A secular case for tithing?

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

The “The New Tithe” (below) was the winner of this year’s Project Reason video contest. Project Reason is “nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.”

The video light on hard facts and gets some fundamental things wrong about what most churches do with their money (ie it’s not all going to huge salaries and fancy buildings). For every church that misuses its money, there are thousands—if not more—who are transparent and responsible with their expenditures. All that said, I do think it’s interesting that someone would make a secular case for “tithing”:

I’d doubt this video will convince many Christians to stop giving to their church. Plus, as the blogger over at unreasonable faith points out in his thoughts on the New Tithe video, most tithing Christians find their local churches to be worthwhile endeavors.

However, it does make me wonder how people outside of my church perceive our churches. Should that change how we use our money? And thinking along those lines, are there guidelines for how a church should use its member’s tithes? Should 10% of everyone’s 10% go to missions for example?

The Semantic Game of Women in Ministry

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Out of Ur has begun posting a series of videos about the different viewpoints on women in ministry. The first video from Rose Madrid-Swetman is posted below:

The thing that stuck out to me most from this video was Madrid-Swetman’s point about how many churches sidestep the heart of the issue by wrapping it up in semantics. As she says, women can hold the title of “Coordinator,” but if a man were to have the same position and responsibility they’d be called the “Pastor.” Worship Coordinators are functionally the same as Worship Pastors; same for Children’s Coordinators and Pastors.

It’s inconsistent for churches to hide behind word games in order to appear as if they’re upholding their theological views on gender roles in the church. If you’re going to be a complementation church, I think you have to be consistent in the way you describe those roles.

How does AIDS affect your church?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Today is World AIDS Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of AIDS and HIV.

Events like this are a little tricky to discuss in the evangelical Christian world. While I can’t imagine that anyone would object to being made more aware of the extent of the AIDS pandemic, many Christians struggle to separate the general subject of AIDS from the social and moral issues that live in its shadow.

I’m curious: how does AIDS affect—or not affect—your church community?

Does your church talk about AIDS? If so, does it focus its discussion on the pandemic itself, or on the sexual behaviors associated with it? Does anyone in your church have HIV/AIDS, and if so, how has that affected your church’s approach to the issue?

Should the Local Church Say Thank You to the Government?

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

My church recently passed around a resolution for its members to sign. It thanked our local government for switching to single stream recycling—a simplified recycling system that’s much easier to use. My church puts a special emphasis on creation care, and welcomed the new recycling program as a very positive change. As an experiment in being good neighbors in our community, my pastor encouraged us to publicly thank the local leaders who decided to switch to the new recycling system.

It’s trivially easy to find reasons to complain about the government. I can’t count the number of times someone has asked me to sign something condemning a government decision. But few of us take the time to thank them for doing the right thing.

I signed my church’s resolution, but not without some hesitation. How far we should take the healthy separation of church and state. On one hand, this resolution is a clear example of the church involving itself with the government. On the other, it’s a one-time thing and largely amounts to simply saying “hey, thanks!”—a fairly trivial issue.

What do you think? Should the church ever thank the government for doing something right? When is the last time—if ever—you thanked your local leaders and politicians?

Where were you on Sunday night? The decline of evening church services

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Does your church hold a Sunday evening worship service? Evening services have long been a staple of Sunday worship in many Christian traditions. But a recent article in my local paper shed some light on a discouraging trend in my own denomination: Sunday evening church service attendance is significantly down… in some cases, enough so that evening services are being dropped from the weekly church calendar altogether.

The survey [within the Christian Reformed denomination] found evening worship attendance is “plummeting,” down from 56 percent of members in 1992 to 24 percent in 2007.

Researchers wrote that the data “seems to suggest that evening service attendance has become optional.”

It’s a conclusion that may seem harmless, but to some it’s cause for concern about the integrity of the Dutch Reformed family’s faith convictions. For others, the tradition’s decline is a natural outcome of the church’s aspirations to evangelize a broader demographic.

“Many churches are substituting evening worship and putting their energies into other things,” said Jeff Meyer, pastor of Crosswinds Community Church, a 4-year-old CRC congregation in Holland [Michigan] that, like many new churches, does not conduct evening worship.

There’s a lot to unpack in the article. For some, the decline of the evening church service is a tragic breakdown of a long-running church tradition. For others, it’s a clear sign of apostasy and spiritual decline. But for many of the churches jettisoning their traditional evening services, it’s a matter of using church resources (and staff time) efficiently and realistically.

One of my close friends (who is quoted in the article) is the pastor of a church that recently changed its Sunday evening worship service in response to very low attendance. Instead of a full-blown worship service, the church instead hosts a less formal time of community study and discussion. For that church, it was partly a simple question of church resources: was it a good use of the pastor’s time to spend hours preparing a sermon that would be heard by only a fraction of the congregation? (The same could be asked about the time spent by worship planners, musicians, and other staff involved in preparing worship services.) Were there more effective ways that time could be used to serve the church than preparing for a poorly-attended evening service?

