Archive for July, 2011

Paul’s values and the Christian religious industry

For many years I was on the hunt for the best model, the best approach for church.  Some follow tradition even as their entire denominations faces  extinction in their country.  Some have follows the path of pragmatisim.  Look at other “successful” churches and copy their approach.  In the house church movement there are many who are looking towards the New Testament to find a successful model. 

While I agree with those that say we have ignored the bible for too long in regardes to how we approach church I’m not sure we can definitively define a model.  Is it perhaps because there are things more import than a church model?  After 8 years of involvement in a simple church that meets in homes I’d say I look intently in the scriptures to inform my understanding of ministry, but I’m not looking for a model.  Instead of asking “what is church” I’ve been asking “what is ministry”.

Consider a rather innocuous section of scripture from 1Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians 2:4-8 NLT
For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.  Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!  As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children.  We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.

What would ministry look like if a high profile minister was decidedly low profile.  Someone who didn’t seek the praise of people and was actually concered about the motives of his or her heart.  Someone that would intentionally work with their hands to earn their living while they ministered and would love people so sincerely they they exuded compassion and gentleness.  While ministering their heart was so open they shared more than a message but their own lives with people.

Wow. 

If two essential components of ministry were genuine love and sharing one’s life with people how would things change?  Would we still find it acceptable for pastors to engage in forms of blatant self promotion whether if be through carefully crafted media or bragging about their sex life?  Would we continue to accept blatant profiteering through the sale of books, music and education?  Would the whole ediface of church industry come crumbling down?

I ask these questions as I continue to run in to people beaten and battered by the industry.  I’ve started calling it an industry.  The Christian religious industry is the institutionalized quest for glory, honour and status in the eyes of people.  It is this desire that sends us askew as much it did the Pharisees. 

We have turned a blind eye to this most grievous sin.  Today in the church we have something similiar to what Jesus saw in his day.  So many among us are like sheep without shepherds.  Harassed and helpless as people are held in prisons of fear and fleeced for their hard earned dollars.  I’ve been sharing stories of church abuse that bring tears to the eyes of my friends.  I’m often stunned to hear what has been perpetrated in the name of Christ and tolerated by members of the church.  My heart has been broken time and again as I’ve watched people breakdown in front of me a they recount their treatment by their church.

The need is so great but the truly sincere agents of Christ’s love are so few.

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Facebook vrs Christian Camping

I talked with a long term volunteer/staff person at an evangelical summer camp recently.  She was decrying how enrollment in camps had trended down over the last 10 years and blamed the downward trend on the rise of social media.   At first I was a little skeptical of her assumptions.  Facebook is barely 5 years old and the downward trend started long before that.  I’m not sure that MSN messenger or even Myspace would have had that much pull.  I think there are other factors at work.  However I must admit that I’m so connected spending a week at camp disconnected would be a major downer for me.

What I don’t really get or what seems terribly inconsistent is the thought that texting on a cell phone, or connecting to ones friends over facebook is inherently less social that traveling away from your home to stay in a cabin with strangers, most of whom are your peers, most of whom you won’t see again ever, and participate in programmed activities, sing songs and listen to sermons. 

It is startling when I consider so much ministry is modeled on programed activities aimed at groups of peers that are in only in a position to receive ministry.  When enrollment in this programs declines we try to introduce better programs in better facilities and hope things change.  Perhaps the whole model is so dependent on entertainment that it now competes with what the world offers on mobile phones, computers and tablets.  There is no hope in trying to out program the world…the programs have to go and the real Jesus needs to be explored through real discipleship and real fellowship.

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The view from here

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About to embark on an epic journey to the Bene Diction compound

It has taken a few years but I’ve finally been given access by NorthCom, NORAD’s Command and Control operation for the Arctic theatre.  The security checks were vigorous, but the family has passed.   I was questioned very heavily about a certain American I’ve connected with along with Bene Diction.  They were worried about possible revolutionary Tea Party influence.  They believed he had used his credit card to order an iPhone and a life size poster of Sarah Palin.  When I told them it couldn’t possible true,  that my friend Mike really is quite intelligent they did some further checking and realized their intelligence was faulty. 

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Easy rider on Freedom

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For the glory of this house

I’ve been reflecting on Saskatoon Christian Center and the carnage surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministries.  It leads me to wonder what sets a church down the wrong track?  It seems as though the route towards false teaching and corruption is the result of subtle shifts away from the centrality of Christ.  I was a charter member of a church plant many years ago that had a lot of really good things going for it.  The values we started with are very similar to the ones I hold so dearly to now.  In fact we could have been a network of house churches if we were brave enough to be truly different.

Very near the beginning we were given a prophetic word that we embraced so much we made a banner out of it and hung it on the sanctuary wall.

Hag 2:9a NIV "The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Our new church was planted in the same building as a previous one that had just closed down.  We proclaimed to ourselves and the world that the glory of our church would be greater than the glory of the church that had just closed down.

I believe this mistake to be a tragic one.  It is one many good churches and church leaders have made.  It is to seek the glory that has always belonged to Christ.  Instead of yielding ourselves  in faithfulness we try to build Christ’s church for Him in hopes that we can become proud and recognized for what we have built.  When we are oriented to receiving the approval of people we open ourselves up to all manner of deceptions and abuses.  We become more and more tempted to engage in coercive, deceitful or manipulative tactics.  Once we start traveling down that road corruption is inevitable. 

The following passage gives us a window to a conversation Jesus had with some Pharisees.  I’ve been pondering it for a few weeks.

"Your approval means nothing to Me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in My Father’s name, and you have rejected Me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the One who alone is God.
(Joh 5:41-44 NLT)

It appears that many of those who opposed Jesus did so because they were jealous of Him or were afraid of those who were jealous of Him.  It would appear that some things haven`t changed very much.

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Radio host John Gormley takes on authoritarian pastor Keith Johnson

A few weeks ago one of our popular radio hosts here in Saskatoon aired a segment about a woman who had her kids kicked out of a private Christian school run by her church.  You can listen to it here.  She and a number of those called in described the church as manipulative and controlling.

Keith Johnson responded in his sermon.

John Gormley responds to Keith Johnson

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