Category Archives: Emerging Church

Designing “Divine” Spaces

 Next time you walk into a church building consider some of the following:
• Does the environment seem warm and inviting or cold and impersonal? From the color scheme, decor and lighting to the presence of couches in the foyer for people to socialize, little things can make a big difference.
• Does the main sanctuary use pews or chairs? Pews are more traditional and almost expected by some. But chairs tend to give more flexibility, even making it possible for people during a service to break out into small group circles. Pews can be uncomfortable and appear less personable to the more modern set.
• Is the building used most of the time? Many church buildings exist for two or three days of use per week at the most. What a waste of space!
• Does the fellowship allow those outside of its membership to use the facility? If the church building remains vacant for most of the week, your fellowship could adopt other gatherings as a way to give back to the community or support other Christian ministries.
• Does the building have a prayer room or chapel where intercessors can pray? You can always tell how important corporate prayer is to a fellowship by the number of people that regularly attend weekly
prayer meetings. Another sure sign is the space reserved for prayer gatherings. Does your church have a prayer closet, a prayer chapel or a prayer sanctuary? The smaller the space, usually the smaller the focus.
• Does the building have some unique feature, which helps the fellowship carry out its unique mission to the community? Some church buildings come with basketball gyms, health centers, coffee bars, food
courts, prayer centers, banquet halls, lounges, libraries, youth facilities or other spaces designed to help the fellowship fulfill its unique mission.
• Is there a place for people to go for prayer/counseling during or after services? Many times people make a connection with God during a service and need to find a quiet, private place to pray or talk with a loving lay counselor. Where can these people go in your facility?  Is there someplace more private and less intrusive to the rest of the service than just the alter?
• Is the facility visitor friendly? Some structures seem like a maze and can be confusing. Is the design intuitive? The building should be designed with welcome centers near major entrances to enable visitors
to know where to go?
• Does the facility get in the way or enhance people’s ability to connect one-on-one with God? Does the facility really matter? Many contend the building has little to do with whether or not a fellowship
creates an environment where people can experience God. Others believe the facility plays a role. Some believe the building to be a key component in the entire church ‘experience.’ Just as each fellowship
is different, the church building should be different, reflecting the values and mission of its users. How well your building plays its part can only be seen through the revelation of the Spirit and your experience.

The above was taken from Broken by Design, a meditation that I wrote in 2003 about church architecture and the use of buildings to minister to the surrounding community. Read more…

http://www.organicfaith.com/brokendesignBOOKLET.pdf

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It Takes A Team to Run a Church… Or Does It?

A number of years ago I was approached to evaluate the concept of a co-pastor model for a local church. Having just lost its founding pastor due to a severe family illness, this relatively small church (less than 300 members) faced a moment of decision. It had two young, highly skilled assistant pastors.  Neither one was quite ready to take over the lead pastor position.

Many members were concerned about the leadership void. Some suggested hiring a new senior pastor. Others lobbied for one of the assistants to take over. Both of the assistant pastors wanted to work together as a team. They presented the idea to the church’s governing board of lay leaders.

It didn’t go over well. The board struggled with the co-pastor idea because it was so foreign to everything they had ever experienced. These leaders were used to top-down management of a church, and they just couldn’t see how anything else would work.

One of the men told me that he didn’t see a lot of basis for a co-pastor model in the Scripture. I responded by saying the same could be said for many other things that have become sacred cows in America’s churches. Much of how we do church today has been influenced by pagan practices more than Scripture. That is not to say that these things are necessarily bad. But we must be careful to realize that just because something has been the tradition for a long time doesn’t make it a divinely inspired practice.

Looking to Scripture, you will find support for a variety of leadership structures. This includes single leaders, delegated leadership, management by a counsel or board of leaders, official/appointed leaders, and impromptu leadership arising from a moment of crisis. I thought about this issue of leadership structures in churches as I read the cover story from the latest issue of Leadership Journal (www.leadershipjournal.net).

