Saturday, June 23, 2007

Individualism Is Killing The Church

Just about every pastor I've ever met has repeated the phrase that is the title of this post. Heck, I've said it one more than one occasion (and probably will again). Individualism is killing the Church - I'm firmly convinced of that, but I'm starting to wonder if pastor's and church leaders have been misdiagnosing what the problem with individualism actually is.

See I, like many of my pastor-type friends, will often talk about the problem of trying to create community amongst a group of people for whom every impulse is to pull away from community. This is, indeed, a problem - but, like most things I've discovered in time as a pastor, it's not the real issue. You see the real issue isn't that these folks who are all individuals don't have a community, it's they do have a community which is dysfunctional and through which communal tendencies are playing out. In a dysfunctional community of individuals, however, no one sees how the dysfunctional communal tendencies are playing out through them. The standard response to someone who points out the various elephants in the system is, "Well, I don't do that." Invariably, they do (and I'll include "me" in "they" here). People who think of themselves as individuals first, and members of a community as distant second, are literally defenseless against being manipulated by a dysfunctional system that needs people to think, "Well, I'm OK, it's them that have the problems here."

See what happens? When a dysfunctional system finds it's place of equilibrium in convincing each individual, "I'm all right," then it doesn't matter if an individual thinks,"I'm all right," because they like the organ, been a member for 50 years, or because they believe that Christians ought to evangelize. It's same thing because when the dysfunctional system convinces individuals, "I'm all right in the right way," then membership, worship, and even evangelism aren't things which are laid at the feet of the living Lord Jesus Christ - they are things which are set against the people we're supposed to be doing these things (and being these things) along side of. It's a community in which people are willing to call other people to repent, but are unwilling to repent themselves.

So, I'm finding that the question isn't, "How do we create a community among a bunch of individuals?" Rather its, "How do we make these (false) individuals see that even in their individuality they are part of a dysfunctional and sinful system - and in so doing both lead these (false) individuals into repentance and into a new life where the system they are knowingly part of says, "Well, I'm part of the problem - let's follow Jesus together." [Note: one of the things a pastor needs is some friends who love them enough to say, "You know is there any sin you'd like to confess?"]

For the last four years I've had all the pieces from these thoughts in place and working in this community - and in so doing the system was stretched to it's breaking point so much that I actually watched it collapse (and, to be quite honest, I did feel a great deal of anxiety as it crashed). Now we're standing at the crossroads for the community. We've got a continuum of directions to take. In one range we can use the new freedom that Central is experiencing to say with even greater fervor, "Well, I get it - they have the problem." In that case - the stress of these four years has pretty much been in vain because the Individuals didn't learn to repent. On the other hand we can use the new freedom we're experiencing to say, "Lord, how have I sinned and in so doing contributed to our sin here at Central?" If the Holy Spirit drives us in that direction (and who knows what it'll look like), then the stress of these for years will see something new be born out of the dysfunction of the past. Right now, I'm thinking the Holy Spirit is quietly being listened to, and I'm hearing a lot less, "Well, I'm OK" from people. It's a great thing.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Emotional Expression

This evening was our youth group's "water party." It's an end of the school year/beginning of the summer event that's supposed to be a bit rowdy, a lot of fun, and very wet. For the last few years my two kids (who are well below typical youth group age) have gone and enjoyed watching (and sometimes participating in) the various games.

This year, however things were a bit out of control. The groups that's been coming has a lot of the same psychological make-up of a middle-school tech team - so the social dynamics can quickly. Today seemed to be worse than normal - and after several conflicts in the group I decided to get my kids out of there and calmed down for bed. Oh the weeping and gnashing of teeth!

My daughter is quite the dramatic individual (I don't know where she gets it from) and our earlier exit from the water party sparked some pretty loud fireworks on her part. After getting dressed for bed and brushing her teeth, however, she quietly went into our playroom closet, took out the colored pencils, and drew this image. At first I just felt like a bad father for making my daughter feel like she had to draw such a sad image. And then I thought, "Wow, how great is it that she found a beautiful way to express her feelings?"

