Thursday, June 28, 2007
If "Jesus never opened his mouth without a parable coming out," (Matt 13:34-5), it behooves us (forgive me, always wanted to use that preacher word, and I never will again! ) to get and grasp the parabolic paradigm To think/feel, teach/ live parabolically. Any other way of life risks completely "misunderstaking"(great phrase from the underrated theologian Cheech Marin) Jesus; trusting sign instead of signified.
Capon ("The Parables of the Kingdom") suggests parables are inherently a vehicle for "left handed"...that is, right-brained,
surrational (HT: Mark DeRaud)
In the delightful "Parables of Kierkegaard," Tom Oden offers five reasons SK cannot not "speak in parables":
"The first... is that parable serves as a method to break away from the Hegelian idea of the System, instead focusing his writing on a more experiential logic. Kierkegaard is not simply putting forth information that fits into a tight package of reason, but is a way of rebelling against this type of logic. As Kierkegaard himself writes, 'the reader may have lost patience when he hears that our analogy begins like a fairy tale and is not at all systematic.'" - (click for the other four)
Wow, I have been accused (by some) or thanked for (by others) of being almost everything on the list:
experiential over system,
no tight package of reason,
"beginning like a fairy tale and not all at all systematic."
Maybe there is hope for me becoming like Jesus.
Or at least like SK.
Telling, though, is that the "reader loses patience." To read Jesus's spin (Matthew 13, Mark 4..Read and spin it yourself..it's shocking, subversive) on parabolic method,it would seem that this is actually the desired effect of parables;on outsiders anyway.
To baffle, befuddle; to affirm their hardened heart;
to disarm (Robert Stein),
to fart in the general direction of their salon (Eugene Peterson by way of Monty Python),
to sizzle (Kraybill)....
so they might sell all they have and buy a right brain;
and thus be healed.
"Left-handed power is precisely paradoxical power that looks for all the world like weakness, intervention that seems indistinguishable from nonintervention" (Capon, 20)
A preference for left-handed power made perfect in weakness as opposed to the right-handed power of “might is right.” The parables, then, reflect the left-handed paradoxical power of the kingdom of heaven—power that comes from the intuitive, open and imaginative realm of reality, as opposed to right-handed power governed by logical, rational, straight-line principles.
No wonder there was head-scratching. Perhaps Jesus should have said: Let anyone with poetic ears listen! Or, let anyone with magical and mysterious ears listen! Because the kingdom of heaven is not logical; the kingdom of heaven does not add up in practical terms. -Mary Haddad
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
A sample chapter from the revised version of Pete Gall's book, found on his blog, begins:
“I’ll tell you now what. Your problem is that you’re working from a substance ontology instead of a relational ontology. Specifically a Trinitarian relational ontology, which is rooted in love. So long as you cling to a substance ontology you will be stuck with feeling the limitations it ensures - namely the perpetual creation of idols and dualism.”
“Oh, good, Jon. So that’s my problem. I’ll just go fix that real quick.”
Jon shrugs and nods.
“What in the world did you just say to me?” I exclaim.
"The foolishness of the Gospel is the foolishness of being naked in a world that believes it can protect itself if it covers itself.”
Check it out here.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
"Look, if this whole deal with God is at all real, it has to do better than drone on in hypothetical and scholastic debates. It has to apply to premarital nudity, dreams of personal glory, colossal lapses in judgment, family dysfunctions, battles with addiction, and frustration with fools. It must have something to say about tenacity, idolatry, heroes, love, sunsets, demons, prayer, miracles, worms, rivers and hard-won orgasm. Tell me about that stuff. Admit that you’ve somehow come to believe that the sin of the world can hold a candle to the wretchedness of your own heart. Take on questions that are bigger than your answers. Fight to let pain serve its purpose. Let grace shine through if it’s so real and so great and so worth living for. Show me a Jesus who gives a shit about the world I inhabit, and I’ll keep reading."
He even named his book after himself:
Pete Gall's book is about to killed, he informs me. So buy two copies now. It's actually the "underground" version that will be killed soon, to make way for the "official" Christian version on an official Christian publisher, Zondervan.
Thank God for Zondervan having the holy gall (If you ever have asked "What would Jesus do"at a Christian booksellers convention, read this) and guts to pick up and publish one of the most beautiful and brutally honest books ever.
At first I was upset that they were (predictably) editing out the profanity. But Pete says he has come to terms with that being for the best. So i guess I'm good with it.
But I would hate for anyone to miss the wonderful chapter ,"Chocolate, Bible Study and Blowjobs," (!!) available for a limited time free right here.
It's message to the church had better not go unheeded, or I may have to srat selling cars.
The Zondervan version will be called "My Beautful Idol".
