.

Today I would like to invite you to consider Jesus moment of rage as a call to introspection: How are you getting in the way? I want to invite you to think about the ways in which you are contributing, whether largely or microscopically, to getting in the way of others seeing the story of the love of God that they should see in you, in me, and in us. But here is the beautiful thing. Once you discover it you don't have to be afraid. Because according to Matthew Jesus is not only a cleanser he is also a healer. Let him cleanse you of the stuff that gets in the way, and let him heal you. Come to him poor, blind, and naked. Come to him paralyzed with guilt and shame. Come to him as you are with all your broken mess. With your pride. With your selfishness. With your divisiveness. Come to him with your lack of faith and with your hidden sins and struggles. Let him cleanse you, let him heal you, and then let him fill you so that others may find in you a place where heaven and earth collide.
How the Church Failed Mo


Mo is a pretty cool dude. I don't say super cool because, after all, he is my brother and so pretty cool will have to do. (I'm sure such a "theorem" would be reciprocated by a hearty "my sentiments exactly" on his part.) Anyhow, the point is he's pretty cool.

Now Candice, my special lady, is awesome. This awesome lady of mine was clever enough to plot a secret reunion between my pretty cool brother and my pretty cool self. She said it was a surprise to celebrate my recent liberation from the tyranny of biblical languages (I just recently finished my last ancient Greek class), but I'm sure having my mother in town for a visit had more to do with it. 

Now onto my main point. Mo and I were raised Seventh-day Adventists all of our life. At the age of 17 I decided to follow Jesus. Mo went a different direction and has stuck to it ever since. For many years I have wondered why he walked away from the faith of his youth. Being highly intelligent, scientific, and analytical would have been a challenge for him especially when my father rejected his scientific explanation of where the wind came from and instead insisted, very dogmatically of course, that God had a room in heaven with wind trapped inside. Whenever he wanted the wind to blow he would open the door. Whenever he wanted it to not blow he would shut it. Though I have no proof of this, I wonder if Mo's brilliant mind wrestled with such an irrational concept thus planting the seed for a growing discontent with Christianity. 

Regardless of what reason (or perhaps reasons) led Mo out of the church one thing is certain: his experience was, to be quite generous, bitter. You see, Mo and I share a craving for authenticity that we acquired from our culture. We want answers, not cliches. We want truth, not opinion. We want a faith that is logical and rational - free from fanaticism, phobias, and unreasonable superstitions. We want Bible not dogma and traditions. We want relationship not religion. And most of all, we want honest and open dialogue not absurd, irrelevant, and simpleminded solutions. Authenticity. That is what we crave. And that is what the church failed to give.

You see, Mo grew up in a church culture that told him it was bad to go to the movie theater even though we could go to the elders house and watch mindless killing and gore. It was OK, was the message, so long as it is in a house. But don't go to the theater! Your angel wont follow you in there and if you die there you will go to hell. Irrational anyone? Mo grew up in a church that told his lady friends it was bad to wear pants to church, or anything too revealing for that matter, even though every Saturday night half of the members were glued to the infamous Sabado Gigante game-show with half naked women parading their curves on the TV screen for all the choir singers, elders, and deacons to enjoy. Hypocritical anyone? Mo grew up in a church where the leaders were only concerned with whether or not you were a good church member. Do you cry yourself to sleep at night because you are lonely and depressed? We don't care. Just make sure you don't let your hair grow too long and you have a tie on when you show up on Sabbath. Absurd anyone? Yes, Mo grew up in a church where the leaders spoke to you when you were in trouble and ignored you the rest of the time. A church that wanted to erase him from membership because he joined the Army even though not a single one of those involved in this proposition had ever sent him a letter of encouragement or called him to offer a prayer. A church where lack of biblical knowledge prompted an "Ellen White said" that was supposed to settle the issue once and for all. A church steeped in simple-mindedness, irrationality, and flat out extremism at times. For a mind craving authenticity, I conclude that the phonyness was simply too much to bear and the highways and by ways of the world, complete with their own set of phonyness, somehow seemed more fulfilling than the dictatorial corridors of his childhood faith.

This, I believe, is how the church failed Mo. This, I believe, is how it fails so many of its youth. It is not because it lacks entertainment. It is because it lacks authenticity. It is not because it lacks programs. It is because it lacks relationships. It is not because it lacks answers. It is because it lacks questions and somehow marginalizes those who seem to have many of them. Yet over the years I have come to shed many of the absurd and nonsensical standards of my upbringing and have come to discover a simpler yet infinitely more complex relationship with God. With all of the cultural baggage that my traditional Hispanic culture brought to Christianity gone I can now see Jesus and his love much clearer than ever before. I no longer believe that a true Christian is only the one who fits into my brand of Christianity. I have met wonderful Christians who are covered in tattoos, who enjoy the bouncy feel of dread locks, and who go to church without a tie on. I have experienced Hawaiians who worship God in Hula shirts and flip-flops. I have experienced theologians who enjoy sporting a fro-hawk. I have experienced Jesus among the real, the genuine, and the broken. I have experienced doubts and wrestled with them. I have come to realize that God, the multiplex deity of the cosmos, is paradoxically simple. He invites me to have a relationship with him and to let my life be an outflow of that relationship. As Jesus once said,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22: 37-39.
And as my friend Amir Davis once said, "Do the Ten. Love God. Love Men. Take care of your body. And live your life. That's all God requires of you." It really is that simple.

