Monday, April 30, 2007

The People Known As Christians

Paul Mayer is a blogger in the UK. He's joined the People Formerly Know As series with his take on [everything below is from Paul]...

The people known as christians...

Bill Kinnon started it with his thought provoking meme 'the people formerly known as the congregation', Jamie Arpin-Ricci has written my favourite iteration 'the people becoming known as missional' and Lyn has written the most poignant version 'the woman formerly known as the pastors wife' and there quite a few more out there as well.

I have decided to write this piece on the people known as christians to celebrate all these pieces and from my own perspective I see that we can so easily idealise church and how we go about being or not being the church. Alt titles for this piece could well have been: the people who [mess] up but are loved by God; the perfect church for imperfect people; the hope of the world for the helpless, through the hopeless; and the beautiful but bitchy bride [you may have some more suggestions]...

I really love the church and I really do think it is the best hope we got - it's also full of people like me so as bent as a 10 bob note!

We are the people known as christians, Jesus followers, little Christs, disciples, missionaries, followers, apprentices, the church, the body and bride of Christ. There are billions of us around the world, from every tribe, nation, race, generation, class and sex - and we are just part of the great linked river of faith, with billions downstream from us, cheering us on from history past and billions more upstream from us who will celebrate our faithful journies in history to come.
We are the people known as Christians, dwellers in the now and the not yet, citizens of this world yet strangers in our own lands. For we are part of a people and a kingdom that is present in this world and we live in the hope of the kingdom to come, a renewed heaven and a renewed earth.

Some of us live with unprecedented power and choice, having the ear of great leaders and the respect of many of the institutions of our time. We are amongst the wealthiest people who have ever lived. Living in a time of unprecedented peace, prosperity and plenty. We are able to live our lives in our own ways with our rights and freedoms protected. We gather freely, express openly are beliefs and choose to disagree with one another without recrimination. We live in the heritage of our christian western world and reap the benefits of the generations that have gone before who by their own sacrifices allow us to stand free today. We are ironically also the most anxious, overwhelmed, over worked, worried, fearful, cynical, stressed and depressed people of all time.

Many of us however are persecuted, ignored, and marginalised - we meet in secret, we fear arrest, torture and death. We exist on the crumbs from the table of the rich and wealthy world and what we can eek out with our own hands and lives. We are poor, uneducated, hungry and surrounded by disease and death. Yet we live by faith with lives that are gratefully generous to each other, seeing ourselves as a connected community rather than as individuals. For although we have little and long to have more we know that we already have the one thing that is worth having, a faith that transforms life itself.

We are people who have always recognised the need to gather together - whether we meet in ones and twos with the people who we do life with or in bigger groups to share the story of our lives and communities. Where ever and whenever we as christians have gathered we have seen people's lives transformed, hope spark into life and light flow into the communities around us.
This process can be slow, smouldering and subtle taking many lifetimes or it can suddenly spark into a roaring bushfire of sweeping transformation. For although we are committed to the ancient practises of prayer, study, service, giving and fasting we are not the catalyst for this change merely one means for the Holy Spirit to be at work in us and through us to the world around us.

We are therefore a people of presence, called to be as present to each other and the world as our other centred tri-une God is present to himself and to all of us they created in his image. God the Father who initiates, God the Son who came for us, as one of us and God the Spirit who moves amongst us all. It is the self revelation of our loving tri-une God that is challenging and changing us, leading us on a journey of inward change and outward lives that reflect a growing love, peace, kindness, gentleness, grace, mercy and humility towards the people and places in which we dwell.

We are also a people that when we gather together cause each other to experience hurt, hate, anger, fear, pain, suspicion, loneliness, pride and abuses. For we are not perfect but human, broken, cracked people who manage to inflict cruelties and do damage to each other and on the creation around us. We are to be as much a part of each others help and healing as we are already the cause of each others pain and sorrow. For it is not us the church who brings healing and wholeness to the world but the one we follow and are learning to follow, Jesus, our liberating, life giving king.

We are the people known as christians but we can also be called the imperfect,the isolated, the broken, the bitter, the arrogant, the angry, the humble and the hurting, the sinner and the sinning, the consumer and the consumed, the first and the last, the George Bush and the Mother Teresa.

