Tag Archives: church

What does a simple church look like?

When You Come Together from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

Share/Bookmark

Tidal Wave – Finishing what the reformation started

Tidal Wave from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

Problems with church planting: Planting in the wrong season

In most church planting strategies. Failing churches are expected to fail, leading to the needless waste of untold amounts of resources. Not to mention alienating potential customers through negative shopping experiences. This pessimistic approach to failing churches is apparently borne of the desire to avoid the hard conversations that might otherwise save some businesses from failing1. Then again, since the SBC consists of loosely affiliated churches2 I suppose the tactic is wholly in line with the overall church polity. After all, not many individual businesses concern themselves with assisting other businesses in a purely altruistic fashion3.

Proverbs tells us that everything has a season. And church planting is no different. However, rather than seeing this as a season for planting (which carries with it the idea of a net gain) I would argue that this is the perfect season for tending to fields which have become weak, sickly, and unproductive. Rather than planting new businesses or crops while allowing others to fail, we should be making the wiser investment decision4 to patch up failing churches. That may mean that we need to revisit SBC polity and seriously ask ourselves whether it is time to change the governmental structure of the SBC or, as a less invasive option, produce material designed to help failing churches adapt to current market conditions.

Regardless of how we go about attempting to salvage failing churches, the tactic of writing them off and allowing the resources they contain (which includes people, our brothers in Christ) is needlessly wasteful. And it is actually a variation of the broken window fallacy to assume that more churches is the same as church growth.

In my next post I will explore the problem of excess supply.

  1. A corollary can be drawn here with how the Great Commission Resurgence task force refused to tackle the serious issue of duplication of services and duties between internal organizations such as the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. []
  2. Decentralized, voluntary collaboration is the hallmark of the SBC. At least it was until recently. Now the trend is to more centralized power and a much more ridged hierarchy. In the past the SBC used to operate from the bottom up, and while that is still how the convention works on paper, in practice the SBC has increasingly become more and more centralized. A hallmark of this trend is the emphasis placed on key positions of leadership and the marked weakening of local associations and churches. []
  3. Contrast this with the account in Acts of Paul collecting money from a diverse group of congregations to bring a gift of money to the persecuted church in Jerusalem. []
  4. Even secular businesses understand that it is far cheaper to keep an existing customer from leaving than it is to gain a new customer. []

Problems with church planting: A saturated market

One of the saddest things to watch is when a business fails by refusing to recognize the reality of their market. What’s even sadder is when these businesses decide that the solution is not to invest in learning, but rather to spend more time and energy in establishing a plethora of new establishments in hopes that a few will find purchase and become productive. The problem with this approach, however, is that by ignoring market conditions, they are just as likely to accelerate their own demise as they are to facilitate growth.1

The market condition in which church businesses2 find themselves is not very good. In fact, according to the statistics which are coming out year after year, they are downright dismal. Baptisms are down, the membership is growing older, giving is down, and if something is not done soon, thousands of church businesses are faced with the real prospect of closing up shop. In fact, many already have.

So what do the Southern Baptists plan to do about this? Well the buzz in the past few years has been church planting. In fact, the North American Mission Board has recently announced it’s intention to direct the majority of it’s efforts towards planting new churches in North America, specifically in the north and Canada. I suppose the hope here is the akin to throwing a bunch of mud at a wall and hoping some of it sticks.

But what about the practical implications of encouraging and funding many new start-up businesses in an already saturated market?

In economics 101 we learn that every market contains a saturation limit. This fact is readily obvious here in the Bible-belt where a church can be found on almost every corner and mega-churches are a dime a dozen.

From a business analysis perspective it is hard to see how the approach of starting new businesses in a saturated market makes much sense at all, especially since donations are a finite resource. In my next post, I will address the market conditions in areas which do not have an abundance of buildings to service an underdeveloped market.

  1. For a good example of this market phenomenon, think about the recent mortgage crisis and how banks decided to employ a staggering amount of leverage to squeeze more profit out of a saturated financial market. Sure, the fact that the lending practices were flawed to the core didn’t help either, but that could have been easily corrected for if they had taken the time to grow slowly and deliberately. []
  2. If you wonder why I use this particular phrase, I invite you to visit my previous post in this series where I define terms such as “church”. []

Church as family

Elroy Bosch has recently written an excellent post titled “A (not-so-secret) Secret to Great Church Life”. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • Families Genuinely Take Care of One Another.
  • Families Spend Time Together.
  • Families Show One Another Affection.
  • Families Grow.1
  • Families Share Responsibility.

