Archive for March, 2011

The Usefulness of Faith

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

In my 20′s and 30′s I saw faith as being mostly concerned with “getting it right” – that there were different theological constructs in Christianity and that our job was to somehow ferret out which one was “right” and then use that arrived out “proof” to prove the other one’s “wrong.”

I see the Christian message far differently now. Jesus clearly did not concern Himself much with theological conjecture.  While variety in worship no doubt pleases God the rancorous theological debates that pass for clerical “work” these days I believe Jesus finds offensive.  Those arenas simply are not supported when one looks at the life He lived as recorded in His Word.

From the New Church perspective, such debates are more than just harmless distractions.  They feed a perspective of salvation based on faith alone.  In other words, it is all about faith alone, head alone.  So our role is to come from a loving heart – a place which dissipates the needless differentiation of faiths.  As New Church theology notes, when we come from that place, rancor is displaced by a simple exchange of opinions.

Are You Willing To Dream Again?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Very excited about the launch of Dream.  If you were not able to attend, take a look at “Lets Build A Church III” to get the context.

If time is short and you just want to see what the series is all about, view the trailer.

If time is really, really short, maybe just think about this – “What questions should you be asking yourself right now?

Moving NewChurch LIVE Out There

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Church growth pulls towards strategies of promotion.  ”If only we had the right sign” or the “right add” or the “right music” or the “right preaching.”  Yet we live in different times.  Church growth no longer centers solely on promotion.  Like 12 Steps Programs, church growth will come more and more to focus on attraction.

The promotion strategy does on occasion work.  But when it works, it can actually lead us to the wrong conclusions.  As one author noted…..

Many of us have a story about someone who stopped, looked, listened and came in. (Attracted by a sign or an add) That person is now chair of the church council. But there’s a danger here: when a story becomes an anecdote to justify a strategy, it soon becomes a deterrent to congregational efforts at becoming truly missional. The few who are attracted by the sign reinforce the church’s behavior. They are like pigeons pecking on a lever that rarely rewards them with a grain—but all it takes is one grain in a thousand pecks for them to keep pecking at that lever.

What then of “attraction”?  The terms “attraction” needs definition. It is not the attraction of a beautiful church filled with smiling faces.  It is the attraction of a church whose members actively engage themselves in the world around them.  The congregation’s members then becomes the attraction – not from a deliberate endeavor to draw people via person magnetism but by the compelling, quiet witness of lives lived for a higher purpose, lives lived for others.  Church is a matrix, an environment supporting that journey.

We will NOT grow by traditional means as the church has over centuries come to understand it.  Doctrinal debates and proofs will attract some but serve few.  Beautiful buildings will attract some but serve few.  Even emotionally moving services will attract some but serve few.  (My two favorite Pastor’s – Andy Stanley and Rob Bell – are masters at being a calm, understated presence in the pulpit.)  What will attract many is the serving of many.

That does not of course mean the Sunday service is done, is over.  We need the magic of Sunday.  It is the critical pivot, the “foyer” as one famous minister characterized it. But sustained growth, growth beyond just the surface, will depend on co-creation that travels far beyond the Sunday experience.  It is the co-creation – deep partnering – that brings the Church to the world, that shares the suffering and joy of others, and supports people in cultivating their dreams as God gives them to see them, and refining those dreams into ministries.

Last night I was asked by a friend how NCL planned to grow.  Well, that is it.  Co-creation/ deep partnership/ ministry is not a complex strategy but it is effective. I find myself constantly pulled by the desire to “do more” to “add more” – to make it more complex.  And yet there is this quiet and sure knowledge that growth does not lie in what the preacher does or in the sheer volume of offerings.  It lies in what the Church does, what the Church creates, how the Church partners with others.

Each of you has a dream my friend, one given you by God.  Live into it.  Christ is there as a loving partner and witness to your bringing it to life.  That was His intention in creating the spark that is you.  Not all dreams are realized.  But so what.  His gift is the journey – through blessings and breakings – the gift and holiness of life.  That is growth.  Even failures in that context are life giving.

