Category Archives: Church

Why the Pew Survey Fails Before it Begins

Last week, Pew published the results of a survey on why Americans either go to church or stay home. A summery of the study, written by Jeremy Weber, appeared on Christianity Today’s website. A full write-up on the study can be found on the website for the Pew Forum.

In the study, Pew asked 4,729 people the reasons they either attend church or do not attend church. The full results are indeed interesting but not overly surprising. In the survey respondents were given possible reasons for attending or not attending church and they were asked to respond to each by ranking it “very important, somewhat important, or not important.”

Because the possible reasons were given, and the respondents simply had to rank each one, I don’t see anything too surprising in the findings. For example, the top three reasons that were given as “very important” reasons for not attending church:

I practice my faith in other way: 37%

I am not a believer: 28%

No reason is “very important”: 26%


Slightly more interesting were the reasons that church-goes listed as “very important” reasons that they do attend church. The top three included:

To become closer to God: 81%

So children will have moral foundation: 69%

To make me a better person: 68%


In fact what most shocked me about the survey wasn’t the results but the reasons that were given as choices- especially in the “Why I go to church” section of the survey. Out of the ten choices given, all ten could be argued as ego-centric. Meaning, they are all about “me.” They are all about what I get, how I feel, how it affects me and how it affects my family.

There are no reasons that point directly to glorifying God or serving others.

But that’s exactly what we see in the church in Act 2:42-47. The church in Jerusalem met together, they “went to church” in other words, for three reasons. I think we see these three reasons in these verses and I also think that these should (key word “should”) be the same reasons we continue to meet together as the church.

  1. They met together be grow closer to God. Here Acts and the Pew survey are in agreement. Acts 2:42 says that the believers devoted themselves “to the apostles’ teaching” (which means both hearing the teaching but also doing what was taught), “the breaking of bread” (which can be fellowship but also the fellowship of Communion), and “to prayer.” All of three are actions that help us grow closer to God. They were, and still are, reasons to go to church.
  2. They met together to glorify God. While this is second on the list, it is not second in importance. As Christians all parts of our lives should be lived to bring glory to God- attending church not excluded. In Acts 2:43 it says they were in awe and wonders and signs were taking place, which leads them in 2:47 to praise God. These early believers met together to praise and glorify God for the wonders and signs that were taking place and for the number of people coming to salvation day by day. Glorifying God should be the most important thing in our lives as Christians and should be the most important reason we gather together to as the church. However, nowhere in the Pew survey is glorifying God a possible reason for church attendance.
  3. They met together to serve. Verses 44-46 speak of the way that serving occurred in the Jerusalem church. They served one another, and I think it’s clear they also served those outside the church, by monetary support in times of need. They served one another, and, again, those outside the church through hospitality and joy. They served and loved one another in truly selfless ways. But in the Pew survey, there is nothing about serving. There is nothing about serving one another inside of the church as brothers and sisters in Christ and nothing about serving those outside of the church in the love of Christ.

This is why I think the Pew survey fails before it begins. The respondents were only able to rank the reasons given by the researchers. I hope the researchers were doing their best, but they missed the biblical reasons for meeting together as the church and therefore presented reasons that only reinforced the ego-centric model of modern Western Christianity.

Let us work to reject that ego-centric model that makes attending church and following Jesus all about me and return to the model of the early church. Then, perhaps, we will also see wonders and glorify God as we see people coming to salvation day after day.

The Church Can’t be a Scapegoat Anymore

For too long the Church has been a scapegoat. I’ve been guilty of this as much as anyone. Everything that has been or is wrong with Jesus followers is the Church’s fault. Writers and researchers tell us that people outside the Christian faith like the teachings and message of Jesus but they don’t like the teachings and message of the Church. Jesus teaches love, grace, forgiveness and countercultural ideals. The Church, on the other hand, teaches discrimination, guilt, fear and Christian- imperialistic ideals. They can get behind Jesus, but the Church- no so much.

