The Fallacy of the Institutional Church

Hide and seek is a great game. It is an easy game. You just need a bunch of kids to play it...or not. Because I notice a lot of hide and seek going on out there and it is more adults playing the game.

Look, I'm in the processes of starting a new church, Crossroads United Methodist Church, and it is unapologetically a United Methodist Church. It is the UMC which has ordained me and sent me. It was the UMC that has been most formational in helping me grow in my faith and come to an encounter with Jesus Christ, God's Son, an encounter that radically altered my life.

Go figure that I encountered Jesus in an institutional church.

I know that conventional wisdom says the institutional church turns people off and labels drive people away. John makes a great point on this at Come to the Waters. However, when the connection to a denomination is hidden away or pastors don't acknowledge their connections, those who supported them, it just seems so inauthentic. Most of us like to know when we're playing a game.

But then to say you can have a church and not have some form of institution, well it seems this is a bit disingenuous too. It is kind of hard to miss the institutional structure recorded in the book of Acts, or Paul's pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, or any of Paul's letters for that matter.

I think it is a fallacy to act like or talk about throwing out the institutional nature of the church. Every church which casts off its connection to an institution is merely trading one hat for another. It is just more moving of chairs on the Titanic. There has to be structure.

I think it is kind of like looking for a doctor. I wanted to know what hospital they were connected to and that they had the credentials and certification that was appropriate. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I got a second opinion. When I look at the service industries I use, I look into reputation - their connection to an institution.

It isn't that people don't really like institutional church, I don't know any church that isn't, after all, an institution. The real fallacy is when we begin to come to pay homage to the church rather than to Christ Jesus.

May I Ask: How have you benefited from the institution of a church? What could be done better to help with the institutional nature?

May I Suggest: Look into the structures of other churches, what are some of the similarities and differences? What good comes from these? Bad?

A Seminarians Library?

I am still trying to clean out my library of the books I never read and it has been what...12 years now?!?!

see more crazy cat pics

A Little Rant on Cokesbury...

Today, Clark Howard talked about the 45 million dollars the Federal Government wasted in mailing out a letter. It was the letter informing Clark and millions of us that we were going to receive a refund! Okay, not like we didn't know that was coming?!?!

Well, in the mail this week, I received a CD from Cokesbury, our United Methodist Publishing House. This was advertised as "New" music, multi-cultural in nature. Of course, the picture is one of a guy with big headphones on (that should have been the first clue: no one wears headphones like that anymore!) I will refrain from commenting on the quality of the recordings or the lack thereof...

Without going into detail, I'm left wondering why they couldn't have sent out a link to an online version? Put it on iTunes? Set-up a MySpace page? Did anyone bother to compare this product with other comparable products in the marketplace? As a UM church planter, our funds are limited and then I get this in the mail?

I recently read on another blog asking about the lack of marketable women authors and studies in the UMC (if anyone has that link - please let me know!) similar to Beth Moore. There was certainly a bit of disagreement but it was a valid question. The majority of the books that seemed interesting in the last catalog I got from Cokesbury, were from other publishers. I find it harder and harder to find good Wesleyan-Methodist authors and I can't imagine they don't exist because I sure can find a lot of them out here on the internet!

This wasn't a real easy blog to write. Sorry, but in the area of media and publishing, it doesn't appear Cokesbury is cutting it.

May I Ask: What are your experiences with Cokesbury's materials?
May I Suggest: Take a look at your Cokesbury catalog, what do you find?

Star Wars - Pure and Simple

It doesn't get any more cut and dry than this...
Star Wars Explained by a 3-year-old!
Star Wars Explained by a 3-year-old!

Hit the Back Button to Move Forward

Luke 24:1-3 NASB But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2) And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3) but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

Luke 24:36-48 NASB While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, "Peace be to you." 37) But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38) And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39) "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40) And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41) While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42) They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43) and He took it and ate it before them. 44) Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45) Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46) and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47) and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48) "You are witnesses of these things."

Have you ever been in a class or Sunday school when the announcement went out for a play? Robert Fulghum tells us that Norman was in elementary school when the teacher announced his class would be performing Cinderella. All the hands went up of little girls wanting to play Cinderella and the boys who wanted to be the prince. When everyone realized they couldn’t all play those roles, other shouts went out for the other parts. The teacher made room for everyone.