As christians we are a people who are stubborn, slow to change, quick to miss the point, poor at listening, ignore the obvious, misinterpret the signs, and have huge blindspots we are grateful that God does not speak to us alone but also into the world. We welcome and appreciate critique and the stirring of the Spirit in the people around us, that have caused us to slowly wake up to social, economic, environmental and political justice - for those who have led us into the light through the civil rights, feminist and environmental protection movements, we are grateful.
Yet as the people known as christians we share a common dream, a hope, a savour, a liberator. We are Easter people, who walk in the hope of the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. For in Jesus we see the hope that we will once again have our humanity restored, we will get our lives back andone day live fully anew.

We experience the glimmer of this future when we love instead of hate, forgive instead of strike back, give instead of take, create instead of destroy, help instead of walk on by, laugh with others who laugh and cry with those who cry. These life giving moments remind us of the change that is going on quietly within us, the gentle caress of the Spirit conforming us in the image of our resurrected living Lord. The tongue tingling taste of the kingdom that has come amongst us now, the freedom that is given to escape our tired stories and self focused lives and experience the wonder and life as people called to care and serve each other, the communities and creation around us.

We are the people known as christian. Although we are the numerous and different, the fractured and fractious we recognise one Lord, Jesus and are called by the One God our Father, through the power of the one Spirit to be one body, one people, one nation, one family, one creation and one kingdom. Ours is a life walked together, learning to live for the other, learning to love the other as we are changed by the infinite love of God who is for us and transforms us.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gregory A. Boyd at Mars Hill, Grand Rapids

Dr. Gregory A. Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church, St. Paul, MN spoke at Mars Hill Bible Church today. Julie and I went to hear him this evening.

Greg, using 1 John 3:8--"The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's works"--as the key theme, presented a biblical and passionate overview of Christus Victor--our warrior King and Deliverer.

From our origin as God's image-bearers and from the time we forfeited our God-given dominion over to the devil in the Fall, Greg moved to the life and mission of Jesus of "binding the strong man and plundering his house." With energetic imagery Greg painted a picture of Jesus' assault on the devil's evil mission in league with principalities and powers to destroy and bring death to human beings.

I was struck by Boyd's excitement that the first mention of the term "church" by Jesus places the church as the aggressive force storming the gates of Hell (Matthew 16:18). Jesus invites the church to plunder hell and release its captives because Jesus has already bound the strong man by his death on the cross (see Colossians 2:15).

However, in the midst of all the war talk, Boyd reminded us that other people are not the enemy--we don't struggle against flesh and blood. If it is a flesh and blood person or group of people or nation of people--even and especially our enemies, our only call is to express self-denying, sacrificial love. We are to mimic God and to live in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2). People who dress Jesus up in red, white and blue may not have liked Greg's message.

To get a fuller view of Jesus as Christus Victor, I encourage you to read Boyd's book God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict. In this book, Boyd relieves the unnecessary tension produced by classical determinism. That tension resides in the Godhead where the Father decrees "all things" (including very evil acts) and then sends his Son to fight against and clean up the very things that he, God, has decreed. That's what classical determinism leads to. If nothing, absolutely nothing happens "outside" God's decree, then God is the origin the evil. Classical determinists recoil at that conclusion and respond that the origin of evil is "a mystery." "Mystery" is a cop-out from where their theological system logically leads.

We were invited at the close of the service to celebrate the Lord's Table in light of what Jesus accomplished at the cross. It was a meaningful moment for Julie and me.

Thanks to Mars Hill for bringing Gregory A. Boyd into the area to speak.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Role of Women in Ministry

Why did it take Moses 40 years to get the people of Israel across a relatively small area of land from Egypt to the Promised Land?

Because he refused to stop and ask for directions.

Moses was a man. Men wander and wander, believing it is beneath them to ask for help.

I'm joking, of course. Yet, the gender wars seem to continue with both humor and, sadly sometimes, with hostility.

I am convinced that with the coming of Jesus, with his ministry to and with women, that a defining change took place in how women were viewed in a patriarchal culture. I believe that with the pouring out of the Spirit on the earth all kinds of differences that barred people from full equality with one another in the kingdom were abolished. Paul unpacks this equality in several of his New Testament letters. That equality is not just about equal standing before God, but equal status and function in the believing community. The equality in salvation is demonstrated in actual social change. Salvation opens doors for women, not closes them.

