Monday, February 22, 2010

Maybe we should...

Last night I was preaching on being real (you can get the message here), in a series from the book Shaped By God's Heart about missional church commonalities and characteristics, and I made a statement that wasn't in my notes (that happens quite often) that shocked some people (that happens often too). I was thinking out loud about ways that we can encourage our people/church to prioritize avenues to form relationships with unbelievers. (Understand that I believe that we should prioritize relationships within the body as well, but the context of my comments was related to the fact that the world needs to see our faith as real, life-changing, vibrant, and daily, and they can't do that without knowing us.) And so I asked the people to help think of some ways that we do encourage authenticity in relationships with non-believers, and other ways that we could encourage this, thus prioritizing relationships and avenues of relationships with them.

And that's when I said it..."maybe we could cancel Sunday night services, and encourage our people to be 'with' non-believers at this time intentionally." And of course, the idea is not to dedicate more time to a one-night a week program, but to engender a lifestyle that loves non-believers enough to build relationships with them and take down barriers for them and be able to share a gospel witness...all the time.

Just the thought of canceling something that we have done for years is enough to cause most baptists to have a mild heart attack and reach for the nitro-glycerin tablets (although there were some in our group last night that were all in favor). And some would defensively argue that we should never reduce commitment to "church" things, and thus bathe themselves in self-righteousness.

But this morning as I got the CD from the message last night in order to upload it to our website, I also got the headcount for the worship services (done so we can put that in the bulletin each week, another long-standing tradition). We had a record-breaking crowd last night...28 people! Many people that will argue that we maintain certain church "services" or "ministries" are the same folks that don't participate in them, funny, huh? And most of these people are definitely not eating with sinners in their free time like Jesus did?

So maybe we should cancel some services or ministries that inhibit our people from truly reaching out by consuming much time, and that cause our people to over-compartmentalize their faith/practice of that faith. And invest that time teaching our people how, where, and who to minister to with this new found freedom. The pastor of the church plant that we are helping plant in Tifton wrote a blog post about this yesterday after their worship service; it's a great read.

I know, it's a little crazy, but we should be ever-striving to be more kingdom-minded, even if it means, departing from tightly-held traditions.

What do you think?


  1. Several years ago, I realized that I had filled my time doing good things to such an extent that I never had time for the opportunities that God placed before me (the better things, if you will). I was working full time and attending various church activities almost every night of the week. So, when was I able to spend time with my neighbors? When was I able to serve needy people in my community? When was I able to practice hospitality by inviting people into my home? The answer? I didn't have the time because my time was filled with good church activities.

    Sometimes, it is better to forgo "good things" in order to have time to do the better things.

    So... thank you for this post.


  2. Why do you view "tradition" in today's terms, as something bad and to be done away with?

  3. Let me be clear that I don't believe all tradition is bad or unhelpful. In fact, some are very good.

    But I think that was the point of the post, is that I was suggesting that we could change the "tradition" of Sunday night services.

    To clarify, I do think that tradition that has no explicit biblical instruction behind it, and especially ones that hinder believers from doing what believers should be doing, should be done away with, or at least reconsidered. The Pharisees forsook the commands of God on the altar of tradition, and Jesus was really harsh to them, even saying that they were closing the door of the kingdom of God with those traditions.

    And so there is some discernment involved here, and wisdom in changing a tradition. In fact, that's why I didn't say, let's stop printing numbers in the church bulletin or having Sunday night worship. It was just a thought. Let the church think about it, and go from there. But my fear is that people hold so tightly to tradition, that they fail to view it from a kingdom perspective, and they fear change more than accountability from God.

    And as one of our deacons says (and I agree), sometimes we must take bold steps and new approaches rather than just sprucing up or changing the name of an outdated plan or program. We must seek first the kingdom.

  4. I think it depends on the situation and each church as to whether we should have Sunday night service. In our situation, Sunday night services, while not as well attended as Sunday morning, are better and more real than Sunday morning! There've been services where I didn't even get to preach, b/c the Spirit was so evident and at work. Having said that, I don't think less of a pastor or church that feels led to do something different on Sunday nights. I think the key is just for the church to follow the lead of the man of God as He listens to the Holy Spirit. I will agree that doing something just "because we've always done it that way" is wrong, unscriptural and dead works. Stand strong!

  5. All churches will not be "contempory"; there will still be traditional churches that hold to the belief that Sunday night worship service is not hindering believers from what they should be doing. Most churches no longer have Training Union, which was a great time for training disciples. Now, we barely make attending church a priority. The reason many of these contempory churches like the new one in your town, is because all you have to do is show up for one worship service a week and presto, you have "gone to church". There is no commitment.There is nothing wrong with change, change is the one thing that is always changing, but you have to consider the make-up of your congregation: young, new Christians that don't understand WHAT the traditions are or older folks that have been around a while and appreciate traditions? These people don't have much left to hang on to but traditions. At your church, are you really wanting to change Sunday night because you think it is "hindering" the believers or because it is something you want changed to clear your calendar? Why not change everything, why come together at all? Forsake not the assemblying of believers? instead, make Sunday night worship something the congregation wants to come to!Sounds like from some of your previous blogs, you like to change things, question....why??

  6. Please note what I said in my previous comment about using discernment and wisdom when thinking these things through. And that I was not suggesting that we do it, just thinking. Also, I totally affirm what Nathan said, that each church situation is different. And don't hear me say that all Sunday night services hinder all believers everywhere. This is not true, nor do I think that. And to say that I have no agenda would probably be an overstatement, but I don't have an agenda related to this question other than leading our people to follow the commands of Christ, making disciples.

    Having said that, why is "going to church" more important that "being the church?" We have no explicit command as to how many times a week to gather. And to imply that only gathering twice a week is "forsaking the assembling of ourselves" and three times is not, is kinda silly, or at least legalistic. If we all wanted to be biblical, the early church met everyday in the temple, but they didn't say all churches at all times must meet everyday to be good Christians.

    So, I don't think it is fair to measure commitment by how often people meet together. What if we measured it by the percentage of the membership that attends at least once a week. Ask your church clerk how many people are on your church roll, then compare that to your attendance. This will speak to the level of commitment better than how many services you have a week. And individual commitment is also measured in better ways than attendance (the Christian faith is more about the desires of the heart for Christ than conformity to external standards of checklist Christianity), because we have a lot that attend regularly that have little Christian fruit.

    I also think that you will find that the bar is raised for commitment at my church in our membership class. And you will also find the same thing at church plants like the one we support. For instance, out of the 200 people who attended their first required membership class, only 50 or so were willing to commit to what they asked of members. We are one of the few churches that practices church discipline, another measure of accountability and expectation of genuine commitment.

    Finally, I really hope that nobody (young, old, long time Christian, new believer, committed, not committed, etc.) has nothing left to hold on to but traditions. Christ himself is so much bigger and better than any tradition. If the world falls apart if we can't gather on Sunday night, use hymnals, use contemporary music, have VBS, Sunday School, Training Union, homecomings, air-conditioner, padded pews, committees, or any other good or bad traditions, we have our eyes focused on the wrong things. Missionaries do without these things daily, and reach the world. Realize that these things are products of our culture and our attempts to live out our faith within that culture. But they are not timeless, He is! Christ is so sufficient. Please cling to him, and encourage all others to do the same! He is the eternal one to whom all glory belongs, and when all these things pass away, He will be there.

  7. woops, I forgot to include a link to Alvin Reid's blog (a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) regarding issues that are somewhat related to this post, and that you might find helpful.