I’m Working on Figuring Out Which Church This Is

Every once in a while, I stumble across LarkNews.com. I really need to bookmark them and read them a bit more frequently. One caution I was given about reading satire “continuously” – don’t. It’ll rot your brain. No, that’s not right. Oh yeah, don’t. It’ll harden your heart and make you cynical. And goodness knows, I don’t need to be more cynical than I already am! Anyway, check out this article.

ROCHESTER, Minn. — At The Circle, a young, innovative church which meets in a renovated bus depot, there is no pulpit, platform or pastor, as such. The congregation rejects the labels “Christian” and “congregation,” preferring “followers of Jesus” and “friendship community.”

There are no ushers, but rather “helpers.”

There is no worship team, but rather “God artists.”

And woe to anyone who affixes traditional church labels to any of it.

“God’s doing a new thing here,” says Mitch Townsend, the leader of the church. He shuns the “pastor” label and insists people call him, “Hey, man,” or simply “Dude.” If someone slips and calls him “pastor,” he bristles and gently rebukes them.

“We got rid of all those old labels,” he says. “There’s no going back.”

At the church office, which they never call a church office but rather “the Hub,” secretaries, or “community action facilitators” as they are called here, tap-tap on computers (which they still call computers) and take calls.

When a visitor slips up and refers to The Circle’s “sanctuary,” Dude Townsend cuts him short.

“Listen, it’s not a sanctuary, it’s a meeting place, a gathering place,” he says, flushing red.

“Sorry, pastor,” the visitor says.

“Not pastor,” says Townsend. “Dude, or friend. Or just hey, Mitch.”

“Sorry, Dude Mitch,” the visitor says uncomfortably, and slinks away. Mitch quickly goes to him and hugs him.

“We’re all about love and freedom here,” he says. “I know it’s hard to get used to.”

At a Sunday morning “gathering,” as services must be called, people sit in chairs arranged in circle around a “focal point” (not a platform) and listen to the team of God-artists play instruments and sing “songs of adoration and devotion to the Creator,” as opposed to praise and worship music. The gathered “posse of Jesus followers” is free to sing along and to express themselves in any way that seems “real and authentic.”

“We strive to be genuine here,” says non-pastor “Hey, Jim” Richards, who in another setting might be called an associate pastor. “It’s about being who you are, not fitting into a pre-determined box.”

Before Dude Mitch’s personal sharing time (which markedly resembles a sermon), one visitor raises her hand and says, “Is there going to be an altar call? Because I really want to give my life to Jesus today.”

Dude Mitch answers quickly, “We don’t have altar calls here; we have ‘God moments’ or ‘Creator re-connects.’ And we don’t say ‘give your life to Jesus,’ but you may begin a lifelong love relationship with the Creator-Friend, if you like. But please wait until we are done with sharing time.”

After the service, “new friends” join in the “kick-back hall” for refreshments and conversation with the Dudes and other Hub personnel. They may also join a mid-week “hang-out crew” of 10-12 people which meets in a home, and which is steadfastly not referred to as a “small group.”

“Anyone who wants a break from normal, rigid church life is welcome at The Circle,” says Townsend. •

All content © 2003 LarkNews.com. All rights reserved.

I think I know which church in Rochester they’re talking about, but I’m still doing a bit more investigating before I reveal any names.

On the serious side, can this be said to be a “true church” if it abandons even Scriptural terms/names because they don’t want to offend and they want to appear “cool” to the world?

What do you think?

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“Happy Anniversary”

Yesterday was my anniversary.

Not my wedding anniversary (that’s in August).

No, this was the 12th anniversary of my very first Sunday as the pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church. Back in 1997, I’d been waiting for a call to pastor a church for over 16 months. Cornerstone had been working at calling a pastor for just about the same length of time. God saw fit to bring us both together. Fascinating is His sovereignty.