The dialogue/debate about the role of women in ministry continues in the USAmerican evangelical church. Excellent books about the issue from both the complementarian view (gifted women are excluded from some functions in the church) and the egalitarian view (gifted women have equal access with men to all functions of the church) are available. No one needs to be ignorant about the biblical, theological and practical dynamics inherent in the discussion. No one needs to be a "Bible thumper," either, as if the issue is cut and dry with no serious discussion needed. We have heard enough from those who say, ''The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it." Closed minds are not good in any arena of life, including the church.

When God created "man," that is, human beings, God created persons male and female. I believe in genuine, God-created differences between the sexes. Yet, when only half of the image-bearers of God (men) have "authority over" (contrary to Jesus' view of authority) all the people in the body of Christ, the whole body suffers a loss; the believing community experiences a deficit.

There are a few hot-bed texts about this issue. Those who are honest on both sides of the issue, admit that these texts are not "right out there," plain as day. There are lexical issues, textual critical issues (in some), exegetical issues, contextual issues, and cultural/historical issues in every text discussed about "the role of women in ministry." All these lead to differences in theological understandings and pastoral practices.

As a pastor, I think that men will always think and feel and talk and teach as men. How could they do otherwise? The same with women in Christ. Isn't it true that God does not have only a "masculine" heart? God's "image" includes the feminine heart as well. The Spirit does not distribute New Testament gifts--leaders, pastors, teachers--with a gender bias.

I have experienced the teaching and pastoral ministry of ordained, trained, gifted sisters in Christ. It is undeniable that I received something of God that I would never receive from a man. I did not sense in the least a "feminist ideology" in them. They were simply serving as God created, gifted and called them. With what I know now about the few hotly debated texts, I would never refuse a gifted sister in Christ full equality in ministry with me or other men. I don't want to face the Judge Who judges rightly with that decision on my shoulders. Our sisters are different from men and that difference-in-relationship-to-God-as-a-woman needs to be heard, appreciated and affirmed by men and by all the church.
*Google image above


Sunday, April 22, 2007


It's good to be able to laugh at ourselves.

Dan McDonald is a friend of Bill Kinnon and Dan pastors Grace Toronto Church. Dan has jumped into the People Formerly Know As conversation. Here are Dan's thoughts on People Formerly Known As The People Formerly Known As The Congregation"

"I raise a glass to the People Formerly Known as the People Formerly Known as the Congregation, who, upon hearing that their disaffection had created a tsunami-like publicity wave that was about to become a Zondervan marketing campaign and then a new para-church ministry (40 Days of Anti- Purpose?), quietly realized that it was no use. Even their defiance had become hip. Soon CNN would be calling, and Larry King would be asking them for an interview. Sigh.

"And so, with heavy hearts, they looked around for the most authentic expression of Christianity they could find. It wasn't in the Christian bookstores. It wasn't in the radio programs. It wasn't even in the TV shows; Lord, no. Oprah didn't quite make it. Benny and Jimmy and the TBN gang had too much hair spray and too many white suits and ever-white teeth. And it was no longer in the blog weave known as TPFKATWhatever, which was now hopelessly popular, cool, hip, and with it.

"So they dragged themselves down to the local church. Not the magnet Uber-church that took up 15 acres of land, but the local church with the faded sign and the musty carpet. And there, they found something bizarre.

"Second-rate music, draggy announcements, bad children's stories, dated PowerPoint templates, and something else.... real parents who were teaching children about Jesus with joy in their hearts. Ushers who loved to serve. Snacks teams that laughed as they missed the last part of the service just to feed a hundred people. Guitarists in tears over a cheesy illustration by the young pastoral intern, who was so nervous he had forgotten to button his shirt properly and was speaking for 58 minutes because by gosh, since he only got to preach twice a year, he was going to tell them everything he had learned in the past 6 months. And patient singles, couples and parents nodding dutifully to him, knowing he was nervous and helping him feel loved and prophetic and useful. and finding that in those 58 minutes were some very helpful things for them, because a Voice was using this intern in his inadequacy.

