Sunday, March 16, 2008

How would you "do church" if you had a blank slate?

We're not told a lot in the new testament "how" to do church. Sure there are a few things such as the reading of the word; singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; the Lord's supper; teaching. We also see glimpses of the temple worship and worship around the throne in Revelation so that has to have some bearing on what we do. What about synagogue services since that would have been the model the early church practiced? I'm a firm believer in not doing things because "that's the way we've always done it". Sunday school did not exist 100 yrs ago. Wednesday night or Sunday night services didn't exist either I don't believe -- never have really thought about it or done the research.

We as Elders intend to review the ministries we have and see where they fit into the vision of CBC...Glorifying God....Making Disciples. If they don't fit or arent effective they must be replaced with something that does or is.

Ok - so what would you do if you could design your own church - something folks are doing today. I can't recall the name of the church but they are meeting at Union Station in DC-- google it and check it out...


Stevie said...

I haven't really thought too much about how I would "do church" but I did read through the first 2 chapters of Acts last night when I couldn't sleep and right now it isn't really the practicals of what it looks like but this is where I am starting. So at 2 AM this is what I got:
1) You can't do anything without the power of the Holy Spirit. 1:4-5, 8, 2:4, 38
2) A going out mentality. 1:8, 2:5-11, 21, 47
3) Constant prayer 1:14 2:42
4) Again walking in the power of the HS, being confused of being drunk (2:13,15) that might look like being a little bit more bold, maybe more talkative, and loving.
5) The gospel is always preached 2:22-24
6) Scripture is being taught and preached with everything pointing to Christ 2:25-36
7) The gospel will capture hearts and transform lives 2:37-38
8) People devoted to teaching 2:42
9) Community 2:42, 46
10) Community with an outward focus 2:45, 47

I will be thinking more about what that means it should look like. With that list above there is also Mark Dever's list of the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church

Terry said...

We need to be careful when using Acts - especially the early chapters - as a model for the church. Someone mentioned the other day that the early church in Acts was much like the exodus of Israel from Egypt - many of the things that happened to them in the desert were not duplicated in their life as a nation - it was part of the birthing process of the nation and a sign to the world. Much the same can be said of the early church. I would much rather rely on what is said in the epistles to the churches and to Timothy and Titus. That doesn't mean that the fervor of the early church shouldn't be part of our makeup - nor should we neglect to love but heres' the issue: How do you show love but still be the salt and light Jesus tells us to be. Darkness hates the light and when we point out sin we get accused of being haters. Here's an example: militant homosexuality which demands that we accept them as they are (that's ok) and accept their sin as not sin - which is clearly not to be tolerated in believers. I'm not talking about the unsaved - I'm talking about the saved community of gays that want us to accept their continued living in sin and not willing to change. Substitute whatever sin you want in and its the same for believers. Don't know why I drifted on to that -- maybe because we are confusing love with meaning no pointing out of wrong or sin in each others' lives. If that's the case then why have accountability groups and relationships?

Stevie said...

Dever writes about Biblical Church Discipline being a quality of a healthy church. The church has the responsibility to judge the life and teachings of its leaders and members of the church. Jesus came with grace and truth. There is a balance but truth is still a part of that.

It seems like most Christians are as social as those kids in the spelling bee. A big issue is trying to teach people how to be people. I listened to all of those interviews from the Desiring God Conference in 2006 and one called Relating to Sinners was pretty good. The idea of listening and trying to understand what people are thinking to know how to get the gospel to them.

If someone is stuck in sin and not repentant of it they are most likely not a born again believer. John Piper has a sermon I have not listened to yet titled No One Born of God Makes a Practice of Sinning. The reason they don't like us saying it is wrong is because "To the one we are the smell of death, to the other, the fragrance of life."-2 Cor. 2:16

About Acts, I understand what you are saying but I can show you all of those points through out the epistles as well. I really haven't spent anytime thinking about this but what I see from Acts is guys walking in the power of the Holy Spirit spending time in prayer and preaching the gospel. The gospel was what cut to peoples hearts and caused the change. They had an outward focus giving to anyone who had need and for people being added to their numbers daily they had to not seclude themselves and get stuck in their own bubble.

