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Questioning Church

25 May, 2005 1:46 PM

Over the past week I've had a number of interactions with Christians that have left me feeling a little downhearted.

In each case I've had people asking questions about LivingRoom and 'churches like it' in a way that was verging on attacking.

Now before I write any more - I will say that I don't mind questions about LivingRoom - in fact I welcome them. I actually believe that questions from outside our group are very helpful in keeping us on track and developing a community that doesn't evolve into something that is unaccountable and disconnected from the mainstream theologically.

However questions can be asked in a variety of ways - one of which is aggressively.

The actual questions asked were the normal ones that I tend to get presented with - things like:

Again the questions are not bad ones - but the tone with which they were asked seemed to be getting at whether we were legitimately a 'real church' or not - and in most cases the implied undertone was that the answer to this question was 'no we were not'.

I don't particularly mind if people want to work out if we're really a church or not - its a good question and one we seek to answer at LivingRoom. We believe we are a church - we believe that we're not a perfect one, but we're on the road and seeking to know what God would have us be in our context and hopefully are responding to this.

These conversations have left me wondering what would happen if every church were asked questions like these.

I have to say that when I worked in my last church (300 or so people, meeting in a largely mainstream way) that i never got asked any of these questions - in fact I don't remember ever being challenged on our model of doing church at all.

The reason for this is obviously because the church I was in was largely doing what was generally accepted by most Christians as 'doing church'. They met on Sundays, they had a pastoral team, they met in a building and had offices, they had established programs, they had contemporary worship services etc.

This would be an opportune time for me to weigh into the 'established vs emerging church' debate and to deconstruct and critique the 'established/mainline' church. Perhaps in a previous time I would have done so - but in the past 12 months I'm realizing more and more that such a debate isn't really helpful. My personal opinion is that there is room for a multitude of models and expressions of church. My previous church is a legitimate expression of a Jesus centered faith community for the context that they are in. I doubt any of their members would say they are perfect - but they, like us, are seeking to hear God's voice and respond to it.

I guess what I'm saying here (in a round about - not very well thought out way) is two things:

1. When we ask questions about models/logistics/styles of doing Church - perhaps we should first consider the tone of voice and the agenda that we have in asking the questions. Neil Coles words of 'if you're going to base the bride you better be willing to face the bridegroom' ring in my ears. This is a message that both emerging and establish church people need to hear as they make comment on one another.

2. Perhaps with this attitude in mind the questions should be asked in a dialogical way. You see being asked such questions in a positive tone is helpful for me as someone involved in LivingRoom - it keeps challenging me back to the basics of who we are, what God is saying to us, what our culture is like etc. I think all churches should revisit some of these sorts of questions from time to time.

For example, perhaps it would be helpful for my previous church to be asked questions like I have been this week (not accusingly - but genuinely to assist in their discerning of God's voice:

• Why do you sing?
• Why do you meet on Sunday and not Tuesday for your main gatherings?
• Why do is so much of your giving tied up in pastors wages
• Why do you separate kids from parents each Sunday?
• Why do you have a building? How is it being used?
• Why do you have so many programs?
• How many converts have you had?

Please hear me as asking these questions in a loving way - I know that the answers can be legitimately answered - some of the answers will reconfirm the choices that this church has made - but perhaps some of them will challenge paradigms that need a challenge and perhaps would identify a new expression of what God might be wanting to do in that place.

Interested in others thoughts.

Comments

Page:

Good questions to ask. But when I was working in my old church I was always seen to be weird by asking those questions.

Saint Gaz » 25 May, 2005 7:18 PM

I guess I don't like it because it feels though there is an assumption that I am 'doing' things wrong. In fact it has been put to me that I should get with the program...stop doing the emergent stuff and get into an existing church ... and if it weren't ridicule it would be OK...discussion could follow....but it seems like a lecture that's waiting in the wind.

Conclusion so far...just let it go...it took me long enough to question and journey...I can't shove all that in someones head in one session and expect the penny to drop.

Garth » 25 May, 2005 10:12 PM

"I'm realizing more and more that such a debate isn't really helpful"

You're right there, Darren. Long heated debates don't do much good, especially to our youth. On one hand, we want to reach them out, but on the other hand our arguments cool them off...