The underground version (buy it here) is fully titled "Gall: Five Years of Unfettered Christian Exploration Somewhere Between Youth Group and the Rest of Life"
Check out Pete's myspace site here.
And at this link, he addressed the common questions about profanity.
Here are some of the topics he speaks on:
For those a bit worried about this guys faith or credaentials, it may (?) relieve you to read hs bio, and/or know that he's done a visual edition of a Philip Yancey book. And finally, the main course; here are a few of my favorite quotes from "Gall, " I hope they all make the cut.
If you can't relate and amen any of these , you are likely way on the wrong website.
Enjoy, and buy the book quick.
"And then what, send them to church? Right. I hate church. It was fine for high school cutesy stuff, but I have no idea why adults attend, except that they feel like it's what they're supposed to do. It's another 'should' argued by people who have been told by some nameless 'them' that this is how God wants things. It's just a holy rubber stamp, and it's more fake than any beer commercial could ever be. A leftover tradition. A group masturbation. A dead end. I'd feel better about selling motherhood to a teenager than church to a person looking for God." (12)
"It doesn't make any difference how mind-blowing a given experience is , you'll still have to wipe your ass the next morning" (75)
"...I spend a lot of time qiuetly disgusted and fuming about gluttony here, even as I keep finding jyself taking a second helping of whatever's on the table or the television. Jesus freak, and a dick. I wish the two didn't come up as a pair so much of the time." (120)
"I don't know, maybe it's enough to live as if life were for real, not just a metaphor or trial run in which we are only killing time before the headliner of heaven comes on the stage. Imagine alf thw evangelicals deciding that life was actually worth embracing, not just cramming into Jell-O molds so they'd come out shaped like every other Promise Keeper with a ten percent tithe and a mini van to pull into their vinyl-clad house every night, whilst most of the world shivers in the dark, muttering a confused curse of betrayal about Americans and the God they sold to the whole village. Imagine if being a Christian were about life, and not mastering the formula for Christian living. And why, by the way, is there a difference between living and Christian living?" (209)
The book on amazon.com
Here is a chapter (on, of course, Trinitarian relational ontology,Mountain Dew and nakedness) of the "revised" version.
Here are some of the topics Pete teaches on:
- Tears for Chelsea Clinton: privlege didn't cure the Fall
- Idolatry of Personal Brands, and the foolish wisdom of nudity
- The Bad News About Comfort
- Noblesse Oblige: philanthropy is the soul's response to blessing
- Some & Substance: encountering relational ontology
- The Bride's Guide to Harlotry: 10 things the Church can learn from Madison Ave about ethical communication
- Brokenness & the Bruised Reed: the death of utility-based Christianity
- Will & Wanna: listening to Jesus
- The Voice of the People is the Voice of Their God: pursuit of powerlessness
- Sexual Morality According to Genesis 3:16
- Death of the Inevitable: family may not even be in the top 10 most important things
- Harmony: where the real you, the the real us, groove with the real them
Monday, June 25, 2007
"One of the most fascinating things about the modern day practice of the CEO/pastor is that ministers seem to know--or sense--that their job is non-scriptural. As a pastor, and later an evangelist and until this very hour, I have brought up this question to scores of fellow ministers: "Where is the practice of a pastor in Scripture? I cannot find it." The most reaction I have ever received was either agreement or a resigned shrug! No honest pastor will defend the role of today's pastorate in the light of the New Testament."
"Open Church," pp. 69-70, context
As a sequel to my previous posts on U2's live version "The Fly," and its many and sundry projected maxims and "iconic ironics, " I need to add this clip from Boston 1992...Vintage Fly era..
I caught many of my old favorites:
"guilt is not of God"
"everyone is a racist except you"
"it's your world, you can change it/charge it"
Some I had not been able to make out before:
"pesssimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy"
"fear is an american problem"
"we are all a part of the malaise"
My new favorite:
"the media is the antichrist"
May be true! And what better way to express that truth...through media!
Enjoy the clip...and enjoy below it a helpful excerpt of one professor's take on the whole thing.
"'The Fly' on the Stage: Readings and Misreadings of the 'New' U2"
( A Paper Presented to the Music Area ofThe Popular Culture Association
April 13, 1995 Samuel R. Smith, Center for Mass Media Research, University of Colorado)
From As the song ends the video monitors light up with "EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG." As the band then launches into "The Fly" we reach, quite early in the show, what proves to be the band's critical master stroke. As the band performs the song, the screens are appropriated by a rapid-fire barrage of videotext - as many as perhaps twenty words or phrases are flashed onto the screens in a single second, while others are drawn out over several seconds, one presumes for effect. The words and phrases themselves are curious in places. A string like "WIFE / VICTIM / RAPE / FOOD / SEXY / WAR / BLOODY / KIDS / TRASH / MOM / FRENZY / FISH / COLOUR / NIGGER" makes no apparent sense - you merely have random words generated and presented in, as Jameson might predict, a blank pastiche.
