“Sit Back, Relax and Enjoy the Service” May Be Killing Your Church

Karl  Vaters has some highly provocative and probing thoughts on our approach to “church” and getting people to attend our weekend worship gatherings. – STEVE

Sit back, relax and enjoy the service” may be one of the most dangerous sentences ever uttered in church.

It sits on the Bad Idea shelf next to “Let’s erect a building and tell people they have to come here if they want to worship Jesus.”

I expect promises of great customer service in a restaurant, on an airplane, or in a movie theater. But the idea that church is a place where we pay others to do ministry as we sit passively, consuming and passing judgment on the product being offered, may be the greatest single reason for the anemia of the modern, western church.

The church is not a customer service business. We’re a community for life transformation. We do not exist to serve passive consumers, but to equip and activate disciples.

But, like the monkey stubbornly clinging to the apple inside the cage, we’ll never free ourselves to be biblically active communities for life-transformation until church leaders let go of our  please-the-consumer mindset.

Let’s Stop the Bait-and-Switch

It’s bait-and-switch to tell church-goers that we’re here to serve them, only to teach them a few months later, when they attend the membership class that – surprise! – you’re not supposed to be a consumer after all. You’re here to do the work of ministry.

And then we wonder why they don’t step up and help out more often. It would be like going to Starbucks until you achieved Gold Card status, only to get handed, not just a Gold Card, but a green apron, too. On a volunteer basis, no less.

Bait-and-switch doesn’t create passionate, worshipful, loving disciples. It creates angry, confused and resentful religion-shoppers.

Change “Sit and Watch” To “Come and Participate”

Years ago, I realized that this was a problem for our church, so we stopped offering sit-and-watch events as our church’s main front door experience.

Simply put, we don’t waste our time and money on religious stage shows to entice non-believers to come to church any more. Instead, we invite them to spend time with us as we live life together. 

For instance, twice a year we have an event we call Share Day, in which the entire church body divides into work groups after church on Sunday to serve together on various community service projects. On most Share Days, we have participants that have never attended the church before, because we’ve invited them to help out.

When we fill up Christmas bags to bring to needy children in Mexico, we offer empty bags to our unchurched friends, neighbors and preschool families to fill up. And they do!

Even on Christmas Eve, we have a pre-service time when families can get together to make ornaments, decorate cookies and take a Christmas photo together while snacking on goodies and warming up with hot apple cider. Why? This may be the only time a lot of people – especially visiting family members – will visit a church this year, so we give them a chance to interact, not just sit and be talked to.

When community service and/or interactive fellowship is someone’s first experience with a church body, it sets an important precedent. They know right up front that this is what church is all about. It’s where we live life together in service to God and as a blessing to others.

People Want to Worship, Connect and Give

The church was never meant to be a religious stage show..

And, let’s face it, even if it was, Small Churches don’t have the resources to put on as good a show as our big church counterparts. Oh, who are we kidding? Even megachurches can’t compete with the quality of entertainment people can access 24/7 from the phone in their pocket.

But we can be great at worship, community and generosity.

When someone decides to get out of bed on Sunday morning to go to church for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – they’re not doing it because they don’t have other entertainment options. They’re doing it to meet a need they may not even fully realize yet.

They want to connect. With God and with us.

A great, interactive Small Church may be the best place on earth to do that.

FOR MORE KARL VATERS

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GOD, APPLEBEES, TIPS … AND MISGUIDED CHRISTIANS

This comes from the blog PROVOCATIVE CHRISTIAN LIVING by Don Lachich.  All I can say is “Amen.” – Steve

 Once again under the category of Stupid Things Christians Do, we have the story of a pastor complained about a tip for an Applebee’s waitress. And of course the story went viral which is what prompted this post. When the bill arrived it included an automatic tip for 18% due to the size of the party. The pastor wrote a note on the receipt saying, “I give God 10% why should you get 18″, then wrote zero in the additional tip line. Originally I thought she scratched out the 18% and gave nothing. Thanks to a reader who pointed out the error I was corrected. But that still left me thinking that the pastors response was just not the kind of story and behavior we want to connect with followers of Jesus.

