It’s not you, it’s me.

If I can be honest (and I believe I can be), my biggest struggle last year and currently is finding a church. I have moved past the point of frustration, through apathy and I’m now to the point of desperation. I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem has to be me. Maybe I’m being to picky. Maybe I’m making this all about me. Maybe I just need to stop being so selfish and just pick a church to serve in. If it were only that easy…

Here are a few things that people THINK that I want in a church:

1. An active singles ministry
2. Rockin’ worship music
3. An active singles ministry
4. Small/Home/Cell/Life/Community/Anything-But-Sunday-School Groups
5. An active singles ministry
6. New

1, 3, 5: Please, please, please don’t tell me about your singles ministry. I’m not sure where the idea came from that all single people want to do is eat dinner with other single people from the church. I know I’m socially awkward, but I don’t really need help making friends. Single people should BE IN ministry, we don’t need a “special” ministry for us.

2. Rockin’ Music: Growing up in the church, hymns are actually very familiar to me. If I’m humming a tune at work or around the house, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s a hymn. That said, I’m not really all that concerned with the style of music, rather the content. If worship is our response to who God is, it should be meaningful. I love the old hymns but I also love churches that write their own stuff.

4. Small Groups: This one actually has been a recent change for me. I’m not saying I don’t like small groups–I think they are essential. What I am saying is that small groups that meet throughout the week are not Sunday school. What I mean by Sunday school is teaching. Small groups are more about Christian community which includes teaching, but not to the extent that can be facilitated in a class-like setting.

6. New: New is scary, especially when it comes to the Church and scripture. Don’t try to invent something new, TEACH us tradition and history. I don’t need cool videos and candles or lights. Teach me and encourage me and EXPECT me to read the Bible.

Here are a few things that I would LOVE in a church:

1. Old people: Okay, so I don’t typically refer to them as “old people”, but in a lot of churches that have focused on attracting the younger crowd, they have neglected the older crowd. These churches have a lot of zeal and energy, but 30 year-olds haven’t been doing much of anything for 20 or 30 years. I think wisdom and experience are vital in a church.

2. Food: I love food. I love cooking food, I love eating food, I love watching TV shows about food. More importantly, I love cooking and eating food with other people. Sure, we can go out to eat at that Mexican restaurant (again), but there is something much more intimate about cooking and sharing a meal with someone. It’s kind of like family.

I’m certain I can find plenty of churches that are full of old people that have a pot-luck or covered dish meal at some point in the week, and if only it were that simple! I suppose my next post should be about the deeper things that have made finding a church so difficult. Things like beliefs. It’s complicated; more complicated than it should be.

 

Labels

I’ve had a fairly interesting denominational journey — lots of labels have been assigned by myself and by others, none of which really helped me understand my faith.  If I label myself as a Christian, does that make me a Christian?  If only it were that easy!  Sadly, many are duped into believing that it is.

The problem with labels is that if I tell someone I’m Baptist or a Calvinist, I am then forced to describe what I mean by Baptist or Calvinist, because I have no idea what they understand the terms to mean.  At this point, we must agree on what I mean by “Baptist” or “Calvinist” or else there is a great risk of miscommunication.  I borrowed this from Mortimer Adler’s book titled “How to Read a Book”:

“A term is not a word — at least, not just a word without further qualifications.  If a term and a word were exactly the same, you would only have to find the important words in a book in order to come to terms with it.  But a word can have many meanings, especially an important word.  If the author uses a word in one meaning, and the reader reads it in another, words have passed between them, but they have not come to terms.   Where there is unresolved ambiguity in communication, there is no communication or at best communication must be incomplete.”

I’ve learned that it is much easier to put on a label rather than surrender to it as the conclusion of exploration, thought and experience.  For most of my life I have been “Methodist” because that was what the sign said on the building, not because I spent many sleepless nights discerning what it was that I actually believed.  In the same vain, I was a “Christian” because I did what Christians were suppose to do — go to church, (occasionally) read the Bible and pray.  The labels were convenient, and when I used them people assumed things about me that I even assumed about myself.  Then God happened…

August 19, 2002, I’m at Metro Bible Study in Plano, Texas completely broken.  For the first time in my life I knew that God loved me.  I didn’t walk an aisle, or pray a prayer — I didn’t even “decide to follow Jesus” — I just sat there, unable to move, basking in His presence.  It wasn’t until last week that I realized this was the moment God saved me.  I thought I was suppose to make a decision!  What about my free will?  How can my love for God be genuine if I had no choice?  Maybe the “choice” was so obvious, I didn’t even have to make it.  Maybe the offer was so irresistible that I could do nothing but accept it.  When your eyes are opened, you don’t decide to see — you just see.

“When the Spirit illuminates the heart, then a part of the man sees which never saw before; a part of him knows which never knew before, and that with a kind of knowing which the most acute thinker cannot imitate.” A.W. Tozer

As vividly as I can recall that day, I only remember the date because afterwards I bought the tape (tape? honestly?) of that night’s message.  It was some tall, skinny guy I had never heard of named Matt Chandler (that might help to explain my “man-crush” on Matt — though it still doesn’t excuse it haha).  Before that moment, my basis for calling myself a Christian was unsubstantiated — it simply wasn’t true.