My daughter wanted me to give this to my wife as soon as she got home, but I knew that this would not be the first thing she'd want to see after dealing with super-ball middle-schoolers all evening so I said, "Hon, let's day it and we'll show it to mommy tomorrow, OK?" Well, my daughter said, "I just want to rip it up, it's sad." So I stopped her, "Honey, it's beautiful too I think you should show it to mommy." So she spared it the tear of doom, and this gave me the opportunity to share it with all of you.

Here's a question, "Wouldn't it be great if the people in our dysfunctional churches could figure out a way to express their sorrow, fear, and angst in a way that creates something beautiful? The Bible, after all, has a type of poetry that manages just that - it's called a lament. I hope my daughter grows up allowing the laments of her artwork/life to walk side by side with her moments of joy and praise. What a great gift that would be.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Great Parody...

I've been saying for a while that a certain software company was completely out of ideas. A little while back they showed people a table computer called "Surface," and that pretty much confirmed what I'd been saying for a couple of years (how a certain CEO still has a job is beyond me). Anyway, I always like it when companies release stupid ideas and the public rips them to shreds, so here's a great parody of "Surface."

Surface is, to me, like a lot of the things that the Church tries to do in order to show that it's "relevant." Most of them are pretty dumb ideas, but they get presented like some sort of revolution. Meanwhile the general populace looks at what the Church is pushing and says, "Dude, it's a big-ass table."

Sigh. This is one of the things I worry about with CrossPoint and utilizing technology in worship. I'm not trying to revolutionize worship with a "new product" (I have no "product" to sell), all I'm trying to do is allow the Gospel to speak to people. Yet, in the world of Evangelicalism™, branding and product placement appear to be at the heart of the matter - and I find myself constantly fighting my own impulses to do the same.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Upcoming CrossPoint Worship Opportunity hasn't been doing a lot of worship gatherings for the past several months, that's about to change. We're hoping that the worship gathering mentioned in this poster becomes a monthly event down at Palmyra Harbour - and that it'll lead to invitations to help set up gatherings elsewhere!

If you're in the area, stop in to worship with us - and bring friends!

Disturbingly Wonderful

Watch this, can the Church be an agent of change that tells the sleeper to wake up and rebel with love? Or are we just too compromised to do anything anymore?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Oh the Wonderful Food...

This week Central Baptist had our fellowship food donated by Del Ran Panera (they rock). We had some left over bread at the end of the fellowship time and I decided to grab the 4 loaves of Ciabatta bread that remained and try my hand at grilled panini sandwiches. All I can say is...yummy!

These pictures are actually from my second round of making the paninis which consisted of some simple ingredients for the finished product. The base was just some boneless chicken cutlets which I pounded down to help it fit in the sandwich better - and to that I added some grilled peppers (the frozen pepper trio from Trader Joes works great), shredded mozzarella, and a pinch of oregano. Next time I do this I think I'll go out and get some fresh basil to add the finishing touch - but even without it the sandwiches were very tasty. I can't wait to experiment some more!

Oh, by the way, if you have a grill plate for veggies it makes a great weight for the sandwiches when they're on the grill!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Well, it's official...

I am nerdier than 80% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

I'm a "high-nerd." If that's a bit like "high-elf" I just want everyone to know that I've never been involved in any kinslaying - I went the other way (and if you know that that means, you probably should take the test).

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

"God Moments"

As most of the folks who know me are aware, I like to head out and work at a local Panera as much as possible. I actually tend to get more work done, but I also get to meet the folks who work there and frequent it. In other words, I get to make connections with folks that I'd never get to meet otherwise.

