Monday, October 27, 2008

wait a second...what?

“Our Sunday gathering is a time of worship and celebration but in the scope of things, it should be the least of what we do.”
(a quote taken directly from a church website I recently visited)

“Because I want myself and our people to have time to be incarnational in the world, we don’t take up their time working on the church service. We don’t have a worship practice, and I spend only a few hours a week planning our time together, which includes sermon preparation.”
(from Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter)

These two statements are indicative of, what I believe to be, a very dangerous belief that has crept into many of our churches: the belief that our corporate worship gatherings are of little importance.

Let me be clear: I strongly disagree with that.

Where did we get the idea that the only thing that matters is being individually “missional” and “incarnational”? And where in the heck did we get the idea that by valuing our corporate worship gatherings we are, in some way, hindering our ability to be missional and incarnational?

Seriously, where is that coming from? Certainly not from the Bible.

No, I actually believe we are simply reacting to the perception that “the Church” has historically cared too much about corporate worship gatherings and not enough about being missional and incarnational.

And while I certainly agree that it is foolish and tragic to spend too much of our time and energy on our corporate worship gatherings, you know what is equally as foolish and tragic? Swinging all the way to the other side of the pendulum out of some reactionary, idealistic belief that we have a figured out faith and the mission of Jesus better than our parents and grandparents.

Sunday mornings should not be the least important thing we do. That is ridiculous. You can put forth effort in planning and preparing for Sunday mornings without sacrificing your ability to incarnate Jesus to the world around you. And believe it or not, you can care about the mission of Jesus AND spend time preparing your sermons. Again, where are we getting this idea that we must sacrifice one for the other?

I think we are going to wake up in 10…15…25 years from now and realize that we have spent more time cultivating our Facebook communities than we have our faith communities. And that will only be to our detriment.

In devaluing our corporate worship gatherings we are actually making ourselves less able to incarnate Christ; we are actually sacrificing an intricate and vital portion of the mission.

And in NOT putting forth any effort towards preparing our congregations to regularly dive into the Bible together with any depth, we are castrating ourselves and creating a generation of limp and ill-equipped Christians.

Please guys, PLEASE, in our pursuit of all things missional and incarnational, let us not miss the responsibility, the power and the gift of our corporate worship gatherings.


greg said...

this almost sounds like a missional defense of the attractional. Sorry to use that naughty word here.

Well spoken sir.

bill said...

not so much attractional...but maybe. i don't know.

i just want to know why we are so afraid of saying, "we all do a million and one different things all week long. and this is the one hour a week that we get to spend together doing the SAME thing: namely, making a big deal about God, studying His word, praying together, etc." it doesn't have to take away from our mission. actually...that is a part of our mission.

and not putting any effort toward preparing a sermon?! that is irresponsible as a leader and a teacher. and you can't tell me that it gets in the way of being incarnational. good biblical teaching is NECESSARY for a church to be incarnational. if you don't come together regularly as a body and take deep, long looks at are going to be incarnating something other than Christ. period.

again, i know because of the suburban, attractional, mega-church fatigue that is so prevalent right now, that statements like the ones i used in my post seems great. but i do strongly question their validity.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I felt like the tangible kingdom book lacked depth and perhaps that was because he thought he should be more incarnational and spend less time writing a book. Doug Banister recently spoke on Revelation, scary normally, but he spoke about how worshipping God gives us the courage to face the world. If God isn't worthy of us wasting endless hours preparing for and gathering together to worship him, then is he worthy of us wasting our time serving him? Again like you said balance is needed, but the tangible kingdom may have broken the pendulum.

ragamuffinminister said...

I come from a different angle and therefore totally loved tangible kingdom and found myself relating to halter a lot. I've always questioned why someone would spend thirty hours per week on a message that lasted thirty minutes. Don't get me wrong, I've been touched by many, but as a pastor I realized I could cultivate more discipleship better through relationships. I currently spend about 35 hours on music, media, practice, setup and tear down every week. I do this because it's expected. My church is attractional. But it's difficult because when we don't do those things as well some weeks, it makes no difference almost. But, if I invest less time in prep and more in people, that seems to really make a difference.

All the teachers that meant the most to me taught me more outside of church than they ever did during their well planned lessons, mark included. However, I personally believe people should stick to what they are led to do. If it's teaching, music, prayer, hospitality, then their time should reflect those pursuits. I've made more if adifference to people through coffee-talks and cookouts at my house than through my cool music, dramas, and sermons. But, that's me. My time should reflect that.

This is more like a both/and situation. If you and yours are more prep driven and planned and focused on that time together on Sunday then go with it. God blesses that immensely. But that shouldn't be anyone elses script for spirituality and community.

Halter believes his mission is to cultivate incarnational "villages", therefore he shoots for that. If he flipped his time on prep for service and relationship building, he would miss the mark. He's more or less sticking to his calling.