"And that Voice, the Voice of the Shepherd, touched the PFKATPFKATC. And they remembered why it took them so long to become the PFKATC. Because despite the second-rate production values, the Spirit was here. He promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name. Excellent it wasn't- Cheesy it was. Authentic? Go ask the snacks coordinator if her joy is authentic, and she'll think you're from another planet. You can't DREAM UP this kind of second-rate cheese combined with this much first-rate joy in our culture any more; it has to be authentic.

"So they- the PFTATC, that is, decided to be radical and do a crazy thing. They called up the People Presently Known as Pastors, and found a bunch of peope equally frustrated, tired, restless, and hopeful. And they talked. And the PFKATCongregation realized the PPKATPastors hardly read blogs, because they are so busy dealing with the complaints and needs of the People Still in Their Congregation. The pastors were stunned that these people cared so much; they had assumed the leaving was because the PFKATC cared too little.

"And lo and behold, they each found out something wondrous and true, and that is this: that the people presently known as pastors mostly got into the pastorate for people like the PFKATC, because you care so much about the kingdom. And so do we.

"And so I raise a glass, as a Person Still Willing To Call Myself a Pastor, to You, the People About to Be Known Again As The Congregation. I know church isn't what it should be. That's my fault- and yours. I stamped it with my pathologies, and so did you. Don't try to bail on your responsibility just because I got paid to do this full time. Guess who paid me? This sucker is OURS, first to last. It's wounded, and weak, and corrupted, and full of hypocrisy- I agree.

"But the funny thing is... it IS the body of Christ. A messed up, messy, ego-saturated, hypocritical institution on earth. With idiots like you and me running it, what did you expect? Oh yeah, and one more thing - it is also His Bride. The glorious, triumphant, sinful yet forgiven, cleansed, spotless Bride against whom the Gates of Hell shall not prevail.

"If you turn your back on His Bride, you turn your back on Him. And since you are His, you won't do that. You will come back and help make the Bride beautiful again. Because you care. There is enough piss and vinegar and sadness and passion and real, Spirit-groaning hope in these blog threads to start a new Reformation. It's high time we started. Who's got the nails for the Door? I'll bring the hammer.

"And drink a glass to you all.

"Welcome back.



* * * * * * * * *

Bill Kinnon commented, "Dan made me laugh and skewered me with the truth."

Dan, I, too, thank you for your wading into these PFKA waters and bringing a perspective that can easily get lost in the turmoil of "doing church" in the 21st century.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

TPFKA Update from Bill Kinnon

Over at "achievable ends," Bill Kinnon provides an update of THE PEOPLE FORMERLY KNOWN AS series. It is the April 20, 2007 entry.

The TPFKA virtual conversation is expanding. The church as "institution" is sick. People are willing to voice the symptoms of the sickness. They are longing for a healthy reality that participates in Jesus' vision of "church," and that vision is not only emerging, it is being lived "outside the four walls" of status quo church.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Women Formerly Known as the Pastor's Wife

Thanks to Lyn Hallewell over at "Beyond the 4 Walls," we now have another episode of "The People Formerly Known As..."

With a spirit of gentle honesty Lyn writes her reflections.

Click: The Women Formerly Know As The Pastor's Wife.

Thanks, Lyn.

Note: eye = a Google image.


Monday, April 16, 2007


The following is from Heidi Daniels.
(photo on the right)

* * * * * * * * * *

I am the girl formerly known as as a "normal Christian."

You may know me as a violinist, as a teacher, as a sister, daughter, wife, and friend. You may have noticed that I don't attend a church building anymore and worried about me, maybe thinking that I have really fallen off the deep end theologically. Maybe you haven't talked to me in a long time because you are convinced of this. Maybe you've thought I'm turning away from God, or away from the Bible, or at least away from the Body of Christ. The truth is...
I'm a girl who deeply desires God. I believe I'm his image-bearer, though I'm still learning what that means. There are many like me, many who for years fit inside status quo Christianity. Many who, like me, find that the old boxes no longer contain the expansive life that Christ has filled us with. Many who have quietly and sometimes not-so-quietly found new ways to live out our lives as Christ followers.

