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Everyday Church

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Another book about the church. There are a lot of them out there. This is one of the better ones. These men offer us a powerful critique of where the church has lost it’s focus, but they don’t just blast away, rather, with a gracious spirit they offer some tremendous assistance in moving forward. For 2015 this book receives my strongest recommendation. If you are at all interested in the church, read this book. Below is simply a compilation of snippets, woven together, to give you a taste.

If I build it will they come? Merely opening our doors each Sunday is no longer sufficient. Offering good products is not enough. What is clear is that great swathes of America will not be reached through Sunday morning services. (15) Since the Bible no longer has authority in public discourse increasingly less and less of our population has any interest in church attendance whatsoever. (19) Our persistent ‘come to us’ mind set suggests that we really believe that people who refuse to come in the front door are beyond the reach of Christ. We cannot assume people will come to us. We must go to them. (28) We cannot assume that people feel any need or obligation to attend church (37) – they don’t.  Even if we could produce cool church events, we would create a generation of Christian consumers who look to the church to entertain them. (49) – Sadly, this in many cases is exactly what we have done. When church becomes a performance in which most people are observers of the super-talented, the people of God eventually become disenfranchised. (96)

What about persecution? It is a daily thing to experience marginalization and hostility. (36) We need to discover or recover the sense that if this year we are not imprisoned it has been a good year .(38)

What is evangelism? It’s not a question of “improving the product” of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events. (17) Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do in everyday life. (50) It is not simply that ordinary Christians live good lives that enable them to invite friends to evangelistic events. Our lives are the evangelistic events (89) When we think of evangelism, we should not first think of guest services, evangelistic courses, street preaching, or door knocking. We should think of Gary at a meeting of the resident’s association. We should think of Hannah in her office. (90)

Being the church The church needs to understand itself as a people sent on a mission together rather than the storefronts for vendors of religious services and goods. (98) The gospel community is the core unit, when understanding church. These little communities on mission should be the primary organizing principle of the church.  It is within these collections of people that the work of evangelism, pastoral care, discipleship, and sharing life take place. A gospel community is a network of relationships that will probably have a regular meeting, but they are sharing life throughout the week (105) However you do church, let it be nothing less than the people of God on mission together. In this way we are a city on a hill and a light of the world. (111) Everyday church fills everyday, but it does not necessarily fill it with extra activities. It’s fundamentally a matter of becoming intentional about the everyday stuff of life. (143) No new life is possible without the Spirit of God, so we arrange to pray together because we see it as our  primary missional activity. (149) Everyday church is not primarily about a structure but about a culture or ethos. (155) Weekly Sunday gathering is important but it cannot achieve all that the New Testament envisions for church life. It cannot be a context for the one anothering of the New Testament. Moreover, if it is seen as primary, then all these other things are viewed as secondary. If the bulk of a churches time and energy goes into the Sunday meeting, then everyday church will not happen. (160)

Where are the lost? If we could place people on a range of one to ten depending on their interest in the gospel, where one is no interest and ten is a decision to follow Christ, lots of evangelism assumes people are at around eight. We teach our gospel outlines. We teach answers to apologetic questions. We hold guest services. We put on evangelistic courses. We preach in the open air or knock on doors. All these are great things to do, but 70 percent of the population is at one or two. (112) It’s not so much attractional events that will win people it is attractional communities. (88)

Speaking the gospel story into peoples stories. — Obviously, people do not use the categories creation, fall redemption, and consummation. But they will talk about who they are and what they are meant to be (creation) They will talk about what is wrong with them or what is wrong with the world — somebody or something will be blamed (fall) They will also have a sense of what needs to happen for things to be put right (redemption) and some sense of the state of affairs that they are hoping will give them meaning or satisfaction. (consummation) Creation = my identity who I am. Fall = My problem. Redemption = my solution. Consummation = my hope.  (115)  People are throwing out their versions of this grand story all the time or job is to look for points of intersection. (119)

Measurements of success — What is a good church? What criteria do we use to make assessments? Preaching? Youth Work? Music? For the apostle Peter a good church is characterized by love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, service, and grace…A good church is a church in which the believers share their lives together as an alternative and authentic society. (140)

Re-thinking professional ministry — The most important evangelistic work of the minister appears to be not in the church and the pulpit but in two other kinds of relationships: one to one meetings with non-Christians and the ‘lapsed’ and group situations, particularly those where there is an opportunity to talk about the nature of faith. (24) Authentic leadership can be bi-vocational, and in a marginalized context this may be preferable. Unbelievers are often suspicious of professional clergy. They are more willing to listen to someone who works hard with integrity in a “normal” job. It also brings leaders into contact with people who would never attend a church service. (146)

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Religiphobia

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Horrible things have happened in the name of religion. I am half way through the book A Concise History of the Middle East, and I could easily cite a hundred examples or more of atrocities committed in the name of Jesus or Allah. Before that book I read Great Soul the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, which some could argue is more a chronology of carnage between Hindus and Muslims than anything else.

I understand why religion is creepy at best to many in our western world. I see clearly how charlatans and power mongers embed themselves in religious communities so as to control people and take advantage of noble traits like generosity and grace. I’ve seen how religious institutions grow, gain power and become corrupt. I’ve observed how leaders of religious organizations let success, fame, & popularity go to their head. These leaders become arrogant, pompous, and unloving. I’ve witnessed the stunning transformation of well-meaning religious people who become so fixated on a particular issue or moral standard that love and grace vanish, replaced with violent anger and rage.
Given these realities, is it suitable for us as a culture to embrace a phobia of religion? Religiphobia is a knee jerk negative reaction against anything that even resembles religion. The assumption of a religiphobe is that all things religious or even apparently religious should be continually marginalized, censored, & prohibited.

The problem with religiphobia is that is comes with an unwarranted presupposition against all religions and it fails to take into consideration the truth that every human is innately religious — especially religiphobes.

The unwarranted presupposition against all religions fails to consider what I call simple religion. Take Jesus for example. His conclusion on the whole matter of religion is to love God by loving your neighbor. That’s how Christians are supposed to practice their religion. So if a Christian or group of Christians want to practice the simple religion of loving their neighbor at a community centre or a local school by putting together a program or event that benefits the neighborhood they should be able to do so. But it’s simply not possible when religiphobia is in the air. If one wishes to practice simple religion by opening up his home to share meals and talk about life’s questions. The religiphobes send city inspectors to try to shut it down. For many who wish to practice this form of simple religion they could only do so if they jettison their faith, or masquerade as irrereligous. Even a hint of religion and doors slam tightly shut. Granted, if religious organizations were trying to manipulate people or hurt them that would be one thing. But this is not what the purveyors of simple religion are about. They are about helping make their neighborhoods better as an act of worship to a God they believe in. Why ever would we as a society frown upon that?

Secondly, every human is religious. To quote Yann Martel “Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith…We all go as far as the legs of reason will carry us and then we jump!”  Science can never retrace with certainty where we have come from or where we are going, or why we are here. The deep why’s, the ones that matter in our gut, will always remain unanswered by scientific rationalism and so we jump. All of us jump: some with lab coats on and some without, but we all jump. That’s faith, that’s religion. Everyone who is part of the human race, shapes their life around a story that they are believing. To me it’s culturally poor form to push to the margins certain faiths while at the same time upholding others. Somehow we’ve managed to justify this discrimination by pretending that some of the more secular explanations for why, what and how to live are not faith based. They are all faith-based. Religiphobes are the fundamentalists of this faith.

Perhaps we as a society should relax a little, take a deep breath. There are enemies out there that want to undo us, some in the name of organized religion some not. Practitioners of simple religion are not the enemy.