Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Mormon, A Catholic and A Christian Walked into a Church One Sunday…(no joking)

ImageYesterday I spent an hour with a young 20-something unmarried couple looking for a church “they can agree on.” He’s Mormon (devout, but open). She’s Catholic (spiritual, but not devout). Neither wants to convert to the other’s faith but both love each other and want to get married (after 4 years of dating). He still attends his Mormon church semi-regularly but she has church hopped or stayed away.

This couple came to our church looking for a place of acceptance, open to our Message but not willing to give up what they believe to be true. They had visited other churches and found many proved too judgmental, shallow, or cold (or at least felt that way).  Thankfully, they also confessed they found openness, peace and even friends within our faith community.  They may have even found a place to be married and a preacher to do it.

For the better part of that hour we engaged in a theological duel.  I am no stranger to Mormon theology, history or practice (and he soon learned and respected my understanding of his faith).  On the other hand, this Mormon missionary knew his stuff too.  He countered several of my arguments with reasonable points of his own.  I learned as much from him as he learned from me.  He sharpened my own Faith and that’s good.

We departed, after this theological conversation he initiated, with a mutual respect.  They said they’d be back (and I hope to see them next week). In the end, I simply invited both seekers into a journey with Jesus. I encouraged them to remember that Real Faith is messy and murky and often what we believed to be “true” can be far from the truth. I also confessed we don’t follow a prophet or pope, ordinances or ritual, but Christ alone. We live out what Scripture reveals…as perfect as we can.  Man created religion.  God wants a relationship.

It was a Message that seemed to resonate with both these young seekers.  Neither needed someone to criticize or condemn their church (which they had already experienced).  They  already knew their religion had issues.  However, there is also security in what they believed and was taught to be true.  To reject it entirely was a leap of faith far too great, especially for this young Mormon.

I totally understand their desire to hold on to what is good (and believed to be of God).  If what I believe is authentic and life-changing, then I don’t need to beat someone who has a different religious idea into submission.  I actually believe God will do that work.  My role is simply to respectfully challenge, reveal, prove and promote THE Truth, THE Way and THE Life.  Argument won’t win the day, but love will.    

You see, the largest segment of those who don’t attend church today aren’t “unchurched” but “formerly churched.” This growing segment of the American population is largely young Millennials (born 1982-2004) who grew up in church youth ministries, religious institutions and spiritual places.  Most of them aren’t interested in returning to church until the topic of children come up.  Suddenly, two people from two different faith backgrounds are faced with a dilemma.  That’s how this Mormon-Catholic couple found us.  In what faith will we raise our kids? 

The formerly-churched seek a place that respects their past, pushes their Faith forward and connects them to authentic friendships. Before they can be converted to real Faith, they must (like all of us) be de-converted from the prisons of religion (traditions, rituals, faulty ideas and even heresy) that all of us experience.

Ultimately, conversion emerges out of conversation not condemnation.  Change happens from dialogue rooted in doubts.  Authentic Christianity is a powerful force for revival, renewal and restoration, but the process isn’t microwavable.  Real Christianity, like any good soup, must simmer for a season.  Truth happens.

And that type of true Christianity is attractive to anyone…you, me, Catholic or Mormon.

The Shape of Church to Come

ImageI have little doubt that within 50 years the “church experience” many hold so dear and dogmatically will be completely different.  It must or the future looks rather bleak for this institution we call the “Church.”   But if there’s one thing I know:  God won’t let His Church die on the vine, so maybe it’s time the vine (a.k.a., Christians) started to re-imagine the Church yet to emerge.  My friend Thom Schultz is also writing on this topic and worth a read.

As web and wireless communication continue to reinvent how we connect, the Church itself will need to also RE-FORM (just like it did in the REFORMATION 500 years ago) to stay relevant with postmodern culture.  Emerging churches have tried new wineskins, some with success and others with failure.  But let’s give them some credit:  at least they tried.  Too many churches, particularly smaller ones and lots of very large  ones, are just hiding their heads in the sand figuring this “postmodern” season will soon pass (it won’t), hunkering and bunkering to tradition and what worked in the 80s and 90s (or 50s, 60s and 70s), or simply riding what’s left of their growth wave (as it slowly loses momentum).

The shape of the church to come?  Smaller and bigger, faster and slower, future-fitted and historically-rooted.  The modern “either/or” church will have to reinvent “both/and” or face obsolescence and eventual obscurity.