Other sequences, though, appear more substantive. In one procession we get this string repeated two or three times: "CHARGE IT / WEAR IT / DEBT / DOUBT / HYPE / HOPE." This is closely juxtaposed with another repeated string: "GUN / PUSSY / SCHOOL." This last part is obscure, perhaps, but the debt string appears purposive in light of both the consumerist theme I assert above and the context in which the word "charge" will recur later.
In addition to word bursts, the audience is presented at intervals with phrases which range from the hopeful to the platitudinous to the sarcastic and cynical. "THE FUTURE IS FANTASY; SUPERFICIALITY IS GOD; AVOID CONFLICT; IGNORANCE IS BLISS; IT'S THE REAL THING; CONSUME LATER; DO NOT ACCEPT WHAT YOU CANNOT CHANGE; CHANGE WHAT YOU CANNOT ACCEPT; BELIEVE EVERYTHING; DO YOU BELIEVE ME; YOU ARE A VICTIM OF YOUR TV/HATRED/APATHY/SELF; IS THIS ALL WE GET?; YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE; WHAT DID THE FIRST PUNK ROCK GIRL WEAR TO YOUR SCHOOL?; WORK IS THE BLACKMAIL OF SURVIVAL; I WANT IT NOW; BE GENTLE WITH ME; THIS IS NOT A REHEARSAL; ENJOY THE SURFACE; FREE MANDELA; THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT; AMBITION BITES THE NAILS OF SUCCESS; IT COULD NEVER HAPPEN HERE; TASTE IS THE ENEMY OF ART; BELIEVE" (with the "BE" and "VE" fading, leaving only "LIE"); "MANIPULATION IS ART; YOU ARE NOT IMMUNE; EVERY ARTIST IS A CANNIBAL; CELEBRITY IS A JOB; DEATH IS A CAREER MOVE; MOCK THE DEVIL AND HE WILL FLEE FROM THEE; REBELLION IS PACKAGED; RELIGION IS A CLUB; CONTRADICTION IS BALANCE; I'D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING; GUILT IS NOT OF GOD; TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME; EVOLUTION IS OVER; SILENCE = DEATH; DEATH IS INEVITABLE; EVERYONE IS A RACIST EXCEPT YOU; ROCK AND ROLL IS ENTERTAINMENT; WEAR A CONDOM" (U2 1994).
The cumulative effect is numbing. The pace of the bursts makes catching and processing everything impossible, and in this sense U2 has quite successfully presented a microcosm of our mass mediated consumerist everyday lives. We are literally assaulted by sales pitches - I have heard estimates of anywhere from 1600-3200 per day - and seemingly no institution is innocent of contributing to the noise. In the videotext above, we see that most elements of our culture are represented - corporations, religions, advertising, schools, art, criticism, all are in some fashion called on the carpet.
The problem is that the form allows for no consideration of depth. All messages have been democratized, and the sublime is diluted at every turn by the ridiculous ("wear a condom" is potentially life-saving advice; "I want it now" is the impulse which arguably necessitates the condom message). On the surface, then, meaning has been rendered unknowable, and in the final moments of the song we find the band cynically undercutting sloganeering and the shallow ideology of social change. "IT'S YOUR WORLD YOU CAN CHANGE IT" is projected on the screens, then recycled over and over in a rapidly accelerating loop (in total this phrase is looped at least thirty times in twenty seconds, with one burst probably looping it fifteen-twenty times in five seconds). Upon seeing this the crowd explodes in a frenzy of cheering - on the heels of such a confusing mush of mixed signals, we shouldn't be surprised to see idealistic young U2 fans seizing fervently upon a moment of hope.
However, it only appears that this phrase has been presented over and over in a reaffirming cycle of hope. In fact, the third and fourth loops replace "change" with "charge" - "IT'S YOUR WORLD YOU CAN CHARGE IT." Again, consumerism is challenged, and this time it is challenged within the context of U2's traditionally positive social-consciousness. They have always been a band spreading the rhetoric of change, but here they undercut the message, implying that the potential for change is undercut by rampant consumerism. We are, it seems, mortgaging much more than our financial futures. As noted, the song began with "EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG"; fittingly enough, as the final chord fades into the crowd's frenzied cheering, the monitors resolve into "WATCH MORE TV."