The cover story focused on The Next Level (TNL) Church in Colorado. It uses a four-member pastor team approach to leadership. TNL decided on its current approach after the former senior pastor cracked under the pressure of running a large church with thousands in attendance each week.

Here are some insights from the interview. No names are used to keep with the concept of all four pastors working together as a teams. Direct quotations are in “”.

  • The senior pastor model can put a lot of pressure on one person unless there is adequate delegation and release to other leaders.
  • “There is something systematically unhealthy about becoming dependent upon a single leader.”
  • Team leadership spreads around the responsibilities, which means the show will go on even if a crisis event impacts one leader.
  • Team environments can create an atmosphere where pastors feel free to bounce around ideas and really explore new ways to do things. 
  • The concept of team leadership doesn’t seem as strange in other countries. But our rugged individualism in Amercia makes it difficult for some people to implement.
  • The co-pastor/team approach is not for every church. Each local fellowship must decided what fits best. There should be room to try new structures as seems best to fit each individual situation.  
  • At TNL, each pastor oversees a specific ministry area. They make large decisions together.
  • According to the article, a big reason why TNL’s leadership structure works is that the pastors are truly friends who enjoy serving together. Their teamwork model reflects the more collaborative culture that exists especially among younger people today.
  • “No structure is perfect. If you change the structures, you’re just trading liabilities. The liabilities that go with the team structure suit our culture, and they suit our personalities.” This quote captures a key point that there is no perfect system because all will involve imperfect people. The key is to recognize the holes in your approach and to go about fixing them.
  • Having different leaders up front doing ministry can be a plus and minus. Some people want only one person on stage most of the team.  They like the consistentancy of the same face every week. The nice thing about having multiple leaders who teach or do stage ministry is that different people will connect with various communication styles.
  • “Culturally, we also like to worship celebrities. We all have a little paparazzi in us that we bring to church.” A team approach gets across the point that the value of a local church is much more than just one dynamic speaker.
  • Leaders can be free to focus on their specialties without having to have an opinion on everything. In the senior pastor models, the top leader tends to be asked about every little detail.
  • “Our team structure demands healthy relationships and health communication. Without those we cannot get the job done.” Sadly, healthy communication is one of the things that is lacking in many churches around the country.
  • Leadership teams must have chemistry. This is not something that you can force, and it should get stronger over time.
  • “Most structures don’t allow lead pastors to take a back seat.” One of the major reasons for this is that lower level pastors don’t want to take risks that will get them in trouble with the boss. And senior pastors don’t do enough to release and communicate with their subordinates.
  • One of the liabilities the team approach is that it takes a lot longer to make decisions. The good part is that you have a number of voices to vet ideas.

What do you think? Could a team/co-pastor model ever work in your local church?

Bitter People

“The Church is full of bitter people who have not gotten over their past.”

A guest preacher said the above statement this morning during my church’s service. Unfortunately, I found his words to be stunningly true. When you become a Christian, Jesus takes away your sin and shame. But it can be hard to let it go. This same attitude can take over how we look at others.

When others have hurt you, it an be even harder to forgive them. This is especially true when the people who hurt you claim to be Christians. Just as Christ forgives our sin, he calls us to do the same to others. While we don’t have to put ourselves in positions that we can be hurt again, we have to be willing to trust God with the offense and to move on. This is much easier said than done. We tend to think by forgiving others we are some how validating their wrong actions. But that is not the case. Forgiveness does not equal validation of a sin. Forgiveness means the wrong is being trusted to God.

If you don’t forgive, hurt can lead to bitterness. Although you would think that people would want to get rid of bitterness, strangely the opposite occurs most of the time. People get used to bitterness and become dependent on it. Bitterness becomes something that they don’t know how to live without. This attitude then follows them in their future relationships.

American churches are full of bitter people who put on a happy face for Sunday services. Then they release their bitterness through conversations and actions throughout the week. Many times they are completely unaware of the poison they spew. I should know. I have fought bitterness, disillusion and frustration in my life, including my experiences in the Church. Truth be told. I still fight it from time to time. 

