It's 2006—a new year. Time to reconsider our ways and go before the Lord in repentance, asking Him to tear down the Asherah poles in our hearts and raise up the broken down altars we dedicated to Him so long ago. To that end, I'm throwing open to readers an opportunity to influence next week's posts.
What I want to hear from you is how the Church in America can better live out the Faith. That goes from the way our church services work, to how we serve others and evangelize, to how we raise our children for Christ. I'm throwing open the floodgates.
I think much of our methodology has failed, but we've been unwilling to admit it. We've also not been listening to the Lord's leading—or His correction. I get the feeling sometimes that He's shouting at us, but we're too spiritually deaf to hear Him.
So now's the opportunity for you to say what's on your heart. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I'll be gathering your recommendations. Doesn't matter what denomination you're from or whether you consider yourself Emerging or Traditional, Charismatic or not, let me know what you think the Church can do better. But more than that, let me know HOW it can be done better. I think we're all tired of people grousing about the Church, but who have no answers. Now's the brainstorming time.
You can comment below or if you want to send an e-mail, use the address in the right sidebar. But don't be silent! I read somewhere else that this week is "Stop Lurking Week," so all you folks who have never commented, de-cloak and speak up.
Thanks for being a reader—and a commenter!
Tags: Church, Faith, Christianity, Jesus, God
25 thoughts on “Gathering Ideas for a New Series”
I think one of the issues that the church in the West really needs to get to grips with is that of Consumerism.
I’m partway through my English Literature & History degree at Cardiff University here in the UK, and last academic year I studied a unit “History of mass communications and culture”. It was really interesting, since it gave an overview of how the media works and its impact on culture (something that’s very helpful to be informed about as Christians) as well as various other things like Consumerism and Globalisation.
Consumerism isn’t an easy thing to define in a short sentence, so I’ll describe it. It’s when people create their identity by the goods they consume. It’s the pursuit of fulfilment not just in Stuff (just plain materialism) but in More Stuff – always consuming, always seeking more. It’s when people passively choose between options given to them, rather than taking an active role in changing things or producing something new.
The advertising industry is one of the big engines that drives consumerism, and it works by making people discontent so they will carry on buying. Our society works to make people unhappy about their appearance, their level of comfort, their social standing and the like. The implicit message of most adverts is “You can be sexy/sophisticated/cool/ethical/whatever image we’re trying to sell, if only you buy our product!” Consumerism works not by fulfilling people’s real needs, but manufacturing new needs. Consumerism is an addiction that can never satisfy, because it works by manufacturing discontent.
Over the last 50 years, our levels of consumption rocketed massively, yet we are no happier and are considerably more stressed and anxious as we try and keep up with the constant cycles of “More Stuff!” To fuel this, we’ve been exploiting the rest of the world and squandering the planet’s resources. Consumerism isn’t just stupid, it’s corrupt and immoral too.
It’s also an attitude that can infec our behaviour in every area of life. Take spiritual consumerism, for example, where the individual flits from church to church looking to receive what satisfies them, rather than being involved and committed to mutual loving service as part of a body of believers.
My university lecturer really went to great lengths to show all the problems with consumerism – we should have that kind of preaching from our pulpits. As a church, we have largely bought into this way of thinking and living hook, line and sinker. If you compare the lifestyle and spending of Christians with non-Christians of similar income, there is usually only a very superficial difference, sadly.
Firstly, as individuals and churches, we need to be islands of contentment in a raging sea of discontent. We need to model distinctive ways of living. “The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want” is a revolutionary statement. If we truly do not worry and do not chase after the things the pagans chase after, then we will live very differently. We need to take radical action to break the hold of possessions on our hearts – sell what we have and give to the poor, perhaps! As communities we need to build the support networks so that we can turn to each other rather than to stuff. Get our churches to have lists on which people can put things that they own that they are willing to share with others. Why have every family have the same DVDs over and over when one family can say that they’re happy for anyone to borrow a particular DVD from them? And more practically, things like tools and services and so on. Small steps in sharing, but it’s a start in becoming less possessive and more inter-dependent.
Secondly, we need to seek to influence and persuade society to change its attitudes. People are beginning to realise that consumerism can never satisfy. Given the choice, many people would prefer more time to invest in family, friends and leisure activities rather than constantly slaving to get the latest consumer goods.
