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Sunday, November 01, 2009

next time, don't invite the baptists

When Rebecca Middeke-Conlin's church sent out invitations for her installation service to other churches in her area, they probably weren't expecting the reply they received from one Baptist pastor:

We, desiring to please Almighty God, have separated ourselves from the Lutheran churches as disobedient to the Scriptures and from Rebecca Middeke-Conlin as a shameful person, for thus saith the Lord.

Therefore we cannot accept your invitation but rather exhort you to receive what the Scriptures say and repent of this disobedience or to cease calling yourselves a Christian church.

And what does Ms. Middeke-Conlin do that is so shameful?

See her post to find out.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

church history in 4 minutes

…to the tune of We Didn't Start the Fire.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

jimmy carter and the southern baptist convention

In a recent article for the Australian online news site The Age, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter explained his reasons for cutting ties with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This was reported on several blogs I follow, and I was surprised because I remembered hearing the same thing several years ago.

But now, Beliefnet reveals that there may be much less to this story than first appears:

But I have this question: What does it mean for Jimmy Carter to resign from the SBC when (1) individuals aren't members of the SBC but of local churches that are associated with the SBC? And, more importantly, (2) when he continues to be a member of his SBC church and teaches Sunday School there?

I have a great deal of respect for Jimmy Carter because of his humantarian work since he left office, but I have no idea what he is trying to do here. Maybe it's a Baptist thing that I just don't understand, but how can a person cut ties with his denomination while continuing in a leadership position in a church that still belongs to that denomination?

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Monday, April 27, 2009

gracepoint goes it alone

John Meunier points to a UM Portal story about the former GracePoint United Methodist Church in Wichita. For those who haven't been following the story, GracePoint pastor Bryson Butts announced in March that he and the rest of the GracePoint staff would be withdrawing from the United Methodist Church and starting a non-denominational church, to be known as GracePoint Community Church.

The UMC quickly appointed a new pastor for GracePoint UMC, but nearly the entire congregation moved to the new church. On Easter Sunday, GracePoint Community Church had 1200 worshippers, while GracePoint UMC had only seventeen.

Apparently the main point of contention between the GracePoint staff and the United Methodist Church was GracePoint's desire to expand to a second campus. GracePoint had twice tried to create a new worship service in another part of Wichita, and had run into trouble with other congregations.

GracePoint also created a stir with some of its advertising campaigns. GracePoint targeted young people who felt alienated from traditional churches, using slogans like "Church doesn't suck," and "No perfect people allowed." By all accounts, they have been successful at what they are trying to do.

And yet…

There seems to be a theme running through GracePoint's attempted expansion. In seeking to start something in another part of town, GracePoint consistently ignored the congregations that were already there. Bryson Butts doesn't seem to get that the United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination. Growth in the UMC is not about expanding your own congregation at others' expense. If you want a healthy church that is supported by the denominational leadership, you need to play well with others.

I lived in Wichita for 13 years, from 1993 to 2006. I joined East Heights UMC in Southeast Wichita in 1994 and still have my membership there. One of the things my East Heights experience has taught me to respect about the UMC is how congregations can work together for the common good.

In the mid 1990s, Wesley UMC (located in a poor neighborhood) started a back-to-school backpack program for kids who attended Vacation Bible School. East Heights members helped collect backpacks and supplies so that every child could have one. The second year of the program, the kids told all their friends, and VBC membership soared. This helped Wesley UMC re-establish its presence in the community, and provided an entry point for welcoming whole families into the church. By themselves, the congregation couldn't have accomplished this. But when several congregations pitched in to help, the program was a success. East Heights had no desire to establish our own presence in Wesley's territory; we simply realized that we are all in this together.

In the late 1990s, the leadership of East Heights joined with some other area churches to look into reopening the Hyde Park UMC, which had closed its doors due to dwindling membership. But in discussions with residents in the Hyde Park area, they found that what that neighborhood desperately needed was reasonably priced day care. So the empty church building was redesigned and reopened as a day care center. The church leaders who helped plan the transition saw that what they wanted wasn't really what was needed, and were humble enough to put their own ambitions aside and take care of the needs of the community.

East Heights also sent volunteers nearly every year to nearby Grace Presbyterian Church, to help with the phenomenally successful Alternative Gift Market. In the early 1990s East Heights hosted its own similar event, the Christchild Market, but I think it was evident to the organizers that it would be more effective to help with Grace Presby's much larger event than to try to compete. Partnerships with other Christians should not be limited to a single denomination.

That type of partnership seems to be missing from GracePoint Community Church's leadership. In all their efforts to build a second campus, they've tried to go it alone. I can't help but think that that's not the way to further the kingdom of God.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

the dishonest manager

About 2 1/2 years ago I blogged about the parable of the dishonest manager. Of all Jesus' parables, this one makes the least sense to me.