A good friend and spiritual mentor once said to me, “Chaille, you will discover that your greatest joys and hurts take place in Church life.” I think this godly man is right because we expect so much more from Christians than those who don’t know God. But if we are honest, we should realize that the only one who we can really trust to do it right all the time is God not His kids.

Bitterness gets in the way of our freedom and release. It keeps us prisoner, not allowing us to move forward with our lives. It keeps us from trusting in the future and robs our relationships of intimacy. Bitterness makes us bound more tightly with each passing day. In forgiving others, we discover that we are the ones who become free. 

The preacher this morning said that we should get over our bitterness and hand it to God. He also said that our pain and our scars help make us who we are and can be used to help others. He pointed to the many men and women of the Bible who experienced God’s saving power through their pain and scars. It is interesting that when Jesus rose from the dead His disciples recognized Him by the scars on His body. Jesus was known by His scars. The same can be said of us. Those scars can become something useful or just a painful reminder of our past that haunts our present.

Are you bitter? Who is that one person that you still bristle every time you hear his/her name? Who do you tend to blame for your greatest hurt?

You can either choose to be bitter or better. The choice is up to you.

A Different Kind of Church – Xenos Christian Fellowship

Recent conversations with some friends about home churches and ministry models caused me to revisit this post. I initially wrote about Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus Ohio on June 17, 2005. I have some reservations about how they “do” church. But I also think they have put into practice some innovative and intriguing ideas.

The structure and practices of Xenos look nothing like most traditional, mainline churches. It’s so different that it makes sense, seems like a good way to solve many common problems in churches, and is a little creepy – all at the same time. Of course, these are just observations based off words on a Web site. I have never gone and lived among the people of Xenos. But I just couldn’t resist writing about the things that make it distinct.

Xenos is kind of what happens when the house church movement smacks into a mega church and tries to get rid of the worst of each and keep the best. It started as a loose collection of home churches focused on youth ministry and has evolved into one of the largest home church ministries in the United States. But unlike many of the cell groups that have been tried as afterthoughts in many churches, home groups are the basis of Xenos. And it seems to be working according to the church’s Web site.

Here’s a list of Xenos’ distinctive approach to being a local church:
1.) Xenos insists on a high level of training for its home church leaders. Typically, they must go through 210 hours of training, personal mentorship, etc. Since these are mini-churches with most of the function of a typical church, the Xenos leadership believes the leaders of these fellowships should be well trained to handle whatever arises. A lack of training is one of the main reasons why many traditional cell groups do not work.
2.) Ministry Houses – These are rooming houses which are dedicated to discipleship and evangelism. These homes are filled mostly with young adults and others that do not have a family.
3.) No designated giving – Individual donors can’t determine where the money goes. Those decisions are decided by the elders and the Fiscal Support Team (FST), a group of more than 1,200 serious donors. The elders and FST meet once a year to plan and review budgets for the entire church.