Josue » 25 May, 2005 11:39 PM

It's sad to hear that people are being so unhelpful Darren. When I hear this or experience it myself or am guilty of it myself, I get very disappointed with us as the body of Christ and sometimes it even makes me wonder why God does choose to use the church to reveal his wisdom (Eph 3:10). I mean seriously, we are pretty messed up! But he does choose to use us and so I think we must keep trying to do better.

I've been thinking a lot about what makes something a church and I came across a definition the other day that I'm finding very helpful.

The church is the people of God, gathered around Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit for fellowship, service, witness, teaching and praise.

Hope that's helpful and that you come across some better adjusted people in this next week.

Tim » 26 May, 2005 12:29 AM

Heh.

Don't let it get to you Daz.

Probably the only question I would ask out of that list is why don't you sing?

OK, sometimes I wish my own church didn't sing, especially after we inherited an organ and our really good pianist was replaced by an equally bad organist (note to all churches: organs are an instrument of acoustic torture; organs with bad organists should be banned in the interests of humanity. A good pianist covers a multitude of sins).

But even so, I am reminded that we are told to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. And singing together is part of the Judaeo-Christian tradition not to mention part of every culture and just being human.

While I don't want to get into the worship wars and entertainment thing, I admit that over the years, I have realised just how important it was to sing - not just because it makes you think about the words you sing (try saying the words to Amazing Grace vs singing them) and internalises them (how much of scripture you know by heart did you learn in song?) but because it is a means of both praising God and also edifying each other.

Sure when we are down or doubting it is good to share and reflect with others or pray but often times singing a psalm together, to God and to each other, is better. And if you ever pelt out a good ol' Lutheran hymn about the majesty of God, you soon get over yourself. And how badly you sing!

Why don't you sing? Is it a reaction to the mega-church rock concert? Self-consciousness? Lack of confidence in singing a cappella for lack of musicians? Not to disturb the neighbours?

Do you miss it?

saint » 26 May, 2005 12:40 AM

Hmmmmm my first attempt didn't go through. But HA! I copied it. So here goes another try:

Some questions that I have been wanting to ask such people in response to their questions is something like: Do you think the church has always worshipped, evangelized, fellowshipped, etc. in the manner of which you are accustomed? Why do you think they were different?

Sadly, these questions come about 2 hours after such encounters. But the point is that these folk seem to think that their mode of being (or "doing") church is the only God ordained way. And, imho, this is usually just a spoke in a very much larger wheel that speaks of the same mindset. And that is, usually these folk think that their way of doing church is better than all the rest....if not the only way.

In cases like that I often think it would be best to bring them back to Christian history and show them some of their insignificance. Because historically, the experience of the early church very likely differs radically from their experience. It might just put things into perspective....that change is inevitable. And that their very tried and true form of worship was, at one time, a new wave of change. It might help them to understand that what is being done now is just the next step in a very long history of changes. A little humility goes a long way!

Rich » 26 May, 2005 12:41 AM

G'day Darren, just wanted to drop a note to let you know that I understand where you're coming from. Be encouraged, mate, you seem to be doing a good work. It is a hard slog sometimes but I am sure you feel God's strengths flowing through you every now and then, and a little bit of encouragement and cheering on the sidelines helps too, so keep the faith, man! I wish I'd known abt your work while I was living in Australia. Anyways, I agree with you that questions out to be asked both ways so we can examine our motives, agenda, the way we do things, and ask ourselves if we can continually improve or sharpen ourselves in what God has called us all to do.

the Bloke » 26 May, 2005 3:38 AM

Daz
For me the crucial point of Christs ministery was realtionships. He was ordained to correct the imbalance of sin on this earth.

Yet for some reason we neglect this important point in most church life. For me it doesnt matter if the worship is great if your mate in Christ is sruggling and you are not able to relate to or help him.

