Thursday, 31 July 2014

Church - Is it people or a building?

Pagan Christianity book coverIn theory we know the answer to this one. It's people, right? But that's not how we act. It seems every church needs its own building. We talk about meeting "at the church". Some church websites even have the building as the main image.

But the idea of Christians having a special meeting place didn't come about until centuries after Jesus - and the reasons were more cultural than biblical. That in itself, isn't bad but what do these buildings do to church?

The authors describe the effect of church design as turning "fully functioning Christians into 'pew potatoes'".

The arrangement and mood of the building conditions the congregation towards passivity. The pulpit platform acts like a stage, and the congregation occupies the theatre.

As an aside, they also mention the huge cost of our building fetish. In the United States $230 billion is tied up in church real estate - costing billions more each year in debt and maintenance.

This chapter challenges us to stop referring to a building as a church, notice how the building hinders the church, and realise that the building should not be treated as sacred.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to question the assumption that every church needs a building, and discern whether your church would be better without one.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Lyrics to keep men away from church

I recently experienced one of the more man-excluding "worship" songs I've heard in some time.
Beautiful one I love you
Beautiful one I adore
Beautiful one my soul must sing...

Do we really think this helps men worship Jesus? That it's natural for men to speak this way to another male being? Or that beautiful is even a biblically valid term for Jesus? (The answer to that last one is "no" - in the bible that word describes things other than God).

While worship music is not the sole reason for the lack of men in the church today, it certainly does its fair share in making men feel like a fish out of water.

Here's the Murrow test
If you're a man, try singing (or even saying) these lyrics to another man. Your brother, dad or best mate - someone you love, but in a non-sexual way.

Chances are you'll get a weird look in return. This is not a normal way for men to express non-sexual love. The more church sings to God like this, the more men will stay away from church, and from God.

PS. I looked up the full lyrics on the web. The page included a computer-generated Google ad - based on the frequent words in the page. Based on these lyrics, Google chose "Beauty courses" as the most relevant ad. I think that tells us something.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Are we really bible-based?

Pagan Christianity book coverA man wonders about church - as the pastor proclaims the bible for the basis of everything the church does. What does the bible has to do with dressing up. Sitting in an expensive building for an hour a week. Struggling not to yawn, while his kids sit in Sunday school they hate. Good question.

Personally, I've wondered similar things. I once mentioned that all church services seem to go sing-pray-money-preach (the order may vary). I was told that's what Jesus said to do. Thinking about it later, I gave us 0 out of 4.

I can't remember Jesus saying to sing. Both praying and giving Jesus said to do privately. As for spreading the good news, the bible records Jesus in short dialogues outside the church. We've gone the other way with long monologues inside the church.

So, why does the church stray so far from the Jesus it claims to follow? I guess that will be explored in future chapters, but for now, the poem The Calf Path is a great allegory.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

When church is in trouble

In Jesus Wants to Save Christians, the authors warn of some dangers
when a church is known for attracting one particular kind of demographic, like people of this particular age and education level, or that particular social class or personality type.

I was put off by that at first - having spent some time trying to boost young adult ministry. But it seems that's not what the authors were warning of.

They recognise value in being with people that you naturally resonate with, but "when sameness takes over" there is no listening to other perspectives - no stretching, no expanding or opening up.
The beautiful thing is to join with a church ... and find yourself looking around and thinking "What could this group of people possibly have in common?"

A church is where the two people groups with blue hair - young men and older women - sit together.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians book cover
I can see where they're coming from. Apart from anything else, a one-demographic church sends a "you're not welcome here" message to other people. (As I've written about before.

Just this morning a friend describe the 'broad church' he's a part of - and how a wide variety of people form a supportive environment of people trying to follow God. It sounded great.

PS. This is Part 2 of my review of Jesus Wants to Save Christians, by Rob Bell and Don Golden.
See Part 1 - Why God hates church
Stay tuned (or subscribe to this blog) for Part 3.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Shared Books - Shared Blessings

Sharedbookshelves makes book sharing easy. It's a website, and phone app, that enables church members to list, share and borrow Christian books with one another.

bookshelves

How it works
As members add their individual books, a searchable online library is born. Church member Dan may be interested in reading a book by Shane Claibourne. Sharedbookshelves shows that Steve has a copy. Now Dan can borrow it from Steve next time they meet.
There are extra features to discover, but that's the basic setup.

There's so many good things about an idea like this.

It helps us grow in our Christian walk
Having accessible books means we are more likely to read them. We don't have to worry about the cost - or finding the time to get to a bookstore.

It shows great stewardship
Popular books can be bought by a few people and shared around church, rather than being bought by everyone and left on shelves to gather dust. Apart from financial savings (which could no be donated to mission) it also shows good environmental stewardship of resources, and helps us avoid too much consumerism.

It helps strengthen Christian community
Now there's something for Dan and Steve to talk about on Sunday after church. Typically it's "How's your week been?" "Fine. You?" "Fine.". Now it can be a meaningful discussion of the chapter Dan's just finished reading.

Perhaps it's not surprising that the early believers shared their possessions. It was great then and it can be great now.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Why God hates church

Does God hate church? In pre-Jesus times, religious festivals, Sabbaths, and 'assemblies' were the closest thing they had to 'church'. Here's what Isaiah records as God's word:
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

Why does God feel this way? The answer is in very next line.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.

God seems to resent our worship, when are doing wrong to our neighbours. Not too surprising, for a God who suggests 'love your neighbour as yourself'.

Amos also speaks God's word to those who "oppress the poor and crush the needy".
Away with the noise of your songs. I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river... You who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.
These days we have guitars instead of harps - but I think there's still a lesson for us here.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians book cover
In "Jesus wants to save Christians" the authors look at the United States in the context of these bible passages. But the USA is not alone.

Look around. We (and God) can see so much that is not right. So many instances of the poor and needy being oppressed rather than helped. While music is nice, there's something God loves more. People.

This is Part 1 of my review of Jesus Wants to Save Christians, by Rob Bell and Don Golden.
See Part 2 - When church is in trouble

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Are we ready to live out the Bible?

As you may have picked up from reading my blog, I long for Christianity that transcends the superficial and sometimes tedious, church experience. And so I received a tip-off about a nearby church group that is a little bit different.

Almost halfway through and it was pretty much as-per-usual. The leader's intro, the 'shake-hands-and-say-hello' time, a child baptism, a prayer and some worship. Then up came Hebrews 10:24-25 on the screen.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I wasn't ready for what came next.
A person said how the church felt like family, and that (to the mother of the baptised child) anything they needed .. "just ask". Another person shared his struggle with drug withdrawal symptoms - and that prayer was a powerful release from the craving. The seemingly-unaccompanied mother thanked a couple for supporting her through recent times, saying she wouldn't have made it through without them.

As much as I wasn't expecting all that - and was far from ready to contribute myself - I had massive respect for the people who did, and for the person who came up with the idea. It was incredibly authentic, deeply touching, completely biblical - ad unscripted. Not the sort of thing you normally get in church.

I'd seen those bible verses many times, but usually as a tool for goading irregular church attenders to continue attending. Somehow by concentrating on the "meeting together" bit, we missed the "spur one another on" bit, the "love and good deeds" and "encouraging one another".

It was inspiring to see those words being put into action. On reflection, it was a little disheartening that seeing a church follow through on biblical values was such a surprise.