We might read this performance as a subtle, yet pointed indictment of a culture hijacked by television and its attendant consumerism. The shallowness of the culture is certainly evident in every facet of the presentation, and Bono's televangelist and Macphisto (devil figure)indulge in a decadent wallow which, at the very minimum, paints an unseemly picture. Macphisto's appearance, ninety minutes in to the show, signals the coming-out of the self-indulgent parody. Gold-suited, gold glittered platform shoes, washed out pale makeup and bright red horns - "Look what you've done to me," he tells the crowd. "You've made me very famous, and I thank you." He then announces that his time among the audience is almost over (we're into the encore at this point) but he is leaving a legacy in his wake. "I leave behind video cameras for each of you."
"'The Fly' on the Stage: Readings and Misreadings of the 'New' U2"
A Paper Presented to the Music Area ofThe Popular Culture Association
April 13, 1995
Samuel R. Smith, Center for Mass Media Research, University of Colorado
"We come from the North side of Dublin, went to a school called Mount Temple Comprehensive. That's where we met. When we were leaving this new student came in. He was a boy completely paralyzed, nothing moving. He was born ... without oxygen, but he had something in his eyes, this light in his eyes.
So his mother believed in him, that he was awake, that he was conscious.
So she used to read to him ... teach him. Then when he was 13 years old, they discovered this little drug which allowed him to move his neck one inch ... and with that he was able to type with this little thing they attached to his head. Turns out, he'd been writing stuff in his head for years, this poetry, beautiful poetry - put out this book called "Dam-Burst of Dreams" ... his first poem was called "I Learned To Bow" where he thanked God for the gift of science and medicine. Of course, science, medicine & God... all the same thing. They should always be the same thing.
His name is Christopher Nolan, this song is called "Miracle Drug...""
An amazing moment..at the "surprise" concert under the Brooklyn Bridge, Bono took the time to tell the story behind "Miracle Drug":
For more on Christopher Nolan's prayer journal, check this. To see actual video of Nolan's acceptance speech winning the Whitbread Literary Award, see this.
Part 1...very end of this clip:
On a lighter...and equally God-inspired note..check out how U2 let a fan play drums for them earlier that same day:
...and another sing opera:
Friday, June 22, 2007
As a pastor, I have always demanded a special parking space at the churches I have pastored; a space which reflects my status and privilege.
That is, I purposely park as far away as possible from the building.
I have never allowed well-meaning trustees or people to arrange a "reserved for pastor" executive parking spot.
This is not at all to judge pastors and churches with "reserved" parking spaces close to the facility for top leadership...it's just that I can't do it.
And I do wonder if it is what JWD, in light of Matthew 23, for example:
7They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.'
And I love, and fear, Douglas Wilson's devastating commentary on that Scripture:
"In the old days, this had to be accomplished by means of respectful titles like "Rev." But nowadays, in these egalitarian times, the attitude of spiritual conceit has had to be a a little more creative,and a pastor shows his prowess in humility by asking people to call him "Joe". Behind the scenes, he is a fierce, hard-driving CEO,and reads those CEO magazines, and acts like a CEO on airplanes, right down to ogling the flight attendant in first class. But out in front of the congregation, sitting on that stool, fitted out in a Mr. Rogers cardigan, he is open, transparent,and shares the
struggles of his heart--the struggles of a simple guy...named Joe. He is about as deep as a wet spot on the pavement.
A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking...p. 36
I usually boycott clergy spaces at hospitals as well, though if there is no other space, I'll do it.
Though I still can't imagine Jesus doing it.
I don't think I'm Jesus. It's just that I don't think I am anybody special. And why should I have the best parking space, when my job description says I am the least if the least, the servant of all...
Of course this stuff backfires. Sometimes when you explain this peculiar and countercultural habit to people, they think you're really spiritual for such a "radical" move an "sacrificial" leadership , and tempt you to be proud of your humility.
It cam also be misunderstood. When our current church was meeting at a school...I habitually parked at one of the farthest (the absolute farthest would have been too obvious) parking spaces in the lot. It couldn't not do it.I can walk. Let others )especially first-timers) have the closer spots. I do not want special parking privileges just because I am the pastor. Well, actually, again...actually I I do but I want the one biblically congruent with my status:
one pretty far out.
One well meaning saint finally said something like, " I know why you park at the end of the lot. You're trying to say, this entire lot should be full. You're trying to remind us that we're not big enough yet with all these empty spaces between your car and everyone else's . You are claiming by your prophetic act that this is on its way to becoming a megachurch ."
But if I ever get one (against my will), I do want a special parking spot.
At the house church a mile away.
I was glad to find upon a quick googling that others have wrestled with this issue,especially the insidious"proud of my humility" temptation. See Ken Pierpoint.
I found this:
Kathy Turnbole, chair of BOOM, shared in her report about a church where they couldn't get people to stop parking in the pastor's parking spot. So they posted a sign that read, "If you park here, you preach here." She challenged us to "Preach where you are parked."
