Category Archives: organic church

Child preachers and the power of the pulpit

This makes me so sad:

But I appreciate the fact that the reporter got it right, this kid has a passion for the pulpit, and all the excitement it represents.

It also illustrates how worthless most pastors have become today.

Oh, and for anyone who isn’t familiar with the child-preacher phenomenon, here is a rather poignant documentary:

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Prosperity gospel, SBC style

[HT FBC Jax Watchdog]

Distributed parking, distributed leadership

Our family doesn’t always visit a brick and mortar church, but when we do, my wife and I have a system to handle the parking conundrum. You see, we typically go to one of the many megachurches in the area and parking is predictably a nightmare. So what we generally do is ride around the parking lot scowling at people who are walking slowly back to their cars. We do this for a few minutes before we give up and agree to have my wife take the kids into the nursery while I finish the task of hunting down a parking space.

Hunting down a parking space at a large church on Sunday morning is harder than it sounds.

And yet, as silly as it sounds, this exercise helps illustrate something I believe the church in general could stand to learn.

You see, for most of the time during the week it is easy to find a parking space at most churches, large and small. The demand for parking places only spikes occasionally, usually on Sunday mornings between 11:00AM and 12:00PM.

I work with high performance computing systems a lot and I believe the principles used to solve the problem of crunching a large amount of data can be brought to bear in solving the problem of church parking.

When Toys R’ Us first launched their ecommerce website in 1999 they quickly found out that their servers were no match for the load that awaited them from a pre-Christmas rush. The next year, they decided to entrust their ecommerce store to another company that was able to solve the problem of handling large amounts of traffic.

Today there are several companies that have developed what is commonly called “cloud computing” systems. In brief, a cloud computing system is when you take a lot of servers and hook them up so that they cooperate while processing a large load. That load could be crunching through a lot of data or handling a lot of web requests. Most of the time its a combination of both.

Cloud platforms like Amazon are built to handle the surge of Christmas traffic. But this creates a problem similar to what most churches face with regard to their parking lots. There is a lot of wasted capacity since, for the most part, the resources meant to handle the surge in demand sit idle.

To get more use out of their cloud, Amazon and others like Google started offering parts of their cloud to others. The idea being that you could develop a website, deploy it on their system, and if your site gets really popular it can expand to more of the cloud platform to handle the load. Amazon calls their solution elastic computing.

The key to large scale computing is to find ways to carve up the problem domain into small, manageable, bite-sized chunks, and then find a way to have many mouths devour those chunks.

Many churches, when they start to grow and face issues of scale, attempt to solve the problem initially by offering multiple services on Sunday morning. This often works well if the church is able to effectively cut the demand per service in half. This is not much different than attempting to solve large computational problems by utilizing larger servers. This is known as scaling vertically and is the preferred tactic of many smaller churches. However the problem is that it produces waste in terms of under utilized resources when there is no load (ie. the other 6 days of the week) and eventually a hard vertical limit is reached.

Many churches are coming to realize the importance of distributing the load when it comes to discipleship. But when it comes to teaching, most still operate in a centralized fashion.

There are many reasons the church needs to embrace a more distributed leadership model. Here are a few:

  • Having multiple teachers to handle the task of teaching believers is a Biblical concept.
  • If more churches were to implement it as the model of leadership, it would also have the added benefit of alleviating the enormous and unnatural pressure placed at the feet of one man or a very small group of men.
  • Having multiple leaders serves as an encouragement for others to grow. It would help solve the problem of unmotivated church members.
  • Having multiple leaders makes single points of failure, especially of the moral variety, less prominent and less devastating.
  • Having multiple leaders provides an excellent means of continuous error correction.

Along with the spiritual reasons, there are other organizational benefits:

  • Having multiple leaders means buildings can be more fully utilized. Groups can be scheduled to meet at various times throughout the week, distributing the load, instead of causing the load to spike on one day and hour.
  • Higher utilization of resources means less waste.
  • Distributed leadership means fewer and lighter crowds. This means visitors are more likely to find a place and are more likely to become intimately involved with a group of believers.
  • Distributed leadership means leaders are free to specialize. This, in turn, translates into higher quality teaching and a more educated congregation. This would also mean more believers would be better equipped for evangelization.

And finally; distributed leadership would mean my family and I would have a better chance at finding a parking spot on Sunday morning.

The upside down leadership model of the Christian church

Felicity Dale has written an excellent series of posts intended to answer the question “Do organic/simple churches believe in leadership?”.

