Of HFCS, MSG, ZZZ, GS, & C

Enhancements.

In the work environment, supposed enhancements sometimes appear when supervisors become managers or project managers and managers become directors and directors become vice presidents for client experience (or some such nonsense).  Upon being promoted or taking a new position, these people—and I have been one of them on occasions—feel they have to make names for themselves, and so they “enhance” something.  The supposition is that the addition has enhanced the value of the original thing.

Meetings are famously incorporated into many work environments.  In one school, the new VP for Academic Affairs newly required that every department enhance its communication by having a a weekly meeting, whether there was anything to meet about or not.  He made his rounds and sat in on various meetings, checking up on each department to make sure they were having their meetings.  In another life, I was aghast at the corporate funds expended on air travel for the sake of meetings when those meetings were of assumed but questionable value.  Some meetings can enhance a work process, while others have little value . . . other than to be able to report that a meeting was held, that is.  My personal experience with meetings leads me to enhance this paragraph by saying two more things:  the value of most meetings is real but overestimated, and (2) many meetings tend to trail off in terms of effectiveness.  The first 50-75% of a meeting is generally more productive than the rest of it.  Perhaps meeting planners should enhance productivity by utilizing Google Calendar’s “speedy meetings” feature that defaults to 25- and 50-minute time blocks.  (Ending a meeting at 2:50 allows you to get to your 3:00 meeting on time, of course!)

My current job training requirements include online “ZZZ” (not this organization’s real initials) courses.  Someone, or a group of someones, decided that seven courses would enhance my learning.  There are also certain regulatory requirements that appear to necessitate these programs of instruction.  [Aside:  speaking of “ZZZ,” it’s not all that easy to find out what the initials stand for.  Perhaps the organization should enhance its website with that information—basic stuff, really, as opposed to enhancements.]  As yet, the value added by these online courses is probably only 10-20% of what was assumed.

Enhancements may take the form of added ingredients in foods:

High fructose corn syrup is added to more prepared foods than I ever knew.  My wife is the main one who has enhanced my awareness of HFCS.

MSG is famously added to a lot of Chinese food—presumably to enhance it.  An old friend named Ed once told me he was in the habit of specifically requesting “no MSG,” either being allergic or simply resistant to this non-native addition.

Garlic is for some reason added to 95% of prepared salsa products, and I have no idea why that is supposed to add value to such an already way-flavorful thing like salsa. With peppers and cilantro, who needs the residual effect of garlic breath?  No value added, I say.

As a graduate student, I had an official advisor.  He was not the Graduate School liaison or anyone in the Graduate School, mind you; he was my advisor in my particular College, School, Department, and subject area.  This astute man once mentioned that he didn’t feel the Graduate School itself added value to the process for graduate students.  He was correct, in my estimation.  We all would have been just fine without the “enhancements” (read bureaucratic bog-downs) to the process of moving through an academic program.

The application
Considering Christianity from its earliest decades, I have been impressed with its seemingly swift “enhancement.”  The epistles (and some of the more personal letters) in the NT address some negative eventualities that were seen as early as the late 40s through the 60s.  Before the dawn of the 2nd century, it seems clear that many baseline things were not as they had been, and exponential expansion on the pattern of addition and development has been seen throughout the centuries of Christian history.

What has been added to Christianity since the days of its origination?  Have those things truly enhanced it?  A more intense question follows:  What aspects can now be thrown overboard as no-value additions, leaving us with purer forms of Christian faith and practice?

P.S.  Last Sunday I was in the company of some believers who keep things relatively simple, but even they have added and complicated things to a degree.  Soon I’ll share that experience, hoping in some way to enhance the perspective of some of my readers.

B. Casey, 9/22/16

Tending

Another blogger once referred to “tending” her blog; that expression has stuck with me for years.  Earlier this year, when I added two additional blogs to my framework, I had to consider seriously the “tending” factor.  Would my felt need to “tend” exceed the actual need to tend?  And would either one of those exceed my available time and energy?

