“For many of us [in the evangelical community], the world exists for the church. It is like a strip mine, and people are mined out of it to build the church, which is what really matters. In the new emerging postmodern theology and spirituality, that image is terrible. It mirrors the raping and plundering of the environment by our modern industrial enterprises. In it, the church is another industry, taking and taking for its own profit. How different is the image of the church as the apostolic community, sent into the world as Christ’s hands, feet, eyes, smile, heart.” – Brian McLaren
Marcia, Mark and I have started reading “The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix”, by Brian McLaren. So far it’s a pretty good read.
Here are a few quotes from “The Present Future”:
“The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order…Please don’t hear what I am not saying. The death of the church culture as we know it will not be the death of the church. The church Jesus founded is good; it is right. The church established by Jesus will survive until he returns. The imminent demise under discussion is the unique culture in North America that has come to be called ‘church’. This church culture has become confused with biblical Christianity, both inside the church and out.” (p. 1)
“A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith. They contend that the church no longer contributes to their spiritual development. In fact, they say, quite the opposite is true.” (p. 4)
“Faced with diminishing returns on investment of money, time, and energy, church leaders have spent much of the last five decades trying to figure out how to do church better…Consultants, parachurch ministries, denominational headquarters, and publishing houses prod and push the church toward whatever the current fad is…offer small groups…focus on customer service…return the church to basics…All this activity anesthetizes the pain of loss. It offers a way to stay busy and preoccupied with methodological pursuits while not facing the hard truth: none of this seems to be making much of a difference.” (p. 7)
“The point is, all the effort to fix the church misses the point. You can build the perfect church—and they still won’t come.People are not looking for a great church. They do not wake up every day wondering what church they can make successful. The age in which institutional religion holds appeal is passing away—and in a hurry.” (p.10)
“An entire industry of church growth experts, seminars, tape clubs, journals, and books all target church leaders who want to upfit their congregations to be competitive in the church market…There were church growth ratios to consider (how many dollars each parking place produced, how many contacts it took to close the deal on membership, how many relationships it took to ‘assimilate’ someone, how many people could be served by a staff member, and so forth). There was human psychology to consider (what color offering envelopes helped people give more, what level of building capacity constituted ‘full’). There were management issues that came with the growth of staff. There was strategic planning to help break through the growth ‘barriers’. There was the need for raising unprecedented amounts of money, requiring massive financial campaigns and a requisite growth in stewardship savvy.” (p. 24-25)
“The target of most church ministry efforts has been on the church itself and church members. Just look how the money is spent and what the church leadership spends time doing…The church that wants to partner with God on his redemptive mission in the world has a very different target: the community. In the past if a church had any resources left over after staffing Sunday School, and so on, then it went to the community. In the future the church that ‘gets it’ will staff to and spend its resources on strategies for community transformation. Members obviously have needs for pastoral care and spiritual growth. It is critical that these be addressed. However, I am raising the question of how many church activities for the already-saved are justified when there are people who have never been touched by Jesus’ love?” (p.32)
“We will see more and more people, in the church and out, who have the call, the ability, and the finances to resource their own ministry passions in the community. They will not wait for the church to catch up.” (p. 33)
“Hitting the streets with the gospel means adopting a new way of thinking on several levels. Kingdom thinking challenges church thinking. Kingdom thinking does not force people into the church to hear about Jesus or maintain that church membership is the same as kingdom membership…Taking the gospel to the streets means we need church where people are already hanging out. We need a church in every mall, every Wal-Mart supercenter, every Barnes and Noble…I recently met with a church that is lamenting their lack of Sunday School space. Yet within two miles of this church facility are over a dozen restaurants that don’t open until eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. Why not put Sunday School classes in these restaurants? If you guarantee the manager fifteen to twenty lunches, I guarantee you he’ll figure out a way for this to happen. Why not offer this ministry to restaurant employees who are not going to get to any church on Sunday because of their work schedule?” (p. 34-35)
Wow. I’m tempted to suggest this book for everyone on Session at Eastridge. And everyone at PCUSA headquarters in Louisville, KY.