Rob » 26 May, 2005 7:02 AM

Rob, don't know if that was a typo, but realtionships is a great way to explain REAL friendship REAL relationships.
My experience in churches is that the friendships are often only based on shared activities of preparing programs, or some evangelistic effort. All well and good, but when people go home lonely at the end of it, and church members are not a REAL part of each other's lives it makes one wonder.

kel » 26 May, 2005 9:33 AM

Being a part of LivingRoom and a mainstrem church both make me wonder about your question Kel. I totally agree that real relationships make a Christ-centred church, but in this day and age when everyone is so busy with so many things, it really makes it hard for church members (or members of a faith community / emerging church) to become involved in one another's lives, apart from the gathering time, or time to be involved in programs etc.

Kitty » 26 May, 2005 1:13 PM

On the other hand, I also agree with Darren's opinion that there is room for a multitude of models and expressions of church. And I must say that I am blessed by both the church I'm working with, and LivingRoom. However I am now in a dilemma of having to juggle time every now and then.

Kitty » 26 May, 2005 1:17 PM

I agree with the importance of asking questions in a loving and not an accusing way.

The one question that made me really curious is the same one saint is wondering about: Why don't you sing? Perhaps you should answer it in a separate post :-)
Music, especially singing, has always been a very important way for me to express praise and worship to God.

Swan » 26 May, 2005 1:25 PM

Mate I suspect such questions in accusing tones often come from an insecurity that seems rampant among church leaders in our society.

Perhaps they're trying to defend their privilleged role and power, uncomfortable with the implications of your approach, threatened by anything that might be better than their approach - I'm not sure.

It certainly is a shame that in taking such a stance they're unlikely to learn anything new.

brett » 26 May, 2005 2:47 PM

Darren,

I think you are being over sensitive! Sorry, but let me explain. Those questions don't strike me as harsh or negative. Just from people who probably only know one paradigm. Whenever something new emerges it is bound to ruffle the feathers and disturb those who are comfortable with the way things are. Those questions are legitimate for someone wrestling to come to terms with you new paradigm. The last one is especially relevant if you want to call the living room missional. If there isn't transformative, creative, emergent activity in any church (regardless of whether it is mega, liquid or traditional) then it is on borrowed time and like concrete after a pour... setting! But don't give up on the exploring and reflecting and don't close off to these peoples questions. Behind every nagative there is always some truth to be heard!

Dan » 26 May, 2005 3:26 PM

It's hard isn't it? One thing I find mate is to reflect the question back, or to respond with "what do you mean by...?"

This can often uncover the motive (ie: a true quest for knowledge or simply wanting to sledge for whatever reason) and can put the thinking ball back in their court.

Maybe it might be time to have a coffee and compare notes with others on the same journey? I know I would be happy to!

Stephen Said » 26 May, 2005 9:57 PM

The mainstream church(es) I grew up in had some freshness because they were 'other' to the seemingly fixed and ritualistic ways of catholic and other formal church styles, thinking and expression.

I think now the dominant style is more pentecostal - meaning apparently more carefree and expressive, music that is more modern etc - but in fact maybe we've just shifted our alliances to a different style of worship with all the same hallmarks of 'being stuck in our ways'.

Living Room is a great example of just getting back to core things - real time together, community, god in the ordinary. And the people that criticise it because you don't do "XYZ" at church, instead of examining one's life as a whole are probably caught up in providing 'services' to the community. We cannot expect perfection in a church model, but maybe that's not the point.

Post-post modernism will too pass away and become 'wrong' in the eyes of those ahead of us - so maybe the trick is in learning which ice has ground underneath, and which is floating.

Don't (speaking to the world here including myself) put your faith in your model whether it be -
1. stand-sit-stand-sit 2. sit or 3. stand&dance

Expect God and his people to be doing new things. Don't be scared of it.

Example: I buy a new car. This car might serve me my entire life. But even if I do keep it for my entire life - I have to acknowledge that there will be new things, innovations and technological advancement. I might trade it in and upgrade to something different, something more suited to my changed circumstances?

Love each other.

Luke » 27 May, 2005 9:28 AM

Hi Darren,

Be encouraged, when people turn from 'loving thy neighbour' because they forget you are actually their brother in Christ and begin to attack you for what you feel you've been called to do, at least then you know you must be on the right track! From what I have seen and read whenever God has a fresh move it seems to divide people or people at least take it personally, for a time at least. Keep seeking the face of God and I am sure there will be a time when these people see you as a relevant part of the body. Maybe you'll add a song to the meetings then as well and others may decide to explore other forms of worship. ;)

In the body of Christ we can't all be arms or feet, somebody's got to be the knee cap!

