Oh No, Another Church?
If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!
OK, they seem to be changing a bit. The modern trend is to turn the stage into a musical sound-fest, song-fest, performing arts-fest of sorts. Lots of music, words scripted onto multiple big screens overhead, plenty of singing. Though, I haven’t been able to detect singing coming from hip congregations. Just too loud to tell.
The more traditional churches might still present a choir, or a single songstress. So, the music varies a bit. But music continues to constitute a trademark of what makes a church a church.
There’s always a main-event sermon. Some preachers strut. Others prefer a pulpit, but that contingent seems to be fading. Some present holey, blue-jean hip; some wear sanctimony over their body.
Most all pass the collection plate. One offers a drop-box to collect congregant offerings. They all make “giving” a feature of their website. Probably as important a component of theology as any other. They need to exist. They rely on contributions, i.e., “Giving”.
Every church offers its own form of mission, vision and theology. Most have obviously poured a lot of thought into their website messages.
Many appear to distinguish themselves by their “Bible-based” orientation, or their theological passion. All wear one form of theology or another like a vestment newly cleaned and starched.
The General Failure of Talent Trippers’ Appeal
“No, we just completed our own mission and discipleship program planning, so we’re not interested in your program.”
“No, we support our own missions. Best wishes!”
“No, we support the missions of our denomination.”
“No, we have our own discipleship program. We’re not interested.”
“No thanks. We don’t know you [so we don’t trust you]. You need to work within your own church to create a discipleship program.”
These are all reasonable, understandable responses to my efforts to introduce myself and my Christian Enablers International program (a program within Talent Trippers, LLC) to churches around Denver. Not sure that any church will open its doors to a one-time presentation to invited congregants and neighbors, even when the introduction of that “any-church” will receive the benefit of my invitation to the neighborhood to walk through that any-church’s doors for the first time.
Or, perhaps the commercialization of Christian personal discipleship, outside the confines of a church-sponsored discipleship program leaves pastors and church leaders uncomfortable. Personal discipleship probably needs a committee to endorse it, and supervise it, and manipulate its content and structure. I think I get it.
I think I’ve failed to communicate the opportunity for persons seeking meaning to their life and their Christian purpose to;
1. Inventory their own personal talents, and
2. Engage those talents to significantly improve the lives of one or more Christian Tanzanians whose circumstances never allowed their own rise above personal poverty or lack of economic opportunity.
Shortly, I will purchase a round-trip ticket for Lota to visit Colorado in September. We will still attempt to put on an event to advertise an opportunity for personal Christian discipleship. Maybe, it will happen in a public park rather than a church’s premises. Maybe the city will allow us a venue, and an opportunity to advertise a path to life’s purpose.
I have pretty much concluded that the market for personal Christian discipleship lies not with church pastors or church leaders. If there exists a market, it lies with those who simply want to find purpose in life. To engage personal talents on behalf and for the benefit of someone else less fortunate. Maybe it lies with those who have not found the answer to life’s purpose in a church.
What is a Church?
A church is a building where people go to worship. It used to sport a steeple. Not so much anymore. Many feature coffee bars and social gathering venues outside a sanctuary where lights are dimmed to make Bible reading a challenge. Beyond the lobby area (narthex, by old-time lingo), lies (I think) mysterious passage ways to class rooms and who-knows-what. A church building represents an essential component to Christ’s body.
OK, I confess. I just insulted every pastor who exercised enough patience to read this far. A church is a body of believers. More than a body, it is a community. A community represents an aggregation of folks who have something in common. They believe roughly the same thing. Christian pastors will say that they ascribe to the same faith, that they are all disciples (and, like me, many wannabe disciples, not quite as church-leader ready as the most holy).
OK, I confess again. Another insult! The body of believers believe in precisely the same thing. Others, typically referred to as “Seekers”, aren’t really part of the real body. They’re still outsiders wondering about committing their lives in the same way that the insiders (true believers) have. The body of believers ascribe to a carefully scripted theology, generally simplified into a mission statement, vision statement and programmatic emphasis. The more traditional churches hold onto and profess creeds, as in the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed.
Another confession! They’re not just communities of people. Churches carry on programs. Sunday school. Bible studies. Men’s groups. Women’s groups. Outreach committees. Mission committees. Fellowship committees. Worship committees. Coffee and donut committees. More. And more. Frankly, the more committees and programs that a church carries on, the more worthy the hosting church becomes, because it constitutes vibrant outreach, and in-reach, and all around reach. The bigger the program configuration, the bigger the bear hug of congregant commitment.
A Church with Potential, No Traction
I hate to pick on the same church again. (Pastor Kolt, forgive me! I can’t resist!)