Needless to say, I would have handled that differently.
I also think nonChristian neighbors have a right to feel like this:
as for the parking situation, it carries on over around the corner onto Catharine street as well. sometimes I just wanna pick up and move that cement block " Pastor Parking" sign that lies in front of the church. (link)
There's a good chance that's exactly what Jesus would do.
"All we have to do is go low. We don't have to worry about getting up"
(Brian Dodd, "Empowered Church Leadership: Ministry in the Spirit According to Paul", 146)
"I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant "(Henri Nouwen (148)
Thursday, June 21, 2007
(who , like here, sometimes records under monikers like LSU)
complete with trash can lids played as drums. by Steve Hindalong
The juxtaposition of the Saturday night and Sunday morning realities..
too honest for church?
That's precisely while we'll play it Sunday.
It's from a brilliant (half punk and half ballad) worship CD, "Grace Shaker"...
and the song makes complete sense (not common sense) in the context of a "worship"album...much in the same way "Eleanor Rigby" counterintuitively belongs on The Violet Burning's classic "Strength".
and you're sittin' there wondering why is it like this
and the whole world's crazy and the earth is sick
and someone's yelling from the bathroom door
the toilet's overflowing on the floor
and the one by the phone says i cannot hear
while the one by the jukebox spills his beer
and the man on the pinball hits sixteen mil
someone ducks behind the counter to pop a pill
and you reach in your pocket to see if there's more
and the biggest bill falls so you're left with four
and you're too gone to look but you still try
then you see it in the hand of a great big guy
who looks just like he'd kill you fast
and you think for a minute
you let it pass
and the stool falls over when you set back down
it bumps a mean pool shooter from across the town
he misses his shot - it's all on you
and with your last four bucks you know what you'll do
sorry man can i buy you a drink
and he shakes his head and says, make it a double
the next thing you know you wake up at home
and the little one there won't leave you alone
she's awake and hungry
she needs some potty help
and you remember what happened last time she tried it by herself
and your wife says hurry, we're late for church
and you can barely see
and your head still hurts
and the preacher starts preaching
and you feel remorse
he's got five little kids and a big divorce
and your wife looks down and says she don't know how
he's been her guiding light for ten years now
and his marriage is over, it's barely alive
and how in the world will ours ever survive?
and the stool falls over when you set back down
it bumps a mean pool shooter from across the town
he misses his shot - it's all on you
and with your last four bucks you know what you'll do
sorry man can i buy you a drink
and he shakes his head and says, make it a double
"Double" live (note Michael's apologetic comment at the end, he knows it's devastating):
Here, he laughs abut how it's "depressing...but it's not in A minor, though. So it could've been worse":
"Double" live, by Knott/LSU in a very small club with a rocked up version:
This version below, close to the original, does includes one word change:
"How in the world.." becomes "how in the hell...".
It's by his "secular" band and on a "secular" label, because we all know only "secular" people talk like that (:
In other songs in Knottland, "Grace" live:
striving for the answer
in fighting for the streets of gold
hope you're not forgotten
you wonder if you've killed your soul
i've heard the words of judgment
but not from the one i know
it falls down on me
it falls down on you
grace falls free
the proud feel the need to work the loom
yet grace falls free
holding up to heaven
the winnings of your plow
look into the poor man
show him what he must do now
you've got all the answers
but he's got a book that shows him how
it falls down on me...
think about the river
how it always flows
they're still digging in the desert
but that's not where this river goes
it's filled with all the living
and quenches every wantin' soul
it falls down on me...
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Those from Fresno recall one of our "out of the box" church's favorite former meeting places: the award-winning and "whimsical" (architect's word) building/spaceship at 5671 N. Palm (see some of our stories about what we called "The Box" here) , know that the facility was bought by a wonderful dentist.
Still looks like a church to me(:
I know some will be fascinated to see how the place looks inside, now that it's obviously been completely remodeled. You see our coffee cafe is now "the chair" room.
More photos are on Dr Kalebjian's website here.
Or stop by for a tour...or dental appointment.
You might find it still is church.
"Neo-Marxists like Guy Debord contend that the marketplaced learned how to fetishize commodities by imitating the Church's s praxis."
That's a thought worth chewing on.
I found it here (see May 11 comment here) as i googled to see if any other churches/ministries were using the phrase "marketplaced."
But as to my original question:
None, so far.
Maybe we are afraid of fetishizing commodities..
..or causing Jesus to have a temple tantrum..
..which is the same thing.
