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What Message Does Your Flagship Send? September 24, 2014

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Travis walks in to worship service at your church for the first time. By the end of service, he’s resolved to come back, and he does so every week for several months while progressively becoming more involved with Sunday School and bible studies. Then one Sunday as he’s observing the band, he notices that with a rare exception it’s always the same people. He finds it a little odd, because the pastors and teachers have been telling the church that it’s all about relationships. They’ve told of how we’re to love each other as we love ourselves, and that the goal is to build relational ministries because God is a relational god. Travis thinks to himself, I’ve been here this long and haven’t heard or seen anything about joining the band. Maybe they don’t think there are any other musicians or singers here. So Travis starts asking around and discovers there are many musicians and singers in the church, and when he inquires as to why it’s always the same people the response is along the lines of, “The worship band is exclusive. They audition fill-ins as needed, but mostly the rest of us aren’t welcome. Some of us don’t fit the leadership’s visual vision because of our age, others aren’t viewed as good enough because they don’t play flashy, and a few are simply victims of being disliked by leadership members. And that’s just the ones who play the contemporary appropriate instruments.” Travis, not wanting to believe this, and being a bass player himself, approaches the band leader. “Hey, I’m Travis. I’ve been coming here a few months, slowly getting familiar with things here, you know? Anyway, I’ve been wondering what the process is for auditions or whatever it is you do here to get involved in worship ministry.” The band leader’s response is very much along the lines of what other musicians told him, “Well, we aren’t an open group, there is a very specific set of requirements and other than an occasional stand in we don’t take new players or singers. The pastors are really set on providing continuity from week to week. Also, we’re really focused on being the tightest we can be musically, so there’s not a lot of room for new people without disturbing the climate.” Disheartened, Travis seeks a new church.

While the above is not exactly how it would go in a church, it is what the modern church has come to. While it is spoken on a regular basis to focus on loving each other as we want to be loved and build relationships, the fact is that the flagship event of most churches each week has a non-relational ministry. Music directors, though under the vision of relational community, turn away people seeking Christ-centered artistic community. They’ll cite scriptures about skill, excellence, offering God the best of their flock, and the like, but what it comes down to is that they want a Hollywood or Nashville or New York City entertainment experience in Our Town, USA. Years ago, I had the unfortunate displeasure of watching a band member and teammate go from a stance of, “Churches shouldn’t audition volunteers, if people want to participate they should be allowed to participate,” to beginning an audition process because she didn’t want people on stage making her look bad. Read that again. She went from loving fellow musicians and singers enough to let them be and belong and build relationships with her and other musicians, to turning people away for fear of her own reputation.

Scripture states that if we are not loving each other, and above ourselves at that, we aren’t loving God. There is an exercise used by youth directors in which they tell their students to draw a picture of some person they don’t like or have a problem with, then the director places that picture on a dart board and allows the student to throw darts at their enemy. Afterward, the picture gets pulled away, revealing a picture of Jesus behind it full of holes and tears because what we do to each other we do to Him also. How many times has a church leader thrown darts of inferiority at Jesus, cut Him, impaled Him, broken His heart because someone He called out on the water wasn’t good enough in a human’s eyes or ears? In as few as the past fifteen years, I’d guess it’s a number we can’t comprehend.

Some churches will go to the trouble of developing a small group (cell group, life group) aimed at musicians and singers, in order to side step the issue of closed worship arts ministries. In these cases, few if any of the Sunday Morning Players participate in the small group. Most likely there are “scouts” checking out the skill in the church to see if they really are fulfilling their desire to have “the best of the best” on stage. Unfortunately, it happens sometimes, that the leaders will find someone, a drummer perhaps, who has the credentials to bring more credibility to the band in the eyes of the business world. In the not-so-distant future, the existing drummer receives a call out of the blue that he or she is being let go from the team because a new drummer, possibly with a music degree, who plays faster, and therefore more skillfully by the leader’s standards, has been selected to take his or her place, and not temporarily or on a rotating basis, permanently. Relationships can’t be a means to an end, relationships must BE the end, the goal. But some ministries act like a woman finding a husband and thinking you’ll do, for now, until someone better comes along. Relationships do not exist for the purpose of trophies to display for our own glory, but for the championing of Love that saved us.