Thirdly, we need to change the structures and practices of our, society, government and economy. If people suddenly stopped buying “More Stuff!” the economy would come crashing down. We need Christian economists to develop models of a post-consumerist economy, an economics of contentment and service, and work out how we can make the shift to it without causing economic hardship.
There you are… I hope that’s a helpful contribution to the discussion. Keep up the good blogging, Dan!
We are hearing about all that is going on overseas and ask why it is not happening here. The fact is that it is happening here. Look at Che Ahn’s church and Bill Johnson’s. These people see the sick healed as a part of everyday church.
Charles Carrin, was a primitive Baptist when he got Baptized in the Holy Ghost and thus given the left foot of fellowship. For the past 25 years he has traveled the country on a mandate to “wake up the church.” Countless cessationist churches have begun moving in the power of the Holy Spirit as a result of his ministry.
We look right past these, and other like minded ministries, toward Asia and Africa because you can’t see the warts on those foreign ministries from over here.
During the Azusa Street meetings there were pastors in L.A. writing about how overblown the media surrounding those meetings were and that they have had no impact on the city at large. And so we see the same thing today.
Much of what we see today in those mystical far off lands was forged by American Pentecostal missionaries.
Today, many of the people heralding these moves overseas would not let their American counterparts in the front door.
How ’bout you stir the pot Dan and point out how plenty of fellowships in America are seeing much of the same power that is on display overseas with an attempt to discover why the American church at large is rejecting that very move of the Holy Spirit here?
Or we can have yet another online debate about Bible translations or some other thing that will lead to nothing . . . (sarcasm intentional)
I would like for you to address the topic of “where have the Scriptures gone?” How and why, within the last century, has the public reading of Scripture exited our church gatherings…and what effects has it had on the church at large?
Is it possible to have the high view of Scripture we claim to have, and not give time to its public reading? Why does our methodology not line up with our conviction?
Thanks for your always thought-provoking thoughts…you are a true asset to the God-blog community!
Caleb W. said:
“Why have every family have the same DVDs over and over when one family can say that they’re happy for anyone to borrow a particular DVD from them? And more practically, things like tools and services and so on. Small steps in sharing, but it’s a start in becoming less possessive and more inter-dependent.”
Amen! The Church in the U.S. has become like the world… we can’t just tell Christians that it’s good and Godly to model Acts 4:32-37, we need to learn why we aren’t already doing it. What false things do we believe, and what true things do we not believe, that individuality is the norm?
I’m convinced an authentic “Christian worldview” is almost entirely foreign to Christians in (North) America. Even those of us who know “affluenza” is wrong have a hard time really living like we believe that.
Dan — I will occasionally post regarding this topic on my blog — I recently posted about the role of the Senior Citizen’s in our churches.
There is a disturbing trend, and I have seen it in many places, and we must be on guard at our church to not let it creep in. The trend is to minimalize the wisdom of our elders (chronologically), and sort of put them in a ‘safe’ place.
Much of the emphasis in our country, which has impacted our churches is: Young is GOOD, older is BAD… Therefore, we are finding that the older Christians are finding less places to worship, or are trapped within the crumbling confines of a place that WILL NOT change even the things that are found to be faulty.
Maybe this is not something you want to address — as I said, I have commented on it elsewhere… However, we lose a tremendous amount of wisdom by becoming so ‘relevant’ that we become unintelligable to those who have a lot to contribute.
Now, when I say relevant I am not talking only about one group or type, I am talking about churches across the spectrum…
Anyway, that is my .02…
The point about the public reading of the scriptures is a really important one. I think that here in the UK, many churches are still operating in much the same way as they were perhaps fifty years ago, when pretty much everyone had at least a basic knowledge of the Bible and of the Christian faith. But surveys have shown that such knowledge is sadly lacking in today’s culture. It’s a common mistake to start evangelism by answering the question “What must I do to be saved?”, but that only works when people know what God is like, what humanity’s state is and what Jesus did. We need to get back in the habit of telling the story of the Gospel – simply reading what the Bible says, before we move on to trying to explain and apply it when necessary.
This is the subject that consumes me. I keep looking for that one thing that would tip us in the other direction. I believe there is an answer, and that it is a simple one (as opposed to easy).
