Sunday, June 19, 2005

Church Buildings

Two notes:

First, a note that I'm going to be in Colorado all week and won't post again until next week.

Second, a thought about church buildings. I've personally been in churches that meet in all types of buildings, but only recently have I started thinking about how church buildings teach people about God. If you have talked to me recently, you know that I am beginning to think that everything we do in church leadership teaches people about our view of God. I especially believe that our worship music teaches theology. What does it teach? That's a topic for another blog entry. I think that lots of other things not only reflect our understanding of the Creator (as leadership), but also teach people that come to our church something about God.

It is really odd to feel this way because I am part of a generation that really doesn't value the buildings that we worship in. More than likely, building spaces are about usability. The church has basically decided not to build space unless the word "multi-purpose" can be attached as an adjective before the name of the building. In our church now, we meet in a gym. I personally like the gym, but I wonder what it teaches people about God. If you have any thoughts, let me know. It might teach people that God is accessible, which is true to a point. It might teach people that God is casual - I'm not sure what to think about that. The reason I'm really thinking about this topic is because I went to a wedding at Skillman Church of Christ yesterday afternoon. After meeting throughout college and seminary in church buildings that don't feel like church buildings, it was quite something to feel a sense of awe as I walked into their sanctuary. Now, I believe with all my heart that the people that meet together are the church and not the building. However, the people of the church decide somewhere along the way (or maybe the leadership decides for them) that they will build a structure to meet in for worship. Does anyone ever ask the question, "What will this building teach people about God?" I wonder.

If you could design a church building any way you wanted with the purpose of teaching something specific about God - what would you design? Let me think about it this week & I'll post some ideas next week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Multiracial Church?

I had a fascinating conversation with some of my leadership students on the way to East Texas Baptist University yesterday morning. I've had the discussion before, but was challenged again about it because of a Christianity Today cover article last month. The question in view was simply: should the local church today make its goal to be a multiethnic community? Here are a few of my thoughts on the issue. Feel free to disagree:

First, the church has continued to be the most segregated hour of the week forty years after the civil rights movement. Whether or not you think this should change, the reality must at least be addressed. We continue to do church with people that are like us to the exclusion of those who are different. This generally is driven by a church-growth culture. The fastest way to grow a church numerically is to aim the efforts of the church's ministry a specific demographic. If we design our ministry efforts toward a specific age group, culture, and ethnic group, then we are more likely to rapidly grow our church. However, what does this teach people about what the church is and why it exists? Fundamentally, I believe it teaches people that the church exists to meet their needs and to cater to their preferences. And what we end up with is a singular ethnic group church with people who are the same age and make approximately the same income. Does this reflect the true body of Christ? No, and I think it should change.

Second, the suburban white churches in America are disproportionately wealthy when compared to urban minority churches. Again, whether or not you think this should change, we have to address the truth of the claim. The church in America contains the same inequity that the population contains. Why should this continue? It is driven by a church culture that says that 95% of what we spend of our budgets simply go to minister to our own people. Again, the lack of ethnic diversity is a part of the source of this problem.

Third, so many local churches do not reflect the communities in which they exist. As urban areas have become minority centers, the predominantly white churches have moved away from the city centers in order to maintain their ethnocentric identities. Instead of reaching out to their local minority communities, the white churches have relocated to continue to maintain their one-race identity.

In all of these things, I believe the church of Jesus in America is an embarrassment in the way that we continue to segregate. The schools and the business world have long embraced diversity as essential to life, but the church has not. Why should the church of Jesus be last to embrace diversity in our worshipping communities? What does the world think when it sees our inability to integrate the Sunday morning worship service?

I fundamentally think the problem is sourced in our lack of willingness to do things in worship that are not our first preference. In order to reach people that are not like us, is the church willing to do music and embrace traditions that are different from their own? Only in this way will the local church begin to be a community based on unity in diversity and not just unity based on unanimity. I believe we miss something when we don't have people in the church that are different from us (whether that is age, profession, income level, or race). But the question remains - do enough people think this a problem that should even be addressed? I pray so.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Doing What You Were Made To Do

As I sit around with our college students this weekend at Lake Granbury, I am reminded of a couple of things that God taught me a long time ago but are easy to forget. First, God is in the business of equipping every person in the church for the work of the ministry. Sometimes, those of us in vocational ministry begin to think that the church would not be able to function if we didn't do every ministry in the church. But we are missing the clear teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 12:3-8 when he says that we are not to think too highly of ourselves, but are to recognize that we are all members of one body that have been gifted differently to accomplish the will of God in the church. This is an amazing fact that should challenge us to be thankful for the different giftings of every person in the church. They are gifted for a ministry in the church that I will never be able to accomplish.

Second, the Lord God of the universe has designed me as an individual to do something specific in the church. This is so encouraging and so challenging at the same time. Each of us has been gifted and designed by God to do one thing. Is the reason that so many people burn out and get discouraged in their ministry in the church because they are functioning in an area that they are not gifted for and not passionate about. Therefore, the question we must all answer is: what is the one thing that God has designed me to do in His church?

Of anything in my life, I want to be passionate about the church of Jesus. I want to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night excited about what God is doing in and through my life. Idealistic, some will say. Too young to know any different, others will say.

I will say - just hopeful that something better is possible.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Dads and Kids

It is really overwhelming how much having children changes your life. I remember just two years ago how Barie and I were satisfied to just spend our money on our own stuff and spend all our free time on our own hobbies. How times have changed. I think children are God's way of really showing you how selfish you are. I know that I am amazed at how many times I get home from work and want to do "my thing." What's up with that? I guess the selfish sin nature still drives us more than we know. Selfishness is really apparent when I'm tired and dry spiritually. No wonder so many dads are losers in the area of giving to their kids. They have never gotten over themselves, and even if they have, they are so tired from working too many hours that they have nothing to give their families.

Being in student ministry has given me an interesting and unique perspective on the place of dads in the lives of their kids. I can now guess with startling accuracy when I meet a student whether or not they have a father who is engaged. By "engaged" I don't mean just there, but actually a part of the kid's life. How do I know? Well, the symptoms are everywhere, but the most obvious is the need for love and attention they seek from everyone else. As we get close to Father's Day 2005, I am reminded every day by my students about the importance of being a godly man who loves and cares for my sons.

May each of you fathers drive to be the man you would be proud if your sons become.