And so we get categories like “spiritual but not religious” or “Jesus-follower” instead of Christian. There are even people like USA Today columnist Tom Krattenmaker who call themselves secular Jesus followers. I am currently reading Krattenmaker’s new book, Confession of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don’t Believe (Convergent, 2016) and I’ll write a full review next week, but his main point is that “Jesus and Christianity are not one and the same” and that “one can sense a respect for Jesus, even a fascination with him, despite the decline of institutionalized Christianity” (13-14). It’s hard to argue that he’s wrong. Taking an objective look at the message of Jesus and (in too many cases) the message of the Church that bears Jesus’ name, it’s easy to see one is not a good reflection of the other.

What are we to do? Our M.O. has been to make the Church the scapegoat: the Church needs to change, the Church needs to reform, the Church needs to be dismantled and rebuilt.

Here’s where we have to reframe the conversation because the Church (and we know this) isn’t an organization or an organism within itself. We can’t go and find “the Church.” The Church is constructed of people. And the people that construct the Church are you and me. The harsh reality is that when people have a problem with the Church, they have a problem with you and me and the way we live out the message of Jesus that we claim to believe.


When people have a problem with the Church, they have a problem with you and me.


No longer can we make the Church the scapegoat for our laziness, for our spiritual immaturity, for our the way we have coopted the message of Jesus for our own gain or for our pure disobedience. I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, we are all guilty of it. And we all need to change.

The Church can no longer be the scapegoat for our sins. Individually we need to refocus our lives on what Jesus said, what Jesus did, what Jesus taught and believing when Jesus said that those who love him will do what he’s said and live the way he lived. When we individually refocus then the Church and our local churches will naturally refocus. If we take Jesus seriously there shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to express the sentiment of Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. You’re Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Are we ready to stop passing the blame and get serious about following Jesus?

A Fellowship of Holiness, Newness and Flourishing

9780310277675_1Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). Last time we looked at the first three of six traits that McKnight says should define a diverse church. Those three traits were: grace, love and table. In this final post on this topic, we’ll look at the final three traits: holiness, newness and flourishing.

Holiness

“There are three elements to holiness. First, we don’t make ourselves holy; holiness is the inner work of God. Second, holiness means learning to live a life that avoids sin. Third, holiness means learning to live a life devoted to God” (118-119).

McKnight notes what Christian author and minister A.W. Tozer said, “the Christian life begins right where the Bible says it does- with God- and that the only path to holiness is time in God’s presence” (118). Not only is the church a group of people committed to one Lord, it is also a group of people committed to one end: holiness. Holiness should be the result of putting our faith into application in our lives.

Newness

“Everything about this early-church life was new for everyone. including Paul. They were trying out a new kind of community under a new Lord with new people around them with all kinds of new ideas about how to live under the new Spirit with new assignments and new gifts and new morals” (147).

Newness: New freedom, new faithfulness, new politics. As people within the Kingdom of God, we have the freedom to live as people of the Kingdom. We have a new way to be faithful to God because of God’s love and God’s grace. We have a new way to look at the world, a new politic.

Flourishing

“Twenty centuries of dismal disunity and the witness of a fractured church ought to convince us of our raw inability to be the church God wants us to be. The hope of this book is that that history will be reversed by a renewed commitment to be the church God designed, a church that flourishes in a salad bowl fellowship of differents” (191).

McKnight goes on the say that this flourishing can only take place through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Which means that we can only flourish through the work and power of God, as God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, transforms our hearts individually and collectively.

McKnight’s book is well written, challenging and encouraging. It made me want to be a part of and to lead a church of differents and to see God take people from different backgrounds, social and economic classes and be united under one Lord. Not that they would be melted together into a homogeneous mass but that, like McKnight’s picture of a salad, the best of individual identity and giftedness contributes to the beauty and flavor of the whole. I encourage you to pick up this book.