From Wolfgang Simson
How to break the "20-Barrier"
I have read a book written by Bill M. Sullivan, titled "Ten Steps to breaking the 200-barrier". The very healthy intention of Sullivan fits ideologically into the mainstream of the Church Growth movement of the 70s and 80s: Good churches grow big, and very good churches grow very big. Anything that stops a "healthy" church from growing is a barrier, and those barriers are bad and must therefore go. The idea of the "200-Barrier" is simple. Statistically most churches stop to grow somewhere between 100 and 300 people, on average at about 200. There are good cultural, sociological and even architectural reasons for that. One is structural, an inbuilt problem of the traditional One-Pastor-church: There are only so many people (in the USA: 200) a Pastor can personally and effectively care for. He may have a lot of space in his agenda, but a quite limited space in his heart; and people realize that. Result: The growth grinds to a halt, the church hits an invisible ceiling, the "200 Barrier". However, I suggest there is a much more important barrier to overcome: the "20-Barrier". How do we break it?
The invisible line: from organic to organizational
As any family get-together will teach us, we can accomplish the goal of fellowship without the need to be heavily structured. Families can get along quite well without a master of ceremony, a word of introduction, a special song, a sermon by father and a vote of thanks by mother. These things happen at weddings and other festivals, but not in everyday life. Church, however, is not an artificial performance, it is for everyday life, because it is a way of life. There is, in each culture, a very important numerical line we can cross: from the organic to the organized, from the informal to the formal, from spontaneous to liturgical. I call this most important line the 20-barrier, because in many cultures 20 is a maximum number where people still feel "family", organic and informal, without the need to get formal or organized. Organisms are structured, too, and I am not advocating a total absence of order and structure. But, different to an organized series of meetings which are typically structured from outside, organisms are usually structured from within. The nature of a meeting defines and therefore limits the size of a meeting. If we cross the "20-barrier", the group stops to be organic, and starts to become formal, and even feel the need to follow a set agenda. Effectiveness in relationship and mutual communication goes down, and the need for someone to coach and lead the meeting goes up. As a result, the housechurch looses it's main original attractions, changes it's values, and starts to develop totally different dynamics. It often simply stops functioning by itself, spontaneous and lively, lead invisibly and unobtrusively through the inbuilt family mechanisms of fathering and mothering, and needs to be literally "run", organized, and visibly lead into a new and organized life form - if there is such a thing. The original organism is then a thing of the past, still alive, but trapped into a formal structure that chokes it, conditions it, and ultimately could prevent relational and spontaneous fellowship in the name of organized fellowship. Biblical koinonia means fellowship or sharing, giving generously and participating and sharing something with someone. One of the fatal aspects of this line-crossing is that the original organic form of fellowship usually looses it's internal reproduction potential, and can only be cloned and copied or even literally manufactured and finally mass produced with huge effort from outside that greatly ignores and overrules it's own inbuilt explosive growth potential. It is a fact of church history that it has always been a swift step from organized religion to institutionalism and fossilization.
Person number 21
One of the most important decisions in terms of the structure and future of a church anyone can possibly make, therefore, is what you do when person number 21 walks through the door. Structurally, that brings the church into the red phase. You either continue growing upwards and become organized and loose your housechurch-dynamics, and may ultimately hit the 200-barrier, or you divide the housechurch into two or three units and multiply it, thus growing sidewards. You may not even notice a 200-barrier this way.
A wedding a week?
Life in any culture has two aspects, the private and the public, everyday-life and the special events, celebrations of weddings, function and festivals, funerals and traditional happenings. Both aspects of life have their own and valid ways of expression. Everyday life is usually expressed in the family, the basic cell unit of every society and culture. Families are usually very organic, informal, relational and consist of whatever it takes to share lives. Weddings and other functions are extraordinary events, for which everyone duly prepare; they are usually formal, need heavy organization and are often highly structured.
Imagine you would have to attend a wedding each week. It follows the same basic pattern, has even the same bridegroom and bride, and maybe even the food is the same. After some weeks the excitement would considerably wear down. You would know what to expect, and you know what's going to happen next. It still would remain a nice thing, a beautiful tradition, but it would feel odd to have the same type of festival each week.
We need to be careful not to do this with church. Jesus has shown us a way to live, not only a way to celebrate. Both aspects are necessary, both are good. But everyday life is not like a wedding, as any married couple can tell us. If we allow church to take on only "celebration structures", we will start celebrating "a wedding a week", and our behavior will soon be far removed from real life and cease to make sense to ordinary people. It would become an artificial weekly event and performance. If church is a God-given way of community life, and if life takes place in the basic unit of a family living in a home, there is nothing more appropriate for the church to be a housechurch, to be the church based in simple, ordinary, everyday homes. Housechurches are not only a way for us humans to express community, they are one of God's means to achieve community.
