chatting about churches

Three comments about the church remain with me from our time in NZ in December.

1. "Pastor, could you stop using the Bible in your sermons so that we can invite our friends?"
WOW. It came from a group of young adults in a church with some heritage in biblical preaching. And here I am traveling the world, giving my life to saying things like 'a sermon without the Bible is like communion without the bread and the wine'; or, 'the sermon emerges from the Bible passage like a rose emerges from a bud'. How silly of me?!

Love the way this single rose produces such a variety of blooms ... hmmm?!

I've hung around youth ministries in NZ for 40 years and they do some of the most innovative stuff anywhere. Incredible. But I've asked similar questions all the way through. Is the confidence in the Bible strong enough? Is the understanding of the gospel complete enough? Is the introduction to Jesus full enough? And from there, it is straight to the pastoral issue that has been such a burden all these years: because of these questions, far too many (not all, I realise) 'conversions' are not conversions at all and so far too many back-sliders are not backsliding at all because they weren't really in a place to slide back from to begin with and so far too many church-leavers (around which there is so much concern, understandably) were never really in the church to begin with. The whole issue needs reframing...

An Antidote? Be prepared to do a deeper work with fewer people and be patient for a generation, or two - and that means more Bible (and more of the Jesus it introduces), not less.

2. "Some of our para-church groups have slid into becoming post-church groups."
OUCH. Never, ever thought of it like this before. Immediately examples come to mind, particularly one from a few years ago that caused so much angst. This is huge. It is a thesis topic.

The para-church group tends to start well. They tend to glimpse one part of the gospel that is not receiving the focus it needs and so they give themselves to it. They feel a bit prophetic, a bit cutting edge. They probably are. But for 'some' of them, this one part becomes the main part - maybe even the only part. The glimpse becomes a gaze - and, unknowingly, a shrunken, reductionist understanding of gospel, church and mission can emerge. The local church nearby does not share this agenda and in their unenlightenment, tend to be dismissed. By now they are on a roll. They gather like-minded people and a sense of a movement develops. However they tend to become too homogenous. They start to live in a bit of a bubble, finding it difficult to hear and receive the hard word from outside.

An Antidote? A good, long soak in each one of the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3 (not just the one or two that fit the agenda), recognising that the message of commendation and condemnation to these seven real churches is a representative message to all churches at all times ... and 'those with ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is saying'.

3. "We've visited five local churches on Sundays and we'd be happy to join any one of them."
YEAH. I hope that this encourages any pastors who have got this far with this post. Five churches - and all five get the thumbs-up.  This is from my daughter and her husband, still in their 20s, who have moved back to a part of Auckland that is new to both of them. They are 'participate-in-a-local-church-in-the-area-where-you-live' people and so off they went checking-out some of the local communities. Even at this distance (thousands of miles away) and knowing how tough it is to be a gospel-aligned pastor in NZ today - this was encouraging to hear.

An Antidote? Maybe one is not needed - but make a decision, stick with it and when there are difficulties (because there will be), hang-in there and line yourselves up on the solution-side, rather than the problem side, of the difficulty (at which point I hear my children groan, as they've heard me say that too often).

nice chatting



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