I remember visiting a church with my family following the horrific attacks of 9/11. To be honest, I was not completely sure how I was feeling. I am sure you can relate. How odd was it that this church barely mentioned those events and did not seem to alter their service in any way. I left with nothing. Whatever that service was, it was not good… and we never went back.
I live within a few miles of Charlotte, NC. Recently our city made national news with the tragic police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the subsequent protests. This was a time to stand with people who were hurting, to prophetically speak to power, and pray for our police officers. Among the members of our church, we had police officers assisting in the crowd control and congregants joining the protests! I didn’t say this was easy. That’s a lot of emotion to deal with. (And please forgive me for using this tragedy as an illustration. I know how intense it is and that is what makes this conversation about our ministry so critical. Of course I feel that weight. I’m feeling it now.) In fear of not offending anyone or fear of saying the wrong thing, I shudder to think how many congregations completely ignored the entire thing. Shameful.
These examples reveal responses that were neither suitable nor proper (the very definition of appropriate).
If you recall the backstory behind these pursuit of good posts, the example that sparked it all was examining what made an actor good. The characteristic about being appropriate had everything to do with body language and how an actor uses their body as an instrument to convey what is appropriate in a scene. This is an apt metaphor. Are we comfortable in our own skin as the body of Christ?
To be appropriate, we need both emotional range and spiritual fortitude/muscle to wade into these deep waters.
In my recent post Pursuing Good: The Backstory, I began to process what makes something good. I ran into a couple of articles that really helped propel this idea forward. I even started to address the bad press we give good as opposed to great or excellent. I’ll continue to focus on that tension.
Here are the characteristics of a good service. A service is good when it is…
In this post, let’s do a deeper dive in #6—a service is good when it is complete. As usual, let’s start with a definition to get on the same page:
complete |kəmˈplēt| adjective —having all the necessary or appropriate parts • entire; full • having run its full course —(often used for emphasis) to the greatest extent or degree; total
Apple Dictionary v2.2.1
It has been my conviction shared in many conversations that Jesus did not directly confront the Roman empire. Instead, his focus was on Israel, their failure to repent and follow God, and the judgment they were under, thus Rome.
Consider this famous passage in Mark 12
13Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.
14They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?
15Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”
16They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”And they were amazed at him.
Sermons should be developed just based on the flattery they bestow upon Jesus before asking him their “question.” I wonder if our opinion of Jesus often matches theirs. If so, we are missing the point, as His answer demonstrates.
The way I see it Jesus is once again calling them into account for not properly responding to God. The reason they are having to pay the Imperial Tax at all is because they are under judgment. In essence His two-fold answer is pointed in the same direction: Submit to Caesar as he is an instrument in God’s justice and in doing so, submit to God and the work He is doing in the world (which will entail repentance and new living).
Be that as it may be, although Jesus is not directly confronting Roman rule and any abuse committed by Rome as he answers this question, He is definitely confronting them and their politics which are keeping them from properly responding to God and His rule.
1. Open to others. Not a fort against the world, but a thanksgiving table with an open seat for anyone.
2. Expanding the government of heaven. Not political — not preaching the values of the religious right or the left, but contending for a Christ-like response that is both a higher demand and a lighter burden.
3. An active part and participant in the community extending neighborly generosity and working for the common good.
4. A place of community and conversation. The Sunday service is less school and more family gathering.
5. A place of diversity. Not a church that is primarily led by and for one race, one generation, or one class; but empowers all, because the Spirit empowers all. A church that reflects the demographics of the entire community but also gives special place and care to the downtrodden and disenfranchised.
6. A church that values the arts and is artistic and creative in worship and in creating a worship space and environment.
7. A church that contends for the presence of God in passionate worship and prayer.
8. An ancient / future faith. A church that values the traditions of the past—that actively incorporates liturgical practices and weekly eucharist—while implementing the opportunities of new media to make mature disciples (people who can hear God’s voice for themselves, and obey it).
What’s your dream?
I’d be interested to know what you think. Do any of these resonate with you?
Even if you choose not to share it here, I encourage you to dream away. And then pray about the things that God is speaking to your heart.
I love to talk about new expressions of the church for our changing world, and I realize I am joining a chorus that has been sung for a long time. In 2004, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York along with the Methodist council founded the Fresh Expressions Organisation. I found some inspiring material and quality thinking over at their website: Fresh Expressions. To me it was incredibly encouraging.
Many existing churches operate with a ‘you come to us’ mindset. ‘Would you like to join us?’ is an invitation to come to ‘our’ church, set out as we like, at a time that fits us, in a style that we have pre-arranged. The flow is from outside-in: from the world into the congregation.
Fresh expressions have a ‘we’ll come to you’ mindset instead. They start not with an invitation (‘Come to us on our terms’), but with an offer (‘We’re willing to come to you, serve you and stay with you. If you want, we’ll also help you to be church in a way that suits you – in your style, not ours’). The aim is not to provide a stepping stone into existing church, but to form new churches in their own right. The flow is from the congregation to people outside – not inward, but outward.
Fresh expressions is a new mindset, not a new model of church to be copied. It is a mindset that starts not with church, but with people who don’t belong to church.
Fresh expressions are:
missional – serving people outside church;
contextual – listening to people and entering their culture;