Small churches may already be far too big
Creation itself teaches us that nothing healthy grows endlessly, but stops growing at a point and starts multiplying. Bigger is not necessarily better or more beautiful. Could it be that in this perspective - to grow a church bigger - everything is right - expect the direction in which we look? Could it be that the problem is not so much to break the 200-barrier on the way up, but the 20-barrier on the way down? If real church growth spells m-u-l-t-i-p-l-i-c-a-t-i-o-n, then growth may not be upwards at all, but sidewards. Has all that talk about "big is beautiful" tricked our thinking? If yes, maybe we will have to cut out a Zero in our mindset: an average church would then be just 8, 10 or 12 people; a large church has 15, and a megachurch sports 21.
Could it be that the average "small church" of 25 or 45 people, which is trying to rent a hall, or sanction a building fund, just bought a pulpit and still saves for an overhead projector, is not at all too small, but already far too big? They have crossed the organism-organization line long ago, trying "to grow up like all those other churches", not realizing that they already have become quite heavy and inflexible, structurally bloated and deformed, just like someone with a waterbelly suffering from his own weight, and only kept going and inching forward by the relentless activities of a busy "Pastor" or leader with his co-workers?
Worldwide the average size of churches is around 100. Only a very small percentage of churches become bigger than 200, and many are in the 40-60 bracket. The average Sunday-morning attendance of the Lutheran churches in Germany, for example, was 23,5 people in the year 1993.
Shrink in order to grow
Maybe it simply requires a true apostolic gifting - which is statistically speaking fairly rare - to transform any given church into a megachurch. For many churches it could be a liberation to be allowed to become what many of them already are: slightly overgrown housechurches struggling with their own size and the unspoken original they are trying to become. Would it not be much more practical for them to head the other way, and become smaller, to move into the direction of housechurches, to "grow down" rather than keep on striving to "grow up"?
Elton Trueblood once said: "The church must be smaller before it can be substantially stronger." I agree. But if we take this one step further, this would also mean that the church of the future will have to become much smaller, before it can become substantially bigger, by becoming much more numerous. Statistically, it will have to shrink in order to grow.
Swiss Prophets about Switzerland
A friend told me recently, that God had shown him a prophetic vision of the Thunersee, the "Lake Thun" near Interlaken. There he observed many small groups of Christians baptizing people. "The Lake Thun will be the biggest baptismal lake in Switzerland", God told him. "But why are those groups so small?" asked my friend. "They are housechurches," God told him.
Another senior friend of mine, now in his 70s, told me of a vision he had, where God had shown him in prayer that a new form of church will spread in Switzerland like wildfire: housechurches. As a result of this move of God there will be a large gathering of approximately 200.000 Christians at an open-air ground near the city of Luzern in the year 2.001, where those Christians will form themselves into a unity and speak collectively with one voice to Switzerland as a nation.
Pastor Mike Bickle from Kansas, USA, once told that God had "revealed to him that he is going to change the forms and expressions of church within one generation to the degree that it will not be recognizable any more." That was in Cairo in the year 1982. The future will tell whether it was God or just a dream. Rick Joyner, a prophetic teacher from Charlotte, USA, says it this way: "I see such a sweeping return to Biblical Christianity coming, that the very understanding of Christianity, by both the world and the church, will be changed. This does not imply any kind of doctrinal changes as to what it means to be a Christian, but a change that causes us to live by the truths we proclaim. This will be reflected when we truly become known for our love for one another".
I do respect Amos 3: 7-8 and the biblical ministry of prophecy, and I am far from encouraging anyone to pick up stones of tradition and throw them at prophets. What if those visions - which are only part of a growing flood of voices amongst God's people today - are really from God? What would that mean for us as Christians? For our churches? Could we simply smile a bit about that nice - but surly absurd! - thought, turn the page, cut onions, water the garden, go out in the evening, finally order that overhead projector and carry on with "church as we know it?"
Monday, June 18, 2007
In the process, what a joy to find online this photo of a church/school in Paraguay that I had a
small small small
part in constructing. In 1998, a team from the church I was pastoring at the time was commissioned to help with this project, in the Lambare barrio; Zulma area outside of Asuncion. It has been called one of the poorest neighborhoods in Latin America; 70% extreme poverty. Most of the houses that Carl and I visited had no water; some had no walls.
I have always been cautious about the "pride" (or uh, let me baptize it as "contentment") in realizing that you had "accomplished something" on a short term mission trip (see Tim's excellent article on that topic here, and my response here.)..but it is gratifying to see this photo and read all about what God has done in the years since then.
Jamie (who befriended the Bread Nazis) and Harry (who became a dentist on that trip, steadfast and straightfaced even when finding maggots among the kids
teeth) are are laughing at this point, remembering that my part in actual "construction" was small indeed (though I did paint some of those
tiles on the roof you see there). I mostly played with the neighborhood kids ..
like the one who ruined me for life;
the Julio of the toothless grin who broke my heart, and taught me how to pray.
