Picking and frowning: bulletin bits

In the neo-Protestant vein, it’s time for a pickin’ and a frownin’ (apologies to Roy Clark and Buck Owens of the old country variety show Hee-Haw).  The name of the church has been changed to protect the guilty.  These bits come from a church bulletin near you.  I intend to pick at them.

WELCOME…The Main St. family extends a warm welcome to our visitors.

How do you know this to be the case at the time that the bulletin is printed?  These types of comments sometimes get inserted when the church is not actually that warm, but wants to become so.

We are thrilled you have chosen to worship with us today!

Well, okay … assuming there is actually worshipping going on, which happens to be the case fairly often at this church, but not at all churches!

TODAY—No devo-VBS

Sometimes churches cancel stuff too often for fear that no one will come because something else is going on.  If a bit of a schedule crunch appears to crowd out an event, it seems to me that said event wasn’t that well founded to begin with.

Oh, and P.S. … VBS is outmoded.  It’s OK to have another study/learning opportunity, but the notion that VBS will actually bring in unchurched people is kind of silly.  I sometimes wonder what the non-Christian people who drive by the fancy VBS signs think.  Most likely, they think nothing at all, but they surely aren’t going to go “Oh, wow.  Vacation Bible School is at that church next week.  What a wonderful thing they’re doing.  I think I’ll take my kids just to see what it’s all about.”  Such thoughts once inhabited the wishful minds of the most evangelistic on the VBS planning committees, but if they abide in this day and age, they are nearly pointless.

July 18th—Devo at Sickler’s

Unless there is a guy with the first name Sickler, this punctuation is incorrect.  Assuming the family name is Sickler, it should be Sicklers’. It’s the rare church secretary who knows how to form plurals and plural possessives of last names.

Growing Deep and Spreading Out as we live the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Now this “mission statement” or “purpose statement” (take your pick—I’ve never figured out which was which) is more catchy than some—like “We exist to love God and love people” or “Worshipping, Serving, and Reaching Out.”  But the Great Commission has a biblical context, and it doesn’t seem to be on par with the so-called Great Commandment to me.  The former is specific to those the Lord spoke it to, and the latter seems more broadly applicable. Ergo, I really don’t buy in to the notion that Christians today should be all about the Great Commission.  By extension, there’s some application, but I’m not interested in picking up deadly snakes (Mark 16, long ending).

[Then follows the list of leaders. ]

Elders top the list, as they do in any good Church of Christ.  Then the so-called “Minister,” a guy who happens to be paid for preaching and doing various other things.  Then the Deacons, who would appear to be subservient to those above them in the list.  Deacons are not junior Elders, and the minister might just as well appear in the list of deacons:  there is ample etymological reason to consider him a deacon.  He should not be thought of as a category of leader who has almost as much power as (or more than!) the elders, and more than the lowly deacons.  In fact, no one in the church should be thought of as having any power at all.  This is not to say that there exists no power or authority vested in roles, but it is to say that churches—and especially those actually in these leadership roles—should not act and react in such a way that shows they are wrapped up in hierarchy.

One manifestation that hierarchy is at work is the frequent distinguishing of we and you in church announcements, as in “We’d like you to know that …” or “We want to congratulate you on your generous giving last week in the special contribution” or even “It’s one of our goals to do X more in the assembly.  Please give us your feedback on this.”

I just don’t see the need to take up space printing names of who serves in which role.  Regular members already know, and visitors probably don’t care too much.

* * *

I think my biggest, broadest beef with church bulletins is that the value of them isn’t high enough to justify the time they take to put assemble and print.  I can well imagine that about half of your basic part-time secretary’s time is taken with the bulletin every week.  And in a church in which 200 copies are printed, about 70 of them are nothing more than recyclable.  Someone generally reads aloud many of the printed announcements, and those lists of who’s doing what in the assembly … oh, don’t get me started.  The lists always end up being wrong, so why print them in the first place?!

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Ekklesia values 6 (leadership and hierarchy)

Continuing in the “Church Values” stream today, and extrapolating a bit from the nondenominational, nonsectarian ideals  now.  My ideal church will employ

==> Non-hierarchical leadership

and is

  • mutually pastoral in terms of ministering to one another

and uses no

  • no extrabiblical (or reappropriated biblical) religious titles.

