How to Build a Church in a Few Easy Steps.

I wrote a whole long post two days ago, saved it, and am returning. I kept approximately 5% of it, and if you had read it you’d thank me for my slash-and-burn editorial skills. Still, I think the post bears writing. It’s an important topic and one that is lightly addressed in scripture. Or to put it another way, there’s lots of room for opinion, pretty much the inverse of me. With these introductory comments in mind, let’s blaze on, machetes and chainsaws in hand.

Every time I get near a book on church building I feel an irrational urge to break its spine and repurpose the pages as a certain toiletry item. It’s just who I am. Sometimes I have a hard time accepting that you can do this and do that and suddenly have a successful church. The idea that you can simply follow a formula and arrive at anything but a formulaic church seems irrational.

But there have to be guidelines, right? There are a lot of wacky things going on in North American churches, mostly due to this idea that everyone can have church they way they like. I’d like to sketch out a few thoughts and see what happens.

First, church needs to be organic. Don’t be relevant, don’t be topical, don’t be with the times, don’t be postmodern, don’t be a counter-cultural ghetto. Like that awkward kid everybody’s known, the one who’s always trying to be cool but ends up a huge loser, churches that chase culture look stupid. They look like they need attention or something. Let your church be a reflection of and a reflection on the community it comes from.

Second, some churches will play hymns on a piano, some will have elaborate bands, and some will have no instruments at all. I’ve been blessed by all three. It’s not really a big deal. It’s something we have to get over collectively. Music is an important part of the human experience, and an important part of the Christian experience. Some people will simply not be comfortable with an organ. I can’t stand pipe organs; with the amount of noise they make you may as well have a rock band playing, but that’s just me. If your community happens to include a lot of people who like pipe organs, why not?

Third, an effective church does a bunch of things. It provides people a place to gather in community, it provides a clear path to God, it provides for its own members, it provides help for those in need, and it provides a bunch of different opportunities in different areas. You could write entire books — and trust me, people have — on just those statements. This means that a church needs to be scriptural and Spirit-filled. Everything that a church does flows from scripture and from the workings of the Holy Ghost. Without either of those things, none of us would go to church. There wouldn’t be a church. That means that you need scriptural community, etc. You need the Spirit because, well, these things are pretty hard to do.

Fourth… that’s it. I think I lied, though; none of these things is easy. But they are pretty simple, right?

Bullet points for a Wednesday Morning.

  • I don’t get stat holidays. I really don’t. If every person gets a certain number of days off per year for government-mandated vacation, why are there additional days off? I’ll probably understand this when I’m older and slower but for now they just annoy me. They throw a monkey wrench into my normally placid finances (I don’t have much money, but what money I do have is somewhat consistent), throw a hyena wrench into production at the shop (a four day week in which to do five days of work! hooray!), and just generally throw off my sense of time.
  • Fourteen hours. I worked fourteen hours yesterday. Just to be clear, I’m not a workaholic, I actually don’t like doing that. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
  • Why do we make word that end in “aholic” when we mean to say someone is addicted to something? It doesn’t make any sense. It should be “workic”, not “workaholic”. One of those has much less snap, of course.
  • Clicking on the tag buttons is much easier than writing out tags. If they had keyboard shortcuts, it’d be even better.
  • For the love of all that’s good, don’t keep apologising to me. Don’t be sorry, do your job properly. Then we’re both happy.
  • Ever have a night of tossing and turning? I had one of those last night, only to roll out of bed and discover Laura slept like a babe in arms. I suppose that’s okay, though. I’ll give up my sleep for her in one of those mystical marital transactions that seem to happen with some frequency. We’re rarely both sick, or both hungry, or both interested in watching the same film; life is strange that way. People are strange that way.
  • I’d like to observe that even lukewarm coffee is better than no coffee at all, which pretty much blows that whole “warm, cold, lukewarm” example of Paul’s out of the water. Of course, he didn’t really have coffee. I try to imagine Paul of caffeine, and I sort of imagine him like, “We’re going to North America, beeyotches!” I think he might get quite annoying, actually.
  • Last night Laura and I read from Luke where Jesus talks about the end times, and I have to say that scripture confuses me sometimes. At one point the passage says that the end times (if it was actually talking about the end times) will come when people are eating and drinking and getting married, just like in the days of Lot and Noah… and says that these signs are like vultures gathered around a carcass. Which is nice imagery, but doesn’t help me much, because I see people eating and drinking and getting married right now. Maybe I’m just getting confused about nothing. I just don’t get it.
  • I love Talkdemonic’s “In the Machinery of Night”. It’s like they took equal parts IDM, hip-hop drumming, and awesome and mixed it all together to get an amazing song. Note my use of superlatives here.
  • The Dilbert comic about the guy who has no skills but compensates by “raising issues” resonates with me this morning. I won’t tell you why because that would be mean.

