July 26, 2007

Denominational vs. Nondenominational Churches

Here is an interesting article at the Out of Ur blog. In it Andy Rowell discusses some observations he has made as he is looking for a new church. He is a doctoral candidate at Duke University, and has been looking for a church to attend.

Here are some of his observations:

The Top Nine Things I Appreciate about Mainline Churches:

1. The leadership of mainline churches does not center so much on one person – the pastor. When a senior leader leaves, there are mechanisms for finding a new pastor including trained interim pastors.

2. Mainline churches have a greater appreciation for Christian history. The liturgies of the mainline churches reflect the thought and deliberation of several centuries of Christians. Many evangelical worship leaders say whatever springs to mind.

3. The worship services at mainline churches have intellectual substance. The liturgies at mainline churches are usually very rich theologically. Someone has taken the time to craft the words of the liturgy carefully.

4. Mainline churches care for the poor and are more aware regarding social issues. Though evangelical churches are coming around, they have been slower than the mainline regarding racism, care for the poor, empowering women, and care for the environment.

5. Mainline denominations take intellectual excellence seriously. They want their pastors educated and their scholars properly trained. I know an evangelical megachurch (which I like) with 100 staff members and only the senior pastor has a Master of Divinity.

6. The ordination process in mainline denominations usually screens out the mentally ill. The ordination process of the denominations takes a few years, includes a battery of psychological tests, and is done in consultation with lots of people who know you. Many pastors of evangelical churches simply decided to plant a church. Whether they have any education or preparation is irrelevant.

7. Mainline denominations care for their pastors more thoughtfully and equally. Mainline pastors are usually paid fairly and their benefits are good and fair.

8. Mainline denominations honor the arts including classical music. Mainline people seem to be the people supporting museums, visual art, architecture and NPR.

9. Mainline churches have better accountability structures. There are structures for dealing with crises and for preventing crises from happening in the first place.

The Top Seven Things I Appreciate about Nondenominational Churches:

1. Nondenominational evangelical churches structure their worship gatherings so newcomers know what is going on and want to come back. They have an elaborate plan for welcoming people so that even irreligious people will want to come back. This includes signs, greeters and the overall style of the environment.

2. Nondenominational evangelical churches acknowledge that churches are organizations that need competent leadership. They tend to value pastors who organize and inspire the church toward more effective mission.

3. Nondenominational evangelical websites are usually better. Websites should be designed for someone who is totally unfamiliar with the church but might want to go there.

4. The music at nondenominational evangelical churches is more like the music people listen to on the radio. This is a preference thing I know but it just seems to me that churches can be faithful while still evolving to connect with people today.

5. Nondenominational evangelical churches question traditions that no longer connect with most people. When only 1% of the people really want the ministry, it should not get time on the podium and space in the bulletin.

6. Nondenominational evangelical churches are more eager to experiment with new technologies.

7. Nondenominational evangelical churches highly value Scripture. This covers a multitude of other shortcomings.

What do you think about his list? One commenter said that nothing spiritual surfaced until the very last point...do think that statement is true? Is there nothing spiritual about accountability, missional focus, theological and historical integrity and care for the poor and hurting?

July 19, 2007

What is the Church?

A few days ago I commented about the Pope's statement about the Protestant Church.

I don't think I am not ready to let that thought go just yet. Because the Pope brings up a very good point of discussion for us. In fact, it caused much debate in many of my classes. I also think it is the essentially unanswered question that drives much of the discord we see in the Protestant camp.

The question: What is the Church? What constitutes a church? Who has the right to call themselves a church? What activities, purposes, vision, activities, and doctrines are essential for someone to call themselves a church of Jesus Christ? Is there any required accountability?

Essentially, What is the Church???

Let's think about that for a while. What do you think?

July 11, 2007

The Protestants Church is not a Church!

At least that is what the Pope is saying.

Now, before we go off the deep end, we must understand what is being said. According to a "Catholic" friend of mine, you could fill 500 pages with the definition and discussion of what constitutes a church.

In a nutshell, though, the Catholic Church defines a church by:
1. Having an ordained minister with apostolic succession. Apostolic succession means the pastor can trace his ordination back through the history of the church to a disciple of Jesus Christ. That is Peter, mostly, in the Catholic tradition.

2. Maintained unity and fellowship with the "one" church. This means that they haven't broken away from or rejected the Catholic church. The Catholic views itself as the "one" church because it has descended directly from the disciples. They recognize they have had their problems, but they have stuck it out and haven't gone off in a huff to start their own church.

While stating that Protestants are not really a "church," the Pope does recognize that the Spirit of Christ is at work in what the Protestants are doing. For Protestants, though, that may not seem like much encouragement.

