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Showing posts with the label #Church

Hypocrisy in leadership: It can get really bad, really fast.

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Most Christian leaders know better than to let hypocrisy grow among their leadership structure. It’s poison. It’s how scandals start, ruin churches, drive people to quit Jesus (or at least give ’em an excuse ), and give all of Christianity a lousy reputation. So they take great care to keep hypocrites from ever being put in charge. Others take no such care, and are full of hypocrites. I used to single out particular churches, with particular leadership structures, for being particularly hypocritical. And yeah, it’s much easier for phonies to hide in churches with few to no accountability structures. (Or even with tremendous accountability structures, like the Roman Catholic Church… but the catch is their structure only offers forgiveness, not consequence , and that’s why so many evil leaders can get away with what they do.) It’s almost a given you’re gonna find hypocrites in anti- denominational churches : They want no oversight, no one to tell them to behave. But it’s hard

On not giving to certain churches.

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Recently the subject came up about funding one’s church… and about whether we oughta fund churches which really doesn’t need the money. Fr’instance a megachurch. People assume bigger churches are successful, and flush with cash, so it doesn’t matter whether they give these churches any money: The churches already have money. The Roman Catholic Church is loaded with expensive buildings, priceless artwork, huge tracts of land; heck, Vatican City is a sovereign nation-state which prints money and postage stamps. Hence whenever a Catholic diocese actually does need money, most people’s first response is, “Oh come on; you guys have money.” And don’t give. Now yes, churches with a lot of people are gonna need a lot of resources. More pastors, obviously. More support staff: More secretaries and assistants, janitors and groundskeepers, bookkeepers, security guards, IT and website personnel, counselors and life coaches, drivers and pilots… the organization can get pretty huge. Plu

How do we fund our churches?

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Back in high school I invited a schoolmate to my church. After the service he confessed he was really bothered by the offering plates. We passed offering plates right after the worship songs, but before the karaoke. (Many Christians call it “special music.” It’s where someone gets on stage and sings along to an instrumental track. Exactly like karaoke. ’Cause it’s karaoke.) People put cash and checks in the plates. Sometimes in little envelopes, so people can’t see how little they actually give. Sometimes not, so people can. This bugged him. In the church where he was raised, they had an offering box in back of the auditorium. If people wanted to inconspicuolusly put money or gum wrappers into it, they could. The box, he felt, was way more appropriate than our ostentatious “Look what I gave” display—which reminded him much too much of this story: Mark 12.41-44 NRSV 1 [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many ric

Bishops: The head leaders in a church.

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BISHOP 'bɪʃ.əp noun . A senior member of the Christian clergy. Usually in charge of multiple churches, like a district or diocese; usually empowered to appoint other clergy. 2. A chess piece. Each player gets two, and they only move diagonally; one on white squares, and one on black. [Episcopal ə'pɪs.kə.pəl adjective .] When Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus about church leaders, one particular word he used was ἐπίσκοπον / epískopon , “supervisor.” The King James Version translates this word as “overseer” Ac 20.28 KJV and “bishop.” 1Pe 2.25 KJV We actually got the latter word “bishop” from epískopon ; you just have to drop the -on ending and swap the epí- for bi- , and soften the k sound. Language evolves like that. Every church has supervisors of one form or another. But not all of ’em use the word “bishop” for them; not all of ’em are comfortable with that word, ’cause they think of it as a Catholic thing. So they use other words, like “pastor” or “minis

Presbyters: The grownups who run a church.

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PRESBYTER 'prɛz.bə.dər, 'prɛs.bə.dər noun . An elder in a Christian church. 2. The formal title of a minister or priest, in certain Christian denominations. [Presbyteral prɛz'bə.dər.əl adjective , presbyterial prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.əl adjective , presbyterian prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.ən adjective .] You likely know the word presbyterian because there are presbyterian churches, and a few presbyterian denominations. The word’s in their names. Y’might not know what it means : It indicates these particular churches aren’t run by the head pastor, nor run from afar by a bishop, nor are they a democracy where all the members get a vote. They’re run by a limited number of qualified mature Christians. They’re run by elders. The New Testament word which we translate “elder” is πρεσβύτερος / presvýteros , and in the Latin bible this became presbyter . So yeah, it’s a Latin word. Still means “elder.” The ancient church was run by elders for a few centuries, but it gradually

Elders: The grownups in the church.

