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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?

Participatory Anemia April 13, 2014

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This morning, as I heard of a church passing out volunteer surveys due to lack of participation, I began thinking about why so many churches suffer this, disease, if we can call it that. Participatory Anemia sounds fitting. Why is it that churches can’t get the help they need to run?

One key possibility is that the church model has changed from the relational organizations of days past, to a consumer driven model. Focused on the statistics, modern churches take their cues from the entertainment industry, playing chart-toppers in popular styles, using concert style lights, casting peers of the target demographic into high profile staff and volunteer positions like pastors, worship team members, etc. This brings in the people they want, and in numbers that make things look to be going well. But then those people get up, leave, and may or may not contribute a monetary donation for consumed services. Participatory Anemia sets in. Children and youth ministries, parking directors, tech teams, hospitality and other ministries find themselves overstretched and underequipped to fill the needs of the amassing number of consumers entering their care.

Another factor may be the frequency of which help is sought. If the church is only seeking help when they are desperate, the people who feel called to serve may not feel wanted until it’s too late. Waiting too long to post opportunities can result in a “we didn’t really want you, but now we need you,” feeling among those waiting for the chance to dig in and serve. Thus Participatory Anemia can occur due to leaders withholding opportunity.

Relational ministries can’t be closed or close-minded to volunteers. How many musicians are in your church band’s roster? How many are up front most every week? How many get rotated? What does it take to get in the band at your church? Open auditions? Invitation only? Maybe they don’t accept new musicians? In an attempt to provide the most entertaining and distraction-free atmosphere, many churches have a closed band or invitation-only policy. While this lends itself to the band becoming very close musically and relationally, it also fences out new blood and denies relationship opportunities. Those who are called to serve in worship ministries may find themselves called away from your church if you won’t use them, God will send them to one who will. God may cause Participatory Anemia if He sees his gifts being squandered due to fear of a fleeting mistake or the leadership’s lack of willingness to train and qualify the called.

When a local assembly of the Body of Christ is on level ground with one another, and new disciples, who have shunned the belief that they are righteous and know they are sinners, are brought forth from outreach endeavors, Participatory Anemia should go the way of ye olde reformist hymns that refer to “the bowels of God.” The Body will thrive with servants, and consumers will listen to their favorite songs on the radio or internet and consume the writings and videos of the likes of Joel Osteen and Adam Hamilton until they emotionally join the ranks of disciples who worship with their lives and not just attendance and cash.

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?