While I didn't go out with the intention of meeting other Christians (I know plenty, thanks), one of my most pleasant contacts at Panera as been an associate pastor I first met in New Haven named Byron. He pastors at Burlington Nazarene Church, and we've become friends over the last few months. We bounce things off each other, and encourage each other whenever our paths cross.

Today, however, Byron asked me something most wonderful, "Where do you get your prayer support?" Well, I have no shortage of prayer support, I know quite a few people who pray for me daily by name (many of which live at our the Baptist Home a few blocks from here, those folks can pray). Byron pressed further, though, "OK, those are folks who pray for you - who do you pray with?" You know what, that list is short. I have an excellent mentor in this state with a heart for Jesus as big as the moon, a couple of people here at Church who have no problems checking up on me and seeing how I'm doing (or letting me know when they see me stretching myself too thin - thank you), and several more that I'm close to - but not many that I have ever just walked up to and said, "Hey, let's pray." Qohelet and I have done this a couple of times, as have my wife and I, but other than that the list is kinda short. Too short, actually, which Byron saw.

Byron offered himself as someone to pray with. What a wonderful gift that is! So, next week we'll get together to just pray. In the fall, I hope I can join him with several others for the same thing. God moments indeed.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Into The Center (City)

Well, today after worship (in which Jamison preached - video coming soon), we packed the kiddos, ourselves, and various "stuff" and headed into Center City to check out some of the sites. By the way, as a note to my non-Philly readers, Philly doesn't have a "Down Town" we have "Center City." It's different, because it just is. Anyway, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, this was the first time I'd been down to see these sites since I was a pre-teen - and I was amazed at how much the experience had been updated!

Two years ago The National Constitution Center was opened up down at one end of Independence Mall. I've been itching to get down there and see it, but I have two children under 8 and I've known that such a trip wasn't going to last very long no matter how much they made the exhibits interactive. Since Jamison and clan were in town, though, I figured it would be an awful thing to miss, given that it's currently one of the biggest attractions in Philly. So away we went, past the new visitor's center (which I need to go spend more time in) and up to the end of the Mall to go someplace I'd never been before..

It's not a bad presentation. I honestly didn't know what the set up of the center would be, or what the exhibits would be like, but I was pleasantly surprised. The attractions contained not just the history of the creation of the Constitution, but also the history of the Constitution as it's come to touch the lives of Americans in various ways. I appreciated it's attempt at showing what was good about the experiment our Constitution put forward, while at the same time not making an attempt to mask the warts of the very same Experiment in how it's treated people throughout our 200+ years as a nation (the "Would You Be Able to Vote?" kiosks were a nice touch, I thought).

The one thing that I was really disappointed about, however, was that there was no photography allowed in the exhibit area. Good grief, I just want to snap a picture of my kids in front of the fake fireplace with the radio playing FDR's speech to congress the day after Pearl Harbor - what's wrong with that? Heck the official security zone allowed me to take pictures, but not a "please touch" type museum? Sad.

After breezing through the constitution center (I really need to go back sans kids), we popped over to the new Liberty Bell pavilion. Now I do admit that I've never seen the Liberty Bell before, because we always looked at that attraction and the lines around it as kinda tedious, but today I didn't have an excuse, I went and saw the bell. Again, I need to go back sans kids so I can read the exhibits - but when I finally saw the bell I thought, "This is it?" I mean, it's cool, don't get me wrong, it's the Bell, but you grow up with this larger than life image of the Liberty Bell around here (it's everywhere),when you finally see it an realize the think ain't that big it's a bit of a letdown). I guess I would've been more struck by the uniqueness of this artifact if it had been a bit more difficult to access. the huddle of 50+ people all trying to get snapshots (including me) just kinda made the space "common." It wasn't what I expected at all. So much for the larger-than-life childhood image. Next thing you know someone will tell me that the Tooth Fairy doesn't exist or some nonsense like that...

