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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Distinctives

On the Victoria Day weekend, I took the opportunity to visit a young, growing church in a small village not far from where I live. About four years ago, a new minister was called to this church of (then) about 40 people. Apparently the visionary new pastor told the congregation they needed to prepare to build a new building that would accommodate 500, and they did. The congregation now hosts two Sunday morning services, has impressive children’s and youth ministry programs, youth camps, a good selection of “Life Groups” plus mission connections in Africa and Nicaragua which are making a big difference in the lives of people. They also partner with other agencies to bless the local community.

As for style of worship, this new church uses what I think of as the standard “teaching model.” The heart of the 90 minute service is the sermon, which is based on what the leadership team perceives is needed in the congregation. Consequently the Pastor is currently delivering a series designed to teach worshipers how to pray and how to deepen their prayer life. Because this is the focus, the lectionary is not in evidence, and there was no mention that last Sunday was Pentecost. The music is all contemporary and congregational singing is projected onto two large screens. The band is excellent. There are no hymn books in evidence.

From this description, you might assume that this was a local Baptist or other "evangelical" church. Such a supposition would be understandable since the style of worship was virtually identical to the standard mega church format. The assumption would be incorrect, however, because this congregation is Presbyterian. It appears that the old congregation has adopted the new style, and the community is responding.

For me, this observation gives rise to lots of questions. What happened to denominational distinctives? Is it possible that they no longer matter? Were they always merely things that separated Christians from each other? Since, “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead” (D & C 164:9f), does that suggest we must be willing to set aside our so called uniqueness in order to bring the Peace of Jesus Christ into people’s lives? If this style of doing church the 21st century method that God is currently blessing, (it is certainly the method to which people respond) should we in CEM adopt this model for our new church plants? Why or why not?

As usual, I have more questions than answers, but I am confident that many of you already have an opinion! If you do, why not click on “comments” below and share your thoughts with the rest of us? Lets talk!

Posted by Carman

8 comments:

  1. I’m not well learned and feel under qualified in such discussion; I’ll risk sounding foolish and say something.

    This worship sounds to be something genuine. Can it be possible this church expresses denominational distinctiveness in some other aspect of its congregational life?
    A simple service is a good service because simple is the NEW bold. And Bold is good. Simple means new visitors don’t have to buy a box of stuff just have the prize inside. Maybe we’ll appear more genuine with a more basic worship that focuses on core beliefs.

    And maybe we’ll be more welcoming, and then they may respond to us. And this is what truly matters – when others come to our worship services.

    This seems logically to be the best way to do a large service. So, shouldn’t we adopt this model? Sure, it’s only a model anyways. Take what you will -- I’ll have two!

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  2. wow....I was hoping for a lot of response here. I was really interested in other peoples opinions on this subject..

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  3. CofC World Conference worship can be a model for our congregational planning ... joyful singing, quality and relevant preaching, introducing new language through our hymnody expressing our core values ... planning, planning, planning ... mid-week corporate spiritual formation and commitment on the part of leadership with goals and vision. This all sounds too consuming of our time but .. what does matter most in our lives and the life of the church - to bring forth the message of the Christ ? Full-time ministry, paid key positions in the congregations with commitment to empower others in leadership roles. Expectation of all to be generous in time and talent - paying our tithes to enable the message to go beyond our congregational walls. Outreach projects to enhance our communities. Enough - I'm standing on a band-box - just thinking 'out loud'. God bless us all as we respond to the call to be generous disciples... a conversion experience !

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  4. I noticed at World Conference that, even with the more upbeat worship, the congregation was still approximately 70-80% middle-aged and seniors and only about 20% young adults.

    My personal opinion is that will never change until we stop using hymnals and organs (sorry to everyone who loves that music). It may have great meaning to our existing more mature members - but it just won't bring in youth and young adults today.

    About a year ago we visited Saddleback church in Los Angeles. They provide the same sermon each weekend in multiple buildings and service times -- the only difference is the music. There are approximately 19,000 people who attend the 10-15 services each weekend where the music is contemporary and played by a band. There are somewhere between 200 and 300 who attend the single service with traditional hymns.