I am the girl who, as a child, would wake up her parents late at night to confess some little act or thought that I perceived to be sinful - because I couldn't sleep, my conscience was keeping me awake. I am the girl who couldn't lie because it made me sick to my stomach. Don't get me wrong, I don't think these things reflect my "godliness from a young age", but rather my tender conscience combined with the overwhelming fear that I had, even as a child, of being "wrong."
I am the girl who read her first theology book when she was 13. I ate it up. By the time I was 18, I felt like I knew it all. I had systematic theology "down." I began to study philosophy in high school. I could use words like "pelagian" and "gnostic heresy" and "synchronistic" and "dialectic" intelligently in conversation. I read everything that existed by Piper, Packer, and Bridges. Then, being that it wasn't enough to read "about" the works of people like John Owen, I went back and read the originals, like "Mortification of Sin."

I am the girl formerly known as a normal Christian. I read my Bible daily and highlighted, underlined, and wrote notes in the margin. I led my first Bible study when I was 16. I am the girl who attended not one church during my high school years, but two. I was the faithful church attendee every Sunday, and then a faithful youth group member at a different church - always showing up early to Bible studies and Sunday evening events.

I am the girl who was promised the world by church leaders and famous authors, if only I would read my Bible and pray every day and submit myself to Christ. If I listened closely to the voices of "authority" in Christendom, I'd hear messages about how to secure God's blessing - how to avoid being hurt in romantic relationships - how to live a victorious or successful or wealthy life. When suffering was talked about, no one ever mentioned how dark it could be, how sometimes it felt as if God had left you all alone. Somehow even suffering was victorious, if you could be cheerful and stoic through it.

I am the girl whose world was shattered when a tale of unrequited love broke my heart, shattered my reputation, and for a while convinced me that God was holding out on me. Then I discovered that what I'd been taught was wrong. God wasn't a vending machine...I couldn't do the right thing and guarantee his response. God was wild, but good. He didn't always do what you'd expect, but he always did what was best.

I am the girl formerly known as a normal Christian...who came to see that much of Christendom in the modern era was about control. We couldn't control God, but we tried, by writing up our ideas about him and then freeze-drying them, shrink-wrapping them, and having them nailed down forever. "Sola Scriptura" became, instead of the liberating mantra of the Reformation, a way to climb into a box where we could close the lid and say that everyone on the outside "just didn't get it."

I am the girl who sat in a pastor's office with two pastors and a very hurting girl and watched as they "shoulded" on her, loading her down with burdens too heavy to carry. What was it that Jesus said about not breaking a bruised reed? It began to seem to me that the opposite was true of church leaders dealing with women who had been victimized by domestic violence and emotional assault.

I am the girl who slowly but surely moved away from being an attendee at a church and being to realize that the passion God had given me for his church wasn't about buildings, or programs, or budgets, or attendance. It was about his people - his body - his bride, the people he died to save.
I am the girl formerly known as a normal Christian who sacrificed her reputation as "one of the mature ones" - one of the ones you'd WANT in leadership, leading Bible studies, "ministering" - to instead become a person solely dependent on Christ....not pastors, not elders, not authors, not caregroup leaders. It's not that I think pastors, elders, authors, or caregroup leaders are bad people...many of them truly love God and are serving him as best they know how. It's just that I no longer accept that any of them are in a position to mediate my relationship with God, or are given any authority by him in my life. There are those that I respect and look to for an example, for guidance, for advice - like my parents, or Paul Morgan, or others who have walked with God longer than I and have much to offer me. But these people are not my authority, nor are they a mediator between God and me. They are friends, they are the community of Christ with me on the journey...but I do not bow to them.

Indeed, I do not bow to anyone except my Lord. I do not bow to church history, though there are many people that have come before, and I am grateful for their writiings, their example, their bravery. I do not bow to any organized expression of church, though they have done much good, I have come to see that there are other ways and sometimes better ways of being a living expression of the Body of Christ.

I am the girl formerly known as a normal Christian. I'm not normal anymore, I certainly don't stick with the status quo, I don't have much reverence for sacred cows, and I'm not afraid to disagree with the majority. But I haven't stopped loving the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and I'm passionate about loving his body - the church. I might not agree with you about how best to do that, but I haven't forsaken fellowship. I meet with the body of Christ in my home and the homes of others, in coffee shops, across fried rice at Thai restaurants, participating in redemptive conversations and living, loving, crying, and praying together. This, I believe, is Church - and it is something I will love and serve until my dying day.

