I was teaching a session of a Kairos course at Luther Seminary yesterday on “Faith and Everyday Life.” I began by telling them, “Faith In Everyday Life is a difficult thing for me to talk about because faith and everyday life isn’t something that we do at Jacob’s Well. [pause] It is the ONLY thing we do at Jacob’s Well. If something doesn’t relate to everyday life, we don’t bother with it. Why would we?”
If nothing else, it got everyone to look up from their screens. We then spent an hour talking about how we do it.
Teaching that class gave me a new way of looking at what I strive to be about. I know this is an ideal we don’t live up to all the time, but nonetheless I believe it is a fundamental commitment of our community [this goes way back, see this entry]. Why devote time, effort, money or staff at something that doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives? Churches get caught up with events, traditions, structures and activities that have achieved ‘sacredness’ other than helping people live their faith. That’s a problem. It happens naturally, but it is our job to continually ask, “Is this event, tradition, structure, event building community, equipping people, opening lives to the presence of God?” And if the answer is no, then it’s time to re-evaluate.
What helps you connect faith and life? What aspects of “church” make it feel distant and foreign from everyday life?
Our community, Jacob’s Well, just started a focus for the next 3 weeks today entitled, “The Elephant in the Room.” We figure to be a healthy community we need to openly and honestly deal with them from time to time. We don’t expect to all agree about them or to resolve them all, but they really do lose their negative power over us when we do this.This week was called “The Rules are Dead. ALL of Them.” It was about… rules! You know, all those things people think they have to, or wonder if they need to do to be “Good Christians.” My take is that Jesus made it pretty clear that it isn’t about the rules, it’s about relationships. Relationships that free us to be who we really are, but tie us with bonds of responsibility.
The service was pretty conversational. Thanks to a couple of people who helped me talk about this complicated topic, Melissa Lock and Thaddeus Lesiak, and all the people who shared texts for us to add their thoughts and questions about “good Christian” rules. Here are some of them:
The Y’s and N’s were to these 3 questions:
1. Is God a God of rules?
2. Is the church a church of rules?
3. Is Jacob’s Well a community of rules?
- 1. Y&N (God has expectations) 2. Some more than others. 3. N
- Y, Y & N 3. JW has Guidelines, not rules. 1. God have us 10 commandments which are our rules. 2. Traditional Church is littered with Man’s arbitrary rules to ensure order and compliance.
- Having to attend church on Sunday.
- Rule: Everything in the bible is real and I must follow all those rules. Question: isn’t that ridiculous?
- How can we know that our God is THE god?
- What does “no one comes to the Father but by me?” Not a rule?
- Do you have to give money to the church? They didn’t answer the question about giving money to the church. 🙂
- “Real Christians vote Republican” versus “Democrats know what Christ’s love is really about.” How do you address “us vs them” within Christianity? How do we connect?
- But do you need all of that to be a church… what if “church” wasn’t even just NOT having a building, but not gathering in conventional ways (with Sunday School programs, music, etc) but meeting out in the community on Sunday mornings and reaching out to the community, serving others as Jesus would, really experiencing what GOD is, who GOD is… is there a rule that you have to meet with music, a pastor to preach a message and Sunday School for kids – for us to be a church (isn’t a “church” defined differently in the bible – where one or more meet in my name – why do we have so many “rules” about what a valid “meeting” is).
- Answer the wallet question. We skipped it.
- Do you have to believe in God?
- Rule: to be a Christian you have to go to church, be kind, generous, and never say or do mean or selfish things, or make poor choices.
- Rule: You must read/know the Bible and pray regularly.
- I have a lot of questions! To be a Christian, you have to be ‘certain’, no doubt.
I’m speaking to a class of students at Luther Seminary on Friday who are preparing to do ‘mission development’ as either a new enterprise, or within the context of an already established church. LOTS of things to talk about, including a bit about the story of Jacob’s Well, but I’ve only got 45 minutes. So here is the 5 point checklist I’m giving them (and yes, it feels a bit inadequate to me too.)
- Are you really called? Are you willing to do whatever it takes? (’cause it will take it!) Who are you as a leader? (strengths/non-strengths, assets/liabilities)
- What is your vision? What are your expectations, what does ‘success’ look like? Is your vision clear enough for others to follow and big enough to need God to make it happen?
- What is your plan? (models you are watching, strategy and systems, including funding)
- Who is your team? How will you find them? How will you prepare them and use them to complement and balance you?
- How will you evaluate? Don’t overlook this!
Given this is just a sketch… what’s missing? Particularly anything that can’t be fitted into one of these 5 points?
What is Leadership today?
It’s not looking at the report of Protestantism losing it’s lead while the religion of None swells its ranks and saying, “Oh no, what can we do to get them back?”
Leadership is asking, each and every day, “How can we be church today?” and then trying to be it.
Laurie Goodstein reported on the Pew Research findings in the 10/9 New York Times (read it here) that protestants no longer make up a majority of the US population. What’s more, it is a rapidly changing trend. And it isn’t because people are switching churches. They are simply opting out.
The clanging bells and flashing lights of this warning might just get our attention this time. So, in case you couldn’t see it, hear it coming before, well… business as usual is coming to an end. We are staring face to face with the fact that what churches are doing is connecting with and engaging fewer and fewer people every year. And it isn’t because God has changed. People simply have not been experiencing sufficient relevance or value in churches to make them orient their world around them.
It’s time to get out from behind the safety of our institutions and doctrinal checklists and start being what we tried to define, describe and defend. It’s time to be the church. It’s time to make mistakes, build less, love more. It’s time to stop worrying about the orthodoxy of what we believe and how we do things, and to start risking the extravagance of living out love no matter what it looks like.
Maybe people aren’t leaving the church because they don’t believe in God, in fact the study showed that only a minority of those who have given up on church have also given up on God. They are leaving because they don’t see the church being big enough to hold what they believe God is. So they have left hoping to get a peek of God out in the immensity of the rest of life.
In case you were wondering, it looks like the stop arm is descending from the semaphore. It isn’t when or if things really need to change; it is time. Time to let God be BIG again. So big that God bursts the seams of church and we go spilling out all over the place. Those places all those people are. Those places where God already is.
Folks, this article… the way I see it, it’s good news.
Posted in change, church, church transitions, emerging church, God, love, precarious, risk, Why Believe?
Tagged believe, change, church, emergent church, faith, God, New York Times article, not-church, Pew Forum, praxis, protestants