I think he sums it up nicely in the outset:

Today, the overbearing metaphor influencing the way we think in the church is not family but the corporation metaphor. And not only is it absent from the New Testament, it does violence to the spirit of Christianity. Because from God’s standpoint, the church is primarily a family. His family, in fact.

Alan Knox comments:

Those first Christians knew all about hierarchy and organization and even corporate structures. But, instead of employing that type of language, they referred to the church as family.

  1. Numerically and in maturity. But families do not grow exponentially because that would hinder the growth in maturity of all the members. []

Church planting, the WSJ examines the market driven church in America

I recently ran across this article in the WSJ thanks to Ed Stetzer, Lifeway’s church planting guru. The article examines the whole church planting movement (or fad) in light of entrepreneurial practices that other small business or startups could emulate.

Did you catch that?

Other small businesses or startups.

Where in Scripture are we given a picture of the church as a business institution?

This article is rather sad in that it gives a good idea of just how market-driven the church in America is.

Here are a few choice quotes:

small businesses could take a page from churches when it comes to getting people to open their wallets.

Another useful strategy: getting to know local businesspeople, who can work wonders by talking up the church to customers.

It also helps the church seem less focused on money.

(Emphasis mine)

Simple Church now rents space that contains 14 screens in one multiplex and six in another.

Note: Not to be confused with simple church.

several parents told him that programs for kids were essential in any church that sought them as regular members. But they warned him that those programs shouldn’t duplicate offerings already in abundance in the community—and they shouldn’t be scheduled at times that competed with established activities.

Attending a local church

Much is made of “the local church” today but I wonder, do we really know what the term means. More importantly, do we know what that term meant to the early Christians?

In an excellent post by Alan Knox, he writes:

..“church” in the NT (when not used of the “universal” church), always designates a geographical group of people. (UPDATE: When I say “a geographical group of people,” I mean a group of people in the same geographical area. HT: Lew) For example, there is the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Ephesus, etc. Yes, there are churches based in homes. But there is no indication that these churches were removed (separate) from the geographical church in the respective city.

However, today we use the term “local church” differently. We do not use “church” to specify a “geographical locale”, but instead we use the term to differentiate based on structure, organization, theology, etc. For example, the people in the houses around me attend four different “churches”. In fact, even though we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (in theory), we rarely interact. And, this is considered normal.

I think Alan is on to something here and it makes me wonder; Why do institutional churches tend to downplay this clear teaching in Scripture? Could it be that we love our sects more than God?

Wordy Wednesday: ekklēsia

What it means

Greek

ἐκκλησία

Transliteration/Pronunciation

ekklēsia/ek-klā-sē’-ä

Strong’s

G1577

Definition

This word is generally rendered “Church” in the New Testament and pastors like to make a big deal about part of this word’s meaning as “the called out ones” but few go further and point out that the “called out ones” referred to a political assembly that met primarily to make decisions (which sheds more light on Jesus’s comment about agreeing with one another in Matthew 18:19).

Ekklesia is a curious choice of words for Christ’s body given it’s political connotations, makes me wonder what impact it would have on our civic duties if we were to truely consider our citizenship in the Body of Christ to be of utmost importance.

Would that make us un-American? Would we be willing to risk the label?