The church is run by a board of elders. Some work full-time for the church. Others do not. They have all agreed to cap their income as a way to avoid materialism and avoid the entanglements of too much wealth. This requirement is not placed upon home group leaders or others, only elders. [This practice bordered on cult like behavior it seemed to me at first. But at I thought about it, Jesus told the rich man to sell everything. The early Church had everything in common. It was not odd for people to sell something for the benefit of the whole. Maybe they have a good idea about limiting elder income.]
4.) No large worship service. Worship is to be a way of life beyond just music. Xenos believes the best place for music worship is at the home group not the large church gatherings. Xenos charges home churches with the mission of corporate worship. Its large meetings are for teaching and for outreach to non-Christians. Some home churches worship in song, and some just worship in prayer. Celebrating communion and baptisms are also handled by home churches.
5.) Home group leaders handle all weddings, visitations and funerals. All staff and elders are required to be in a home group.
6.) All church discipline is handled by the home group with some oversight by the elders. All staff hiring is limited to members.
7.) Xenos has a three level structure with large group meeting, home church meetings and cell meetings. Non-believers are not allowed to attend cell meetings. These are for Christians only. The main purpose of the large church meetings is for teaching. Xenos has a strong emphasis on training with 500-800 members taking classes on introductory to graduate level subjects at any given quarter. It spends around 20% of its annual budget on training and classes for ministry preparation.
8.) Xenos has a strong urban ministry emphasis with most of the outreach staff having moved into the city to live among the poor.
9.)Mission focus on sending out targeted teams and not just individuals. Xenos leadership prays with missionaries to help determine where best to send them. It’s not a thing where the missionaries decide where to go solely on their own and ask for support.
10.)Over 50% of members are involved in discipleship relationships. Xenos tends to generate it own children’s teaching material and adult course content. There is no scripted ministry program for home church or cell group leaders. Each group is free to be led by the Spirit in how it runs its gatherings.
11.) Secular music is played at youth/student meetings. Students do expository Scripture teachings to large and small meetings. In most churches, students if they speak are nearly always told to give a personal testimony, tell a story or discuss a topic. Almost never will a student give expository Bible teaching. Xenos encourages and equips students to teach indepth. Students study hermeneutics, homiletics and discussion-leading in class. They also usually go over and even give the teaching to a mentor who can correct any shortcomings. Students learn their Bible better when they teach it, and they gain experience teaching and preaching. Later, when they take over their own groups, they will already have significant experience speaking in front of groups.
12.)Most top Xenos leadership is involved in youth ministry, which is viewed as the most not least important ministry in the church. Unlike some places where youth ministry is consider an entry-level position, senior leadership focuses time on youth ministry at Xenos.
13.) Most ministry teams initiated by individuals, not staff. This is good because paid personnel can only do so much. The people should do most of the work of the church not the paid staff.
14.) Xenos has a questions and answers time in its large corporate gatherings.
15.) Xenos has some “weird” views on confidentiality. While I can see some of the merits of its policy, I also believe that the right to privacy is important too because even the most graceful people can hold our past against us. I do find Xenos’ policies insightful and challenging to the status quo even if I think they are somewhat extreme.

Find out more about Xenos’ structure and methodology by visiting www.xenos.org.

Why Are So Many People Leaving the Church???

It seems like every month I come across more people who have left a church and have no intention to return any time soon. And I am not talking about just refusing to return to the specific church that they left. I mean any church at all. People gives lots of reasons for preferring bedside baptist to a traditional Christian fellowship. I was thinking about this after a conversation that I had today with fellow seminary students.

In a recent Pew research survey, the largest growth area was people who are not affiliated with any particular denomination or church. It seems that the largest unchurched group of people claiming to be Christians is young adults. Many of these college students or young professionals struggle to find their place in most churches, which tend to focus on kids or older adults.

I don’t think there is just one reason why people leave the church. It all depends on the person. Here are some of the most common reasons that I hear people decide to walk.

  • The church has lost touch with the real needs of people and is irrelevant in how it goes about fulfilling its mission.
  • I was wounded by something that happened in the church that will make it difficult for me to return any time soon.
  • Church leaders are living in a diluted state about the real problems and successes of their various ministries.
  • That church has become too conservative and political.
  • That church has become too liberal and humanistic.
  • Church takes up too much time and provides little tangible benefit.
  • Hypocritical leadership says one thing and does another.
  • Leaders have abused people in the congregation – just look at the Catholic church sex scandals.
  • The preaching sucks. The worship sucks. I just don’t get anything out of it. 
  • God told me to leave and go to ….
  • All of my friends are going to this great new place….
  • My old church was too big and impersonal.
  • My old church was too small and boring. 
  • Church today lacks real discipleship and effectiveness in helping me experience real life change.
  • I just don’t feel like there is a place for me there any more. My needs have changed.
  • I brought some concerns to the church leadership, and they just turned a blind eye.
  • I’m just too busy for church right now.
  • I don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian. My life has gotten better since I stopped going to church.
  • I need to take a break for church because I have gotten burnt out.

Feel free to suggest some of the reasons why you may have exited your old church. Some of the above reasons may be legitimate. Others may be selfish. Others may be neither justified nor improper.

