Posts Tagged ‘New Church’

Three Shifts That Are Changing Christianity

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Brian McLaren, in his most recent book “The Great Spiritual Migration”, noted three profound changes…

  1. Spiritually, growing numbers of Christians are moving away from defining themselves by lists of beliefs and toward a way of life defined by love
  2. Theologically, believers are increasingly rejecting the image of God as a violent Supreme Being and embracing the image of God as the renewing Spirit at work in our world for the common good
  3. Missionally, the faithful are identifying less with organized religion and more with organizing religion—spiritual activists dedicated to healing the planet, building peace, overcoming poverty and injustice, and collaborating with other faiths to ensure a better future for all of us.
Profound insights, insights that closely mirror New Church theology.  It echoes the Swedenborgian concept that Christianity must be a life-style faith lived out in loving relationship to others.  That God is all loving, period.  And that we must constantly focus on useful service versus trapping ourselves in the purely intellectual pursuits so much of church mires itself in.
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What is “saving faith” in the New Church?

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Much of Christian theology concerns itself with the question of salvation.

How does the New Church hold salvation? How do we hold “saving faith”?

Saving faith is found in people whose lives are devoted to doing what is good, people who in other words are devoted to caring … [so] wherever good actions are being done from a caring heart is where the church will be found. (NJHD, 121)

Put simply, our role then … to humbly seek God’s help in pushing aside our ego, our self centeredness, our cravings, our narcissism, our materialism – no easy task.  And then to serve.

This “pushing side” and “reaching out” become then a united endeavor, each “movement” informing and shaping the other, an endeavor where deep love, in the end, wins.

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The Allergic Reaction to the Word “Sin”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Many struggle with the word “sin” a word often drawing an immediate connection with the word “guilt.” Raised in cultures steeped in those two descriptors, descriptors used to capture what some churches see as the generalized plight of humanity, many simply choose to leave church altogether.

So how can we hold “sin” in a healthy way?  An important question because there is indeed such a thing as sin.  People do do horrible things to others ranging from abuse to terrorism. So we have to talk about it.  The question becomes how.

Alan Mann offers some interesting perspectives, ones closely aligned with New Church theology.

From his perspective, while the word “sin” clearly creates an often negative reaction, we almost all universally share a sense of estrangement, a sense, a knowledge that we are failing to live fully into the lives God intended for us.

Life is relational.  Loving God and loving others functioning one and the same.  So sin is relational.  Sin is what obscures and damages relationships with God and with others.   Those damaged relationships feed very readily into those feelings of a core estrangement, a sense of lostness.

Christianity offers a way out.  Not in terms of transaction where Christ becomes the sacrifice for all sin.  Instead in terms of seeing in Christ, God incarnate – as the human embodiment of the Divine – seeing God in a focused way that we can in our small and broken ways emulate. A loving, functional model we can follow in that search to come into our fullest humanity, living life as God truly intended.   That comes right back to this key bit – Christ does not ask us to worship him but instead asks us to follow him.

Healing and reconciliation can occur there – in the following – remembering that the issue is always with us, not with God. We are forgiven instantly by God.  Our role however is to “come right” in ourselves, to live more fully into the lives we were intended to live, regaining a sense of inner coherence in our lives, one married to the best angels of our nature.

God’s help in this endeavor is His spirit moving among us and through us. “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)  Spirit and Breath – the same words speaking to that amazing movement God in our journey.

Wisdom then comes to be “written not on our memories but on [our] lives.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 427)

All of this leads to a different view of  the word “sin.”  It does not leave the word devoid of meaning.  What it adds to the word is a context – a context of sin clear about the fallen parts of our nature that harm others and, at the same time, a context embedded in healing, embedded in a sense of humble empowerment, of grace.

 

 

BEING the Church

Friday, January 29th, 2016

BEING the Church.  Not debating.  Not arguing. Not “sorting” who are the “ins” and who are the “outs.”

Living as we were intended from creation to be – forms of love, wisdom, mercy, forgiveness.

Living it.  Literally inhabiting it.  The church as a building whose walls stretch everywhere.

Beautiful.  And that is the New Church view of church. Not faith alone. But a lived experience of God’s presence.

Thank you Mary and Kelly for sharing that light in Kensington this week.

Beautiful!

 

Theory to Practice: Reflections from a trip to California and Martin Luther King Day.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Last week began with a trip to California.  Joined by a group of pastors, organized by my dear friend David Lindrooth, we gathered to talk about growth.  About the New Church movement.  About church in the coming years.

 

The two main presenters, Mac Frazier and Ethan McCardell walked us through a list of lessons learned, one set from an Austin congregation no longer financially viable, the other from a small congregation seeking to serve in Seattle.

And what of those lessons?  What had these two talented pastors learned?