Here is an excellent video which I believe summarizes what the Bible teaches with regard to leadership in the Body of Christ:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

-Matthew 20:25-28

A note about senior pastors

Recently I Tweeted

“Senior pastor” is found in the Bible, its 1 Peter 5:4 and it refers to Jesus, not the CEO of your local church business.

Based off of this post on Alan Knox’s blog.

Here’s my extended take on the issue.

Senior pastors, indeed all professional pastors, bear a burden they were never meant to carry nor called to carry according to Scripture.

Nowhere in Scripture do we find one man saddled with the load the average church pastor is expected to carry. Contrary to John Piper, pastors today are, by and large, professionals. When you have a staff, budget, building, etc. you are a professional. In fact you are a business owner. A CEO.

Contrast this situation with what we find in Scripture where all believers are called to lift eachother up in mutual edification. Where no one man or elite group of men are commanded to lord over the flock from a position of authority.

To the contrary, the only form of leadership known in Scripture is servant leadership. Real servant leadership. Not the kind where the pastor takes home a nice check from his customers every month. Not the kind where the senior pastor gets to call all the shots (or influence the committees who give the appearance of calling the shots in most cases).

Real servant leadership where their leading is done through persuasive argument and not positional or credentialed authority lorded over “their” sheep.

I pity senior pastors, their existence harms everyone.

Chewing the fat

We have an expression in the south, “Chewing the fat”. Fat is often the source of the best flavor, and it generally sticks around for a while like bubble gum. However it really doesn’t have much (if any) nutritional value. So to chew the fat is to partake in something that is enjoyable, but ultimately contains no nutritional value.

Now some chewing of fat is a good thing. The problem comes in, however, when we think what we are chewing on is not fat.

Im most churches today I would wager that members are chewing the fat. They attend bible studies that have little to no nutritional value. But since they often have excellent spiritual flavor, emotional experiences, superficial intimacy among participants, etc. they are not generally known for what they are.

Spiritual fat.

Not even milk. Just fat.

Dissecting the body of Christ over errant doctrines

Recently a friend and fellow house church enthusiast alerted me to a division within the fellowship he is a member of. The division centered on doctrine, with one member apparently upset that the rest of the group did not appreciate the reformed doctrine he ascribed to.

Without addressing the doctrines in question, I wanted to encourage this group to seek to function like a family. Here is my letter to the group in question as well as our regular group.

I’ve yet to meet as child who holds nothing but right beliefs. I’ve yet to meet an adult who holds nothing but right beliefs for that matter either. In fact, I’m pretty sure, as Greg Koukl has said, that I hold wrong beliefs as well. The trouble is that we don’t know what those wrong beliefs are unless someone loves us enough to patiently expose them through persuasive arguments based on solid evidence (which includes the Bible).

Thankfully, the biblical standard for admittance into heaven is not our score on some sort of cosmic theology test.

It’s true that doctrine is important. And I would agree that many problems faced by the modern church are due to a severe lack of biblical training. However intellectual development only takes us so far. The other half of Biblical maturity is our actions, particularly our love for one another. Practically this means there is absolutely no Biblical justification for breaking fellowship with another member in the body of Christ outside of habitual participation in unconfessed sin.

Paul wrote Ephesians to a group of people far more divided than we could hope to be. In a city where rampant immorality was praised, and at a time when being Jewish still meant something. Yet Paul thought it was possible for them to live together in harmony. Not only that, but to build each other up (chapter 4) in preparation for the coming battle (chapter 6) with ungodly forces.

We need to prepare in every way for battle. We need to strengthen our minds through diligent study of doctrines like open theism and the tenants of Calvinism. But if we don’t, at the same time, have an equally forceful commitment to loving each other and seeking each other’s growth, being right doesn’t really matter, does it? (1 Cor 13)

Why don’t church goers accept discipline?

It is a thoroughly biblical concept that members in the Body of Christ should expect to receive and dispense discipline in keeping with the repeated admonitions throughout scripture to build one another up in maturity. So if that is the case; Why do most church members end up leaving after one of the staff or fellow members rebukes them harshly?

Harsh rebukes are only valid in the context of an organic relationship. Most churches, however, are businesses. Its really hard not to be when you have assets, staff, bank accounts, etc.

When you are attending a church that operates as a business, characterized by a view of membership that is more limited than “the body of Christ” (which is the only type of “church membership” the Bible speaks of), it is easy to see how someone who receives a harsh rebuke would feel free to take their business elsewhere. No one sticks around at a restaurant or a department store while the employee berates them. And no one sticks around a country club (who also have memberships) when the members there rebuke them.

