[Repost] The Best of 2011-12: Two Kinds of Churches

This is the final of five reposts featuring the top five posts of the last year.  Thank you for reading and commenting!  I appreciate you!

In the last year or so since I have been at my present job of Music Pastor at Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, I have come to think of churches as fitting into one of two categories based on how they handle culture.

One kind of church chooses elements for their worship services by seeing them through the lens of “not making anyone stumble.” What do I mean by that? This kind of church looks at culture and, even though they want to be culturally relevant, they stop short of using anything where the source of that element has a character that is question. The concern here is making certain the church does not endorse anything “questionable.” Scripture often referenced here usually includes quotes of being “in” the world but not “of” it.

On the other side of the coin is the church that looks for nuggets of truth in culture, and when they find something, they pounce on it and exploit it regardless of the source. The Scriptures often referenced here are Paul quoting secular poets and Paul’s declaration that he becomes “all things to all people.”

Lakeshore finds itself firmly in the latter position. Here we see value in “redeeming” truths which are presented in less than desirable ways if doing so will enable us to remove a barrier between someone and God. A pastor once referred to this approach as being “willing to get your shoes dirty.”

Case in point. Almost exactly a year ago we were planning a service on purpose and priorities in life. We were thrilled to find that Katy Perry (yes, the I Kissed a Girl and I Think I Liked It Katy Perry) had recently recorded a song called Who Am I Living For. A church in the first category would not have even taken a look at the song because of the source. Since Lakeshore is in the second category we dove in only find an amazing song asking the right question in the right way, with references to Moses and other Biblical figures. We ended up using the song to great success because we were able to leverage music from a very well known cultural source that many non-Christians listen to. As can be expected we had a few people who got pretty upset about the source of the song, asking why the church was endorsing an artist whose lifestyle clearly states she is not following God. The answer? I like what Christ says: “It is not the well but the sick who need a doctor. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

People in the first category of church tend to think church is more about ministering to and taking care of themselves, while people in the latter kind of church tend to be taught that church is about focusing outward while still supporting and building up those who are already in the church. To reach people who are already turned off by church you are going to have do some things differently and risk a little pushback.

What kind of church do you lead or attend?

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Thinking Like a Graduate Might Save Your Life

One of my favorite authors is Shauna Niequist, author of Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines.  This past Saturday she spoke at the Azusa Pacific University commencement, and she just posted her speech two days ago.

I love this speech.  She is talking to graduates, but I feel like so many adults (myself included) have lots to learn from Shauna’s commencement speech.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” but he might as well have said, “Let the college graduate come to me.”

We are so busy accumulating things and “succeeding” (whatever that means) in life that we forget to stop and value what we have and who we are.

So stop.  Listen to what Shauna has to say, and see if her words don’t stir something deeper inside of you.  Here is a link to the speech as originally posted in her blog.

Forces of Nature

Thank you for having me. I am so incredibly honored to be with you today. I know that I am a little bit of an unconventional choice for a commencement speaker, but I’m okay with it if you are. I knew I was out of my natural habitat when I was asked if I would be bringing my own regalia. I did not bring my own regalia, first, because I didn’t know what it was, and second, because when I figured out what it was, I realized I certainly didn’t have any.

I’m not a scholar, or an expert in anything at all, but I graduated from a Southern California college very much like this one, on a day very much like this one fourteen years ago. That makes me about half a generation older than you. In half a generation, some things are still the same. The Dave Matthews Band, U2, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are still touring. Traffic is still the major topic of conversation in LA, and they’re still making Mission Impossible and Men in Black movies.

But a few things are really different. In 1998, Gwen Stefani was just a girl, and No Doubt was an Orange County band. Now the No Doubt guys are dads, and Gwen Stefani pretty much runs the world. When I graduated from college, you could bring anything you wanted on an airplane—liquids, weapons, etcetera. Also, when I graduated from college, many of you still had your baby teeth.

You all grew up with computers—that pesky half generation between us means that I remember a world without email, and you don’t. Also, when I was in college, no one was taking cell phone pictures of all the dumb things I did and posting them immediately on Facebook. For this I am very grateful.

One thing that has not changed at all is that we as a culture love to move on to the next thing, on to the next thing, on to the next thing. You’ve already experienced this, I’m sure. The second you started high school, people started talking to you about college. As soon as you arrived, people wanted to know your major and your plans after graduation. The bad news is that this never stops. After you go on two great dates with the same person, your aunts and grandmas want to go ring shopping, and the moment you are pronounced husband and wife, someone will ask you about a baby.

I am not kidding when I tell you that one of my family members came to meet our baby Mac in the hospital—he’s seven months old now—and while he was holding this brand new baby, that sweet family member asked when we were thinking of having another baby. I thanked him for asking and told him I’d be delighted to revisit that conversation just as soon as I could walk again.

We tend, as a culture, to be future-focused, on to the next thing, but let’s not be so quick to move past what’s happened here, in this place, in this season. There are some ways of living that you’ve experienced in this context that I believe are so helpful for the new season you’re entering, ways of living I’d like to encourage you to keep for the next leg of the journey. 