The smallest, newest church has probably made the biggest impression on me. Freedom Church Denver. It doesn’t have a church building. It uses someone else’s church building. It’s community of believers represent transplants from Dallas, all who came to Denver within the past one to three years. Not sure there are any wannabes among them. Yup, they employ a stage and a musical sandwich whose meat is the pastor who roams the stage holding a mic. If they have any committees, they likely comprise the entire membership. Membership might have crossed into the double digits, but I can’t be sure. When I hung around a recent Sunday to help set-up the basement with tables and chairs for the host church’s later use, the effort doubled up the follow-on program of backpack stuffing. In all likelihood, the only program that it carried on involved bringing backpacks of donated school supplies to children whose low-income parents or guardians reside in the apartment complex down the street. The apartment manager managed to single out the renters most needy. Maybe the ones who had trouble paying their rent on time (just speculating).
No coffee bar. No coffee committee. After the 5:00 PM service, most of the congregation went to Qdoba’s for supper. About ten of them (and me). Nobody that I could tell ordered coffee. Fountain drinks seemed to suffice. Lucky for one guy, a McDonalds lay about twenty five feet distance from Qdoba’s. A hamburger suited him much better. More flexibility than the church picnic that I crashed, earlier that day.
Freedom Church Denver began ministry last October. They’re not a year old, yet. Nothing but courage, maybe blind faith. And a passion for making a difference in people’s lives. The passion part draws me more than the blind faith and courage. But, the openness to suggestion also draws me.
A mom and her son represented the only non-Dallas spring-shot that attended that evening. Probably not a great sign that the church is growing fast. No passing of the collection plate. I dropped a check into the drop-box in the back. Didn’t see anyone else do the same. Most in their 20s. Probably not overflowing in monetary wealth. A humble seed of a church.
OK, a laudable mission of doing a church-plant. I suppose.
But why? Don’t we have enough churches? Is this one going to do something that no other church does?
If they’re going to survive, they’re going to have to attract an audience. A congregation of neighborhood constituents. They’re going to have to do something different. At least I wonder why anyone will attend if available churches already exist to satisfy people’s weekly investment in spirituality.
I read their slogan and their purpose statement. Like everyone else, their website advertises it. It also advertises “Giving”, as if anyone will give to the church because internet giving is the hip thing to do. But, maybe! I don’t know about the success of website banner giving. Theirs is a new generation or two removed from mine.
Their slogan reads, “No Perfect People Allowed!” A couple attendees wore tee shirts sporting this slogan.
Their statement of purpose reads, “Every member has a ministry”. It quotes Ephesians 4:12-13, as follows,
“To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . .”
And their website further says,
“We want to train and equip you to do ministry through these avenues:
1. Your personal relationships,
2. Serving here at Freedom Church.”
OK, I confess (again). I don’t see the difference. Much. What are these passion-purposed disciples doing differently, offering differently, than any other church? What difference will this church make?
They’re Wrong. Every Church is Wrong! (Almost)
As if I know better!
Well, if I’m crazy, I might as well think entirely crazy! What’s holding me back?
Consider a different kind of church. Starting from the beginning. What is a church? I agree, it’s a community of believers. But they fall short. They wimp out. They administer. They inspire. But they don’t engage their congregants in personal discipleship, like Pastor Warren’s church does.
What should a community of believers do? What makes this community a church? Maybe a building? Maybe a weekly worship service? Maybe a program of congregant involvement? The kind where everybody feels like they are an important part of a complicated church program? Or, set of programs? Maybe, it’s the music and preaching that makes a church what it is. Attendance gets me my reward. Right? “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Or, participation. “Well done . . . .”
Many of the church websites that I visited talk about equipping theirs members for discipleship. That’s their mission statement. Many emphasize the Great Commission. They want to not only equip, but to send their members into the world to make more disciples. Not far off. From what they should be all about.
But, they simply fall a tad bit short. They don’t facilitate talent inventories. They don’t personally encourage and mentor. They don’t facilitate talent engagement. They don’t facilitate personal discipleship. They simply teach, inspire and equip. Then stop.
So, most congregants go home after a church encounter (worship service, prayer meeting, Bible study, committee meeting, other), and feel inspired for another week. Members of the body don’t engage.
The Way It Should Be (John’s Ridiculous Theology)
I’ve sort of bought into “The Purpose Driven Church” by Rick Warren. I agree with Pastor Warren when he lists 5 purposes to any church. They spring from the Great Commandment, as well as from the Great Commission.
• Love the Lord with all your heart
• Love our neighbor as yourself
• Go and make disciples
• Baptizing them
• Teaching them to obey
Frankly, I think the last three are all part of discipleship. They need not be broken out. So, I believe the church, as an organization, should be all about love and discipleship.
What is love? Is it a feeling? Is it an activity? Or, both? I say, both. So, when we love God, we return His love because He first loved us. We thank Him for His love, and seek to actively return it to Him through worship.