There are many things to be tended to—too many, I think, for most people.  We tend to our houses/homes, our cars, our relationships, our personal finances.  Some of us add community groups such as service clubs, churches, sports organizations.  We tend to our health (more or less).

Where the pastor role exists in a local church, that person should by all rights “tend” the flock in some real sense.  I would go so far as to say that the basic meaning of the word “pastor”—both etymologically and contextually—in pretty much every NT passage in which the word “pastor” or “shepherd” appears is in fact tend (or, in the noun form, one who tends).  Yet when most staff pastors refer to having “pastored” a church, they seem often to be referring to administering facilities and institutions and programs more than to tending to people.

And I see that as a problem.  [Aside:  this observation demands further challenge to amalgamated titles like “executive pastor” and “administrative pastor.”]

I suppose those institutions and programs also need tending to, if they are to survive and thrive.  But the existence of institutions is not by any means essential in the kingdom of God.  Ironically, the most institutional churches and their “tenders” combine to constitute a major reason I tend to wander (1) away from them and (2) toward more organic groups that do not have, or need, official titles and roles.

I figure this way:  if the institution makes it difficult to envision a relationship with the One Tender and Guardian of our souls (1Pet 2:25), that group is presenting an obstacle that this particular sheep doesn’t need to try to hurdle.  Can this be indicative of a b-a-a-a-d attitude?  Maybe, he acknowledged sheepishly . . . but he doesn’t enjoy wool over his eyes.

Packaging

Many jokes have been made about Ivory™ soap’s being (only) 99.44% pure, but I think that’s probably a better stat than that of most other soaps, my wife’s homemade Little Goat’s Natural Soaps excepted.  (Ahem.  That was a cue for a few of you readers who’ve used her soap to say, “Yeah, Karly’s soaps are great.”)

I have been an Ivory soap user for as long as I can remember.  Once in a while, I try another soap but always return to Ivory.  I used Irish Spring as a teenager, and that use might have contributed to a few more zits than I would have had otherwise.  Coast, Lifebuoy, Dial, Safeguard . . . I’ve tried those and more, but my staple bar of soap has always been Ivory.

For all Ivory’s merits, I absolutely hate the packaging.  The wrapping is horribly hard to handle.  About 49 of 50 times, unwrapping the bar takes at least a solid minute and results in something like this:img_20160915_064445_706.jpgI didn’t even mention the outer, clear plastic layer that wraps the whole 8-bar pack.  That in itself can require a knife or a set of fingernail clippers or at least a key to remove.  But the damp, white-paper inner wrapping comes off only with greater effort, and a lot of mess, pretty much every time.  You’d think that a soap that’s been around for 125 years could do better than that with its wrapping.  But I keep coming back to it, because what’s inside is what I’m after.


I have been a Christian since I was 9.  (The definition of “Christian” is significant but is beside my point here.)  And I’ve been an active participant with a number of churches.  What I have inside and what the churches have inside can be as difficult to get to as Ivory soap is, given the packaging!  Since it’s less comfortable to talk about my individual heart than the “inside” of church groups, I’ll opt to spend a few words on the latter.

The packaging or wrapping of a church might include, but not be limited to, these elements:

  • Signage
  • Condition of the parking lot and ease of driving in and out
  • Attractiveness, condition, and cleanliness of the building (if there is one)
  • Manner of activities in the assembly (including perceived “style”)
  • Denominational overlay (whether acknowledged or not)

I prefer my parking lots to be paved, but that’s not too big a deal.  I do actually reject some churches as potential “homes” based on such surface-level elements as signage.

A recognized denominational name on the sign?  Although I try to be un-denominational, some signs can lead me instantly to reject a church as a possibility for me.

A narrow-minded message?  If a sign advertises “fundamental” or “KJV only” (or some such), I can know I wouldn’t be accepted there and would end up either being miserable or causing disunity.