Brian McLaren has written a response to an article about postmodernism written by Chuck Colson and appearing in the December 2003 issue of Christianity Today. McLaren’s letter is an attempt to flesh out a broader and deeper understanding of postmodernism and postmoderns, and can be accessed here. It requires Adobe Acrobat or other PDF software.
I’ve been reading “Making Sense of Church” – it’s primarily a collection of excerpts from discussions at The Ooze about what church should look like – how and what the church should be. It asks some very challenging and sobering questions. This is the kind of book I would love to see chosen for an all-church study (such as the yearly Lenten study) at Eastridge, as opposed to a safer, fluffier book like “The Purpose Driven Life”. I’m going to suggest/request several of the Emergent series books from Youth Specialties/Zondervan be added to the church library, and displayed prominently in place of the latest Janette Oke romance novel and “Let’s Roll!”.
Allow me to begin this post by stating that I have a generally high regard for the clergy – at least normal, everyday clergy–the kind that don’t have preaching “ministries” on the radio or television. 😉 I think that being a pastor is a challenging and honorable vocation.
It seems to me that in many denominations – the PCUSA being among them – the “priesthood of the believer” is a fairly limited one. I do believe that seminary-trained pastors (in general) are especially qualified to do a variety of things. I believe that most pastors greatly benefit from their training, including areas like theology, hermeneutics, exegesis, counseling, even administrative skills. And I understand the importance of having those skills and that knowledge to minimize the occurrences of whackos going around and baptizing people into some freaky, cultish belief system in the name of a given denomination.
But I believe that, in many ways, the focus has shifted too much toward the “credentials”. A focus on credentials leads to the viewing of the pastor as the “professional”, the “expert” – a sort of “Please do not attempt this at home” mentality regarding ministers and ministry. And my reading of the New Testament leads me to believe that this isn’t necessarily a biblical understanding of the way things should be. Scripture leads me to believe that the role of pastor is more that of a shepherd and less that of the “officiator” of the worship and business of the church; more guiding and training the flock to work out their salvation and carry out the ministry, and less being the dispenser of knowledge and the “keeper of the keys” of the sacraments.
A couple of examples come to mind with regard to the PCUSA, and Eastridge in particular. Both are associated with the act of celebrating communion – the Lord’s Supper. The first has to do with who the PCUSA says can be authorized to recite the “words of institution” – the actual words from scripture describing the Lord’s Supper – during communion. In practical terms, only an ordained (i.e., credentialed) pastor can lawfully read that passage of scripture during communion. Hello? I have a hard time interpreting Jesus meaning “Do this in remembrance of me – but only if you have a duly authorized agent of the denomination officiating – otherwise I just can’t recognize it as valid”. (OK, there is technically a loophole in the Book of Order. One or more ordained elders can be “authorized” to lead communion, but only for up to a year at a time, and only with special dispensation from the Presbytery – which inhibits most non-credentialed Christians from even asking.)
The second example has to do with how we “do” communion at Eastridge. It’s very formal and choreographed, which is annoying enough. But what I find disturbing is how the pastor (and whoever is helping the pastor officiate) is served first, and none of the other servers even moves to start serving the congregation until the pastor has been served. That sort of not-so-subtle “exaltation” really troubles me. And this criticism isn’t focused on the current pastor – it’s been that way since I’ve been at Eastridge, and it was that way in the church I grew up in. But it feels wrong.
There are other examples, including Jesus’ command to his disciples (which we are all called to be) to go and baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – another command which can only be carried out by the “credentialed”. I’m not sure where the line should be drawn to determine who has sufficient understanding of scripture and theology, and a right relationship with God (perhaps the more important of the two), to do these basic things that Jesus commanded his followers to do. But I think that emerging generations may be less impressed with credentials, and more likely to view the “priesthood of the believer” in very real and unrestricted terms.