People Are Expendable: My Root Struggle with Church

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Growing up with divorced parents prompted me to become a reconciler who desires nothing more than making sure everyone gets along. Underneath this way of functioning day to day, I’ve absorbed an underlying fear of the fragility of relationships. I know that things can fall apart dramatically and horribly, and even the most basic things like your family and your home could be taken away from you, either by your family themselves or by a judge.

My two sons enjoy peace and stability where the foundational issues of their parents, their home, or their future are as solid and steady as can be. I write that without judgment of my own history, but there’s no mistaking that the things I worried about and feared as a child are completely different from anything my kids have faced so far. They have a stability that comes from knowing these relationships are steady, permanent, and secure. When I developed nervous ticks in elementary school and continue to struggle with talking fast when my social anxiety kicks in, it’s hard to communicate all of this succinctly to people who say things like, “What’s wrong with your eyes?” or “What? WHAT? I have no idea what you’re saying.”

“Oh, I just spent the first 15 years of my life fearing that a judge would take away everything that I love.”

When it comes to the stability of family, our closest relationships, and our homes, their security, or lack thereof, can underpin so many of our struggles and fears. These are also some of the core issues behind why so many people struggle to commit to a church or feel like they can never return again after a church let them. Issues of control and rejection are a big part of why I still can’t attend a Catholic mass with any measure of freedom or openness.

Put bluntly: in many churches, the people are expendable.

The reasons why people become expendable vary, but the common traits between the churches where I have felt secure and able to belong vs. the ones where I have not have tapped into this deeper need to know that I am not expendable. Those who struggle to belong in churches often sense that they are in some way expendable.

Just as I feared saying the wrong thing in front of my parents, a judge, a lawyer, or a psychologist, churches can foster atmospheres of fear, suspicion, and defensiveness where everything can change after supporting the wrong doctrine or admitting to a particularly taboo action.

Extreme situations aside (such as those involving criminal activity), I wonder if our core problems in the church boil down to how welcoming we are prepared to be. Or more to the point, under what circumstances will we kick someone out of a church or make him/her/they feel unwelcome?

I have seen friends who attend fairly conservative churches with strict doctrinal statements, and these friends struggle mightily because “belonging” means they need to sign documents, take classes, and jump through various hoops in order to be a part of the group. In other words, the message is that being part of the community or even the “family” is contingent on putting a signature on a list of doctrines. If you can’t sign the doctrinal statement, then you aren’t fully a part of things.

The doctrines are essential for churches, but the people are not.

However, these aren’t problems isolated to conservative churches. Anytime a group of people gathers together to form an organization, there is an inevitable struggle to define insiders and outsiders. Those who say the wrong things in a liberal congregation can just as easily be labeled and dismissed.

As our family prepares to move to a new city, we’re going through the rather agonizing process of researching churches in the area. The stakes feel especially high since we have kids who have a very particular, and overall positive, experience of church that is noisy, joyful, and full of freedom to be themselves.

The question I keep returning to about each church is how expendable we would be if we entered into their little subcultures.

Will they value particular doctrines over us when they learn what we believe?

Will they value a quiet service over seeing my son jump around with joy in front of the band?

Will they require signatures on documents and covenants and statements over sharing in our joys and struggles?

Will they demand commitment and service before they even think of inviting us to their homes for a meal?

These tensions may appear to be false dichotomies. Perhaps reading this you think to yourself, “Our church values people AND doctrines!” That could be the case, but what happens when the rubber really meets the road? I admit that I have struggled with this myself. Where would I draw the line personally with someone? Of course there are situations where boundaries are necessary. However, what does it look like to hold out compassion and mercy for people outside of the boundaries set by our faith communities?

I have seen good people in both liberal and conservative denominations fracture when someone comes along who doesn’t fit the mold.

We all long to fit in, to become a part of the group, and to be accepted as who we are. If we make enough investments in relationships, there may even be grace for messing up or believing “the wrong thing.” I suppose the question becomes where that grace could run out. Can grace and goodwill be exhausted or negated?

I have dedicated the spirituality of my 30’s to rediscovering the God of the Bible who doesn’t turn us away or discard us but welcomes those who turn back to him. We aren’t expendable in the eyes of our loving creator. For some reason, it hasn’t been that hard to believe that he would die for us in the past before we screwed anything up. However, once we start to actually fail, mess up, disappoint people, struggle with doubts, or start to shift our beliefs, it’s easy to believe you’re expendable.

If you’ve been immersed in a church culture with clear lines you can’t cross in order to belong, it’s hard to believe that God would be any different from that. The more I immerse myself in the Psalms each day, the more I confront a God who meets us with compassion, blots out our sins, and shares unceasing steadfast love and mercy with us. I’m also convinced that believing in a God who views people as expendable will create churches where people are expendable.

A missionary friend once shared with me that we must find our homes in God, and I can’t get that image out of my mind because God wasn’t safe or a sure bet for so many years. If I was expendable to God when I couldn’t get my act together, how could I truly find my home in God? Wasn’t this the same kind of insecurity that I endured in my childhood?

Once again, the Psalms describe God as a shelter, a rock, a strong tower, and a fortress. As I reach and grasp for God, asking for help and security, I fail to look down at my foundation. When I reach out to take hold of God, I fail to realize that I’m already being held.

I often think that God acted to save me before I had a chance to mess up, but it’s also true that God saved us before we could prove ourselves worthy—worthy enough for God to keep us around.

The home I have longed for is found in God, even if I still need a home and a place where I belong here on earth.

We aren’t expendable in the eyes of God, and at the end of the day we long for a church home that reflects this. Perhaps the greatest challenge some days is to rest in the love and acceptance of God without letting that reality hinge on what those in our communities believe, do, or say.