The funny thing is, since becoming a Christian I have used the term less and less.  After coming the the conclusion that I was one, the label just wasn’t as important to me anymore.

Knowing My Role

“A religious mentality, characterized by timidity and lack of moral courage has given us today a flabby Christianity, intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious, and to a great many persons, just plain boresome.  This is peddled as the very faith of our fathers in direct lineal descent  from Christ and the apostles.  We spoon-feed this insipid pabulum to our inquiring youth, and to make it palatable spice it up with carnal amusements snatched from the unbelieving world.  It is easier to entertain than to instruct.  It is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself.  So too many of our evangelical leaders let their minds atrophy while they keep their fingers nimble operating religious gimmicks to bring in the curious crowd.”  — A.W. Tozer, 1955

“I’m afraid too many churchgoers today are listening but not learning.  They are spectators, not students.  They are passive, not participating.  Why?  Because we who teach often give them cut flowers that easily fade and wilt, rather than showing them how to grow plants for themselves — to discover firsthand the truth that God has revealed in His Word.” — Howard Hendricks

Each week that I teach the youth at my church I have the temptation to “ease up” a bit on the Bible study and focus on making sure the students are having a good time — that they are enjoying it.  Then I look back on these two quotes and am reminded of my task — I am here to teach the Gospel.  If that is boring to them, then I need to keep teaching it because they obviously are still not getting it!

Thoughts on Church and Worship

Because I can’t seem to stop talking about it.  I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve had some thoughts running around in my head lately regarding church and worship.  This is me expanding on those thoughts.

If you travel between Waco and Austin on I-35, you may have seen a building with a banner advertising 30 Minute Worship services.  The last time I went home to visit my parents I saw it, but I kept forgetting to look it up on-line.  I finally did today — here is an exert from their website:

Sundays @ 9am offers you a brand new way to go to church…30 Minute Worship. This innovative service is for anybody who is tired of the way traditional church has been done, has limited time, or has to work Sundays. The high energy, focused package will creatively engage you to personally connect with God. Our church website is www.vlcwaco.com.

  • Worship (10 minutes) Each service will have praise and worship lasting 8-10 minutes to connect you with God, lead by our full worship band.
  • Word (12-15 minutes) The most important part of the worship gathering is God’s Word! Listen to an actual message online.
  • Response (5 minutes) Every service gives you an opportunity to respond to God through prayer and giving. We know prayer is essential* for life!  (*– so essential they have devoted 5 minutes to it!)

I half expected it to be a gimmick — a jab at how commercialized the Church is becoming but apparently these guys are serious.

While most churches aren’t as upfront and honest as this one is, I think there are some similar (and dangerous) trends.

1.  Worship equals music.

Most churches would never say that worship is just the singing part of the service, but what they do every week speaks louder than what they say.  I think this has become more evident as the “contemporary” services have grown in popularity.  Even the titles we use seem to imply that worship is equal to music.  We no longer have music directors, we have worship leaders.  Instead of choirs we now have worship bands.  I have been a worship leader — I know I have lead people in music but I do not know if they were worshiping God.

2.  Worship happens during a finite period of time and it is a tool to connect us/focus us on God.

This one is a two-parter.  First, regarding time. This church may serve as an extreme example of this, but if you’ve ever been a part of planning or leading a church service you know that time is important.  For most churches the entire service is designed to last for about an hour.  This means that if the message or sermon takes up 30 minutes, everything else has to be done in 30 minutes.  I know, time is important and we’re all very busy (and there by important) people, but what if we are missing out on something by limiting our services to an hour?  I spent an hour with my buddy Felipe at AHOP and realized how short an hour can be when it comes to prayer and worship.

Part two — referring to worship as a tool to connect/focus us on God.  Something about this bothers me.  If worship connects us to God, then once we are connected do we cease to worship?  If worship focuses me on God, what am I suppose to do once I am focused on Him?  Worship!  Worship is the response.  We worship because we are connected to God.

3.  Church is something we “do” as Christians.

This church proudly proclaims that you can “do” church in 30 minutes.  If church were something you could do, I suppose there would be a minimum amount of time one could do it in.  Maybe there would be contests to see who could do it the fastest.  The average church, while not as blunt, broadcasts the same message — that church is a time and a place, like a college course or a club meeting.  LifeChurch.tv invites you to “try church online”.  This seems to contradict the idea that we, followers of Christ, are the Church.  We can say with our lips that church is not a building or a time all we want, but our actions reveal our true beliefs.

Okay, this may sound like I’m just getting worked up over semantics (and sometimes I do), but I don’t think that’s the case this time.  It’s not just about words, it’s about actions.  If we say we are the Church, do our actions reflect that?  If we say we worship God in everything we do, do our lives show it?

I don’t have all the answers, in fact I have very few answers.  This is the interactive portion of this blog post (you know, the part where you say what’s on your mind regarding the topics mentioned).  I don’t expect you to have any answers either, but I hope this stirred up some thoughts for conversation.