A Fellowship of Grace, Love and Table

We need diverse churches but we also need churches that are diverse.

We’ve been looking into Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). We’ve said that bringing differents together is one of the fundamental things that makes the church the church. We also talked about the tension that exists between the need for diverse churches, churches that reach specific people, culture and language groups, while maintaining churches that are diverse in bringing differents together under the Lordship of Jesus.

We left the last discussion with the question, how to we maintain or become churches that are diverse? In his book, McKnight proposes six traits that characterize a fellowship of differents. These six traits will guide the discussion as we look at three in this post and three in the next post.

The first three traits McKnight mention are grace, love and table.

Grace

“Grace takes lonely people and gives them friendship with God. Grace takes our longings for love and ushers us into the presence of God. Grace transforms our yearnings for significance into gifts of significance. God’s grace speaks to us when we are alone and draws us into fellowship with God and with others” (42).

It’s not only God’s grace that saves us, it’s God’s grace that transforms us. It’s God’s grace that weaves people who are different, at one time hostile toward God and, perhaps, hostile toward each other and makes them into a family. Differents come together through grace.

Love

“For Paul, love is central. It was central because he knew the challenges of the Christian life for those who were in fellowship with one another in house churches dotting the Roman Empire. The only way they would make it is if each person learned to love the others” (52).

If that was true for Paul, how much more is it true for us? Just like churches in the first century, we still have to learn to love each other. It’s not something that we learn once, it’s something we have to continually learn, relearn and practice.

Table

“Against this background [the culture of status in the Roman Empire], the fathering of the Christians reconstructed everything from the bottom up: everyone was welcome, everyone got the same meal, everyone was equal, and everyone had one Lord, King Jesus. At the new family’s table they were one” (99).

McKnight is speaking here of Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. If status was a big deal in the Roman Empire, it remains a big deal in 2016 as well. So much of our lives is defined by what kinds of things we can afford. It defines what we eat, where we go to shop, who our friends are, what we do for fun and what we post on Facebook. As McKnight says, we need to rediscover the equality and unity within the act of Communion.

McKnight believes, and I think rightly, that if we can rediscover these traits, our churches will naturally begin to become more and more diverse. Differents will know that our churches are places of grace, love and equality.

We’ll look at the other three traits next time.

Diverse Churches that are Diverse

What traits should exist within the community of the church? What unites a community of people with different backgrounds? With different personalities? With different professions? With different economic statuses? With different family structures? With single people, married people, divorced people, widowed people, children, students, young adults and senior adults?

Not to mention people with different spiritual backgrounds and in various stages of their walk with Jesus.

How is it possible for a group that diverse to unite around anything?

These are some of the questions that Scot McKnight explores in his book, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). The very first thing we need to remember, if we want to bring differents together, is that our uniting force must be Jesus. McKnight writes, “The church is God’s grand experiment, in which different gets connected, unlikes form fellowship, and the formerly segregated are integrated. They are to be one– not scattered all over the city- and they are one in Christ Jesus. 

Before we ever get to the traits that should exist within the church, we have to first understand that if there are no “differents” in the church, then it isn’t the church.

On the universal level, the Church is the great mixing of different people. People united in love and worship to God, through Jesus, from South America to China, from India to Alaska, from Africa to Sweden, poor and rich, uneducated and educated, from groups of 10 to groups of 10,000.

But as we zoom in, the picture begins to pixilate. What we see is churches specializing and focusing on reaching specific groups of people. I don’t believe this is either good or bad but, rather, a tension that has to be balanced. We need churches that specialize in reaching groups of people that are not currently being drawn into church and into relationship with Jesus. It could be a language group, a culture group or a group that is isolated because of their location. But the desire to specialize has to be balanced with the design of the church to be a place that unites people together under the Kingship of Jesus.

We need diverse churches but we also need churches that are diverse.