I wonder where Mo would be today if the church had focused on Jesus' words more than they focused on their own traditional discomforts? What if they had loved the culture instead of demonized it? What if they had shown us a God who cannot be caged, the wild lion of the heavens who cannot be controlled, and taught us to live on the edge with him? What if they had embraced questions? What if they had let go of the pretensions and gone on the journey of doubt, struggle, and pain? What if they stopped misusing Ellen White? What if they had forgotten the opinions of men and taught us to live by the Bible only? What if they had looked past the long haired guys, the braids, the jeans, and the baggy t-shirts and shown us the love of Jesus? And I don't mean shown it to us in a Bible study. I mean shown it to us with a life. I pray I wont have to keep wondering. I pray the era of the Mo's will come to an end. I pray we learn our lesson.

But that is not the only point of this article. I also want to take the opportunity to appeal to the Mo's of today. While the church has failed you, it is still within your reach to recognize that Christianity is extraterrestrial and as such it cannot be defined, contained, or limited by human culture. We may have messed it up, but you can look past our faults in the same way we should have looked past yours. While we may look at the church and find much to criticize we can find neither spot nor wrinkle in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I leave you with a challenge from Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias and it is this: "Look at Jesus and ask yourself the question, Can I find anything wrong with him?" The answer may just revolutionize your life.
The Price of Being Relevant

I have a frustration I want to share. As an Adventist pastor, the number one complaint I get from church members - particularly the millennial and post-millennial generations - is that the church isn't relevant. So as a pastor with a heart for youth, I have a vested interest in nurturing relevance in our churches. But here is what I have come to discover: the price of relevance is always offense. You simply cant be relevant without offending someone. 

So here is the dilemma: When the church is silent on current issues we say shes boring, irrelevant and out of touch. But when she speaks up we say shes too political and should focus on evangelism. Many pastors hesitate to stand up for relevant causes because they don't want to be marginalized by their congregations but in doing so they become irrelevant in the eyes of their youth and society. So its a lose lose it seems. Be quiet and you are irrelevant. Speak up and you are too political. 

My conclusion is this: the price of relevance is offense. You simply cant be relevant without offending someone. And the price of not being offensive is being irrelevant. The more irrelevant you are the less people you will tic off. So I say, lets stand for whats right. Let's not be like the church that stood idly by as the Nazi Reich gained power but like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who took an active stand against them. Let's emulate our pioneers who stood against slavery and alcohol, joined activist organizations like the temperance movement and the abolitionists - both of which were political - and let's do something other than speaking to ourselves and our own SDA patriotism. In other words, though the world hate us for it, lets do something meaningful for once. 

In today's scenario this means standing up for the rights of refugees and immigrants. Whether we agree with Trump or not, the least we can do is reach out to the immigrants and Muslims in our communities and let them know we welcome them and that they matter because regardless of what side of the issue you are on, the truth is a lot of people are hurting right now.
The Raw Church Movement: Sanctuary VS Auditorium

Sanctuary VS Auditorium



In the last post in this series I explored the all too controversial dress code. In today's post I would like to focus on the next concept to emerge in the Barna group survey: the worship space.

While most may assume that millennial Christians are anti-tradition this survey reveals a more nuanced reality. The topic of worship space is a perfect example. The same millennials who prefer to dress casual to dignified also prefer a sanctuary to an auditorium as a worship space. An incredible 77% of those surveyed said a sanctuary - a more traditional and ancient worship space - was more appealing than a modern-fresh-cushion-seat-auditorium.

As a millennial, I have to say I agree. I'm not really a big fan of the auditorium church. Of course, I'm not suggesting that its bad. Auditorium churches are actually really good at removing the intimidation the unchurched often experience in a classic church building. Its a more neutral space that eliminates what - to many people - has the potential to be a stumbling block to Christ. Auditorium churches are neat, and I think they should stay. Nevertheless, I also vote that we keep the old school "sanctuary". It has a charm and depth to it that just cant be replicated in an auditorium. And perhaps, it is this charm and depth that millennials find appealing. While most modern churches look like every other building we go to, the old school "sanctuary" feels more like a... well... a sanctuary. A place to get away, even if for a minute, and rejuvenate. 

However, that doesn't automatically make me a fan of the sanctuary model either. Truth is, the old school sanctuary and the modern auditorium are really the same thing. The only difference between these two worship spaces are their cosmetics. But underneath both there is a narrative that has not changed. It is this narrative that I find the most unappealing.

Church architecture often reflects both culture and theology. Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed on what a church building should look like for the simple reason that church buildings don't exist in the Bible. Now, I'm not against church buildings as a place for gatherings, training, and other relevant and practical uses but I am the first to admit that the existence of the church building does not find its roots in the Bible or the New Testament believers. Church buildings came later.[1]

Because church buildings do not originate in the Bible, those who designed them did not do so under the guidance of Holy Writ but instead utilized the trends of their day and the theological worldview that they had. Thus, generally speaking, Coptic churches architecturally reflect Coptic (Egyptian) culture, Greek Orthodox churches reflect Greek architecture and the Medieval churches reflect Medieval/ Gothic culture. However, religious architecture carries an element which its cultural context does not which is what tends to set churches apart from other structures. These differences are often fueled by the churches theology (its narrative).

For example, in Catholic churches the center of attention is on the altar where the mass is enacted. In Protestant churches the center of attention is on the podium where the Bible is preached. Because the center of Catholic worship is the mass it influences their architecture and likewise for the Protestants whose central focus in worship is the preaching of the Bible. A lot more can be said about the seating arrangement, the height of the ceiling, the height of the platform, stained glass windows, the size of the main entrance, the placement of the baptistery, steeples and other elements of church architecture which I don't have time to get into. Suffice to say, church architecture tells a story. It reveals the church's beliefs, values, and priorities.