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ELDER 'ɛld.ər adjective . Of a greater or advanced age. 2. [ noun ] A person of greater or advanced age. 3. [ noun ] A spiritually mature Christian, usually consulted as part of a church’s leadership, often entrusted with ministerial or priestly responsibility. [Eldership 'ɛl.dər.ʃɪp noun. ] After Jesus was raptured, his church had to continue without him physically here. Which was fine, ’cause he’d already trained apprentices, and designated 12 of them as apostles. One was dead, so the other 11 picked a replacement Ac 1.26 and went back to 12. (It’s God’s favorite number, y’see.) Running the church with only 12 leaders quickly became a problem, because the church immediately surged by 3,000 people, Ac 2.41 and soon after another two or five thousand; Ac 4.4 it’s debatable. In any event that’s a lot of people to train to follow Jesus; the food ministry alone was chaos, with accusations of prejudice against Greek-speakers. Ac 6.1 The apostles recognized th

The church café.

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Some churches offer refreshments before, after, or even during the service. My current church did, before the current pandemic made us suspend it. At one of my previous churches, one of our pastors’ wives who loved to cook (who became known as our “minister of munchies”) would have so much food available, you may as well skip breakfast at home, ’cause there was plenty of food at church. But many churches—namely the churches which get so big, refreshment tables get cleaned out within minutes—have decided to go with cafés. They stick it somewhere near the front of the building, and sell coffee and doughnuts—and other drinks, and other foods. A friend likes to sarcastically call them “concession stands.” To him, the church café is just a money-making scheme… kinda like the moneychangers Jesus had to throw out of temple ’cause they turned it into a marketplace. Mk 13.13-17 In some churches, that’s precisely what their cafés feel like. But the purpose of this article isn’t to b

When Christians won’t even let you think.

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Some Christians get awfully dogmatic. Dogma is another word for doctrine , Christianity’s fixed ideas or official beliefs. It’s an old-timey word, so you tend to only hear dogma in older churches, or used to refer to that one movie about fallen angels who try to take advantage of a dogmatic loophole. But while the adjective doctrinal tends to mean “deals with doctrine,” dogmatic tends to mean “demands we follow doctrine.” Dogmatists are the doctrine police of Christendom. And while the older churches have a settled, limited, fixed number of dogmas… certain Christians kinda crank out a new doctrine every week. Fr’instance this one Texas pastor I know; I’ll call him Alfons. He has a newsletter called “These Doctrines,” in which Alfons goes over all the things he expects the Christians of his church—and really, Christians everywhere—to believe. For the most part they’re typical Fundamentalist principles: God’s a trinity, Jesus is both God and human, Mary was a virgin w

Altar calls: Come on down!

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ALTAR 'ɔl.tər noun . A table or block used as the focus for a religious ritual, particularly offerings or ritual sacrifices to a deity. 2. In Christianity, the table used to hold the elements for holy communion. 3. In some churches, the stage, the steps to the stage, or the space in front of the stage, where people go as a sign of commitment. During our worship services, sometimes Christians are invited to leave our seats and come forward to the stage. It’s called an altar call . Thing is, we’re not sure how the term originated. ’Cause the stage, or the front of the stage, wasn’t called an altar back then. The altar was the communion table. My guess is people were originally instructed to gather by the communion table. In a lot of churches, that altar is front and center; in the church I went to as a child, it was right in front of the preacher’s podium. But when evangelists held rallies, whether at a concert hall, sports arena, outdoor stadium, theater, high scho

Take notes.

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It’s Wednesday. So, assuming you went to church Sunday morning… do you remember what the sermon or homily was about? Some of you do, ’cause your memory is just that good. (Mine is.) You were paying attention. The preacher said something memorable, or entertaining, or particularly profound. Or perfectly relevant to your situation, or taught you something you’d like to try. Others of you can’t remember for the life of you. Nope, this isn’t a criticism. Hey, some people who stand up to preach simply aren’t preachers. They might be nice people, good musicians, great prayer leaders; they’re friendly people, and exactly the sort of person you want in your life when you’re going through tough times. Or they might have a lot of personal charisma—they’re people you naturally like, even though they might not have done anything to win people’s affection. (Some of them, like certain celebrities and politicians, might’ve done plenty to make you dislike them—but when you see ’em in perso

“Church is SO BORING.”

