Archive for September, 2003

How emergent am I?

How emergent am I?
I think there are a number of areas where I differ significantly from the postmodern/emerging church crowd. Sometimes I find that I’m a lot more evangelical than some others. I still view scripture as authoritative. I believe the problem with humanity is sin and that we need redemption. I’d rather see more practice of the spiritual disciplines than alternative worship. I think we need more repentance than deconstruction. I don’t believe relevance is the church’s major problem. I think the major problem is the lack of divine power caused by a distortion of the gospel, our lack of faith in God, and our desire to promote ourselves and follow our own personal or institutional agenda.

I have great hope. I might even call it a prophetic hope. I believe that God has revealed to me His desire to transform His church. I have great faith that if we set out to find God for no other reason than to find God we will. In turn He will make us vessels of his love and power. What we need to let go is our own desire for religious success and be brave enough to actually trust God.


NHL Teams lost 300 million dollars

NHL Teams lost 300 million dollars
I’ve spent a lot of years cheering for the Calgary Flames.  Through the mid eighties the to the mid nineties the Flames were almost always a solid cup contending team.  I’ve watched salaries spiral as the Flames had to consistently trade great players for good players in order to keep their costs in line.  1995 was their last good year.  96 was the beginning of the dark times.  Since then they’ve never been brutal enough to drop low enough in the standings to build through the draft and never been good enough to make the playoffs. 

I think the resurgence of interest in the CFL and growing interest in the NFL is a product of waning interest in sports leagues that are fast becoming a joke.  The CFL may be filled with NFL rejects but like the NFL any team in any city can build a winning team because salary isn’t an issue.  It is fun to cheer for a team that you know has some hope.  The NHL isn’t that much fun anymore. 

I don’t care if it takes 3 years with no hockey the owners need to get a salary cap.  Then Winnipeg can bring back the Jet’s so the Nucks and Flames will have somebody to kick around in their division.


They ain’t buying it

They ain’t buying it
Last night I spent the night in residence at the college. I had a great time talking with the guys. I had a nice long conversation with the student body president. We talked about the house church, worship, leadership, and our spiritual lives. The 3rd year students are taking a course called Leadership Principles and one of the textbooks is Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. These young people aren’t buying in to the popular church models or their concept of leadership. 

There was a dramatic trend among 2nd and 3rd year students away from over involvement in extra curricular activities. I think it kind of shocked and frightened at least some of the people running some of these programs. I think it’s a great trend. People are realizing that there is such a thing as over consumption and God often gets bumped out of the picture.

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More on complaining

More on complaining
I recently made a couple of posts about thinking positive and criticizing the church.  It was not abundantly clear but my criticizing the church post was a reaction to something Jordon wrote.  He talked about pundit” bloggers that critique the church who aren’t involved in making a difference.  My response was that I liked it when people criticized the church and I didn’t care if they weren’t trying to change things.  Lots of people are just learning and all they know is what doesn’t work. 

Some people started talking about all the ungodly backstabbing, gossip and complaining that happens in churches.  Here is where I figured out I should have explicitly stated I was talking about bloggers critiquing things like tithing and seeker sensitivity.  I was talking about ex pastors and wounded Christians working through their issues online.  I wasn’t talking about the passive aggressive whiners who think the church needs to revolve around them.

I personally think that people that incessantly complain about their pastor, or the worship service should shut up.  If they have issues they should be brave enough to bring them to the people that matter, they should do their research, and be fair to the people involved.  If not they deserve a fair amount of righteous criticism because to do less fails the biblical standard.  When it comes to church I’m on the side of the oppressed regardless of whether they are in charge or not.  In my recent history I find it’s the pastors that are abused more than the people. 

The church needs critics.  I’d use a different word but the synonyms (in MS Word) for critic are detractor, opponent, enemy and censor.  It needs judges.  It needs people that will point out flaws.  It needs righteous judgment.   If in our postmodernized version of the gospel we have no room for righteous judgment then we have distorted the gospel. 


Blogging as a discipleship tool

Blogging as a discipleship tool
Anyone have any thoughts on how blogging and other Internet technologies could facilitate discipleship in community?  I just had lunch with the school president.  We are considering a move towards the use of weblogs in the bible college context.


Focus on the positive?

Focus on the positive?
Lately I’ve incurred some criticism for the lack of a positive outlook on the church.  This criticism has come in a number of different ways.  It seems as though some people believe that if we keep thinking positively we can make a difference and change the church.

Doesn’t it seem funny how we completely ignore scripture and the history of the church?  Deliberately choosing to focus on the positive has never, ever turned the church around.  In my first year of bible school I read through books like Judges, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles and I was amazed at how stupid the Israelites were.  They would walk away from God, things would go bad, God would send a judge to make it better, not long after that the cycle would repeat itself.  I wondered, don’t these people remember their history?  I’m starting to think we aren’t much brighter than they were, and we have everything written down.