You may disagree with me and you may think that what I'm saying is wrong...but all I ask is this...

Did Christ call us to be normal Christians? Or normal anything, for that matter? Or did he open up the possibility for so much more than getting along with Pharisees and not upsetting the status quo? As I recall, he wasn't afraid to cause a ruckus in the temple of his day. Wherever you are and wherever you serve - whether inside traditional church or outside - don't settle for normal. He has given us so much more than that.

* * * * * * * *

Thank you, Heidi. I hope many people hear you.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Greg Laughery: A Necessary Plea about "Church"

Greg Laughery is a blog friend who lives in Huemoz, Switzerland. He has a site called Living Spirituality: Renewing the Mind, Refreshing the Heart, Reviving the Soul.

Greg in a recent post has reflected on Bill's, Grace's, Jamie's and my posts about The People Formerly Known As The Congregation/Pastor.
Read Greg's gentle commentary:

This post is connected to those of Bill Kinnon, John Frye, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, and Grace. It should be read with their concerns in mind as they seek to define The People Formerly Known as the Congregation. Their four posts seem to form a nucleus around the themes of lament, of disappointment, of betrayal, of pain, of renewal, of hope and redemption. Exodus continues. The journey of wilderness wandering, in the company of God, will lead toward new beginnings, and one fine day we will all arrive in the Promised Land. In the meantime, this time in-between times ….

A Plea from the Battle Torn and Worn who are longing for New Beginnings

Conflicts are brewing at an alarming pace between Christians who are emerging and those who are not. Fine – let’s get at what we have in common and where we disagree. But please, for the sake of Christ Jesus, let’s do this with grace, love, humility, and a flair for holiness, as we live before the watching world. There has been too much, and it must be said with tears, spiteful innuendo, anger, disrespect and injustice in the past. Let’s not repeat that in the present. These battles get ugly and there is no winner. The numbers of wounded merely increase and the love of Christ pales into obscurity. We are torn and worn by the wars. Release us, oh Lord, and give us a new beginning.

Give voice to those who long to be free; let us speak of some important matters.

We believe it is essential to love God, each other, and all people.

We believe it is crucial to turn our hearts and minds to God, and in so doing to worship, to encounter God, not just to talk or read about God.

We believe we are actors in the great drama of God’s global mission of redemption and the renewal of all things, centered in and upon the crucified and risen One.

We believe Scripture and Spirit reveal God, refresh our memories, empower our imaginations, and direct our lives into increasing and ever deeper community with God and each other.

We believe that Jesus is Lord and that churches or Empires are not.

We believe the focus on and drastic slippage into church activities, committees, buildings and bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo being central results in deep spiritual impoverishment. Tear down the walls – let the people go – let us go – following in the footsteps of Christ will bring freedom for the oppressed and disenfranchised. People are where it’s at.

We believe the arts, and cultural participation and analysis, are vital.

We believe in church as community, as a Scripture reading and living community.

We believe in hospitality and a compassionate welcoming of strangers.

We believe that the Christian life is an expression of living spirituality. Living spirituality is both verb and adjective. It is to be lived and it is living. Living because God is a living God and lived because we are spiritual people.
Thanks, Greg.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"I'll Have A Double Galatians. Hold the Psalm."

Ken Medema once sang about our Christian culture's creation of the "corner drugstore Jesus pushing happiness pills." Well sung, Ken.

I am startled at the responses to the previous post. My friend, Bill Kinnon, is wondering why his essay and mine have struck such a sensitive nerve in the evangelical community (see previous two entries). "Grace" offered insights into the underlying issues of "church" gone awry and Jamie points us to a preferred missional future.

It's risky writing as we did because some will think we're petulant or whiney or bitter. As far as I can tell, Bill is a happy guy. And I'm enjoying the place God has called me to at this time in my life. Others may conclude differently. Such is the risk when you reveal the "family secrets."

I don't think Bill and I are seeking to place blame on anyone. We're trying to address a prevailing form of USAmerican/Canadian "church" that is spinning out a lot of negativity. Disillusioned people are fleeing congregational life as we have come to know it. Pastors are jettisoning a toxic form of ministry parading under the banners of "success" and "cultural relevance."

