Tuesday, November 08, 2005

SORTING THROUGH THE RUBBLE OF CHURCH


This article was originally written in the summer of 2004 as the Holy Spirit was preparing me to leave the traditional church structure and enter into the wild, vast and widely uncharted territory of being the church in a post-modern world...

Many lessons have since been learned, but this was a catalyst, a starting point of sorts... one of those conversations with friends where the blurred begins coming into focus...



SORTING THROUGH THE RUBBLE OF CHURCH
by Kent C. Williamson

Imagine the most horrific terrorist attack happening to the Church. Your own church’s building laid waste, the sanctuary reduced to dust, church programs bleeding and dying, everything gone… everything. This is the starting point of a journey I took recently with seven friends, seven believers, seven “loved-ones” of the Church who stood with me at our fictitious “ground zero” and helped me sort through the rubble, searching for items necessary to help us (by the power of the Holy Spirit) become more mission-minded, enabling us to be both effective and relevant in a post-modern culture.

The first thing I noticed while standing at our “ground zero” was that the building was gone. Just gone… and I had to ask the question, “do we even need to rebuild it?” And the answer finally came… “no.” The church is not a building with a spire pointed at the heavens. The church is people, like you and me, called by God according to His purpose. Christ lived, died and rose again in order to move the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit from the Tabernacle or Temple, into the heart. When the traditional sanctuary is empty it is void of the Holy Spirit, but when you walk in, the Holy Spirit is there because the Holy Spirit indwells YOU! Not because someone rang a bell in heaven waking the Spirit and sending Him your direction. The same goes for Wal-Mart or Starbucks. If either of these establishments would ever be empty (and trust me they never will be) they too would be void of the Holy Spirit and if you would enter through the doors then the Holy Spirit would be there because the Holy Spirit indwells each believer. So the physical church building does not need to be rebuilt. That doesn’t mean that believers don’t need a place to gather, it means that the gathering doesn’t have to take place in a traditional church setting.

As I began to dig through the debris around me, one of the first items I came across was a communion plate. Tarnished, scratched and dusty… I tucked it under my arm, because I knew we had to take it with us. In order for a mission-minded “church” to be effective and relevant in a post-modern culture there we’re certain things we had to dig out and take with us, and communion was high on the list.

A torn choir robe was found near the altar. I toyed with the idea of taking it, repairing it, and putting back into service. But then I realized it could stay. At first I thought the robe represented worship and that we needed to have it for that purpose, but then I realized it more accurately represented the concept of worship more than worship itself. The image of the choir in the their robes in front of the congregation immediately conjures up an image of praise… not the praise itself. Instead I picked up a hymnal with its cover torn off and decided to bring it with. Much of the poetry contained within speaks to a history of believers faithfully expressing themselves through worship of God. Some of it is deeply thought provoking and profoundly worshipful. Those are the pages I’ll keep. Other pages contain tripe; dribble for a weak believer expressing a weak faith. Those pages I’ll probably eventually tear out, but for now I’ll keep the book, knowing that it will help guide the post modern-man. (Fortunately much of the modern “Jesus is my girlfriend” music has not found its way into many hymnals. If we can help people forget the catchy jingles and horrendously weak lyrics future believers will be better off).

A friend of mine digging in the area near the remains of the church office found the wooden placard that once hung on the wall where we faithfully displayed our attendance numbers. It was in decent shape, but he wisely went ahead and broke it before tossing it back into the rubble. In the reorganized church, numbers will not matter. They will not be used as our gauge for success. We will not be concerned with how many contacts we’ve had, how many professions of faith we’ve heard, or how many re-dedications have taken place. What we will be concerned about is have we lived our faith authentically? Have we loved our neighbor as ourselves? Have we loved the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind? These measuring sticks are far less tangible than how many people were in the “early service,” but far more relevant in a world that longs for realness.

The next casualties we uncovered were "church programs“ and “curriculum." The majority of church programs we came across were dead long before the attack on the church and most of the curriculum was a very poor attempt at the Denomination trying to dictate the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the churched. They did a fine job of allowing the staff to not have to confront heretics… meaning that if the whole church studied “approved curriculum” then no teacher could stray too far into the vast ocean of heresy. Ankle deep in heresy perhaps, but definitely no swimming allowed.

Somebody found the sign that pointed church members to the “Fellowship Hall”. It was broken right between the words Fellowship and Hall. We kept the half that said Fellowship and tossed the other half into the ashes. The word fellowship alone was enough to remind us of our need for drawing together. We didn’t need a specific room where it could take place (giving the idea that it couldn’t take place anywhere else).

