Consuming Church

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We live in a Western consumeristic world.

This is something I’ve written about before, but it’s still true. And, what matters most isn’t to lament this, but rather to recognize it and “call it out” when we see it. Because, what can (and does) subtly happen is that this Western consumeristic world starts to infect and affect the church.

One way that often happens is through this idea of the church “providing religious experiences” for people. That the goal of coming to church is to have “an experience” in which people encounter God. And, on the surface, there isn’t anything wrong with this. Because, in many ways, that is what I hope happens during our weekend services.

But, when you peel back the layers, you can see how quickly that goes off course. Because, the church doesn’t exist so you can have “an experience.” Church isn’t about you in the first place, and it’s not about me either.

Church is about Jesus calling us to be faithful in His mission in the world.

But, it quickly slides into consumerism when we show up to “experience something” and then rate our experience based on what we were offered, rather than what we brought to it. We talk about what we receive, rather than what expectations and openness we brought with us.

I write all this because it is subtle and dangerous.

And, I know it’s me. I’m more likely to enjoy something that makes me feel good, rather than something that invites me into the hard process of being an apprentice of Jesus.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”

Now, I’m not bemoaning the current state of Christianity. Instead, I’m bemoaning the state of my own soul. Because, I’m shaped by this culture, just like everyone else. And, because of this, I’m tempted to ask, “How was church this week?” – as if I’m somehow outside of it, divorced from it and a spectator, rather than part of it.

Instead, I should be asking different questions, such as:

. “How was I a part of church?” 
. “Did I give, participate and open myself up to being found by Jesus?”

Different questions, but question that I think matter.

Because, it’s so easy to seek a little religious, uplifting experiencing, rather than choose the long road, pursuing holiness in an apprenticeship to Jesus.

So, this post isn’t to “call out” anything else other than to remind us that the temptation to consume church is always there, and it needs to be recognized and, most of all, resisted.

Why Church Isn’t About Me

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I recently read this in a book and it really hit hard…

“What is killing the church today is having the mission focused on keeping Christians within the church happy, well fed, and growing. Discipleship is continually pitted against evangelism and championed as the endgame for the church. The mission cannot be about us – it must be about those who have not crossed the line of faith. The problem is, we like the mission to be about us. And this has caused a spiritual narcissism to invade the church.” (James Emery White, Meet Generation Z)

Wow, right?! He’s not pulling any punches.

His point is that as soon as the focus of the church turns inward, you not only lose focus, you miss out on the point of Christianity. But, it’s so easy, it’s so subtle and it can happen so quickly.

I know this because it can happen with me.

It can be so easy to lose focus and get the priorities wrong. It can be so easy to put myself in the centre. It can be so easy to put my preferences, my personal inclinations and my desires first. It can be so easy to put my needs before the needs of the world around me.

White goes on to say this…

“The individual needs and desires of the believer have become the centre of attention, which is why most churches have as their primary focus reaching and then serving the already convinced. So the mission isn’t making disciples but caring for them.”

Those are challenging words.

But, if we can hear his words honestly, I think he points out a huge temptation for churches – the temptation is to subtly focus on caring for disciples, rather than making disciples. And, of course it matters to care for disciples, but when that becomes the goal or primary focus, you won’t make disciples. The sequence matters. Making disciples will lead you to caring for them, but if you focus on caring for disciples, you won’t make any new ones.

So, I bring this all up because I believe White raises a valid temptation for all disciples of Jesus – the temptation to make the church about us and not others. And that happens in hundreds of simple and subtle ways. But, I know what God is asking of me – to resist that temptation and to join Him in His mission “to go and make disciples.”

Because, it’s not about me; it’s about reaching those who aren’t here yet.

The Main Thing

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Earlier this year, after we got up one morning, Asher asked me, “Daddy, is it school day?” I said, “No Asher, it’s church day!” And, immediately he ran around yelling “YEAH!! Thank you Daddy! It’s church day, Hudson!”

Then I asked him why he loves church so much and he said, “My class, Dad. We talk about Jesus. I love my class.”