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So it’s summer vacation, your kid wanders into the room, and complains, “I’m bored.” And if you’re anything like my parents, you’d throw up your hands in frustration: “Whatd’you mean , you’re bored? You got a room full of toys! A computer full of video games! A shelf full of books! How can you be bored?… You’re so spoiled rotten.” Okay, maybe you’re not middle class and can’t afford to give your kids any that stuff. Or maybe you’re like my dad and responds, “Bored, eh? Well I have some projects you could work on…” by which he meant chores, none of which were fun. But both kids and adults in our culture, on every economic level, have no shortage of options. “Spoiled rotten” is right. Boredom just means we don’t care about any of these options; at the moment we don’t care about, or can’t relate to, any of ’em. A “bored” kid with a roomful of toys simply isn’t interested in any of them right now. (Quick ’n dirty way to change that: Offer to get rid of any of them.) And somet

Cults: When churches go very, very wrong.

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CULT kəlt noun. A religion centered on one particular individual or figurehead. 2. A group (usually small) whose religious beliefs and practices are outside the norm: Too controlling, too strange, too devilish. 3. A misplaced devotion to a particular person or thing. 4. A heretic Christian church. [Cultic 'kəl.tɪk adjective , cultish 'kəl.tɪʃ adjective , cultism 'kəl.tiz.əm noun .] I throw this word “cult” around a lot, so I’d better define it. First, what other folks mean by “cult,” all of which are included in the above definition: Sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists whose job descriptions end in -ist, tend to use definition #1: A cult is any religion with a guru in charge. And technically Christianity falls under this definition, ’cause we got Jesus. Popular culture leans towards definition #2: A cult is a creepy religion. If it weirds them out in any way, they call it a cult. Even if it’s Christianity. If we trust Jesus a l

The Holy Spirit’s temple: Multiple Christians.

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From time to time Christians talk about how you, singular, individually, are the temple of the Holy Spirit. ’Cause the Spirit is sealed to every individual Christian. Ep 1.13 He lives in the heart of every single believer. And whatever God lives in is, properly, his temple. If he lives in you, it makes you his temple. If he lives in another Christian, it makes that person a temple. Dozens of Christians are dozens of temples. Billions of Christians are billions of temples. Get it? But it’s not accurate. God has one temple. As was kinda emphasized in the bible. Moses built the portable temple at Sinai, which English-speaking Christians call the tabernacle, and that was the temple for 4 centuries till Solomon ben David built a permanent one of gold-plated cedar in Jerusalem. The Babylonians burnt that down; Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel built another of stone; Herod 1 and his successors renovated it; the Romans eventually destroyed it. It was the one and only place the L ORD int

Churches, “the Church,” and God’s kingdom.

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Whenever people say church they either mean a building where religious activity happens, or the hierarchy which runs the religion. Which is way different than what I mean by it. Or what Jesus and the bible mean by it. When Jesus says ἐκκλησία / ekklisía he means a flock of Christians; a group, assembly, crowd, congregation, collection, bunch, congress, whatever term you wanna use for many of us. People like to take apart that Greek word, and note its word-root is καλέω / kaléo , “to call”—and then analyze the significance of Jesus calling Christians to meet together. Yeah, whatever: By the time people used the word in Jesus’s day, it just meant a gathering. And that’s still what it means. Still, even Christians tend to use it to mean a church building, or the church leadership. Which is why we tend to forget we are the church. Church isn’t a separate thing from us; it is us. It’s us collectively; it’s why I can’t say “I am the church,” because I all by myself am definitel

Where your church meets, and where the needy are.

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My church (I’m not a pastor; just a longtime member) meets in a strip mall. We’re next to a Walmart Neighborhood Market. We moved in during the recession, before Walmart moved in and the building owners drove up the rental prices. The higher rent was part of the reason we had to give up our Fellowship Hall; there’s a carpet store there now. It’s next to a junior high school, next to a 7-Eleven, across the street from a health club. It’s not a good neighborhood. We got crime. We got homeless people. Which means it’s a really good place to put a church. Needy people and sinners need Jesus! So occasionally homeless folks come into the building. Usually it’s because we have coffee in the hall. They see free coffee; they want free coffee; I don‘t blame ’em. Come in and have some coffee! Sometimes we also have pastries, doughnuts, muffins, or other baked goods; they’ll eat those too. The hope is they’ll also stick around for the worship service. And every once in a while they do. We

“It counts as church, right?”