Next I heard faint sobbing from behind the crushed pulpit. As I approached I realized it was the pastor. You could tell that his grief was tremendous. We tried to comfort him, but to no avail. We asked him to join us in re-building a church without all the trappings, but he refused. He stood behind that broken pulpit where he had preached a thousand sermons and looked out over what remained of his sanctuary. The sanctuary where hundreds had walked the aisles, and millions had been put into the offering plates. And right then and there he vowed before us and God, that no matter what, he would rebuild it. He would use the same blueprint and the same materials. He would rebuild it exactly the way it was, but it would be better than ever… a bigger choir, more programs, more members, a larger gymnasium… a testimony that God can overcome anything!

I stood there and thought about the poor out in the streets that would never truly be welcome in the new building. I thought about the homosexuals that would never even think of crossing the threshold into the sanctuary. I thought of post-modern man and how he wouldn’t give a **bleep** about this pastors new found “vision.” And that’s when I decided that I would just keep digging. I would dig and look for remains of the faith that are needed for me to live as a missionary to my community. I’ve found a few of them. And when the Holy Spirit tells me I’ve found them all then I will leave this “Ground Zero” and I won’t look back. I will grieve for my loss, but I won’t look back.

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November 2005 Update

OTHER FINDS...

GIVING... We eventually found an offering plate and decided to keep it, but not for the purpose of giving money to ourselves (like many traditional church offerings do*), but for giving directly to those whom the Spirit calls us to give. Talk about freedom! Being able to give directly to the missionaries you feel called to support, the ministries within your own community, state, country, the poor, whomever. It requires us to be much more intentional about our giving, because no one is passing a plate that we can drop a generic check into.

* I recently learned that 83% of my previous traditional church's income was committed for activities, events, payroll, and administration at the church. This means that only 17% is being used outside the walls of the church for missions, community, etc. I'm not certain what percentage should make a church "self-centered", but I'm pretty confidant that 83% would fall into that category.

SERVICE... We also are attempting to learn about corporate service to the community around us. On this one we have a ways to go, but I'm convinced that if the world around us is served by men and women of faith, lives will changed.

PREACHING... "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary" Even though scholars say that St. Francis of Assisi never used this phrasing, I'm a believer in the spirit of this concept. Many Post-Moderns will respond better by seeing the Gospel than by hearing it. That said, some will need to hear it, so be prepared to preach... but we must remember not to throw pearls before swine, and don't preach to those who don't need to be preached to.

TEACHING... Discipleship is critical for new believers... we must make it happen, but it doesn't need to be with a fill-in-the-blank workbook. Teaching my son how to hammer a nail is best done with a hammer and a nail. Pictures and words only go so far... the same is true for discipleship... words and classes can't compete with learning by doing.

Other lessons are still being learned... such is the journey of faith.

2 comments:

Ricky Roubique said...

Kent, I'm so glad that you've decided to post again! It's been much too long, brother.

Great analogy of exactly where I'm at, as well.

May you be blessed on your journey as well.

Fr. Wade Fahnestock+ said...

So what if I give all I have to feed the poor and have not love? So what if I speak in tongues and have not love? So what if I suffer as a confessor or die as a martyr and have not love? So what if I rebuild a church building, preach the Word and administer the sacraments and have not love?

Activities and actions, which add tassels to my garments or phylacteries to my head, without love really scores a big "ground zero."

On the flip side, many missions and missionaries use 100% of their income to just keep a roof over their head and their family fed. But they preach the Word and minister the Sacraments, serving the Lord. Wasn't Judas the 'keeper of the purse'? Did he really have the poor in mind? Regardless, both past and present-day disciples are prone to 'think' thoughts that are not the Master's thoughts. After the mount transfiguration building committee proposed to build three tabernacles, God said, "Listen to my Son!" After the blessed confession of "Thou art the Christ", the next words were rebuked.

We can only encourage others to be faithful to the calling of the Lord and remember the poor (as Early Church Council recommends).

In all actuality, hopefully the 83% of this 'traditional' church's income was filled with activities, events, payroll and administration for the 'perfecting' of the saints not simply the 'entertaining' of the saints.

Hasn't the 'church' been criticized no matter what it does? And hasn't the 'church' equally criticized and even executed its wayward members? What about the printing and distribution of gospel tracts or the Scriptures in the language of the people? Should we criticize printed 'catechisms' which are useful to instruct and encourage others in the faith? Many liturgies, chocked full of Scripture, have been used by the church. Many have allowed the flame in their heart to die and thereby blame the 'dead' liturgy.

Is it true that many congregations will vote to build a multi-million dollar facility, but won't approve a $23,000 salary for a youth pastor. But many multi-million dollar facilities are being used to reach their communities and have several youth pastors.

When we lose our focus, when we lose sight of the vision the Lord has called us to fulfill, it is very easy in our search for 'what we should be doing' to get distracted by the imperfections in other ministries. We can become impatient and judgmental. I recommend repentance, fasting and prayer, love and Spirit-led discipleship for me, you and all seeking to follow Jesus.

wade fahnestock+
www.BlueKirk.org