Norman however wasn’t like everyone else. He wasn’t shy he just didn’t speak unless he had something to say. Norman had a mind of his own. The teacher came over to Norman and said to him, “Norman, all the main parts are taken but we’ll make a role for you if there is someone you’d like to be.”

Norman said almost immediately, “I want to be the pig.”
The teacher said, “Norman, there is no pig in Cinderella.”
Norman said in reply, “There is now.”

Norman created his own costume and created his own part. Norman’s pig mirrored everything Cinderella did. He went where she went, was happy when she was happy and cried when she cried. When the celebration began following the placing of the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot,

“Norman went wild with joy, danced around on his hind legs, and broke his silence by barking. In rehearsal, the teacher had tried to explain to Norman that pigs don’t bark even in Cinderella. But as she expected, Norman explained that this pig barked. And the barking, she had to admit was well done. The presentation was a smash hit. At the curtain call, guess who received a standing ovation? Of course, Norman the barking pig. Who was, after all, the real Cinderella story. (Robert Fulghum, Uh Oh!, New York, Villard, 1991)”

Norman was stubborn and had no intention of letting the script stop him. His performance brought humor, hope and surprise to a story everyone thought they knew. And that, Mike Yaconelli once wrote, “…was so like Jesus. (Messy Spirituality, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2002.)”

Jesus was stubborn like Norman. He redefined what people thought they knew. In essence, Jesus would hit the back button so things could go forward. When others said Messiahs don’t hang out with sinners and that people don’t get healed on the Sabbath, Jesus was stubborn – THIS MESSIAH DOES! When others looked at the law and saw the letter, Jesus looked at it and saw the Spirit – the inspiration of His Father and what was intended. And when others saw death as final, Jesus was stubborn, and said, “Not anymore.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hit the back button five times (Mt. 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43), making note of things said in the past and then redefining them. He said when he was anointed with oil, that what the woman did would be told throughout the world as a memorial (Mt. 26:13). At the last supper, Jesus said to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19)…Hit the back button to move forward.

The disciples were troubled and doubting following Easter Sunday because the script had said, people don’t come back from the dead (of course they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus). Here, even in the presence of Jesus, they doubted. Jesus was stubborn that the disciples understand, he was alive! He took it in baby steps: Here are my hands and feet – touch them! Give me some food to eat and he ate it (it didn’t fall on the floor like he was ghost). What happened on Friday, was back on Friday, today we move forward with a new reality – death is so out of date.

Jesus remains stubborn, stubborn about life, stubborn about love and stubborn about you and me. Stubborn, that there is something beyond what we think are worthy goals and aspirations. Jesus is stubborn that we are to be witnesses to the resurrection, to what we’ve seen and experienced. At Easter, we remember, we hit the back button to move forward.

Growing up, I saw that image seemed to be everything. People judged others on what they could do, how they dressed, what they had and what they knew. I came to realize I just could not measure up with what the world demanded. I grew angry without hope for my future. But a couple of leaders who were in my Scout troop and who volunteered at church, accepted me for who I was. They were Jesus-stubborn, believing that there was something greater God had for me. Their actions showed me grace, that God saw me differently. I chose to follow Jesus and began living with peace, hope and a future.

I still struggle with being stubborn but I’m nothing compared to Jesus. Every time I’ve turned around in my life, the script changes. Whether it was becoming a pastor or having children or facing testicular or starting a new church – Jesus keeps reminding me, I am following Him.

Think about it, has Jesus ever come along and hit the back button in your life? It is what we call repentance, it means to turn and change course. I’m guessing, but whether you know it or not, Jesus has shown you glimpses of the script He wrote for you – not the script you imagine the world gave you. If you’ve not seen it before, then today, let me tell you something: we’re all “Normans.” Jesus has a script ready and waiting for your life and He is the first one standing there applauding for you, right along with all the rest of us “Normans” who have found a place in God’s family.

Hit the back button and move forward – today is Easter – Jesus IS alive and nothing has been or will be the same again!

H/T to Gavin for allowing me to use his blog title for my sermon title!

