15 May 2009

Stuff the Church could toss

Almost a month ago, I made a long-ass comment on my friend Jan's blog, and I haven't thought much about it since. But then, today, out of the blue, someone ran across Jan's post and my comment, and emailed me about it, which led me to re-read it and think, "Heck, that's a lot of words...I might as well put them on my own blog too." So: Yeah, I wrote some words about "what the Church could toss". Let me show you them:

OK, Jan, I can't resist. But I would definitely go with your wisdom: this is contextual. I'll only list a couple things that I think should *always* be tossed from every church context (despite the fact that they are present in almost *every* church context), and then a bunch more that tend to be assumed to be necessary for nearly every church context, but are, really, truly, in my not-so-humble opinion, needed in fewer and fewer contexts.

List 1: Toss 'em, always:

Power struggles. If there is a power struggle in the church, at least one party *must* find a way to redefine the game in the vein of Philippians 2. My fellow Anglicans in Northern Virginia (and elsewhere) are doing a stellar job right now of demonstrating FAIL in this regard.

Nominalism. All churches need to find ways to stop selling snake oil. Showing up for two hours a week and chipping in for the offering is *not* the same thing as following Jesus. Following Jesus is *way* better. Why are we offering folks watered-down Dr. Pepper when we have the the most real medicine there is? Preaching about the difference doesn't solve the problem. How do we stop making nominalism a viable option? (BTW, this doesn't mean that we all don't need times when we don't serve, but are just served - but there is a big difference between a Jesus-follower going through a desert time, and a nominal Christian. Our churches are full of nominal Christians who will never pick up their cross and follow Jesus, as long as "show up and consume" is a viable option.)

List 1.5: On the bubble. (I've yet to hear a convincing case for why this is good in any context, but I'm not sure about it):

Large congregations (i.e., ones that start to approach 100 people). I mean congregations that are trying to be an interdependent community of disciples, not church institutions that are explicitly there only to provide services for any and all (eg., cathedrals). There are major drawbacks to large congregations (anonymity, nominalism, loss of community, need for depersonalized programs) which are not, as far as I can tell, mitigated by other advantages. (Nor are they solved by the magic bullet of "small groups.") In other words, I know of many things that small church communities can do better than large churches, but I don't currently know of anything that large churches can do better than a network of small churches - except make leaders feel important.

List 2: Toss 'em, contextually. (They aren't always useful, but have been useful in the past, still are in many contexts today, and will continue to be so in the future.)

"Educated" clergy. (Gosh, everybody's educated one way or another.)

The role of "pastor".

Any sort of clergy-laity distinction at all.

Most other prescribed church roles.

Hierarchical leadership (one person ultimately in charge of the organization - plural leadership among a team of equals *works*).

Full-time paid staff.

Paid staff.

Formal programs of every kind - "the church" does not need to provide programs for "the people" - the people *are* the church!

Church buildings.

Most other church assets.

Anything at all that's there due to a sense of entitlement, "it's always been that way", or an assumption that it's necessary. If folks want to keep doing something, then they should certainly keep doing it. *We* are the church, so there should be no sense of "the church providing this for us" - if it's needed, or wanted, then you (whoever feels the call) are the church - provide it!

But, you know, I can be a bit radical when it comes to this stuff. ;-)

image by Leo Reynolds (rights)


Anonymous said...

hey Mike, I can agree with you on alot of your views, but on some I need to call shenanigans. Some of "the people" in the church need the dependability of having a full time paid staff to minister. Children, elderly, and functionally disabled folks truly benefit from having an establishment in place, and so do the people who are trying to assist them. I have a hard time helping the youth group make dinner for the weekly meal they provide to the poor if I have no stove to cook on. and when we pick kids up in the church van it is a lot more effective than making them walk to the league the church sponsers. these activities require a bit of organization and cash. thus even those who just go on sunday and fill the plate are helping those of us who go monday to friday and volunteer. I like corinthians 15:57

Mike Croghan said...

Hi Sue,

Well, you're right: like I said, these things are useful in some contexts. But our church (which is admittedly small - 35ish adults plus kids - but like I said I'm not sure why churches should be large) gets by without any full-time paid staff (we have for years - we currently have one part-time staffer).

We have no building or stove, but we frequently cook for friends, poor and otherwise - we just borrow or rent what we need (or use what belongs to church members). Same deal with vans - we frequently help transport folks, but we don't have our own van which would sit idle most of the time.

We have a bit of organization (just a bit!) and cash (maybe two bits) ;-) but we start with the presumption that we don't need things and try to find ways to do what God is calling us to do without them - and then, if we find that we really need something to respond to a clear call, we tend to find that the resources are there - but maybe only to borrow whatever it is, or rent temporarily.

(In the same way, the things we do never really become "programs" - they're around for as long as both a) the need for them, and b) the passion/gifts/resources to provide them, exist.)

You're absolutely right: not all churches could/would/should function this way - but in more and more cultural contexts in the West, churches *could* function this way, so they (i.e., new church communities) maybe shouldn't begin with the presumption that all of those things, long presumed necessary, are needed.

And I'm not worried that those who just fill the plate are cheating anyone out of anything: I'm worried that they're *being* cheated. *Everyone* can be an active follower of Jesus - I heard a story of an elderly woman who became blind and deaf and, late in life, found a new calling as a mighty intercessory prayer warrior; and I have friends who work for L'Arche who will attest to the huge blessings God works through mentally disabled adults - but if we are making it easy for folks to merely consume religious goods and services and call that "church", we are gravely sinning against them, IMHO.

Liz said...

IMHO it's not working as well as we'd like to tell ourselves that it is working.

Mike Croghan said...

Really? What's not working?

Margo Romero said...

Excellent! I totally agree with everything you've said. You're a great find. =)

Margo Romero said...

One thing though...

Regarding paid staff... paid staff works for some congregations.

Others can do without the paid staff. I currently attend a small Methodist church and have recently come to find that it's all about "Methodism" and Methodists summits more than about Christianity. It's hard to explain. While they're nice people, it just doesn't "do it" for me.

But oh well, one carries on.