Terry said...

agreed - issue is that church is for believers, not unbelievers especially if we consider the church as a body or organism. By definition an unbeliever can't be part of it. Sure they can attend "church" but are inherently outside. We should not change the teaching of the church to appeal to unbelievers. We should be trained in life and live the gospel and be "ready to give an answer". When America was a Christian nation you could have big crusades and street evangelism and get converts. Now I agree with you guys - its all about relationships and gaining a invitation to share based on us being in others lives. Not sure I would go so far as some with the issue of sin in our lives. We each have sins that affect us more than others. We can never see the heart which is why when you deal with someone in constant sin its always best to start with the gospel and get that settled - they either believe or don't and you have to take them at their word. Sometimes they have just given up. I guess a better observation is if God is "chastising" them - but even then we don't know how God is dealing with his people. Start with the gospel and go from there - if that's what Piper and others are saying.

Terry said...

But let's get back to my original question. Taking what we see in Acts that transcend the birth of the church and are repeated in the epistles; and the things in the epistles and what we learn from early church history - how do we do church? What would a service look like? What programs would we have to meet the mission? and how would we ensure these methods were constantly being evaluated and changed or abandoned to meet the vision?

Chad Kreider said...

Mr. Stockholm, I've often thought about what a church service should be like. Even looking at the definition, the word "service" to me implies that the main focus is producing an environment where Christians can get together and do things they maybe couldn't have otherwise. Even "worship service" says the same. Don't get me wrong however, I do think that providing that safe environment is beneficial and often necessary, but I don't think it should be the church's main focus on Sunday mornings.

To identify what would constitute as a church service we would obviously have to look at what they did in scripture. We need to figure out how "keeping the Sabbath day holy" is different from any other day of the week. The answer to that, I do not know at the time. We should worship God every day of the week, we should seek him everyday of the week, so how should Sundays be different? Discuss.

From my observation as far as sermons go, they had 3 main goals that I can think of.
- To teach the meaning of the gospel, and how it applies. Referred to in scripture as the baby food of Christian faith. Baby food not in the sense that it is easy, but in the sense that everything subsequent cannot be swallowed without being fed the baby food first. (1 Cor 2:12-16)
- To instruct and correct. I think we can call this the more mature food in reference to the previous point. However, I think it is important that we combine instruction with correction, because as sinful beings being sanctified, everything is a correction to our former way of life. We see this in many of Paul's letters. He first commends churches for things they are doing that are beneficial and that glorify God, but he always instructs a church on things they should be doing (and maybe are not) or things that they should not be doing.
- To encourage. Not only telling a church to keep on doing things that are good, but to convey how wonderful God's blessing is for us.

I've never read a book about what sermons should focus on, but that is at least my layman interpretation. I think that in most churches today, sermons mainly focus on point #2, dabbled with a bit of #1. It seems to me that sermons are often fairly scripted, or are still taylored as if they are being presented in an academic environment instead of to real everyday people. Not in the sense that everyday people can't understand academia, but I think sermons are often times not even related to the state of the church. What are the people in the church going through? What do they need to hear? What corrections does a church need to make? Who cares if something would be hard to hear, God's word is straight and true, but it is not easy.

Anyways, that is my rant for today. =D

I think in short, here are things a church "service" (for lack of better word) should consist of:

- Sermon. This is probably the most integral part because scripture is the most integral part of our spiritual lives here on earth.
- Prayer. I think though that the body should be more involved with this. Prayer requests, and not just the ones that people call in to the church secretary during the week, but ones that people bring up live on Sunday.
- Sharing our lives with each other. This could be taken care of with small groups kind of things, but without this dynamic in at least some form it creates a "Pastor" and "everyone else" atmosphere, where the Pastor has it all "put together" and the congregation hopes for a closer relationship but feels that it is out of reach.
- Worship. Via music, or not. Music is probably the easiest form for most people, but it's not the only way to worship God.

In comparison, my list is very similar to what we do in church now anyways. I will blog again later after I think a bit on how it could be different, but I think I need to sign off for now and end my really long post.

Terry said...

