beyond the traditional

It’s always interesting answering questions about my participation in what most people consider the traditional model of church life. I was recently having to fill out a form about this (with very small spaces for answers!), and thought I would post how I answered the requests:

Request: Please provide a few statements regarding your profession of faith, and how you came to faith:

My Answer: I first acknowledged a real relationship with God at the age of 15 through the ministry of Young Life. Since then I have continued on the journey of more fully understanding his love in sending Jesus to earth to die on the cross for our sins, get up from being dead, and ascend into heaven so that his Holy Spirit would come and empower us to follow him.

Request: Please tell us how you are participating in a church and using your gifts:

My Answer: My church journey has taken me through high school and college ministries, evangelism outreach, starting home fellowship networks and worship teams, teaching classes on the gifts, starting traditional churches, and starting home churches. My family and I are active in long-term “churches of 2 or 3” (Matt 18) where support and accountability are best, spontaneous gatherings and hospitality in our home, and occasional meetings and conferences of the traditional church model as the Lord leads.

Request: Please tell us what church you are attending, address, phone, and who your Pastor is:

My Answer: Our church life extends beyond the traditional model or a single location. Pastoral and other gifts occur regularly among us in the interactions with other believers. References are available if desired.

pressing on

Well, okay then! It’s been a six-year hiatus since my last post, and on the eve of 2019, I’m drawn to articulate thoughts again. I have several threads in my head, not sure where this goes yet, but not wanting that to hinder the restarting.

I’ll pick it up from the dangling thread I left in “fresh starting…” on 2 Dec 2012. Indeed, the last 6 years have been formative. I notice these words in my last post, “…stepping out of the regular gathering that we were part of…” and “There are many types of gatherings in the Puget Sound area, and I’m in touch with several of them.” I would say that one of the biggest adjustments in my thinking about church life is coming to see that the Lord has a lesser focus on group “gatherings” than I previously thought (“thought” because I didn’t know anything different, it’s what we did…) and more on individual relationships themselves. In Matthew 18 we read the familiar words of Jesus, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Without planning it, that’s been the primary church-life focus of these years – regular encounters with one or two others to touch the Lord together. Over a burger, at our house for dinner, dropping by for a quick visit on the way somewhere, a hallway conversation, a phone call, etc. These are precious and life-giving moments for me. Some have been ongoing for almost 20 years, some got started within the last 5 years. And there’s a rekindling of sorts, where we’re finding each other again. Thinking that group meetings are “required” for church life to happen is another reminder that the detox from the traditional model is deeper than I know. I suspect that the group meeting orientation of church life is rooted in the business model – it’s where sermons happen, buildings & equipment get used, the various church-business roles manifest, all of which is important validation for the giving of funds to the enterprise. I guess the unraveling of the church business model in me is still happening, now 22 years since I left it! I have another suspicion – it won’t be so for those who didn’t spend so much time in it. Thank you Lord!

All that aside, I’m encouraged to press on. I find myself so grateful for all that God has been doing in my family, friends, and I. Here’s believing 2019 will be better than expected, in the things that matter most. So, let’s know him. Let’s press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn (can’t stop that!). And he will come to us like the refreshing rain, like the Spring rain, watering the earth. (Hosea 6:3)

fresh starting…

I’m at a “fresh start” kind of place in my thinking about church life these days. We’ve made some adjustments some months ago in our regular routine, as far as stepping out of the regular gathering that we were part of for about 12 years. We have some regular patterns of fellow believers that we regularly meet up with, there’s always new connections being formed, and we sense God with us in this journey.

As I think and pray over these things, and discuss it with my wife, I believe that I need to make an effort to articulate where my thoughts have come to as far as what church life is all about. There are many types of gatherings in the Puget Sound area, and I’m in touch with several of them. One of the things that God impressed upon me in the last “chapter” of church life with the “12-year” gathering is how valuable it is to work things out in the context of community. So I welcome the response of others on these matters.

life begets life…

I had an email exchange with someone who asked:
Hi Page,

Can you tell me about the forms of discipleship that happen in simple church? I am looking for a community of faith that is intentional about discipleship–learning and growing as disciples of Christ and making new disciples…easier said than done.

My response:
Hi Friend,
My observation is that the thinking on discipleship is all over the map in simple/organic/home church groups just like it is in the traditional religious business church model. It’s been a particular interest of mine over the decades, so I can certainly understand your interest. There’s structured to unstructured. I see this as a matter of each of us working out with the Lord, and the body of believers we are with, how he is leading and following him on it (I guess that pretty much applies to any matter).