The reason, in my severely humble opinion, for the chat about all this becoming more forefront is that those prep driven churhes are, in many if not most cases, selling out to an attractional method of ministry. And it's not good for the kingdom.

The whole "one hour in Sunday" mentality eventually leaves people wanting. Why? Ask them. My guess is that when all is said and done, that's usually the extent of the depth of a church. That's why house churches are popping up everywhere the last few years. Is this bad? Not for crossings. You guys have a good thing going and need to stick with it.

But you certainly aren't the majority nor, for the vast amount of the world, is your blueprint meant to be developed by others. If we all stick to the plan and calling of God as our gifts dictate to us, we will all be fine.

I've seen too many churches and leaders try to cultivate everything under the sun, albeit good mostly, but merely try to copy someone else. This isn't to say that what I do wouldn't work somewhere else or vice versa, but we better be gifted for it. I would hate to try to duplicate what you do because we don't have the leadership or gifts to even attempt it. But we can do other things.

All that to say, good post, but I think there's more to the picture than what's been said as of yet either in your post or in the other comments...which I totally get and even find myself agreeing a lot with.


Taylor said...

I understand what everyone is saying. I understand relationship building as opposed to mere programming. I understand a balance between preparation and discipleship. I strongly dislike the work model that leans towards sitting behind closed doors with your nose in a book while there are hurting people all around.

Now, with that said...

It is so obvious that those quotes were written by ministers--ministers who are trying to see what their congregations need by analyzing them through the new hottest books and philosophies on church. I probably would have agreed with them two months ago, but two months ago I was spending the majority of my day in my church office. Now, I live downtown in a rough part of town and work with liberals and play music in bars. I need Sunday morning. I need it bad. I sure hope Mark and Bill spend some time putting the service together, because it is my life source.

Without that anchor, I won't be a heap of $@*% to the world around me. Sunday morning is THE LAUNCHING POINT to my week. It is VITAL to how I live out a missional week.

But here is what I'm REALLY sick and tired of. What my stomach can't handle anymore. What makes me want to LEAVE THE CHURCH if it is all amounting to this. I'm so sick of Churches being planted and ministry philosophies being developed as mere REACTIONS to other Churches. To say, "This isn't working, so I'm gonna start THIS kind of church" lends itself to swinging to an extreme side of the pendulum. Then suddenly corporate worship doesn't matter anymore. What?? That pisses me off. For real, I'm so sick of this bull crap. This devaluing certain elements of our tradition so we can relate better. We were called to lay our lives down and die, not be "in."

But I like what everyone else is saying in this post. All good things. I just can't handle extreme actions for the sake of extreme actions.

Much love.

Blake Anthony said...

There definitely has to be a middle ground for both sides. Our mission statement at my church is " Love God, Love people". Its pretty simple and we try to do just that in our planning and discipleship. I believe for the "churched" Christian the worship service is a very important part of their worship experience and should be planned well. God does deserved because He did die and redeem all mankind and all. For the "unchurched" the relational and incarnational impact needs to be present as well. The incarnational relationship should lead everyone to the point of the worship service. Both are very important. Thats why we have discipleship dudes.

Betsy said...

i haven't read everything completely because i don't have much time, so i apologize if i repeat anybody...

My view of Sunday morning services depends on the goal of the service. Just because you spend a lot of time planning it and try to do it with excellence doesn't mean you are strictly "attractional". That time is valuable to the whole body to reconnect and breathe a sigh of relief...hopefully for believers and those who may just be starting to wonder about Jesus. I think everybody can learn and benefit from it, be convicted by it and think more because of it. If I didn't have time each week to see the other people in my community (because let's face it, we are all SO busy during the week) then I would feel like I was really missing out on their lives. Plus, we are all scattered all around Knoxville and a place in common to meet is really nice.

ragamuffinminister said...

This is a really good discussion.

I've thought a lot about it even since I commented. I'm going to comment again, even!

Taylor, you said Sundays are your launching pad for your week. That's awesome. In my church, that's the minority. Which isn't bad or good. Just is. I wanted to say that to provide perspective and to also clarify some things I said about Sunday morning significance. Sundays (or saturdays, or whenever) are needed and great. But they don't serve everyone the same. In the 4 places I've served since 1999, not one of them was the Sunday time together considered 'the launching pad' by most people. No matter how much time was put into the morning, Sunday morning simply didn't have the same 'oomph' as what you guys at Crossings have. And my experience isn't alone.

