Categories
Church Leadership

Megachurches canceling services today?

Last night my friend Gavin Richardson posted an interesting quandary on Twitter. To paraphrase, “Why is it that in some parts of the world people die trying to go to church while here in the states megachurches are canceling services because they did a big service Christmas eve?

Here was my response, “Easy. It’s a different Gospel. The Gospel of convenience/comfort bears no resemblance to one of suffering.

Let’s unpack this

In Iraq, Christians gathered for Christmas Eve services in defiance of people who threatened their lives. (And had proven the threat just 60 days ago!)

Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.

Read the rest at the New York Times (Here’s the article Gavin linked to in his tweet)

Unfortunately, Iraqi’s aren’t alone. There are Christians killed for worshiping Jesus every day. Throughout the world believers in Jesus suffer daily. If you’d like to hear their stories and understand their struggles more, I’d recommend subscribing to the Persecution Podcast published by Voice of the Martyrs.

For a large part of the world loving Jesus is tied closely to suffering. Many are expelled from their families for following Jesus. Some are sold as slaves. Some are imprisoned. Some experience economic inequity. Many are breaking the law by meeting– even in private. Many are left as outcasts. Many go hungry while their neighbors do not.

In the United States, some Christians won’t gather for services the day after Christmas because their leaders want to give everyone a day off. Their Bible apparently includes an out-clause in Exodus 20:8-11. Their Bible reads, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, except after Christmas when we give everyone the day off so they can spend time with family.

After gearing up for Christmas services throughout this week, several megachurches will wind down by canceling Sunday worship on Dec. 26th.

Pastors and church leaders say taking that day off allows the staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.

Read the rest at Christian Post

For a large part of the United States loving Jesus is tied closely to convenience. We do things when it works for us. But when it is more convenient to not do something, we pretend like we don’t even see it.

To summarize: In some parts of the world people risk death threats to worship while in other places in the world we’re taking the Sabbath off so we can spend time with family.

Two different worlds

We, in the United States, dishonor those in the persecuted church when we decide not to meet because it’d be more convenient. Any time you hear a pastor justify something like this by saying “we are putting families first,” you need to call them out. We are called to put God first. Period. 52 Sunday’s per year. 365 days per year. 24 hours per day.

Why?

The church is our real family. Coming to church, small group, or other forms of community is real family time. Partnering with those who suffer for the sake of Christ by continuing to worship no matter what is a real family expression of love. Healthy families get together. We suffer together. It is what we do. It is who we are. More importantly, it is who Jesus told us we need to be.

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:26-30

Taking the Sunday after Christmas off to spend time with family? What a slap in the face to the concept that the church is your family! This is the churches way of telling its congregant… “You aren’t my real family.

This is what happens when church becomes staff-driven and about programs as opposed to the simple expressions described in the New Testament. (Where one person, maybe, was employed… per city!) Church becomes about doing what is best for the staff and what is convenient to the programs. Staff and programs aren’t bad– they are good. But the organization isn’t and shouldn’t ever be about them. They are there purely to serve the family.

We are to be real family to those without family. We are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans. We are to feed the poor. We are to be about suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. We are to be about sacrificing for their sake.

Be reminded that the early church spread fastest, furthest, and had the deepest impact when we had no paid staff, no property, and met in homes or borrowed spaces.

Instead, they depended on one another as equal. Paul paints the picture again and again that the church is a body. We are inter-dependent. When one part suffers we all suffer. And when another part rejoices we all rejoice. Let no one in the church be more important than the other!

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? James 2:1-6a

In the end, the megachurches who take today off (and the myriad of churches who follow their lead, since they are “church growth experts“) are exhibiting the hole in their Gospel. Not to vilify them– but to expose the places we need to help them repair. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but they got it wrong.

No more groupthink in church leadership. Instead, let’s move forward by compassionately living out what God has clearly told us to do in the Bible.

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership

Giving and Receiving at Church

Photo by Vintage Collective via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Confession: There are times when I am frustrated with my church.

  • To the point of not wanting to go.
  • To the point of wanting to give up on organized church.
  • To the point where I think the action of attending church may actually be hindering my ability to live out the Gospel in my life.
  • To the point of wanting to withhold myself, my money, my children, my thoughts, and even my prayers.