Author Cindy Brandt Shares about Her New Book Outside In

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cindy-brandt-profileEvery month or two, I take on a new book editing or author coaching project. It’s one of the most satisfying aspects of my freelancing work. Without fail, every author working on a first book is taken aback by the amount of work a book project calls for, but my latest client, Cindy Brandt, really impressed me with her determination and energy throughout the book writing and revising process.

While I don’t usually highlight the projects I’ve worked on, Cindy’s book will appeal to many of my readers, and I thought an interview with her about the process and the final product would be a fun way to highlight this service I offer while introducing new readers to her work. I sent Cindy a few brief questions to answer:

You reference that you’re a third culture kid. Explain what that means and how that shapes the way you think about following Jesus and the ways American culture may influence that.

Third Culture Kid is an umbrella term to describe kids who grow up with the influence of more than one culture. Some classic examples of TCKs are missionary kids or military kids, whose parents may be from one country but they grow up in other countries. Often, they spend time in more than one culture within the span of their childhood.

Although I was not an MK or a military kid, I fit into this category because of the significant influence of two distinct cultures in my life. I am Taiwanese, but I was educated in an American Christian school for missionary children. I became a Christian as a child because of this school so my conversion and discipleship formation took place primarily through the lens of American Christianity.

I think often Americans don’t realize how much their American culture shapes the way they practice their faith. When they transport their faith to other cultures, they often bring a lot of their American-ness to their converts. In my case, I internalized that being Christian meant acting like an American, and because I am in fact, not American, I often felt like I don’t belong to the Christian culture.

However, more and more I am discovering that following Jesus has very little to do with belonging to Christian culture. On the contrary, I believe following Jesus means dismantling the walls that are erected to determine who is in and who is outside of Christian culture.

My hope is that the book, Outside In, serves as a call to tear down some of these walls so more people can be included in the community of Christ followers.

How did your experiences as a third culture kid influence your desire to blog and work on this book project? 

In the beginning of my blogging days, I actually wrote more frequently on the experiences of being a TCK and found many TCK readers who resonated with those posts. However, most TCK blog readers would generally not identify as Christians so the blog would have fit in a totally different niche than mine is right now.

Because my faith is so important to me, I decided I want to be a voice to my people within the church, so I’ve been focused on blogging about faith. I hope my experiences as a TCK and my geographical location outside of America, can bring a unique angle to the conversation.

My book is not specifically for TCKs but speaks to the broader ideas of how to include people in the church. But I think the reason I pay attention to these perspectives is because as a TCK, I do not fit neatly into any category. As an outlier myself, my ears perk up to the stories of other outliers.

You talk about 10 different types of people the church may have overlooked in your book, but are there one or two groups in particular who really stood out and prompted you to begin writing this book? 

You know, I am very drawn to stories of suffering. I was one of those kids where if my friends got hurt with an injury I would be the one crying! The chapters on grieving and depression both come from empathizing with painfully personal stories of loved ones in my life, and I felt most compelled to use my writing voice to amplify their stories.

Of the ten overlooked outsiders, which do you personally identify with the most and why? 

I am the doubter. I speak quite openly about my story and struggle with doubt in the book. I speak on behalf of others in most of the chapters but the doubting chapter was my own story.

A second top contender would be the person who is too busy. I have a type-A personality and over commitment is my middle name. That chapter was difficult to write because I talk about slowing down and being more present, knowing how hard it would be for me to follow my own advice.

Any plans for a next book? (Looking for a good editor???) 

At the end of my book I say there are endless chapters to be written for it. There is always room in the world for one more unique story and one more perspective. I think it would be a fun project to add bonus chapters to Outside In and highlight more Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore.

I also have some ideas swirling in my head on the subject of how to be in relationship with people who are very different from us. In a way it would be a follow up to Outside In. After we have embraced outsiders, how then do we exist in community with a diversity of people?

How can readers find out more about this book and your writing? 

You can click here to find more information about Outside In. I would encourage people to sign up for my newsletter for future writing updates. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cindybrandtwriter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cindy_w_brandt

Instagram: https://instagram.com/cindybrandt/

Learn more about my book editing, author coaching, and website content services.

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join a Calvary Chapel

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OK ecclesiastical purists, I know that Calvary Chapel isn’t a denomination, but it’s sort of like a denomination in America, and it has played a pretty big role in the evangelical movement as a whole. Speaking personally, a Calvary Chapel played a huge role in my early days as a Christian, so when minister, writer, and jack of all trades Trip Kimball offered to share what he loves about Calvary Chapel, I couldn’t say no on a technicality. Here’s what Trip loves about his “denomination”:

 

Calvary Chapel—Past and Present

A charismatic young man, with long hair and a full beard, exhorted us to believe in Jesus and become His followers. He resembled the iconic picture of Jesus during the seventies—a quasi-hippie revolutionary.

After prayer, those who believed would follow this young persuasive leader to a back room for more prayer and instruction. I didn’t follow that night. I had questions, lots of questions.

This is my earliest memory of Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement of the late sixties. It crystallizes that era and the birth of what became the Calvary Chapel Association. Even my refusal to follow because of questions epitomizes the Jesus Movement and my own faith journey.

A little history

We’re not a denomination, at least that’s what we’ve claimed for more than 45 years. Many of us joke that we are a non-denominational denomination. Our official belief for years stated—

We are not a denominational church, nor are we opposed to denominations as such, only their overemphasis of the doctrinal differences that have led to the division of the Body of Christ.

It’s hard to understand Calvary Chapel without knowing its origins.

The era was the mid-sixties and early seventies. Anti-war demonstrations, love-ins, psychedelic drugs, eastern religion and philosophy, the Beatles and Bob Dylan provided a back drop for what became a national movement. Calvary Chapel played a big part in the west coast phase of the Jesus Movement.