Now, I know right off the bat that this seems like a made-up pastor’s story or that our kids are wonderfully spiritual. But, just so you know, our kids are just like your kids – not perfect. In fact, one day when we had a family over, Asher came to supper without any pants on and then yelled through grace. So, perfect we are not.

So, I mention this story not because my kids are spiritual superstars (they are just kids), but because of what Asher said. He said he loves going to church because of Jesus and, for me, this matters so much.

Because, there is a temptation in church ministry to just get people to want to come to church, regardless of why they come. But, what I truly believe is this: What you draw someone with is what you draw someone to. While it is certainly easier to draw people to church with others things, I just don’t think it’s better. Because what you draw them with is what you draw them to.

This is so important in our current culture because it’s easy to fall into the temptation of catering to consumerism – to get used to whatever is “relevant” or “cool” to get people to church, hoping that once we get people there, we can convince them of Jesus. But that switch rarely happens, and is mostly actively resisted. Because, as I’ve said, what we draw them with is what we draw them to.

So, what made me excited about Asher’s comment? He didn’t mention the amazing fun songs (which we have), the great community (which we have) or the playground (which we have). He mentioned Jesus.

While I’m certainly not against great extras in church, I am cautious that our extras don’t ever overshadow Jesus. Because, for me, Jesus is simply the main thing. Asher reminded me of that. In church, Jesus is the main thing. Certainly not the only thing, but He should always be the main thing.

When Being Relevant Becomes Irrelevant

Relevant.pngToday, I want to talk about a buzz word and what I believe is actually a curse on our current church culture: relevance.
What I often hear in and around the church world, and ministry in general, is the need to “be relevant” – that we need to ensure our message meets people where they are at and that it’s “relatable.” It’s then often tied to some new cultural trend that we need to “utilize to reach a new generation.”
Now obviously, at a certain level, this is both obvious and necessary. Jesus met us in our world, and it was certainly both relevant and pertinent to our lives. We need to continue to live and change with our world and where it is moving. So, in this sense, yes, we need to be relevant.
But, in another very specific sense, there is a problem with pursuing relevance in that “being relevant” has moved from the sidelines to the centre. And, whenever relevance becomes the marker of faithfulness or success, that becomes a problem. Because the church is first and foremost not called to be relevant, but rather to be faithful.
Please hear me clearly, this short little post isn’t calling church to be irrelevant. What I am trying to say is that the arbiter of success, the point of a church or the meaning of a church has never been in its relevance, but in its faithfulness. And, I believe that when a church is faithful to its calling, it is incredibly relevant to all of our lives. But, when a church is just trying to be relevant, it does not ensure that it will be faithful.
What I’m seeking to write and bring to our attention is a point about priorities. Relevance is a great thing when it follows faithfulness; it is a disaster when it drives faithfulness or function.
So, what does this mean for all of us today? It means, if you are older and don’t get social media, that’s okay. Be faithful. It means, if you are younger and know all the cool cultural trends and memes, that’s okay. Be faithful. It means, wherever you are at, the focus shouldn’t be on “being relevant,” hip or cool, rather it should always be on being faithful. And, that’s a hard thing, but it’s also the most relevant and life-changing thing.

60th Anniversary!!

I hope you can make it on Sunday, as it is our 60th anniversary celebration. We will be having a free BBQ, cake, bouncy castles, rides, and lots lots more. So you don’t want to miss it. Oh and I’ll be speaking too – but don’t forget about the BBQ. So bring a lawn chair, come out to church, hear about our future, and celebrate in the park afterwards. All the details are below. Hope you can make it!

60th Annivseary

3 Strands of DNA ~ Grace, Gift, and Our Church DNA

grace-1362672On Sunday we opened up a brand new series exploring the different aspects of who we really are. We looked at the ways in which God has designed our church, and some of our “DNA”. I believe that God creates not only unique people, but unique churches with something unique to offer.

So over the next few weeks we want to explore and reveal some of what makes this church, “us”. And we began by exploring grace.