Someone else once said it, but I like it – there are times when we have a Paul in our life (an older brother, an elder for us), a Timothy (some one we can provide coaching/mentoring to), and a Barnabas (someone who comes along side and encourages). Not that you always have all happening at once, but as the Lord grants them, for he is the one, true, Discipler. I find that most of what happens in simple church life, where the kind of relationships are happening that he desires, is that he uses these relationships to disciple all of us at once, like iron sharpening iron. It’s the intentional living out our callings together over the years, as the body of Christ, where he shapes and molds us, often without us even knowing he’s doing it. And there are regular times of intentionally speaking into the lives of our brothers/sisters, as he gives the words of wisdom, knowledge, prophetic insight, etc. And all of this happens best in the context of the natural flow of trusting relationships. Our experience is that this kind of relationship are much easier to find over time in the context of simple/organic church life than the business model.

Page

the oil and vinegar of business and relationships

I’ve been talking with friends again about the hurtful things many have experienced at traditional business-like church organizations. There’s many common themes to it, but perhaps most of them can be categorized as “violation of relationship.” By that I mean that people do things to one another that violate the way relationships are to operate among followers of Jesus. This causes hurt, sometimes deeply, depending on the nature of the violation.

But here’s what I’ve come to believe: it all makes sense when we realize that there’s much more going on in the traditional business-like church organization than being followers of Jesus. I’ve come to see these traditional churches as essentially religious businesses that try to promote the Kingdom of God among it’s members and the community it considers it’s domain. And indeed, there are many wonderful things happening at these places, and there would be a huge void if suddenly they did not exist. I spent over two decades of my life laboring with others to start and expand these religious businesses, and quite successfully in terms of the common measures used. Yet I’ve also walked away in tears from more than one, confused about how/why the relationship violations occurred with me ending up with the short end of the stick. And I’m pretty sure I was on the “relationship violator” end of things more times than I know.

As much as we fantasize otherwise, I believe most religious businesses are businesses first, and doers of God-stuff second, because “Job 1 is to remain a viable business.” There’s government requirements for 501(c)3 “not-for-profit” business (huh? of COURSE they’re making a profit! But that’s a different conversation…), such as roles of president, vp, secretary, treasurer, by-laws, board meetings, blah blah. There’s people depending on their financial livelihood at this business. There’s mortages and utilities to pay, sound equipment and sunday school supplies to purchase. But all this stuff is earthly domain, man’s business, and has nothing to do with being the church that follows Jesus. Most participants probably don’t think of it this way, and rather think of it as “Job 1 is to remain a viable presence of the church.” It was true for me, because like many, the religious business model is what I believed WAS the church that Jesus intended. I didn’t know any better. And within that business model, there are also people’s career identities at stake. Now those are some strong forces.

Clearly there is massive blindness about this, and most people at these religious businesses have good intentions, and have no idea that what they are doing is not what Jesus intended for his church. It was true of me as well. Wearing unintended blinders, we don’t even see the plain spoken truths about this in the bible. But for many in our day the blinders are coming off.

My main point in this post is to say that, as heartless as it may sound, I believe that its pointless to complain about these violations of relationships that happen at these religious businesses. There HAS to be a hiearchical leadership, that HAS to establish direction and boundaries for the business, and that HAS to exert authority over the “members.” This is how business works. Business is man’s domain; and man must lead it or it will fall apart. It’s the same with any business. If an employee does things that threaten the vision/plans/success of their employer’s business, no one is surprised when such a person is reprimanded, or even fired, right? It wouldn’t matter that they had friends who worked there. At the end of the day, the leadership has to do what’s right for the business or its viability will be threatened. And the kicker is, I believe that’s how God intended business (not his church) to work. God put it in us to work (Genesis – Adam, the garden) and better our lives if we can (1Cor 7:21) and to enjoy the rewards of our labors (Eccl 5:18-20).

Mixing Kingdom-of-God intentions into earthly business is where it gets all messed up, especially if people start believing that God is the leader of it instead of man. Nope, God doesn’t take charge of our businesses. He gave Adam and Eve the charge of taking care of the garden, the earthly domain.

But when it comes to being the church that follows Jesus – now THAT’s where God is in charge, whether man acknowledges it or not, and where relationships are to operate much differently than they do at an earthly business. For example, Lording over is “illegal” in the church that follows Jesus (Matt 20:25-26), and calling people by special names that put them above others, like “father” or “pastor” or “reverend,” is against Jesus’ commands (Matt 23:8-10).

I’ve come to believe that if we are experiencing the common relationship violations that happen in religious businesses, we really have no one to blame but ourselves. Man’s vision and scope for a business will always be very small compared to God’s vision and scope for his church. So there will always be times when people have grown into as much of God’s kingdom as a particular religious business can support, and to get beyond that the people will be drawn into things outside the scope of where the leadership is comfortable, or able to lead. If the leadership feel that the business or their authority (which again, the business needs) is at risk by the actions of certain people, they will have to do things to resolve this conflict, and proper human relating as God intended among his followers will suffer, because that is not the priority in the business context. We should not expect otherwise.

For those who find themselves in that situation, the good news is that God is taking many into a new journey of being and finding the church that wants to follow Jesus alone, and that wants no part of mixing it with the business aspirations of man.

I love this verse from Hosea 6:3:
“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.”