What set Calvary Chapel apart was an emphasis on teaching the Bible and what became known as contemporary praise and worship. Hour long Bible studies were common, as young people with beards, beads, and bell bottoms sat on the floor. The music was a blend of folk and rock, but always about Jesus.

The one-way sign—pointing a finger towards heaven—symbolized our focus. It was always about Jesus.

An eclectic mix

The founding pastor, Chuck Smith, was a Four Square pastor for many years before starting with a group of twenty-five people in a borrowed church building. It went from a small group to thousands—a small church on the edge of town, to a circus tent, to its present facility in Santa Ana, CA.

Pastor Chuck was a Bible teacher first and foremost, with a love for biblical prophecy. It was a mix of old school Christianity that merged with the hippie culture of the time. His wife Kay encouraged him to welcome and reach out to these hippies who were lost and wandering. His background was traditional Pentecostal, and most of the young people had little to no church background.

Chuck presided over the movement with his genuine, gracious, fatherly smile. His emphasis was always on God’s Word and the grace of God, which characterized the Calvary Chapel movement.

Chuck’s simple form of personal discipleship transferred easily to those who remained committed beyond the early days of revival. It was natural and grounded in biblical truth. This is an important reason why I found a home in Calvary Chapel.

A developing theology

Calvary Chapel is still too young, as church movements go, to have a well-developed theology. It’s still in the development stage. This is especially true following Pastor Chuck’s death last year. His son-in-law, Brian Broderson, has a vision to reach the present young generation, so changes will come, as he settles into the role of pastoring Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa.

But Brian is one of several other pastors who form a Leadership Council. Each church is autonomous, which has its pluses and minuses. Growth pains will come, just as there have been bumps along the way. Now it must survive the passing of its founder.

One of those bumps was the breaking off of the Vineyard fellowships during the 1980’s. An over-compensation to the Vineyard movement resulted in more restrictive and conservative attitudes towards worship, prayer, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In recent years, I recall Chuck appealing to pastors during conferences to return to a more Spirit-led form of ministry, as he taught out of Galatians 3:1-3. There are other difficulties over the years, but the core elements of the early years continue to hold firm.

What do I love about Calvary Chapel?

My wife and I were baptized in the Pacific Ocean at Pirates Cove (in So Cal). We fellowshipped and served at a young age during the little chapel and tent days (1971-73). Things were simple then. We loved and worshiped Jesus, and our life reflected this simplicity.

These are the things we embraced then and now—

  • A personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior
  • Teaching through all of God’s Word, the Bible
  • Worship focused on Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit
  • Relational evangelism, discipleship, and service

Is this a little too simple? Perhaps, but it’s how we came to faith more than forty years ago, and how we follow Jesus today.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

TK1-3.09-smTrip has cleaned toilets and painted houses for a living, and planted a church in 1978. He and his wife moved to in the Philippines in 1990, and established a ministry for abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. He also developed a Bible school and training center for leaders in the Philippines.

In 2012, Trip published, The Mystery of the Gospel, born out of his ministry time in the Philippines. He’s also developed discussion-based Bible studies connected to his workbook on an inductive approach to Bible study.

He is currently involved in mentoring a few men and leading several small group studies, while working a couple part-time jobs and posting online at– word-strong.com.

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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One more thing from Ed…

The eBook version of A Christian Survival Guide will be on sale for $.99 on most major eBook sites until January 18th, 2015. 

Are We Moving Toward Suffering During Advent?

Advent Candles

If I have made one big mistake as a Christian, it’s been wanting to help people from a distance rather than drawing near to them. You know, pretty much the opposite of what Jesus did.

For instance, the author of Hebrews called Jesus a high priest, which made him a mediator between God and humanity. A high priest is supposed to be among the people—all up in their business, so to speak. Despite being so close to us in the midst of our flaws and weaknesses, words like “merciful” and “empathize” are used when discussing the ministry of Jesus. Have a look:

Hebrews 2:17 (NIV)

“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

The author Hebrews goes on to say:

Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

We could summarize the ministry of Jesus like this: Find people trapped in sin and suffering, join them, and restore them to God. He is merciful and kind, empathizing with our weaknesses and then healing us. However, in order to be truly merciful and in order to fully heal us, he has to also be fully among us, present with us even when we’re at our worst.

My church has been talking a lot lately about being present with those who are suffering during Advent. In fact, our big picture mission is “to be a community of prayer that engages suffering.” I kind of hate the word “engage” because I think it sounds a little too impersonal or detached, but it captures the right direction and intention. If there was ever a time of year to think about being present among those who are suffering or in sin, Advent is the time.

Jesus came down to earth in order to be present among us, to show mercy. He wanted to fully see, hear, and understand. He wasn’t detached from suffering. And when he encountered suffering, he drew closer to the people, listened to them, and offered to help those willing to receive it.

I like the idea of helping, but it can be tough to draw near to others and to be fully present. There’s always a great excuse, whether I don’t have enough money, time, or emotional reserves.

For advent, I wanted to ask what it might look like to be present among those who are suffering and how we can help.

Perhaps today we need to begin with a simple truth that will make everything else all the more meaningful: God is present among us first and foremost. We’re not in this alone, even if we sometimes feel like it.

We could be in the midst of a dark night of the soul.

We could be distracted.

We could be traumatized.

We could lack training in awareness of God.

There are lots of reasons why we may struggle to recognize God’s presence among us, let alone experiencing the joy and freedom of God’s Kingdom that is already here.

If we don’t believe God is moving toward us first, we’ll struggle to move toward others.