Remember "paint by numbers" kits? This is the USAmerican church. Just like McDonald's across the States---all the same---so is the average evangelical church. Same songs, same current trendy stuff, same effort at some kind of coffee bar. We older folks poke fun at teens wanting to express their "individuality" and end up in the same jeans, same shoes, piercings, same T-shirts, iPods, etc. as all their friends. Why do we joke about the teens when we sit in our churchy cultural sameness from sea to shining sea? For all the fuss about GenX, etc. versus Boomers, I even see an ocean of sameness in the emerging church. The 'conference-ization' of anything is the evangelical way.

We don't have honest evangelicalism. We have an American Christian economy driven by market share and media. You got a good idea? Publish it (with a workbook). You got a creative ministry? Put it on a DVD. You got a heart for the poor? Make money off of it. Anything is marketable. Bank on it.

Christians are investors in the corporation. What is their profit share?

"I pays my money and I makes my choice." Christians are consumers.

"May I see your menu, oops!, I mean your church bulletin..."

"Is this service rated G or PG? I hope to God, not R."

Q: "Are we going to do the 40 Days of Purple?" A: "Yeah, after we do Experiencing God and before we do Alpha."

"Can I bring my snack, oops!, I mean my coffee into the theater, uh, sanctuary?"

Who wants to serve in that mess? Who wants that mess in the first place? A whole lot of people and pastors are saying, "Not me!"


Thursday, April 05, 2007

The People Formerly Known As "The Pastor"

The People Formerly Known As "The Pastor"

The following post is a polemic. It is meant to provoke conversation in line with Bill Kinnon's, "Grace's" and Jamie Arpin-Ricci's posts mentioned in the last entry. These comments are a composite of my own experiences and those of disillusioned church leaders.

There are thousands of us. You probably know many of us now as insurance sales agents, real estate agents, or doing anything besides "church." We started with idealism about being voices for the kingdom of God and soon realized we became mutated forms of USAmerican business leaders. Even Jesus became a CEO. We traded immersion in the Bible for hyped-up seminars and books about good management, strong leadership and slick public relations. We learned that the size of our church parking lot mattered more than the size of your hearts for God. Be Thou My Vision got altered to "What is your vision statement?"

The People Formerly Known As The Pastor discovered somewhere in "doing church" that they were being paid as surrogates for the congregation's spirituality. You know, the old saw, "Pastors are paid to be good; the people are good for nothing." People seem to tell others more about their pastor(s) than about Jesus, their Savior. Of course, this made pastors feel good and loved and valued. Then it dawned on us, we were feeling good for all the wrong reasons. We were dynamic communicators, we awed people with exegetical biblical wonders, we spoke notebooks full of outlines with cute stories and precise principles and timely applications. We "rightly handled the word of truth" as a magician handles his tricks. What a one-man show. Little did we realize that all our song-and-dance additions overshadowed the eternal Word itself. For all our proclamation about the "sufficiency of Scripture," we communicated as if that Word needed our 2 cents worth. And our razzle-dazzle knowledge of Hebrew and Greek helped us create messages that made you feel totally inadequate to do serious Bible study on your own. So, you either read a fluffy devotional snippet each day or ran off to Bible Study Fellowship to really learn the Word.

The People Formerly Known As The Pastor wrestled with conflicting ego issues. Some felt the rush of power over people. Some even said that in order to get to God, you had to go through us. We were your covering (a term never used in pastoral ministry until the 1970s). We were "the Lord's anointed." Don't touch us. Being charged with the eternal well-being of souls is heady stuff. And, sadly, it went to our heads. We became commanders rather than servants. We liked the feeling of bossing people the name of the Lord, of course. When you confronted us with our spiritual abuse of you, we were quick and smooth, savvy and cunning, and we made you feel like it was all your fault. On the other hand, others of us were scared to death of you. You gave us our paycheck. You gave us benefits. Unknown to us, you called us to your church in order to get your way. We thought we were authentically praying to God, "Your will be done...," but it became apparent that the will of God was the will of those who had the money. We became people-pleasers at the cost of our own dreams. Eventually the commanders among us got kicked out of the church and the fearful among us got scared out. Selling shoes looked mighty appealing.