That is the balance that we must try to maintain. How do we do that? I think that as churches live out the six traits McKnight outlines, they will tend to be diverse churches that are diverse.

We’ll look at these traits next time.

In the meantime, how many “differents” are represented in your church?

Individual and Community?

9780310277675_1Last week I reviewed Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin’s newest book, The Bridezilla of Christ: What to do When God’s People Hurt God’s People. If you read that review, you know that I was not impressed by the book. But what if you are looking for a book on church community, is there a better one?

There is a book I’m currently reading that I think answers that question. The book is Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014).

McKnight’s book is not focused on conflict, it is focused on discovering how all kinds of different people can be in a community where each person is complemented while complementing the whole community.

He uses the image of making a salad. He says there is the America Way, where everything is thrown into a bowls and smothered with salad dressing. The problem is that everything ends up tasting like salad dressing. He says the right way is to assemble the salad ingredients and, instead of salad dressing, add just a little bit of good olive oil. The olive oil “somehow brings the taste of each item to its fullest” (14). The salad is good because each individual piece is brought it its full potential.

That should be the goal our churches. The whole is strong when each individual is strong and able to contribute to their highest potential. Our goal shouldn’t be to gather people together and smother them in “salad dressing” so that each person’s individuality and unique background, skills and calling are forced to be a single flavor.

So how do we do that? How do we allow each person to fulfill their highest potential while retaining the community? McKnight is going to give us some suggestions that we’ll look at next week.


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Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 3

This is a series about the metaphors we used to describe the church- and if they are really helpful or if there are better metaphors that we could be using. So far we have examined if the church is like a gas station or a family and if the church is like a hospital or a Tough Mudder.

Is the church like a battleship?

Is the church like a battleship?

Perhaps you have heard this: The church is not like a cruise ship, it’s like a battleship. I’ve heard this metaphor several different times in sermons or in discussions on the role of the church. This metaphor tries to correct the spiritual consumerism that plagues Western Christianity- as that we talked about in Part 1. The cruise ship is equated with pleasure, consumption, entertainment, extravagance and a midnight buffet (wait, that really is only on a cruise ship). While the battleship is equated with mission, purpose, dedication and the whole being greater than it’s individual parts.

I know it sounds repetitive at this point, but I get where this metaphor comes from. It gives purpose and meaning to the Christian life and (again) combats the consumerism that plagues our churches and vision of Christianity. In part one of this series, I talked about how there are good metaphors and better metaphors. I believe the battleship metaphor is a good metaphor but there is a better metaphor. The reason we need a better metaphor is because, within the world in which we live, we must be careful using militaristic language to describe Christianity. What other metaphor could we use that expresses similar meaning as a battleship but without the militaristic undertones?

The US embassy in Brussels

The US embassy in Brussels

What if the church was like an embassy? An embassy expresses mission, purpose and a representative of something bigger. What makes an embassy unique is that an embassy is a piece of one nation inside of another nation. If I am in France and go to the United States embassy, as soon as I walked through the gates it is like walking in the US. The same is true for the French, Spanish or Dutch embassies in the United States.

The mission of the US embassy in France (or any country) is to look after the interests of the Unites States, to advocate for it’s interests within the government, to undertake diplomacy as the official representative of the US government. The embassy also exists to provide a resource to US citizens visiting, working or who have a problem in the country where the embassy is located. Additionally, the ambassador stands as the official representative of the US government- with all the responsibilities and privileges that come with it.

What if the church was like the embassy for the Kingdom of God within the world? What if Christians were ambassadors? That is what Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians. What if the church acted like the official representative of the Kingdom of God on the earth? What if we advocated for the interests of King Jesus? What if the church was a resource and advocate, not just for our “citizens,” but for all people? What if we lived like ambassadors, believing that each one of us is an official representative of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

Wouldn’t we be braver? An ambassador has the full weight and power of the government behind them, we have the full weight and power of God behind us and that’s even more powerful than a battleship.