What if you took 20 minutes each day this week to simply sit and acknowledge of the presence of God. Don’t ask for anything to happen. Don’t expect miracles. Just recognize that God is present. Focus on a simple word like mercy, love, kindness, present, heal, or another word that helps you focus on God’s presence.

Through Advent we recognize God’s movement toward us, but we’ll feel alone and forgotten if we don’t prepare a place for God to arrive and assure us that the mercy and empathy of Jesus, our high priest, also applies to us.

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

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If you think you’re busy, you should talk to Emily Heitzman. She’s been serving as the youth pastor for… wait for it… THREE lutheran congregations in the Chicago area. Emily was one of the first people I thought of for this series because she did an amazing job of explaining what she appreciated about the ELCA to an outsider such as myself since she is originally from the UMC and then ordained in the PC USA. I hope you didn’t get too cozy with the Anglican Church from our last post…

 

I’m a Presbyterian (USA) pastor who serves three ELCA congregations. Though I’ve only been in the ELCA for three years, there is so much that I love about it!

 

The Work of the People

While ELCA congregations vary is worship musical style, most are highly liturgical. The definition of “liturgy” is “the work of the people,” and this is exactly what you will experience in worship at an ELCA congregation.

The ELCA motto is “God’s work, our hands.” We use our minds, hearts, mouths, ears, hands, and feet to experience God’s love and grace and share God’s love and grace to our neighbors. When God created us, we were made in God’s image and therefore our whole selves – including our bodies – were made good and are loved by God. For this reason, worship requires the full body and all the senses. We sit to prepare ourselves for what is to come. We stand (as we are able) when the Gospel is read as a sign of respect. We might kneel out of humility during confession and use ancient prayer gestures with our hands. We may bow toward the cross as a reminder of Jesus’ humble acts.

As Christ offers us peace, we pass that peace of Christ to one another through handshakes or hugs. We might process with the cross as a sign that Jesus is constantly journeying with us and leading us. We may walk toward the altar to receive the bread and wine in response to Jesus’ invitation to come to his Table. And we may trace the sign of the cross over our upper bodies as a reminder and sign of our baptism. As a reminder that Jesus died and rose from the dead for us so that we might live.

As a reminder of who we are and whose we are.

Worship is not a place for us to just observe and consume – like when we attend a concert. It is a place where we fully participate as members of the body of Christ so that we might be formed and nourished by our loving God. And every ancient practice we partake in connects us with the Church universal… with Christians throughout all times, traditions, and places.

If you worship with the ELCA, you will likely spend some time in silence. We live in a busy and noisy world. Yet, God calls out to us: “Be still and know that I am God.” God not only calls out to us through words and music, but God also calls out to us and meets us in the silence. We need to be still sometimes. And making space for silence on Sundays helps shape us for how we are to make space for God during the rest of the week.

Most ELCA congregations follow the liturgical calendar (church calendar) and use the Revised Common Lectionary (set readings for each Sunday that covers almost the entire Bible in three years), which connect us with the larger universal Church and enable us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and relive his life and ministry every year.

In ELCA congregations, the Word is proclaimed in numerous forms and is not just the work of the pastor. God calls each of us to use our gifts to proclaim the Word both in the Church and in the world. In most congregations, the Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday. We believe that both the Word and Sacraments are a means of grace. Through them, God’s presence is made known and God touches us, forms us, and nourishes us so that we might have the strength to go out into the world to share God’s love with others.

Confessing the creeds (Nicene or Apostle’s) every week is an important means for connecting us to the universal Church and shaping us in our theology in ways we don’t always recognize. During youth group discussions, my youth continue to amaze me when they explain important parts of our Christian theology that they know because they confess the creeds every week. The repetition of communion liturgy – which is often chanted – also shapes us in important ways. Just a few months ago, I saw a facebook post from another Lutheran pastor. He wrote: “This week I got a note from a family who heard their young one (age 4) singing Frozen songs, and then breaking into our communion liturgy.” This is the wonderful thing about liturgy: it provides God’s children – both young and old – with words to express praise to God through the every day joys in life… like Disney songs!

 

Living Out Our Baptisms

In the ELCA, we talk a lot about being called to live out our baptismal covenant. We do this by proclaiming the good news of God who came into the flesh, died on the cross, and rose from the dead for each one of us. We proclaim this good news by learning about the story of God’s presence and work in and through us and by hearing about the story of God at work in the lives of others. We are in God’s story and we are called to recognize that others are in God’s story, as well.

We are called to live out that story daily in word and in deed. We live out that story when we worship together on Sunday, when we care for our children, when we visit someone who is ill. We live out that story when we sit with a grieving friend, when we bring a meal to our homeless neighbors, when we stand with others in our communities to call out injustice.

Through us, God is at work in the world: “God’s work, our hands.”

As someone who is new to the ELCA, the more I have been a part of it, the more I’ve grown to love it. There is a place for newbies, myself included. And there is a place for you, as well. So, if you are searching for a new church home, check it out! I think you might grow to love it!

