Category Archives: Church

Space, church seating, and tradition

Was in an interesting discussion the other day, talking about traditions of space in a church’s history. OK, we were talking about why people sit in the same pew year after year, even if that means sitting in a spot that is isolated from others.

When I was growing up, we always sat in the front section, toward the left. It was exciting when I was old enough to sit in the front middle with the rest of the youth group. After leaving for college, I would sit with the other university students on the right side of the auditorium whenever I visited.

At some point, my parents began sitting in the back. My dad had some health issues and would sometimes need to get up during the service. And you could park closer to the exit nearest that back section.

I was always a visitor when we sat in the back section. Not just because we were in the back, but that was part of it. It was a reminder that the congregation was no longer exactly the same as when I was growing up. Others of my parents’ friends had also rotated to the back. Almost no one sat where they did when I was young.

If you’re waiting for a deep theological point to be made, I don’t have one. A practical point would be to not make assumptions about why people sit where they do. And also, respect the fact that for many, where they sit has a deeper meaning than their mere proximity to the pulpit area.

A glimpse of ministry in Matthew.

Heard Carson Reed share some thoughts on church leadership this weekend. Really liked something he pointed out from Matthew. I’d never noticed the parallelism between these two passages:

“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)

“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” (Matthew 9:35)

Dr. Reed pointed out that these verses seem to describe the material that lies between them, showing how Jesus did three things:

  • Proclaimed the kingdom
  • Taught in the synagogues
  • (Dr. Reed compared this with spiritual formation)

  • Healed every affliction

He then noted the similarity of thought with the commission he gave his disciples in the next chapter:

“And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matthew 10:7–8)

His point was that these things describe what the church should be doing today.

A few of my own thoughts:

  • I think the teaching and proclaiming actually were one thing, which explains why the teaching part is gone in Chapter 10.
  • As someone else in our group pointed out, these verses also include the idea of going. Jesus didn’t set up shop and wait for people to come to him. It would have been easy to establish Jesus University and still teach and heal. Yet he went and told his disciples to go.

Anyway, I liked the way Dr. Reed related these passages. Any thoughts?

Different drummers and keeping step

As I increasingly find myself marching to the beat of a different drummer than those around me, I’m trying to learn how to keep step with the church. I don’t worry too much about society in general; I don’t mind not fitting in there. But I need to know how to love and serve in a church (broad sense, not local church) where many see things differently than I.

It’s funny. When you’re younger, it almost seems appropriate to feel out of step. You’re a rebellious youth, with new vision and a spirit of restoration. You’re calling the church back to what it should be.

As it gets older, if you’re not in step, then you’re holding the church back. You’re not following the Spirit. You’re clinging to tradition.

For my money, the two situations are virtually identical. The question is how to find the grace to deal with the situation.

Suggestions?

How could we have been so stupid?

I don’t always comment on the links I share in the “Links to Go,” but I thought the first one today was very helpful. As we look back, we often marvel at the stupidity of the things we’ve done in the past. As the article notes, that should sound a note of caution for us today; one day we’ll quite likely look back harshly on things we think and do today.

Which is something I think we especially need to remember in the church. We look back on the way the church was in the past, be it 10 years ago or a 100 years ago. As we do, we wonder how people could have been so blind, how they could have not seen the obvious truths in Scripture.

Be forewarned: we’ll feel the same way in the future about the church of today. How could we not have seen? How could we have believe that? How could we have done this or not done that?

As the article suggests, realizing this trend should help us to show more grace toward others and toward ourselves.

What kind of knowledge does a church need?

In these blog posts, I’m looking at power struggles in the church, especially those caused by a lack of regard for a church’s identity and culture (as well as an over-dependence on traditionalism). One thing that causes conflict in the church is a failure to recognize different kinds of knowledge.

On the one hand, we have ministers with theological training. That’s one of the more obvious types of knowledge in a congregation. Some churches value such training above all else; other congregations are wary of training received outside the church itself. Many ministers feel that their training gives them a voice of authority within the church, while many members and church leaders feel that “book learning” is of little value in the real world. That’s an obvious source of conflict.

I personally feel that theological training is important and prepares people to deal with some of the issues a church faces. But only some. We need other kinds of knowledge as well, such as:

  • Bible knowledge — Those holding a theological degree often feel like they have this kind of knowledge. If they’ve studied correctly, they’ve received the tools to help them gain Bible knowledge and help others do the same. But they aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable in their congregation.
  • Life experience — This kind of knowledge is priceless. The Bible emphasizes the need to turn to older people for sage advice. It’s a natural tendency in the young to resent the fact that this is one kind of knowledge they can’t have yet; it’s a weakness of the old to assume that living a long time has necessarily given them this wisdom.
  • Knowledge of congregational and community history — History does not control us, but it can often provide an important voice in the decision making process.
  • Knowledge of contemporary culture — This is one type of knowledge that often decreases with age. It’s one of the reasons churches vitally need input from their younger members.
  • People skills — Many elders lack these. Many ministers lack these. Many church members lack these. All of us lack these at times. One of the greatest forms of knowledge is to know how to treat people.

I could go on, but I hope you get the point. There’s a reason no one person is to lead a congregation. We are a body. We grow as a body. We function best as a body. We need many kinds of knowledge to make the church what we should be.