From the Liberty Bell, our crew headed through the Independence Hall security check point and relaxed on the grounds a bit before our tour started. It was nice to chill out a bit - but it was odd being penned into a space that used to be completely open and freely accessible (I remember when you used to just be able to walk into Independence Hall without being challenged. The tour of the Hall was great, our guide was excellent, but you don't get to up upstairs anymore, which is kind of a bummer (the upstairs reception hall is cool). I did get to snap some shots of the room where America really got started, though, and that was cool.

Jamison and I then had cheese steaks for dinner (not in Center City, the kids were wiped and Reading Terminal Market was closed), and Jamison's wife had her first hoagie (what's a hoagie?). All in all, a good day.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Down To The River...

Well, today we headed down to Camden with the Stepans for our first visit to the Adventure Aquarium. The past few years we've opted for getting a membership at the Philadelphia Zoo, which was an easy decision considering that the Aquarium was under some serious renovations the last year or so. Now that it's opened up again, however, we decided to get a membership and check out what they've done with the place. Wow was I impressed - worth every penny!

The nice thing about the Aquarium is that the RiverLine, which runs through Palmyra, has an exit dedicated to the the Aquarium and Camden Waterfront. the $1.35 we spent for each adult (one way) was a lot less than what we would have had spend on parking - it's a no brainer, right?

Normally, sure - what we weren't counting on was that the local Philly country station was giving their free summer concert down at the Tweeter Center, which also has a dedicated stop on the RiverLine. Oops! I have never seen the trains that full! We squeezed into a train full of Country Music fans and headed south to the Aquarium. The trip was...interesting.... First off, the four people sitting in front of us (watching our kids sit on the floor) were three sheets to the wind at 9:30 AM. Their conversation was rather colorful for our kids ears. Behind us some ladies came up with a term that I think is perfect for describing the teenie-boppers and other young ladies who run around in thong bikinis....."Prosti-tots." What can I say? That's original.

The Aquarium itself was really nice. It's broken up into "Adventure Zones" which focus on different areas of ocean life. There are two huge tanks full of different animals - the shark tank was unnerving (too many teeth), but the other large tank had the largest Sea Turtle I've ever seen. The think was freaking cool!

We got home in the early afternoon and Jen and Lissa went out shopping, Jamison and I worked on his sermon some, and the kids continued to work out their pecking order (they're getting along fine, but kids and territory issues, wow). Tonight we grilled and then Jamison and I hit Target so he could get some makeup (for his wife).

The only two things that didn't go well were:

  • Church got broken into for the second time in three months. Last time the Youth Room's stereo was stolen, this time nothing was stolen but a cigarette butt was put out in the bell-tower room (on a dusty dry carpet, thank God there was no fire) and a pane of glass was broken to gain entry into my office (again, nothing was stolen). This pisses me off.
  • I went to the Starbucks at Target and asked what types of coffee they had brewed - I was told, "We don't have any coffee, the brew machine is down and has been since Tuesday." Stunned, I went home.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

"I'm in it for myself...."

This past Saturday, as a wrote previously, our congregation had a table set up for Riverton's "Victorian Day." It was a lot of fun. I got to meet a lot of people, and we handed out a ton of water (just recapping for folks). In the midst of all of vendors and organizations people we buzzing up and down the street dressed in Victorian garb of various styles - it was a lot of fun.

In the midst of all this, however, there was one non-Victorian garment that stood out in the crowd. As I greeted people in the street I caught someone wearing a tee-shirt which read, "I'm in it for myself." I didn't get a picture - but it's stuck with me. That shirt got me thinking about all the churches I've ever been a part of - the political games, the rivalries between economic classes and between generations, the family fiefdoms and "we were here first" mentality, the "spirit-filled" praise-band only crowd and the less enthusiastic "we like the organ crowd," the Sunday School splits and the cults of personality based on pastor's present and long-gone. I look at it all and I think, "You know, it seems that we're really just in it for ourselves."