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

unnamedRev. Emily Heitzman is a graduate from a United Methodist seminary and an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor who serves as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households for three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago. Prior to her current call, she has served in Evangelical Covenant, Congregational, and American Baptist churches… Her colleagues call her an ecumenical bricolage. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at http://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Anglican Church

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Whenever I have a question about liturgy, the sacraments, or the Anglican church, I always tweet at Preston Yancy, author of Tables in the Wilderness. Preston is one of those guys who has studied a ton of theology but has never lost his grounding in the church, and that commitment to serve the church shows in his moving blog posts, instructive tweets, and eerily spot on use of animated GIFs. A former Baptist who migrated to the liturgy of the Anglican church, Preston and his book are excellent guides into the depth and beauty of the sacraments. Where many dabble in liturgy, he helps us take the plunge. He writes today about the Anglican church in America:

Anglicans can be the most neurotic Christians. I say that upfront so as to not surprise you with it later. Known for our tendency to gravitate toward the middle of theological extremes, it can feel frustrating to try and grasp exactly what we are all about, what it is we believe. You’ll meet Anglicans who lean hard into our Roman Catholic roots of practice and Anglicans who run fast into the charismatic freedom of nondenominational-like belief. You’ll meet a few like me, too, who tend to feel most comfortable between those poles: happy-clappy Jesus-lovers who believe in sitting with the writings of the saints and the reverence of worship with common prayer. There are some essential beliefs that define us broadly, however, and if I were to ever try to convince someone of why they may find Anglicanism a good fit, it would be focused on these: we are a people of the Book, we are a people of the Sacrament, we are a people of the Community.

People of the Book

Anglicans are deeply devoted to the Scripture. Our prayerbook is mostly a weaving together of various psalms, Gospel readings, epistles. Half of our traditional worship service is devoted specifically to the hearing and reading of the Bible. A cycle of readings—one from the Old Testament, a psalm, the New Testament, and finally the Gospel—are read or read communally, are pronounced over us and by us, and then the preaching that follows ideally seeks to make clear the ways in which the readings for a cohesive whole, how God reveals Godself to us when we put the texts of Scripture in conversation with each other. There are more ways than this that Anglicans take the Bible seriously, but this is the one that most often comes to my own mind. We don’t believe in exclusively personal reading of Scripture. We need the community, we need to hear the Gospel literally spoken aloud, the Word, Jesus, literally proclaimed by words. We believe the Spirit makes itself known to us in the reading of Scripture, which pivots into my next point.

People of the Sacrament

Anglicans have a complicated understanding of God’s presence, but it could be said it distills into essentially this: we believe that God is everywhere (a classically Christian perspective) and that the Spirit of God makes itself known in the lives of individual believers (a classically Evangelical perspective). So between the way God is present outside of us and how God is present within us, we have a deep belief in the power of God to guide and direct us corporately and individually into becoming more and more like Jesus. Moreover, we believe that there are certain ways in which God has said that God makes Godself known to us particularly. One such way is Communion. In the Gospel of Luke, we read of the disciples walking with the unknown Jesus on the road to Emmaus that it was in the breaking of the bread that Jesus was made known to them. First they hear Jesus speak of the Scriptures—this serves my first point—and then Jesus breaks bread in a Eucharistic feast. In the breaking the disciples move from having their hearts stirred to recognizing Jesus fully as He is. Anglicans say that in Communion, Jesus makes Himself known to us, that we are filled with the power of the Spirit to continue in that good work that God has called us to personally and together. We are fed from the Table so as to go out into the world to feed it, to tell it where it too can be fed, where it can come and known this Jesus, which leads to this:

People of the Community

Because of our belief in God’s presence and work in this world, Anglicans are naturally inclined to social and political concerns. Our belief about the end times and the afterlife aligns less with a hope in a disembodied heaven where we have harps and sing forever and more about the beautiful and redemptive kingdom that God will bring into fullness with the return of Jesus but has already begun in shadows and imperfection now. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the Gospels remind us, and so we are committed to realizing that kingdom at present. The ways in which this is expressed is as varied as preferences of worship, but it would be fair to say that Anglican theology is essentially practical. We believe in an incarnate Jesus who hallowed bodies in His birth and that such a mystery leads us to make certain conclusions about life, about what we believe about bodies, of what we think God cares most about. We are a people of the community, because our faith obligates us to recognize the ways in which God is making Godself known outside of the walls of the church and, at the same time, how the Church is to be in service of the world in leading it back to the abundant Table of the risen Lord.

These are not features exclusive to Anglicans, of course. As I mentioned above, our middling position often means we share territory of belief and boarders with many in the larger Christian community. What tends to be unique, what keeps me confirmed an Anglican, confirmed in its ways of teaching me to pray, is the sense of great freedom the tradition offers within a context of accountability that is not only to a local community or a larger denomination but also to the Church in and across time. Within this vast territory, there’s room to express faith in a variety of ways that keep both a hold on a sense of orthodoxy and a lose grip on preference of tradition.

Some people find it chaotic, I find it oddly reassuring—we’re family here, struggling through and fighting and laughing and eating and celebrating. There’s a chair at this table for you, too.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

PrestonYancey.Headshot-23 copy Yancey is an Anglican priest-in-training, an author, sometimes-painter, sometimes-baker, sometimes-scholar interested in Christian theology and the arts.

He’s a happy-clappy, Jesus-loving, liturgy-liking evangelical Anglican confirmed in the Anglican Church in North America. He wrote a book about that and is also in the process of becoming a priest, with a likely ordination in November 2015.

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Vineyard Movement

Denomination Church Logo

 

Today’s guest post for Denomination Derby is by Amanda Nash of the Columbus Vineyard. If you’re ever in Columbus, OH, it’s referred to as, “The Big Vineyard.”

 

I didn’t grow up in the Vineyard. I came in to the movement as a college student and a new Christian looking for a place to grow and serve with my fresh faith. I had no idea that the first church I visited would become such a major part of my history for the last 17 years. In fact, I was a slow “convert” to the Vineyard. I went through a very critical process where I explored whether this was truly the place I wanted to call my church home.