When Cornerstone was first without a pastor (back early in 1996), they put together a search committee to find their new pastor. It didn’t take them very long until they had a man they thought would work out. He came, he met, he interviewed & was interviewed, and he preached. He wasn’t called here. So, back to that proverbial drawing board. Another man was selected. As the weekend drew near for him to come & candidate, he called, saying he was withdrawing his name. Another setback. The search committee then committed themselves to seeking God’s face through prayer and asking Him to truly lead them along in this process. (I’m sure they’d prayed previously, but not as earnestly as now.)

The church plant I’d pastored in central Iowa had closed in July of ’96. (It’s a long story; maybe it’ll show up here sometime; maybe not.) The one other time I’d been in between churches, I thought the process would probably go quickly. It didn’t. Yet here I was, without a church and thinking that it might only take 3-6 months for a church to call me. It didn’t.

When CEFC first sent me a packet of information about their church, I read it and said, “Nope. No way would they want me and my doctrinal beliefs. And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to want to pastor them.” Yet they persisted. The committee chair called me and talked to me at length. I asked a lot of questions of them and they of me. They really wanted a face-to-face interview and Ann said that we might as well go. So away we went. Following the interview with the search committee, Ann and I drove home to Iowa, talking all the way and both of us thinking, “Well, that wasn’t too bad; but God can’t really want us there (because we didn’t really want to be there).”

God wouldn’t let us alone about Cornerstone, however. We continued on, praying and seeking His guidance in this. When Dennis called to talk about coming for a candidating weekend, we simply “had” to say we would. And we did. And here we are.

God knew this is where I needed to be with my family. God knew I was the pastor this congregation needed (I say this with all humility; there really isn’t anything special about me that could have helped bring this congregation around, other than a whole-hearted trust in a completely sovereign God who uses some pretty weak vessels to accomplish His will). And I’m still here and so are they. Twelve years. It seems to have gone by quickly (well, there was that one stretch in ’01-’02 that dragged on for a bit). How much longer does God want me here? I’m not about to try to guess that one. If He grants my heart’s desire, I’ll never leave. These are great people. This is a wonderful opportunity to serve and see what God can do. May He see all the glory go to Him however He sees fit.

Thanks, Lord. Thanks, Cornerstone.

Some ruminations on Tuesday

A.W. Tozer has nailed it yet again… and this from the 1940s or ’50s, I believe.Tozer

I’m reminded once again of David Wells’ message on the opening night of the Desiring God Ministries National Conference, just a week and a half ago. In proclaiming to us the supremacy of Christ, he opened to the book of Hebrews. There, the author is doing the same thing: proclaiming the supremacy of Christ. But he’s also asking his Christian readers: “Why are you shrinking back from this? Why are you skulking around when you have this glorious Christ on your side? Is it unbelief that causes you to do this? If so, you’re perilously close to being like your ancient forebearers, the Israelites, who shrank back from all that God had promised them due to unbelief.”

Then Wells compared that to us, as “modern day” Christians. I quote from Tim Challies’ summation of this point:

We don’t worry about these things in the West, but our problem is slightly different. It is not so much fear for our safety as that we are so distracted by so many things that it is hard for us to sustain a focus upon the supremacy of Christ in our world and our lives. We think of our experience in the West in terms of its benefits: we know more, communicate more, communicate faster, travel more, travel more often, travel further, we buy more and more and buy higher quality, we have freedoms, we have opportunities that previous generations never had. But along with these undoubted benefits for which we are all grateful come costs. The costs are often hidden, they are like shadows that come right behind these benefits. It is not easy to live in this fast-paced, modernized, competitive world. In Africa, what is most pressing for people are physical needs: the need for food, for security, for simple medical care. Our challenge is more psychological: the psychological pressure of living in this pressurized, relativistic culture where worldviews and lifestyle and religions jostle together shoulder by shoulder and make Christian faith hard to sustain. It is the intrusiveness of this world into our innermost workings. There is so much that is urgent, so much that demands our attention. Our preoccupations are with surviving and with the intensity of the moment. This is why people come to church looking to have psychological needs met. But sermons only addressing these matters are exercises in futility if the supremacy and centrality of Christ has been lost. In an entirely different way, we in our churches seem to be shrinking back from Christ.

