17 February, 2007

FHC: The Church of Tomorrow - Wrap Up

I'm glad that some of you enjoyed Jim and Brenda's little trip through the church in 2027. I really enjoyed writing it, especially because of all the surprises you threw at me! Long about episode 5 or so, when Jim first visited Corner Church, and ya'll told me it sounded cultish, I was blown away. But I was also intrigued.

Background
My biggest thought in starting this series was to show how the church might have to change to be meaningful to Gen Y. It would need to be more involved, more challenging, and more involving. But along the way, I threw in every dreamy idea I could come up with. CC was absolutely my current idea of the best compromise church in the world. It seemed to me to take the best of both worlds, the free wheeling home church, and the moneyed church that has survived eighteen centuries.

You saw it differently. :-)

And that's where it all would have stopped, had coincidence not gotten spooky. That same day, another blog identified me as sounding cultish (easily poo-pooed as bleed-over from someone who might have read comments at this site). Then someone told me the same thing IRL (in real life). And when I told my spiritual mother about all the discussion, she says, "Yeah. I've been meaning to tell you for years that the church should not be that involved in each others' lives." 4 hits in 8 hours or so.

Suddenly, your concerns were huge and growing.

Suddenly, I had concerns. :-)

I won't kid you. I'm not yet convinced I'm wrong, but I'm looking at the possibility harder than ever.

I pretty much decided when my mom in the Lord spoke up that I was going to have to explore what it might mean if CC really were a cult. I could not quite bear to say it had been a cult all along, but driving a stake through its heart was an option. So, Derek emerged from the shadows. And Derek came with the agenda of a true cult leader. I did not have to invent Derek, though, because there's a Derek in every church. Whether he's the young, charismatic leader who has a goal, or the old, sincere gentleman who wants to stop the church's tailspin, he's always there and always pressing.

It sounds like we've all known Derek, and the way he captures hearts and minds.

Conflict
Corner Church was susceptible to Derek because they lacked the protection of bureaucracy. Since they didn't have a denomination to whom to answer, and because their structure was soo flexible, Corner Church was able to move with the passion of the moment. It cost them.

I've seen it happen, and it sounds like several of you have as well.

The conflict is that I still love Corner Church, and I would still join it in a heartbeat.

After this whole series, I find I'm pretty confused about the church. Who is she? What should she look like? I watched a loving bunch of Christians get sucked down with a sinking church, so I know the benefits of safe churches. I just cannot love a safe church.

Please bear with me while I go on a bit about what I cannot release.

The church is organically fitted to intrigue the omniscient God.

She is made up of the least predictable building materials in the universe, us. She is alternately described in scripture as an army, a bride, a body, a gathering, and a bunch of baby chicks. She is a throng, and a single city as large as the eastern half of America. Mostly, though, she is reward enough to lure the omni-blessed God to the death of the cross.

Do you ever read about her in the Song of Solomon? That whole book is about the delicate dance between her and the Son of Man. I dare you with all that's in me to read that book, and as you do, picture a drive across town to indulge in three services a week.

Picture in your min the worship leader asking everyone to stand and sit and stand and sit while you read how the Shulamite says, "I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek Him Whom my soul loves. ... I found Him Whom my soul loves. I held Him, and would not let Him go ..."

Picture to yourself pews full of believers while you read how the King describes her as, "... built in rows of stone; on [her neck] hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors."

I can't do it.

I have not read many love poems, but I cannot remember a one that suggested that a policy of boring repetition, week after week after week. Is our Sunday service what has caused the King to say, "You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, ..."?

God made each of us different, so very different, from each other. And yet every church is the same. We know some people engage in soaring art every chance they get, and others bake cookies or shovel snow. Some get lost in crossword puzzles while others need to be surrounded by the buzzing of life.

But all across America this Sunday morning, everyone will sing 3-5 songs, give a tithe, hear a truth (with three subpoints) and receive a benediction. The artist's gift will be listening to a sermon and singing. The baker's and shoveler's gift will be listening to a sermon and singing. The crossword puzzler's gift will be listening to a sermon and singing. Guess what the people-person does.

And these are not just gifts. These are their gifts to the Lord. They received gifts to construct the body - to edify her. The artist could draw a timeless depiction of some truth for the visual learners, but her services will not be needed, thank you very much. The crossword puzzler could piece through the obscure details of 1 Cor 15's grammar, but the church doesn't encourage such things. The baker and the shoveler could warm dozens of hearts, but a church is not a home and it's hard to connect in a big building like that.