Hence, my fearless predictions:

First, churches will become smaller (homes) and larger (massive networks) all wired for interaction, experience and image-rooted communication around worship, discipleship and service.  Churches will become even more “edgy” in reaching particular fringe groups.  The “one size fits all” mainline/middle of the road church will slowly fade.  Home fellowships will continue to find favor and don’t be surprised if the new “multi-site” is homes not buildings.  Smaller, more focused worship to tight communities with a live, brief message (10-12 minutes) from a central teaching pastor, followed by spiritual conversation and conversions within that niche.  Modern churches scratched itches.  Postmodern communities scratch niches.

Preaching and teaching, like all postmodern communication will also reinvent.  The sage from the stage is a T-Rex as postmodern culture prefers coaches, mentors, facilitators and guides from the side.  Sermons will consequently become shorter, deeper, with less application (leaving that to conversations to follow).  The Bible is a book (technology).  The emerging Church, incorporating digital formats, will certainly reform around more ancient and accurate terms like “Scriptures” and the “Word of God.”

Worship will be more interactive and experiential rather than performance-based.  Can you imagine a day when everyone will bring a song, a sermon or a special insight to the worship experience?  Again, home-based focused worship experiences with an interactive, time-intensive Lord’s Supper incorporated will no doubt emerge.  Worship will be timeless, with scheduled starts but no particular end.  The Spirit will lead, not a song leader.  Don’t be surprised if someone falls to sleep in church…not at 10:30 a.m. but 10:30 p.m.  Churches and their worship experiences will meet 24/7/365.

The church building may even be a dinosaur.  The reason?  No need.  Plus, rising U.S. government pressure to tax church facilities and property will force churches to rethink how and where they meet.  The megachurch will face grim days as monstrous buildings have little value, except to schools (who will be in the same pickle due to online learning).  The worship area in many churches is a concert or lecture hall and largely useless for authentic connection and community (especially with sloped, theater floors, pews and chairs bolted to the floor).  The most important immediate space for churches will be their atriums (the new fellowship hall).  The hottest commodity remains the small old-fashioned church buildings (not rural) that can be quickly renovated into community centers, coffee shops, meeting spaces and neighborhood connection points.  Still spiritual.  Still Christ-centered.  Need an example?  Check out Rembrandts in Eagle, ID!

The Church of the future will help people unplug, retreat, sabbath and rest.  They will focus on congregational health not just growth.  Sanctuaries will be just that:  safe places to rediscover Purpose.  Pastors will no longer be sequestered in offices or on stages.  Preaching will evolve from “I told you” to “we told us.”  Elderships will re-emerge as essential guides and guards to doctrine, vision and values.  Leaders will lead from the edge and bottom, not the middle and top.

How do I know this will happen?  Easy.  The cultural signs are all around.  Wider culture, immersed in a wireless, web economy, is reforming around interactivity, experiences and images.  Starbucks figured it out.  So did movements from the Tea Party to Occupy.  Facebook operates like church community should:  fast and fluid, invitations to friend/de-friend, transparent conversation.  Wikipedia operates like church communication/education should:  open-sourced, anyone can contribute, links to research, flags for questionable content.  Craigslist operates like church mission should:  open-sourced, services listed, intentional targets.

It many ways the 21st century Church will resemble the first-century Church:  fluid, fast, fascinating!  We just still have growing pains to endure before we enjoy it.  The 21st century church will be rounded, not squared; 3D not 1D; participatory and personal not programmed; organic not organized; a Body not a building.

The shape of this coming Church will revive current (and then aging) postmodern generations to reconsider Christianity.  Until now, at best, they’ve experienced only modern churchianity:  boxes, buildings and boredom.

And they’re leaving in droves.

Like any birth, the process will be messy, painful and emotional.  But JOY will come in the mourning.  And the Church of tomorrow will look and act nothing like the Church of today.  We’ve seen that one before, too.  It happened in the first-century (as the Church emerged out of Judaism).  It happened in the fourth century (as the Church emerged out of political and social oppression).  It happened in the sixteenth century (as the Church emerged out of Roman Catholicism).  Each of these were driven by technological or cultural innovations (from Roman roads to printing presses) that changed all the rules.

And it’s happening again.  The old guard may not like it, want it or embrace it, but its happening again.  Ignoring it won’t work.  Casting stones at the prophets won’t stop it.  Building a bunker won’t stall it.

A new Church is emerging and will continue to emerge.

And that’s a beautiful thing!

How To Preach Without Converting Anybody (Charles Finney)

ImageThe great 19th century evangelist Charles Finney wrote this timeless critique of sermons in his day titled “HOW TO PREACH WITHOUT CONVERTING ANYBODY.”  Still seems rather relevant:

Preach on every doctrine that centers the attention on man rather than Jesus. Teach every doctrine that makes man the center of God’s attention rather than God the center of man’s devotion. Tell people only what God will do for them.