Holy Thursday...

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

Image from St. James Cathedral

R2-D2 In Love

In one of their visits to planet Urf, Artoo falls in love with a fire hydrant on Sesame Street. Gee whiz, it was the 70's! Threepio should have just kept his nose out of it.

Tuesday Talking Points

So much happening and so little time to blog!

Sunday was a great day at Due West UMC as we celebrated Palm Sunday. Can't wait for this coming weekend!

Friday night, Brandon Reeves and Kimmie Tinney are playing at the Daily Grind, 8pm. It is going to be great!

On top of that, Crossroads UMC will be moving our location to Shelton Elementary.

I've also got to get my NCAA brackets together!!!! Arrggghhhhh!

Stop by Seven Hill's Clubhouse today Tuesday, March 18 from 6-8pm for information concerning the new library in north Paulding. The West GA Library committee will be there asking for input on what type of library services you'd like to see in the Cedarcrest area. This will be great information. They will have drawings and a survey to fill out.

A new hospital is on its way north Paulding. To meet growing demand for medical services in northern Paulding County, WellStar Health System plans to develop a 127-acre medical campus in Dallas. The Marietta-based health system has a contract to purchase the land in the Cedarcrest Road/Seven Hills Parkway corridor in North Paulding County.

Learning...You're Doing It Wrong.

Today was teacher conference day so I came home early to hang out with my kids and work some from home. I spent a good bit of that time with my daughter who is in second grade, helping her rewrite a story for school. There was no spell check, no grammar check for me to depend on to help her. I was on my own.

My son is doing division with remainders. Just so you know, I still have horrible memories of learning division with remainders. My third grade year was spent in the hall more than the class so you get the idea. I am not really sure some times even how to help him on some of the stuff they tackle. I feel I am on my own.

Teaching has come a long way since my good old days and I realize my parents must have felt the same way. I can only imagine how teachers must feel.

I guess the biggest change is the idea that all we're trying to do in education is move information from Point A (the teacher) to Point B (the student). That would be great IF everyone learned that way but most of us don't. David Kolb's Learning Styles points to four different ways regarding how we each learn. Learning Styles by Marlene D. LeFever was pivotal in my understanding of this idea. Of course full credit goes to my mentors, Dr. Donald M. Joy and Dr. Catherine Stonehouse who taught me how much more learning is done by living.

Jesus taught by doing, by relaying information, by telling stories and relating to needs. There was never just one method that he used. Today, the church has grown dependent on really, only one style of teaching, that of proclamation. Diane Hynson has a very helpful article on how the church can be more effective in Uniting Knowledge and Vital Piety. Such learning is not merely for children but for us all.

When are we not just going to liberate God from the church but allow God to liberate us from ourselves? I am not trying to fault those teachers and learners who learn most effectively by lecture and proclamation. What I am asking for is for us to consider those of us who who learn better by making a mess! Make room for the servant, for the artist, and the storyteller. My hope is that Crossroads UMC will be the kind of place for faith to be taught in many ways and lived out in every life.

How do you live without doing anything? I think that would be called existing and that does not sound like much of a life. How do you call what you do faith if it is never put to the test by stepping out?

If Jesus never came into our world, would He still be the Savior?

John 3:13-21 NASB "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14) "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15) so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17) "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18) "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19) "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20) "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21) "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

This Holy Week, here is to all of you practicing the truth - I am thankful that this is one thing I'm not doing on my own.

May I Ask: How do you learn best?

May I Suggest: Consider how people learn. Look at Kolb's descriptions. How would that help you lead better? Teacher better? Be a better friend? Parent? Disciple?

Dangerous Things Don't Always Happen At High Speeds

There is no need to be in a hurry. Just stop your surfing and mousing. Take one minute and catch your breath. Seriously, slow down...oh, sorry, I was just talking to myself. Does your life feel a bit hectic too? I've noticed that somehow, all the things that were supposed to help us get control of our lives and time, seem to create more craziness and busyness.

I think that is why books can be such a good companion - they slow down the pace.