Mr Stockholm? that's my dad - I'm Terry. Obviously I don't have much to do at work -- I'm a PM waiting to PM a program should it come along - until then I just support Business Development when they call.

Anyway -- let's talk about a sermon or the teaching part of the service. We all know that lecture form is the poorest means of communicating a lesson. We have guided discussions in ABF's and/or lectures based on the style of the teacher.

My take is we don't have worship services today - we have teaching services because, as you say, the bulk of the service is make up of one guy transmitting and 200 receiving.

Let's do some research on Brethern services -- they try to really focus on worship. Each service has the Lord's supper I know and singing. And some delivery of the word - believe they read scripture and have some sharing but not sure how long their "sermons" are. I do know that in the smaller brethern gatherings all the elders share in the preaching. As they get larger in size they hire a teaching elder. BCF is a brethern church.

There may be some merit to a litergy too. And before I forget about it -- what do other cultures do for their service -- if its the same basic structure that means the structure transcends culture and must have a deeper root.

So do we want to have a teaching service or a worship service? A worship service would have a more balanced approach of prayer, singing (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs); reading of the word and exhortation. Today we have 5% housekeeping; a cursory recognition of our worship thru giving of our money (could we emphasize our worship of God thru that more??) 20% "corporate worship and praise" and 60-70% lecture. And don't let the other stuff get in the way of the sermon.

I think we need to rebalance and get more participatory in our service -- prayer would be a good way. What about Habakkuk? Let all the earth keep silent before him? What is the place for silent prayer?

keep it flowing..

Stevie said...

I feel like this could be a blog by itself. But I like. More to come later.

Chad said...

I think we need to have a mixture of both a teaching and worship service. Here's why:
If you had a church structure where everyone got teaching through Bible Studies or evening services, then you could have a Worship Service only on Sundays. The problem is, there are always those "fring" people who come to church, are still Christians, but don't get involved in all the other activities. To cut the majority of either worhsip or teaching out of the Sunday morning service would be a bad idea.

Also, as far as services in other cultures, I think we'll be hard pressed to really find good examples. Most Christian communities in other countries have sprung out of Christian communities in the US or Europe. Either that, or when they became Christians, they looked to the US or Europe churches for examples of how to do service.

I agree with getting more participatory. One church I went to broke into small groups to pray over personal requests, and were then closed by the Pastor praying. I understand that you said earlier that praying in small groups didn't really work out... but let's get real. If you cut out praying with Christian brothers and Sisters, we might as well cut other things out of the model Christian life that is set out for us in the NT. It might just be a place where people need to grow and mature.

Maybe... bigger "small" groups for praying in a service. Like 8-10 instead of 5. That way people aren't forced to pray from peer pressure, but can grow into it and mature after a while of seeing other Christians praying. We would need to mix people up after the first couple too, so they don't always pray with their family or friends every service.

Terry said...

I like your idea about prayer -- we don't do that enough and hardly any in the morning service because we're pushing on to get to the sermon. I think what we're all saying is that we needd to re-balance the service to have all the elements that we see in the early church. Chad, I know you come from a presbyterian background which has a pretty structured service (litergy). There is something to be said about that; prayer, scripture reading; singing; teaching. How do we keep that fresh with those elements? I believe we do need to see how we can put those in place - and to emphasize prayer. Maybe half of the service in worship, praise, prayer (with the various elements), reading of scripture by dramatic readers and then teaching?
And what is it about interupting worship with announcements? Why can't we just let people be responsible for their own activities. We put them on the web site; in the bulletin; on the screens - should be good enough.

How to do offering? One church we started we had a chest in the back for folks to put their offering in - a private time of worship instead of passing a plate. What if we did something like that?

Stevie said...

If I did church, I would have a missional focus (on itunes search for Denton Bible Church and a sermon called Being a Missionary to Your Neighbor and search for Mars Hill Church and a sermon called Missional Ministry). That mindset is encouraging people to build relationships with people they come across everyday.
An important aspect of the church would be small groups or community groups. This would be a time and place to participate in each others lives, these small groups would be active in the community serving in ways that God has made them. They would study the bible and pray together.
People would always look to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy in their lives. Paul-someone investing in them. Barnabas-someone to keep them accountable and a peer. Timothy-someone to invest in.
Sunday morning would be a time of worship and solid biblical preaching. The sermon would either point to Christ and/or have the gospel explained. The gospel is for everyone not just the unbeliever. More of this to come on the other post.
I will probably have more later, thats it for now.

