Pastormac’s Pilgrimage for Next: Questions

So, today we took a break from visiting churches and we stayed home and watched part two of EPIC (not the disney version but a John Elderedge video series I mentioned a few weeks ago.)   When we met at Dion’s with other Lifesingers working out their own pilgrimage for next I joked precisely that we had visited a house church, my own.  It was a joke because they know that I have concerns about the typical house church.  I understand (but don’t entirely agree that scripture teaches) the argument that the early church was comprised of house churches.  I also understand that at least some house churches are probably healthier than some non house churches.  I’m also not concerned about the location or structure or size of a church.  What I am concerned about is that in many cases a house church becomes a way to avoid being challenged.  I have the same concern in general about the Christians who tell me that they get enough fellowship and bonding with their Christian friends without having to attend an actual church.  In one sense I trust that what they say is true.  I too find fellowship in places outside of “church.”

What is missing in both these cases, is challenge.  It is possible to find a group small enough and monolithic enough to rarely be challenged in our own thinking or ideas.  None of us are smart enough, or immune to deception enough to be confident that left inside our own minds we will never go in error in our understanding of doctrine.  The smaller a group is, the more uniform, the fewer questions there become.  This may seem comfortable and safe, but it is precisely questions, and the ability within a group to ask questions and challenge answers, that leads to us to real safety, to reliance on scripture and prayer and faith and dependence upon God.

I’ve seen this thread over and over this week.  Let me briefly share a few of them with you.

  1.  On my brother’s site today, he posted a blog called Questions (and yes i stole the title directly for my own) where he discussed how his family responded to a sermon by asking and discussing numerous questions.  My own experience going through the Epic video series with my family has been the same.  I’ve been encouraged precisely because instead of simply trying to force comfort in pat answers, I’ve seen my kids gain some freedom to ask real questions, tough ones that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with since before Christ.  There is comfort in the answers of scripture and in a better understanding of God but these are often arrived at through the questions, not in spite of them and certainly not in avoidance of them.
  2. One of the Lifesingers has been visiting and become fairly committed to a church which has numerous good points, but at which questions are not exactly in vogue.  This particular movement happens to be lead by primarily one man and as almost always happens, even when this one man is decent and honorable (as this one is) the structure that flows from such circumstance is one that doesn’t allow for a great deal of question or exploration.  A certain inability to explore questions about certain traditions which have developed in this church has lead her to wonder if she should move on.  This discussion reminded me why I’ve always been a strong proponent for plurality.  Even when I’ve pastored alone I’ve always been sure to surround myself with leaders who are willing to disagree and even argue with me as needed.  It doesn’t matter what our role or level of maturity is, we need to be open to being challenged and we need to put ourselves in situations (plurality, community) that make this likely to happen when it needs to.  This is not to say that we need to surround ourselves with unpleasant disagreeable people.  Absolutely not.  Nor do we need to always be looking for people who make us feel “convicted” or guilty.  No, again.  WE need to be surrounded by people who are willing to think and question and who care enough about us to share concerns in loving ways.
  3. I’ve been pastoring for 23 years and I’ve often been the guy pushing the envelope.  Now as I’m undergoing my pilgrimage, I’m beginning to wonder if I still have not been challenged enough in my own grasp of what church is.  Interestingly one of the churches we’ve visited recently is the favorite of at least half my family and it’s much more traditional than I would have expected.  So on the one hand I’m wondering about the benefits of pushing the envelope a little less, or at least in a slightly different direction.  And on the other hand…
  4. …I’m reading The Tangible Kingdom.  If you look at the Amazon reviews for this book, you’ll see that it is not a book people feel neutral about.  Some all them prescient and brilliant, others heretical and crazy.  Personally I like what I’m reading.  Here’s a link if you’re interested: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community
    My three former deacons from Lifesong and our wives and some of our kids are all going to be going through this book together on Sunday Evenings for a while.  I am looking forward to how it shapes the coming journey for me, precisely because I think it will cause questions and challenges and even an old 45 year old pastor (perhaps especially and old 45 year old pastor) needs to be challenged now and then.

And that brings us back to this new website.  I really hope that you will challenge, encourage and exhort each other, share your stories and join the discussion both here and on the Facebook page.   Thanks for visiting and thanks for being part of this community.  We need you and your story.

(BTW, When mentioning books I particularly like,  I’ve always provided links like the one above for convenience, but now as an Amazon affiliate I actually get paid if you buy it via this link!    Likewise the box on the sidebar which claims to be “pastormac’s favorites” really does list handpicked favorite items of mine.  I will keep this updated and new and if you see something you like click through this box and by doing so you become a supporter of this website and the ministries therein while buying things you actually want!  Looks like a win/win to me!)

