02 August 2009

The Church - more than entertainment

One of the illnesses sweeping the Christian denominations for the the past twenty years is the "teaching' that what has worked in the past will not work in the modern age.

The translation of that is: the way that has worked for at least 1500 yeas just does not work, anymore. We must be "with it" and make sure to put on a good show to attract the masses.
    "If only the "right" music is used, in just a few weeks our attendance will be in the thousands of people."

The worship of God has transmogrificated into slick rock/country music shows built around well polished "worship teams" who have the music down pat and have the choreography as perfect as classical ballet. They even work out how may times the "spirit" will lead them to repeat a "song." Eradicated is the worship aspect and it is replaced with pure entertainment and showmanship.

The focus is on a "feel good" experience and there is no dedication to the communal life of the Christian community.

Please do not think that I am against "modern" music in church. I started the folk mass in my parish back in the early 1970s and played in the group. I like "guitar songs" but I don't like mindless, bad, music that is meant as entertainment. Singing "He is Lord" sixty times is "spiritual self gratification," not worship.

One of the outgrowths of that type of worship experience is the death of real community. Attendees leave the building as soon as the show is over. In fact, in most of these type of churches, the attendee has no contact with the community outside the sixty minutes or so on Sunday morning.

That is a death knell to a congregation.

I was recently sent remarks by Francis Chen the senior pastor Cornerstone, a 4,000 member congregation in Southern California. I found his remarks to in tune with mine, that I wish to post his comments.

Please continue reading through to the end - don't let the middle part turn you off. I believe you'll see an evangelism tool that will work if we implement it.

    Is there any logic in believing that God started His church as a Spirit-filled, loving body with the intention that it would evolve into entertaining hour-long services? Was He hoping that one day people would be attracted to the church not because they care for one another, not because they are devoted to God, not because the supernatural occurs in their midst, but because of good music and entertainment?

    As elders at Cornerstone Church, we're constantly asking: Does this make sense biblically? We try to imagine what conclusions we would come to if we had no prior church experience. We've been discovering that some of the things we do make sense to the American church-attender, but they don't make sense biblically.

    Try it. Picture yourself on an island with only a Bible. You've never been to a church-you've never even heard of one. The only ideas you have about church are what you've read in your Bible. Then you enter a building labeled "church" for the first time. What would you expect to experience as you entered that building? Really take some time to think this through. Now compare that to what you actually experience when you attend "church."

    A while back, an ex-gang member got baptized at Cornerstone. He fell in love with Jesus and turned from his old lifestyle. After several months at the church, he stopped attending. When we asked him why he stopped attending, he answered:

    I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren't just nice to each other once a week-we were family.

    That killed me because I knew that what he expected is what the church was intended to be. It saddened me because I realized that the gangs paint a better picture of loyalty and family than the local church body does.

    But what if the church looked like this?

    They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. The Acts 2:42-47

    That describes what the ex-gang member was looking for. It describes what the world is waiting for. I wish I could have been a part of that first church. Don't you? I used to look at this passage as something that was wonderful but could never happen in Southern California in the 21st century. There are just too many cultural obstacles for the Holy Spirit to overcome. He is powerful enough to raise the dead, but not powerful enough to form a sharing and loving body in our individualistic society. I doubted God's ability to stir a body of believers to love tirelessly and give without restraint. I reasoned that this type of fellowship was probably not intended for our time. Besides, we don't have time to love like this.

    Looking back, I wonder if I came to those conclusions because there was a part of me that wasn't sure I wanted it. It's interesting how much our theology is driven by desire.

    There came a point when the elders at Cornerstone concluded that there was no reason why God wouldn't want the church to look like it did in the beginning. From there we reasoned that if God wants that, then we want it too. But the exciting part came when we resolved not to settle for anything less. We would pursue this for His church regardless of how many would be turned off and move to other churches. If this is God's standard, then we will one day give an account for how we led His people toward the biblical model.

    But where do we go from here? Now comes the hard part: answering the question of how. There are probably many who want our churches to function like the early church, but how do we get there?

    Start with what you can control.

    In other words, start with yourself. It's wrong to blame others for the condition of the church. And it's silly for leaders to blame followers. God wasn't satisfied when Adam blamed Eve or when Eve blamed the serpent.