Fellowship with the people around us.
That’s it. Quit driving past churches.
Churches are denominated on the basis of doctrine, when the issue is a new creation. If every Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Baptist and non-denom in my neighborhood met on the basis of geography, we would do lots of things.
1) Live closely enough to each other to really build dependencies between each other.
2) Obey the scriptures.
3) Be exposed to truths that are weak in our particular denomination.
4) Be exposed to personalities that tend to avoid our denomination.
5) Be able to focus on the needs of our neighbors as a church. When every member of a church lives 5 miles away, it is our neighborhoods that suffer. 500 churches all helping “the city” do MUCH less than 1 church helping one neighborhood.
If every Christian in my neighborhood worshipped together (and served) we could TAKE our neighborhood. We might even have a reason to pray 2 hours a day, and since we lived so closely to each other, we could get together morning and evening to do it.
Thanks for asking. 🙂
… older Christians are finding less places to worship, or are trapped within the crumbling confines of a place that WILL NOT change …
I think every group in America feels this way, but I could not agree more that America is rejecting its elders to its own hurt. The fact that I recently slipped past 40 has nothing to do with my opinion on this. 😉
oh man… this commercialism thing has been on my heart for a while… I live a pretty modest lifestyle compared to alot of people in my church… and sometimes I wonder why people make the choices they do… I envy friends of mine in “christian communes” across the nation where everyone shares everything… nobody “owns” anything… and their sights are set on the kingdom. Instead of having two guest rooms in your house, what about renting it to a single Christian and save you both money? Use that money to further a ministry… and become dependent upon each other… have you noticed that society as a whole has compartmentalized itself? We don’t even know our neighbors anymore. We come home, shut the door and stay inside until its time to go to work again… the meaning of neighborhood is gone. Spiritually we do the same thing in church… we show up… then as soon as we have our coats on, we are out the door and back home…
Enough already. I want my fellowship and family of Christians back.
I have ideas but the how is a miracle sort of thing. Leaders are the ultimate source for change. Either they must know the problems or be open enough to hear about them. This will take a miracle!!! Two goals I cling to in my blog are the Hebrew roots, the importance of Old Testament teaching, AND instituting Christian World View into action, be it political, community reaching, education, science, etc. along the lines of Dr. D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Ministries.
The church cannot afford the holey theology and boxed-in existence. My bottom line has become prayer and blogging. The hardliners leading today have yet to demonstrate a willingness to take the challenge to CHANGE. New ministries provide hope and possibility.
Great topic…one of my faves.
I fully agree with Caleb W on consumerism. I am in a very similar class. What is interesting is the effects of commercialism on society. People, myself especially, tend to deny the impact of commercialism on their lives. Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” is an excellent resource along with “Can’t Buy My Love.” Both are being used in my class, but they are things which should be taught in the pulpit. I don’t want to restate Caleb’s points, but I totally agree with him. And I believe consumerism has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. As a final thought, consider how many people “church shop.” Ironic.
Okay, in honor of “Stop Lurking Week” . . . the church needs to start preaching Christ more.
If we really “get” the Gospel, if we fall in love with Christ, and realize who we are because of Him, if we really “get” grace – the rest will come, in His time.
If we don’t, even the best programs, methods, theories, are merely that, and are only band-aids on a huge Stage IV decubitus ulcer. They might cover it up, might make it look cleaner, and might seem to do a little good – but no ulcer that bad will ever get better with a couple of bandaids, however good the bandaids are – and however good bandaids are in their proper place.
I just read a line in the Economist that brought the consumerism comments in this post into focus for me. It was to the effect, “The problems with gangs will not stop until the economies of the countries that produce the gangs are lifted.”
The problem with gangs will not stop as long as people are raised immorally. Economic well-being has been elevated to the position of God in our society. The lack of economic blessing reduces a man to evil, and its blessing raises a man to honorable behavior. The economy giveth, and the economy taketh away.
Economism is God, and consumerism is his prophet.
A few thoughts:
“Church shopping” is not a result of consumerism as much as it is the result of our multicultural heritage. The United States was founded by immigrants and each of those groups brought their own brand of religious thought to this country. Because of this, you have a plurality of Christian sects and denominations that you simply don’t see elsewhere. In a way, we church shop because we can.