We want what we want, when we want to get it - and we'll attack, ignore, or savage anyone who gets in our way, praise God. We'll form temporary alliances, cliques of personality types, and deal with a dysfunctional system as long as our "needs" are met. Heck, Evangelicalism™ has turned this into a science. The Church must meet "needs," and as long as the individuals who are long-time attenders or just stopping by feel as though their "needs" are being met then they'll stay. If not, they'll make sure everyone knows and who is responsible for unleashing their ire. After all, in most Churches (Evangelical™ or otherwise) the people in the pews are the customers - and not only are customers "always right," they are also in it for themselves.

See the problem? You can't have any type of community with that type of an attitude, much less a Church community that calls upon people (as the Body of Christ) to fulfill the needs of others rather than have them met. A congregation of individuals who are all "in it for themselves" (with varying degrees of awareness regarding this) cannot stand. Church members are not constituents who must be kept happy at all costs - they're meant to be about the ministry of the Gospel. Seekers are not consumers who must be catered to, they're people who need to be loved for the simple fact that they are...well....people no matter what they can do to fulfill our "needs."

Wouldn't it be neat if a church put out tee-shirts that read, "We're in it for others?" Somehow, that sounds like Jesus to me.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Going Into Philly

So my friend Jamison is coming out with his family this weekend for a visit. I'm looking forward to this for several reasons:
  1. Jamison's a cool guy and I really enjoyed having him out a couple of years ago when he finished up a preaching internship we did together.
  2. He's preaching again.
  3. It gives me a chance to help him "forget" his new MacBook Pro here at my place (I may never have a better chance of getting a Mac).
I'm also looking forward to heading down into Center City (for non-Philly-types that's what we call "down town") and take in some of the attractions. Growing up my extended family would do Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, Penn's Landing, the Franklin Institute, and the Philadelphia Zoo once a year (one different days). I remember heading down in a group of my 10+ cousins (depending on who showed up), their parents, my grandparents, and my siblings and parents to these awesome attractions and thinking, "Wow, we live in an important place."

When I got older I started heading into Philly myself, often to South Street to browse the shops and find some decent music at Tower Records (now defunct). One summer I took voice lessons at Walnut Street Theatre - that was very cool. Since I moved out, and then back in, to the area though I haven't gotten back to all the cool places I went as a kid. I don't tend to wander in Philly (after wandering in Boston it get's kinda depressing), but even so there's so much to do down there that I can't believe I haven't been back yet.

Now, I'll get my chance. Jamison and family are tourists. As a host, I have no excuses, I need to make sure they see what they want to see (and maybe a couple of things in addition to that - like the Art Museum [or, at least, "the steps"]). It'll be interesting to see how much has changed down there in the past 20 years since I was last in Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell has finally been moved to a decent display (the old one was just a pavilion with the bell and a huge line. Actually, as a matter of confession - we never went to the Bell, I think my family had something against standing in line for 45 minutes to see it so we never did - I grew up in Philly, and have not seen the Liberty Bell. There, I said it). I've also been looking forward to seeing the National Constitution Center (minus Constitution.....) - it's supposed to be cool.

That's what I'll be doing this weekend. Spending my time exploring things that were formerly familiar with some friends so we can share the joy of experience and discovery together.

Come to think of it, isn't that what a Church is supposed to be doing? Sharing the joy of discovering the present reality of Jesus and his Kingdom and experiencing the wonder of what is is being made manifest in us?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Victorian Day

Riverton, the town immediately next to where I live, holds an annual "Victorian Day" to celebrate it's history (it's an old summer resort town, believe it or not). When this special day was announced last year, our Church decided to get involved and set up a table - it was a good idea and lead to the creation of some good materials for the congregation to hand out. People also felt compelled to do something to show people that Jesus loved them without immediately getting them to "sign on the dotted line." To that end, both last year and this year we handed out bottles of water to anyone who wanted one, even if they already had a water bottle in their hands. Folks really appreciated it (especially women who happened to be pregnant and already finished the water they had brought with them). It was a good way to say, "Hey, we actually try to care." Today we gave away 8 cases of water, one bottle at a time, for free while most other booths were selling it for $2 a bottle!