When we love our neighbor, is it a feeling, or activity? I don’t know how one can command oneself to feel love for every neighbor in one’s orbit. Further I don’t know how one can command oneself to love people outside one’s orbit. We can empathize. We can sympathize. But feeling love? As we love ourselves? As we love our family? Maybe, but it’s beyond my capacity. So, I think I love my neighbor through my activity. Through caring (but a far shot from loving as I love myself). Through actively affecting other people’s lives in ways that makes positive, beneficial impact. Like the impact that we would want our own lives to be impacted, if roles reversed.
What is the church’s role in neighborly love? Although it involves teaching and equipping, I think it involves more. I think it means that individual members of the community of believers help each other and hold each other accountable for loving our neighbor. I think it involves encouraging each other in personal activities that demonstrate love. A church worship service can help inspire and teach about neighborly love. But, just teaching and inspiring doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion. The church’s role should be to help engage individuals in their personal extension of love. This is more than a church service. It is more than a Bible study. It is more than participating in a committee. It involves everyday life. It involves individuals working together to effect actions of love.
What is discipleship? Christian discipleship, very simply, involves accepting Christ and following His teaching. A disciple is a follower of a leader. A Christian disciple is a follower of Jesus.
A follower of Jesus seeks baptism. A follower of Jesus seeks to live according to all that Jesus taught. A follower of Christ translates to a person who loves the Lord above all, who loves his neighbor as himself, and who seeks to live as Christ lived, as best he or she can, inspired by the Spirit.
So, how does that translate into what a church does, how it functions? The way I see it, the church’s role should be to facilitate Christian life. It doesn’t translate into a prescription of a weekly scripted liturgy or format. Rather, it should translate into three elements.
First, the church should inspire and teach the Word as part of a worship experience. Loving the Lord should involve a realization of extreme thankfulness to God for His love and the sacrifice of His Son. When we worship, we love the Lord. I like it when worship involves both acclamation to God, and inspiration to the congregation.
Second, the church should engage its members to actively and inspirationally love their neighbors, as strongly and as fervently as they love themselves. Almost. Here’s where I wimp out. Because, I also believe that each of us maintains a primary responsibility for taking care of one’s self. First. We can’t take care of someone else until we’ve taken care of ourselves. Practically, especially as adults with spouses and children, we need to dedicate ourselves to loving our family members before we love others. Not exclusively. Just first. As a primary responsibility, we need to love our spouse and our other family members by taking care of them, as we take care of ourselves. When we have taken care of our primary responsibility, especially when we have moved past the point of family service, we can focus on extending love to others. To neighbors, other than our families.
How does the church do this? Not really through a church service. Not simply through a Bible study. Not simply through taking attendance or receiving donations. The church, as a community of believers, does this through interpersonal encouragement and support. Every church should involve itself in interpersonal encouragement and support.
Third, the church should make personal disciples out of its membership and other congregants. As I see it, many churches, and Christian organizations, tend to want to do the job for its members. They do it through;
• Proxied discipleship – Receiving donations on behalf of missions where other people do the “making of disciples of all nations”. Not a bad thing. But proxied discipleship is not the same thing as personal discipleship.
• Collection plate discipleship – Receiving donations on behalf of itself. Churches need to fund their staff and operations. Again, not a bad thing. But collection plate discipleship is not the same thing as personal discipleship.
• Institutional discipleship – Leveraging one or more committees to administer the distribution of collections on behalf of the congregation. So, committees facilitate good things, good results, for the receivers of church charity. But committees don’t personally extend Christian love. They do it administratively. Not the same thing as personal discipleship.
• Personal discipleship – Now this is where churches usually fail. As organizations, churches consider themselves to have corporately made their members and other congregants loving neighbors through proxied discipleship, collection plate discipleship, and institutional discipleship. Everybody feels good about it. But as I see it, Christ extended the offer of salvation to individuals. He concerned himself with individuals becoming disciples, not organizations or committees. He instructed disciples to use their talents, invest them wisely, and return a reward to their Maker, upon His return.
Christian discipleship involves personally extending ourselves in ways that positively impact others. It involves focus and affirmative extension of one’s self and one’s talents, on behalf of Christ. As Christ said, “Inasmuch as you have done these things to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done them unto me.” The church is not a building. It is not a Sunday service. It is not a Bible study or program. The church consists of a bunch of individual disciples doing things for others. On behalf of Christ. Out of an activity of love.
The church’s focus, as an organization, should be upon making disciples out of its members and congregants. It should not take this burden off their shoulders through any other form of discipleship. Christ saves individuals. Not church organizations. Not church buildings. Not church committees. Not groups of individuals who study the Bible together.
Finally, the church should challenge its members and congregants to “go and make disciples of all nations”. Again, substituting this challenge with group action does not relieve anyone of the imperative of investing individual talents on behalf of Christ and Christian discipleship (a personal activity).
What is the meaning of life?