In the NC scriptures, I see contraindications of positional authority in the church.  Put negatively, I see no hint that there were, or were to be, hierarchical leaders.  Positional leadership is ubiquitous in churches these days–seen most starkly in such figures as the pope, but lived out in virtually every church I’ve ever been with, known of, or read about.

If we must have the “pastor” as a role, understood as most Christians understand that job today, let us at least not have “senior pastor.”  “Lead pastor” is more functional than positional, and I would rather see that modifier than “senior.”  In the eyes of some, as I’ve come to understand it, Timothy and Titus may have filled precursors of the modern-day pastor role.  But this is an assumption, an inference; it’s not particularly explicit.

In the CofC grouping, we tend to believe and write one way, and live out our polity another way.  If we really believe elders are pastors are shepherds are bishops, well, let’s do church that way.  Let us not have our preachers/ministers/evangelists in charge of everything.  Let us not conceive intellectually of an upside-down pyramid with elders at the top.  And by all means let us not live as though it’s a regular pyramid with the minister at the top, the elders in the middle, the deacons at the bottom, and everyone else referred to as “you” instead of “we.”  And, by the way, let us avoid the perception that eldering/pastoring happens primarily in the humanly invented institution called the “elders’ meeting.”

Although I’ve been taught it all my life, I’m not sure the NC scriptures really equate the bishop (episkopos) with the elder (presbuteros) with the pastor (poimein).  These may be describing similar, overlapping, but not identical functional roles.  Perhaps the ideal is more fluid than many of us have come to understand:  could it be that Timothy was primarily a functioning evangelist, and there were no deacons or elders or head “pastor” in Ephesus, while Titus was more of a “lead pastor” in Crete?  And further, could it be that

  • the churches in Galatia had neither a head pastor nor elders
  • the groups in Corinth and Colosse and Laodicea had several poimenoi each, like most CofC groups, and
  • the church in Rome had none of the above, because they had an apostle?

It deserves mention that the early church in Jerusalem appears to have been led by few apostles/elders, and James the brother of Jesus seems to have had executive influence (see Acts 15).  The Acts 6 precedent leads us to select servants to fulfill needed tasks–giving rise to modern-day “deacons” (same word as “minister,” by the way).  Let it not go unnoticed that deacons have jobs to do.  There is no deacon, biblically speaking, who simply has the title but no designated function in the local church’s work.

Nashville’s Belmont Church (which has Restoration Movement roots but left any real association behind years ago), at least at one point, separated its elders by function.  Some were executive, and some were pastoral (caring for sheep).  Some were paid, and some were not.  This devised arrangement made some sense to me, given that no particular hierarchy is specified in the scriptures, and given the size of that particular church.  But when all’s said and done, it’s more important that people not attempt to assert or exert authority based on position or salary.  Given that we are not in the apostolic age, spiritual authority should arise naturally, along the lines of relational, respected influence.  It should be invited by people, not inflicted on them.  “Having authority,” by the way, is different from “acting authoritatively” or “being authoritarian.”

In sum:  my church won’t obviously deal in positional leadership.  Not that there won’t be leaders.  There must be leadership, and leaders will emerge naturally!  But it will not be because of some mail-order license, or a degree-granting institution’s blessing, or a denomination’s “call” (whatever that is).

Leaders serve, their leadership is respected as an outgrowth of their service, and ideally, they begin to have spiritual influence because of recognized insight and genuine relationship.  Leaders are marked by service to humankind, beginning with the household of faith, in the name of God.

Roles (3): etymological musing

For several years, it’s intrigued me that the Greek word diakonos, from which we get “deacon,” is also the word often translated “minister” or “servant.” If paid ministers would see themselves more as deacons/servants (who happen to be paid for their service of preparing lessons, teaching, administering, etc.), perhaps we would have fewer hierarchy battles and displays of power in churches.

I once floated the above idea to a church minister, and he seemed to blister at the suggestion that staff ministers were “mere” deacons. (There’s really no denigration of the role there!) He doesn’t speak to me anymore, and I’ve never been sure why.