Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blog Post: Sunday Service Satire

Mark Miller (@LeadersServe), "We don't get any points for doing the wrong thing well."

"Sunday's Coming" (link below) is a great satire on the typical church service design--funny without being nasty.

Typical churches execute the medieval model of church with world class skill (trained experts on stage inspiring the crowd). They have figured the "formula" out. But is that right model?

Anyways, enjoy this clip! (It's 3 min long.) It will make you smile and think at the same time. Thanks to Mark Simmons for sharing it with me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blog Post: (Part 3) Member-Driven Values & Practices Unpacked

Authentic Community is how we sum up many, many, many verses calling the church to pursue honest relationships, godly love, and practical support.

A couple of examples:

John 13:34-35 (Jesus speaking)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Galatians 5:13-15
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Pursuing Authentic Community is a biblical mandate. And…

Authentic Community is the foundation for all the other purposes of the church. Being in relationship with each other, being a true community, multiplies the effectiveness of every other church activity.  For example:
Teaching to people you know helps you select content.
Serving your friends makes it easier to discover needs and meet them appropriately.
Worshiping with family allows freedom of expression.

We carefully defined this crucial phrase.

Authentic Community is a place where we…
Know and are known,
Love and are loved,
Serve and are served,
Challenge and are challenged,
Celebrate and mourn together.

"Authentic Community functions for the church body like the nervous system in our physical body. It provides awareness of pain, enabling us to better care for wounds, and awareness of pleasure, motivating us and allowing us to celebrate together. Physically, the nervous system also provides feedback that is critical for coordinated muscle movement. It’s much harder to move a limb when you can’t feel it, like when you wake up with an arm that’s fallen asleep and numb. It’s a foundational system that enables the other systems to work the way they are supposed to." --Awake From Atrophy

Real relationships of love in our church are too important to leave to the leftover time. Developing this requires serious time and energy every week.

Unfortunately, during a typical church service in America,  maybe a couple of minutes is dedicated for people to shake hands and exchange simple greetings. They hope the members will come early or stay late to connect further.

Even the design of a typical church sanctuary discourages authentic building. With both pews and chairs-in-rows, it's physically uncomfortable and socially awkward to turn and face anywhere besides the stage.

I know. It sounds more spiritual to call it an altar, not stage. But it functions like a stage--a raised platform to make it easier to see the people performing--than an altar. Nothing on that platform is being consigned to the flames as a sacrifice to God--unless you count pastoral burnout. :)

I'll share practical ideas on how we do that in other posts. For now, know that this is a huge value for us with tangible expressions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blog Post: (Part 2) Member-Driven Church Values & Practices Unpacked

"Relationship With Jesus" wasn't on my original list of core values. Don't worry, I do think it's important. I just figured our first core value, Biblical Foundation, made calling out having a relationship with Jesus redundant. I mean, that idea is kind of all over the Bible. :)

But I was convinced by my fellow church members that it was necessary to name it separately.

Sadly, it IS possible to be educated on the Bible but reject Jesus. It is not knowledge of God that brings freedom and life. It is a relationship with God.

James, as usual, puts it pretty bluntly: "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder." James 2:19

Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:22-23 (one of the most sobering passages in the Bible to me), "Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.'"

Yeah, after being reminded of these verses (among others), it wasn't hard to convince me that 'Relationship With Jesus' should get its own listing in our core values.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Blog Post: (Part 1) Member-Driven Church Values & Practices Unpacked

Biblical Foundation, claims first on our list for a reason. All belief systems begin with axioms--core assumptions that can't be proven. The starting point you choose dramatically impacts the conclusions you end up with. All of us--Christian, Buddhist, or Atheist--believe and behave as we do because of our axioms.

For member-driven churches, the source for all truth is the belief the Bible was inspired by God, is inerrant, and has been preserved throughout the centuries. We evaluate every idea by how it aligns with the Bible.

We base our doctrines solely on the Bible (like many churches). This was one of the pillars of the Great Reformation in the 1500's (Sola Scriptura is the fancy Latin name). The Reformers demoted the teachings of the church fathers from equal status with the Bible. Doctrines not supported clearly by Bible passages don't have great weight.

We also base our church practices solely on the Bible (unlike many churches). Studying the Bible and church history, I realized that much of modern church practices are "extra-biblical". They're not in direct conflict with the Bible, but they aren't required either.

"The Great Reformation changed the world for the good in the 1500’s. But its improvements were largely confined to doctrinal practices. There were massive problems with the doctrine of that era and their thinking desperately needed to be reformed—to return to a biblical foundation. While many of the leaders of the Reformation called us to continually rethink and reform, we pretty much quit after they died. And they didn’t examine their church practices much at all. Yes, some of the most glaring church practices were stopped, like the selling of indulgences, where people could buy the 'right' to sin. But the Protestant church that emerged from that turmoil carried with it a structure and strategy that was very similar to the culturally compromised church it had broken away from. That medieval model of church solidified in an era when being clergy meant being one of the elite who could actually read. The educated few stood in front of the ignorant many and explained the scriptures to them. It was a church model shaped by the cultural forces of its time, not through serious study of the scripture. We don’t live in that era anymore. It’s time to finish the Reformation and return not just our beliefs but also our behavior to a radically biblical foundation.” ~ Awake From Atrophy

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blog Post: What is a "Member-Driven" Church?