Where it’s found1

Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 9:10, Deuteronomy 18:16, Deuteronomy 23:1, Deuteronomy 23:2, Deuteronomy 23:3, Deuteronomy 23:8, Deuteronomy 31:30, Joshua 8:35, Judges 20:2, Judges 21:5, Judges 21:8, 1 Samuel 17:47, 1 Samuel 19:20, 1 Kings 8:14, 1 Kings 8:22, 1 Kings 8:55, 1 Kings 8:65, 1 Chronicles 13:2, 1 Chronicles 13:4, 1 Chronicles 28:2, 1 Chronicles 28:8, 1 Chronicles 29:1, 1 Chronicles 29:10, 1 Chronicles 29:20, 2 Chronicles 1:3, 2 Chronicles 1:5, 2 Chronicles 6:3, 2 Chronicles 6:12, 2 Chronicles 6:13, 2 Chronicles 7:8, 2 Chronicles 10:3, 2 Chronicles 20:5, 2 Chronicles 20:14, 2 Chronicles 23:3, 2 Chronicles 28:14, 2 Chronicles 29:23, 2 Chronicles 29:28, 2 Chronicles 29:31, 2 Chronicles 29:32, 2 Chronicles 30:2, 2 Chronicles 30:4, 2 Chronicles 30:13, 2 Chronicles 30:17, 2 Chronicles 30:23, 2 Chronicles 30:24, 2 Chronicles 30:25, Ezra 2:64, Ezra 10:1, Ezra 10:8, Ezra 10:12, Ezra 10:14, Nehemiah 5:7, Nehemiah 5:13, Nehemiah 7:66, Nehemiah 8:2, Nehemiah 8:17, Nehemiah 13:1, Job 30:28, Psalms 22:22, Psalms 22:25, Psalms 26:5, Psalms 26:12, Psalms 35:18, Psalms 40:9, Psalms 68:26, Psalms 89:5, Psalms 107:32, Psalms 149:1, Proverbs 5:14, Lamentations 1:10, Joel 2:16, Micah 2:5, Matthew 16:18, Matthew 18:17, Acts 5:11, Acts 7:38, Acts 8:1, Acts 8:3, Acts 9:31, Acts 11:22, Acts 11:26, Acts 12:1, Acts 12:5, Acts 13:1, Acts 14:23, Acts 14:27, Acts 15:3, Acts 15:4, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:41, Acts 16:5, Acts 18:22, Acts 19:32, Acts 19:39, Acts 19:41, Acts 20:17, Acts 20:28, Romans 16:1, Romans 16:4, Romans 16:5, Romans 16:16, Romans 16:23, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 6:4, 1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 10:32, 1 Corinthians 11:16, 1 Corinthians 11:18, 1 Corinthians 11:22, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:12, 1 Corinthians 14:19, 1 Corinthians 14:23, 1 Corinthians 14:28, 1 Corinthians 14:33, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 14:35, 1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Corinthians 16:1, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:18, 2 Corinthians 8:19, 2 Corinthians 8:23, 2 Corinthians 8:24, 2 Corinthians 11:8, 2 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 1:2, Galatians 1:13, Galatians 1:22, Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 3:21, Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:24, Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:27, Ephesians 5:29, Ephesians 5:32, Philippians 3:6, Philippians 4:15, Colossians 1:18, Colossians 1:24, Colossians 4:15, Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:4, 1 Timothy 3:5, 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Timothy 5:16, Philemon 1:2, Hebrews 2:12, Hebrews 12:23, James 5:14, 3 John 1:6, 3 John 1:9, 3 John 1:10, Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:20, Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:18, Revelation 2:23, Revelation 2:29, Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:6, Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:13, Revelation 3:14, Revelation 3:22, Revelation 22:16

  1. If anyone is curious how I am citing Greek words in the Hebrew Old Testament, I am using the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint which we have good evidence that Jesus himself used and quoted from. []

Don’t get caught up in civilian affairs

Today is July the 3rd. Tomorrow, most Americans will celebrate the birth of our nation. The day after that, most Churches will echo those celebrations with services bursting with national pride including patriotic music, tales of freedom bought at a high price, and special recognition of the brave men and women who keep us safe at night.

Sadly, most people reading this will not see anything wrong with the series of events I’ve outlined above.

I’m not sure if this is because we have been brought up with such an unashamed blending of nationalism and Christianity or whether we really do believe that the sacrifice and freedom bought by American soldiers holds a candle to the sacrifice and freedom bought by God’s only Son. I’m also not sure we really understand how our brethren around the world view this unashamed blending of the political and the Holy. And finally, I am not really sure most Americans really care that these events rival only Christmas in their display of the Church’s captivity by the American culture.

One of the best examples of this unholy blending is from the resolutions made during the recent Southern Baptist Conference 2009, the denomination I am a member of.

Join with the American Family Association in “calling on the Pepsi-Cola Company to remain neutral in the culture war in our country by refraining from promoting the gay/lesbian lifestyle and agenda.”

This may seem innocuous at first, but the AFA is a.) not the Church and b.) a VERY political organization.

The Order of Business Committee received a motion stipulating that the convention post the American flag, accompanied by an honor guard, at the convention’s annual meetings.

This motion was made in a denomination whose unifying goal is to reach the nations with the Gospel.

Produce only American-made Vacation Bible School resources.