Years ago I lived in Oregon, really close to Mike Yaconelli, where he pastored a small church. I called him up several times and chatted with him about his life, ministry, heck, whatever was on our minds. His church and his Sunday mornings were not nearly polished or planned well (in the same way we're talking about, which is relative, I know). But there was a sense of belonging and community. Mike often didn't have time to really work on sermons because he ran Youth Specialites and traveled all the time. Many occasions, the guy just winged it. The music was pretty weak compared to what most of us are accustomed to, and he was often frustrated by this stuff. But, such was his life. Now, when he died, the whole stinking town in lived in came to his funeral which was so large it was held in the local school. Hardly anyone went to his church, seriously. But his life in the town was larger than anything he ever produced on Sundays. That's part of his amazing legacy.

Now, I'm going off of the few things he said to me about his church and what not, so forgive my lack of completeness in presuming his entire pastorship. But I think I'm not far off in my assessment.

My question, for anyone in this area, is how can it work for Mike, Hugh Halter, and so many others, when they aren't focused on the Sunday gathering as much as some of us...including me, for sure?

My guess and humble opinion is that it really doesn't matter as long as you're doing what you're gifted and called to do. If Sundays are the time that your community really 'breathes a sigh' or 'launches the week' or whatever, then you need to hang your hat on that more than others. Obviously, don't exclude community life outside of Sunday, but Sunday mornings may really be full of meat so eat it!

But, it certainly isn't the schematic for every church plant or church. In many ways, there's a backlash going on right now because Sundays took such a prominent role for so many people for so many years, that established churches are now stagnant because they can't find that spiritual filling they require. For so long that's all anyone heard..."go to church!"

I have sympathy for leaders and believers who can't find the same significance on Sundays like they want, but I know there's significance somewhere if they do what they are gifted and called to do.

I hope this makes sense. Crossings, by the obvious comments, is doing a remarkable job finding the spiritual creamy filling in their time together on Sundays where many churches seem to have trouble. But, that's ok. Those other churches have the right to focus elsewhere because God may not require a home run every Sunday from them.

He might be pushing them to get out of the pews, turn the computers off, and hit the coffee shops (like Halter does).

Sorry if I sound like I'm defending Halter or advocating too much for the other side. I certainly see the value and agree with you in just about everything you wrote. If anything, you refreshed me last night.

Great post. I hope more people comment...mostly so that you get 100 comments like Jake did on his debate critique-turned-abortion post. :) It's all about outdoing each other.

bill said...

38. the bar has been set at 38 comments (thanks Jake!). i've got quite a ways to go...but here is 1 more.

i agree jeph. we need to spend time in the areas we are gifted in. absolutely. and truly it is a matter of balance; a both/and issue. and maybe that is the problem i had with those two quotes.

halter says, "Because I want myself and our people to have time to be incarnational..."; that takes it out of a both/and conversation. he is making it sound as though you can't be incarnational AND work on your sermon or care about your corporate gathering. that is just not true.

i did like parts of "Tangible Kingdom", but if you are the person that preaches every need to spend time studying and preparing. if he feels like that is a waste of his time, then he needs to find someone else to do it. i believe his approach is irresponsible. AGAIN...if we want to incarnate Christ; if we want to embody His mission, we HAVE to study His Word together as a body. otherwise we begin to incarnate something other than Christ. we will be social activists, which is not bad...but it takes more than that to incarnate Christ.

and the first quote, "Sundays should be the least important thing we do." corporate gatherings were EXTREMELY important to the first century church. Paul fights for and defends them in his letters. i understand that it isn't the ONLY thing that matters. but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

we aren't doing anything special at Crossings. we just sing, study the Bible and take communion. other places put on much bigger and much better shows. we are not concerned at all about attracting people by putting a lot of time and energy into our services. we really aren't. granted Mark is a good and creative teacher...but i believe it is the fact alone that we really just study the Bible that makes what we do "attractive" in any way. we aren't hitting homeruns every week. we just study the Bible together.

i can't speak for every church. i don't care how much money or time or energy you spend on your corporate gatherings. but i do care that you take seriously the value of getting to do what we get to do. it should be important. everywhere. i'm not saying it has to look the same everywhere...but I am saying it should be valued.

Taylor said...

I agree with you guys completely. The reason I get so worked up about it is because people publish quotes in newspapers and books that hint at, "I have found the RIGHT way to do it." Then hundreds of 21 year old college students dive into ministry trying to mimic this.
It rubs me the wrong way to see it presented as the RIGHT way, and to assume it has all been done wrong for the past century. But I'm on the verge of just repeating what has already been said.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I am wrong but the Old Testament appears to emphasize an elaborate temple construction and extensive ritual which seems to parallel our discussion about spending time on worship gatherings. Are we now considered to be the temple and spending time living sacramentally is what counts? I believe that the emergent/incarnational/missional church has emphasized the house church organization of the early church, which is correct, while seemingly downplaying the background of regular temple worship for the earliest church in Jerusalem. Also historically, it appears that the early church throughout the empire built or gathered together in larger facilities as soon as that was a feasible option. Was this a misguided impulse or the natural result of their correct theology?