The sad part is lot's of modern Protestant churches don't realize this. It seems many of them just copy what others have done without any thought to the story their architecture is telling. And the most damaging part is when the architecture tells a story that is different from the story Jesus came to tell. And this is perhaps the reason why I am not a big fan of many church buildings whether they be modern or ancient. To be frank, I find many of them inadvertently damage the story. When the center of attention is a stage where the audience passively sits in straight, long rows, and watches the clergy perform we are sending the message that what matters in church is not community but passive observance. The story this tells is that the most important people are those on the stage. The holiest man is the pastor. And the baptistery tends to be hidden or tucked away in the back. At times its hidden behind the enormous lectern which shields the preacher making both the preacher and God seem unapproachable. None of these architectural elements seem to reflect the story Jesus came to tell - a story of self sacrifice, redemption, togetherness, community, restoration, and sanctification. 

I am not an architect, so I will not presume on what a church building should or shouldn't look like. My only contention is that, by and large, church architecture should more accurately reflect the narrative of scripture. I would love to see a church that had a seating arrangement that inspired community rather than repelled it. A church whose design reflected the priesthood of all believers instead of placing certain people on a higher platform than others. A church where the baptistery was visible and inviting and where the people did not feel like mere spectators in a theatrical worship performance but were, in many ways, the very heart beat of it. A church where the grandeur of God was honored, but not at the expense of his withness, his intimacy, and his approach-ability. A church that was designed for the benefit of others instead of itself. A place built to facilitate training, equipping, and practical service and evangelism as opposed to a place construed for nothing more than the comfort and nurture of its own members.

New Testament Christians met primarily in one another's homes.[2] While synagogues and temple courts were often used as well these were not used as "church buildings" in the sense that we think of them today. Perhaps part of how we can recapture an architecture that tells the story of Jesus is to go back and explore what made the house church so effective in the NT. Perhaps it is because the inherent architecture of a home is exactly the kind of space needed to reflect the narrative of Jesus. And perhaps, that is exactly what we need.

Further reading: New Testament house churches: A model for today's complex world?

_________________

[1] ...“It can be rightly said that Christianity was the first non-temple-based religion ever to emerge.... Strikingly nowhere in the New Testament do we find the terms church (ekklesia), temple, or house of God used to refer to a building” (11). According to Viola, sacred temples were a concept that belonged to paganism and Judaism. The sacred temple of Judaism and its services were done away with at the cross. Because of this, the New Testament Christians met in homes. However, over time Christians began to pray for the dead martyrs, then to them. Their grave yards became viewed as holy places on which shrines were built and eventually buildings were built over the grave sites (during the time of Constantine) and considered holy as well. All of this has origins in paganism and not Christianity. When Constantine came on the scene he built cathedrals for the Christians and even named the cathedrals after certain saints. A practice which was also pagan. The church building then came to be viewed as a sacred place. Having no biblical precedent to defend this, the proponents of the church building began pointing to the Old Testament temple as a defense for their sacred church buildings, but this was based on faulty exegesis. Viola rightly argues that the New Testament church was the people not the building. He traces the concept of a sacred building in Christianity to paganism, Clement of Alexandria (the first recorded to use ekklesia in reference to a meeting place) and Constantine whom was the first to, “erect special buildings for worship” (12). For Viola, church is people not buildings. The church is something you are a part of not an edifice you go to. I agree with Viola in the sense that the incredible amount of money spent in up keeping a building most people only use once or twice a week could be better spent in reaching the lost. - Excerpt from "Pagan Christianity? A Book Review."
[2] Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philemon 1, 2; Colossians 4:15.
The Raw Church Movement: Casual VS Dignified


Casual VS Dignified
A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:




In the last post in this series I explored the concept of a Classic church vs a trendy one. In today's post I wold like to explore the next concept to emerge in the Barna group survey: the dress code.

Before I begin take a moment to notice how the ideal church for millennials is not necessarily a modern church. For example - as explored in the last post - millennials prefer a classic church to a trendy one. Notice also that they prefer a sanctuary to an auditorium and quiet to loud. Nevertheless, when it comes to interior design they prefer modern to traditional and when it comes to dress they prefer casual to dignified.

Some may write this entire survey off as nothing more than appeasing the desires of men rather than seeking to please God. But we must remember that the only one of these topics addressed in the Bible is the first one (community vs privacy) in which the clear picture of church to emerge from the NT is that of a community, not a building. All of the other aspects in this survey (style, dress, architecture, ambiance, and interior design) are not addressed in scripture. As a result each of these elements are always influenced by the surrounding culture and should reflect the positive expressions that that culture values.