The People Formerly Known As The Pastor ran up school bills, too, going to college and seminary. It's costly learning Hebrew and Greek these days. Our peers in the "market place" were making twice, sometimes 3 and 4 times the salary we were offered. We were told to live by faith. We saw the rampant materialism permeate the church and we baptized it with "being relevant with the culture." We officiated at very high-priced weddings and worried how we would get our own kids married. Spring Break meant Disney-World for you and your kids and a trip to see relatives for us. We tried to remember the thing about "treasures laid up in heaven" while realizing that tithing was the rich person's easy way out. Yes, we made you give to our grandiose building projects, our need for bigger this and newer that "for the Lord." We made you pledge to this idea and that effort. All the while we told you, "You can't serve both God and money." When some of us ventured to speak about simplicity, you thought we were anti-capitalists, unAmerican.

The People Formerly Known As The Pastor loved the idea of spiritual gifts and gift inventory tools. Now we could recruit you with this slick saying, "You will find your deepest joy when you become a Sunday School teacher, a financial council member, an evangelistic campaign organizer." We loved the idea of "recruiting." We could build our religious empire footnoted with Bible verses. More people serving possibly meant a bigger church. We could go to Pastors Conferences armed and ready to shoot off our mouths about "the hand of God's blessing on my church." Note that many pastors really do say,"My church." Our worries at night about problems and struggles in "my church" were the signal that we truly had taken ownership of what is God's. When we overlooked 20 compliments and ruminated angrily over one negative comment, we knew it was "all about us." Some of us needed counseling.

The People Formerly Known As The Pastor were angry people. Not that you would know it. Our spouses and children knew it. We lived in glass houses. Our kids had to be angels while yours were smoking pot and having sex. And, God forbid, that anyone in the church say anything negative about your kid(s). When you "dedicated" them to God on that Sunday morning, the church committed to helping you raise your child. But, watch out if someone corrected your child while at church. You lost it. You left. You were living under some crazy belief that being born a sinner didn't apply to your children. You wanted to drop them off in a very safe environment with very safe people and then you could forget all about them and do your church thing. You would listen to "Focus on the Family" and then pay church staff to focus on your kids. It was really a crazy environment.

The People Formerly Known As The Pastor began to smell something rotting in the whole "church" thing. Only once in the New Testament is the term for the service of pastor used as a noun (Ephesians 4:11-12). All the rest of the times "pastoring/shepherding" is used as a verbal form, except when used of Jesus. Having accepted a corrupted image and Christendom model of "the pastor," we finally began to see that corruption infiltrating the church. Apostles and prophets and deacons and elders/overseers are mentioned far more than "the pastor." Why did this one term and office (!) gain supremacy? In its current expression, "the pastor" certainly isn't biblical. And don't get some of us started on the injustice of limiting the equal status of women in ministry.

The People Formerly Known As The Pastor are still serving in the places once populated by The People Formerly Known As The Congregation. At least some of us are. We are not seeking to command and control. We are not jittery about what people think. We are not afraid of the seismic shift caused by TPFKATC. We sense that something magnificent is afoot. We are intrigued by the chaos. We, TPFKATP, are willing to risk significant change with TPFKATC in order to recover or even create local expressions of the kingdom of God that first of all are burning with missional passion and practice. We want to explore with you the meaning of the chaos, the vision of a preferred future, the challenge of being "church." We dream of kingdom outposts that are guided by the biblical text in its storied form, shaped by the community of the Trinitarian God, and devoted to the equality of all who are in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. What does this mean for "the pastor"? Who knows? That's the adventure we all are in!


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


The People Formerly Known As The C

A blog to read (click on the words above).

My Canadian blogger friend, Bill Kinnon, has written a provocative essay. To get right to Bill's creative contribution, scroll a little way down the post.

Follow up by reading Grace's post. Bill calls her post "Part 2" of TPFKATC. Grace writes about "The Underlying Issues."

Even More! Read Jamie Arpin-Ricci's "A Community Becoming to be Known as Missional."

All 3 of these posts--Bill's, Grace's, and Jamie's--are profound articulations of the grassroot changes in USAmerican/Canadian view of "church."