Monday, November 21, 2011

More Than Stage Ministry (Part 7: Values & Practices Unpacked)

More than Stage Ministry is so simple we left it off the original values list. We value all forms of ministry equally. Specifically we don't treat stage presentations (i.e. preaching, leading singing, dramas, etc) as more valuable or important.

What you probably just thought was my thinking. Who doesn't already agree with that? How is that a special core value defining us? We've all read Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-26 about the different parts of the body of Christ and how one gift type isn't better than the others.

When I looked closer, though, it became clear this was not as universal as I thought.

True, I've never encountered a church leader who elevated group presentations over the other ministry expressions--at least by what they said. But when you examine their behavior, a different story emerges. Only group presentations are given regular time when on Sunday mornings, for example. Not to mention what their budget allocation and staff hierarchies say about their values. (If you want to know what someone really values, examine their calendar and their bank ledger.)

And it's not just the leaders. Honoring stage gifts more than the other spiritual gifts pervades the church. I have heard, time and time again, the "lay" members who sit quietly in the seats on Sunday speak in reverent awe of those few who are allowed to speak/sing/perform in front of the whole church on a regular basis.

Hear me clearly, It's not that honor isn't appropriate for those who minister well--that's not what concerns me. It's the lack of similar honor for anyone else! Think about who is most honored in a typical church culture. There's a direct relationship between how much stage time they get on Sunday morning and how much honor as a spiritual leader they receive.

So while I don't know a church leader who would say that they value stage gifts more than other gifts, their actions send a very different message to their members.

"But it's just not practical to do anything else when we all gather! We don't value one gift over than the other. It's just a logistical planning thing." This common response actually reveals how deep are the assumptions about presentation-style ministry.

We have gatherings without group presentations all our lives. Think about it. If they wanted to, Christians could design church services to operate like family reunions, block parties, or even sports team practices. But typical churches don't use those formats.

Why not? Why do they believe that the "right" use of their time is inspiring presentations to the crowd? Because despite the rhetoric about all gift types being equal, the last 1500 years of church history have trained us to view spiritually inspiring presentations as the most valuable--the most spiritual--way to spend our time together.

Let me be very clear, I am NOT trying to eliminate or discourage the stage gifts. The member-driven model of church isn't anti-group presentations. In fact, those are my gifts! I'm a teacher/musician. We work hard not to just swing the pendulum to the opposite imbalance where we devalue stage gifts in favor of non-stage gifts. That's not an improvement at all.

Our value isn't Less Stage Ministry, but More Than Stage Ministry. It's stage ministry-plus.

Still skeptical? Having a hard time seeing how this works practically? Check out the next posts on some of the practical ways we live out our core values, including this one. It's not even complicated to do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Blog: (Part 6) Values & Practices Unpacked

At first glance, "Every Member Ministers" looks identical to a core value held by many churches. I know more than one church that even has the phrase "Every Member Is A Minster" printed on their weekly service bulletins.

But those two phrases are NOT the same.

Every Member Is a Minister (the typical phrasing) names a spiritual identity. I agree with this. 1 Peter 2:9 is one example of many verses on the priesthood of all believers.

But while I agree, I also find the typical phrase insufficient. It names a passive status and leaves members in a typical church sitting quietly, with no regular opportunity on Sunday to live out the truth of their spiritual position.

Of course, they always have the chance to serve as ministers on their own throughout the rest of the week. But if it's so critical (printed on the bulletin implies importance), then why is it relegated to the leftover time? (See the posts on Growth Through Practice for more on why we try to practice our ministry skills in the service, not just talk about them.)

In contrast, our value, "Every Member Ministers", names both the identity AND the behavior of our members. We literally design our gatherings so that every member engages God and each other every week. No, that's not a typo--every week.

Most people considering our value quickly realize this isn't very practical in a typical church service. The closest service element I've seen in a typical church is an optional prayer and ministry time at the end of the service. But it remains optional and only for counseling prayer. It's good to do, but falls far short of the full expression of the variety of gifts God has given to his body.

And I understand why. Restriction makes sense. It really isn't practical given the structure and elements typical churches use for their gatherings.

But rather than restrict the expression of our value because the service structure makes it impractical, we decided to rewrite the structure of our services. We are called, every one of us, to serve as ministers and we want to practice that profound truth every week. And in our church, it's literally true that every member ministers. (More on how that works practically in other posts.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Part 5: Values & Practices Unpacked

A metaphor from Awake From Atrophy explaining Growth Through Practice:

[After demonstrating three chord formations on his guitar...]

Jacob strummed through a few chord transitions and stopped.

“Have I been clear with all of this? Would you say you understand these principles about playing the guitar?”

“Um, I guess so,” Randall obliged.

“Now you can say you know how to play the guitar,” Jacob said proudly. He put the guitar down.

“Well…I don’t know about that,” Randall muttered.

“You wouldn’t say that?” Jacob asked Randall. “Why not? Didn’t you understand the principles? Should I show you them again?”

“No, I saw what you did,” Randall replied. “But that doesn’t mean I know how to do it.”

“But I just showed you how,” Jacob said. He was using a very gentle tone to offset otherwise combative words—sounding curious, not frustrated. “You said you saw and understood. What’s wrong?”

“There’s more to playing the guitar than just knowing about it,” Randall asserted.

“Yeah,” Randall's wife, Laura, jumped in. “Playing the guitar isn’t just about knowing concepts. You have to train your fingers to do it. I understand the concepts. They’re not that different from piano chords. But, well, when you play the piano you have to train your fingers to move how your mind imagines. Playing the piano is fairly easy to explain,” Laura continued. “Each key matches a note on the written page. You push each key for the length of time the page says. An uncultured person I know, whom I won’t name at this time,” she shot a look at her husband, “has called piano playing musical typing.”

Everyone chucked.

“But knowing what the page of music says still leaves you a long way from being able to actually play that music. Understanding the ideas written on a page of music still leaves you a long way from being able to call yourself a musician,” Laura finished the longest speech Drew had heard her deliver all morning.

“Exactly!” Jacob exclaimed. “And I believe it’s the same for being a Christian. That’s why one of our core values is Growth Through Practice. We believe becoming a mature Christian requires more than intellectual understanding. ”

--Awake From Atrophy

The typical church design produces educated people who can barely play their instrument, so to speak. We need a design that's more like a live jam session with expert players explaining what they're doing, where we all try out new principles and get feedback.

Instead, most churches today provide a professor to lecture on music theory and history while members take notes, their instruments safely locked up in their cases. No musical mistakes allowed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Part 4: Our Values & Practices Unpacked

Truth is essential for growth, but insufficient. That's why Growth Through Practice is our fourth core value.

Yes, the truth can set us free (John 8:32), but Satan knows the truth that Jesus is the Son of God (James 2:19) and his failure to align his behavior with the truth leaves him damned.

Many church leaders would agree with this core value. At this point, they're nodding their heads and thinking about how they also incorporate this value in their church services. However, their strategy is probably to make sure that they always include practical application examples in their sermons.

That's a step in the right direction, but far short of what this value means to us.

We design our weekly Sunday gatherings so we can practice living out our faith while we are gathered together. We build practice time directly into our services. We don't just talk about idea and leave them to practice on their own.

There are so many ways this plays out in our church that it's going to take multiple posts to talk about them all. But a quick example: rather than only talk about the importance of being an authentic community, we eat meals together every week to build relationships.

"Becoming a mature Christian is like becoming a musician. You can sit through brilliant classes on music history and music theory; even study the science of how musical instruments work. But that training doesn’t make you a musician. It just makes you educated." --Awake From Atrophy