Tag Archives: church

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.

Redundancy hurts comprehension

I got to discussing slide presentations with a group of friends on Facebook yesterday. Most of them are preachers, and we were commenting on an article about how the Google CEO does presentations (the link is in today’s Links to Go).

The discussion got me to reading again, reminding me of an idea that I sometimes forget when making presentations: redundancy hurts comprehension. I don’t mean the repeating of ideas; I mean the common practice of trying to present information via two channels at the same time. If the information is the same, the brain can’t deal well with the redundancy and copes by not processing the information as it would.

Where this affects churches is in this: if you read a passage of Scripture and project the text on the screen at the same time, people will understand less of what you read and not more.

Surprising, isn’t it? Yet studies have shown this to be fairly consistently true. You can read a fairly recent one here (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223078244_The_effect_of_redundant_text_in_multimedia_instruction); here’s an excerpt from the abstract:

The results show that whatever the type of text presentation (sequential or static), the duplication of information in the written mode led to a substantial impairment in subsequent retention and transfer tests as well as in a task in which the memorization of diagrams was evaluated.

Logic tells us that projecting a Bible passage while it is being read will allow people to choose to either listen or read. But if we think about it, we know that’s not true. It’s next to impossible to see text on a screen and not try to read it, just as it’s almost certain that we will try to understand something that we are hearing. As our brain tries to do these two things at the same time, it fails miserably.

It’s funny though; when asked if visual/auditory redundancy help them learn, most people respond “yes.” (Note this study on the National Institute of Health website: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4088922/)

So if your church puts Bible texts on the screen while they’re being read, I’d suggest that you speak up and suggest a change. Blame me. Or blame science.

Letting the arts come to church

pottery-makingI’m not a cultured person, at least when it comes to the arts. I’m not interested in ballet, nor opera. Most classical music leaves me cold; symphony tickets feel like an upcoming jail sentence. A visit to an art museum is typically wasted on me.

It doesn’t help that I come from a church tradition that downplays the role of artistic expression in worship. We tend to have utilitarian buildings, with little focus on aesthetic values. (Though it’s interesting that I grew up in a church that breaks from that mold and attend one that has a cathedral-like feel to the architecture). Historically, we have rejected the use of musical instruments and “special” music (choirs, soloists, etc.). An artist finds little room for expression in most congregations within our fellowship. (Outside of children’s Sunday school, of course)

I think we need to recapture God’s love of beauty and creativity. We need to see that God’s Word addresses the senses and not just the mind. We need to find a way for individual Christians to share their artistic gifts with the rest of body; special times and spaces could be created for any such expressions that don’t fit our corporate worship time.

Even those with a lack of general culture can appreciate the giftedness of others in our midst. We can encourage them to use their talents for the glory of God, rather than making them feel that such things only belong to the world. Our churches will be all the richer for it.

Church like Christ

puzzle-pieceThe stated goal of the Restoration Movement is to restore Christianity to its earliest form. The more I think about it, the more I think we’ve gone about it wrong.

Restoring the plan of salvation is important, vitally important. But it won’t restore the church.

Eliminating manmade traditions and creeds helps us return to the beliefs of the early church, but it won’t bring us back to what that church was.

Fixing doctrine. Correcting worship practices. Correcting misused vocabulary. Good things in and of themselves, but they won’t get us to our goal.

I’ve come to believe that the most important thing we can do to restore the early church is to restore the goal of the early church: becoming like Christ.

We need churches that are growing to be more Christlike. In biblical terms, we need churches that are Christ in this world, that Christ is formed in them, and they are the body of Christ.

Our focus needs to be less on what and how and more on why. More on Who.

That’s what I want my focus to be: following Christ and helping others do the same.

There’s always another side to the story

US-00010-One_Cent_(1974)_AluminumAlong the lines of yesterday’s post, I need to say that every story has at least two ways of telling it. I hear elders talk about ministers that were lazy or manipulative. I hear ministers talk about elders that made decisions for no good reason. I hear church members say that leadership has chosen to abandon the Bible or chosen to appease complainers. And I know that there is another side to each of those stories.

Few ministers set out to shirk their duties or destroy the church. It’s rare that an eldership decides that a ministry is doing too much good for the Kingdom and must be stopped. The vast majority of those in church leadership want to do what’s right and best for the church.

There are evil people with bad intentions. Even good people can do things for the wrong reasons; I can look back and see times when I was motivated by jealousy or selfishness. But many times, conflict results out of a lack of understanding between the two parties involved, not any desire to cause harm.

If you set up a website asking women to tell how they’ve been mistreated by men, you’d have no trouble filling it with anecdotes of woe. If you asked men to tell of times when women have done wrong by them, you’d get an equally long list. Ask members to complain about ministers, ministers about elders, elders about staff… you’ll have no trouble determining that lots of Christians have grievances.

But don’t forget that there’s always another side to the story. If you hear it, you just might see things differently