Praise God, the people persons cannot be kept down. They will get everyone together for lunch after the service, or they'll know the reason why. :-) (People who need people are the luckiest people in the world, I hear.)

I cannot think of one verse in the new testament that looks like an American church service. Not one. I cannot think of one thing about human beings that commends the church service to their edification. OUr pastor is doing a great job, but if I were sitting under Charles Haddon Spurgeon every Sunday, I would not be a happy man. Not until the church has a hope of profitting from every member will I be content.

I heard and still appreciate all your concerns. I registered that my mother in the Lord is concerned. And I loved this whole discussion. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and fears with me. I am more confused on this subject than ever before in my life, but that's a good thing.
o
I'm still looking.

There's an old Don Williams song that comes back to me over and again, year after year. It's about a country boy that tried his best to do life right. Here's the last verse and chorus.

Good Ol' Boys Like Me

When I was in school I ran with the kid down the street
But I watched him burn himself up on bourbon and speed
But I was smarter than most and I could choose
Learned to talk like the man on the six o'clock news
When I was eighteen, Lord, I hit the road
But it really dudn't matter how fah I go'd

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
Hank and Tennessee
I guess we're all gonna be what we're gonna be
So what do you do with good ole boys like me?

18 comments:

Milly said...

The cool thing is that it has given me something to think about. We sit in the pews and sit stand sit in a methodical fashion at times. We do it because that’s what we do. I can at times hear my aunts say “Because it’s the Church of Christ way.” Shaking thing up a bit and getting more involved in the community is what we should be doing. Church should be God led and not man made.

Don’t give up on that vision. What is good for you might not be me. Look at the Cowboy Churches, God makes ways. I actually would like to visit a Familyhood Church I might not stay but I could see me checking in from time to time.

Keep the faith bro.

Lynne said...

Wow! i hardly know where to start. I can see both sides of the problem. I was in a house church some years ago, I went there longing for connection, and to see the church be the functioning Body, and not just an institution. It turned out to be a terribly abusive experience .. there were no boundaries, and the sad truth is that sinners need boundaries. And i agree, our corporate rituals are not the answer. but perhaps a relatively healthy churchat least provides a structure, a framework in which Real Church can potentially happen. And there are moments of that -- moments when one serves another in Christ and a real transaction takes place that wears the very fragrance of heaven .. those moments when Love and Truth break through, whether publicly or privately ..
I don't know the answer, I'm not even sure it's my job to work it out (though I'm always open to suggestions!) I do know it's my responsibility to be available to be there for anyone else for those moments to take place and also to encourage others (as appropriate) to do the same.
Not sure this even makes sense ..

Missy said...

I struggle with the same desires in a church as you do - and I would dare say most Christians do too. I guess I have found contentment in the fact that this would take perfection on our part to accomplish and that the church consists of baby disciples all the way to ancient disciples and all at varying degrees of maturity. We all have different ideas with varying degrees of wisdom, but none less righteous than the other as it comes from a desire to love one another as God would have us do. Some ideas do not pan out so well, and others florish. At the right times, the various organizational churches you described have played their part in God's plan - and continue to do so in many individual lives. Who am I to judge?

Jesus' rebuke to Martha made is click for me. I used to think that the Mary vs. Martha thing was about Jesus. That it was more important to be listening to Jesus than bustling around being hospitable. The message to me now is that it is more important to LISTEN to people - anyone - than do the things I tend to think as hospitable.

To me this is what church is. Sharing, talking, loving others - trying my best to understand them. My limited experience has led me to believe this is what makes people more important to me than me (and in reality actually makes them more important to me than me!) This is what Jesus did when he went to the cross - completely understanding that we could not even turn our face to God with the guilt we had in our hearts. Out of compassion, he did something about it. A church is to first understand - then act.

(sorry so wordy - just flowed from my fingertips :)

codepoke said...

Milly,

Don’t give up on that vision.

Thanks, sister. I'm afraid giving up really just isn't an option with me. I need to be given a better one, or this is where I stay.

codepoke said...

Lynne,

Ah yes. No boundaries.

EXACTLY!

