Archives For church

We bloggers can a funny bunch of people sometimes.VH_iStock_700x330px_0000117

Especially those of us who blog a lot about topics related to the American church.

Always in search of fodder for writing, there is no shortage of blogs that have been written about what is wrong with the church. Every so often, there is a public departure by a prominent Christian from some wing of Christianity. Or a leader will explain why he isn’t going to church these days. And a whole bunch of us will talk about what this means for the church. My own keyboard has not been exempt from these activities.

But I’ll tell you something.

I think I finally figured it out.

I figured out exactly what is wrong with the church.

That’s right, I have found the source of its problems. I have discovered what is making it be the monster that we have made it out to be.

Maybe we can put this discussion to rest.

Because I have figured out, once and for all, what is wrong with the church.

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Have you been to the “self help” section of the bookstore lately?

Of all the kinds of things that people can publish, self help is booming. There is a dizzying array of books, DVDs and other resources to help people with every conceivable problem.

If you go to the self help section of the store, I think one thing becomes clear:

People are not happy.

Take any random person, and there is probably some aspect of themselves that they are not happy with. They don’t like the way they look, or they don’t know how to manage money or they aren’t good at relationships. Something in their life bugs them. So virtually every person is the market for self help gurus.

This is another place where our Christian culture is behind instead of ahead of the curve.

I can get basically the same self help advice from a lot of pastors that I can from anyone else, just with a shiny coat of Jesus polish on it. A lot of churches are interested in how to help people live better, look better, relate better, believe better. That’s all well and good.

But faith doesn’t start with self help. Faith begins where self help ends, where all of our self-helping stops being effective.

This is one of my favorite little sayings, attributed to N.T. Wright. It pretty well sums up what we are supposed to start with.

advice

 

If we are starting with advice and not news, then we are not being churches.

If we start with advice rather than news, we aren’t really Christians.

If we start with advice rather than news, then no one needs to listen to us because they can get all the advice they need without the guilt.

What is your personal currency?

In the "influence economy" of the modern church, "1%" leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

In the “influence economy” of the modern church, “1%” leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

You know, the thing that you strive to collect, to store up, to hoard. That stuff that drives you to do one more thing before you go to bed. The thing that gets you up an hour earlier in the morning. The thing that keeps you up at night, worrying that you don’t have enough.

The American church has done a pretty good job of convincing us that money is not our personal currency. (I suppose it’s easy to tell ourselves that money is not that important to us when we have quite a lot of it, relatively speaking.)

No it’s not money that we are grasping for. Go to churches, go to conferences, go to seminars, read the books. What is the core of what church leaders are peddling?

Influence.

The church has figured out how to make the pursuit of influence sound noble, righteous, even necessary. Now, all of the books are written and all of the conferences are led by guys who obviously have a lot of it. A lot of people listen to the guys at the top. And so they tell us how we too can have it all.

When we talk about our church’s “relevance,” try switching in the word “influence.” There will be almost no difference.

When a conference speaker is discussing “impact,” just sketch the word “influence” in your notes.

When a pastor is talking about “evangelism,” just imagine the word “influence.”

It is influence that, well, influences most of our pursuits. And I have to admit that for most of my adult life, I have been no different. I have hungered and thirsted after it. I have wanted people to give me attention, to do what I say, to respect my opinions.

What I’ve found is that there are a lot of problems with influence being our personal currency.

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Many people would claim that America is a “Christian” nation…

The most post-Christian place in America...

The most post-Christian place in America…

Or at least, it was a Christian nation.

My news feed is kind of a continual flux when it comes to just how Christian our culture is today. If I want, I can find no shortage of doom and gloom, prophets and pundits who are always showing just how bad things are for Christianity in America. On the other side of things, there are a few lone voices who speak up every now and then to say, “Wait! It’s not as bad as it seems.”

This week, I saw another survey from the Barna Group which shows just how “post-Christian” American cities are. My hometown, Kansas City, comes in at number 38, with a total post-Christian population at 33%. Albany, NY is the most post-Christian city, along with most of the Northeast, while Knoxville, TN ranks near the bottom (or top, depending on how you look at it.)

I tend to take these surveys with a grain of salt, but something particularly struck me this time about how we typically measure “Christian-ness.” I started reading their various “metrics” (a term that sounds more at home in a tax accountant’s office) that were used to calculate our cities’ rankings, when something occurred to me.

I don’t know if we have a problem of lack of faith in our culture. But we certainly have a problem when it comes to how we measure faith.

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I have a confession to make.worship_by_knilvrie

I have spent my life in church. A preacher’s kid, then a seminary grad. Now, after seven years of house church ministry, my wife and I are embarking on a new chapter. We don’t even know what the chapter is. There is no invitation to another church, no greener pasture that we are making a break for. We have done this thing longer than the average pastor stays at a full time church ministry.

What we do know is that making a transition, finding a new place is going to be hard. We both feel like we have some odd angles, some characteristics that make it challenging for us to settle into a new place. She is a raving introvert, while I am an introvert who can act like an extrovert…sort of.

And what we find to be the case is that church is a decidedly extroverted place. A bunch of extroverts usually stand up front. By and large, modern worship, church life and leadership values extrovertism over characteristics, such as contemplativeness.

And so, as we prepare to embark on a transition we are both kind of dreading, it makes me think of all of the churches I have visited, all of the places I have worshiped (or at least tried to worship.) It makes me think of all the reasons that two pretty introverted people have kind of a tough time with church, even though we love it.

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Most businesses fail in the first five years.63399507023589182799

We know what failure means when it comes to business. It means that the business did not make enough money. It means that the owner could not feed his or her family. And beside the financial cost, there is probably a big emotional cost to a failed business as well. People pour their hearts into something that they hope will succeed and when it does not, it feels more like a personal failure.

But what does it mean for a church to fail?

This last week, I saw not one but two blogs about churches that “failed,” meaning they closed shop, went out of business, so to speak.

My heart went out to the authors, because I’ve been there. I’ve been a part of a church that ended. And it is heartbreaking.

But at the same time, I ask myself, what do we mean by a church failing? A church is not a business. A church is not a corporation. So what happens when we define a church in the terms of a business? What happens when we define “success” and “failure” the same way Wal-Mart defines those terms?

I have made a realization in the years since my own church failed. What happens is that the church has not failed. We have failed to define “church.”

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