  1. The Pastor-centric model is shifting
  2. A new, more engaging era of dialogic preaching, empowered lay-led teams and co-creation of churches is unfolding
  3. A continued call back to the deep Christian roots of a loving God and caring service towards others – the two Great Commandments – which is the theological underpinnings of these changes
  4. A refocus on shared messages and an inclusion of all voices that will draw various factions together, shoulder-to-shoulder, focused on a common cause.
I found myself again and again nodding in silent agreement.
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We can argue – and many do – about the nature of these changes.  About the theology around these changes.  And we can at times -mistakenly I believe – speak then as if we possess a “vote” on these shifts.
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There is no “vote.”  These are the changes that are shaping not just the New Church but Christianity as a whole in North America.
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Which brings me to Martin Luther King Day weekend.
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The week in California ended in this … a weekend where the theory we talked about all week was lived out by this congregation.  Theory to Practice.
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This weekend was not pastor stuff. Not a grand strategic plan.  Not the last word on church growth.  Not drawing battle lines either.  It was a lived experience.
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It started over lunch months ago, an initial meeting that led to a planning team.  12 people.  A good number!
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The team’s ideas for the service…
  1. A Sunday service with speakers who could speak to “The Beloved Community” – Randy Gyllenhaal and Jessica Craft.
  2. A Sunday service with music that included teens musicians from “Rock To The Future”, an inspiring non-profit in Kensington that serves students through music, academic support, and college placement.
  3. Following the service, a time to collect in fellowship over lunch and create small care packages to be handed out to those in need
  4. And Monday, Martin Luther King Day, a trip down to “Rock To The Future” to serve
And this is what happened ….
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The speakers spoke.
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The teens performed.
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We gathered after for fellowship and care packages.
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We traveled to Kensington and served.
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And this what someone said about just one element of the weekend but that could be said of the whole thing…
No words, just tears when’s came into the New Church Live offices this morning to set up for the ‪#‎blessingsbags‬ such generosity, and more donations on the way. Never have I felt more a part of the ‪#‎BelovedCommunity‬.
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And this is what I think…
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Someone in California noted how we lack a predictable, replicable system of church growth.  Good point.  And I wonder more and more if there even is a system.
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Maybe instead there is just a simple, stripped down commitment to settle in on loving communities and opening the space.  To open the space where churches join/ support/ promote the lived experience of God in many forms.
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Not done perfectly.  Never done easily.  But just simply done.

Trends

Friday, November 6th, 2015

I love this simple concept … while events gain our attention, trends remain far more significant.  So what are the trends with church for the next 10 years?  One guess…

Many churches will continue to decline in numbers and donations.

This is a sad one.  Many churches, contemporary and traditional, progressive and conservative, will continue to struggle.  Congregations under a certain number may no longer remain financially viable.   There is currently no data that I am aware of that sheds a positive light on this trend.

One fear may be this … declining churches can become hostile churches. Reactionary. Misplacing understandable grief around decline with a rage directed out at broader culture and others. This could in turn lead to a denominational “doubling down” as it were.

One can see that in the current challenges in the Catholic church where Pope Francis noted his concern around “the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the churches teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”

For churches to remain viable, they will need a a focused mission, a deliberate dedication to service.

And not everything is doom-and-gloom.  The future while uncertain is paradoxically hopeful as well.

There will always be a space for Christianity. While Christianity clearly will no longer remain a cultural “given” as the question shifts from “Where do you go to Church? to “Do you go to Church?”  it will still exist and will thrive in pockets.  I believe New Church Christianity will find a thriving place there as well.

Those thriving pockets I imagine will be centered around churches and groups steeped in a deep missional focus.  The broad color of that mission will center on Christianity’s heartsong … expanding the circles of compassion in loving service to the other and the sacraments that support that mission, i.e. the archain disciples of Communion etc….  As Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, “Religion is of life and the life of religion is to do good.” A place where love of God and love the neighbor work functionally as one.

That missional focus creates great leeway in terms of belief and individual perspective.  That fits well with current desires for non-authoritative, non-exclusive truth claims offered with a humility of presentation and clear valuing around freedom of movement while at the same time finding a concrete centering on sacred texts.

It is movement from church in the age of belief to church in the age of service.

More congregants will join online than in person for Sunday Services

The internet remains a game changer.  Some predict the end of the Sunday service, a demise to be replaced by online content and small groups. For some that may indeed be true. However there will always be space for the traditional Sunday gathering.

What I imagine will most likely evolve is a hybrid model combining both inperson and online audiences.  Small groups obviously play a critical here as well given their ability to serve both audiences.

At NewChurch LIVE in two short years we have seen a dramtic shift.  Two years ago 9.6% of our Sunday attendees joined us live via a simulcast.  That percent has grown dramatically, now reaching 24%. And there no signs of that trend ending. Important to note those tuning in come from remote locations yet also many local families who tire at the idea of pushing the kids out to the door to church and prefer instead to watch at home.

One can legitimatly grieve what may be a loss of community in the name of convenience but I believe this is trend to be embraced not refuted.

So what could NewChurch LIVE look like in 10 years?