Stevie said...

iTunes Cornerstone Simi Video Podcast: Why people hate the church

Terry said...

wikipedia entry on plymouth brethren

Greg said...

Regarding giving the offering ... I like the idea of having a ferw minutes where church members get up and bring their offering. I used to attend a church where this was done, and it seemed like a more active response of worship.

Chad said...

It sounds cool, but it seems to me that it could potentially have pride issues. Sort of like raising your hands during worship, or the Pharisees making it apparent that they are fasting.
While on one hand, it would be a wonderful expression of worship to be able to give when you are moved by the spirit to do so, it could very easily have an adverse effect. I still like the offering plate, but I think a box in the back would be great as well. The offering plate communicates 2 beneficial things:
- The church needs money, and is asking its members to support it.
- Communicates to people that giving is important, and is something God expects of his people.

Several times I have wanted to give at offering and totally forgotten to write the check. When the plate is passed, I hit myself in the head because I wanted to give. If I knew there was a box I could contribute to later, it would have been easier for me to do so despite forgetting to bring a check with me.

Tim said...

Ok, here goes. I have been reading most of the posts (not in depth, I admit) and I would like to contribute my thoughts. I feel as though this post may be best suited for my comments, however, I will be touching on many comments made in other subjects. These are my thoughts on Elders, Sunday morning services, small groups, as well as what I feel may be what the church should be. I will touch on each of these in turn. If someone else has already mentioned what I say, I apologize for repeating it.

1)While I agree with Terry that we must be careful with using the early church as an exact model for the modern church, I believe it offers us some unique insights into how a church should function. You must remember that the early church did not consist of denominations or multiple Baptist churches in a single locale. They were simply "The church at...." At the beginning of every church was a handful of new believers who came to faith through the witness of an apostle, who was responsible for instructing those early believers in the faith. These early believers in each city would then reach out to others in their city, teaching and instructing the new believers, and so on and so forth in a cyclical effect. As the church grew larger and larger, they most likely began meeting in seperate groups. Romans 15:14 states: "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." One of the goals of church, therefore, is that every believer should be brought to the point where he is able to, and should be, teaching. In the early church, this was crucial, because so many new believers were becoming a part of the church in short amounts of time. There were too many for the few people who had been instructed by Paul or Peter to mentor. And believers therefore HAD the opportunities to teach due to the many new Christians who needed instruction. As you can see, the more a church evangelizes, the more opportunities there are for all Christians to teach, and so fulfill Paul's desire in Romans. The fact is, that ALL members of a church, not just the pastor or the elders, should be involved in teaching, and if they are not capable yet, the church should be training them to.

2)As I mentioned with the above, I believe there needs to be a cyclical effect in church. What I mean by that is this:

Pastor teaches Elder, Elder teaches congegrant, congegrant teaches.... who? This is where the congregant needs to either be instructing newer believers than he (which cannnot happen if there is no evangelizing going on), or other younger Christians, such as children. These folks, as they grow in their faith, then instruct the next batch of "newbies." This is also connected with the mentoring, Richie, that you have been encouraging. Sure, when you are forty you may not connect as well with a high schooler. But you will have a relationship with the kids you are mentoring now, and hopefully they will connect with a high schooler, who, when he reaches your age, will be mentoring someone younger. If we can find these cycles that the church should go through, perhaps it can be a constant rejuvination of the church.

3)The previous thoughts also deal with what you may call "The Jethro Model." In Exodus, Moses was wearing himself out instructing and judging the people all day. Jethro advised that Moses find competant people to judge over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. The Elders are the first line of defense in a church, as instructed by Paul in his farewell to the Ephesian Elders. But there should also be competant teachers of hundreds, fifties and tens. As I said earlier, the church should be striving to create these leaders.

4) Sunday Morning Service.