I think the one thing that we have to keep in mind is that although churches are made up of people, they should always be about more than just our personal agendas. All local churches exist for God not for men. While our personal tastes should play a role in our decisions, ultimately, we should fellowship where we sense that God places us.

Church may change in form from a megachurch to a home church, but our need for true fellowship and discipleship remains. God designed us to grow in community. Living alone as a Christian is never a good decision in the long run.

Changing Faith

Research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently came out on the changing landscape of faith in America. I wasn’t surprised at all to see how many people reported changing their faith or having a personal belief system without any real loyalty to a denomination or systematic theology.

Being spiritual seems to be in vogue while being a doctrinal purest is clearly not something that appeals to Americans under 50. I believe this shows the impact of post modernism as well as the failure by institutional Christianity to encounter culture and people where they live.

Pew’s research showed a fluid and diverse religious framework in America.  The NY Times reported that the group with the largest gain was people without an affiliation. According to the Times, “More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth largest ‘religious group.'”

The number of people who declare themselves as unaffiliated increase as people age. The unaffiliated are largely under 50 and male (1 in 5 men fit this category). This is the demographic that does not fit into most churches and will struggle unless churches learn how to encounter them where they live.Higher levels of unaffiliated Americans does not mean people are any less religious in the past. It is just that they look at faith as a more personal thing with less allegiance to a specific church or doctrine. Interestingly, many of the unaffiliated are not atheists or agnostics. They just don’t like being put in any particular religious box. All of these changes coincide with the rise of house churches as well as non-traditional Christian fellowships.  I believe all of this sets the stage for dilution of traditional doctrine. New ways to be Christian will likely emerge. Views that were once thought irreconcilable may come closer together in the court of public opinion. That doesn’t necessarily change truth. But it may altar our understanding of it. I foresee the development of more mixtures of Christian thought with other worldviews and concepts. The buffet mentality toward Christian faith may just be taking off. This comes with pluses and minuses.

On the plus side, more people may actually take ownership of their faith and let it change how they live. On the downside, they may throw out some things that are essential or develop worldviews that blur necessary distinctions. Losing what makes one faith unique compared to another is kind of like having a painting with only one color.

Words that Make A Difference

Are sermons really where significant spiritual messages are transferred any more? I have been struggling with that question for more than a year. I can only remember a handful of sermons from the hundreds that I have heard in my life.

But just because I can’t remember many sermons, does that mean the content in them is lost to me? Or is it there in the deep recesses of my mind. Does it resurface when I really need it? How do those words and ideas impact my worldview?

I think that many sermons go in one year and out the other. This may not always be the fault of the speaker or even the listener. It may be the attitude that we take based on our preconceived notion of what a sermon is. The way sermons are structured and our attitudes toward them could make it difficult to really engage with the content.

Christians must purpose to struggle with the concepts and challenges unearthed in any sermon. We should strive to find preachers that we can connect with and understand. And we should do whatever it takes to remember a sermon long after the words were spoken. This may include taking notes of key concepts or making a habit of reviewing thoughts from a sermon a few days later. 

 Why do so many Christians treat the sermon as the pinnacle of a church service? Maybe this attitude has caused us to miss the personal significance of a sermon. If we don’t try to struggle with the message, why do we take time to listen?

Mars Hill Church in Seattle recently started a sermon series based on questions that were proposed by the congregation. This approach was modeled after what the apostle Paul did in his epistles where he would directly respond to real-world concerns of local churches.

Provide real connection with the audience, Mars Hill has prepared teachings on a topic. Also, it is doing something very unique during this sermons series. Pastor Mark Driscoll, the primary preacher at Mars Hill, will get up and take life questions that are sent in by the audience using text messaging. These questions are pre-screened although Driscoll does not know what the question is until it comes up on a screen. He then responds to the issue on the spot. It is pretty cool to see interactivity like this in a church setting.

Check it out at www.marshillchurch.org

What are some of your thoughts on the effectiveness of sermons? What are some of the sermons that have impacted you the most and why?