Such an orientation forces us as a Church outward.  It forces us to serve by going deep.  That is tough terrain yet it in doing that, I think we begin to speak the language, one to another, that is the heritage of Christianity, a heritage not of exclusion but of inclusion, a heritage of life lived for others, a heritage of care for the spirit, a heritage of love and wisdom realized in service. The soul of the New Church.

The Acceptable Year of the Lord

Monday, March 21st, 2011

If Jesus showed up at church, what words would He offer?  Well, fun that we know what words He did offer when given that opportunity.  The words we looked at came from Luke 4.  Especially instructive to look at the verbs – the actions – in this sermonette.  They are engaging to read in light of the brevity of His comments – He said a great deal in a very short period of time – something critical in this day and age.

The verbs in His charge …

  1. preaching
  2. healing
  3. recovering
  4. freeing

What was deeply moving for me is the sense of peace about the mission of church these words speak to.  These were the verbs Jesus chose in addressing His hometown synagogue.  It is so easy to place “church” into an economic context –  if a church is growing and making money, it is doing what it is supposed to do. That is not what these words speak to.  A church is doing its job if it is speaking to what is true, being a healing presence in the world, helping those who are recovering and freeing those who are metaphorically imprisoned.  If a church does this, I imagine it will of course grow and be financially healthy but those two criteria are not the point.

Not easy to do.  Jesus was not at all interested in engaging theological or doctrinal debate.  His was a clear call to action, a call that when we hear, becomes the “acceptable year of the Lord.”  That is the place to build a church from.

Closing “Lets Build A Church”

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

This week we close our “Lets Build a Church” sermon series.  We covered three areas.

  1. True North
  2. The Empty Chair
  3. Blessed Unrest

From this series we will launch into our next one – a series closely connected – titled “Dream.”

Through the process of these two series we hope to effectively communicate where we are traveling as a congregation.  There is actually great fun imagining the future.  Of course there will be the dynamic tension, noted last week between the known and the unknown.  It is not for us to “solve” that tension.  It is our job to “manage” it.

Many churches struggle today because, unfortunately, they are far more comfortable with the “knowns” than with the “unknowns.”  Yet the “known” really remains relegated to the past.  As noted, the days of hanging up a particular denominational “shingle” as being the key to growth are behind us.  2 years ago I attended a small church where the big announcement was the new sign.  That was painful to witness because the roadside sign is no longer the most critical interface with the world.  The most critical interface frankly has migrated to different environments.

We are blessed with being in a place where we can, with God’s guidance, figure out new and ever more effective ways to serve. To find the blessing however, we need to live in the unknown, and actually – GULP! – get comfortable with it.

An Invitation to Help Write Sermons

Monday, March 14th, 2011

At NCL, our sermons are the result of many conversations.  The process begins and ends with teams of volunteers who help with everything from the initial ideation to find implementation.  That is how it should be if we are to offer services that really meet people’s needs.

We are expanding our sermon writing team to pull in more of an on-line presence.  If you are interested, here is the specific way to go about joining us.

  1. Meetings are 2:45 PM to 3:30 PM, Thursdays
  2. If you are interested in receiving an “invite”, send an email to chuck.blair@newchurchlive.tv by 2:30 PM the day of the meeting
  3. An email invite in return will be sent to you from our WebEx account.
  4. Step one – follow the email directions for the call in feature via your phone.
  5. Step two – follow the email directions for visual/ video via your computer.
  6. Share your thoughts with us!

I chair the meetings and we use the time to discuss the sermon that will be delivered the following Sunday. It is very fun meeting – thought provoking and inspirational.

The Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

The scenes from Japan are deeply saddening.   My brother lived there for over 10 years with his family so that country has been close to our families heart for quite some time.

The damage in Japan is hard to grasp.  Japan is roughly the size of Minnesota with 1/2 the population of the US.  Therefore population density is far higher than one might find in the US.  When these events strike, the damage even if localized is greater than it might be in the US.

