Archive for June, 2011

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How people get Wounded in the church

This fall I’ll be helping out with a course on woundedness in the church through the Academy of Discipleship.  We don’t have an official title yet but the course will cover the causes of woundness, a biblical response, long term solutions and approaches to support those who have been wounded.  It is an 8 week course starting in early October.

I’m considering the approach we could take with the course.  I’m thinking about anchoring the content around 4 different cases, or typical stories of people who have been wounded in the church.  Some of them could be:

Neglect
Peter was involved in a large church as a member and leader in some programs.  When his mom died no one responded in any substantive way.  No one from the congregation or the pastoral staff.  He did continue to get calls to keep volunteering for different programs.  He quickly realized that through all the activity there was very few if any supportive relationships in the church.  The experience made him feel cheap because it seemed the only time any cared to talk to him was to get him to fulfill some role in a program or activity.

Legalism
Gerald grows up in a family that lived a by strong code of right and wrong derived from community values.  The bible is quoted a lot when enforcing the rules.  Gerald’s parents tried very hard to make sure their family appeared to be doing well even when it wasn’t.  Gerald’s relationship with God is tainted by the experience with his earthly father.  To Gerald God is an angry, judgmental ogre watching over people to punish them for the slightest transgression.

Mistreatment of Leaders
Rob became a youth pastor in a small church in a different town.  Everything went well for the first 6 or 12 months.  He forget to make a phone call and one of the youth was left out of activity.  The youth complained to his parents and from that point on they had a serious grudge against Rob.  The family started to other members of the church criticizing the pastor framing much of their gossip as “prayer requests.”  After another 6 months of backroom talk and disingenuous posturing a number of families became dissatisfied with Rob.  Rob tried to talk to his detractors but even when asked directly they offered vague criticisms or flat out denied they had a problem with him.  Rob made some mistakes along the way, losing his temper.  While some people saw through the things that were being said about him they said very little in his defence.  In an emergency congregational meeting it was decided to “release” Rob in to other opportunities.  Rob was shattered by the experience and his faith in the church and God was pushed to the brink.

Authoritarianism/Spiritual Manipulation
Lisa was a leader in the woman’s group at church led by a charismatic authoritarian leader and his wife.  The pastor’s wife Stacy started coaching her and discipling her to prepare her for leadership and to walk in new levels of authority.  Lisa was well liked as a leader and was make a huge difference the lives of people in that church.  Stacy criticized Lisa on small points.  Lisa tried to be submissive and make the necessary corrections.   The church taught that spiritual disaster awaited those who were not submissive to authority.  Deep down inside she feared what might happen to her if she rebelled against authority.  Lisa had a hard time objectively understanding what she was being criticized for.  Instead of point out tangible areas of weakness or failure she was say she had a “spirit of rebellion” or “you didn’t follow my lead” or “ your not following my authority.”  Eventually Lisa became confused and dejected because it seemed impossible to be correctly aligned with authority.  She started to question whether she was deceived or rebellious and destined for God’s judgement.  Eventually she became so twisted up inside she gave up on church.

What do you think? 

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9 Marks of a healthy church

I came across a blog today called 9 Marks.  They list what they feel are the nine marks of a healthy church.

  • Preaching
  • Biblical theology
  • The gospel
  • Conversion
  • Evangelism
  • Membership
  • Discipline
  • Discipleship
  • Leadership

If were to make a list off the top of my head I think it would be different

  • Jesus
  • Divinely empowered sacrificial love
  • Proclamation of the gospel
  • Mutual submission
  • Spiritually gifted mutual ministry
  • Biblical teaching and practice
  • Leadership through example and service
  • Discipleship
  • Care for the poor, the marginalized and oppressed

I don’t really know how one could skip Jesus.  Could be my anabaptism kicking in but Jesus needs to the center of church life.  Preaching isn’t in my list at all, although proclamation of the gospel is.  There is no biblical evidence that contemporary preaching should be the center of church life.  Oddly enough I don’t consider “proclamation” to be my equivalent for preaching.  My equivalent is love.  Love is the best bridge in which we communicate the gospel, not homiletics. 

Biblical theology is good, but I like biblical teaching and practice.   Good theology isn’t an end in itself, just a means to become better disciples.

I axed membership as it is the most institutional and often one of the most meaningless gestures in church life.  I prefer mutual submission and ministry.  We submit to one another and we minister to one another.

Leadership is broad enough it could overlap but i felt the need to define it further.  Vision casting is often an exercise in PR and marketing.  In most instances it doesn’t result in any significant new direction.  As a church leader I see my tools as service, love and being an example.  I have little need to cast a vision because my vision is already set out for me.  I facilitate the ministry of the people of the church and equip those God brings to me. 

Discipleship is good.

I had James’ words about widows and orphans rolling around my head so I didn’t think I could neglect our generation’s version.

I see most discipline handled in the context of mutual submission in loving relationships. 

After years in a house church I’ve observed my whole orientation and my understanding of church has been transformed.

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James McDonald writes “congregational government is from Satan”

Here is “interesting” piece from someone who seems have a beef with a specific approach to church leadership.  Mr. Kinnon is already ranting about it.  I think James does point out some of the weaknesses of the way Baptists and Mennonites and other churches have gone about picking or appointing their leaders. 

He makes the point that you can’t find the congregational approach in scripture.  Mmmmm….there are some passages that seem to imply that the group makes some decisions, like going through the process to kick out the guy in Corinth who was messing around (1Cor 5).  We also have Paul directing Titus to appoint elders (Tit 1).  We have Paul saying some deprecating things about “those who were influential” at the council of Jerusalem (Gal 2).  We also see James being very influential in that meeting (Acts 15). 

Honestly, it is hard to make a rock solid case for any specific modern model of church government in scripture.  It just isn’t laid out all that clearly.  The best we can do follow where other passages take us.  Start with Heb 13:17 you will get a certain result.  Start with Matthew 20:25 and you end up in a different place.

This post kind of startles me.  When did people start caring about whether our approach to church reflected scriptural principles.  As someone in a house church I care a great deal about biblical ecclesiology but rarely do I ever see a contemporary church leader pay any attention to it.  All I’ve ever personally observed is a pragmatic ecclesial relativism.   If a given approach helps the organization reach their measurable goals (usually in the realms of program attendance, membership and finances) then it is deemed acceptable.

If we going to start caring about biblical ecclesiology we’ll have to revisit a few more topics:

  • apostolic leadership
  • tithing
  • preaching as the central task of the gathered church
  • salaried pastors

This list could go on and on. 

In the house church we make big decisions together.  We don’t vote.  We pray.  We open ourselves up to each other to see what God might communicate to us through them.  We work it out together carefully considering the scriptures and the perspective of our elders (elders as in seniors).

This kind of thing is surreal to me.  

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What I find myself teaching lately

After several years of teaching in house church and in mentoring relationships I find myself unwinding unnecessary complicated notions about the Christian life.  I end up saying the following a lot:

  • God really does love you
  • God’s grace really does cover all your sin
  • God began a good work in you and really is carrying it forth to completion
  • Just keep your faith and trust in Christ

In the last few days I’ve been repeating these things to myself because I really need to hear them.

The problem is our beliefs get distorted.  They go from the simple precepts listed above and morph in to something more complicated.

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