It’s hard to tell whether this motion was made more out of misplaced national pride or a poor understanding of economics.

Declare a “Sanctity of Life Year” in the near future.

This, and many other motions, were intended as direct responses to actions of the current Presidential administration. While they may be good ideas in general, the fact that they are reactionary and politically motivated speaks poorly of our supposedly Christ-centered worldview.

Start a petition to “end abortion in America and the funding of Planned Parenthood, along with all other abortion-providing entities.”

Motions like make me raise the question “Why only America?” almost instinctively.

Condemning President Obama for declaring June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month.

Who are we to condemn anyone? Additionally, what good does such a motion do other than reinforce a negative image in the GLBT movement’s mind?

Adopt the U.S. Christian Flag “as a tangible symbol to unify the American believers under one flag to fulfill the Great Commission.”

This last one is my favorite because it truly sums up the whoring we’ve done when it comes to fusing our Christianity with our national pride.

Greg Boyd, author of “The myth of a Christian nation“, produced an excellent  sermon series entitled “The Cross and the Sword” where he outlines the unbiblical and often antithetical attitude fusing the kingdom of God (identified by the Cross) and the kingdom of the world (identified by the sword).

Shane Claiborne, author of “Jesus for President“, has also frequently addressed the problem of fusing the two kingdoms and he makes an interesting observation in one of his sermons. Specifically, fusing the two kingdoms has the unfortunate consequence of creating an unnatural tension within soldiers who are tasked with killing people in the name of Caesar. Because of this fusing of kingdoms, are also told that what they are doing is somehow “God’s will” so that, while they know killing is wrong and evil, we (that is, the Church) don’t even acknowledge the artifacts of a fallen world they are wrestling with because of our nationalistic blinders.

Now, to be fair, Aristotle once said “Man is by nature a political animal” and I believe this issue is more complex than simply advocating for some sort of Kantean wall to be built between our religious and political convictions. One of the best debates I’ve heard on the extent of involvement a Christian should have with the government was held between Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, and Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, at the National Pastor’s Convention. The subject of a Christian’s relationship and responsibility to the government under which they find themselves is complex and very nuanced1.

Even with all the complexity and nuances surrounding this issue of church and state and how we are to live as a whole being in both realms,  we still know some things are just plain wrong.

For example, when we start producing themed Bibles like “The American Patriot’s Bible2 we give fuel to those who stand back and equate Christianity with the Republican party and with America as a whole.

When politicians run for office using their “Christianity” as a selling point, why don’t we (as the Church) call them to the carpet and ask them to just stop? Or, as an atheist friend of mine3 once commented regarding the recent debacle with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

…like the Sanford guy, he’s quoting the bible and stuff, but if he REALLY believed at his core the bible type stuff then he would be more afraid of God than the media.

He would not have done that stuff at all.

He’s only upset he got caught.

This type of political posturing on the Bible is even worse when we consider that the majority of the founding fathers, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, etc. were deists, cutting out large portions of their Bibles they found untenable, or very liberal in their beliefs and interpretation of Scripture (also known as Episcopalian) at best. The common chord among the founding fathers was their belief and upholding of virtue as necessary for the forming of the republic. Since most of them were raised in a predominantly Christian culture, their sense of virtue was largely shaped by the Bible. We shouldn’t, however, draw from this correlation any inference that the founding fathers were any more or less devout in their following of Christ than the political leaders we see today.

The fact remains, however, that Jesus himself is the chief proponent of the separation of Church and state4 who avoided political issues5, taught that the sword was not a part of the kingdom he was ushering in6, told us to love our enemies7, did not advocate political rebellion8, and who willingly suffered the judgements of a corrupt government9.

Politics, national politics that is, has no place in the Church. One can easily make a case that the first time the Church was fused with a nation it severely damaged the Church. In fact, I would point out that every time in history where the Church has been wed to the state we have seen some of the worst atrocities and misrepresentations of Christ there have ever been.

Francis Schaeffer said it best in his book, “The Great Evengelical Disaster” pg. 118,

…we must stand against those who would naively baptize all in the past and that would wrap Christianity in the country’s flag.

We should also keep in mind 2Ti 2:4,

No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

National politics are temporal, a trap to sap our time and energy in an otherwise good intention of changing the world and culture around us for good.

However the reality is that laws don’t change people, only Christ does. Let’s keep our eyes focused on Him Sunday and resist the urge to wrap our Christianity in our nation’s flag.