We looked at a really important parable in Matthew 18. Here Peter essentially asks Jesus how many times we should forgive one another. Peter is asking this question in response to realizing that communities aren’t perfect. No church or group is perfect, we all let one another down and sometimes even hurt one another. Peter asks how are we to deal with that? What are the boundaries on forgiveness? How far does grace extend?

And Jesus tells a story of a man who was given an extreme amount of grace as his debt was removed, but then squeeze out this tiny debt from another fellow servant. In essence the story is one we know well: someone abuses grace. The man though who abused the grace given is eventually thrown into prison and suffers for the rest of his life.

And Jesus ends with this deeply challenging saying, “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

And what we unpacked on Sunday was how, if you refuse to give grace, you can’t be saved by grace. That if you reject the grace that is given, by refusing to give it to others, you can’t be captured by it.

Terrence Malik, in his beautiful film The Tree of Life, puts it this way, “The nuns taught us there are two ways through life … the way of Nature… and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.” And that’s true.

But the reason I love our church so much is that it has chosen the way of grace. Grace is given first. And this is harder than justice or law first, but it’s the only way to truly live. Because Jesus always gives us grace first, he died while we were sinners and didn’t deserve what he gave us.

The point is that for me, I believe a huge value of our church is showing grace first. And that we can’t drift from this. And while it may sound tempting and biblical to stand up for TRUTH, for righteousness, for the law, and for justice (which usually means punishing someone) – it isn’t right. Jesus gives grace first. Grace is what everything proceeds from, and we need to follow that lead. Which is why I love the church.

The truth is the past few years at this church have been very good, but this isn’t because I’m good, it’s because the church is gracious. I shared stories of how the church has given me grace over the years, and why that changed me, and changes lives. And I ended with this main point: Keep choosing grace. Because grace is like a muscle, the more you use it the easier it is to give it. The less you give it, the harder and less likely you will be to give it.

So we ended with a simple challenge: to show someone grace today. To not wait but to show someone grace in an everyday way. To let something go, to give something undeserved, to actually take a step. Because the truth is grace changes lives, and it’s the reason I love this church, and I believe it’s our calling to not just believe but live out.

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaKeep choosing grace.

Teaching Points:

  • If we don’t know who we are we can drift from whom God has made us
  • Our DNA: Grace, Transformation, Harmony
  • Grace matters most to me, because I think it matters most to God
  • There is no perfect community, because all community involves broken people
  • The really contentious point of grace isn’t receiving it, but giving it
  • If we reject grace, we can’t be saved by grace.
  • Grace is the thing that makes relationships work.
  • When relationships lose grace they become built on law and legalism but that’s not a relationship. That’s a contract
  • Jesus is a grace-first God.
  • Grace needs to be a habit, not just a belief
  • When you stop practicing grace you start to drift from it

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What would you say are some of our core values? How has someone in this church showed you grace? Why do you think grace is so transformational? Why do you think grace is so hard to show? Who might you be called to show grace to today?

Challenge for the Week: Show grace today

3 Strands of DNA

On Sunday we are starting a brand new series here called: Our DNA: Three Strands ~ Grace, Transformation, and Harmony. We are going to be exploring some of what makes us – “us”. We want to be looking inward and to really examine some of our core values.

Because the truth is if you don’t know what you value, you can drift or lose them.

Holding onto who we are isn’t just important, it’s imperative, because just like how you were designed – I believe God has designed our church in a certain way. We all are unique with unique gifts to the world. And I believe the same is true of our church.

So that’s what we are starting on Sunday looking at the first of our values: grace. It might not be a surprise but it certainly does matter. Hope you can join us.

3 Strands of DNA

An indifferent church isn’t a church

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I read this quote a little while ago, and just couldn’t agree more. I have lots of thoughts on it, lots of ideas how this should shape us. But I think my thought’s will convolute the power of this simple quote. So all I would say is this: we should read this thought, and let it drive us into action because its true.