Whether you’re a leader or follower, a player or a face in the crowd, there’s a message being received that’s tucked in a bottle of worship washing ashore every time your local assembly gathers. What message is it? It’s not one you hear spoken, or read in the Good Book. It’s a message that’s felt. It’s an experience that whispers “You’re not welcome.” It’s an example set week after week. It’s a rolled up hand drawn picture of someone, but is it intact or full of holes and tears? Is it a message of relationships or disconnecting businesspersons fearing their own reputation?

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Go Make All February 2, 2014

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A few years ago, I attended a 4 day Christian festival. While in line at the shower house one morning around 6am, the gentleman ahead of me began to tell of a young lady who’d started attending church. When she declared that she was interested in membership, she was informed that she would have to change her ways of clothing and accessorizing. It seems the lady was one of those “biker/leather/dog collar” kind of girls. Distraught at the judgment, the lady hadn’t returned or attended any other church.

 

Matthew 28:19  – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…

Luke 9:31-32  – “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners…

 

GO MAKE ALL. The three keywords of the Great Commission. Not “plan to attract a key demographic.” The only target demographic a church should have is those who know they are sinners. Old or young, rich or poor, married or single, barren or fertile, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, middle-eastern, white collar, blue collar, or dog collar – if they know they are a sinner, they are to be welcomed with open arms.

 

Acts 11:1-3 – Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.

Acts 11:12-18 – The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’ “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[e] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?” When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”

 

In the first 10 chapters of Acts, the people believed they were only supposed to preach to and fellowship with each other and their Jewish peers. Acts 11 shows the error of the early church’s ways, ways to which modern church seems to be returning. Many churches are citing “Acts 2” as their model for ministry, but Acts 2 is merely the statistical growth of a community. These churches design services, classes, and events to attract certain types of people, as I’ve noted in earlier entries, according to some pastors, “a thriving church on paper has more christenings than funerals per year. (We have to) attract and incorporate young adults.” Those who don’t mind being considered a second class citizen might stay, but others, like the young lady mentioned above, make a swift and decisive exit. Knowing that you are a sinner does not equal believing you are worth less than others, but churches are treating certain types of people as if that is true. Church isn’t for one type of person. Standing in a crowd of teen sinners, biker sinners, preppy sinners, poor sinners, middle class sinners, hipster sinners, black sinners, white sinners, old sinners, young sinners, and just about any other sinner you can think of, you feel what the Body is. Early Acts doesn’t even begin to cover who can come.

 

Less inclined to “go” they seek to attract, pulling away from “all” in favor of key demographics, at least modern churches haven’t entirely abandoned the Great Commission: there’s still “make disciples.” They are making disciples of some, aren’t they? Or are they?

 

Luke 8:11-14  The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

 

Are these churches truly the body of Christ, or demons stripping the Word’s truth from the hearts of those desiring discipleship? Will their members, in the long run, be shown as rootless, so worried by statistical and worldly successes that they never conquer the flaws of Acts 2 and the early church? Or will they become those in the crown of life, blessed for enduring great trials, unconditional disciples whose strength comes from their love for God. Will they take up the full force of the Great Commission and go make all?