However the idea of focusing on the positive can be found in scripture.  Israel had scores of prophets and priests that were able to put a positive spin on things.  The Babylonians were about to take over Jerusalem.  Prophets prophesied victory.  The people held the faith that God would protect his temple.  Jeremiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem.  The leadership told him to shut up because he was demoralizing the people.  Jeremiah was right, and if the people listened to him they would have been far better off.

A lot of people doesn’t know how bad things are because it is hidden from them.  Some churches have leaders that carefully control the kinds of things people know about.  The bad things that happen are hidden from view so people won’t lose faith in the church and move somewhere else.  These churches rely on a lot of “momentum”.  In other words if you can get everybody excited about the new vision you can carry that forward in to real change.   The critics are the monkey wrenches in the whole system because they tend to demoralize the people and sap the momentum.  Things often get to the point where there is no momentum left and the leadership goes to more extreme measures to get it back.  What started out as honest leadership becomes emotional manipulation and the church loses its grip on reality.

Once I really began to see the dark side of church life I really couldn’t handle it.  Now it seems other people can’t handle it either.  It’s too easy to label people as negative complainers than it is to deal with the reality of things. 

Since I’ve started blogging people have told me to stop complaining and do something to fix the problems.  I’ve been told to go downtown and help the poor.  I wonder how people came to assume that I’m just an armchair critic.  Most of my critique stems from observations as someone who does try to make a difference.    

For the record I have worked downtown in a drop in center.  I do find it amusing how so many Christian bloggers talk about social action but obviously have very little experience with it.  “Helping the poor” is far more complicated than volunteering in a soup kitchen.  Poverty is tightly intertwined with addictions, racism, broken homes, child abuse and mental health issues.  If the church really wanted to make a difference in this area we would have to learn to love some pretty hard to love people.  Right now we have a hard time loving each other.

The other common response I hear is “The church isn’t perfect, and it will never be perfect”.  I don’t believe God expects the church to be perfect but He does expect it to be faithful.  The parable of the talents in Mat 25:14-30 illustrates God’s concern with a return on His investment.  He has invested in us and he expects us to at the very least put our talent in the bank and earn some interest.

What kind of return is he getting today?  Only by ignoring scripture and history can we convince ourselves the church has always been like what it is today.  Where is our faith in God?  Do we not believe that He can make us in to something better?  In many ways this is an issue of faith.  Do we really believe that God can change us and the world around us?  I don’t want to face God at the end and say, I’m sorry God it seemed too risky to believe that you are who you say you are. 

I truly believe the church in general is in bad shape.  I believe focusing on the positive is part of the problem because it keeps us from facing the truth and placing our faith in God.  I believe a great many people have been deceived in to thinking that things are better than they are.  It is more comfortable for some to assume that the churches critics are really doing nothing about the problem and that makes their opinions invalid.  I believe that God can transform us in to a broad community of faith that will turn empires upside down and profoundly influence the moral fabric of our societies.


Woundedness and Complaining

Woundedness and Complaining
I like it when people criticize the church.  Ever since I’ve been a Christian I’ve watched people sanitize and spin most of what they say in church.  Now whenever I hear someone be honest about something negative I love it.  I breathe this breath of fresh air and I’m relieved to think that some people somewhere can actually be honest about things.  I’m encouraged because it gives me hope that real change is possible.

I don’t believe anyone’s opinion is invalid just because they aren’t involved in ministry.  Why would someone need to be involved in reshaping church to have a valuable opinion?  Wouldn’t years and hundreds or thousands of hours of church activity be enough of an experience to make an informed comment?

I’ve had to emotionally and spiritually support a number of bloodied, battered and bruised ex pastors that were thoroughly processed by their churches.  I’ve watched countless others hurt, deceived and used in ministry situations.  I care very deeply about these people.  Their opinions matter to me and I don’t care if they have yet to get to the stage where they can make a difference. 

In the past I was thoroughly and deeply hurt in a couple of church/ministry situations.  I’ve seen what I would call blatant corruption.  I’ve watched as good people refused to address that corruption because they didn’t want to take the risk.  Now that I am reasonably healed from these things I am attempting to make a difference.  Part of that is what I write here.  Part of that is my involvement at the college.  Part of that is starting a house church.  It literally took me years to move to the place where I could even start to do more than talk. 

People need to move through a healing process.  There is no sense in staying wounded. People need to be fair and sensitive when criticizing, or ranting or complaining.  We do need to recognize how our personal sin is part of a greater problem. 

If you’ve been wounded feel free to send me an email and let me know your story.  I’d be happy to listen to you and pray for you.  My address is Leighton (at) theheresy (dot) com.


Can a Leppard change its spots?

Can a Leppard change its spots?
Now that my hearing is back, and the influence of a certain biochemical transmitted through second hand arena smoke has subsided I can reflect on the Def Leppard concert I was at last night. 