But let's take a different view.

The Pope is attempting to protect the integrity of the ordained ministry and the word "church" as he sees it. It seems that any yahoo with an inkling can start a church and call himself/herself a pastor. There is no one there to say, "You don't have the qualifications," "You are teaching heresy," "You are not really a church." We have also seen the destruction caused by someone getting mad and running off to start their own church. We are called Protestants for a reason!

Let me give you an example. I spent 8 years learning the theology of the church and how to interpret the Bible. I didn't learn everything about doing ministry, but I received a good, foundational education. Not that this makes me better than anyone, it was just what I felt God wanted me to do to be prepared for the ministry of His Word. However, a friend of mine got on the internet and purchased an ordination certificate. The she started performing weddings. She had no training. She had no understanding of what she was doing.

It would be like purchasing a certificate that allowed me to do brain surgery or practice law.

I am not saying that seminary is the only way to educate or prepare oneself for the ministry. But, I am saying that being a pastor, and being ordained, is not something that should just be taken on a whim with an internet certificate. I believe that the role of the pastor is demeaned when we cheapen the entrance into it. Those called to professional ministry are called to a ministry of service with high expectations. That means being able to both do the job well and to do it with theological integrity.

Every time I hear of another internet ordained minister, I want to scream. It cheapens the role of the ordained pastor. And, I think that is how the Pope feels. The Catholic church is not the one who got angry and left. They have had their problems, and I certainly don't condone some of their actions. But, the Pope's point is that by their definition the Protestants are not a church. It is his attempt to protect the integrity of the word.

Viewed from that angle, I understand the Pope's statement without anger. I, however, disagree on his definition of church. Though I do believe we need to find (or found) some ordination standard so that some internet-savvy idiot can't claim to be an ordained minister. I could go on and on.

Here is a link to the original Papal statement.

What do you think? Does it cheapen the ministry? Does having different church denominations and governing bodies break the "unity" of the Church Universal?

July 10, 2007

Up, Up, and Away

I always thought this would be fun...for someone else (because I don't like heights). I could just see some redneck pulling this off. I guess Jeff Foxworthy is right, You can always find a redneck somewhere.

It seems that Kent Couch, a local gas station owner, decided to strap a bunch of helium filled balloons to his lawn chair. His destination was Idaho!

He didn't make it to Idaho, though he did float 193 miles!

Even funnier is that he had a Chihuahua named Isabella. I would have strapped the dog to the underside of that chair and took her with me. Once I got up about 1,000 feet...well, nevermind.

When he landed, the wind caught the chair and took it and his video camera back into the air. He "hopes to get it back some day."

Check it out.

July 3, 2007

That's My Story, and I'm Sticking to it!

I believe that we each have a story that defines us. There is an instance or an event that defines who we are as a person and describes us. This story probably defines Aron Ralston and tells us a lot about his character. These stories and actions tell us what the person's character is like, what they are like on the inside, and help us understand them better.

I have a story that has defined the way I approach life.

From the time I was ten years old, I wanted to go hiking and camping. I am sure that many young boys have similar longings, but mine seemed an impossibility. I grew up without a father, and I lived in the inner-city. There isn't much camping in the inner-city (though "hunting" might take place).

By the time I was twelve I had nearly memorized several camping books and the Boy Scout Manual. Finally, my mom let me join the Boy Scouts of America. This was the chance I had been waiting for...I was going to go camping and hiking.

Our first trip was to John Bryan State Park outside of Yellow Springs, Ohio. We were going to hike several of the trails.

At first, everything was fine. It was a great day, and we were hiking in a beautiful gorge. We were able to climb on some of the rocks, and explore some "cave" areas. I have estimated that we hiked about 10-12 miles that day.

Pretty soon, however, I was exhausted and couldn't keep up. Remember, this is my first ever hiking trip, and I was an out-of-shape twelve-year-old. I kept falling behind. My feet hurt from having the wrong kind of boots. I had blisters from where the boots had rubbed my heals and the side of my pinky toe.

Eventually, my Assistant Scoutmaster picked me up, on his back, and carried me so that I would be able to keep up. At first this seemed like a good idea, but then I realized how embarrassing it really was. Everyone looking at me...teasing.

I remember thinking, "I will never be the last person on a hike ever again. And, I will never fall behind."

That event has defined me for many years. I never fell behind on a hike again. I was usually first, or, if watching out for others who had fallen behind, at the back helping them to keep up. But I was more than likely at the front. This has carried over into a determined, driven nature that won't settle or give up. Not bad, but not good in some instances.

What story has defined you? How does is demonstrate who you are and what you are like?