So now, what about dress? The issue of dress has been controversial in church culture for quite some time now. In the book Pagan Christianity? authors George Barna and Frank Viola trace the origins and development of this debate. First of all, the book states that “[t]he practice of dressing up for church is a relatively recent phenomenon”. The authors argue that the early Christians did not dress up for Church because they didn’t have clothes to dress up with. Most people in the early days of Christianity only had work clothes and decent clothes. They would wear their decent clothes for their assemblies. However, the idea of dressing up for anything was a privilege that only the wealthy had. When “fine clothes became more affordable to the common people” they began to dress up as the rich to “demonstrate their newly improved status”. Church became a place where the common people now dressed up in imitation of the rich who would dress up for their special occasions (cocktail parties etc.). Not surprisingly, the idea of dressing up for church was controversial when it first began. The book states that “[s]ome Christian groups in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries resisted this cultural trend”. However, it soon became the norm to the point that today not dressing up for church is considered irreverent even though it has no biblical precedent. The authors argue: “[T]o say that the Lord expects His people to dress in fine clothing when the church gathers is to add to the scriptures and speak where God has not spoken. Such a practice is human tradition at its best”.[1]

Whether we agree with Viola and Barna or not is not really important. What is important is that we recognize that "dressing up for church" was just as much a cultural development as "dressing down for church" is today. Neither move really comes from the Bible. They simply reflect the culture. Some would argue and say, "we should always wear our best for God." To that I would say, Yes, we should always dress well when going to a church gathering. But we should dress well when going anywhere really. Its the respectful and responsible thing to do. But the idea that we must "dress up" (not to be confused with "dress well") to go to church is not mandated in scripture because in scripture church is not a building that you go to meet with God but a community of people who meet collectively to share their faith-journey and worship God. In the NT this was done at believers homes and not once do we get any instruction regarding the dress code. There was no dress code.

Others may argue, "It is not right to wear what we do all week to come to church." But such an argument would - once again - only reflect culture not scripture. For example, notice the picture below. It is a photograph of a bar in the 1950's. Notice that the people there are dressed exactly as people dressed to go to church in the 1950's. The men are wearing dress shirts, suits, ties, and the ladies are wearing their dresses. They could have easily left the bar and walked into a church and no one would have said anything. So why was it OK to dress this way in everyday life and also for church but today people complain that you should dress differently for church? Again, it has to do with culture. There is absolutely nothing wrong with dressing up for church if you want to. But to say it is necessary is not a position that can be maintained from scripture.





But historical, cultural, and theological reasons aside, why do millennials prefer a casual dress code to a dignified one? The reasons can be many and I don't pretend to explore them all here but from my personal experience dressing up for church just comes across as fake. I am not a fan of showing up to church looking like I could care less if I was there or not (I totally believe in dressing well) but at the same time dressing up just comes across as really phony to me. That doesn't mean I judge others who dress up. It just means that for me, I feel really phony - like I'm trying to be someone that I am not - when I adopt a dress code as a standard of worship that I do not adopt in any other regular setting. In her article, "On Dressing Up at Church" Amy Bennett shares another relevant perspective when she writes,
...I was SO CONCERNED with what I was wearing.  Clothes were almost 90% of what I was thinking of on Sunday mornings, more than any other day of the week.  I had to have the just right outfit, the just-right shoes. I had to make sure my makeup and hair were just right.  And then I’d spend all morning pulling at my skirt, tugging at my pantyhose, comparing myself to everyone else dressed up. Church was like the Super Bowl for fashion every week.... The concern was all inward and how I looked and stacked up.[2]
This post is not about arguing for or against dress codes at church. Although I have shared reasons why I disagree with this trend it honestly doesnt bother me if someone wants to dress up or not. I think this is a personal choice between a person and God and am not fussed by someone in a suit and tie or in casual clothes. My intention in this post is to share some basic reasons why millennials by and large reject this trend. For many of us, church is not an event that we dress up for but a community of real people doing real life and asking real questions as they deal with real faith, real doubt, real joy and real pain. Thus, if there was any position I would advocate it would be this one: Let our churches develop cultures where people feel safe to connect with the family of God without having to meet a certain mold, be it a traditional mold or a contemporary one. If we do this we can put this silly debate behind us.

Further reading:

The Origin of Dressing Up for Church

On Dressing Up at Church

[1] Torres, Marcos D. Adapted from its original article "Pagan Christianity? A Book Review". [http://www.pomopastor.com/2012/12/pagan-christianity-book-review.html]
[2] Bennett, Amy. "One Dressing up for Church". [http://www.amyjbennett.com/2012/03/16/on-dressing-up-at-church/]
The Raw Church Movement: Classic VS Trendy

Classic VS Trendy
A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:




In the last Raw Church Movement post I shared some thoughts and ideas related to Community VS Privacy. In today's post, I would like to share some thoughts related to Classic VS Trendy. According to the above survey Millennials overwhelmingly prefer classic churches to trendy ones. But what exactly is meant by classic and trendy? Does this mean that Millennials are more into the traditional church than the modern church? Not exactly. All you have to do is look at the final item to see that 60% prefer a modern church to only 40% rooting for the traditional. So once again, what exactly is classic and trendy? And why do Millennials prefer the classic?

While I cannot know for sure how Barna defined those terms I can provide some thoughts from my own culture and experience. If you asked me to choose between a classic Christianity and a trendy one certain concepts would immediately pop into my head.

Classic
Bible-focused, Historical, Profound, Experiential, Time-tested, and Authentic.

Trendy
Fun-focused, Lively, Poppy, Exciting, Cheesy, Phony, Marketed, and Shallow.

Forgive me if my reactions to these two concepts comes across as offensive or insulting of trendy churches. This is certainly not my intention. All I am doing is identifying my own reaction to these two terms. Numerous conversations with millennials, articles, books, and experiences have shown me that I am not alone in these reactions. 