I can leave some churches on the shelf, as it were, never needing to “purchase” or unwrap the “product,” although others might find value in what they’re selling.  It takes a little more time and effort to unwrap some other churches.  One church we’ve visited twice has a kind of packaging that we think might end up being deceptive, not revealing all that’s inside.  (If I’m fair, I suppose that’s true about most groups.)  We’re still not sure, but when you tear a couple corners off, the product doesn’t seem to be worth the money, so to speak.

Another church seems to have less wrapping that obscures the product.  (I wonder if “truth in advertising” laws could apply to churches?  Not really.)  This one has some nicely conceived outer packaging but also some inner wrapping that might present some problems for me.  (Oh, how I hate finally getting that first layer off the product, only to find that I have to struggle with yet another layer of wrapping.)

Yet another church, visited once recently on a special occasion, is from a brand I have “trusted” (to an extent) for many years.  I suppose that, if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to admit that I keep returning to this brand in some way because I know its history—but the Ivory isn’t always as pure as the wrapping claims, if you know what I mean.  And then, come to find out, even the best bars of this particular brand were only about 77% pure to start with.  At any rate, the packaging of this one local church included some noticeably outdated communication styles—think veggie burger in a 1950s McDonald’s wrapper or maybe hip-hop on an audio cassette.  More important than the wrapping:  the product found inside was lacking, to my eyes and ears and soul.

We’ll see how the process goes.  Maybe, just maybe, the traditional wrapping in terms of church building cosmetics will ultimately reveal a pure, purposeful, viable church group “product.”

Cottrill’s reasons to keep talking about hymnals

This post continues from yesterday’s personal-journey reflections.

Robert Cottrill, a Canadian, has spent a great deal of time blogging about hymns—their background stories, their meaning, and their use.  His material is typically very thoughtful and well written (although in my circles not likely to be read or considered as much as it deserves).  In a recent blogpost in praise of hymnals, he listed 38 reasons to support and use these hardbound books.  I’ve chosen a few of his reasons to share here, with some commentary of my own.


4) Hymnals are . . . ideal for texts that present a logical argument or tell a story, over several stanzas. When we sing these from a screen, we can’t see the whole thing at once. We can’t look back and see the logic, or the flow of the story, in what is presented.

I would agree, generally:  seeing all the song at once is more helpful than one might realize at first blush.  During the past couple of weeks in my job, I’ve been reading a great deal of tutorial material screen-by-screen.  In some cases, it is not possible to revert to the prior material to get a sense of how it fits together.  My comprehension overall would have been much deeper if I had been reading a book.

A corollary to the above is this:  a map that provides an overview of an entire geographical area allows for greater comprehension of places and distances than a tiny smartphone, a car’s GPS screen, or even a computer’s display.

5) During the service time, using hymn books gives the service leader the option of selecting or omitting stanzas (even on the spot), or responding with an unplanned hymn to other things happening in the service (like a prayer request, or something in a testimony time). The service leader should aim to know the hymn book so well that he can suit to what is happening in the service with a hymn, when appropriate.

Ignoring the oh-so-common misuse of the word “service” here (for which, by the way, I do not blame Mr. Cottrill, because he writes for an audience that understands the term the way he uses it), his main point is well taken:  spontaneous shifts and changes are generally easier with hard-copy books than with computerized projection.

However—and this is a big however—few leaders will know the book well enough, or think on their feet well enough, to make choices that serve the people and the Lord in the moment.  On a couple of isolated occasions, I have been aware that a PowerPoint operator quickly pulled in a song spontaneously, and that can certainly be done if the filing system is good and the operator knows his stuff.

8) If God speaks to an individual through a hymn, he or she may want to re-read the words after it’s been sung–either during the service, or afterwards. This is easy with a hymn book, but a projected song disappears as soon as it’s been used.

That point needs no further comment, except perhaps to say that many times, I have scratched a note to myself on an attendance card (what better use for those!) or on a bulletin about a song I wanted to look up later.

11) Hymn books can promote congregational singing. The singing seems more assured and enthusiastic when books are used. (I can only describe my own experience here, having preached in many different churches.) Often when projected images are used, the singing seems listless and very quiet. Looking around, I’ve seen many not singing at all. This non-involvement is increased when what is sometimes called a worship team is up front, and loudly amplified. The people in the pews tend to become listeners and observers.