Praise God for your vision and for walking the narrow way!

P.S. Reading your journey through LivingRoom over the past 18months has really been encouraging in my spiritual walk with the Lord. So I take this time to say thankyou for what you are doing in LivingRoom even though I am not a member. You really are impacting the body - despite any negative feedback you may get at times!

Nath » 27 May, 2005 9:58 AM

I wouldn't get too discouraged. People like to form little social groups and organizations, and it is unsettling to them when there is actually something going on outside of their franchise. Just keep doing what God has called you to do, and let Him sort out the naysayers.

People don't like to remember that the church universal stems from the proud tradition of the home-church. Lets not forget how the Apostles kicked this whole thing off!

Nathan Smith » 28 May, 2005 12:04 AM

I can understand why you feel threatened by people asking those questions, but don't be too hard on them. For most church-goers those questions do equal the basics of the way church is done, and the thought that it could be done differently would never have occurred to them or been put to them before. Not that this is necessarily a good thing but you have to accept that this is where they are at.

And looking at your questions you placed in reply, intentional or not, there is an implicit criticism there of pastor wages, children's ministry, buildings, Sunday worship etc that people might find offensive in return. This may be part of your point and if so I get it, but I think the overall tone of this 'discussion' from both sides is not helpful. Rather than critiquing each other's methodology, we should be investigating what is good and what is working in each setting and see if those things can be applied in the situation that we are in. We should be praising each other's successes rather than criticizing what we think is wrong with other types of church.

Baggas » 30 May, 2005 3:59 PM

Also like others I'd be interested to read your ideas about music/singing? I certainly don't think that music is essential (though for me personally it is very important, and I do enjoy the "mega-church rock concert" experience as someone else put it - lol) - but I'd be interested to hear what role if any music has in your group, and your rationale behind this.
Cheers.

Baggas » 30 May, 2005 4:13 PM

I am part of the communities of both LR and a mainstream church. I have written about music/singing on my blog here:
http://kittycheng.blogspot.com/2005/05/music-worship.html

Kitty » 30 May, 2005 8:01 PM

Hmmm I feel like asking them back:

"So what were Jesus' favourite hymns?"
"Why didn't Jesus do any ministering on a Tuesday?"
"Do you reckon Jesus got a fair wage as a preacher?"
"Given Jesus was a carpenter, do you think he was an expert on pew making?"

Maryam » 30 May, 2005 9:40 PM

I believe that one of the most important goals in the church is to know God deeper. Although music can be an expression of worship (and I must add a good one), i think so many people are trapped in the conventional service mode of church ie: reading of Bible/singing/communion only.

I've written about music and worship on my blog as well, feel free to read and comment on it:
http://kittycheng.blogspot.com/2005/05/music-worship.html

Kitty » 31 May, 2005 12:38 AM

Can you imagine the reaction Jesus must have gotten from not only the woman at the well, but those around him (even his disciples) John 4:21-24.
Jesus explains that the time would come and has already come that we will no longer worship on "that" mountain or in Jerusalem... Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth..
This scripture challenges me and causes me to constantly question my journey, my service, my worship and my life.
There are times though that I would like to settle by the well or feel comfortable in the temple and believe I finally know or have arrived... alas not.
It is not my calling to reach all, but to reach those such as the spirit draws them.. I seek those who seek him and I pray there are others further in the journey looking out for me and seeking me and praying for me as well.

darrin » 31 May, 2005 6:22 AM

I beleive there is room for both "main-stream" and "alternative" styles of fellowship. In either case, I believe we all need to walk in Love and Grace, totally avoiding any inclination to argue which "style" is better. Above all things, there needs to be Unity in our Lord's church. But Unity does not mean conformity. Anytime discussion on this subject turns to trashing and bashing, do this; Listen carefully, the laughing you hear is coming from the enemy because he has us ripping and tearing each other up.
These things ought not to be, brothers and sisters.
God's Grace, Love and Peace to you all.
Shepherd Michael

Shepherd Michael » 1 June, 2005 5:37 AM

Darren,

Great post and comments. You guys are certainly a church in my book - perhaps even more vibrant and vital than the largest mainline congregation in your neck of the woods. The Gospel is not formulaic in defining churches as being this size or that - what it does define is that we all belong together, connected. This is something which mega-churches are wholly reluctant to embrace.