I am immensely glad that I did make that decision. Over time, I have found so many things that I love about the Vineyard. Though I know that we are far from perfect, the more I am a part of it I simply love the heart of our movement. Here are four reasons why I love the Vineyard, out of the many I could list:

 

The Vineyard and the Kingdom of God

The Vineyard movement has at the core of its theological DNA the central teaching of Jesus: The Kingdom of God. Everything we do is seen through this lens of the Kingdom, i.e. the rule and reign of God. We want to be a part of the Story of God, which is the story of His Kingdom breaking in on Earth as it already exists in Heaven. While we have the future hope of his Kingdom coming in full, that is not the end of the story. In the now we can still ask, “what would this place look like if God were the King, if he were really in charge?” We want to be a part of seeing His Kingdom in this world and at work within ourselves, by the power of his Spirit.

I resonate with the picture that N.T. Wright puts forward regarding the whole of the gospel. That is, that in Jesus, God has inaugurated His Kingdom – the long awaited putting-to-right of creation (and everything that entails). I find that concept right at the heart of my own movement. I am so encouraged to be living out the theme that was at the forefront of Jesus’ own ministry.

 

The Vineyard’s Both/And Theology

The Vineyard movement has a Both/And Theology. There are many areas that we in the Vineyard try to hold in tension. We often say we want the best of both worlds. We want to be evangelical and charismatic; we are committed to scripture and to hearing a fresh word from God’s Spirit; we want mercy and justice; we believe in the spiritual realm of healing and warfare and that the world God created includes a deep appreciation of the sciences; we want to be connected to the historical and traditional church and explore new and contextualized expressions of faith.

This tension brings many people of different backgrounds together. I love that the Vineyard movement gets to bless a lot of other traditions by virtue of holding them in tension. And in reality, we are the ones who are blessed in doing so. It means that so many people who think very differently end up calling the Vineyard their home; I love the growth and vibrancy that comes from that reality.

 

“Everyone Gets to Play” in the Vineyard

The Vineyard movement believes Everyone Gets to Play. We don’t present pastors as the religious elite that no normal person can aspire to become or be called to. The church is functioning at its best when people are released to operate in their gifts. This means that no matter how old you are, no matter what your gender is, no matter your background, we want people to operate based on faithfulness, calling, and gifting.

This means that as a young woman – 19 years old – and fairly new to the Vineyard, I was able to jump into leadership opportunities. As I have responded to a call on my life to be a pastor, there is no limit to me as a woman to how much leadership I am allowed to have. The Vineyard has promoted me as a woman and as a young person and has encouraged me to respond to the call of leadership on my life.

 

The Vineyard Gives Away Our Best

Finally, in the Vineyard movement we Give Away our Best. The Vineyard is an international church planting movement. We are constantly developing leaders and giving them away to continue the increase of the local church all over the world. This means that we fully embrace the notion that nothing is ours. Everything is for His Kingdom. Even though it hurts, we say goodbye to people for the sake of His Kingdom.

I was serving here in Vineyard Columbus (Ohio) for almost 10 years when our church decided to send a plant to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Even though I was an influential leader in our 20something community, our church sent me and my husband and 8-month-old son to be a part of the church plant team along with 5 other significant leaders in our church. I love the culture of being open-handed and making lots of space for new people to rise up.

 

I didn’t know what the Vineyard was 17 years ago, but I am so glad I stumbled into this incredible Kingdom-centered movement that has helped me to grow, challenged me to risk and promoted me in the call God has on my life, while giving me space to be imperfect. I am truly honored to call it my family.

 

photo 2About Today’s Guest Blogger

Amanda Nash is a wife and momma of three. She has worked at Vineyard Columbus for over 10 years with three years off church planting in Amsterdam. She has a BA in Religion and English Lit and is currently pursuing her MDiv at Fuller Theological Seminary.

 

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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How Do I Keep My Kids from Hating Church?

drum-church-music

Our son E, who is two years old, ran in front of the church’s stage at top speed, giggling and clapping his hands. He chased his friends, crawled across the floor, and even gave one friend a high five at the end of a song. We meet in a school auditorium where the stage sits about three feet about the seats and spacious front area that is left open for energetic children. This particular Sunday the worship team chose energetic songs for a service focused on children.

When the band transitioned to the “Happy Song” by Delirious, which is a kind of anthem that celebrates God’s love, I lost it. Tears welled in my eyes as he jumped and galloped to the music. I remembered the first time I heard that song in college. It was a bit weird and off-beat, but it also tapped into a powerful sense of joy and freedom in celebrating God’s love. I’d come from a fairly conservative church, so clapping and shouting and moving anything other than my mouth during worship felt a bit different.

If there was ever a high point in my days as a church attending Christian, it had to be those days in college. I was still learning about my faith and tiptoeing around more charismatic forms of worship. I envied my roommate who came from a Vineyard church. He had this sense of peace that came over him during worship that I couldn’t quite imagine for myself. As we sang “The Happy Song” and some Hillsong numbers in my Christian college’s chapel, I began to sense there may be something to this.

Worship was where my faith really took root in my early 20’s. My theology fell apart in seminary, and while I put the pieces back together, worship sustained me. Then again, worship was also the cause of my greatest conflicts within the church as generations divided over musical styles and song choices.

Seeing my generally quiet and reserved son literally jump for joy at a song that sparked my own discovery of freedom and joy in worship, I also remembered how bitter I’d become throughout my 20’s. I’d been so critical of the church, and I was especially critical of the music. In fact, the most important step in my healing from church was hanging up my guitar and taking my hands off music completely. I just couldn’t be that guy any more. I didn’t want to have an opinion. I just wanted to participate in whatever my church offered and leave things at that.

I’d been a part of the worship wars, and the thing about a war is there’s never one side with clean hands. I was critical, and I was criticized. I treated people like problems to be solved or dismissed, rather than as members of the same body of Christ. And many did the same to me. I don’t know who fired the first shot in the different churches I’d attended, but I do know there was a lot of “shooting” in other churches during those years as well.