First off I need to admit that I am a big Def Leppard fan.  I am a child of the 80’s.  I once had a mullet.  I once had spiked hair.  If you put on Hysteria I can probably sing along with every song on side A.  Side B was weak with the notable exception of the album’s title track and I kind like God’s of War.  I wore out two tapes in 1987, Def Leppard’s Hysteria and INXS’ Kick.  I taped every Def Leppard video that I found on Video Hits (Canada’s most watched video show) and when there were free previews of Much Music from our cable provider. 

The first thing I noticed about Def Leppard is the band members haven’t changed their hairstyle in 15 years.  Fortunately they hadn’t changed their music either.   The concert was awesome.  The noticeably older crowd was absolutely electric through Rocket and Pour Some Sugar on me.  All of Saskatchewan Place was on their feet screaming, singing and clapping. 

The band followed the tried and true formula of a rock concert with the encore and everything.  Each band member was highlighted.  There were lights and haze and merchandise.  The band told us we were better than Winnipeg (as if we didn’t know that).  We were praised for being such an unbelievable crowd”. 

I didn’t recognize any of Leppard’s new stuff so I can probably assume the band has declined from its lofty heights in the 80’s and early 90’s.  It doesn’t look like they have changed much.  They discovered something that worked for a long time 20 years ago and they are still using it.  It still works and I thought it was fantastic.

If I walked out with any deeper questions from the concert it would be related to change. 
Def Leppard could try to reinvent itself so that it can keep going for another 20 years.  They could also stick with a dated formula which they have perfected and let themselves steadily decline.  If they risk change they would likely end up losing the fan base they currently have.  Extreme was another great late 80’s early 90’s band that tried to go alternative.  Their attempt at change ended in complete failure.  It might seem sad to watch a band that hasn’t changed, but at least they are still in business.

One of questioned bantered around the blogs these days is should local churches try to reinvent themselves to survive through the postmodern cultural transition?  Are they better off like Def Leppard?  Should they spend their time incrementally perfecting a dated and declining formula? 

The real problem with cultural contextualization is that culture changes.  All the effort churches put in to becoming seeker oriented and market driven seems to be a short term investment.  What worked 20 years ago no longer works for many in the new culture.  Perhaps the changes the church should make aren’t towards another contextualization but towards a community that is more timeless.  Despite our best efforts we lose the timeless aspects of true Christian community when we attempt to reinvent ourselves to match what appeals to a certain culture.  In essence our desire to change the box of our retail product has led us to care more about the outside of the box than the quality and integrity of what is in the box.  For example there is resistance to bring depth and richness in to congregational worship because it might not appeal to newcomers. 

I think many churches are better off trying to incrementally moving towards strengthening the timeless aspects of Christian community and shouldn’t try to go through radical change.  A church that has learned how to love will serve the purposes of God very effectively even if they sing nothing by hymns and use an organ. 

Very few musical artists hold their appeal for more than 10 years.  Only the truly exceptional artists span more than a decade.  These artists are ones that relied on their talent, not the formula of the day to be successful.  I don’t believe churches are much different.

Churches that have heavily tailored themselves to a specific culture/subculture have to realize that eventually the culture will change and they will decline.  The best thing that they can do is start new fellowships that are free to be something different.  They should also stop teaching young leaders their successful” church model and teach them the timeless aspects of church community and how to bridge them in to a new context.  The more we associate our church forms with the timeless aspects of Christian community the more difficult it becomes for people to associate different forms with the same timeless aspects of Christian community.

Perhaps the role and purpose of a church should change through its life cycle.  In the beginning it grows numerically.  It will eventually reach a point where relevance of their church forms  to potential new comers.  This is when the church may begin to decline in numbers.  Perhaps that is the best time to shift its primary focus of attracting new believers to planting new churches and supporting social justice projects or missionary activity.  Just because a church isn’t numerically growing that doesn’t mean it can’t have a profound impact for the kingdom of God in other ways. 

I think some churches can change.  Most are likely better off going through incremental change than radical change.  They are better off working at bringing more authenticity and depth to their current church forms.  I think older churches can find profound ways of growing God’s kingdom without having to reinvent itself.  For anything radically different I think the church should bless groups of people to leave and start something new.  


(Weblogs and) The Mass Amateurisation of (Nearly) Everything…

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Virtual Communication?

Virtual Communication?
Sometimes I think the worst word to ever be associated with the Internet is virtual.  It gives people the impression that if something happens on the Internet it is virtual but if something happens face to face it is real.

Today the preferred mechanism for communication online is text.  Weblogs use text.  IM uses text.  Email uses text.  Is text less real when it appears on a screen?  It must be because no one says a letter written to a friend is virtual”.  The bible is written text and I don’t think that people consider it virtual”. 

Any medium that transfers ideas from one person to another is real communication.