I, like many other young guys my age, have always wondered why the sermon takes such preference in a morning service. After all, we make sure that we worship first, so that if anyone is late, at least he won't miss the sermon! And then we are off to Sunday School for more instruction. And so, in contrast to the early church, and Paul's statement in Romans, 75% of the congregation sits and listens to teaching, but never teaches themselves. I also agree with Terry on the point of announcements. We sing a song, greet, sing a song, announcements, special music, sing a song, sermon, and, Oh, I'm sorry, the sermon ran long today, we'll have to skip the last song. I have been to events where we have worshipped for long stretches of time, and sometimes it takes a few minutes to get involved, which isn't helped if you are constantly breaking into the worship experiance. I do know that by the end of those worship sequences, I felt much more worshipful. I wonder why we can't spend more time in constant worship.

5)Just a thought, but I can't help but feel that if I were a non-Christian or a semi-committed Christian, I would feel much more uncomfortable during a prayer time or worship time, because I would be more aware of the fact that I am not truly participating. Whereas during a sermon, I can take it in, feel good about myself for going to church, and leave. Perhaps if we did more prayer and worship, it would force more people to come to grips with whether they are truly part of the fellowship.

6)Please do not feel as I hate the sermons. I think they are important, and I think they are an important part of the instruction talked about earlier. But why are some subjects taboo? After all, the Israelites were to teach their children to know the Law by heart, and were to put it all over the place. This would have included, for example, all the laws and regulations concerning sex. "All Scripture is profitable."

7)Relationships are perhaps the most important facet of the church. After all, our faith is a relationship with God. Unfortunately, you cannot force or coerce relationships, much as I would like to. This is, to me, the most frustrating aspect of church and, I think from the posts, the one we are most struggling with. That is, I cannot make somebody want to put the time into church and relationships that is necessary.

Sorry about the long post. I did not intend for it to be this long.

Terry said...

good post Tim. I think we are on track with this discussion. One point I want to stress - and one that we need to flow down to you guys as future leaders of the church (and CBC) is our model of plurality of leadership. I know you probably didn't mean it as it came out in your example of cyclic training but wanted to make sure we are all on the same sheet of music: Pastors are not the pinacle of a heirarchy - the elders are all equal and we have no "first among equals" in leadership. I know this is something that differs from our American tradition of doing church. We're used to the one-man leadership - especially in a small and even mega-church where he becomes the focus and identity of the local assembly.

Our concept is a body of elders - sure we hire guys to come in and fulfill fulltime responsibilities while others of us are in the workplace. Even in the early church it looks like they moved to a model of having someone involved in fulltime study and paying them to do that - so I suppose that would be like Tim's cyclic model. But you also see the danger in that -- what developed over the years as clergy and laity. We Elders purposely try to avoid those labels because Hebrews clearly teaches that we are all priests of God thru Christ.

As far as Sunday service is concerned I agree that a more balanced approach is the way to go. Even with the emergent church and cutting edge churches you have all the elements of "traditional" services - worship; giving; message.

And remember the assembly is for believers - see Corinthians - an unbeliever is welcome and will glorify God by seeing things done in decency and order.

We get charged up by that assembly to go out and BE the Church - "as you are going". We, again because of our culture, see church as something we DO on Sunday morning. The revolution is coming from your generation in BEING the church wherever and rejecting (might be too strong a word) the traditional Sunday morning service as being irrelevent to life. We have the opportunity to change that perception.

Tim said...

Yeah, I had a little trouble with the use of the word "cyclical." What I meant, simply, is that church should not be a small percentage teaching, and the majority receiving. Every member of a church should be receiving AND teaching.

Greg said...

When we talk about what format Sunday morning should be, I think we must also keep in mind how a visitor (unbeliever or believer) would respond to that format. A Sunday morning service is probably the most likely meeting to which a visitor may come. That said, ideas like breaking up into prayer groups could be very daunting to many people. As Randy Scott likes to drive home in youth leader meetings, different events/meetings have different purposes and reach different audiences. While Sunday morning is the biggest gathering, don't can't do it all on Sunday morning service.

And may be there's a place for different types of Sunday morning services (e.g., a more traditional format service and more contemporary/open format service).