As I saw E’s joy during worship and remembered the way I’d fallen out of love with the church throughout a series of conflicts and bad experiences, I wanted to shield him from that same crash. He’s only 2, but he already loves church. He loves the music. He thanks God for the drums at night… along with corncobs and playgrounds. He loves going to the two-year-old room with his friends. How can I make sure that joy for gathering with God’s people for worship keeps happening?

I’m not sure that my approach to church is the best option for him. I’ve basically chosen to disengage from the mechanics of the church service because it had been a source of toxic experiences in the past. However, E doesn’t have that history. He can pursue his own path, and I want to guide him as he makes his own decisions and discovers God for himself.

So much of his future seems to hinge on the course chosen by myself and my generation:

Will we welcome his priorities and the ways he worships God?

Can I advocate for ALL generations in the church, not just the ones that pay the bills?

Can I walk the fine line between giving him things to do at church so that he feels involved without turning him into a minion that serves the whims of the older leaders?

Can I give him positions of responsibility that come with enough oversight to help him take ownership for the community without shutting down his original ideas?

While we have many denominations and traditions, church has to change, at least a little bit, for each generation. It needs to feel sacred and holy and “right” to each generation. And this balance is not easily held.

You may notice that I’m addressing these questions to myself and really to us, the people who go to church today. We are the people who are preparing the church for the next generation. Will the next generation find a place where they can belong and worship God or will church strike them as a foreign place that caters only to the spiritual preferences of Generation X and Millennials?

There are things our leaders can do, but in my experience, the leaders were often willing to listen to me throughout my 20’s. They did try to bring in young leaders and train them. Some churches did this better than others, but for the most part the leaders were at the mercy of the congregation.

While some leaders asked too much of me or didn’t really want to take me seriously, things wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for all of the crap they were taking and all of the crap I was taking from the church attendees and members. I received criticism directly and others directed their criticism at the leaders. It was a huge power play. And I understand the desire for church to look a certain way. It was ironic actually. While fighting to preserve their particular form of church they accused me of trying to remake church in my own image.

It will be really easy to repeat that mistake again with E’s generation. Anecdotally speaking, so many people in my own generation had to fight for our places in the church. Others started their own churches. And still others opted out altogether. The first two, who had to fight or start from scratch, are the ones who will be deeply invested in their churches. Change for the next generation won’t be easy. And it’s not like we can plan ahead for this. Who knows what spirituality and worship will look like in the next twenty to thirty years?

As I watch E run and jump for joy in church, I want to shield him from all of the criticism and petty arguments that could come his way in the future. But even more than that, I want to tell his story and hold him up for everyone to see.

Do you see this raw joy and wonder? This is what it means to be childlike. This is what we should aim for too.

The tragedy of church isn’t that the young people have failed to conform to the standards and plans set up by the adults. The tragedy of church is that the adults have failed to become childlike. We’ve neglected the amazing gifts right in our presence that our children have been offering us. We’ve pushed and pulled and squeezed the younger generations so hard to shape them into our own images that they’ve been shot right out of the church.

Then the older generations point fingers at the worldly young people who don’t care about church and the Barna Group releases an alarming survey about the coming downfall of the church so that pastors can wag fingers and authors can write books offering the solution…

I confess, most days, it’s hard to become childlike when cynicism appears to be perfectly valid.

I don’t know what becoming childlike will look like, but for today, I want to say to my son that I’ll always make room for him to experience God’s joy and presence in church. I’ll always welcome his perspective and the ways that he learns about God. And I’ll do what I can honor the lessons his joy has to teach us all.

 

My New Guest Post Series: Denomination Derby

Denomination Church Logo

 

At the age of fifteen I’d been living a double life. Every other weekend I’d visit my father and attend Catholic mass on Saturday evening by myself and then join him for his independent Baptist Church on Sunday morning. The two worlds couldn’t have been more different.

When I left the liturgy, muted songs, and a clear chain of command of the Catholic Church for a Baptist congregation at the age of 15, I needed the freedom the Baptists offered to approach God without a priest peering over my shoulder each time I read the Bible. That encouragement to take responsibility for pursuing God is the thing I’m most grateful for when I look back at that season of my life.

However, there were plenty of negative moments among the Baptists along the way. In fact, I met some friends who couldn’t wait to escape the Baptists, even if I’ve met some who have been content all along. A few friends even left their freewheeling Protestant denominations in order to join the order and structure of the Catholic Church.

It’s almost a guarantee that most Christians will switch from one denomination to another at some point or another. Whether moving to a new town prompts a church switch, doctrinal issues prompt a change, or relationships with leaders or members fall apart, it can only benefit us if we know what makes each denomination great. Even if we never join a particular denomination, understanding the best of a denomination will help us become gracious conversation partners who can celebrate what God is doing throughout the church.

I’m grateful that we have all of these different expressions of the faith, and perhaps we spend so much time comparing and contrasting them that we sometimes forget how useful our denominations can be.

These days I worship in a Vineyard Church. I call it Liturgy Lite. There’s a blend of contemporary music and liturgical prayers, communion, a lengthy sermon, and prayer ministry time every week. The theology hits me where I’m at, even if some of the papers at the last Society of Vineyard Scholars Conference soared over my head.

I try to always tell visitors that it’s not a church for everyone, even if I believe my little church is a great church for myself and for many others. I’ve belonged to enough churches that I have a pretty good idea of what’s out there, having attended a fundamentalist Baptist church, a conservative Baptist church (that was quite reformed at times), a Church of God congregation, another fundamentalist Baptist Church, an Anglican Church, an Episcopal Church, a range of other charismatic churches as a visitor, and a progressive independent evangelical church. This is the first time I’ve been in a church that is part a larger movement that I felt I could support.

