Swinging for the Fences

Is your church really preparing people to play the game Jesus is calling them to?

I recall playing a season of tee ball at some point during my elementary school career. I only remember a couple things about that experience. One, I was older than most of the other kids and two, despite that fact, and the whole ball-sitting-still-on-a-tee thing; I wasn’t very good.

I was in a meeting recently and we were asked to list the things that were necessary for discipleship to occur. We tend to talk a lot about discipleship nowadays, largely because we know that something is amiss in our experience and practice of it today. We sense the sharp difference between the common experience of church membership and the call to discipleship Jesus makes in the Gospels.

Our conversation veered toward the challenge in many churches where people seem more intent on receiving services, and with keeping up appearances, than upon giving or serving in risk-taking ways. As we talked, it struck me that the people in the pews might not be the problem. Instead, isn’t it actually true that pastors and other leaders are changing the rules of the game on them?

Community and the Things Trolls Kill

If you aren’t overly concerned about relationships, there is a good chance you could be a troll.

The word ‘troll’ is used on the Internet to describe a person “who posts a deliberately provocative message with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” If you’ve never seen a troll in action, find a provocative topic on a popular blog or news site and work your way down to the comments section. In and among the people seeking to engage in genuine conversation are the trolls who poke, prod, and bully others, quickly stifling the possibility of any real dialogue.

In the religious world, trolls come in all shapes, sizes, and theological perspectives. Researchers at the University of Manitoba released a study late in 2013 showing that internet trolls bear strong correlations to sadists, or as Slate puts it, they really are horrible people.” These are the people who are quick to judge and carefree in their naming of heretics worthy of the flames of hell.

New church; a constellation, not a melting pot.

Do you want to know what church is going to be like in our new age? It will be a constellation of brightly shinning unique individuals; not a mass of indistinguishable people melted together.

A few years ago I was a part of a small design group that came together to experiment with creating authentic community. Our motivation was to combine my conceptualized Communication System, with the work of Peter Block from his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging.

As a design group, we were extremely committed and spent an amazing amount of time together. At one point we were talking about what to call our group and as we each shared, we realized that the majority of us had referenced themes of galaxy, stars and constellations. In our experience of the process we caught the vision that what we were doing was—constellating ourselves.

The Church isn’t the product. The Church is the platform.

The Apple Watch will be a huge success or a grand failure, but which one it ends up being doesn’t depend exclusively on Apple. That reality is a bit of their genius. The thing that sets Apple apart from competitors like Microsoft, at least in the mobile space, is its ability to inspire, and generate platforms to support the creativity of, a robust developer community.

Now of course it’s a bit disingenuous to underestimate the company’s impact upon the imminent success, or failure, of the upcoming Apple Watch. The unique engineering of the hardware, the features they choose to offer and those they exclude or wall off from developers; each decision will help to shape the Apple Watch platform. If they are too lax in setting the parameters, they’ll undermine the usability (and battery life) of the device. But if they are too rigid, or not ingenuitive enough in their hardware design, they’ll stifle the potential creativity of the developer community.

Of course, with the watch not even on sale yet, it is far too early to tell whether it will be a success.

Onward Christian Zombies

Guest Post by the Lee Karl Palo

What would it be like to walk into a religious ceremony of a group you knew nothing about? Of course, there would be plenty of things you wouldn’t understand. Many of the words you hear would be used in ways you might not be familiar with. Other words would be peculiar to that religious group.

I remember a conversation I had about my Christian faith with a new friend. I no longer recall the specific details of what I was talking about, but what was memorable was a comment he made. He said, “When you use the word ‘church’ you aren’t always talking about a building are you?”

In most churches, there is a strong value placed on making converts. Additionally, the society we are a part of is becoming less and less familiar with the Christian faith. This means that many of the internal words we would naturally choose to express what being a Christian is make less and less sense to those on the outside.

God’s Women: A Plea to Pope Francis

“With regards to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul [II] said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed.” Pope Francis

Historical records indicate that women were ordained in antiquity, with functions from officiating at altars to serving as presbyters and selling burial plots. While the official Catholic position is that these actions were the result of heretical sects, opponents disagree and embrace a view that women played a central role in the hierarchical church, even after the conversion of Constantine and the establishment of the institutional Church.

Regardless of historiography, there is little doubt that the modern Roman Catholic Church stands firmly against the ordination of women, a position made clear by Pope John Paul II in his 1994 Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he writes:

In fact the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God’s eternal plan; Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. Mk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood,(6) the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord’s way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. Rv 21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose fellow workers(7) who would succeed them in their ministry.(8) Also included in this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on the Apostles’ mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.(9)

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), it seemed possible that women could be ordained to the diaconate, most specifically when the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith indicated that exploration of the issue was important in 1977. However, it was still considered “unsettled” in 2003, with “recent indications that the Holy See intends to continue the exclusion of women from this office.

pope-francisThere has been great excitement among Liberal Protestants and alienated Catholics about the papacy of Francis I; his statements on gays and his condemnation of unchecked capitalism have generated a feeling that His Holiness is taking the Church in a new direction. He is not without detractors, both conservative and liberal, but there is no question that he has quickly made the papacy relevant again. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit to having a picture of Pope Francis in my church office and to quoting him frequently in my sermons. As a mainline Protestant with two graduate degrees from a Jesuit Catholic University, I have a deep love for this Pope. He is a model for me on how to do ministry.

I often tell my Protestant friends—especially fellow Progressive Christians who lament the Pope’s seemingly contradictory views on homosexuality—that we should never forget that he is Catholic. What many people see as wild deviations from Catholic teaching, such as his statements concerning evolution and faith, are actually very much in line with traditional Catholic views that date back to the 19th century.

Don’t let the Great get in the way of the Good

I’m a big fan of vision. I understand its power in motivating people, getting them excited, and helping everyone to double down in their efforts to get something done.

But sometimes we allow a great vision of what we could be doing to get in the way of the good work we should be doing.

What exactly do I mean? Consider these examples from the life of the church.

  • Imagine a church that invested serious time, and some treasure, in a great coffee ministry to attract new people. Not necessarily a bad idea, but a series of these new visions forced the community to defer maintenance that was needed on the facility. Eventually, this led to an emergency closure of the building due to structural issues caused by a leaky roof.
  • Then consider the young pastor who devoted a lot of time in a great new social media strategy for his old church. And while the strategy had the potential to pay dividends down the road, the pastor was also neglecting to care for his existing flock through visitation and relationship building. Without eager partners, the church’s ability to welcome those new people was stymied by a lack of enthusiasm for any new ministry offerings.
  • And then there is the arena of our personal discipleship. For many of us, it is easy to get excited about a great mission project, or some essential task that provides us a clear sense of our importance. However, the day-to-day nurturing and development of our spirituality, that basic soul care which will prepare us for the unexpected, we often find boring and tedious.