First, as of today, you are no longer a college student. Congratulations! But my hope is that you will never, never, never stop being a student. Some of my favorite people in the world are people who possess an unquenchable curiosity about life, people who, no matter their age or accomplishments, are still learning, still asking questions, still willing to be wrong. 

Your formal education has concluded, but I cannot encourage you enough to continue your own education. Travel, read, ask questions, challenge assumptions, ask for help. Listen to people’s stories, ask good follow-up questions. Never assume that you know all there is to know about a place, a person, or a situation. Commit to being a life long-learner, a person of relentless curiosity.

And become a student of your own developing self. Pay attention to what moves you, what you love, what makes you angry, what makes you exhausted. There are no right answers to those kinds of questions, but if you don’t pay attention, you may find yourself several years down the road, living a life that looks good on paper, but doesn’t ring true to the deepest parts of you. That’s a terrible place to be. Become a student of what you love, because what you love flows out of the way God made you.

Another thing about college life that I would recommend you take with you is a commitment to living in community. The people that you’re sitting with right now are your tribe, the brotherhood and sisterhood of people who know you, who love you, and who will walk with you into an uncertain future. The relationships you’ve formed here are of great importance, and I urge you to continue to value and invest in these friendships and relationships.

Now may be the time goodbye to this town and this campus. But absolutely do not say goodbye to the people who have walked most closely with you during this season. This is just the beginning for many of your most significant experiences together. You have just barely laid the foundation—keep building, keep making memories, keep telling each other the truth, even when it’s hard. You cannot imagine how badly you’re going to need these friendships throughout your life. The people you’re sitting with today are your lifelines for the next passage—hold very tightly to them.

My best friend’s name is Annette, and we met the first week of our freshman year of college. A few years later, I stood in her wedding and then she stood in mine. I visited her in the hospital when her son was born, and then five months later, she visited me when Henry was born. Still now, after years and moves and babies and long distance, she teaches me and challenges me, tells me the truth and makes me laugh, and if my college experience had given me nothing else, it would have been worth it for that friendship.

Another aspect of college living that I think you should hang on to for a few years at least pertains to your stuff. Most college students have almost no stuff. When Annette and I drove my car back to Chicago after graduation, the only thing that wouldn’t fit was a twin bed I’d bought for $99, so I left it in the house I was moving out of, because some guys from my college were moving in after we left.

College living generally means all your earthly possessions can be stacked up in four crates and a duffel bag. You run a nimble organization, with very low overhead. That’s good. Stay with that for a while. There’s no need for a mortgage and bedroom set and media center. Decide, before you start accumulating things, what you want your life to be about, because you might find along the way that those things you thought you needed end up being the things that handcuff you to a lifestyle you don’t want. Stay nimble with low overhead, so that you can listen closely to the whisper of the spirit instead of the scream of financial obligations.

You may feel right now quite uncertain about the future, and you’re anticipating that one day, things will stop feeling so scary and foreign. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially on such a happy day, but that feeling will never come, not when you start your job or find your spouse or buy a home. That wiggly, sometimes scary feeling like anything could happen and you don’t totally know what’s next, that feeling is called life, and it would be best for you make friends with that feeling, because it will be with you for ever. It would be best as well for you to remind yourself that you’re not the only one feeling it. We tend to believe that everyone else has the answers to the most important questions, but I have it on good authority that everyone else is just as scared and uncertain as we are.

Dear graduates, this is the heart of what I want to tell you: God made you. He loves you, and he created you for a purpose. I used to think that purpose was singular—like I was made to be one thing and one thing only. But the more life I live, and the more things I become and un-become as life progresses, the more I realize that he’s not calling me to be a certain thing, but rather that he’s calling me to live a certain way. He’s created me and calls me to address the world’s need with my gifts, with my heart and my mind, with my hands and my voice.

It’s very easy to wait around on the sidelines for your very specific, perfectly-fitted part to play. But in my experience, you might find yourself waiting around for a long time. In my experience, God uses willing hands, not spectacular ones. He uses passionate people, not extraordinarily-gifted ones. We all want to feel that sense of everything coming together, our gifts and our passions and our life experiences. We all want to have that “I was made for this” feeling. In my experience, the way to that feeling is to put on your boots and get to work.

Start where you can, when you can, with what you have. Start with your belief that God loves you, and that he made you on purpose and for a purpose. Not for a moment, but for an ongoing lifestyle of service and sacrifice and vision. Don’t wait around and expect that amazing experience to come find you and tap you on the shoulder. Start making the world better every day, every day, every day, with your hands and your resources and your love and your willingness and your belief and along the way, you will find your place. 

In the twentieth chapter of Acts, Paul wrote “I consider my life worth nothing to me, in order that I may testify solemnly to the goodness of the gospel of the grace of God.” That’s the heart of it all. God made a deeply beautiful and multifaceted world, and along the way, that beautiful world became broken, still very beautiful, but now also very broken.