The Sole Soul on Your Soles October 26, 2012

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Would you walk around in shoes that don’t fit you, out of loyalty to the brand that your parents wore, that your friends wear, that pays you to put the shoes together? Would you bind your feet to make them fit? Stuff them out with tissues and hurt your knees, hips, and back walking in shoes that are too big? Cut off a toe or two? Mutilate yourself to stay ‘in?’ Why, then, would you stay in a church that; hurts, causes pain, makes you unhappy, makes you feel unwanted or obsolete, lies to you for the purpose of making changes without being perceived as the “bad guys,” treats you or others as if they’re not worth talking to, helping, paying fairly, being more than a scapegoat, or taking more seriously than a dirty joke, and sinks as low or lower than bullies you’ve dealt with? Loyalty to someone else’s brand isn’t an option. Everybody grows, if the shoes no longer fit, why wouldn’t everyone eventually go, as in move on?

Businesses worry about statistics, churches worry about souls. Or, that’s the way its supposed to be. A pastor once told me, “A thriving church, on paper, has more christenings than funerals per year.” So some churches are prioritizing 20-40 year-old married couples having babies as more important than singles, elderly, or barren. This same pastor started advertising the previous week’s attendance in the worship bulletin, but when attendance dropped to what was deemed embarrassing numbers this practice was discontinued until numbers climbed back to status quo. It doesn’t matter if the shoe fits the individual as long as there are many in that shoe and the brand is “out there.”

Faith and Love are inherited patterns of thought, action, and behavior, i.e. traditions. Take away the patterns, and the shoe has no form. Take away traditions, like faith and love, and the church is just peddling hope. A pastor once said, “You can’t build your life on traditions. No tradition lasts forever nor is it meant to.” Piece by piece, the patterns are being stripped away from churches to tailor them to a “new generation,” or wider spectrum of people. But in unfitting the church in the name of reaching the masses, the “(hands and) feet of Christ” are being asked to wear one size fits all shoes, and its causing more pain than properly fitted ones, even though they may fit fewer people. I imagine a 5 feet 3 inch tall woman with size 7 feet trying to run a marathon in clown shoes.

Its not about you.” “Don’t complain, you’re the light of the world. Complaining diminishes your light.” Pain is the body’s way of complaining. When The Body complains, its given “pain killing” statements like these. The Body is broken, sore, aching, strained. Churches are giving pain killers and ignoring the problem. Example: A man signed up for a ministry which utilized mechanical equipment to perform the task. On at least 3 occasions the equipment malfunctioned or didn’t work at all. After telling the appropriate elders of the issue, to no avail, the man asked to have his name removed from that particular volunteer list. The pastor’s response: “That’s not how we handle things. We don’t just give up when things aren’t going how we want them.” I forgot to mention that performing this task manually was causing physical distress to the man’s body. For every person for whom this task had to be performed, it had to be done eight times. On at least one occasion I watched as someone else had to do it for him because he was hurting too much to finish. If it ever got fixed, I do not know, but his complaints, and others, were silenced, and silence, theoretically, is consent. Addiction to pain killers can lead to infection of wounds we don’t know to acknowledge.

While the full-time pastors administer pain killers, generalize, destroy patterns, unfit the shoes, and propagandize the sermons and printouts, a freshly hired “part-time director of youth ministries” had this to say of his new ministry: “We’re going to build a relational ministry because God is a relational God.” Relationships require patterns of thought, action, and behavior such as faith and love. One building shoes with inherited patterns, others building with one-size-fits-all tactics. One worrying about souls, others worrying about stats. One raising a culture of Spirit-sensitive awareness, others want people numb and obedient to their power.

You don’t have to walk in pain to walk with friends or family. And when there is pain, those you walk with should help cure, not just quiet or shun. I’ve actually been “unfriended” on social media by a few of those I walked with after I chose to discontinue affiliating with their brand. But, their shoes didn’t fit me anymore. Christians are supposed to walk together, in whatever “shoe” empowers them to do so. Chances are, the bigger the church leaders desire the church to be, the more generic they’ll make it, and fewer people the church will actually fit. You are the only one who must walk in the shoes you choose. Choose carefully, and if it becomes time to move on, don’t let loyalists, friends, family, or money stand in the way.