When I think of a trendy church experience I can't help but think of a shallow church experience that leans more toward a cosmetic adaptation of church than an ontological one. I picture myself sitting in a comfy church with a super cool pastor who preaches highly forgettable sermons and smiles all the time. I picture a youth group that has tons of fun, great t-shirts, fantastic slogans, logos, and high quality bands yet lacks in spiritual depth. As a millennial I am not looking for a fun church. I am looking for a church that is willing to get messy with life. A church that is not afraid to explore anxiety, depression and addiction. A church that is authentic and honest about pain and suffering. A church where people don't feel the need to pretend they are OK. A church that encourages activism and justice in the world. A church that gets involved with disenfranchised communities. A church that explores the life of Jesus with astounding depth. A church that goes beyond a "God loves you" talk and steps into a "God loves you" walk. A church that explores the entire God-story of scripture, including its gritty parts. For some reason, none of this pops into mind when I think of a trendy church.

I could be wrong of course. Me and a large percentage of my peers. But most of us feel as though the trendy church is mostly a reaction to the horrors of the traditional church as opposed to a proactive attempt to reach the lost. So if it were me answering the survey I too would have chosen "classic".

However, as mentioned before, this does not automatically mean that the traditional church is the place to be. As bad as a trendy church is in my mind, a traditional church is way worse (more on this in the future). But the concept of a classic church is something I find quite appealing. When I think of a classic church I think more in terms of ontology than I do of cosmetics. And there I see a church that embraces the gospel in all its fullness. It may not be flashy and cool, but it changes lives. It's a church where people find their greatest joy in sharing life together and opening up an ancient book written by God himself. It is a church that is intentional about reaching the lost and helping the suffering. A church that speaks the language of its culture, meets people where they are, and leads them gently toward God's call over their lives. That's exactly what I long for. This is not to say that there is nothing to learn from a trendy church. Nice logos, fun events, and down to earth environments are certainly important. But nothing can or should replace the old rugged cross.
Church is Not Just About God


If you go to church or have gone to church you've probably heard this saying before "We don't go to church for other people. We go to church for God." It sounds noble. And if you don't look into it you may end up believing it. But it turns out, it isn't really true. 

The New Testament introduces us to the concept of church. The Greek word it uses is the word ecclessia which literally means "group of people".* So when Jesus says to Peter, "On this rock I will build my church" he is literally saying, "On this rock I will build my group of people". Likewise, when the NT speaks of believers having church it simply means that they were having community. Nowhere in the NT do we get the idea that the church is a building or a location. Not once. Instead, the church is a non-building, non-temple, non-institutional group of people who do life together with God and each other.

With this concept in mind, it's impossible to maintain the old adage that "We go to church for God not people." What we are literally saying is "We go to a group of people for God not for people." I don't know about you, but that sounds really weird.

If the church were a place you go to worship God then yes, it would be exclusively about him and no one else. But the church is not a place! It is a community. It is a group of people. When we go to church we go to connect with God and with this group of people who love him and worship him. Most of the time when people say that church is just about God and no one else, they are trying to convince someone who has been hurt by someone in the church or who is tired of the hypocrisy to come anyways because its just God you are there for. It comes from a good place. But its horribly flawed. People are not supposed to come to church just for God. They are supposed to come for the people as well! The church was made for community. For friendship. For togetherness and withness. It was made for companionship and social support. Its about God and people.

If this is true, then we need to stop excusing our hypocrisy and failures with the "its just about God" cop out. Instead, we should take a good hard look at ourselves and an even longer/ harder look at the cross of Christ. What are the areas in which we are failing to be the kind of community that God has called us to be? And how can we become that ecclessia? 

__________

* Ecclessia: 1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly 1a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating 1b) the assembly of the Israelites 1c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously 1d) in a Christian sense 1d1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting 1d2) a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake 1d3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body 1d4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth 1d5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven Synonym [https://lumina.bible.org]

The Raw Church Movement: Community VS Privacy

Community VS Privacy
About two years ago I had to do a University project for the church I was working at. Part of the project involved interviewing members regarding different topics related to the church, including community. One answer captured the problem so well I will never forget it: "Relationships at this church end when we walk out the front door."

I remember reading that answer and thinking, ouch! But harsh as it sounds, its true. The majority of the churches I have attended fail miserably when it comes to community. It seems as if people are content with a private religion. When they come to church they only come for God - which is not a bad thing, but its also not a good thing. While the worship experience is about God in an ultimate sense, there is no denying the element of community. Pious as the proposition may be, church is not only about God and no one else (if that were the case, just worship at home!). Instead, church is about God and others.

A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:


Millenials Share their "Ideal" Church
Image by: Kah-Wai Lin

As you can see, the very first item on the list relates to community. A whopping 78% of those who were surveyed said they preferred a church that has community over a church that is private. But what exactly is community? Why is it missing from our churches? Why do millennials crave it so much? And how can the church move in the direction of community?

Community is a very simple concept that can be defined as "a group of people doing life together". Profound relationships, intimate connections, raw conversations and an authentic experience of "withness" are all elements that make community what it is. Community gives a sense of security and identity. It provides a strong foundation for people to embark on the often scary journey of faith that Jesus calls us to. Community helps us to belong.

Why is this missing from our churches? It's hard to say. I suspect the answer is complex, but the concept of individualism is what I would consider to be the main culprit.[1] Individualism is a predominantly western concept that basically states that the individual is supreme in life. In other words, nothing is more important than me. Anything beyond that is not really my concern. This concept of individualism leads us to invest our lives primarily in the pursuit of self-gain. Relationships are thus sacrificed at the altar of success. While such a worldview is perfectly in line with secular mentality, the oddity is that it has made its way into the church. What do you get when your churches are filled with people who are individualistic? The answer is simple: individuals who prefer a private religious experience to a communal one.