This is where it gets exciting. You can make it better. You can testify to the goodness of the gospel of the grace of God. You can bring the garden back to life. You can stand in the way of injustice, or isolation, or abuse. You can sing or dance or teach or write stories that call us back to our better selves. You can be architects and speech therapists and scientists and athletes and pastors who give themselves, in daily, unglamorous ways to making the actual world better, to beating back the darkness and bringing light and life and motion and healing to the corner of the world that you’ve been called to.

In the words of George Bernard Shaw “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. 
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Dear graduates: the life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask, and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.

Your life, right now, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages, because they all are. Every life is.

You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, as though that was not enough, the God of the Universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.

You are more than dust and bones.

You are spirit and power and image of God.

And you have been given today.

How have Shauna’s words impacted you?

Stewardship of Your Story

The last few years has been a study for me in learning through pain, and this past Sunday my pastor added a new chapter in my notes.  If you want to hear the entire message, click here and listen to “Impact #3 Stewardship of Your Story.”  It is worth your time.

He asked the question, “What if God wants to use your pain to help others?”

We like to hide our failures so that we look the way we think people want us to look.  In the end we all end up hiding from each other, afraid to open up and get help when we need it.

The Scripture is full of examples of situations where people’s pain turned to salvation: Joseph saving his family after being sold as a slave, Abraham having to leave all he knew to go somewhere about which he knows nothing.  In Isaiah 53 we read that Christ’s pain was part of our redemption.

At a time when she was vulnerable, poor, a foreigner, and essentially a migrant worker, Ruth was working in Boaz’s fields.  Instead of exploiting her he had compassion on her.  Long story short they end up getting married and restoring the honor of her mother-in-law’s family.

Question: Where did Boaz learn to protect vulnerable women?

When the Israelites were preparing to attack Jericho, they sent in some spies.  Two of these spies got trapped and ended up escaping the authorities because a prostitute hid them.  Hmmm, what were they doing at the prostitute’s place?  But I digress . . .  In return the prostitute, Rahab, asks that she, her parents, and her brothers and sisters be spared when the Israelites attack.  The Israelites honored her request and Rahab went on to live with the Israelites.

Turns out she marries a man from the tribe of Judah.  His name was Salmon.  Their son was named . . you guessed it . . Boaz.  Boaz most likely learned to protect vulnerable women from his father, who married a prostitute and gave her honor back to her.

Check out Matthew 1 and you will find that Christ’s lineage goes through both Rahab and Ruth, two foreigners and one a prostitute.

Question: Would Boaz have learned the same lessons if Rahab had been afraid to live with the Israelites because of her reputation?

Pastor Ken’s point was this. If we have made it through our situation but keep it to ourselves, how will someone else in the same situation get encouragement?

Perhaps, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1, we are given comfort that we might comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received.  We can choose to hide our pain and be ashamed of it, or we can share it with others so that they can be encouraged and learn from it.

I was so grateful for my friend who was willing to share his painful story with me while I was going through separation and divorce.  He was such an encouragement to me.

Sharing the good things is easy, but sharing pain is something else altogether.  Do you have the courage to share your pain?

When have you been encouraged because someone shared their pain with you?  Have you been able to encourage someone else with your pain?

Two Kinds of Churches

In the last year or so since I have been at my present job of Music Pastor at Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, I have come to think of churches as fitting into one of two categories based on how they handle culture.

One kind of church chooses elements for their worship services by seeing them through the lens of “not making anyone stumble.” What do I mean by that? This kind of church looks at culture and, even though they want to be culturally relevant, they stop short of using anything where the source of that element has a character that is question. The concern here is making certain the church does not endorse anything “questionable.” Scripture often referenced here usually includes quotes of being “in” the world but not “of” it.

On the other side of the coin is the church that looks for nuggets of truth in culture, and when they find something, they pounce on it and exploit it regardless of the source. The Scriptures often referenced here are Paul quoting secular poets and Paul’s declaration that he becomes “all things to all people.”

Lakeshore finds itself firmly in the latter position. Here we see value in “redeeming” truths which are presented in less than desirable ways if doing so will enable us to remove a barrier between someone and God. A pastor once referred to this approach as being “willing to get your shoes dirty.”

Case in point. Almost exactly a year ago we were planning a service on purpose and priorities in life. We were thrilled to find that Katy Perry (yes, the I Kissed a Girl and I Think I Liked It Katy Perry) had recently recorded a song called Who Am I Living For. A church in the first category would not have even taken a look at the song because of the source. Since Lakeshore is in the second category we dove in only find an amazing song asking the right question in the right way, with references to Moses and other Biblical figures. We ended up using the song to great success because we were able to leverage music from a very well known cultural source that many non-Christians listen to. As can be expected we had a few people who got pretty upset about the source of the song, asking why the church was endorsing an artist whose lifestyle clearly states she is not following God. The answer? I like what Christ says: “It is not the well but the sick who need a doctor. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

People in the first category of church tend to think church is more about ministering to and taking care of themselves, while people in the latter kind of church tend to be taught that church is about focusing outward while still supporting and building up those who are already in the church. To reach people who are already turned off by church you are going to have do some things differently and risk a little pushback.

What kind of church do you lead or attend?