Here, I appreciate Cottrill’s admission of the limitations of his own experience.  Some years ago, many people I knew were hearing and reiterating the supposed truth that projected music (and I do mean music, not just words) would actually enhance congregational singing because people would get their heads up out of the books.  There is some truth to that assertion, although I think not as much as people once claimed.  Cottrill might never have been in a place with both (a) projection and (b) energized singing, but I have.

I would differ with him, then, as to cause and effect:  the issue is not whether books or screens are in use.  Rather, the crux has to do with such factors as recent congregational history, aggregate music literacy, congregational dynamic, leadership, and the type of music.  Most of those are loaded expressions, and I won’t go into detail here.  What Cottrill notices is important, but I believe he is crediting hymnals too much for the good observed.  The real reason that some hymnal churches can sing with more energy than some projection churches has little to do with the books.

28) It’s good for each family to have a Guest Book, where visitors can sign their names. It makes a great record to look back on in later years. But here’s an alternative idea. Instead of having visitors to your home sign a guest book, you could have them neatly sign next to their favourite hymn in your hymn book. A great memento! And each time you sing or read that hymn, it will remind you to pray for the person.

This is a nice idea, and I wish I’d started it in my home years ago, but the practice would have faded by now.  These days (see the last blog post:  my relationship with hymnals is falling apart), I’m afraid the use of a hymnal as a guest book would be considered more of an oddball idiosyncrasy than a sign of depth or of God in the home.  Fact is, I’ve only signed one or two home guest books in the last 10 decade.

30) Hymn books can be used by those on the platform, or when members of the congregation are sitting or standing behind taller people. Or when singers are sitting in a circle, as is done at Bible studies. People don’t all need to be facing a projected image.

In the first part of #30, Cottrill seems relatively inexperienced.  Many church halls have screens that leaders can see, or synced tablets, or something.  It’s quite possible these days that anyone on a stage/platform can see a diplay of some kind.  This does beg the question of why multiple people are on a platform at the same time in the first place.  In my view, that practice tends to make things come off as over-formal.

However, the small group setting is worthy of note.  Congregational singing could once be shared whether a group had 800 or 80 or 8 people in it.  These days, it’s rare that a small group will consider any kind of participatory singing or worship.  If an object (whether a hymnal or a piece of paper) could be held in the hands, singing together might be more common.

This conversation might not be over

My relationship with hymnals has been on the rocks for a while.  We have a long history together—hymnals and I—but we haven’t spent much time together in a decade or more, and I find myself vacillating between (1) last-ditch attempts to save our relationship and (2) acknowledgment that it’s time to move on because of mounting pressures and other factors beyond our control.  Whatever the underlying reasons, there’s only a fading romantic connection.  Hymnals and I do share a solid foundation and important values, but we’ve definitely been growing apart.¹

I have deep historical connections both to hymsongbooks.jpgnals and hymnology.²  Relatives past and present, friends and acquaintances, and many significant others have been associated with the use of these books (and all this adds to the wistful feelings about hymnals).  An explicit accusation was made against my dad in the 1990s, and, although he had served on an advisory council for Great Songs of the Church, Revised (the brown-covered books seen faintly in this picture, over toward the right), no one in my immediate family has ever had financial interests in mass-marketed hymnal production.  Dad had spent many hours reviewing and corresponding about that hymnal, which is one of the two best in its class, and the very best available at the time.  Never was any hymnal elevated to the Bible’s pedestal in my home.  Collections of them were on my parents’ bookshelves, and the hymnals were sporadically used in devotional group singing in the living room and around the dinner table, but the books weren’t worshipped.