But the culture is beginning to change. Individualism has been exposed as the dry and lonely way of life that it is. As a result, it appears that younger generations are increasingly resistant toward it. Today, more than in recent times, people are craving real relationships. Millennials want to be a part of something, they want to do life with others. Sadly, when they come to church in search of this communal experience what they encounter is the individualistic culture that they are longing to escape. But the problem is worse than this for not only is the church individualistic but it pretends to be communal! People speak to you as if they care - and they do - but not enough to walk through life with you. There is a facade of community present in many churches. It feels like a family when you walk in, so you keep going hoping to eventually become a part of this family. But the longer you attend the clearer it becomes: there is no family. At best its a Sabbath morning club that repeats itself each weekend for a period of 1-4 hours and then its "see you next week". Visitors and members alike exit this place called church where they have just collectively worshiped God only to face six entire days of lonely warfare. They then reconnect the following weekend with shallow conversations that pretend everything is fine. Then they re-exit the church and are immediately confronted with another six days alone. How overwhelmingly tragic.

This is not what millennials want. In fact, I don't think any human being honestly wants this. It's terrible! But for some reason, this is what we have and we can't seem to break free from it. So what can we do to change our culture? How can we create community in our churches? While I don't know all the answers, here are some suggestions:


1. Confess: All change begins with admitting where we are. The first step is to admit that we are individualistic. Any attempt at justifying this must be rejected. We need to own our mistakes - even the unintentional ones.  
2. Repent: The next step is choosing to turn away from where one is currently headed. But we must do more than turn away. What we need is for God to give us the gift of repentance which includes sorrow for sin. We cant change by simply saying "bad idea. Sorry God." What we need is to experience true sorrow for what we have done. We need to hate individualism, not just dislike it. But this can only come from God. 
3. Believe: God alone can change us. We can't change ourselves. Individualism is so ingrained in our psyche we do it without noticing. We need a miracle to change and this God can do for us. Any ideas of self-help or self-improvement must be put away. God doesn't want to improve our churches. He wants to uproot them and plant something new. This cant be accomplished through human effort. It is by faith that we can experience this. 
4. Cooperate: God wants to do amazing things in our churches. Let's move out of the way and let him do his thing. This includes abandoning our comfort zones and being intentional about creating strategies to help foster a community culture. 
5. Repeat: The above process is not something we do once and move on with life. It needs to be constantly repeated even if we feel as though we have "arrived". We will never truly arrive and the battle to become a community focused church is an uphill, counter-cultural, battle. We need to constantly seek God for more grace to accomplish it.
Over the next few months I will be blogging on this, and other issues raised in the survey above. Through it all, I hope to give more practical strategies and methods that can help us turn our churches around. I call this process the Raw Church Movement meaning the pursuit of recapturing a vision of church in its most natural state. I hope the series gives lots to think about and engage in. But never forget, culture takes a long time to change. So don't be discouraged by slow movement.

Jesus to the culture,
Marcos
___________

[1] Individualism: Dominant feature of the Western societies that encourages individual freedom at the cost of traditional family ties and social cohesion, and stresses individual initiative. It relies on the belief that individual freedom forms the basis of entrepreneurial (capitalistic) culture which is the best guarantee of an ever expanding economy. [Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/individualism.html#ixzz3dI47YOuV]
How to Find the Source of Scandalous World-Changing Fire


Allow me to be vulnerable for a moment. I have a love-hate relationship with church. It's not that I am critical, I just get tired of doing the same old thing which leads to the same old nothing all the time. I want to be a part of a church that loves the abandoned, heals the sick, and adopts the rebellious. I long to see the church step out of the box and do new and amazing things for God. I want to see the church reaching the unreachable and making a startling difference in the world. At times we get too caught up in ourselves. The church is meant to be the body of Christ, always reaching and serving the lost. But more often than not, we serve only ourselves. Almost everything in the church often seems geared for one purpose: to make the saints happy. It’s like we have forgotten that the church was never meant to be a resort for us.

So when I got into ministry I told God, “I don’t want to be ordinary. I don’t want to waste my life preaching sermons and preparing programs to make us happy. I want to do new and amazing things for you. I want to step out of my comfort zone where all my pet traditions and cherished customs lie and enter a new and unfamiliar world of impacting something other than myself – the world.”

So I prayed. I prayed a lot. I asked God to show me how to be scandalous for him. I wanted the secret. I wanted to discover the source of the flame that set the early church, the reformers, and the Adventist pioneers on fire. I wanted to tap into that fire so that I could do new, out of the ordinary, wild, and shocking things for God. To borrow Avril Lavigne's words, “I want to be anything but ordinary please”. So I prayed like crazy: “Lord, how can I be scandalous for you? Show me the source of the flame.”

And then one day, as I prayed he answered. And this is what he said. “If you want to do scandalous things for me, you must pursue a scandalous relationship with me.” And then it hit me. I was so dumb. There I was unsatisfied with doing the same old thing for God, and yet I was perfectly satisfied with having the same old relationship with Him. So God burst my bubble and put it to me straight. If you want to do amazing things for me, you must pursue an amazing relationship with me. These 10 minute prayers and 15 minute Bible studies may be OK if you are looking for ordinary; but if you want to go beyond ordinary, if you want to do wild things for me, you must go beyond ordinary in your relationship with me.

I discovered that the source of the flame that lights us up for him is the flame itself. The Bible tells us that God is a consuming fire. He is the flame. He is the source. And if you want to be on fire for him. If you are tired of a dead and dying church. If you want to do amazing things for God and lead the church you love toward a better tomorrow you must go to the source of the flame. It’s not in you. It’s not in your ideas. It’s not even in your efforts. The source of the flame is God – our consuming fire – the flame itself.