Brad

Broken Messenger » 1 June, 2005 9:35 AM

Kitty, in answer to your comment that "when everyone is so busy with so many things" it is harder to invest time in other people . . .

BINGO !

Surely we who are called to live radical, countercultural lives should be modelling to the world that busyness is NOT next to Godliness.

Jesus said what would set us apart is our love for one another - and usually loving others takes TIME. That's why it would stand out so much - 'cos those of the world are too busy to do that.

Isn't this silly? We get all tied up talking about to sing or not to sing, to tithe or not to tithe, to have a building or not. The people out there don't give a !?*@#! about any of that. But they will notice and care someone who takes time to love them, notice and acknowledge them.

Being busy is an excuse. We make time for the things that are truly important to us.

kel » 3 June, 2005 4:45 PM

By the looks of all your other blogs you worshship the money gods, not the true god. If you were a true church person you would spend more time on this blog and doing good for others, than greedly bragging about how much money you make and spending most of your time on money making ventures. You are a disgrace to the church.

John.

John » 28 July, 2005 11:00 AM

Hi John, thanks for the comment.

I must say I'm a little puzzled by how you can deduce who or what I worship from my blogs. I think it would be like me saying that my friend who works at McDonalds worships Big Macs or that my friend that works for Microsoft worships Bill Gates.

How you can deduce how much time I spend doing good for others from my blogs amazes me.

Yes I do spend considerable time on my blogging, it is my job. I also spend considerable time working voluntarily for my church and giving time to other worthwhile projects (some of which are explicitly 'Christian' and others of which I strongly believe are part of building God's Kingdom without being named as Christian things.

I appreciate your concern for my 'greedy bragging' but I guess I see it differently to you. The reason I talk about my income is because I believe blogging is a good way for people without an income source to make a living. People constantly doubt this and I'm constantly getting emails saying it's impossible. I also am constantly asked how much blogging can make. So I share it very hesitantly and always with much uncomfortability and awkwardness.

How much money I make is not the focus of my ProBlogger blog - I rarely speak about it - instead the blog is about helping others to make a living - many of whom are in places of real need (some in poverty). I actually am constantly amazed at how God uses that Blog to do his work.

I won't go into details of how it has impacted people as I don't want to speak publicly about some of the real life people I've had opportunity to work with without their permission but I strongly feel God's at work in my ProBlogging as much (if not more) as in the other more overtly 'Christian' aspects of my life.

Darren » 28 July, 2005 5:00 PM

Hi. I guess that different ways of being church are totally foreign to those who have always been involved with established mainstream type churches. It's only natural that people will be suspicious. I guess, too, that people get a little hung up on the need to be "under the covering" of a mainstream church. Accountability is a must, but there are plenty of ways for an alternative church to keep accountable. I think that these questions come mostly from being uncomfortable with new ideas that threaten the way things are and have always been. I was talking to our pastor about a book called 'The Shaping of Things to Come', by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. They give an example of some Christians from the local church, who love model cars, joining the local model car club which meets each Sunday morning. Over time, stories would be shared, new converts made and a new church born which meets over a BBQ each Sunday after model car club activities. My pastor said, "But if everyone is off doing other things on Sundays, there would be no-one here for church.". I really wanted to answer, "And wouldn't that be a wonderful thing. Think of how many people our church could reach if we were each out in the community on a Sunday morning instead of in this church building. We could all meet for prayer and Bible study in small groups at other times". But there was really no point. The alternative church thing is not for everyone. You are right, Darren, when you say there are many valid ways of being church. All those valid churches need to accept each other and realise that we are all in this business of loving Jesus and spreading His message together.

Linda » 19 April, 2006 6:09 PM

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