Sadly, when you have a few billion people on the planet who call themselves Christians, there are going to be regular examples of people who embarrass the rest of us and give fuel to anyone who wants to attack, God, religion, or religious people. I am guilty of this myself on occasion. When I first heard this story I thought, no, can’t be. No pastor would be that short-sighted. Surely this is an atheist posing as a pastor in order to create a story, please let it be so. No such luck. It turns out an actual pastor of an actual church is the guilty party. We know this because she complained to the restaurant manager that the waitress violated her privacy by posting a picture of the offending note on the web. Now the pastor and her church are getting their fifteen minutes of infamy.

It was bad enough that the pastor in question complained to the waitress in writing and pulled God into the fiasco. Then she compounds it by protesting that the waitress is the one behaving badly. Because of her complaint the waitress was fired! She lost her job because a pastor who acted badly in the first place complained that she was caught. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? (sorry, I had to scream at that point before my head exploded)

Here’s the deal. I understand that you may find the automatic tip of 18% to be a bit cheeky. But that is no reason to bring God into it. He is happy with the 10% He asks for and seems to have no problem with people being blessed with a bigger percentage. When the standard tip in the USA was 15% I never heard God complain about that. In fact as I read Scripture I am fairly certain you can make the case that God would love it if we gave all we have to people who are poor, or in need.

Second, we are told to love others as we want to be loved. Seems obvious to me that no one wants to be loved by receiving a note like that about how much someone loves God instead of you. Jesus gives us the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then adds that loving our neighbor as ourselves is just as important. He makes the two go hand in hand. It’s like what Sinatra said about love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage, “you can’t have one without the other”. So waitress stiffing pastor who claims such a love for God that you tithe, God is not impressed. You didn’t love your neighbor and tried to justify it by your love for God. That just doesn’t fly with The Almighty.

Jesus dealt with some religious leaders who claimed they couldn’t help their needy parents because they dedicated the money to God. He rebuked them soundly. I think He wanted to smite them as well but thought better of it. The point being, people have been using God as an excuse for sometime in order to not give to the needs of fellow human beings. God wasn’t buying it then and He isn’t now.

If anything, Christians, especially pastors, should be known as big tippers, givers to all in need, people who hold their resources in open hands for others to share. After all, those resources come from God for the purpose of meeting our needs AND blessing others. At Northland Church, one of the seven responses we think we need to make to God, based on who He is and what He has done for us, is to Live Generously. That means to give freely of our time, talent, and treasure to anyone in need, for the glory of God. After all, God so loved us that He generously gave His only son to die on a cross, be risen again, and ascended into Heaven, so we might have eternal life. Surely we can give a little bigger tip to someone who has served us in this life. Love your neighbor as yourself. It is that simple and clear.

THE MUPPETS AND HOLY NONSENSE

From Spencer Burke’s blog THE OOZE

THE MUPPETS AND HOLY NONSENSE

BY JOSH LARSEN

How I love the Muppets. So free of moralizing and sterile family values, they’re nevertheless imbued with a joy that is, at its very core, good. I consider what they do – with all their felt and comic fury – a sort of holy nonsense.

Created by the late Jim Henson and beloved by a generation raised on their 1976-1981 television variety show and subsequent movies, the Muppets return to the big screen courtesy of cowriter-producer-star Jason Segel (a member of that generation). Lovingly crafted, amusingly self-referential and deliriously silly, “The Muppets” isn’t just true to its tradition. It’s true to a contemporary world deserving of quality family films but too often populated with the likes of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked.” It’s a corrective, not a bout of nostalgia.

Segel stars as Gary, a cheerful, small-town guy who lives with his brother Walter. Walter looks, well, like a Muppet. No one remarks on this much – though a photo from the brothers’ high-school prom catches Walter’s date in a hilarious double take – until the pair, along with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), visit the now-closed Muppet studio in Hollywood. When they learn of a nefarious developer’s plan to take over the property, Walter convinces Kermit the Frog to come out of retirement and put on a studio-saving telethon.

Walter finds his true place in the process, but that’s about the extent of the lesson-learning in “The Muppets.” Ever since the episode featuring the tale of the grasshopper and the ant, in which the grasshopper moves to Florida and the ant gets stepped on, it’s been clear that this group is hardly interested in the moral of the story. That anti-tradition is carried on in “The Muppets.” Although Kermit is given to inspirational speeches, it’s notable that during one of them he’s flattened against the wall by an opening door.