I ought to define the phrase I use so often. It's the name of the model my church uses ( and it's what my book Awake From Atrophy is about. What does it mean?

First, it's NOT:
a new denomination
a new theological approach
a house church movement (you can be member-driven with few OR many)

We're probably very similar to you in our doctrines. And if we differ on an issue, it's probably has nothing to with us being member-driven.

It's a new (based on ancient) leadership structure and liturgy.

Our Core Values (foundational truths that shape us):

Biblical Foundation--what it sounds like
Relationship with Jesus--it's not just knowledge about God
Authentic Community--the platform for all the other purposes
Growth Through Practice--information by itself isn't enough
Every Member Ministers--not just an abstract identity, but a weekly behavior
More Than Stage Ministry--giving honor and time on Sun to more than group presentation ministry methods

Our Defining Practices (our best guess for practicing our values):

Eating Meals Together--our primary community building time
Bible Study--every other week small group discussions (not sermons)
Open Ministry--every other week each member comes prepared to minister to others based on their spiritual gifts (music usually fits in here)
Ministry Beyond Our Members--each member finds a way to make a difference in the world based on their gifts & resources
Member-Driven Funding--members don't mindlessly give 10% to a general church fund, but ask God how much to give to whom (leaders make members aware of needs rather than decide for them)
Simple Schedule--only one official gathering each week leaving time for our members to be in community as well as be salt and light to the world

For multiple years I studied the New Testament and church history, asking, "If I could remove all my cultural assumptions, what would the Bible say church is supposed to look like?" I discovered a lot of what I call "extra-biblical" ideas shaping our church practices. When you remove our cultural additions over the centuries (who says sermons are the required/best teaching format?) the above list of values and practices is what I found in the Bible.

After doing church like this since 2006, I can tell you that not only does it work, but it's the most spiritually stimulating and refreshing way to do church I know. It's not duty because it's biblical. It's wonderful!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Food At Church

Recently, I discovered that I love bobotie, an African casserole, at our member-driven church (see the pic for an example of bobotie). That day, I also discovered that one of my fellow church members had her computer stolen by her adult son.

See, we eat meals as a part of our church gatherings every Sunday. We do this because one of our core values is developing Authentic Community and another is Growth Through Practice. If being the Family of God is important (the Bible's most common metaphor for the church) then we want to do more than talk about building relationships. We want to practice that during our church gatherings.

We believe that Authentic Community is a multiplier of all the other functions of a church. The more you know each other--really know each other as friends--the more effectively you can teach, encourage, serve, and give to one another. When  you don't really know the others in your church, you're forced to guess--or choose the lowest common denominator in hopes that most of the room will get something out of it.

Eating a "share-a-dish" or "potluck" meal at church every Sunday is a crucial practice for establishing Authentic Community in our church family. There are other ways to catalyze community, and we do those from time to time, but we schedule meals every week for three reasons:

1. Examples of this are all over the Bible, including a half chapter of rules on handling the meal portion of your church service (1 Corinthians 11.17-34).

2. Eating together is one of the most effective AND easy ways to foster relationships. God wired us to bond over food and every human culture in history reflects this.

3. It's fun! We name a food theme for each week and people prepare dishes accordingly (if they want to--no requirements). That's how, on African food day, I discovered that the unique mix of beef, scrambled eggs, fruit, curry, etc that is bobotie was a new favorite of mine. (I've made it twice so far.)

And, during the conversation over food, I was told about the adult son who had run off and took their property (again). That authentic conversation led to another family sharing their troubles with a sister, and another family with their in-laws. and in the end we chose our current teaching series on setting godly boundaries.

More and more churches I know are adding this element to their church, even if on a monthly basis. It's so easy to implement and makes a big difference right away.

Here are some creative meal theme ideas to make it interesting:
  • African
  • Finger Food
  • Red & Green: bring dishes that include one or the other color--or both colors
  • C-Food: bring something that starts with "C" (great choice if you want to make sure chocolate shows up)
  • Kid's Favorites: bring what your kids love most--or what you loved most as a kid
If you don't choose to eat meals at church, that's fine. Let's not confuse the method with the purpose. (I still recommend trying bobotie.) But if not food at church, what is your strategy for stimulating relationships in your church family? I'd love to learn what you are doing.

Whatever you do, don't just cross your fingers and hope something happens. Building relationships is far too important to leave it to the "leftover" time.