I have continued my parents’ practice of owning, displaying, and periodically using hymnals . . . although the frequency, amount, and depth of use have been decreasing.  A couple years ago, I realized that I had no use for 25-or-so single-copy hymnals in my collection.  Not having interest in trying to sell them on eBay or at a yard sale—any profit would surely have been dwarfed by time and expense—I tried to follow the “if you haven’t needed it or used it in 7 years” rule and threw them in a dumpster.  I did experience a slight twinge of conscience and have so far kept another 30 or 40 hymnals:

  • Ten copies of Great Songs of the Church No. 2 that was last regularly used in our home in 2013
  • Eight copies of a previous edition of The Methodist Hymnal (historically the best mainline denomination hymnal with which I was acquainted, and a source for several purposes) and one Presbyterian hymnal
  • Two copies of Praise for the Lord
  • Misc. other CofC hymnals and handful of other single copies such as The Mennonite Hymnal

More hindsight
I’m now considering the growing-apart nature of this “hymnal relationship” from 2016 backward. . . .

We have visited three congregations in our new area.  Two of them have hymnals, and we are considering an ongoing relationship with one of those groups.  Most of our church groups from 2007 until now have owned and used hymnals, to one degree or another.  Two churches from 2003-2007 did not use hymnals at all, and one did.  The last time I was in a congregation that regularly used hymnals was 15 years ago, and that was prior to the ubiquity of PowerPoint (and the Paperless Hymnal) in many church gatherings.  It does seem clear that there is a trend—among the churches we would consider working with, if not churches as a whole.

In 2016, most of the hymnals in the church halls we enter seem to be dusty and musty, but a few groups still pull them out of the racks periodically . . . perhaps because the projector bulb blew out when the machine was turned on Sunday morning.  Or, perhaps an especially (a) thoughtful or (b) backward-thinking³ or (c) committed-to-hymnals leader wants to use a song that’s not electronically available.

It’s a shame when hymnals fall into disuse.  My soul still needs the nourishment that came from the better songs and hymns of my earlier years.  (I don’t intend the preceding statement to speak in any respect to the value of contemporary songs.)  A couple years ago, I was blog-traversing my personal “worship history” and wrote this along the way:

I was starving.

Then my parents reminded me that a family we knew was working with a church on the north side of town — Hixson, to be precise.  During a visit there one Wednesday night, I got tears in my eyes during a devotional time led by Danny Cline.  Forethought was in evidence, and Danny led sensitively — and led a song with some spiritual depth to it.  Sensitivity and depth were not to be taken for granted in the 80s of my life, for more than one reason.

A big part of me does look with longing at the unused richness of some songs in hymnals.  Another part of me reads the handwriting on the wall rather acutely, realizing that hymnals and I—and hymnals and many entire congregations—are going separate ways.

Is the conversation over?  Is there no hope for this relationship?  Maybe not, if we’re only thinking about the physical item called a hymnal.  I do want, though, to find ways to discover and rediscover the good content of hymnals in ways that non-hymnal people will also pursue.

Next:  comments on a few of another blogger’s reasons to value the hymnal


¹ Please take no offense at the allegorical language here.  I mean no disrespect toward God’s thoughts about human marriage.

² I’m much more interested in hymns themselves than hymnology per se.  While I know a few factoids about the history and study of hymns, there’s only so much time in the day, and hymnology is not really one of my life’s pursuits.

³ The use of hymnals is not inherently backward-thinking.  In the use of “backward,” I’m thinking of a few leaders who seem merely to be resisting learning anything new.  Leaders’ song choices are certainly not always based on thought or intent.

A program of remembrance (9/11/11)

On the 1st anniversary of 9/11, a few Highland Community College students and I presented an outdoor program for the campus.  On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a more elaborate program was presented by the Houghton College Symphonic Winds and Friends (a few faculty and staff members from other areas, an area singer, and others).  Below is the program from that occasion:

sym-winds-friends-remembering

Unique features of this program included poetry readings and an impassioned presentation of Psalm 27 accompanied by harp, with interludes.  Those aware of my lack of typical patriotism might be surprised to see that I planned this program, but my heart was all in the planning and the execution of it.  I believe it was a meaningful evening.