Instead of lessons, we mostly get nonsense. Animal in anger management. Chris Cooper, as the evil developer, breaking into a gangster rap. Chickens doing a dance routine to a Cee Lo Green song (we can only assume it’s called “Cluck You”). Yes, occasionally, incidentally, a lesson is learned. As Walter tells Gonzo at one point, “When I was a kid and saw you recite ‘Hamlet’ while jumping your motorbike through a flaming hoop, it, well, it made me feel like I could do anything.”

The holiness of this nonsense – the spiritual joy it brings – can be difficult to quantify. As Frederick Buechner wrote in “The Hungering Dark,” “Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes.” I happened to see “The Muppets” a few hours after attending a wake, one marking a particularly unexpected and senseless death. If we have such nonsensical grief in our lives, doesn’t it stand that God provides nonsensical joy as a counter? A time to weep, and a time to laugh? Holy nonsense blows on the fading embers of our soul, bringing it back to glowing life.

That’s not to say this nonsense is only palliative. It also points to the world of which we live in hope, a restored creation where brokenness, strife and grief are nowhere to be found. In their place, filling that welcome vacuum, there surely will be room for the silly alongside praise for the sublime.

We’re far afield from the Muppets now, but maybe not so far as it might seem. “As long as there are singing frogs and joking bears,” Walter says at one point, “the world can’t be such a bad place after all.” There’s more to it, of course – much more – but the holy nonsense of the Muppets is a very good start.
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Josh Larsen is editor of www.ThinkChristian.net, where this review originally appeared. He also writes about movies at www.LarsenOnFilm.com and at Facebook.com/larsenonfilm.

IT’S JUST THE GRAND CANYON

Love this post from PC Walker – Steve

It’s just the Grand Canyon

What do we do when God seems distant and hard to see? There are those times when God seems so difficult to know. I find encouragement in Romans 1 verse 20.

“His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.”

We are able to see God in the things he has made. If we would take more time to notice these things we would come to see him and know him more clearly.

We would stand at the lip of the Grand Canyon unaffected.  A huge problem is that we have lost all wonder.  Nothing amazes us anymore.  We grow more and more numb to the amazing!  We forget how powerful God really is because none of these things amaze us anymore.

Remember being scared to death of a thunderstorm?  Remember when the Grand Canyon WAS amazing before seeing it in a million pictures?  We lose all the wonder when trees, natural running streams and crashing waves, enormous mountains are no big deal to us.  We see them every day, in pictures or as we walk outside.  But we forget the amazing things we learned in elementary school; about how trees grow, the details about how waves are created.  We forget all those things because we learn it and are no longer amazed.

We do our ability to praise a disservice!  We do God a disservice when we are no longer amazed by these things.  Praise is our amazement expressed!  The problem is that we simply are not amazed.

 

FRANCIS CHAN – “THE NEW MIDDLE ROAD”

ULTIMATELY, FAITH … WORKS

Two kinds of Christians undermine the witness of the Body of Christ.  The first are people who believe that faith is defined by believing in a set of doctrinal propositions and focusing on that belief as their “ticket to heaven.”  A right set of beliefs is more important than actions that reflect those beliefs.

The second is the group of Christians who still embrace the world’s evaluative standard of “what’s in it for me?”  They are often looking for a method or program that will make them happy. And they want to find such a solution that costs them as little as possible.

“Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 2:18, New Living Translation

Ultimately faith works. By that I don’t mean faith is simply effective for coping with living. I mean faith, if it is true faith, works.

The world is concerned with tangible benefits. But tangible almost always has to do with material things.  A place in my Father’s House in the future is a tangible thing, and rightly so. But if it makes me so heavenly minded that I stop worrying about those who are poor and oppressed on this planet, or those whose lives are a shambles on this side of eternity, then I have lost the true meaning of Jesus’ words, “I am my Father are one.”

If all faith is to me is a means to make life easier on this planet, then I will be loath to put those tangible benefits at risk to share my faith or to lay down my life for a friend.  I will never choose the way of sacrificial servanthood.

Ultimately faith works.  It takes what it believes and daily applies it to the utmost to do what Jesus came to earth to do and commissioned us to do until he returns.  Truth faith is neither a set of beliefs or a set of tools. True faith is a lifestyle that reflects what Jesus would have us to do.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L. Dunn