28 November 2005

Required church programs?

Once again, a truly incisive question in a comment to a previous post becomes a post in its own right. P3T3 said:

mike -- really enjoyed this episode. i loved the scripture passages and your perspective re: discipleship with respect to both Christ and us wanna be little christs. from there (i submit) we took a rather broad leap and extrapolated church responsibility. i don't know that this, or any other church program, is required or specifically supported by scripture. to be clear, i am *not* suggesting the church is to be "not missional". however, i am questioning how we assign *requirements* to the church. thoughts? pete

Hmm, OK, like I said, really good question. I can see where I might have given the impression that I was talking about an "evangelism program" and a "mission program" that every church needs to have, although I did say that I wasn't talking about "just another church program". In fact, I really didn't mean to imply anything like required programs; I meant to be talking about identity. I do think it's something close to a requirement that every church put some conscious effort toward discerning their missional identity/vocation (you agree that to "be missional" is important, and I could come up with bunches of verses to support that if you wanted me to, starting with these in John and the Great Commission in Matthew 28). And I do think that something like "programs" will flow from that missional discernment, since churches by their nature don't just be, they do. But the shape of those programs/activities will be particular to the discerned vocation of the church, and I agree that there's very little specific that the Bible dictates all churches must do. (Might be fun to try to build such a list some time.)

That said (and here I'm trying to circle in on the point I was trying to make, if it wasn't about specific programs), I think there are certain attitudes regarding missional identity that should cause us to pause and go "hmm." I'm not going to be so presumptuous as to call these attitudes "errors" or "sins", but I really do think that, if you or your church seem to hold these attitudes, it's worthy to stop and consider them carefully. In case it's not obvious, this is just my opinion, informed by scripture, study, and experience. So here we go:
  • If you or your church seem to consider ministry and mission to be something reserved for a select few (be they "clergy", "elders", "missionaries", or whatever), go "hmm." I think the New Testament calls all followers of Jesus to ministry and mission.
  • If you or your church seem to consider ministry and mission to be primarily individual affairs, with everyone having some vocation but no strong belief in a communal vocation, go "hmm." Jesus always sent his followers on their missions in groups of at least two, and it's hard to read the book of Acts or the letters of Paul and miss the fundamentally collective (and missional) nature of the early Christian communities.
  • If you or your church seem to consider ministry to be properly directed more or less exclusively inwardly, toward members of the church and people who come through the front door on their own, go "hmm." Followers of Jesus are, I think, definitely called to outward-directed mission in (but not "of") the world. Someone said that the church is the only human organization that exists primarily for the benefit of non-members. That's not completely true (there are others), but it is completely true that the church exists to bless the world, not just itself.
  • If you or your church seem to consider outward-directed mission to be exclusively a matter of proclaiming the Gospel and trying to make more disciples (i.e., evangelism), then go "hmm." Many evangelical/fundamental churches seem to be close to this point of view, but social justice, welcoming the outcast, healing, nonviolence, and speaking truth to power were vitally important parts of Jesus' ministry, and in my opinion should be vitally important to his followers too.
  • If you or your church seem to consider outward-directed mission to be exclusively a matter of programs of social justice, hospitality, etc., then go "hmm." Many mainline/liberal churches seem to be close to this point of view, but proclaiming the proximity of the Kingdom of God and calling followers were vitally important parts of Jesus' ministry, and in my opinion should be vitally important to his followers too.

So in discerning a church group's missional vocation, it may well be that there's an emphasis on clergy ministry or lay ministry, or on individual ministry or collective ministry, or on "social mission" or "evangelism". Depending on the discerned identity of the group, any of these might be emphasized or de-emphasized--there's nothing wrong with that! However, in my opinion, if a church group is intentionally excluding some aspect of ministry/mission (such as evangelism or "social mission"), it's worthy to stop and consider the reason(s) for that exclusion. Do they really believe it's something incidental to the Gospel and the mission of the Church? (Was it incidental to Jesus' ministry?) Is it due to discomfort or attachment, and if so, are those things that need to be examined in the life of the church? Or is it just that the activity is not compatible with the gifts of the church group? In any case, it's worth thinking about.