Bricolage? An Introduction


Welcome to Bricolage? In this blog series I am going to be diving deeper into the topic of Christianity and post-modernism. Unlike Enigma (which was more of a type-as-I-think series) Bricolage? is going to approach the conversation from a more systematic and practical angle. Enigma was an introduction, or to put it another way, a brain stimulator on the topic of outreach in post-modern culture. But now I am ready to dive deeper and lay out some useful concepts for post-modern apostles to consider as they seek to reach this seemingly unreachable generation.

Before we begin, allow me to answer a question many are asking: What in the world does bricolage mean? Bricolage is a French word which basically means "tinkering". Google dictionary defines it as: "Something constructed or created from a diverse range of things." And in post-modern terms it is defined as "a processes by which traditional objects or language are given a new, often subversive [disruptive], meaning and context."[1] In laymans terms, the word bricolage represents a complex and often corruptive (mingling things that are not meant to be mingled) type of change. 


Some contemporary thinkers in the Christian faith see the process of bricolage as something that should be brought into Christianity. For them a certain degree of theological tinkering is necessary in order to reach emerging post-modern generations. As such they attempt to subvert Christian beliefs in order to "create" or "construct" that new type of Christianity. Bricolage? will therefore seek to answer the following questions: Does Christianity have to be reconstructed and redefined in order to be relevant to emerging generations? Should it be left as it is? Or should it be deconstructed (as opposed to reconstructed) in order to enable its biblical rediscovery? And lastly, what does it all mean? After these questions are answered the stage will be set for some practical insights.

Before I begin it is also important that I admit my biases. I am a biblical Christian. While I do not consider myself conservative, traditional, dogmatic or fundamentalist I do consider myself a bible based believer and as such I operate from the bias that scripture is the inspired word of God and that in it we discover timeless principles for all of life's challenges. While I do not believe that the Bible answers every question I do believe that it keeps us safely within the perceptive boundaries of God's will.

Finally, it is not my intent to be original or exhaustive. These are blogs not research papers. Don't see this series as an attempt to offer "the answer" to the problem. Instead see it as a continuation of a much needed conversation. While there are a myriad of views and opinions on this issue the views that I will be sharing are views that I believe to be biblically sound, balanced, and sensible. I invite each of you to seriously consider them.

More to come.

_____

[1] http://www.onpostmodernism.com/terms/#Bricolage
The Irritating Aroma of Uninvited Religion


I am a Jesus-follower. My culture is koinonia. I was born and raised in church. This whole religion/ Jesus thing is not weird for me. I have been exposed to it all of my life. And one of the biggest mistakes I make when it comes to sharing Jesus is assuming that everyone else is as comfortable with him as I am.  But just a half hour ago I got a taste of what it means to be on the other side of this spectrum.

The doorbell rang. I thought it was Woollies delivering our groceries a little early but when I looked I saw two women - one old and one young - dressed in early 90's grandma fashion. It didn't take long for me to discover they were Jehovah's Witnesses. And while I smiled on the outside, on the inside I found myself extremely irritated. These ladies did not know me. They were uninvited to my home. And yet there they were confronting me with an extremely personal, sensitive, and emotional element of the human experience - religion. I didn't want them there, but there they were, and all I could think was how soon can this whole thing be over? They said they would come back to talk some more. I politely said "sure" mostly because I just wanted them to leave. But my mind said the opposite to my lips: I don't want you to come back and the next time this doorbell rings I am going to hide. Of course, with two super loud kids running around this house that will be impossible. This makes their future visit even more dreadful.

And then it hit me. I am a Jesus-follower. My culture is koinonia. I was born and raised in church. This whole religion/ Jesus thing is not weird for me. I have been exposed to it all of my life. And if I find the aroma of uninvited religion irritating, how much more will those who do not share my back-ground? Those who hate religion. Those who are indifferent toward it. Or those who experience anxiety every time the topic is raised. What about those who have been hurt by it? Those who have been betrayed, bruised, and ostracized by other Christians? Will they not experience the same dreadful emotions I experienced? I think its safe to say, yes.

Now don't get me twisted. Jesus confronts us. He is not comfortable. He is not safe. He is a lion. But we must never forget that he is also a lamb and harmless as a dove. He doesn't seek to devour, he seeks to redeem. As such, we must share Jesus in a way that does not automatically awaken dreadful emotions and the proverbial fight-or-flight mechanism. If Jesus alone is challenging enough then we should not add to the struggle by sharing him in unpalatable ways. Instead, we should bend over backwards to make sure we are not making the journey to him more difficult for those who don't share our "church culture".
The Church Was Never Meant for Four Walls, Anyway


The Church Was Never Meant for Four Walls, Anyway
by Rachel Dymski

We didn’t go to church this weekend.

We told people who asked that it was because Andrew was sleeping off a migraine, which was the partial truth. The whole truth was that we were tired and just plain didn’t feel like it. The truth is that the word “church” has had a sour taste in our mouths lately, the kind we try to brush away with fresh words of “community” and fellowship” and “learning from the scripture,” all the while wondering why we actually haven’t experienced any of these things at the building labeled “church” for quite some time. We wonder why it is that we feel more like outsiders at church on Sunday morning than we when we’re out on Saturday night, why park picnickers two tables over have whole conversations with us but members of the pew behind us have never asked our names.

The truth is that we’re in between moves and in between churches, and so in between trips that we forget it’s Sunday. And we try to reason and assuage the guilt we feel, all the while wondering, why do we even feel guilty about this in the first place?