The second piece in the church shopping model is that we lost a coherent Gospel message across all those sects. As German higher criticism spread like a cancer through churches in the early 20th century, it further split churches and created more “options” (godly or not) for people. How many denominations exist in the US? Who knows for certain, but it’s in the thousands.
The third piece in the puzzle is a combo of the previous two. Later American generations were introduced to ideas they had not previously encountered in their single sect. Given that America is the land of opportunity, people took advantage of the “Christian multiculturalism” and explored outside their comfort zones. When combined with industrialism and the idea that children don’t stay down on the farm, but explore their own future, you get the church shopping phenomenon we see today.
Lastly, the fact that we Americans have this idea that if we can’t get along with those around us we just go someplace else (in this big country), makes it easy for church planters to constantly justify starting a new church in a place that already has churches. Rather than try to settle differences in our congregations, we’ve made it possible for dissenters to leave all too easily.
Yes, consumerism does play into all this, but I would argue that all the necessary bits for church shopping were in place long before this became a consumer-driven society,
Folks, keep these coming! And thanks for what you’ve already contributed.
Focus on some basics to help out the Church. It would fit into some recent themes you have addressed.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
If I could think of one verse that could address American consumerism and American sectarianism at the same time, it would be this verse. Think about it. Americans run like mad to figure out what they shall eat or not eat or specially eat (just look at the American diet industry), what to drink, and what to put on or not put on (just look at the American sex industry). But when you look at the rest of the verse, every denomination and, it seems, almost every Christian has a different way of answering how we should seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. But usually we have some widely prepackaged answers:
1. Read your Bible more.
2. Pray more.
3. Fellowship more.
4. Witness more.
5. Give more.
But the Pharisees all had their own way of fulfilling these. (You probably can find the verses yourself, but each one of these has a specific parallel to how the Pharisees did it.) Therefore, Jesus said, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
How do I seek the kingdom of God? How do I seek His righteousness? I need to earn a living. I have to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. I am pressed for time. I am results-oriented. Two hours of prayer a day would be doable…if I get results. I do not want a positive attitude. I cannot eat a positive attitude. A positive attitude will not keep me warm at night. I need results.
At the moment, I go to church once or twice a week. I used to go more, but my current work schedule does not allow it. I want results. I have one or two shots a week to “get something” out of church. Church-hopping is fun for a bit, but church-shopping is inconvenient and, truthfully, depressing. If the church I walk into does not do it for me, I have to wait another week to try again.
This sounds selfish, but come on, folks. If I lose my job and cannot find another one quickly enough, or if I get too ill to work, etc., who will take care of me? you? Most of you can barely agree with each other on two consecutive topics.
So Matthew 6:33 does it for me at the moment. I have things I would like to concentrate on spiritually right now. In my head, I know if I practice Matthew 6:33 in context and all that other hermeneutical stuff, I have no worries. None. My retirement is taken care of, as is my family, etc. But…
I’m coming off lurker status for this thread only because you asked. (Great blog, by the way.)
I have been to different seminars and meetings about this topic or similar ones…like how do you work within a church where the leadership is bad or inadequate.
The church is not a man-made institution. She is God’s. Many times we have managed to make a mess of things, but ultimately God reigns. So all things start with Him. Any problems that I see I first go to God with it. But I think so often we really don’t act like He’s listening. We need to pray as if we believe it has the power to move God’s hand. We need to be open to miracles. And we need to listen for His answers.
(The thoughts on consumerism and worshiping where you live, are excellent.)
“Economism is God, and consumerism is his prophet.” Great line.
I come from a good church—maybe even a very good church—so I’m asking myself, What is it we do “right”?
First is solid Bible teaching from the pulpit week in and week out. That really needs to be in place because how can we grow if we are not fed? Pastors who tell stories as the heart of their sermons need to be called back to Scripture—not as a place to find proof texts to back up what they wanted to say all along. The Scriptures need to be studied and taught in context, expositionally, as they were intended. (When was the last time we heard one of Paul’s whole letters read aloud?)
Second is involvement. Prayer is involvement, so even the busy bread-winner can become involved, if the mindset changes from What can I get out of church to What can I give my church?
Third is supporting outreach, both near (in our community) and far (mission work in other countries). Again, the support level for each individual will look different. Some might give financially, some with prayer support while others might go on summer short term missions. But the churches need to give those opportunities.