This causes me to search myself, my motivations for the action of going to a church, and even what Scripture does or does not say about what goes on at church.

Lately, at the bottom of that barrel I am left with this thought:

Going to church is about giving and receiving simultaneously like the heart pumping blood in both directions. When I’m dissatisfied I am either unwilling to give of myself or I’m unwilling to receive ministry created for me (as part of the congregation). Conversely, I will be most satisfied with the corporate worship experience when I go with my heart pumping a desire to both give an receive.

In other words, I think too much and I must be more simplistic in this exchange with the church. I need to discipline myself to give what I can (in its various forms, not exclusive to money) and receive what I can. (in its various forms, not exclusive to teaching)

It’s a two-fold relationship. When I go more needy to receive I don’t go with a heart to give of myself. When I go needy to give of myself I don’t go with a heart to receive.

Questions for Reflection

I’m not accusing anyone of ever being dissatisfied with their church. I’m only confessing that sometimes I am. But if you find yourself discontent, here are some questions for reflection that have helped me.

  • What is the thing that drives you nuts, that has become a block between you “truly coming to worship God?
  • What category would you place that thing in? Personal preference? Desire for excellence? Biblical accuracy? Effectiveness? Something else?
  • Is that really a big deal or do you just have an attitude problem?
  • Could you chose contentedness with that issue if it never changes?
  • Where areas are you contributing to your church?
  • If a leader thinks about you, would they label you as someone who contributes significantly to the vision and mission of the church? (Not just money, but your actions and heart for the congregation.)
  • Are  you comparing what you want with what you’ve seen at another church? Is that a fair comparison?
  • Is the root of your dissatisfaction a personal sin issue that is manifesting itself as dissatisfaction with something at church?
  • Are you seeking out relationships with people in your congregation or are you waiting for those relationships to pursue you?
  • Are you just being a jerk?

This is what I know

I know that Jesus expects us to live inter-dependently with a community of other believers. As I read the New Testament I never read about the early church being a place of comfort, cushy chairs, mono-cultural, or without tension. Instead, I see a church which gave of itself fully, which recognized that some people were mature while others were immature, was as functional and dysfunctional as a family, and was all about giving and receiving fully of themselves.

Categories
Christian Living

The God of Discomfort

God doesn’t call us to a life of comfort.

As an overweight, gainfully employed, hyper-educated American Christian– that phrase convicts.

Recently, when I spend time in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit has illuminated in me this truth in a brand new way. God doesn’t call us to live a comfortable life. He calls us to a radically life of discomfort.

I tend to read my culture and my experience into the Bible so much… my life is pretty cushy. I tend to think that since I’m typically comfortable in life, the people God lifted up to me as examples must have lived equally comfortable lives, right?

Wrong.

On and on, the Bible is full of stories of people called to live uncomfortable lives. There are endless examples!

When I hear people talk about what they like or dislike about their church it bothers me to hear so much talk of comfort.

  • We want music we are comfortable with.
  • We want to be around people like us, people who make us feel comfortable.
  • We want the preaching to challenge us, but never to make us uncomfortable.
  • We want a church with a great kids ministry so we can feel comfortable about leaving our children there.
  • We want comfortable seating.
  • We want to serve the church in ways that are convenient and comfortable for us.

When I hear Christians (myself included) talk about the life we want to live, we all desire comfort!

  • We want jobs we are comfortable with.
  • We never want to be sick, that’d be uncomfortable.
  • We want comfortable shoes.
  • We want a comfortable bed.
  • We want a big, cushy Lazy-e-boy recliner to watch football.
  • We want to marry someone who is comfortable to be around, and our friends are comfortable with.
  • We want friends we are comfortable with.
  • When we think of vacation, we want things to be über comfortable!

As I stare at my Bible this morning and ponder this, I’m left with this question:

What if God is calling me to live a life of radical discomfort?

What if following Jesus makes those around me uncomfortable?

What if the church I’m called to be a part of never feels comfortable?

What if steps of faithfulness lead me to great and greater steps of discomfort?

What if my desire to be comfortable is leading me further away from Jesus instead of closer to Him?