Yes, I think we are shrinking back; shrinking back from the fear that we won’t be viewed as successful. Unbelief & fear drive us because we so desperately want to be liked by the world. Yes, we really, really want them to like us, to come through our doors and enjoy what they see and hear. We want to entertain them in ways we think the world can’t (problem: we can’t do it anywhere near as well as the world can, so the world laughs at us in our vain attempts). We simply don’t believe that the Word of God is absolutely sufficient because the God who caused it to be written is absolutely sufficient; and, the Christ it proclaims is absolutely sufficient too.

I pray the Lord will keep me from this unbelief in Him and in the supremacy of His Son displayed in His all-sufficient Word. I pray that our sister Free Churches would be kept from this as well; and that repentance might be granted those many pastors who long for popularity, long to be thought well of by the world and who simply don’t believe in their hearts that Christ is supreme and that God is all-glorious and that His Word is sufficient.

Those Girls Are At It Again!

If I had actually heard these words spoken out loud, I might have thought back to years ago when my sister would have friends over to play. They get into something, get themselves in trouble and these would be some of the words either Mom or Dad would utter.

But this has nothing to do with aging sentimentality. It has to do with the glorious encouragement of testimonies to God’s goodness and grace that the girls over at girltalk have been posting. They asked contributors to “tell us about a circumstance in your life where you now see God was working ‘behing the scenes’ for good.” So far the contributions have been remarkably edifying and I trust, glorifying to God. I highly recommend you check them out and praise the Lord with these “girls.”

More On the Purpose-Driven Life Choking the Life Out of Churches and Christians

My parents visited us this past Labor Day weekend. We had many things to talk about: they may be moving here sometime in the foreseeable future. However, the topic of church and Warrenism and Purpose-Driven apostasy came up several times as well. Any of you (all what, three of you) who read my blog may recall that Mom and Dad have been a part of **** Free Church in *****, Iowa for 30 years. Prior to that, they spent nearly 25 years in the EFC in ******, Iowa. During the past two years, a growing chasm has been produced between my father and the pastor of said church. It wasn’t all a matter of things “purposeful” but that was a portion of the concerns expressed: messages on Sunday mornings having very little Scriptural content (and trust me, my dad knows Scripture); leadership moving in strange, business-like-only fashion, and the pastor becoming more and more the sole source of authority and decision-making.

Well, change my Dad’s name to Charles JonesCharles Jones. Essentially, Mom and Dad have been “forced out” by the pastor and a few of the deacons (1 or 2 of the present deacons are soon to resign positions or also leave the church… it would be inevitable – they’re “dissenters”). There is to be a congregational meeting soon at ***** of *****, IA and one of the agenda items will be the removal of my parents’ names from membership. My prayer has been, at the very least, that there would be some astute and wise person(s) there who might actually ask why members of 30 years, chairman of the church & deacon and deaconness are having their names removed from membership. Oh how I’d love to be a church mouse in the corner to hear the answer.

My heart aches for Mom and Dad. It is grieved by the church’s action (actually, lack of inaction on the part of others within the church) and angered (I’m still working out if this is righteous anger or prideful anger) at the demeaning (my isn’t that word close to demonic) and cowardly and unbiblica actions of the pastor and a few deacons. ***** EFC of *****, IA will be doing the 40 days of community this fall. (I believe they’ve done the 40 days of purpose at least twice, if not three times in the last 2 1/2 years.) If the Lord disciplines this congregation, pastor and leadership, there won’t be much community left for them to celebrate. May God have mercy upon them.

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Back & Well Rested, but Still an Anachronism at Times

Well, now that I’m back in my study and feeling well-rested from two weeks of vacation, I think I’m ready to get back to some consistent blogging. This is only the second time in over 20 years of ministry that I’ve taken two weeks together… and I’m finding it a great source of rest, refreshment and it helps me greatly be ready to re-enter my study and the ministry to which I’m called. God be praised for the rest He grants.