Speaking as somebody whose evening church attendance is spotty but improving, I’m not sure what to think. I do worry that the tendency to make evening church “optional,” while not sinful in itself, is one sign that churchgoers today are giving less priority to Christian worship and fellowship than they used to. On the other hand, I completely sympathize with churches looking for alternate ways of fostering fellowship and study. And I resent the idea (voiced by one pastor in the article) that the failure to observe a 16th-century human tradition makes one an apostate.

What about you—does your church hold evening worship services? How is attendance—and how is your attendance? Is evening worship an integral part of Sunday worship, or is it an optional (and possibly outdated) practice that churches should jettison if it doesn’t get adequate participation?

A Twisting Story of Protests, Salvation… and More Protests

Friday, August 20th, 2010

A few weeks ago, a local strip club made headlines by staging a counter-protest in front of a church. The church had been protesting the strip club’s presence in less than tactful ways for the past four years, and the club owner and workers couldn’t stand it anymore.

I dismissed the story as yet another example of two groups yelling at each other in lieu of finding a real solution. A few days ago, however, I noticed a XXXChurch post by Sherri Brown of JC’s Girls and Anny Donewald of Eve’s Angels. They’d gotten wind of the fruitless protests and counter-protests and felt called to go and share the Gospel with the women from the strip club. Sherri, Anny and crew managed to lead a few of the girls from the strip club to Christ. Afterwards they were invited to speak at the church and the service ended with the church members and strippers hugging, crying and asking for forgiveness.

Here’s an excerpt from a their journal entries which were published on the XXXChurch blog:

We went into the club and were blessed by flowers & cards from the girls!!! We had such a wonderful night with them. God spoke into us and then we spoke into them. It was so not us, which made it very supernatural. Two of the precious girls gave their lives to the Lord and a few rededicated their relationship with Him!!! Yea God!!! We just LOVE these beautiful girls with ALL of our hearts and pray a special blessing on them and their families. [...]

As the church left the building, they became Jesus in Flesh and the Love of the Father poured out all over these girls as they began to Love them, hug them, and seek forgiveness from them!!! Our Sweet Lola was broken and afraid to trust the church. Pastor Bill Hugged her and held her and promised with all his heart he was not gonna fail her. He prayed for her and it was AMAZING!! I saw my beautiful Lola Smile from ear to ear for the very first time!!!

Up to this point, it’s a fantastic story of God’s love intervening in a seemingly deadlocked situation.

However, yesterday a report was published in a local newspaper that makes me wonder if much has changed. The pastor of the church sat down with the owner of the club and asked him to close his business. Unsurprisingly, the owner said, “No.” So, the church is going to start protesting again, which in turn will lead to the strip club counter-protesting. Here’s the meaty part of that story from the Coshocton Tribune:

Dunfee says he would have accepted nothing less from George than an offer to shut down his business.

The pastor says church members will continue to gather outside the club on weekend nights, as they’ve done for years.

He says he expects George and women from the club will keep up the Sunday protests they began several weeks ago at the church in Warsaw.

Clearly, this situation is complicated. It’s hard to really know what’s going on based on a few blog posts and newspaper articles. But looking in on it from afar, I can’t help but think that the church would be better off focusing on ministering to the girls rather than protesting. The protests aren’t getting either side anywhere. The club owner has little incentive to close his club in accordance with moral standards he doesn’t agree with.

They’re returned to how things were rather than moving forward from the spiritually healthy events that transpired almost a week ago.

What do you think about this story? How would you respond if you were a part of the church in this situation? Do you think the church is in the right to continually protest the club?

Share your thoughts!

Does Your Pastor Make Political Statements From the Pulpit?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

I’ve yet to go to a church in which someone hasn’t made a political statement from the pulpit. Usually, it comes out around election time, and usually the person isn’t trying to push an agenda. Political thought is just a part of being a human, and sometimes those feelings come out.

But sometimes, mixing politics and religion can be very distracting. Possibly the most egregious personal example I’ve seen happened last year. We had a guest speaker at our church who was formerly steeped in the civil rights movement. His message was extraordinarily politically charged, and he made no bones about what party he supported. Needless to say, many people in the audience disagreed with him. A man in front of me who had been fidgeting the entire time at one point audibly said “I’m leaving if he keeps this up!”

In that case, politics did nothing but distract the majority of the congregation from the message the speaker had. Even those who agreed with him felt the tension in the room rising.

Occasional guest speakers aside, has your pastor ever engaged in political statements from the pulpit? When it does happen, how does it make you feel?

Today’s devotional: are you a Pharisee?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Have you ever been called a “Pharisee”? I hope not—it’s a term deeply associated with arrogance, legalism, and hypocrisy. It’s one of the harshest insults you can throw at a Christian, because it implies that in their obsession with being holy, they’ve failed to grasp Christianity’s most basic teachings.