(I realize that by including "clergy vs. lay" in my little list of dualities, the above might be read to imply that I think the idea of ordained clergy is fundamental to Christian ministry and mission. In fact, my point regarding clergy is just the opposite. My understanding is that the establishment of an ordained "religious class" has a lot more to do with the emergence of Christendom than it does with anything in the NT, and in case you didn't get the memo, Christendom is so over. Don't worry Rick+, I'm not saying ordained clergy are a bad thing, just that I don't think they're central to the mission of the Church like disciple-making and social justice.)

So to summarize, I think my point was not that any particular programs/actions are required of a church, but if some activities that were very important to Jesus are being (more or less) intentionally excluded from a church's sense of missional identity, then that's worth a second thought, and maybe some collective prayer and discernment.


Ross said...

Great post Mike... thanks for the insights. Personally, I've only been part of three churches in my life: the New England UCC of my childhood; an every increasingly conservative Evangelical Free church; and my current wonderful wacky community over at Java.

As you can imagine, there were/are great contrasts between those ministry models, and I don't need to bore you with what they were... I'm sure you can guess :)

However, as far as actual, genuine missional ministry, the common thread that ran through all three, was the energy and momentum that accumulated when people were empowered by leaders (clergy or otherwise) to pursue relationships when presented with the opportunity . I'm not talking about evangelism here, rather, the power of the living church body to befriend, heal, feed, love, save, etc., in a decentralized way.... even if those "targets of opportunity" never ended up coming to the church building or even meeting anyone else from the church community. Simply allowing and encouraging Christians to become Pastors of their neighborhoods could be the most powerful and effective ministry model out there.

I think this all goes back to a recent post (23 Nov) by Sonja... an excerpt from Columbanus' Letter to a Young Disciple:

"Too many of our models for authority are ones of hierarchy or domination. We think of rulers and leaders as those who are over other people and supported by them. Instead of a pyramid model where the few dominate the many, in God's Kingdom it is more helpful to picture a huge saucer into which is thrown all the people of God in all their giftedness, from the least to the greatest. Those more strongly gifted for ministry will not rise to the top, but sink to the bottom where they may undergird and provoke the rest of the people of God."

Mike Croghan said...

Ross, you say you're not talking about evanglism, but when I say evangelism, I am totally talking about building the kinds of relationships you're describing. Totally. I'm very skeptical that the methods we tend to think of as "evangelism" (i.e., laying on the hard sell until you manage to get someone to "say a prayer accepting Jesus" or until you decide they're not a good prospect) ever really worked well in the modern era, and in a postmodern context, fugeddaboutit. (Besides, that model isn't exactly Biblical.)

So when I say "evangelism", I mean what you and Sonja are talking about, 100%. But of course, that's not what people think when they hear/see that word, and Alice's friend Humpty Dumpty ("My words mean exactly what I intend them to mean") was a git. "Evangelism" is one loaded word, and switching to "evangelization", as some authors do, doesn't help much.

I'm highly tempted to abandon it in favor of "disciple making", although that concept encompasses something bigger than even what I mean by "evangelism" and includes all aspects of formation of even longtime, committed disciples. But maybe that's appropriate too. Longtime disciples need to hear and be shaped by the good news every bit as much as someone who's never heard the name of Jesus.

Language can be annoying. But it's also such a beautiful thing, life would be boring (and/or scary) if we were all telepaths, so there we are.


Mike Croghan said...

Upon further reflection, maybe "relationship building" is an even better term than "disciple making", which connotes getting all Stephen Covey and "beginning with the end in mind", which maybe smacks too much of salesmanship. Hmm. "Being friendly"?

This is more than just a semantic exercise for me, because Fr. Lou just sppointed me "coordinator for evangelism" (or something like that) at Holy Comforter, so I've got to think and pray hard about what these concepts mean to me. Thanks, Ross!

Ross said...

Great stuff Mike! It's funny, but I've been away from the conservative side of things for so long that I associate "Evangelism" more with business than I do the church now. It's just another term for passionate marketing.

I think you could even push "relationship building" to the next logical step... "loving others" :-)

Sonja Andrews said...

"Passionate Marketing?" How about "bait and switch?" That seems more like what happens, but I might be just the tiniest bit jaded.

