Tag Archives: the church
I recently read Eugene Peterson’s memoir, a book simply titled Pastor. Peterson is of course best known for The Message, his wonderful translation of the Bible. But before he was a famous author, he was a not-so-famous pastor of a small suburban church in Maryland.
For the past year or so I have also been a pastor—not a senior pastor, but a pastor nonetheless. Even though I have served alongside pastors and youth pastors for almost 50 years, I have never actually been a pastor before. In some ways I feel like I’m starting over again in ministry, learning a new vocation that requires new skills and new ways of working with people. I’ve got a long way to go. I thought I would read Peterson’s book to learn more about what it means to be a pastor.
Peterson is a good one to learn from. The book is autobiographical in nature, and it’s a good read. His story is told honestly and with humility. There are also points in the book when Peterson adds some wonderful commentary on ministry, theology and the state of the modern church. For example, when he became a pastor, he resolved to focus on just two things: worship and community. Of these, he writes, “The religious culture of America that I was surrounded with dismayed me on both counts. Worship had been degraded into entertainment. And community had been depersonalized into programs.”
“By the time I arrived on the scene as a pastor,” he continues, “the American church had reinterpreted the worship of God as an activity for religious consumers. Entertainment, cheerleading, and manipulation were conspicuous in high places. American worship was conceived as a public relations campaign for Jesus and the angels. Worship had been cheapened into a commodity marketed by using tried-and-true advertising techniques. If so-called worshippers didn’t ‘get anything out of it,’ there had been no worship worth coming back for. Instead of calling people to worship God, pastors all over the country were inviting people to ‘have a worship experience.’ Worship was evaluated on the ‘consumer satisfaction scale’ of one to ten.”
And he writes this on community:
“Church in America was mostly understood by Christians and their pastors in terms of its function—what it did: build buildings, become ‘successful,’ change the neighborhood, launch mission projects, and create programs that would organize and motivate people to do these things. Programs, mostly programs. Programs had developed into the dominant methodology of ‘doing church.’ Far more attention was given to organizing and giving leadership to programs than anything else. But there is a problem here: a program is an abstraction and inherently impersonal. A program defines people in terms of what they do, not who they are. The more program, the less person. … I wanted to develop a congregation in which relationships were primary, a household of hospitality. A community in which men and women would be known primarily by name, not by function. I knew this wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t.”
There’s a lot to learn in this book about how to be a pastor. Peterson served at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church for 30 years, not a big church by today’s standards, but one where lives were transformed and disciples were made. I think I would have loved being a member there.
College Avenue Baptist Church (San Diego) is doing something radical this coming spring. It is combining it’s two Sunday morning services into one. No longer will there be a traditional service featuring the pipe organ and Sanctuary choir followed by the contemporary service featuring electric guitars and two complete drum kits. College Avenue Baptist Church currently is a divided church. Old people go to the first service. Young people go to the second service. The pastor preaches the same sermon in each one, but these two worship services clearly serve two separate congregations-one made up of people with grey (or blue)hair who still dress up for church, the other made up made up of people in flip flops, blue jeans and fashionably bald heads (as opposed to unfashionably bald heads like mine).
Everyone agrees that unity is a good thing, that an intergenerational church is desired. But the young people are afraid the worship services are going to turn dull and boring. The old people are afraid of the guitars and the loud volume. I was having a conversation between services last Sunday with one of the older members of the church and he expressed serious doubts that this effort to combine worship service would succeed, mainly because of the music. He likes the idea of bringing generations together but he doesn’t like the idea of having to give up singing hymns and hearing the pipe organ. “Churches are having to sell their pipe organs,” he lamented, “because nobody wants to hear them anymore. That’s a crying shame!”
I suppose he’s right. If you’re in the market for a pipe organ, there are probably some good deals to be had out there. I have no problem with pipe organs. I love to hear them when they are played well, just as I love to hear any kind of music when it is good. But I have never gone to church expecting to hear the style of music that I like best (which of course is bluegrass.) When I hear people complain about the style of music being played in their churches, I can usually relate to their disappointment because I have never yet found a church (in California, anyway) that features the style of music I prefer. But that’s not what I go to church for. I really don’t care whether I hear my favorite kind of music or not.
But I’m in the minority, I think. Most people choose the church they attend based on the music they hear in the worship service. And because music styles change with each generation, churches today are predictably very age-segregated, which is shameful considering that the Lord’s only prayer for the church was that we would have unity (John 17).
While listening to this church elder lament the pending demise of the pipe organ, it occurred to me that maybe our Church of Christ friends had it right all along. The Church of Christ (denomination) has never allowed instruments of any kind in their worship services. They sing all their hymns and worship songs acapella. I’ve never quite understood why they do this (since the Scriptures actually encourage praising God with musical instruments) but I think I’m beginning to see the wisdom in it. My guess is that the worship wars we are all so familiar with are not so common in the Church of Christ.
What do you think?
I just finished a book by Jeff Jarvis titled What Would Google Do? which I spotted at the San Diego airport the other day. The title intrigued me so I picked up a copy.
Jarvis is a journalist and internet marketing expert who almost single-handedly brought down Dell Computer a few years ago with his blog. Since then, he’s become an expert on things geeky and in this book he illuminates the worldview of today’s “Google Generation” and outlines 40 principles which have led to Google’s unprecedented success. Here are just a few of them:
- Give the people control.
- Do what you do best and link to the rest (think distributed.)
- If you’re not searchable, you won’t be found. “New publicness.”
- Elegant organization.
- A new economy: small is the new big.
- Atoms are a drag (get rid of “stuff.”)
- Free is a business model.
- Decide what business you’re in.
- Middlemen are doomed.
- There is an inverse relationships between control and trust.
- Make mistakes well.
- Life is a beta.
- Be honest, transparent.
- Don’t be evil.
- Answers are instantaneous
- Simplify, simplify.
- Get out of the way.
Jarvis applies these principles in a “what if” kind of way to all sorts of businesses from media companies to the airline industry. His last chapter is titled “Exceptions” and there are two: God and Apple (computers). In his view religion can’t be Googlejuiced and neither can Steve Jobs who does things pretty much his own way, whether we like it or not. Jarvis doesn’t really elaborate on why religion is exempt but I’m assuming it’s because God thinks he’s Steve Jobs.
But maybe the church could stand a little Googlethink. As I go down Jarvis’ list, I think there are many Google principles which could help the church become more effective.
Certainly our unwillingness as a church to be transparent, to listen better, to “do no evil” and to simplify has driven many young people away from the church. Some have left completely; others have started “emergent” churches which perhaps have been Googlejuiced a little too much. Jarvis believes that companies and organizations willing to change quickly will survive. The rest will simply go away and not be heard from again.
I’m working on a new book concerning the future of youth ministry which hopefully will be published soon. (Jarvis, by the way, predicts that books are soon going to become obsolete as the world becomes more Google-ized.) This book has definitely given me some food for thought. Maybe there are some ways we can do church (and youth ministry) in a Googley way without doing violence to the Gospel. If you have any ideas on that, fire away.
Jarvis’ book has also encouraged me to blog more, which I really haven’t done (much) before. I don’t know if anyone actually reads these things but what the heck, you never know.