    The elders at Cornerstone started with what we could control. We can't control other people. We can't make the people at Cornerstone "break bread in their homes" or "sell their possessions." We also can't control God. We can't make Him do "wonders and miraculous signs" through us. I can't conjure up miracles just because I want to. I can, however, sell my possessions as people have needs. I do have control over that, so that became the logical first step. As we do our part, we trust God to bring about the "awe" and "wonders" in His time.

    It was a beautiful time of sharing as our elders laid "everything" at each other's feet. We surrendered the keys to our cars, homes, and bank accounts. I actually believed the elders who looked me in the eyes and said, "What's mine is yours. If anything ever happens to you, I will support and care for your kids as much as I would care for my own. I will be your life insurance." And because they had a history of genuine sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, I trusted what they said. From there, we began going to some of our friends in the congregation and expressing our commitment to them (something anyone can do).

    And now this mentality is spreading. New life is permeating the church as individuals are backing up their words with sacrifice. Cars and homes are being sold or given away. Expensive vacations are joyfully replaced with spending on others. People are being taken into homes-not only for meals, but to live. It's still the beginning of the process, and most people probably still come for the teaching or music, but there's a growing number at Cornerstone who are coming to be with their church family and don't care about who's teaching or leading music.

    Why are you telling me this? I'm just a worship leader.

    I'm assuming you believe that part of your job is to lead the congregation into a time of corporate worship. I'm guessing your desire is that God would see a group that is "like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose," passionately worshiping Him. Services are not about individuals worshiping the Lord, but about a body coming together to do so. If our gatherings are no different than our personal devotional time, then there's no reason to gather. Your job is to help them understand that they have come together as a body, as a people, as something greater than themselves. This is no small task: most people come only as individuals in search of personal enrichment. That's why you need to be a part of developing a family mindset throughout the week.

    It is your responsibility to remind them they are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). God is looking for a "people," a "priesthood," a "nation" to declare his praises. His agenda was to display His glory through "Israel," not "Israelites." He wants the church to come together-not as individuals, but as members of one "body" committed to the "common good" (1 Corinthians 12).

    As a worship leader, you want people to encounter God. This can't be accomplished just by good music and well-timed key changes. It's the by-product of witnessing a group of people deeply committed to one another in love. First John 4:12 puts it plainly, "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." No one has physically seen God, but we can give people a glimpse of Him when we love. And that's what we want to see as the church gathers: a glimpse of God.

    For unbelievers, it's this glimpse of God displayed through unity that will bring them to faith. That's why Jesus prayed, "I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23).

    Back to the point: There must be more.

    Something real was happening in the early church. It was something of the Spirit too powerful to be replicated by human effort. Imagine taking a friend to one of their church gatherings. Your friend might not experience a smoothly run, professional service. But one thing he would experience: GOD. Do we even need to ask which is better? So much of church growth today has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. The right team of talented people can make any church grow. When people sit through creative services, is it really God they're experiencing?

    Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that we shouldn't give our best to God. If you're a musician, work diligently at your music. If you're a teacher, labor intensely over your messages. I'm just asking you to be willing to rethink what you're doing and ask: How can we create a more biblical environment where people see and experience God?

    I'm reminded of the story of Gideon in Judges 7. He tells Gideon

    "‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, "Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead."' So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained."

    If you remember the story, God then reduced the army to 300 soldiers. God did not just defeat the Midianites-He was careful to do it in a way that gave Him all the glory. He did not want to allow Israel to boast "that her own strength has saved her."

    May people see our churches and know that mere human beings could not have created what they experienced. May we seek the priorities of the early church and trust God to once again produce the fruit of the early church.

This is powerful stuff, folk. And it will work.

I recently read that on the day of Pentecost the ratio of Christians was about 1 to 300,000 in the Roman world. Look what happened because of the message and the commitment they had to one another!

I do not suggest that we sell all our possessions to give to those in need, but we can do much more than we are doing now. We must start caring for our own - now. We must become a caring, loving community. When we do that, God's love will spill out from us to the world. That's true evangelism evangelism.

A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another,
even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13.34