    There were all ages in the "contemporary music" services - including middle aged and senior. I didn't go to the "hymn music" service - but I suspect there was likely no one there under the age of 50.

    What that says to me is that less than 1% of people who are looking for a church would be willing to come to services with our normal "old style" music.

    It may be our heritage. It can't be our future.

    I'd be thrilled if we could develop contemporary music that expresses CofC values and principles.

    What does everyone else think?

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  5. Thanks to the few brave souls who have started this discussion; now lets keep it going. It is an important conversation we need to have, and I know people have opinions on it.

    I was afraid this exchange might focus only on style of worship because that is what we usually think about. Style of worship is part of it, but only part.

    The post above also mentioned that the church in question "has impressive children’s and youth ministry programs, youth camps, a good selection of “Life Groups” (formerly called small groups) plus mission connections in Africa and Nicaragua. They also partner with other agencies to bless the local community."

    That is all pretty impressive for such a young church. They are clearly touching and blessing the lives of many people. They are doing that by focusing on their version of "what matters most," and not on their traditional heritage, or what they have always done.

    Ann’s comment about full-time, paid ministry is an interesting part of this conversation. The church we are talking about has a paid pastor. That alone is not a guarantee of success in mission, but it might be a key ingredient. Do you think it is? Should we try it in a few places? Would you support it in your congregation?

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  6. I read, with interest, the "Good Word" [distinctives] and have felt for some time that we can no longer hold to the " DIFFERENT PEOPLE" status that meant much to previous generations and even still does to some today. Perhaps we need to rethink what that phrase means for we may have misunderstood its intention. Your statement will of course cause some raised eyebrows and some halleluyahs but that is as it should be. My belief is that for a number of our pastors [myself included] who served and are still serving with smaller congregations with fewer numbers, many of whom are of the older generation, the path of least resistance was taken in service formation and we had a lot "cookie cutter" services that were easier to arrange after a week working at a job that was not church oriented, could be conducted with fewer participants, and would cause no contoversy. Not a good way to bring ministry to a congregation I admit, but one that occurs often I'm sure. Three cheers for Doug and CEM and the co-pastorate initiative and the training that is available. Too long we have placed people in positions of service who were willing, even eager to serve and them left them to sink or swim. Could the time have arrived where the only thing of importance is "the mission of Jesus Christ" to which our "peculiar people" title points ? Could we work with others of like minds and hearts to allow the spirit of Christ to touch as many lives as possible ? I do not believe this negates our own distincties but rather would allow these distinctives to be magnified in the mission at hand.

    Perhaps it is time to try paid pastors or other key roles as has been mentioned. That may seem contrary to "the way we did things" but in todays ever evolving, complex and fast paced world may be worth a look.

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  7. Good thoughts Don! I think you're asking good questions. I hope everyone continues to follow the comments in all the posts this week as they're overlapping and related.
    Your comment here holds many of the thoughts that led to today's post (May 28: Pews). I confess it's somewhat of a rant, but I agree with you that we need to take a new look and ask some new questions.

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  8. When I first visited this modern congregation, my initial questions was, "So how is this still a Presbyterian church?" As I have reflected further, however, I realize that what has changed is not thier beliefs or even their praxis, but their "style and methods." This congregation is still led by Elders and will still be part of a Session. The Pastor clearly still believes in the Trinity and refers to "God the Father", "God the Son", etc. But gone are the robes, the hymn books, pipe organ, and the liturgy that represent the methods and style of a bygone era. In their place are an excellent electronic capacity, a wonderful praise band and current music in a style most people today can relate to.

    What really impresses me, however, is not the worship but the clear evidence of what we proponents of the Healthy Congregation Model refer to as "Witnessing/Inviting" and "Sending/Serving ministries. The evidence for these were everywhere, and clearly the community is responding.

    All that brings me to yet one more question. Is it possible that what will make modern or future congregations distinctive is actually congregational health? Imagine a congregation that does the gospel in and for the community, not just for the members! Isn't that the kind of church you would like to belong to?

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