Smiling at the Future,

David (Pastormac) Megill

 

6 Comments

  1. One of the things this reminds me of is the idea that was floating around a couple of decades ago about homogeneous churches. Some church planting theorists were arguing that various studies had shown that churches are more successful when they focus on only a single demographic. Rather than worrying about attracting all kinds of people, it was better to focus on a typical target type of church member and try to reach them. Let other churches with their own focus reach other kinds of people, they advised.

    This bothered me when I compared it to the church in the New Testament. In the first century, a believer had no choice about which Christian church to attend because there was only one around.

    The diversity in the church definitely caused problems, especially figuring out how to blend Jews and Gentiles, but that was all that was available. Yet, I’m sure glad the Jews and Gentiles weren’t able to split into two separate denominations working side by side, the Jewish one and the Gentile one. Having to work out the huge differences between both groups is what gave us Christianity as we know it.

    I think it is completely possible that homogeneous churches are better off in the short run, because they won’t be distracted by the “challenges” of trying to integrate different ages, ethnicities, and personality types. In the long run, I suspect we lose out precisely because they don’t have to work through those challenges.

    What I don’t know is whether the presence of homogeneous churches makes it especially difficult for today’s heterogeneous churches to succeed, by giving people a way out when the differences make things too uncomfortable.

    1. I think that’s a really interesting point. At Lifesong we worked hard to not segregate people within our church as much as is often done, by age, interest, struggle… I think we found benefits in a tighter community and broader experience. Our kids for example found a community much like older neighborhoods or extended families used to work with everyone looking out for them. On the other hand I’m really intrigued by your closing question in that for sure we found people could avoid our experience easily if it made them uncomfortable. Those committed to stay got through discomfort to find benefit. (For example someone who didn’t like kids might initially balk at so many kids involved in so many things but ultimately benefit from the broader experience._ But not everyone wanted to bother being uncomfortable for any length of time.

  2. To break from the conversation the two brothers are having 🙂 In my own pilgrimage of next in finding a new church has landed me in a surprising place, a baptist church. A baptist church that doesn’t seem like a baptist church at all, except for the water fountain (or whatever you call it) in the front. Actually, my first Sunday they actually had a baptism. The teaching is solid, pretty amazing actually. Challenge is abundant, and thus far I have not seen any hints of guilt motivation. Scripture is key there, they just ended a series on Proverbs and they are next going to Philippians. The community there, very warm, very inviting, and about maybe 400-600 strong, not quite sure. Their service is not traditional, though there are a few of those elements, and their music is low key, which is really, really nice. I get the “rock” worship music at CCU Chapel. So we’ll see what the Lord has in store, and we’ll see if He’ll have me settle at this new church.

  3. As you know, I was raised in the Assemblies of God and my family was a part of the early Calvary Chapel experience here in Albuquerque at the Lakes Apartments and then as the church moved into its own spaces. Also, during the time I was a pre-teen, my mother was often adopting small, struggling churches and taking me along with her where I would often find myself teaching Sunday school to kids barely younger than me, leading the choir if not BEING the choir and doing every other job needed in the church.

    I am mulling over the notion of “house church” now and the idea that keeps coming into my mind is “home church” and the notion that rather than using small gatherings to replace the larger community, perhaps its worth considering that some of what we gain from belonging to our actual community of neighbors, colleagues and friends is a closer replication to the early churches than merely showing up at someone’s house. I like to think that those Christians met in homes not out of a philosophical belief that it was better to stay small, under-the-radar, and tight-knit as a spiritual necessity but rather found this to be a practical solution to real-world concerns about safety and also to the truth that the “religion” had yet to be created so there were no widely held beliefs, dogmas or rituals to be practiced, only a desire to gather, to preach and learn, to be with one’s kinfolk, and to reflect the light of salvation into the world, which was much smaller than today.

    I wonder if forming supportive communities where we ARE rather than chasing them down all around town might be worthwhile, if maddeningly hard to create given our desire for “electronic connection” and “constant mobility.” But if the “church” consists of the washed and the unwashed in one’s neighborhood, the saved and the sinner in one’s workplace, the broken and the redeemed on one’s block, then how does that affect one’s vision of calling and ministry?

    I am posting this at your request. It’s a rare privilege to be asked to contribute to a conversation that may have nothing to do with me so I hope it’s useful.

    1. I am really glad you posted this comment. I did indeed request it because when you shared it with me via email it was such a good example of the thoughtful, diverse discussion I hope to foster on this website. In fact, as I post tomorrow o n my pilgrimage I may take this post as the starting point. Thanks for sharing not only your thoughts, but also a bit of your story. We’re all enriched by hearing other stories different from our own.

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