While there are classics in literature, for each of us, I imagine there are classics in our own libraries. There are a handful of books I go back to again and again. Time has yet to turn them into timeless but they came to each of us at a time we needed them and the words resonated. One of those books for me is a book entitled Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconelli. Mike wrote that...
...In many Christian environments, we are told that God wants to give us what we need and want immediately. If you have to wait for God's blessing, these people say, you are doing something wrong because God would never want you to wait for anything. Add to this quick-fix gospel the notion that waiting is a waste of time and you have the foundation laid for churches full of impatient, demanding Christians who want and expect God to meet their every "need" now. Trouble is, God doesn't work that way. (pg 88)

Recently, I've been feeling the "pressures" of being a new church pastor. You set certain benchmarks along the way and read and consult with many. Expectations are set by others, rightly or wrongly, about the measure of success. My spirit and heart has been out of sorts for a while now with all this and Mike's words were like cool refreshing water after a hard, climb loaded with heavy gear.

Mike's words put me in that "slow-motion" frame like the Six Million Dollar Man, going slow but still out pacing everything around me. You see, I had no asparation of being a new church pastor anymore than I had of being a pastor back in the summer of 2003. There was no promise I'd even start a church when I became a probationary Elder in the UMC in 2004.

I thought I'd learned patience in the days and months and years leading up to this fall. I guess not. You'd think 7 months from launch and I would have some ability to plug back into a well of patience of five years of waiting...not. God does not work that way. God doesn't work our way at all.

My wife passed on a devotion from Elisabeth Elliot this week (freebie: Guys, you should always read things your wife gives you). It read...
"Let us recall that the task is a divinely appointed one, and divine aid is therefore to be expected. Expect it! Ask for it, wait for it, believe that God gives it. Offer to Him the job itself, along with your fears and misgivings about it. He will not fail or be discouraged. Let his courage encourage you. The day will come when the task will be finished. Trust Him for it."

When you go with God, dangerous things don't happen at high speeds but at slow ones. Maybe that is why we keep missing out on the miraculous.

But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50:7 ESV)

May I Ask: What helps you the most to slow down and connect with God?

May I Suggest: When you actually do hear from God, don't rush past the moment. Be still and listen. Savor the moment.

The Return Of Jabba the Cat...

Enter the ICHC online Poker Cats Contest!

Cult of Personality

It was a song by Living Color in 1988 but more and more it seems to drive people's lives. Don't remember the song? Check it out...

I've heard more than once recently someone say, "I go to church to hear (name of pastor)," "I'm here because of (name of pastor)," "(name of pastor) says..." Don't get me wrong, some of this is a healthy respect. However, there is another part of these statements that Brad Abare comments on in his observation at Church Marketing Sucks, what he calls the "personality-driven church." Having been in the process of reading, studying and living out the process of being a pastor, and starting a new church, there appears often times to be a greater following for personalities over Jesus Christ. And it doesn't have to do just with new churches.

Christian Schwartz points out in his book Natural Church Development, that most materials from megachurch leaders, reflect unreproducible models of leadership. Schwartz's study found that most of the pastors leading healthy churches are not well known at all.

I think that points to one of the continuing fallacies most often paraded about in Christendom today, namely that everything rises and fall on leadership. Is leadership important? Yes, but the question is, who is in charge? If all we're going to look to are personalities of preachers then were falling short of Paul's challenge when he asks,
When one of you says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos"---aren't you acting like worldly people? After all, who is Apollos? And who is Paul? We are simply God's servants, by whom you were led to believe. Each one of us does the work which the Lord gave him to do: I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plant, but it was God who made the plant grow. Using the gift that God gave me, I did the work of an expert builder and laid the foundation, and someone else is building on it. But each of you must be careful how you build. For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. (1 Corinthians 3:4 & 5, 10 & 11 GNB)

There are some engaging personalities in our world. People with great ideas who challenge and persuade us. Personalities who connect to us in very personal ways. They exist in religion, politics and entertainment. They are in our families and neighborhoods. Brad asks the pointed question,
...there does seem to be something lacking in the personality driven churches. If the church is not being built to last for generations to come, then what is it being built for?

May I Ask: What consequences does the Church experience from personalities?

May I Suggest: Take a moment and consider what characteristics are important to you in a leader? Do you have them? Do the people you follow have them? What are the possible consequences of these leadership traits?

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