Right or wrong are largely immaterial as the main reason the people are assembled in such circumstances is to partake in the benefits of membership, which, in the case of most local churches is pure entertainment, be it from the pastor (the one-man show), the praise and worship team (the musical), or any other pageantry the organization deems appropriate (children’s programs, guest entertainers, err “evangelists”, etc.).

Discipline is only valid in the context of a relationship whose aim is not entertainment or cooperation in a program or business venture. Discipline is painful, its not fun, and as such it can only be tolerated if it is carried out under the umbrella of something worth being disciplined for.

In too many circumstances, “church discipline” is merely a euphemism for bringing someone into the fold. That is, ensuring their behavior conforms to the standards acceptable to the organization. In most cases, the question of whether the person’s behavior has violated any transcendent laws is never asked or considered.

Since most churches operate as businesses and not organic communities, it should come as no surprise that discipline is considered to be a cost of membership by most church members and not a vital component to maturing as a follower of Christ (the head of the singular church).

If we view church as a small club, isolated from the rest of the body of Christ, then we will view discipline by members of that club as merely their opinions. If, however, we view church as the assembly of God’s people we will view discipline/rebuke as a necessary part of building one another up in order to make the body of Christ stronger.

One view of discipline serves to promote the well being of an organization that will not last beyond this world. The other serves to produce solid citizens/soldiers for the eternal Kingdom of God.

So pastors, before you complain about people not accepting your discipline you should ask yourself: Am I disciplining them to be good complacent members in my little fiefdom or am I training them up to be warriors in a kingdom that is far bigger than my petty 501c3 nonprofit fiefdom?

Why I’m not enthusiastic about your church either

In a conversation regarding the post, Why I don’t want to go to your church, I came to the revelation that even if pastors and church staff are aware of the issue of declining church attendance that plagues most churches in America today, they still manage to miss the reason for the decline and thus their proposals for fixing the problem are doomed to failure from infancy.

First off, we need to look more closely at the problem.

When we define “the church” as a 501c3 non-profit organization, its little wonder that people are not enthusiastic about participating in programs that amount to glorified marketing schemes.

Rather, what we should do is step back and ask some hard questions about how we view the Christian life. What does it mean to walk in obedience to Christ, our Lord? What does it mean to live in fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters who are also “in Christ”? And finally; What does it mean to let our lights sigh before men?

I believe that among other things, social media will help produce as significant an impact on the body of Christ as the printing press did.

So what of the solution?

Well the solution is not to merely get mad at people for not being enthusiastic about joining yet another civil club. Its also not to encourage them to be more active in your particular civil club. Its also not to get mad at them for preferring a more entertaining civil club down the street (you know, the one with the disco lights and full screen projector1 ). The solution is for us to admit that what the reformation started, it did not complete.

What I mean by that is this: The reformers correctly identified the dependence on the priests of the Roman Catholic Church as a problem. They also correctly identified the Bible as the primary source of authority. However in splitting with Rome they neglected to get rid of Rome’s worst habit, viewing the church as a business.

The solution to the plight of the American church, therefore, is to work on reclaiming a Biblical understanding of “church”.

We’ve been attending a home church with our 3 small children for a couple of years now. At first the whole “we’re going to church” used to confuse our kids when we would switch between going to a building erroneously labeled a “church” and a small gathering of believers living out the Biblical concept. Now, however, our kids are well aware of the two seperate and distinct meanings of the word “church” and they ask us whenever we tell them “we’re going to church”, “the building or the people?”

Believers in general need to come to the realization that the 501c3 non-profit club they have “membership” in is not the church spoken of in Scripture. Oh I’m not saying its wrong to be a member of such an organization, but we need to stop lying to ourselves and others by expecting such membership to amount to anything more than membership at the local YMCA.

So why am I not enthusiastic about your church? Because I’m not impressed by your programs, your entertainment, your pastor, etc.

However I am enthusiastic about the church, headed by Christ alone. Now that is something worth getting excited about.

  1. I’m thinking about Andy Stanley’s church in particular here. []

Pastoral worries

[HT Alan Knox]

Alan shares a list of things he doesn’t worry about as a pastor (teaching elder) in a home church context.

They include:

  • getting fired for saying the wrong thing
  • sermon preparation week after week
  • finding someone to “fill in”
  • budgets1
  • the meeting place
  • number of participants2

I find it amazing how prevalent professional pastor burn out is and how no one wants to come to the obvious and Biblical conclusion. No one man or small group of men should have to shoulder the burden of caring for and feeding an assembly of Christians.

  1. Professional pastors have to worry about these things because they are business owner/operators. []
  2. Large events are not required if money from multiple sources is not need to cover the expensive overhead. []