I'm currently taking a class on Jesus' parables through Grace United Methodist Church, and this was the parable for last week. One of the great things about this class is that for each parable there is a video with a modern retelling of the story.

One thing the video emphasized, which had not occurred to me in simply reading the parable, was the reaction of the debtors. This, I think, throws a new light on the parable.

The rich man is mainly concerned with keepin accurate books. He really doesn't care about sufferings of the tenant farmers who work for him. While he amasses great wealth for himself, he locks others out of financial independence.

The dishonest manager, on the other hand, understands that people are more important than rules. The less pious person turns out to be the hero (kind of like the Good Samaritan, who stopped to help the injured man while the priest and the levite had more important things to do).

But this raises the question: Are we to emulate the manager in his dishonesty? Does God want us to be like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor?

My initial reaction is no, we don't need to be quite that detailed in relating the parable to our lives. The dishonest manager is there mostly for shock value.

But in re-reading the parable, I've noticed something else. Jesus uses the phrase "dishonest manager" in verse 8, and "dishonest wealth" in verse 11. So maybe we are not supposed to relate to the manager at all. The manager is our money. We — particularly Christians living in the United States and other first-world nations — are the rich man, and we've kept others in debt for much too long. While it might be unfortunate but expected to see huge income disparity within the economic systems of the world, the church ought to hold itself to another standard.

If I understand this parable, Jesus is saying that we should give more of our "dishonest wealth" — and all wealth is dishonest, regardless of how honestly we obtained it — lest we become enslaved to it.

But just how much does Jesus want from me? Should I give up my retirement fund? (With the way it's going lately, it won't be worth much anyway.) Should I stop saving for a newer car? Should I forget about buying a house?

I liked this parable better when it made no sense at all.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

the chick-fil-a church

A couple years ago, it made for a good joke. But how quickly life imitates satire! The North Point Community Church in Atlanta has replaced outreach with franchising. Franchisee Eddie Johnson of Cumberland Church in Nashville explains ten ways that Chick-Fil-A restaurants serve as a model for North Point and its affiliates.

Frankly, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this is similar to what the mainline denominations have always done. On the other hand, there are some disturbing differences.

In #2 of his ten parallels with Chick-Fil-A, Eddie Johnson says:

Our church model is not going to offer a gluttonous “buffet line” of ministry programs for every type of interest group, life stage or bible study we can possibly offer. Our mission is simple. It is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We seek to do it by creating helpful, engaging and irresistible environments that help people take that “next step” towards a small group.

Forget about ministry, just get people into small groups. Christianity lite. Who needs discipleship when you can play it safe with fellowship? (Of course, many of the mainline denominations have the same weakness.)

In point #6 Johnson speaks of the "innovative concepts" that he expects will fuel the future growth of his church.

One cool thing we did at Cumberland Church this past summer was to have a Sunday worship band TOTALLY on video. Yes, video. The worship set was previously recorded at a live service at North Point. ... While not everyone liked video worship, it gave us a "Purple Cow" for discussion and debate in the community about what is and isn't "worship".

Cumberland Church's web site explains that the church often uses videos from North Point for their sermons on Sundays. Last summer they tried using imported worship music too. And why not? If the sermon is being preached by someone from another city in anther state, who is completely disconnected from the worshipers of this congregation, why not disconnect the songleaders too? After all, it might spark a debate about what worship should be. And surely debate is what Sunday morning worship is all about.

What kind of Christianity is that?

8. Just like Chick-fil-a, I can be in business for myself, but not by myself. North Point now has 3 campuses and 14 Strategic Partnership churches.

This is one of the things the Chick-Fil-A church gets right, unlike many megachurches across the U.S. Still, this is no innovation. This concept has been a part of mainstream Christianity for two millennia. We can see it in Paul's letters to the young churches. We can see it in all the denominations.

Underlying all of this is the disturbing paradigm of church as consumer product, and nowhere is this philosophy stated more clearly than here:

5. Just like Chick-fil-a, we strive to know what matters to our customers.

This attitude is common among megachurches, but it seems to be seeping out into the mainline churches, as shrinking congregations turn to outside growth consultants or focus groups to help determine the church's future plans.

I'm not convinced this is healthy for Christianity.

It may be that Christianity is not in step with 21st century American culture. If this is indeed the case, the answer is not to add technological dazzle to Sunday morning to appear more hip. The answer is not to drop ministry in favor of getting people into small groups.

The answer, it seems to me, is to get back to what the church did right in the early days: To care for each other, to provide for neighbors' needs -- neighbors inside the church and outside. To take a stand against the excesses of the popular culture. To speak up for those who are down. To give until it hurts. To be willing to face ridicule, even ostracism. To fast and pray, to listen for the voice of God to help guide the church in its future plans.

On second thought, that all sounds too hard. I don't think I could do it. I'd rather sit at my computer and type snide comments.

But maybe, just maybe, God expects something better.

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