On this anniversary, now fifteen years after that day, I pause to remember again.  I remember the disbelief.  I remember the fear.  I remember a vague sense of hopelessness.  Yet I recognize that God is above even horrific evil, terror, and unimaginable human pain.  God has provided for eternal living.


P.S.  Another blog of mine deals with my book Subjects of the Kingdom That book aims to point all Christians to the surpassing allegiance due to the King of All, while questioning allegiance pledged to the U.S.A. and most forms of service offered to any nation-state.  The book’s overall thrust is toward the Kingdom of God.  In that course, it deals in some depth with the history of so-called “pacifist” thought and practice.  I invite all readers of this blog to click over to the other blog and follow it, as well.  It is a book blog—a very different type of blog—and is far less active than this one.

Closed and open ways

The individual believer’s effort to achieve some semblance of balance between (1) The Way and (2) the world can constitute a very real struggle.  In our better moments, believers wish with all heart and mind to be God’s people in the world.  We try; we fail; we (mostly) try again; we fail again.  And we wonder what it’s supposed to feel like, to look like.

A sister Christ-follower recently wrote of her unique environment.  She is distinctive in some ways and is fully aware that she exists in the world alongside people who do not necessarily share many of her values.  She certainly recognizes as “Christian” some around her who exhibit even more distinguishing features, as well as some who don’t appear to be very different at all.  She also recognizes that her mode and certain choices are not the only “way.” ¹

On this point, one might look into the philosophy and history behind the various strata of Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite believers—groups that have made it a point, in most cases, to be visibly distinct from those around them.  The Amish are particularly closed to outsiders, while most Mennonites are open in heart—but some Mennonites seem to have boundaries that aren’t as porous as they think.  (I have no idea about the Hutterites, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t as many of them around, for whatever reason.) 

We once visited a couple of very “closed” fellowships . . . paired terms that set up a verbal conflict, to some degree.  One of them not only advertised being “KJV only” but had a strict policy of forbidding children—even guests’ children!—to be in the main hall during the sermon.  (See this post for an account.  If I do say so, some of it makes for fairly entertaining reading.)  This church group struck us as downright closed.  Leaving alone the conceptual problem with treating the sermon as somehow more reverential than the prayers or the scripture readings, it was a pretty “distinctive” policy—one that led to a courteous-as-we-could-be exit.  Another group we visited took the closed “eucharist” tradition to a new extent (funny how those who have a fundamental connection with reforming the Roman Catholic tradition can fall into the same old ill-conceived patterns):  they sat in a tight circle, excluded us as visitors, and had their “closed communion” while we waited uncomfortably.  These ways are a far cry from Jesus’ way.

It is unthinkable to me that a group of Christians would purpose to be closed in any way, although conscientious adherence to teachings and scruples may result in some closed postures.  In other words, there is a difference between (1) setting out to exclude others and (2) ending up excluding others because of loyalty to principles.

As we try, weakly, to be part of a movement once known as The Way—see e.g. Acts 9:2, 18:25, 19:9, and 19:23—we want to be open to others, employing open-arms postures and practices.  We ought to be inviting toward others.  Some boundaries may come into view, but, as Witherington has it, they need to be “porous enough” to allow others in.


¹ I very much like this sister’s use of the word “way” in this context.  I would take this opportunity to point out that in the present discussion, “way” implies something different than the same word’s connotations in, say, Acts or Mark’s gospel.

Formation and success of movements

People in societies or sub-societies sometimes want change, and groups may band together to begin “movements.”  In music history, the Renaissance, the thought and work of the Florentine Camerata, Romanticism, Impressionism, and Neoclassicism are examples of movements.  Others could be identified, such as the educational band music quasi-movement of the 70s and 80s.

In religious history, many movements have been observed, including the the various stripes of Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation, and the movement of Anglicans that became Wesleyan Methodism.  The religious movement with which I am most familiar, the frontier American Restoration Movement, was at one point truly a movement, manifesting both distinctive features and corporate energy.