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When Christians figure their various spiritual activities are equivalent to “church.” Though four out of five Americans identify ourselves as Christian, only one of these five actually go to church. Nope, not kidding. Yes, the polls indicate half of all Americans are regular attendees. That’s because they play mighty loose with what “regular” means: They think it means once a month or more. Once a month counts as “regular.” How often are Christians expected to go to church? Well check out the standard expectation found in the scriptures: Luke 9.23 KWL Jesus told everyone, “If anyone wants to come with me, disown yourself. Take up your cross every day . Follow me!” Looks like the first Christians took Jesus’s “every day” idea and ran with it: Acts 2.46-47 KWL 46 Daily they stuck close together in temple, breaking bread at home, sharing food in joy, with uncomplicated motives, 47 praising God, having grace with all the people. The Master daily added to them thos

Fearful churches.

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Love casts out fear. But if your church doesn’t love, fear’s all you have left. We Christians are meant to consider ourselves separate from the rest of the world. No, this isn’t because we’re better than them. We’re so not. No, this doesn’t mean we’re to move into little gated communities where nobody but Christians live, isolate ourselves from everybody else, and drive out anyone we might consider sinners. That’s how cults start —assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another symptom of how we’ve gone astray. It’s because God called us to be holy. Which means we gotta follow him , not one another. Not popular Christian culture. Certainly not the wider culture. So as the rest of the world does its thing, we’re to ask ourselves, “What would the Father rather I do?” or “What does Jesus do?” Then do that. Believe it or don’t, sometimes that means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly gets it into their head that society is

Christian leadership and age discrimination.

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If your church lacks young people in leadership, it’s gonna lose all its young people. Just you wait. Arguably Timothy of Lystra first met Paul of Tarsus when he was a teenager; old enough to come along with the apostles on their travels, but young enough for Paul to think of him as a son. Pp 2.22 When Timothy became the leader of a church in Ephesus in the 60s of the Christian era, Paul would’ve been in his 50s and Timothy in his 30s—certainly old enough to lead, but certainly not the oldest guy in that church. Quite possibly not even the one who’d been Christian longest, since Paul had evangelized Ephesus years before he ever met up with Timothy. In any case being in your thirties meant it was necessary for Paul to make this comment in his first letter to Timothy: 1 Timothy 4.12 KWL Nobody gets to look down upon your youth! Instead become the faithful Christians’ example in word, lifestyle, love, faith, and purity. Because people will look down on your youth. I kn

Deacons: Those who serve the church.

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As described in the scriptures, the church’s workers—whether we give ’em the title or not. DEACON /'di.kən/ n. Minister. Might be the leader of a particular ministry, but not the leader of a church: Deacons are nearly always subordinate to the pastor or priest. [Diaconal /di'ak.(ə.)nəl/ adj., less properly deaconal /di'kən.əl/ adj. ] The word diákonos /“deacon” originally meant “runner,” like someone who runs errands. You know, someone we’d nowadays call a gofer—as in “go fer coffee,” or run any other errands. Deacon first shows up in the bible when Jesus said if we wanna become great, we need to be everyone’s servant. Mk 10.43 Or when he said if anyone serves him, the Father values them. Jn 12.26 Deacon is used to describe the folks appointed to run the early church’s food ministry. Ac 6.1-6 The Twelve didn’t give them any more responsibility than that. But they picked mature Christians, and as a result people recognized these servants as leaders in their

What does your church believe?—your REAL church.

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Some Christians do better in a church with more structure. Recently a pastor friend of mine posted on social media, “One of the core values at our church is…” something. I don’t remember specifically what. Some virtuous practice. All I remember is immediately thinking, “No it isn’t.” Because it isn’t . Oh, I’ve no doubt it’s one of his core values. A virtue he no doubt wants his church to have. Probably preaches it in his sermons, includes it in his vision statements, sticks it on the church website. Likely practices it in his personal life. But as I keep reminding Christians, the leadership of a church is not the church. The people are. Your pastor’s core values are not your church’s core values. Your leadership team’s convictions are not your church’s convictions. Your statement of faith and official doctrines are not your church’s theology. Because the church is people. And your people believe all sorts of things. And if your people aren’t solid, growing Christians, y