When did our church, we wonder, become small enough to fit inside four walls?

We didn’t take notes in leather-bound books as we listened to a Sunday sermon, but as we drove to the river my head was teeming with thoughts from a discussion earlier this week. Early in the morning in the middle of the week, five other girls and I drag ourselves out of bed while the sky is still dark, and, dew on our skin and sleep in our eyes, we open the Book of Life together, discussing and learning and praying together. We leave, each carrying burdens of the other and yet somehow feeling lighter, and as the world wakes up I wonder if this is how the early church felt— meeting in secret and brimming over with joy.

We didn’t recite the ancient literatures or sing beautiful hymns this week. Our words, instead, consisted of “I love you’s” and “You make us so proud’s,” an outpouring of love for a brother and sister who graduated on Saturday. We witnessed the tradition of commencement, overheard the ancient literatures of “we’ll be in touch” and “I’ll see you soon,” the prolonged farewells of the graduated. I watched my sister walk across that stage, heart swelling at a woman both beautiful and good, so that if you turned her insides outward she’d be exactly the same, and could there be any greater testament to the gospel than that? I watched Andrew’ s brother, a man so kind and warm he can’t help but exude it, accept his diploma, a reward for his faithful years of hard work.

Later we took pictures and braced our bodies from the wind, celebrating, hearts singing, perhaps, a different kind of hymn. I looked at my parents, Andrew’s parents, the parents of other friends, and thought on the gifts they had given their children.Our parents, who gave us opportunity but also grace, who raised us up on the literature of Chicken Licken and hymns of Jesus Loves Me, who grew us up in the church, yes, but also in the home. It is these people, I thought, watching the happy crowd, who I want worshipping with me when I one day cross the river of Jordan; these people, singing me into eternity and greeting me at the other end. With a church family like that, it’s hard, really, to be anything outside of thankful.

Sunday morning found us not in our best, but in our rags, hiking through a forest in Western Pennsylvania. We carried scripture, not in our hands but in our hearts: over a picnic lunch rich with thick brie and strawberries so ripe the juice trickles down, and we could “taste and see that the Lord is good,”  not only in his faithfulness but the depth of his flavors. We watched the muddy river flow, thinking about the “river of the water of life, as clear as crystal”  flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.

We listened to the calls of crickets, of bullfrogs, of swallows and magpies, all able to be only exactly as they were created, all answering the command to “praise the Lord” with their breath.

We observed “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” through too many species of plant and tree to count: wild geraniums, honeysuckle, cherry trees, all with a different print, smell, and texture; so many, in fact, that I had trouble sleeping last night, wondering what kind of God this is, who gives us such diversity in things that at first appear the same.

Growing up, I never understood why people said they felt “alone” in the church. The church, for me, was a watering hole: a place of community, resource, worship, and inter-generational friendship. It’s hard, I think, when you feel at home to imagine that maybe another person doesn’t.



Living in four states in four years, and on the verge of another move, I feel like I finally understand what people mean when they say they feel unwanted at church.  I’ve entered too many churches where the doors profess “All Are Welcome” but the hordes of turned backs tell me otherwise. I’ve listened to too many sermons that use scripture selectively, opting for relevancy over truth. I’ve been overdressed, underdressed, and excluded more for it, whether innocently or intentionally I’ll never know. You are my brothers, my sisters!  I want to shout, indignant enough to forget that they, too, are human. I am fragile and weary and you are the watering hole, but I’m starting to think you’ve run dry.


The problem with the church, I’d wager, from my own narrow experience of it, is not that it is too big, but too small. We’ve become narrow, small-minded, eager to place God in a box of Sunday mornings on tight schedules of: opening hymn, prayer, sermon, closing hymn, coffee and exit. If we are not finding, seeking, discovering God— all his love and diversity—  in our day to day living outside the church, how can we ever hope to be a light to others in it? Maybe the soft chairs and coffee cups are blurring our memories to a time where, we too, were lonely, lost, in need of a friend. Maybe we’ve stopped realizing that there is more to Christian living than sitting through a sermon, more to fellowship than coffee hour. Maybe the spirit of American Individualism has invaded even this place so that instead of love thy neighbor our mantra is every man for himself.

Andrew and I, in the past two years, have met more people dissatisfied with the church than we ever thought possible. We’ve met people who have felt excluded, abandoned, like they didn’t fit it, uninvited from small groups and refused Communion. This, I think, nothing like the church I knew in childhood, nothing like the fellowship I’ve found in my family and friends, nothing like God I’ve found in the Bible or nature. They are made to feel guilty for not attending, and ostracized when they do. The church, it would seem, has become a selective club, requiring the right dress and doctrine for admittance. A club from which those too loud, too quiet, too old, or too different are excluded.

I’m not giving up on the church; I know that it is broken, bruised, as in need of redemption as the rest of us. I know it can be powerful, encouraging, a place of hope for many— and we hope and pray for a church to call home. (If any of you are reading this from downtown Pittsburgh and know a place like this, please let us know!) But this weekend, I was also reminded that the real church is much, much more than a building, that God can be found far away from its pews. That church, is, above all, people who love greatly because they’ve been forgiven a debt, who sing songs of gratitude from dawn to dusk: at work, at graduation, among friends, in the woods.

On Sundays, yes, but they also know gratitude on all the days in between. Because they know that the church was never meant for four walls, anyway.

Rachel Dymski is freelance writer living in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. You can read her blog at rachaeldymski.com