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

Might makes right

The stronger get to dominate the weaker. That’s the way of the world. Power gives permission. Might makes right. Unless the weaker can organize themselves to create a new, equally powerful, base.

In the church, money plays the same role. Those with money feel themselves entitled to get their way. Riches give permission. Money makes right.

Unless… Jesus gets his way.

A letter to the UCC elders

I don’t like open letters, but I’m about to write one. Largely because I want to publicly thank and applaud the elders of the church I attend: University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas

*****

Dear elders,

I know this is a bit impersonal, and I hope to speak with each of you personally. For now, let me publicly thank you for the statement you issued on Sunday about the participation of women in our Sunday assembly. It was a milestone on a long road, one that many of us had grown weary of. I’m sure that you especially have longed to reach a resting point in this discussion.

You’ve had my prayers, as always. I’ve prayed even harder as I’ve realized how especially difficult this process had begun. To be honest, I despaired of a solution that wouldn’t tear our congregation apart. You showed great wisdom, Spirit-filled discernment, in reaching a compromise.

No, I didn’t agree with every word in that statement. But I heartily agree with the expression of love and unity found in those pages.

We members have not behaved well. Many reacted without knowing the facts. Assumptions were made, conclusions drawn. You were attacked for moving too fast and for moving too slow. You were criticized for being too backwards and too progressive. Your motives were questioned.

Some chose to leave rather than work through the messiness that is church life; I pray they’ll be better prepared for disagreements that will come up in their new church home.

We’ve given lip service to Bible study while actually following our feelings and preferences. We’ve hard a hard time differentiating between “thus saith the Lord” and our own druthers. That’s hard to admit, but it’s true.

You’ve been publicly attacked and privately criticized. Too little grace has been extended your way.

Through it all, you’ve behaved like gentlemen. More than that, you’ve behaved like Spirit-led Christian shepherds. I’m proud to be part of your flock.

Thank you for your service.

 

Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

God-Focused Church Services?

some_assembly_requiredI got a couple of responses to this weeks’ post that reflected the same idea: worship should be neither member-focused nor seeker-focused; worship should be God focused.

In a sense, I agree. All of life should be God focused. God should be at the center of everything we do. As Paul said, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

For some, this is especially true about our assemblies. I’ve been calling them worship services, largely out of habit. Using Scripture alone, it’s hard to say that the main purpose of our assemblies is worship. Our should I say the unique purpose. We sing songs of praise, but one of the main purposes of our singing is to speak to one another and build one another up. Sermons should glorify God, but they are obviously directed at people. God doesn’t need to be preached to. Oppositely, prayers are directed to God, yet these are corporate, public prayers. At times we even speak to one another in our prayers. (as did Jesus in John 11:41-42).

We have made the Lord’s Supper about “me and God,” but the New Testament portrays it as a corporate time. We break bread together. We wait for one another. We do it with an awareness of the gathered body, or we do it wrong.

I think the answer lies in seeing worship as being focused not on one element, but three. To borrow David Mike Breen’s terminology (from Building A Discipling Culture), it’s Upward, Inward, and Outward. We need all three facets. Complete, holistic worship reaches up to God, in to the church, and out to the nonbeliever. Like the three-legged stool, our assembly collapses if we completely remove any of the three.

Up to God. In to the Church. Out to the believer.

The Case For Outsider-Focused Church Services

Church welcome signHere’s the counter-argument to yesterday’s post. When arguing for an insider focus to our church assemblies, I referred to 1 Corinthians 14. Yet in that passage, Paul also makes a point about considering outsiders:

“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”” (1 Corinthians 14:23–25)

Paul envisions a situation where an outsider comes into the assembly, seemingly on their own. Our services need to be aware of that possibility as well.

Think about it. We advertise our church services on signs and sometimes in paid publicity. We often include some sort of “Come join us!” message. We’re inviting outsiders; shouldn’t we treat them as welcome guests?

In our society, most people have some concept of “going to church.” Many have had relatives that go to church, if they haven’t gone themselves. They understand “going to church” as a way of interacting with Christianity. If they are going to seek God, for many of them the first step will be to find a church service to attend.

It’s my point of view that the healthiest church services have a body focus while trying to make them something intelligible and attractive to outsiders. However, some churches thrive on the “seeker-focused” mentality. Their invitations to outsiders are “come join us at church”; evangelism centers around getting people in to hear a powerful message from the preacher. As we’ve seen, a case can be made for that.