If a local Church falls into indifference as to what is going on in the rest of the world, it is certainly not a Church. John D. Zizioulas

Thoughts?

 

Do churches actually welcome broken people?

1436392_90820824I want to quote something from Robert Farrar Capon, a brilliant writer. He writes this:

Jesus didn’t shy away from sinners, so why should the church? And don’t tell me the church welcomes sinners.  I know better. It welcomes only sinners who repent and then never seriously need forgiveness again.

And unfortunately I think that may be true. And you might even be able to confirm that, to share stories of how the church let you down, or let someone you know down.

But today I don’t want to use this quote to jump all over the church, and its failings. Because I think that misses the point. It’s so easy to read that quote and say, “yeah the church is screwed up.” To get all high and mighty and condemn those people in the church who don’t get grace, and forgiveness.

But here is the truth: the church is people. And if you follow Jesus you are part of that people, for better or worse.

And this quote loses its convicting and compelling power if it becomes about “other people”. If we are part of the church, we should use this quote to examine our own lives. We should stop, and reflect and ask the Holy Spirit, “Is there anything I need to change in my life”.

Because what I think the Holy Spirit is asking me through this quote is to really examine my life.

  • Do I truly welcome people where they are at, no agenda, with love?
  • Am I truly okay with broken people, or do I expect them to get “fixed”?
  • Am I in anyway being an obstacle to the Holy Spirit working in my community because I’m not really ready to welcome sinners?

Because this quote isn’t about “other people rejecting sinners”. This quote is about each of us asking ourselves, “am I living like Jesus with welcome and hospitality?” And that’s a lot harder question, a lot more personal question, and a much more worthwhile one.

The Future of the Church Isn’t Our Youth…

1205206_64700205It’s been pretty customary to hear for years this phrase, “The youth are the future of the church”. And I certainly understand and agree with the sentiments behind that statement. But it’s actually a bit misleading on two fronts.

First, the youth aren’t the future of the church…they are the church now. Since when are committed followers of Jesus not fully functional members of the church family? Being part of the church is about a decision to follow Jesus together, not about your age, stage, or whether you are out of high school or not. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are not the future of the church, you are the church. Period.

Secondly, this statement “the youth are the future of the church” is misleading in a much more subtle, and dangerous way. Because the way this phrase functions is to assume that the youth are the guarantee of the future of the church. That if we lose the youth, the church’s future is in danger. So we must pour money, time, and effort into developing the best and most current youth ministries.

But this is wrong for two reasons. First, it distances us from the youth themselves. Rather than being persons to be loved, they become a means to what we want (a church in the future). And secondly, and most dangerously, this idea is actually idolatry.

Let me be clear about why this idea of “youth being the future of the church” is idolatry. Because the future of the church is not guaranteed by getting youth to come to church, it is guaranteed by Jesus Christ. The sustaining and growing of the church is not dependent on wonderful youth ministries, but on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to his bride. And while in some ways this point can seem like semantics, it’s actually important because it’s about priorities.

If we assume that “youth are the future” of the church, we can mistakenly forget that the most important thing isn’t getting youth to come to church, but for all of us to come to Jesus. If anything supplants Jesus from the centre of our thought and practice, we will go off course. Youth ministry is absolutely important (I was a youth pastor for 8 years), but it is not primary. Jesus is at the centre and primary. And whenever anything good, like youth ministry, being missional, family ministry, or any other new thing, pushes Jesus to periphery and takes centre stage we’ve missed the point.

Bonhoeffer puts it this way.

The future of the church is not youth itself but rather the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the task of youth not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word of God; it is the task of the church not to capture the youth, but to teach and proclaim the Word of God.

This is what I mean by priorities. We need to first be centred first on Jesus, and not anything else. It is so easy for the desire to have a cool youth ministry, a missionally based church, or any other desire to move Jesus from the centre. This is what we must guard against, if we want to see the future of the church come to pass. Of course youth ministry, being missional, and relevant are all good things. All I’m saying is that they shouldn’t push aside the best and most important thing – a person – Jesus Christ.