With concerns around nuclear reactors, the crisis does not appear to be over.

What can we do at times like this?  For those called to offer material aid, there will be many opportunities over the coming weeks.  For all of us, what we can do is keep the those impacted in our hearts.  Prayer does not directly alleviate suffering.  What prayer does is open us up to the compassion we need to access in order to reach out towards others.  It softens our heart which allows us to reach out to those who are brokenhearted.

Spring Is Coming

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Spring is coming!  What a joy it is to start to see the first signs – from birds singing to snow drops blooming.  Seasons are such a blessing – each creating gratitude for what was and what is to come.

We moved through a difficult winter and are now ready for spring and summer.  “Lets Build A Church” is about getting ready.  As one author noted, it is the “work before the work.”  That “work before the work” is about readying ourselves in ways that are not always, in the short term, comfortable.  Can we seek to be the Christian message of a deeply loving God?  To see and experience that message in others?  Can we embrace, even sanctify the chaos of moving out of established patterns into the excitement of the unknown?  When I think of questions like this I both smile from great joy and smile even a bit out of nervous apprehension.

Moving forward is the very basis of life, life in its deepest, most giving form.  We possess a very clear vision for where we are headed.  Important to note however, that that mission is not a point on a map, a set destination.  It is clear vision about creating mechanisms that open us up individually and as a Church to ever great engagement in the world around us from the perspective of a deep love lived out in service to others.

You will hear about that mechanism over the coming weeks.  That new architecture builds on the incredible heart and work that launched NCL.

Stay tuned.  Spring is coming!

Small Groups: Online and In Person

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Interested in running a small group this spring?  You can do run a group online or in person.  We will help put it together and market it.  Email Angela and we will get it moving forward. (angela.cooper@newchurchlive.tv)

True North

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

The Compelling Need for a True North

NewChurch LIVE seeks to be a growing, outward reaching presence in the world.  In so doing our hope is to join many other churches and denominations in the real work of faith-based living.  We join a movement,  broader than any particular denomination.  ”Movement” actually forms the very core of why churches were established – to draw a community together around a movement – a movement then supported by a disciplined community that inspires, informs and supports.

As such we actually need to travel to the edge of what feels like chaos.  A growing church, as is true with any growing institution must carefully tread that line between the known and the unknown, finding the “sweet spot” where creative tension moves us from the “as is” to the “can be.”

That place is admittedly uncomfortable.  We will take time to look at more extensively as we close the series with a sermon on “Blessed Unrest.”  And that is where we are and where we need to be!

To keep our bearings, we need a “True North.”   Easy to fall prey to mixing the busyness of congregational life for the business of congregational life.  Our “business” centers on several key non-negotiable.  I share these knowing there are numerous ways to state them.

  1. God’s Word, a.k.a. the Bible
  2. New Church Theology, a theology codified by Emanuel Swedenborg to articulate the true meaning of Christianity
  3. Life lived for others without claiming cultural or spiritual superiority.
  4. Respectful dialog that treasures belonging

From that place we tap into the co-creative capacity alive in all of us, a place from which a dynamic emergence grows into life – aka “A Monday Morning Church.”  That is where our church hits its real capacity to be a positive force in the world.  For the fact is, as Senior Pastor, maybe one of the more significant leadership insights I can offer is “I don’t know.”  I don’t know.  I don’t know where NCL is headed.  And that is actually pretty exciting.

What do I know?  I know the heart.  We have seen it over and over again.  It is a heart not unique to NCL but a heart where maybe NCL is a special expression.  The other part I know?  I know that while I don’t know where NCL is headed, I fully trust that you do.  I trust that God is stirring something in your heart, that He is calling something into Being.  ”True religion is always a deep intuition that we are already participating in something very good, in spite of best efforts to deny it or avoid it.”  I trust that the team will fashion and achitecturalize structures that support that “knowing.”

Then we will possess what I think Jesus calls us to – a true north that both settles and expands.   So lets build a church!