While we were away, we attended two different churches on two subsequent Sundays. I won’t mention names or denominations, but I do want to make a couple of observations about them. Sunday #1 found us attending a church in a nearby community which we had never visited before (the church, that is). Upon arriving, we quickly found out the senior pastor would not be preaching for it was “Missionary Sunday.” Disappointing, for I truly wanted to hear this man open the Word. I’ve known him for a while and was looking forward to this. Oh well.

The worship through music was a bit disappointing as well (perhaps my entire mood had fallen off from the start; a sinful tendency that still needs some self-mortification work done upon it). We (family) knew half the songs (all choruses, no hymns – mind you, I’m not opposed to choruses at all; I just like to see a good mix of both for it helps teach doctrine as well as the praise of God). The sanctuary had been transformed the day previous for their VBS kick-off that evening. In the middle of the entryway, was a cross-section of the bow of a ship. In front of this was pseudo-water, a beach/desert-island complete with palm tree to the ceiling. This forced the seating to be scrunched quite tightly and made entering/exiting quite cumbersome.

When the missionary was introduced, he spent the first five minutes talking about the joy of golfing with 1-2 of the men from the church… that very Lord’s Day morning. This enabled them to complete the “mini-tournament” they’d begun on Saturday. After describing his ministry in another country, his wife came up. I thought she would also share some about her ministry there, but no, she opened the Word and began to preach. Later on, my two youngest kids would tell me that she wasn’t preaching because she said she was only going to demonstrate how she taught among the women of said country. But trust me, she preached/teached (sorry, taught! Isn’t English a screwy language!). The problem (besides flying in the face of 1 Timothy 2.11-15) was there was not point. Oh she tried to make a couple of points numerically, but they were not related directly to the text, but more to her experience of the text. Needless to say, upon leaving this worship service, I was really wondering where we could go to worship and hear the Word.

I don’t blame the pastor of Church #1 on Sunday #1, except to say I would that he could have previewed the missionary’s presentation style/form. If he had done this, I think he would have found out that the husband was simply the tech-savvy, hands-on kind of administrator-missionary and his wife, while appearing to submit to his God-given headship, was really the one who sought to preach & teach.

Sunday #2. Church #2. Another church I had desired to visit on a Sunday off because Pastor #2 was somewhat new there. I had met this man a few months prior, knew he would be coming to this church and looked forward to a time to hear him open God’s Word.

This was a much better experience musically (we new 50% of the songs and the rest, while new in word, were familiar hymn-tunes). One of the songs was “Days of Elijah”, a peppy little ditty of which I’m still trying to work out the theology. Not quite sure how it fits with Scripture and the Kingdom, but still a catchy tune.

Pastor #2 opened the Word and truly exposited a passage (Acts 13.1-5 to be precise). A couple from this church was being commissioned that Sunday to go to the Dominican Republic, so this was not only an appropriate text for that couple, but for the church. I believe the pastor, being new to this congregation, was doing what many do these days, upon arriving: preach several messages about the church, what it is and what it should be about. Good message and encouraging to hear the Word faithfully opened.

Quick word of summary: Church #1 made me wonder if I’m not an anachronism … just in the wrong time zone. I don’t want to appear to be a curmudgeon, but there are so many times upon seeing or hearing of churches similar to this one that I feel so out of touch. Not out of touch with the Word or God or anything; just out of touch with what they think worship is and how important and central the proper preaching of the Word is to be in the life of a church.

Church #2 on Sunday #2 helped tremendously to reassure me that churches that I might be a bit more skeptical of for other reasons, still have hope and foundation because the centrality of the Word appeared to be vital.

My prayer is this:

A MINISTER’S PREACHING

MY MASTER GOD,

I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;

Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;

Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction.

Present to my view things pertinent to my subject, with fullness of matter and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a feeling sense of the things I preach, and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.

Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.

Help me to offer a testimony for thyself, and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.

Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people, and to set before them comforting considerations.

Attend with power the truth preached, and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.

May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted, and help me to use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings, that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness, that I might be a pure channel of thy grace, and be able to do something for thee;

Give me then refreshment among thy people, and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end from lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.
(from Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth Trust, page 191.)