How to have meaningful, romantic, variety-laden worship of God with boundaries. Truly a quest worthy of even so august a body as ya'll. I know you preach, though, so I foist this burden onto you without regret.

The automobile was a hobbyist's annoyance until someone came up with the electric starter. Suddenly, anyone could use one.

What's the little gadget that will make this happen?

codepoke said...

Missy,

I spend 50 pages exploring a history that never existed, and never will, and you call 3 paragraphs, "wordy?" You'll have to do better than that, sister. :-)

To me this is what church is. Sharing, talking, loving others - trying my best to understand them.

Amen to all this.

But I cannot be happy with just that. The very kingdom of the living God can turn to Him and declare His Name to Him, and to angels, and to each other, and to all the world - whether they want to listen or not - and we listen to a sermon every week.

Lord, please, please, please let there be more to loving You. Please, let Your church explode with the infinite variety of love toward You and the world with which You have surely gifted us.

Missy said...

"The very kingdom of the living God can turn to Him and declare His Name to Him, and to angels, and to each other, and to all the world - whether they want to listen or not..."

Codepoke, I have this. You probably have this, too. We just don't witness it as much as we could. The gifted saints must come forward and say they have something to share, something they have recieved from God. I can't tell you how many times I feel blessed with something to share and do not. Stagefright, fear of embarrassment or pride or stupidity or irrelevence - you name it, I have used it. The church isn't holding God's power from my life, I am. I will admit that it sometimes takes perserverence to convince a body to recieve my gift, but it took perserverence from God before I would accept His wonderous Gift. Who am I to expect more from others than God expects from me?

codepoke said...

Missy,

The gifted saints must come forward and say they have something to share,

You have my curiosity up now. What kind of church do you attend in which this is an option?

The church isn't holding God's power from my life, I am.

In my church, I have shared five things in writing. The things I shared would not have changed the world, but everyone who got to see one of them enjoyed it. Those things went no wider than I personally distributed them.

Now, there's no doubt I'm a pretty arrogant soul, but I cannot quite get into the business of hand distributing my thoughts to the church every time I have one. The church needs to develop the skill of developing her members. I'm self-motivating. (I like to hear the sound of my own voice.) Not everyone is this way. How many gentle souls go unheard because they lack my annoying arrogance?

Missy said...

Codepoke - you have asked a question about my family, a passion in my life, a force God has used to dramatically change me to have hope in mankind once again! (You gave me license to be wordy, so sorry in advance 8-|)

Part of it is the "denomination" I am in, the International Churches of Christ, as it is structured very much like your Corner Church. We believe in and correctly receive church discipline from God - rode the pendulum from legalistic to duh, whadda we do now? And we are now in a time of both upheaval and a terrific individualistic search for our talents. We are desperately trying to balance the individual's relationship with God and the community's responsibility for one another. We do studies with people interested in a relationship with God, or in our church, that specifically outline our core beliefs and some of them are tough convictions that we believe God calls His church to be. The group I landed in here in NH has a maturity beyond what I experienced in TX, but the same heart. I am loving it! We are constantly changing and growing because of a deep love for God and one another. We don't always make the right choices, people get hurt, but in my experience (esp. w/ use of the internet!) we have people, internationally, that speak up. And there is a consistent attitude of repentance that I have never seen before or since. Sometimes change happens quickly, but the size of our group usually deems it to be slow.

Locally, most of our Sunday services, esp. of late, include "sermons" - but it is often, "Hey I had this thought, whadda think..." Then the congregation pipes in. We have incredible singing, sometimes the teens do the service - from A to Z, and on a couple of occasions a skit ensues. If someone has it on there heart to share, or organize something specific, they make an announcement or send out a group email – but careful, if you start it, it’s yours! There is a formula, as some church business comes up and some structure is helpful, but I can't wait to arrive each Sunday to see my family and worship God with them. Alongside our larger congregation, we also do house churches for building family. And people are always having various home gatherings of the disciples. We have no building. Here we rent out some space at a local elem. school for Sunday and other large gatherings; in TX it was a hotel. Local congregations will typically split when we get to be more than 250, so we can all be involved and church is more than a “function.” We usually have a local paid evangelist, supported by the local congregation and maintain a local board to take care of business. Everything remains open to the public. We often adopt and support sister churches who cannot support any paid staff, but many that cannot afford go without. We have found that is very difficult for those churches. But the majority of what we do is entirely voluntary. We believe in being an integral part of one another's lives, helping each other in our walk. This can be a dangerous precipice, but for many years I have witnessed it to be mostly miraculous.