He (photo, on left) had latched on to me, as I spoke Spanish to him...and was a big
kid myself .
"What are you building here?," he asked.
"What's a church?"
"A place where people can worship Jesus."
Of course, I know now...well, knew then (but didn't take time for theological distinctions)... that is decidedly the wrong answer: church as a place, edifice complex, etc...)
I gulped. I was guessing, dreading/hoping what his next question would be.
It's one thing to hear that billions around the world have never even heard of Jesus, but I had just met my first.
Yep, he said it:
I am not sure what I said, but I am sure it was evangelically correct (I might have even "prayed the prayer" with him).
And I have since heard that answer from kids in the first world;
even here in the US.
It's the only question any of us has.
Even "after" we have given our lives to Jesus
(As my hero Pastor Ellis put it...so liturgically correct..."Who the hell are you, Jesus?")
The church( Fuente de Vida" )and school ("Nuevo Horizonte" )complex down there is now called seems to be thriving.
Check it out here and here and here (Hi Mark and Jo) and here if you read Spanish , and thank God it is still helping folks ask that question.
Google map it
Friday, June 15, 2007
Episode 4 - The Homeless
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...and in a totally different world, someone I wasn't aware of, a 72 year old church renewer in Canada:
Friday, June 08, 2007
We've begun in facilities. This takes money and expertise, which are not readily available. If you begin in homes or front porches or yards or parks, there are always more of them.
We've tended to start with celebration in a large group. For reproduction you start with a small group. Very few people actually have the ability and gifts to do a large group well. It takes more expertise, more preparation, more everything. A lot of people can facilitate small groups. They were already doing it in their own natural network before they were saved. "
(full article. click here and scroll sown to 4th item)
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I heard faintly as our family finished our lunch at the mall.
The phrase sounded familiar; but the music still faint.
"Don't say I didn't warn you; this prophecy
is coming true.." was the next snippet I heard.
Ah, yes..."The Stand" by The Alarm, an 80's classic by that God-haunted band (who are stll around, by the way).
Here's the dated (at least big-hair wise)video below. These guys absolutely rocked when I saw them open for U2 in 1983. I knew nothing about them, but within seconds of their first song's opening, my brother and I turned to each other; knowing this would be an amazing concert; and said "These guys are Christian, aren't
Whether they literally are or not is precisely not the main point.
Which is that God has been using music...especially by God-haunted bands...to speak to people where they are.
It's a centered set culture we are living in.
I got chills in the mall, as I watched the punk rockers at the next table (ironically, they looked like The Alarm in the 80s) as the music (and evangelistic invitation) washed over them.
Whether they heard and heeded it or not is up for grabs.
But I actually think they are more accountable on Judgement Day beacuse God spoke to them at a fish palace at the mall one day through a song which may or may not be "officially" Christian.
It was an altar call.
That the altar was a table at Burbank Mall full of beer bottles didn't bother The Maker one bit.
When I teach my Ministry Skills class on "Penetrating and Plundering Culture," I often start with these opening case-studies to make this same point:
1)My daughter and I were singing along to that well-known worship song lyric, "Jesus, You are my King..." We were transported into God's presence...there at church..
Actually, at McDonalds. The Newsboys were leading worship over
the sound system!
2)"My Creator...You gave me life, now show me how to live!" was the passionate prayer by the worship leader. That cut-to-the-chase honest plea seemed to make the presence of God almost palpable. Our family
received it, and "amen-ed" it; there at church..
Actually, we were at Extreme Pizza. The Audioslave song "Show Me How to Live" was playing.
3)"I dare you to move..dare you to pick yourself up off the floor....salvation is here!," the evangelist begged with all his might. I stopped in my tracks; and almost fell to my knees.
All around me where desperate, even drunk people; whose lives were "on the floor," and needed to be dared into salvation..
By the lead singer of Switchfoot as he issued the challenged through the ceiling speaker of the church building...
ceiling of Liquor King. Where I had entered (to some embarassment, hoping no parishoners saw me) to pay a uitlity bill at the back counter...of a liquor store.
I am aware some would "complain" that only #1 above is a "Christian band."
#3 is all Christian guys, but on a secular label. "We are Christian by faith, not by genre," the singer often explains.
Which is the ONLY reason their song was allowed in a liquor store.
Which is exactly the kind of place where Jesus is making himself quite at home nowadays. He is the King of Liquor King, after all.
Great days we live in.
Mall, McDonalds, Liquor King, Extreme Pizza.
"Church buildings ARE sacred...
.Mark Driscoll says; finishing the quote with a flourish:
"...like everything else in creation.