Theology: First resort of the gun-shy.

Cerebral theology can be an escape route, I think. It’s a lot harder to get the home crowd riled up about predestination, for example, than about knocking off the gossip, or being a light in the community, or what is the difference between conscience and preference.

I’m not saying that anybody’s trying to avoid anything on purpose; people just do this by nature. Unless you’re a sociopath like me, you probably don’t want to stir the pot or disturb the peace. What better way to do that than by ignoring tricky real-life issues and sticking to the tried and true dictums of theology passed down from the fathers? There’s nothing safer than a precept filtered through the scrutiny of those great men.

You’d have to be crazy to disagree with that.

Try to make me live like Christ in a pagan culture by eschewing their value system, though, and you’ll have to take me kicking and screaming to the bank. Even then you’ll probably only get my pocket change.

Sometimes I think this is because we don’t really get a whole bunch of things. Like for instance if I believe that the end times are right now, I am first of all on the edge of being a crazy person with a sign, but this is also going to change the way I live and see the world. If I believe that humans have free will and can freely choose this than and the other thing, this is going to change the way I live and see the world. Theology affects things. It effects things, too, now that I think about how that word is spelled.

I imagine you could show this connection by doing this progression: Scripture –> Theology –> How To –> Vision. That seems simple enough, for people that like formulas.

Laura’s living the dream right now…

Just a moment ago, I was vacuuming the carpet in front of her whilst she ate Wendy’s fries and a junior burger combo. Does a woman’s life get any better than that? I don’t think so!

I don’t mean to perpetuate any stereotypes with this post, by the way. I may be stuck in the past when I say that a mother place is, in most circumstances, in the home with her child(ren), but a woman’s place is wherever she chooses.

Appupdater

There’s something comforting about Windows CLI applications, I think. Maybe it’s the idea that I can, after all, just open a shell and actually do something. Of course Windows XP’s built in shell sucks in every conceivable way; maybe it’s the years of living in denial, acting as if the command line isn’t a nice thing to have around.

It is. Appupdater (thanks a lot for the long name: there’s a reason ls and man and rm are short, thank you very much) is sort of like apt-get for Windows, though not nearly as graceful or integrated into the system. But it’s useful still! If someone could actually get an integrated repository working on Windows that auto-updated, that’d be ever so nice. There’s nothing worse than every program having its own installer and update mechanism.

Sunday’s Assorted Grab-Bag of Thoughts

I have something like three topics in my head, none of which would make a proper blog post on its own; I think if I roll them all up into one big post it’ll go much better, and I’ll probably end up remembering that one last nagging thought I think I thought but can’t remember thinking, though at some point I thought I thought that thought and forgot that thought, you see.

* * *

Normally, I’m okay with James MacDonald. He’s generally a decent preacher, and I’ve had opportunity to be blessed by a number of the things he’s said. On Saturday I caught a snippet of a sermon he did on post-modernism, a snippet that I’m going to go on to criticise mercilessly. I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t like criticising, just to be nice, because I generally do analyse things in my head. This is no exception.

I’m well acquainted with the art of making a straw-man and then tearing it down: it’s a useful skill in certain circumstances. For instance, showing people what a straw-man is. Making a straw-man out of post-modernism, saying it’s all about relativism and denying truth claims, etc, is disingenuous at best, and outright dishonest at worst. The only way someone could come to such a conclusion is if he had never, ever actually joined the conversation and instead sat in the bleachers and listened to the hecklers.

Any post-modern worth his salt will admit that right now post-modernism is a tag applied to a whole bunch of junk, all of which is unified by the undeniable supposition that modernism is no longer good enough to meet today’s challenges. In short, modernism is broke. When modernism first burst onto the scene — or I should say evolved out of the Middle Age’s chaotic ruins — I’m sure the first generation considering themselves modern had no idea what that even meant. It took hundreds of years for the philosophy to coalesce. It took a long time to look down and see where the world had planted its feet. And even modernity as a definition fails to capture every facet of modern thought: after all this time we’re not quite sure where we stand.

I’m sure the first generation to question the King’s divine right to rule raised a few eyebrows. The first generations to question rationalisation, alienation, commodification, decontextualization, individualism, chaos, and industrialism should raise a few eyebrows too.