Nothing is more infectuous, powerful than obedience to Christ. He said, Love God and love your neighbor. It is in doing those things—loving God by loving His Word, having a zeal for lifting up His name, and loving our neighbors by involvement and outreach—that the church at large will change.
I don’t think we need more studies. We need to DO what we already know, even in our culture, with its pragmatism and consumerism.
God’s Word changes people, and people change cultures, simply by being changed. So in my way of looking at it, we need to be changed people and then let our light shine. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s why I pray or volunteer one Saturday a month to help this widow or give to missions or take a bag of groceries to the food bank or whatever. Because I love Him and love the people He puts in my path.
According to the most recent American census, nearly half the adult population is single. In addition, other surveys have shown that singles are much more likely to be unchurched than married folks. Singles like myself who do attend church tend to feel isolated and forgotten in our family-centric congregations.
I would love to see some posts on how the church can better serve and reach out to single adults.
Personal relationship; intimacy, fear, holiness, sanctification, & obedience.
I think the biggest paradigm-shift that needs to happen is this: that we stop waiting for “the church” to do something and realize that we are the church, that we are the ones who should do something, and that if we did it, the church would be doing it.
Dan,In additon to door to door, and public preaching, I think there should be seeker senstive SS classes. Not the whole church mind you, but a SS class programmed by the orthdox of Christianity(CRI and others could help with this) to nurse new and inquisitive believers that come as a result of door to door/public preaching. This class would not involve denomtinational special teachings. Although they would eventually be introduced and the disciple encouraged to gravitate toward one while still loving and staying in contact with those who’ve gone to another. Every church should do this lovingly for other churches in every city throughout the nation. We are known for our love for one another.
I also believe there should be a major cooridinated effort, locally and nationally, to publically reinforce our belief that Jesus is God. Commercials, web page banners, public service announcments, little tid bits everywhere in the media about the historical factuality of Jesus and the claims He made about Himself(one consistent theme of diety per month). These need to be cheap, appealing15-30 second bits repeated just as commercials are. Maybe we could get advertisers to donate one or two spots/week or even day. This medium is neglected and Satan would not relinquish this stronghold easily. Prayer is needed for this, maybe we could spread word around to the other side of the world via blog and enlist some help.
O yes the lovely church is marching down the aisle. Look at how she is adorned with the nations.
As you can see these ideas come from an idealistic, evangelistic mindset. Mustard anyone?
I think we should spend more time getting to know our neighbors. Not only like the Samaritan – but the folks next door. Do you know the folks who live next door to you? (Perhaps this doesn’t as easily apply to someone like you who lives on a kazillion acres). ;0)
We live in an area where folks move in for a few years then move on. It is the nature of their jobs. It is difficult to really get to know one another when you move around a lot. And when folks move here, they most often are moving away from family.
So we have begun to invite the neighbors over…for anything. Coffee. Barbecue. Birthdays. Even when we have our “church friends” over we always invite a neighbor family. What better way for them to get to know Christ through Christians than when we all rub elbows at the dinner table?
Be a grandpa, sister, aunt, or buddy to someone near where you live. Let your kids be adopted as a grandchild by some of the older folks. It is a small thing, and takes little effort. Hospitality doesn’t mean having to put out the best china, it is just sharing part of your day with a friend.
I agree with JH above… I think that there is never a time to stop preaching the gospel in the Spirit. There is never a Sunday morning when its time to “shift gears” and look at another issue. Any other issue that is preached needs to be dripping with the gospel. If I hear a sermon on Christian radio that’s exclusively about tithing, the gifts, community, social issues, marriage and family, politics…I will turn it off. Jesus is Savior and Lord, if that ever gets old for anyone, they’ve put the cart before the horse. I wish every Christian would hear(with Spiritual ears) the gospel every day of their life.
A couple thoughts:
1) Teach and preach on how to be loving despite disagreement — live out Romans 12.
There are a few core tenets that a person must believe in order to be called a Christian, but beyond that, an openness to discussion and debate is a good thing.
2) Facilitate discussion groups. Get people talking to one another and getting to know one another. Give them opportunity to become involved in each others’ lives, bearing one anothers’ burdens and even hashing out questions of life and faith.