People have asked this question throughout the ages. It’s likely that every single person, either consciously or unconsciously, has asked this question. Or, unknowingly, those who have not asked themselves this question have answered it for themselves, anyway. Power. Wealth. Personal pleasure. Happiness. Succeeding in life, however it may be defined. Golf. Skiing. Traveling. Probably other answers which I can’t immediately conjecture.
Who has the real answer?
The Christian church should have the real answer. Right? Doesn’t it boil down to Christian purpose? Love and discipleship?
I guess that most people struggle with the ultimate question, “What is the meaning of life?” Does the church (as an institution) offer the answer?
When I review church websites, I read about churches being Bible based, theologically perfect, teaching the gospel, etc. Some, perhaps many, offer solutions to the down and out. The recently divorced. The substance addicted. The depressed. The lonely. But most churches tend to ignore the big question. They posture and make themselves look and sound, in a Christian way, perfect. Theologically. Biblically. Mission, purpose and vision perfectly. Organizationally perfect.
Most churches, as institutions or organizations, miss the mark. Just my perspective, obviously.
Christian churches should;
1. Offer meaning to life,
2. Understand their organizational purpose. They should make of their individual members and congregants;
b. Christ’s disciples.
The Christian church is a body of believers, not just a collection of buildings and/or institutions.
The Christian church need not operate out of a building.
The Christian church need not hold a weekly worship service.
The Christian church need not organize and facilitate a bunch of committees.
The Christian church should creatively;
1. Offer inspiration to those interested in the meaning of their lives,
2. Offer inspiration and instruction relating to God’s love, and the Christian response,
3. Provide encouragement and support to individuals to carry out their discipleship, in the context of love for both God and neighbor.
Do we need just another church? Another copycat? Another musical sandwich? Another set of programs of committee involvement?
Many successful churches start out as fellowships, operating out of member homes. Pastor Warren’s church, as I read from his book, never built a building until they were 10,000 strong. That church never put their organization ahead of their congregants. That church, as an organization, began and continues as an inspirer, teacher, engager and sender of its members and wannabe members.
Just a Suggestion
I suggest that Christian churches (as organizations) reconfigure their mission and purpose.
Christian churches should;
1. Understand that their purpose should be to help its community members to;
a. Love (God and neighbor), and
b. Disciple (as Christ lived and would live today).
2. Expand their purpose to;
a. Not simply equip their members, but to also
b. Engage their members in Christian personal discipleship.
Some do, I suppose. But, I haven’t really seen it.
Some send teams of disciples on mission trips. Members engage themselves in painting a wall, or following a script of feeding the hungry or counseling the downtrodden.
None that I know of have challenged their members to inventory their talents. None have custom designed their engagement endeavors to leverage personally unique talents on behalf of Christian personal discipleship. The herd mentality and the convenience of orchestrating common tasks supplants the more difficult task of inventorying and engaging personal talents on behalf of Christian purpose, Christian discipleship.
I might be wrong. Maybe, when individuals finally meet their Maker, He might say, “Well done, good and faithful participant in church activities or programs. Experience the joy of the Master!”
I could be wrong!
Then again, maybe a new church, one still finding its way, might consider a new paradigm. Maybe a new church might abandon tradition and actually focus on community as to basis for its existence and purpose.
But, I could be wrong, again!
So, where does Talent Trippers, or its program called Christian Enablers International, fit in?
Talent Trippers is not a church. But it offers a personal discipleship opportunity. It is the kind of opportunity in which every Christian church should be asking its congregants to engage. That is, personal discipleship.
Talent Trippers will not replace the church, or any church program. But Talent Trippers can help a Christian church fulfill its purpose.
Talent Trippers seeks to be relevant to Christ’s call for both discipleship and talent investment.
Talent Trippers seeks to put love into action, on a personal level.
Christian Enablers pairs disciples from a wealthy country with disciples from a poor country. It provides an opportunity for mutual Christian encouragement and support.
Christian love turns a feeling into action through personal discipleship.
Talent Trippers provides discipleship opportunity.
To Turn a Ship
Likely, no established church will change its perspective of its mission and focus based upon a consideration of the thoughts in this epistle. Like a freighter, churches maintain existing inertia. They don’t turn on a dime, or swing a water skier to the right or left. Water skiers following a church organization’s pull will generally need to engage their water skis all by themselves, in order to make their cuts.
What about a new church? What about a church that allows a consideration of its purpose as constituting the offering the answer to life’s purpose to those who seek it? What about a church that hasn’t already built its building? What about a church whose only committee is the congregation, at large? What about the church that re-envision’s itself as a community of engaged believers, rather than the administration of Christian-purposed programs?
On the other hand, maybe we simply need another church. Just like the last one.
* * * * *
Let’s do another church plant!
Maybe, just maybe, I haven’t seen them all, yet.