But the post-modernism as a philosophy, as a way of life, is in its infancy. Mocking its shortcomings or even its perceived shortcomings is like making fun of a budding artist’s paintings. It’s not in good taste, and it smacks of pure meanness.

Besides, no post-modernist will say that 2 + 2 does not equal 4. But if you can’t see the difference between that and saying that truth claims are contextual, that narrative matters, and that not everything can be measured and sorted into a list, then you’re the one who deserves a good mocking. It’s not hard to make straw-men for modern American churches — pastored by a Canadian or not — especially when they cater to a rich middle-class audience by tickling their ears while explaining why they’re better than those dirty post-moderns. Thank you, Lord, that I am not like them, that I believe in truth claims! (See what I did there?)

That said, I don’t consider myself post-modern. I don’t think it’d be a good idea, as it seems to be every good Evangelical’s whipping boy lately. I have, however, read books by Brian McLaren and Donald Miller, and see a lot of good in them. Though I fear I’ve said too much…

* * *

Today’s message reminded me that there’s quite a difference between hearing the stories of Jesus and hearing lists of attributes of Jesus. Maybe it’s just me, but I can list facts all day and no one will give a toss (facts are by their very nature boring; even documentary film-makers understand this). Novels and poetry and stories and songs aren’t simply entertainment, they’re also communicative mechanisms.

Once, when was a lot younger than I am today, I started volunteering at a soup kitchen. My motives weren’t that great, I suppose, as it gave me an excuse to not attend one service of a church I had begun to dislike quite a lot. But I still did it, and I think that counts for something. Most of the people that came there were pretty much the dregs of society. I was trying to think of them as noble and loved and the sort of people that Jesus would have had a meal with or maybe healed of something, but I had hard time seeing them as anything but very smelly and dirty. I honestly didn’t like myself for feeling this way, but I just couldn’t get past it. To me they were just people who needed a bath.

Then this one guy — he looked about fifty years old — sat down at this badly tuned piano, pulled out a sheaf of dog-eared music, and played. And man, could he play. I presume to play keys a bit here and there, but nothing, nothing like this man. Later the staff told me he was a hardcore alcoholic, that he had destroyed his life with booze, and I’m sure this was very true. Yet it seemed to me that amidst all that brokenness there was this indestructible beauty that simply couldn’t be kept in.

I don’t how he did it, but this man helped me as much as I helped him. I gave him a meal, true, but he gave me the ability to see past the surface into the inherent nobility that is contained in each person’s soul, whether that person is a redneck or is homeless or is a soccer mom or is an annoying television preacher with bad hair.

Sometimes I tell this story to people to show them that there is beauty even in ashes, that there is joy in an alcoholic’s music, something like that. I suppose I could simply tell them that, or maybe make a slide with some bullet points, but it isn’t the same, is it?

* * *

Laura and I just got back from celebrating our six month anniversary. It’s flown by! In that time, we’ve had no major problems or even any major fights. My mum thinks this is because we’re essentially still honeymooning. I like to think it’s God’s grace. See, I’m much more spiritual than my mum, though of course I’m not. She’s got me beat by a good kilometre or two.

We stayed at a local hotel, since local hotels cost a fair bit less than non-local hotels, and feasted on Elliot House food. Both were excellent. We even had a whirlpool bathtub. I made it too hot to get into when I first drew the bath. I’m stupid like that, but you can see how my wife is long-suffering.

It’s still odd to say “my wife”. My wife. Yep, still odd.

Elsewhere in thought.

I think everyone has probably met that girl, the one who’s obsessed with marriage, who thinks her life will magically make sense or something if only she could get married. Guys can smell that kind of girl a mile off and I can’t remember a single guy who enjoyed the scent. It was off-putting. There’s something wrong with these kinds of people.

Guys don’t want their women to be crazy about getting married or any of that hoopla. Most of the guys I know can just barely tolerate the commotion or the expense. Guys want their women to be crazy about them. I want my wife to be crazy about me.

Sometimes I think God must feel like a dude surrounded by a bunch of chicks who really want to get married. Sure, they want the best groom available, but pretty much anything will do. He must wonder why we call it so many different names like fulfilment and making the most of life and being all that you can be.

From what I read in scripture, God doesn’t want people to be crazy about being fulfilled. He wants people to be crazy about him. He wants the church to be crazy about him, for his wife to be crazy about her husband. And, if I’m honest with myself, my emotions are pretty much everywhere else, and I don’t think I’m along on this one.