Avoid preaching about the necessity of a radical change of heart, through the truth revealed to the heart by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Let your supreme motive to be popular with all people, then, of course, your preaching will be suited for that purpose, and not to convert souls to Christ.

Avoid preaching doctrines that are offensive to the carnal mind, so that no one should say to you, as they did of Christ, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?”

Make no distinct points, and do not disturb the consciences of your hearers so that they may become truly alarmed about their souls.

Avoid all illustrations, repetitions, and expressive sentences that may compel people to remember what you say.

Avoid all heat and enthusiasm in your delivery, so that you never make the impression that you really believe what you say.

Make appeals to the emotions, and not the conscience, of your hearers.

Be careful not to testify from your own personal experience of the power of the gospel, so that you never should produce the conviction upon your hearers that you have something which they need.

Do not stir up uncomfortable memories by reminding your hearers of their past sins.

Denounce sin in a general way, but make no reference to the specific sins of your present audience.

Do not make the impression that God commands your listeners here and now to obey the truth. Do not let them think that you expect them to commit themselves right on the spot to give their hearts to God.

Give the impression that they are expected to go away in their sins, and to consider the matter at later time of their convenience.

Preach salvation by grace; but ignore the condemned and lost condition of the sinner so that he never should understand what you mean by grace, and know his need of it.

Preach the gospel as a remedy or a cure, but conceal or ignore the fatal disease of the sinner.

Do not speak of the spirituality of God’s holy law (by which comes the knowledge of sin), so that the sinner never should see his lost condition and repent.

Make no appeals to the fears of sinners; but give them the impression that they have no reason to fear.

Preach Christ as an infinitely friendly and good-natured being. Ignore those scathing rebukes of sinners and hypocrites which so often made His hearers tremble.

Do not rebuke the worldly tendencies of the church, so that you should never hurt their feelings, and finally convert some of them.

Admit, either obviously or casually, that all men have some moral goodness in them; so that sinners should never understand that they need a radical change of heart, from sin to holiness.

Say so little of hell that your people will think that you do not believe in its existence yourself.

Make the impression that, if God is as good as you are, He could not send anyone to hell.

Make no disagreeable reference to the teachings of self-denial, cross-bearing, and crucifixion to the world, so that you should never convict and convert some of your church members.

Do not rebuke extravagance in dress, so that you should never make an uncomfortable impression on your vain and worldly church members.

Encourage lots of church socials, and attend them yourself.

Aim to make your hearers pleased with themselves and pleased with you, and be careful especially not to wound the feelings of anyone.

Make sure you avoid preaching to those who are present. Preach about sinners, but not to them. Say “they,” and not “you,” so that anyone should never take your subject personally, and apply it to their own life, Securing the salvation of their soul.

Preach that the new birth is something God deposits in people, not a fundamental change in the ultimate purpose of our lives.

Never tell people that they must cease from serving self and serve God and do His will.

Never tell them that repentance is man’s ability and responsibility to turn from his sin to God! Teach them to delay turning away from all known sin toward God.

Preach predestination in such a way that results in fatalism and apathy on the part of all people. Make each person believe that God has already determined who shall be saved, and nothing can change His will. You never want anyone to think that their actions can make any difference.

Preach that man is totally unable to obey God. Teach him that no one can turn to God, but he must wait upon God to turn (change) him. Make sure that no one realizes his true responsibility requiring him to repent in order to be saved. You never want anyone to know that man can turn from sin to God but the real problem is that he will not!

Preach that everyone is born a sinner and a criminal. Teach that every baby is born guilty before God. You never want anyone to consider the fact that man is born morally innocent. You do not want anyone to know that he becomes a sinner because, in his rebellion, he has refused to love God with all his heart according to the light and has selfishly sought his own happiness above all else.

Preach that a person can be saved without making Jesus his lord.

Teach that holiness is just an option and not a requirement of the gospel. Teach them that they can be Christian without becoming true disciples.

Preach eternal security in such a way that requires no perseverance in faith or continuance in holiness on the part of the believer. Make every person think he has his ticket to heaven that is all paid for so that he will always safely scoff at all calls for repentance and righteous.

Teach Christians that sin is a normal and natural part of their everyday life and that they can never truly expect to ever overcome sin through the power of Christ.

Preach that no Christian needs to do anything. Teach them that they are safe and heaven bound even if their lives are disobedient and rebellious.

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