For a mini-lecture on etymology go here:
http://calacirian.blogspot.com/2005/11/word-on-words-and-word.html not that I'm a charlatan or anything ...

Nice post and discussion ... but then I'm part of the choir (as in you're preaching to the choir on this).


Unknown said...

mike -- really appreciated how you closed the loop and filled in the blanks ... for me and for my thinking if nothing else. The identity notion is a darn good one – thanks for teasing that out from the “programs” paradigm for me.

my point, if i had one (to which you would seem to concur), is that i don't think i see requirements for what a *church* is to be about -- by that i mean specifically in terms of top down / cookie cutter requirements -- indicated in scripture, certainly as it would pertain to the church in Acts.

what i saw from your original post, and again in these words, is this wonderfully cohesive (assumption?) that whatever we are to be about as disciples, is also what the church is to be about. if one were to argue then, that being a little christ is about "loving God and loving others" the church should likewise be about "loving God and loving others".

your vision / thrust, emphasizes specifically that this is a distributed / organic (even emergent!) dynamic that varies "Depending on the discerned identity of the group". you then put additional rubber to the road by placing the impetus for the local church's specific interpretation / direction / manifestation d'ĂȘtre on lay folk, lifting the driving thrust from those professional Christians that may be around.

This is about as good a theory of what the church is to be about “doing” as anything I’ve heard. And while I don’t assume this was just for me – It built (reconstructed) into me some good cohesive thought, so my thanks.

I perhaps take issue with the being vs. doing assumption wrapped into this statement “…since churches by their nature don't just be, they do…“. I wonder if there is an associated value judgment (and perhaps a westernized one at that) wrapped in there? I think we in the west place great importance on doing, often failing to see the point or fruit of being, yet the majority of places and times consider(ed) being first and foremost. Using your previous metaphor / causality but traveling in reverse; is your position then that Christians are to be about “doing” primarily??


Mike Croghan said...

Hmm, another excellent question. Really made me think! Regarding "being" vs. "doing", I have to say no, "doing" cannot be primary. "Being" must come first. "Being" with God in prayer and worship, "being" loved and forgiven, "being" born again--all that stuff must be the primary experience of being a Christian. However, I do feel that "doing" almost inevitably follows.

I say "almost inevitably", because I don't presume to know what vocation God might call any of us to. I can't help but respect the Christian monastics, hermits and mystics who were all about the "being", not so much the "doing". But Jesus was undeniably a "doer", and the major figures of the New and Old Testaments were almost invariably "doers" too.

The Buddha, by contrast, was totally a "be-er" (not to be confused with a beer), and followers of Buddha can choose that path much more easily, because of the belief that by learning to "be" they would bless the world in some future life. For followers of Jesus, I think it's much harder to be a pure "be-er", because I think the Bible calls us to actively bless the world now through announcing and demonstrating the inbreaking of the Kingdom.

I think the Christian is called to constantly wonder, "In what way does God want me to bless the world today?" These don't have to be flashy, hyperactive ways--being a loving friend and family member is a huge blessing--but even that seems like a form of "doing" to me. In fact, maybe "doing" in this whole discussion should be replaced by a more specific verb--"loving"--as Ross suggests above.

So I have to say that "being" is primary, but I think "loving" inevitably follows, and that "loving" the world almost always expresses itself in some form of active "doing" in the life of the disciple.

Sonja Andrews said...

I wonder if maybe we're being too idealist here. I'm reading Embracing Grace by Scot McKnight right now. In this he says that every church body has a gospel (little "g") that they preach. Some are more active than others. I think that it might take all kinds of church bodies to make up The Body of Christ in the land. Now, do I think that in America, The Body has become obese from sitting around in it's easy chair for too long eating good food and not getting enough exercise? Probably. And so I think most of the smaller members of The Body could use more exercise to get lean again, but still, I think that different churches have different callings or vocations, just as different people do. And maybe I just said what you've been saying all along in a different manner. But what I heard in your post was that all churches should be doing the same thing, and I'm not sure that's entirely the case. I think that churches, like people, have different callings to serve different aspects of the community in which they live. Does that make sense?