As I’ve become more established in my Vineyard Church, I thought it would be really awesome if I could invite folks to guest post each Friday about what they love about their own denominations.

We can all find a reason to not join a denomination, but there are plenty of great reasons to either stick with your denomination or to consider checking out a new denomination. I’m launching the series with posts by a few friends, some of whom have been great dialogue partners and representatives of their denominations for me.

Starting next Friday I’m hosting a guest post each Friday by someone with a bit of theology training and ministry experience (staff or volunteer). I have a few denominations slotted with writers, but if you’d like to nominate someone to write for a denomination not listed, please drop me a note in the comments.

Once we’ve got enough denominations listed, I’ll open the series to ministry leaders/volunteers or theologians who want to write about what they love about their denomination.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

 

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Tentative Posting Schedule

Next Week: Vineyard
(I know, it’s not a “denomination,” but… close enough!)

November 7: Anglican

November 14: Presbyterian Church USA

November 21: Church of Christ

Stay tuned for more posts! We have a lot of denominations to cover!

Hope for Those Who Have Been Wounded by the Church

exit-from-church

I had the uncomfortable sense that Broderick would end up in therapy one day because of ministry. He had the look of a kind-hearted, well-intentioned lemming on the brink of charging off a hill—a hill called ministry. He asked people to call him, “Brod,” because he wanted everyone to treat him like best buds.

He was like a kid on his way to Middle School who expected everyone to be his forever friend. Brod only saw the upside of church—he was passionate about a career in ministry, committed to teaching the Bible, and putting relationships with others first. I could see how a church could leave him battered by the side of the road.

Burned out and weary from giving so much of myself to the church only to find that you end up stepping on toes and meeting opposition for even your best efforts, I’d long been disabused of the hope and enthusiasm that Brod exuded. Having swung to the opposite, more cynical side of things after several damaging church experiences, I thought to myself: you’ll see… some day you’ll see.”

I have no idea what became of Brod. As for myself, I’ve given up on any future ministry plans, but I’m finally hopeful again about church and what it can be.

When we expect church to be a place of healing, community, acceptance, and growth, it can be devastating to stumble into a series of personal turf wars, theological battles, vendettas, popularity contests, and power struggles. On the other side of things, it’s hard to see how things could be any other way. If you get a group of 200 people in the same room, any 200 people, and try to find music, learning styles, and activities that suite them all, you’re going to lose your mind. It’s only our cultural expectations and previous experiences of church that reign in our preferences and create a starting point when we gather together for worship.

I have two rules now for church. I may add to them or modify them in the coming years, but for now, here they are:

  1. Look for life.
  2. Commit to people first.

 

Looking for Life in Church

If I look at my previous church experiences, I often stuck around out of judgment or obligation. And if I did step out of a church for a season, I beat myself up with heaps of guilt.

Today my first question about church is if I feel free to worship God with these people, whether in the service, in small groups, or in other settings. Are these people experiencing the life of Jesus and imitating him in some distinguishable ways? Do I experience the freedom and joy of the Spirit with these people? Am I free to learn and be challenged by the Spirit? Do these challenges lead to more life and freedom?

You get the idea. There’s always a temptation to slip into a consumer mindset, but seeking life and “freedom” rather than what feels good is an important, if not fine line at times. We experience life and God’s presence often in the places where we are most challenged and where we are led to seek the deeper experiences of God.

If God’s Spirit is restricted by theology or an order of service, then I have no qualms with bailing. If the Bible is used to control, judge, and prove one side’s superiority, it’s time to jump ship on that church.

I’m not saying you should give up on every church ever. Just that church. There are churches that will guide you to God’s life. Sometimes we are so focused on the meager benefits of a toxic church that we overlook its judgment and harmful theology that could alienate us from God.

 

Commit to People First in Church

If you give up on having an opinion in the church as an “organization” or “movement,” you will eliminate the majority of your potential conflict with fellow Christians. In fact, I dreaded the fate of an optimist like Brod because, as a pastor, he was mandated to have an opinion of his church’s organization and future. As often as we hear about pastors who abuse their authority, there are just as many (if not more) unreported stories of pastors who have been hounded by members of their congregation. In addition, anyone who gets in the way of church members vying for control of their turf will get run over.

As I recovered from a series of negative church experiences, I found it immensely freeing to personally commit to the people rather than the church organization and its ministries. If the church stopped meeting tomorrow, would I still commit to community with at least some of these people?

That means I’m trying to depend on the people around me and to support them as often as I can. I’m not trying to keep the church as an organization going. I’m trying to keep the people going. And I know, I know, I KNOW… the church IS the people. I wasn’t going to say it, but I know someone will… so there.

I certainly have opinions about the church as an organization, but after giving so much of myself to the ministries of various churches, I was left empty and disappointed. The more I’ve invested in people, the more fulfilling my ministry has been and the less I’ve stressed about the songs we choose, the ministries we offer, the topics of the sermons, the facility budget, or whatever else.

* * *

I understand this course may not be viable for everyone. You may feel called to manage your church’s facilities for instance. Have at it. I’m not saying what you should or should not do.

I’m saying that I’ve been deeply disappointed and hurt by the church in the past. And when your source of hope and healing becomes a source of conflict and pain, you need to change something.

I’m sure that therapy could help my friend Brod quite a bit, especially if that therapy helps him face the sources of his pain and move forward with forgiveness. If Brod does need some therapy after working in a church, he may find this post helpful. I believe that we can rediscover community with Christians after a bad church experience. And while a different church can help, a vastly different outlook is actually more important.

When we’ve been damaged by church, the most important changes need to take place within ourselves. Seeking God’s life and supporting people over an organization has worked for me.

What has helped you recover from negative church experiences?