But at one time in history, the word “Pharisee” wasn’t an insult; it was high praise! When Jesus criticized the Pharisees, he was challenging people’s core concept of what holiness and faithfulness looked like. In this devotional from Slice of Infinity, Jill Carattini imagines how Jesus’ words about hypocrisy might play out in the modern world:

Ironically, the description “pharisaical” would once have been a great compliment. The Pharisees were highly regarded guardians of the strict interpretation and application of Jewish Law. They were known for their zeal and for their uncompromising ways of following the God of their fathers. It is likely that the apostle Paul was a Pharisee, and it is suggested that much of his Christian theology owes something to the shape and content of this earlier training. In other words, to be a Pharisee was not an easy life riddled with loopholes and duplicities, like we might assume. The Pharisees were so certain there was a right way to follow God that they sought to follow Him to that very letter with all of their lives.

In this light, Jesus’s words seem a little harsher, his tone a little crueler, and perhaps his warnings a little closer to home. In the Pharisees, Jesus scolded the very best of the religious crowd, those who dedicated everything, and cared the deepest about following God. If Jesus came today into churches and singled out the ministers who work the hardest, the youth who are most involved, and the families who serve most consistently and called them a brood of vipers, we would be hurt and confused and even defensive. This is exactly what happened amongst the Pharisees.

Imagine the jarring effect Jesus’ words must have had—it would be like seeing the most dedicated and earnest members of your church criticized for being hypocrites! But Jesus’ message was not just a condemnation—it was a call to change. While most of the Pharisees resisted that call, at least one of them—Nicodemus—realized that even a life lived in pursuit of holiness could go astray, and sought out Jesus.

Have you ever felt convicted of being a modern-day Pharisee, finding yourself spiritually astray despite your devotion to church and religion? How did God deliver that message to you, and how did you respond?

Don’t just go to church, be the church

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Adam McClane recently reposted a comment he received from T.C. Porter about how Porter does church. I’ve read it a few times over the past few days and it continues to stick in my mind. The posture towards church that Porter adopts is both no-nonesense and rooted in the Bible. It’s also challenging to the status quo. For starters, their sermons are no longer than seven minutes, which leaves the congregation plenty of time to interact and support each other.

Here’s an excerpt from the Porter’s comment; you can read the whole thing at Adam’s blog on “Guest Post: Be the Church:”

- do it. stop talking about it. leave your church and do what you are saying. that’s the message i keep getting, and increasingly i have less time writing about church reform because there is, as you say, so much work to be done. people want this but we are on the leading edge and it is hard work. nonverbals are the message – what is our message – go out and get it done and build it; know that it will take a long time so you have to start now, stop writing about it folks. [...]

- a big trend that has to be bothersome is this rising chorus of critique against the church without a rising army of folks living out the alternative. gen x got its name from being meaninglessly, non-committal, and complacent. and i know too many of us who are not really engaged and fighting the good fight with a covenant community, we’re just saying things like “church is everywhere” and “love your neighbor” and yet it looks like a ministry of convenience more than anything. i like to write so i blog; i like to feed the hungry so i do that. i like beer so i drink with my neighbor. … all fine and good, but: are we becoming a generation of disciples and disciple-makers? is this generation being shaped and formed into Christlikness against he prevailing tides of individualism, hard-work, consumerism, well-touted charity, etc.

I’ve been writing for Gospel.com for a few years now, and before that I attended a Christian college. I’ve heard and read the “Church is failing!” argument more times than I care to count. Rarely, though, do people take all their anger about the church and turn it into something positive. It’s refreshing.

What do you think of Porter’s comment? Are there there things you wish your church did that were more in line with what Jesus taught?

How does your church handle vocal criticism?

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

In a recent post on edsetzer.com, Philip Nation writes about how his church, Two Rivers Church, handled a protest from Westboro Baptist. Here’s an excerpt outlining the five main points of Two Rivers’ reponse:

First, we prepared an answer…Whether speaking to the protestors, counter protestors, or the media, we were prepared to speak about what God is doing in our community.

Second, we told the congregation. One week earlier, Ed told the church we would be picketed and to expect the counter protestors and media to be present as well. But we also made it clear that church members should not engage either side…

Third, we appointed one spokesman for the church. For Sunday, I was the one. If the media wanted to do an interview or get answers to questions, they could talk to the representative from the church. This is normal for how we do things at Two Rivers.

Fourth, show hospitality. One of our staff members recruited several deacons to serve at a Baptist breakfast table: coffee and donuts. It was positioned near the protesters, counter protesters, and media. Anyone was welcome to come to the breakfast table.

Finally, we went on as usual. We gather to worship God in such as way that it bring Him honor and is comprehensible to those who are yet to place their faith in Christ. Two Rivers has become one of the hubs for relief efforts in the wake of the Nashville flood. We have been a command center for Samaritan’s Purse and housed a Christian school while their building is being repaired. Every week, we meet new people by clearing debris and offering grace. The last thing we have time to do is shut down because five people show up with offensive signs.

It can be extremely hard to respond with love when someone criticizes you, and relying on instincts and feelings in the moment often results in a messy situations. I like Two Rivers’ plan because it emphasizes their core value of love and gives the congregation practical steps to follow in order to channel their emotions.

Has your church ever had protesters or encountered vocal criticism? If so, how did you handle it? If not, what do you think of Ed’s advice?