  1. Sunday: An inperson service, bringing together a wide variety voices – male and female, multigenerational, multiethnic – that combined with our LiveStream audience tops 1,000 each week with the majority watching online
  2. Small Groups: A thriving small group program made up of numerous small group structures, durations, themes etc…..
  3. Service: A “hub” in which we facilitate, support, and connect with numerous non-profits allied to our layity’s interests.
And these are all best guesses.  What I know in these uncertain times … remain true to the mission of humble service.  And God will lead us in the rest.
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An Implanted Promise

Friday, January 9th, 2015

We all carry what Father Richard Rohr terms “An Implanted Promise”, a deeply held spirit within us, connected to God.  God both abides and enters there.

In New Church circles that implanted promise rests on innocence, charity, and mercy.  Restated the promise rests on a ….

  1. Willingness to be led
  2. Kindness towards our fellow human being
  3. Compassion
These “tether” us to heaven, a heaven we always carry.  Simply part of the human condition.  Can we ignore those deeper roots of implanted humanity? Absolutely. That is the crux of human freedom.  But they remain, for eternity, waiting to be employed.
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Success and Health – Finding the Right Measures for A Church

Friday, November 14th, 2014

“There is a more descriptive and theologically accurate word than success in describing what we’re after, health.” (J.R. Briggs)

How a church measures itself forms, arguably, a subtle yet powerful message about what church and religion as a whole are to value.  Briggs’ quote above bores right into that insight.

Success in much of our culture becomes carefully aligned with quantitative results. Nothing wrong there.  I prefer to drive cars with dashboards.

And there is another measure maybe all the more important … health.  We prefer to be in a “healthy” car, driven in a healthy way, with healthy passengers.  Dashboards are great.  But they are never the point.

What are then the measures of health in a church?

In this denomination it comes to a rather simple premise.  Do we place love and humble service in the first place or do we reserve that spot for truth, for doctrine and their sidekicks … order, control, power, rightness.    In the New Church this is not a choice between polarities.  It is a decision of incarnation, a decision of living into - living into a set of priorities we feel will bring God’s light more fruitfully into the world.   Not an “either, or” but a “both, and.”  Again, dashboards … all for them. And there remains a bigger picture.

Restated, church bell towers needs bells, not just clocks. What is the “bell that rings?”  Is it a ringing that resonates with God’s movement around us?  Or is it just way to tell time?

Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

In a very well written work, Thom Rainer observes these characteristics of deceased church.  Churches that failed shared the following traits …

  1. The past was held as hero
  2. The Church refused to look like the community
  3. The budget moved inward
  4. The great commission became the great omission
  5. The “preference” driven church focused exclusively on the comfort and wishes of current church members
  6. Pastoral tenure declined
  7. Church rarely prayed together
  8. The church lost a clear purpose
  9. The church became obsessed over facilities

To summarize churches moved away from being self-sacrificial and instead became self-serving, self-giving, self-entitled.

This list is accurate.  New Church theology clearly warns against this very turning of churches inward that eventually leads to their demise.

It is hard to make an argument supportive of churches solely focused on their members’ needs, churches in turn that regard ‘outsiders’ with deep suspicion.  Organized religion as such becomes organized and sanctified exclusion, more interested in talking about outliers than talking and working with outliers whomever that might include be that the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, or simply the different.

Commentators like Richard Rohr rightly posit … if the above is the preferred future for organized Christianity there is no future for organized Christianity.

There is likewise no future for the opposite extreme either, an extreme that values entertainment over engagement, that proposes a “soft” Gospel with nothing sacrificial in its bones.  As Ken Wilbur noted, such a Christianity leaves “the self” intact and does little to dig at the soul, to dig at the true self, to sacrificially call out humanity to wider, more challenging and more promising vistas.  There is then no connection to Christ because there is no call beyond self.

Hope lies, as always, in a third way.  And this is a hope not for  the continuance of an institution but a hope for  a reborn institution living powerfully and humbly into a new era.  Church with strong enough structures and boundaries to stand for many things.  And church with porous enough structures and boundaries that enable it to easily easily connect and breathe with the communities in which it is placed.   There are bones … strong. There is muscle, and flesh, and heart… warm.  And it all serves.

 

One word that is hard to say … “SIN”

Friday, February 7th, 2014

We live in an age when the entire context of “sin” is difficult to discuss.  As a pastor, as that word “sin” leaves my mouth I shudder a silent prayer that it be heard aright, not heard as a judgment or condemnation but heard as commentary that parts of us are indeed fallen.    The commentary is not one of insiders of purity vs. outsiders of filth but of unity, that idea that we all are frankly jerks in parts of lives, sinners as it were.  And that not to acknowledge such a candid baseline is in fact to place us outside of the human condition.  We are sinners.  We are saints.  From that place we are one.

So we acknowledge the fallen parts of our fragile nature.  We celebrate as well the arenas of gift, breath, and grace.  The wheel turns and we march on.

Key, key, key to acknowledge that in our Christian New Church understanding of sin, we acknowledged an elemental truth to the reality of it all.  That reality is this … We are not punished for sin.  We are punished by sin.   Every foible I had or have in my life I get the opportunity to play to the end, to play to the hilt, to drive that plane right into the ground.  God will not stop me outside the gentle reminders that there is a different way, His gentle way.   And I get that choice, in my powerlessness, in my sin.