UPDATE (7/17): Since posting this blog I found a deconversion testimony from a former pastor that sums up much of the dangers I mention in this post with the following statement:

A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.

I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones.

I hope that you are as grieved when you read those words as I am. The blending of politics and religion we have become infatuated with in this country has to stop.

  1. A great book on this subject is Francis Schaeffer’s ‘A Christian Manifesto‘ []
  2. Here is an excellent commentary on this Bible by Boyd. []
  3. The author of LegalizeThought.com []
  4. Luk 20:25 []
  5. Act 1:6 []
  6. Mat 26:52 []
  7. Mat 5:44 []
  8. Joh 18:36 []
  9. Which harmonizes with what Paul tells persecuted Christians in Rom 13:3-4 []

Listening for the voice of God

Listening for the voice or looking for the will of God are trendy topics these days. Much ink has been spilled and many conferences have been produced around the simple question; “What does God want me to do?”. WWJD indeed?

For those of you who are wondering about the phenomenon I am talking about, here is an article that expresses the route most Christians take when attempting to answer the question above.

First, this desire to know and find God’s will1  generally comes about from a right desire to obey God in all facets of life which, therefore, appears to be a mark of one’s spirituality if we tell others that we are “listening to God”. In fact, we have many places in Scripture where we are commanded to listen to the voice of the Lord and not to harden our hearts. In fact, one evangelist used Hebrews 3:7-11 in conjunction with his evangelistic presentation to try to convince people that the feelings they had were really promptings from the Holy Spirit.

Second, the struggle comes in because this “voice of God” is usually rather elusive and the one in search of it is often left without a clear and concise answer to the question they are asking2. Many teachers use Elijah’s experience in the wilderness3 as an example here.

John Piper and Mark Dever have both written excellent articles on this subject, both offering very good outlines and rebuttals. But the most comprehensive work I’ve found has been a doctorial dissertation done by Garry Friesen which subsequently became a book titled, Descision Making and the Will of God.

The bottom line is that workmen approved by God4 know how to rightly divide Scripture, not some vague inner impression that may or may not be God’s voice.

From even a cursory reading of the Old Testament and New Testament we can see that when God spoke, the intended hearers knew beyond a shadow of a doubt both who was speaking and what was being said. It is only because of an intense and misguided5 desire for “religious experiences”6 that we tend, more often than not, to seek the “will of God” outside the definitive Word he left for us.

How we go about learning God’s will for our life (let alone others’ lives) matters very much. It is wrong for us to ask someone to trust our religious experience. It does not matter how real they are/were for us and regardless of how convinced we may be that they are genuinely from God, the fact is that we are not prophets which is what we would end up being if the generally accepted “voice of God” view is accurate.

Mary Baker Eddy, one of the founders of Christian Science movement, based her theology almost exclusively on the belief that people today can and should “listen to the voice of God” as it gave them more revelation than what was found in Scripture. In the most extreme sense7, one can also cite Joseph Smith and Muhammad‘s extra-biblical revelation in the same vein of “hearing from God”.

We should rather stick to the objective facts8 when it comes to what we claim and proclaim as the “Word of God” which, when carefully evaluated, can only be the Scriptures God himself wrote and preserved and it alone is what our faith should be based and built upon.

One final note, religious experiences are wholly bad in themselves but we should never ask someone to rely upon OUR experiences since that would be asking them to place their trust in us rather than God.

At this point I know many will ask: What about the Holy Spirit? This is another area I fear we have not taught very clearly on which I’ll address in another post, but I wanted to address the cancer this whole “voice/will of God” notion is in the Church today. Something I believe produces undue anxiety in too many Christians. Crippling them with a heavy yoke and burden which looks nothing like he light and easy yoke Christ claimed to bring in Matthew 11:30.

  1. Often expressed in the exhortation by many pastors to “listen for the still small voice of God, more on that later, though. []
  2. “Who should I marry?”, “What house should I buy”, etc… []
  3. 1 Kings 19:11-13 []
  4. 2 Timothy 2:14-15 []
  5. Misguided because it smacks of exestentialism. []
  6. That is, a subjective experience we attribute, rightly or not, to divine origin. []
  7. That is, not exactly the same as, but nevertheless, in the same vein. []
  8. Objective, because religious experiences are wholly subjective and therefore non transferable []