Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Faith Works 2-22-14

Faith Works 2-22-14

Jeff Gill


Not quite about George Washington



Today is Feb. 22, which is George Washington's birthday.


It would be a good day to talk about the "faith of our fathers" and the Father of our Country, but I got so much feedback last week in talking about church buildings it only makes sense for me to finish some thoughts, and some provocations, about that subject, and see if in 750 words I can get back to our first president or not.


As I hoped would be clearer, nothing I spoke of last week should be taken to say that buildings are a bad idea, although we should keep an open mind when reading some of today's discussion afoot on the internet and in some church circles saying that maybe, at least in some situations, they are.


We do, it must be admitted, have a tendency to do a touch of idolatry when it comes to the structures in which we worship, and the Bible is pretty clear on where it comes down on idolatry. On buildings, not so much. God resides in a tent for big chunks of the Old Testament, and Jesus does much of his ministry on earth in rented rooms, as does Paul (the lecture hall of Tyrannus, third floor teaching rooms with wide windowsills, in his own apartment in Rome, etc.). Very little in the Christian scriptures or Hebrew writings that back up the need for assembled believers to own a big hunk of masonry and framing.


Nothing really to say it's bad, either.


The point is that a church building is a ministry tool. When the mimeograph first came out, it was a piece of technology that, combined with the address-o-graph, changed how we reach out to our community; that ministry tool gets set aside when copy machines and e-mail change the landscape of communications. This can also happen with structures, spaces, sanctuaries.


And we see churches moving into a variety of building types, too. Converted catering halls, repurposed schools, modified house layouts.


One of the fastest growing phenomena in congregational life in the US is the multisite church. A main "campus" or physical plant may also have a number of satellite locations, but all consider themselves a single "church" in governance and leadership and identity.


According to a National Congregations Survey by Duke University, there are over 8,000 multisite churches in this country, with 5 million (!) people worshiping in one expression or another of this approach. 9% of Protestants consider themselves part of a multisite church, even though they are just 3% of the total number of Protestant congregations. Locally, Newark Church of the Nazarene is working with a multisite model. There's a more traditional church building on Williams St., and other structures housing expressions of the Newark Naz ministry a few blocks north, and over in the East End.


In some multisite/satellite church models, everyone worships at the same time, with a live feed of the core service broadcast into the outlying churches, or the streaming feed can be used for later (or even next day) worship at the satellite location.


Others have shared elements of ministry across the location, but each location has its own preaching from the pastor and worship team of that campus, but following an outline and themes from the "mother church." However you handle the sermon, multisites are one way technology takes an old model – the circuit rider – and gives it a flexible new twist.


This is a fairly unusual model for being a church in terms of Christian history and tradition, but it makes sense that multisites have really gotten going in America. When this country called together the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the big question was how we could get from loose confederation of states to a truly federal model, where the nation as a whole had certain rights and responsibilities, but the states would still individually have roles and rights for themselves.


Our government is an ongoing experiment in balancing of the whole and the parts between states and the federal government, and the first leader of it, George Washington (told ya I'd get back to him!), found the balancing act challenging.


For multisites to work, you seem to need a pastor with both presence and administrative skills. The second generation of leaders in them will be interesting to watch, as the Bill Hybels and Rick Warrens and Andy Stanleys transition out of leadership, and new figures step into those roles.


Because pastors are no more permanent than church buildings!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how churches can work together at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Knapsack - Newark Christian 2-20-14

Notes from my Knapsack 2-20-14


There's a saying that's often attributed in various forms to an original comment by the pastor and former chaplain to the U.S. Senate, Richard Halverson (1916-1995):


"In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise."


At heart, we are neither a business nor an enterprise, not a culture or form of entertainment, our faith is not best summed up in laws and a legal institution, nor is Christianity really a philosophy.


It often is said that our faith is a "world view" and that's closer, but I think it still misses the mark. We have received from the Lord what we would give to others, as Paul said (I Cor. 11:23), that we invite people to come and dine, to be formed anew in Christ's image, and then to go out themselves bearing this good news of invitation and welcome into the Kingdom of God.


Or to go back to Halverson's line, we are called to be "a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ." Thinking the right thoughts and obeying the right laws and living within a social norm are not as important as living in fellowship with one another, forbearing, forgiving, and lifting up those who have taken the name of Christian.


We do live in a world which has been shaped by Greek thinking and Roman law and European culture… and American entertainment. Those influences tug at us in a bewildering variety of ways. As your pastor, I get asked all the time to sign us up for this cause or that, to buy into a program or a package from a denominational source or a parachurch organization, and there are debates from TV and online that filter into questions asked in the narthex and parking lot.


Frankly, I smile and fend off 99% of all that, and often end up wishing I'd gotten closer to 100%. Everyone out there, from curriculum salespeople to pressure group spokespersons, wants us to take up their cause, their agenda, and either be in or be out, join or be excluded, get in the club or find ourselves on the outside.


But I believe our calling is first and foremost to be a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. How we show forth that centeredness, to use a slightly awkward phrase, is going to look different in different communities, but it starts in our own community, in this county, among our own fellowship. How can we focus together on Christ, and also reach out (as he commands!) to the world?


And the key to resolving that dilemma is to remember that Jesus is not a caged prisoner of the church, but a living presence in this world for which he lived, in which he died, and to which he brings redeeming power. We form our circle, as a congregation, facing outward, looking for signs of where Christ is already at work…and we jump in alongside whomever else it is that Jesus has gathered.


In this way, the fellowship, our fellowship, grows.


In grace & peace, Pastor Jeff