So you can see why your story intrigued me. I believe in your CC. I know it takes an incredible openness with and love for brothers and sisters you never meet to make it work. And I know, personally, how tragic it can be when someone takes advantage of it. But I do not intend to quit this "cult" - instead I try to have forgiveness and patience for man and grow daily in my faith in God. :-)

But, I think if similar changes happen in the way you describe for CC, we would definitely consider alternatives. We are lucky that when those choices came before us, there were many more “Thom's” in our midst. Some of our churches did not listen, and are now following a very scary path. Thankfully these were very few, but it literally felt like losing a body part. That is what is hard. If you commit to a "Familyhood" Church - your heart will get broken. It also requires a commitment to grow in a relationship with God and to scripture in your life – without these you WILL be led astray. Many people just don't want to take these risks, but I can tell you that the rewards outweigh the cost. I KNOW I will finish the race strong, because I have these people in my life, not because they tell me what to do, but that we are all committed to knowing God's Word and living it in our daily lives as worship to Him. Sunday is a gathering of family - EVERY DAY is the worship service.

Missy said...

CP - all that being said, I am not advocating changing churches - (although you are always welcome :)

What I originally meant was that you are responsible for your walk with God, whether that requires change, patience or perserverance. And that is between you and God.

codepoke said...

Thank you, Missy.

I appreciate the description you have given, and the ICoC more than ever before. Someday, I may just have to see whether I would agree that they are like CC. Either way, it sounds like you have ample opportunity to pour our your heart to your brothers and sisters, and that is, exactly as you say, what it's all about.

I love that you try to split the church at 250 people. That really makes great sense to me.

May the Lord continue to feed you!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the church is described perfectly in the heart of God: it's what he sees when he looks at us, and he loves it (us). We, then, see it described in the pages of scripture for what it looks like around here (or looked like around there), and it doesn't look so hot. But we can't see as perfectly as does the Lord, so we focus on the warts. Establishments try to control the warts through repetition. Zelots try to excise the warts. The church goes on, being seen by the eyes of the one who matters, and the warts look like the Son to a loving Father. Smalltown's just rambling.

Anonymous said...

Oops! I put this comment on the wrong blog entery. Here goes again: By the way, why should the church have a "hope of profitting from every member"? It seems to me that if such is your hope, you will be very weary indeed at the end of this life. After all, what looks like "useful" to you and me, may only look "useful" in God's eyes. In the long run, if usefulness is what we look for, then we must eventually create a standard other than Christ by which to measure it. I'll just stop there. It's getting too involved. T in S

codepoke said...

I hear you, Tom. You're being common-sensical, while I'm being optimistic. I cannot help but count on something from everyone. I'm the same way at work. If I have one employee who is not pulling his weight, I get all wrapped around an axle. I don't think I'm alone on this one.

The scripture supports my optimism, but it can be pretty unrealistic at times. :-)

Eph 4:16
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part *, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Anonymous said...

Excellent scripture verse. I spent over twenty years of my life trying to get people to live up to my expectations for their "supply" to the Body. I think I've discovered that individual saints give supply in miraculous ways that have nothing to do with whether they live up to my expectations. The saddest sack turns out to have the supply at just the right time, when I, the great spiritual hero, can't pull any tricks out of my hat. I tend to believe that all joints supply in a way we cannot fully comprehend. The desire to paint the picture too clearly may be our need, not necessarily God's want. Tom

codepoke said...

Beautiful, Tom. Amen. I made the same mistake, and will probably make it. But the Lord's people are beautiful in His way.

Thank you.

[Kansas Bob (link on left) has a review of the movie "Amazing Grace" that made me think of you. I lost your email, so I'll try to get the message to you this way.]

codepoke said...

And by "left," of course, I meant, "right." And I also meant back on my home page.

A quits blogging for a week, and mixes up his hayfoot and his strawfoot!

For those keeping score, everything is alright here in Columbus. It's just too busy to write. It looks like some more responsibility is coming my way at work, too.

I'll be back, I just don't know when.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Codepoke, for thinking of me. You can always get my email from some comment on the tennis blog. Tom