None of those movements identified above are movements anymore.  Loosely speaking—and expanding on how I’ve heard it—the train of thought goes something like this:

  1. Some idea-germs can blossom into vital, vibrant movements.
  2. Most (if not all) movements eventually become sects.
  3. Most (if not all) sects eventually become denominations.

How to keep a good idea and a good movement alive before it crystallizes or ossifies . . . that is the question.

I’ve read with interest a recent discussion between high-profile scholar-authors Ben Witherington and Larry Hurtado about the latter’s new book which treats aspects of the formation and distinctiveness of early Christianity.  (In one sense, early Christianity was a movement within first-century Jewish religion, and it serves well for us to keep this reality in mind.)  About a third of the way through the interview, Witherington makes the following comment, and I appreciate the thoughtful analysis:

Reading your review of Stark’s 10 factors on why a religious movement succeeds, you point to the fact that the movement on the one hand must maintain some continuity with its cultural setting so it is not seen as totally alien and incomprehensible, but at the same time it must have some distinguishing features, presumably appealing distinguishing features, that set it apart from its setting, including certain behavioral demands made on insiders.  The boundaries between insider and outsider must be porous enough to readily allow outsiders in, but at the same time the identity formation must be clear enough that the difference between between insiders and outsiders is reasonable clear.

A movement, then, may “succeed” by being

  • attractive to and connected with people (appealing within a culture)
  • distinctive and demanding—worth joining because it has (1) something unique to offer to prospective adherents and (2) something to ask of them

Speaking on a practical level, a movement will also need to provide a way for people to join up.

Tomorrow:  being in the world but not of it (whatever that means)—and joining in the Way in various ways

 

Casual? Informal? Simple?

The church we visited today had a rather casual mood.  We believe its M.O. is typically informal, but perhaps today’s casual quotient was especially high since electronic technologies were not available, and there was a kind of “fly by the seat of your pants” thing going on.

To distinguish for a moment:  while I view informal as almost always good in the church context, casual is not quite the same.  Informal allows for a certain amount of personality and spontaneity and does not ask for fancy clothes or pews or pulpits—and doesn’t need pastor-types, either.  Let it also be observed that one doesn’t have to throw intentionality and thoughtfulness overboard in order to be informal.  Casual, on the other hand, can be fine in terms of overall assembly ethos, but we ought to establish some limits.  Specifically, a casual approach to worship and God would be bad.  (If we could check with a few famous personalities from the Hebrew Bible whose lives were divinely de-lengthened, this assessment would surely be confirmed.)

Today, with this very small church, I was a bit disappointed, but not overly surprised, at the casual approach.  Personalities were in evidence (good) and some planning had clearly occurred (better), but there wasn’t a lot of meat to sink one’s teeth into, and it was clear that the expectations for depth are low on an ongoing basis.  To be fair, this church is “in transition” (read has no paid staff at the moment), so the flux capacitor is probably running at half a gigawatt.  It was good that, in lieu of standard musical praise, today’s leader asked for spontaneous expressions of praise for God’s perceived activity.  My main disappointment came in seeing yet another church—one that has the potential to move in simpler, more organic directions—trapped in such institutional practices as full-length sermons, collection plates, and printed bulletins.

There’s really no need to apologize when church gatherings don’t look like traditional “church,” i.e., the church stuff we might’ve experienced in our lifetime, in our culture.  I tend to be partial to primitivist approaches that attempt to recover the first-century dynamic and teaching, but these approaches can admittedly wander off course.  On the other hand, responsibly and intentionally getting “back to the Bible”—really doing that, not just saying you’re doing it—can also illuminate the core, freeing would-be followers of Jesus from peripheral matters that distract.

We don’t need all the trappings.  It can be simple.

Please check out this valuable blog from Roger Thoman, in which he says

Perhaps if we get Jesus right, and our imitation of Him in keeping with who He is, we will naturally get church right.

Here is another good quote to close on:

If you make disciples, you always get the Church.  But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.  (@Mike_Breen)


For more of my posts that relate to simple/organic church, use this link.