Sonja Andrews said...

I don't think it was in your actual post that I got my impression, it was in the comments discussion. BTW ...

Mike Croghan said...

Sonja, I agree with you 100%! But I'm not surprised you got that impression, because I know very well that I have a tendency to want to make grandiose, sweeping, prescriptive statements that show how I've cleverly Figured It All Out on behalf of everybody else in the world. It's a nasty holdover from my thoroughly modern past, not to mention a liability of my hyperactive ego.

When I was in high school, working a summer job as a janitor at a local diner, I remember dreaming of writing and publishing my book on "Life, the Universe, and Everything" and impressing the world with the extent to which I'd Figured It All Out philosophically. I'm still that same kid. I don't like him much, but I am him. So I very much appreciate the corrective. I need y'all to beat that pretentious little brat out of me. I recognize that this aspect of my personality will be a potential major liability to my ministry, especially for someone who just got appointed "evangelism guy" (or whatever) at church and sees "evangelism" (whatever that is) as part of his vocation.

In truth, I totally think you're right. Different churches do have different callings or vocations. They don't, shouldn't, mustn't all look alike. Absolutely. If ever I imply otherwise, please whap me upside with the head with the one-size-fits-all, individually wrapped straightjacket of modernism that I still have a tendency to want to both wear and force others into.

However, I must still honestly admit that I would be initially skeptical upon learning of a church that had really intentionally, prayerfully, and communally discerned its particular vocation (in light of a careful reading of the Scriptures) and came to the conclusion that that vocation had no component that was directed out of the church and into the world, or no component of "social gospel", or no component of proclamation of the Kingdom. I do tend to think that, while church vocations will (praise Jesus!) be as beautifully diverse as individual vocations, it would be surprising to me if God called a church to a vocation that didn't have those three characteristics: loving the world (not just the church), proclaiming the kingdom (through loving relationship-building), and demonstrating the kingdom (through loving acts of healing and justice). Ego-boy promises to try to keep an open mind, but I have to admit that an intentionally discerned church vocation that doesn't include some aspect of those three components would be initially surprising to me.

It just seems like those things were to central to who Jesus was, that it's hard for me to think of a community of his followers who considered any of them completely irrelevent to their vocation. It would be like a Buddhist Sangha that didn't value meditative practice or teaching the Dharma. I'm not saying God could call a community in any way God chose, just that it would surprise me.

Do you think I'm still being too straight-jacket-y? I really do worry about that, and I really do believe that each community of Christians has a particular, beautifully diverse vocation, but on the other hand I think there are certain aspects of my understanding of the gospel that I feel called not to waver on. I really, really appreciate this feedback, sisters and brothers--thank you!!!

Sonja Andrews said...

Ohhhh ... the answer to Life The Universe and Everything, why didn't you just say so. Well, that's ...

... 42.

So, long. Thanks for all the fish.


Okay. Just kidding. I hope you either read those books or saw that movie. Otherwise I just typed out a joke that you won't get.

I agree. All churches will have components of those three characteristics (loving the world, loving the kingdom and demonstrating the kingdom). But how they mix them up; i.e. what the ratios are and what that looks like in each church will be different. And what the focus is for each church will be different. Thus, one church might run a soup kitchen, one might have a clothes closet and another might have a probono legal team. That's sort of 2 dimensional (and really off the top of my head), but maybe it'll give you an idea of what I mean.

Yeah ... I think we're on the same page!!

Mike Croghan said...

Oh, have no fear--you know a dweeb like me is a big Douglas Adams fan!


Unknown said...

Mike - great thoughts.

I agree wholeheartedly. Being must come first. Doing can only follow.
(think this balance may be a leeetle bit off within western Christendom).

Speaking of Buddhism, I am reading Thich Nhat Hanh right now, and what i see is a wonderful practical system for **living out spiritual disciplines** that are fully in line with Christ's values, principles and teachings. Independant of this, I am coming to the conclusion that the *means* belie the true values of a person, church, organization or country -- and should be heard louder than the stated or even delivered end state. (this might be a fancy way of saying "your actions speak so loudly i can't hear your words). Consquently, I am currently reconsidering the place / importance that I want to put on *being* within my life.