I did feel bad for the people who were set up in costume, though. Victorian clothing was not what you call "breathable," and it was hot out there (not to mention humid). There were some cool contraptions going up the road, though, like this guy who had one of those cool bicycles that I'd only ever seen in the closing credits of "Speed Racer" (I commented on that to him, it got me a blank stare). Below is a picture of the table we set up this year. Here's what we did on it...

From Victorian Day
For Free:
  • Water
  • Pencils with "flags" advertising our Co-op Nursery School
  • 100 Year Anniversary Books
  • Invite Cards
  • Church Brochures
  • CrossPoint Post-Cards
  • Youth and Children's Ministries Brochures
For a Suggested $2 Donation:
  • Church Cook-Books
  • The Three devotional studies I wrote for Central: Biblical Evangelism, Stop And Smell The Coffee, and Making Space

Friday, June 1, 2007

New Office

For nearly two years I haven't had an office in which to set up my books. The reason for this is that Central was selling the building in which my previous office was housed. I liked the other building. In fact, I pushed to try an sell the "real" church building and keep the office building because it's a more flexible space (it would actually be cheaper to rent a worship space each week given current heating and repair costs). No one liked my idea and so we put the office/sunday school/youth group building up for sale.

The loss of the other building's space meant that Central was going to have to renovate certain areas of the church building in order to continue ministry. The first presumption among several members of the congregation was that the Church Office and Pastor's Study get top priority and every other space needed to wait until we got the money from the building sale. Other voices (including mine) said that was a bad idea because our youth group has the potential to really impact our town and if the youth were taking over the space for the nursery we'd need a space for that as well. So those two projects got top billing, and the Church Office was moved but not renovated (that's next).

It was the right decision to make, and now we have a decent youth area, and a wonderful nursery for all these babies that have shown up all of the sudden. The problem was, my books were sitting in boxes and I had no where to pop-out and do some quick reading - which got on my wife's nerves after a year or so (especially during the summer when the kids were wondering why I wasn't playing with them all day). Well, after some great work by the trustees of Central Baptist, and nearly 2 years of waiting, I have an office/study again! My books are grateful, and the space is beautiful (perfect for my studying as well as holding Sunday School Classes, Bible Studies, or Small Groups). It makes me happy.

While I regret losing the other building, since we've not been worrying about it I've found that the Church was feeling a lot more "free" to do ministry and nearly every space that I wanted to see renovated from the first moment I walked through Central's doors has been renovated. How cool is that?

Here's the spaces that have been renewed for ministry so far:
  • An old basement "primary" room that was used to store the kitchen sink has been emptied, had a new wall put in, painted, carpeted, had a window repaired, hot water pipes boxed-out, and new lights put in. it's our new nursery - and it rocks.
  • A former Sunday School room behind the previous nursery (now the youth room) has been cleared out, painted, cleaned, and set up as a Sunday School and Youth discussion room.
  • The "Sunday School Auditorium" over-look room has had it's 70's orange-shag carpet ripped out (along with the matching curtains), the large fold-up partitions which opened the room to the auditorium have been boxed out and had two windows put in their place, it's been painted, given new wall-to-wall carpet, and been populated some furniture and book cases. Yup, this is now my office.
  • The original pastor's study, which is behind the sanctuary and has direct access to the street but no windows, was being used as another "catch all" storage closet. It's been emptied, the decorations that were in them have been organized and moved, and it's being painted for the purpose of being a 24x7 prayer room. I'm really looking forward to this.
This building has such wonderful spaces, and now we're figuring out how to use them in the ministry of the Gospel. This is a good thing.

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