Three conventions

Over time, various traditions appear — and remain — in churches.  I’ve chosen two relatively unimportant sub-cultural conventions as illustrations, before highlighting a more significant one.

greeter_handshakeOne—the greeter.  In many churches, either by decree or by choice, someone serves as a greeter.  For as long as I can remember, I have found this convention slightly annoying.  Whether the greeter was 1) a person in my own church that I didn’t particularly want to represent us all, or, in an unfamiliar church, was 2) a person that I merely wanted to bypass without the bother of the obligatory questions and handshake, I figure these greeters can make better use of their time.  This is obviously merely an opinion; it comes partly from my personality type and partly from my observations of inefficiencies and ineffectivenesses in organizations.

praise-bandTwo–the “worship band.”  These days, in any church that purports to be “happenin’,” it’s assumed that a praise band of some sort will be part and parcel of the assembly.  The praise band has become a convention.  In the last few years, I have tired of this method/model and have been ready to put it aside . . . but, back in February, the Sons of Thunder group in Searcy, AR convinced me that it still has a place, when used skillfully and rightly.  I’ve seen and heard probably 150-200 different bands/teams in live settings, and the men who led in a building just off Race Street seemed to have both musical skill and insight into how to lead hearts.  The praise team or worship band model, although not much more than a trendy, culture-bound convention, is not necessarily without merit.

Three–the centerpiece of the assembly.  The question which event serves as the centerpiece of the Christian Assembly? is perhaps less subject to ephemeral trends than either of the above.  By that, I mean there is less vacillation through the years, decades, and centuries.  However, consider this foundational dichotomy:

  • In evangelicalism, there is generally a preacher- (sermon-) centered assembly.¹  Even if the pastor or preacher does not do several things, including announcements and some preach-bibleworship leading and praying, as well as delivering a sermon, most people in the pews get a clear sense that everything that is done leads toward, and then away from, his sermon.  The sermon’s central nature is a convention.  Think of your predominant experience in, say, a Baptist group, a Church of Christ group, a community church group, or an Assembly of God group, and you will likely find a sermon-centric approach.

  • In Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, there is an even more longstanding convention:  the eucharist-centered “service.”¹  (See footnote below.)  This might be said of Lutheranism and other groups, too.  The scripture-based emphasis on remembering Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was morphed into a mystical, highly charged set of practices.  eucharistIn these “liturgical” churches, the convention is a communion-based approach.

Perhaps oddly, and perhaps not, the Church of Christ and Christian Church find themselves situated among both the above groups, to some extent:  the importance placed on the delivery of rather information-laden sermons, the one hand, and the ritual, weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper, on the other, have long been hallmarks of this category of churches.

Consider 1) the sermon/message/homily and 2) the Lord’s Supper/communion.

Is one more important than the other?

If so, why?  

What else — an idea or a practice — could be said to be important on the “centerpiece” level?

I hope to gain from your responses to the above questions.  And/or, if you prefer, use the poll below to register your opinions more quickly.


¹ I intentionally used the word “service” when referring to liturgical churches here, although I rarely use that term when referring to what the church does when it gathers.  For more on the distinction between worship and service, and some rationale for the assertion that the two should not be joined in the expression “worship service,” see these posts:


Quote without comment

Looking through historical files or old books, I like finding things that deserve another hearing.  This comment from a cherished “old friend” is not all that historical—meaning it’s something he wrote only 6 months ago—but I think these comments are worth posting here.

The value of a “worship leader” far exceeds that of a preacher. The reason I say that is because our time together in assembly is “family time” — more of encouraging than learning.  More of “praising, thanking, mourning and remembering” than “knowing.”

. . .  Hearty worship as a family of God is magnetic to the community.  It is when Christ died that he said He would “draw” men…. the emotional aspect of that event is vital to remembering!

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.

Church Titles

I heard a pretty good sermon on Wednesday that had to do with differences between churches, structurally speaking. This sermon tied things to scripture but pointed up that scriptural patterns aren’t always clear; thus, the differences that result in human workings-out of things, in various eras.

Despite the feeling of many that Christians need to accentuate the positive, deal in the areas of common ground, etc., instead of working ourselves up over the differences … I’m still hung up on titles, because I’m passsionately averse to hints of hierarchy in the church Jesus wanted to build. A few comments on a few titles found in our churches today:

Evangelist. A few churches in my acquaintance like this term for their guy-in-charge. He may or may not have bona fide evangelistic gifts, and he may or may not spend much of his time in weekly evangelism. But some have moved away from other, more common terms such as “preacher” or “minister,” and “evangelist” seems to signal an emphasis on “reaching the lost.” One might legitimately be called “evangelist” if, as part & parcel of his daily work, he communicates the good news of Jesus Christ to humans who are not believers.

Preacher. Many churches routinely call their guy “preacher,” but it’s more rare as an official, letterhead title. Whether or not this role is scripturally required or logically justified today, we all must admit that in terms of corporate activity, “preacher” is an apt label for many who preach sermons weekly. Or 2+ times/week … in some churches, the preacher teaches an adult Bible class and ends up sermonizing then; plus, another sermon on Sunday night and maybe a mini-sermon on Wednesday night, too. I’m not negating the value of all the administrative work, hospital visits, etc., that preachers do during the week when I say that their primary role in most congregants’ lives is that of preacher. In other words, I do know that the preacher does a lot more than preach, but in terms of my weekly existence, what he is to me, a person in the pew, is “preacher.” The obvious follow-up questions (to me, anyway) are what is being preached? and can it be firmly connected to that which was preached (kergyma) in the First Century?

Teacher. Some paid preachers are really more teachers than preachers in my eye. This is no downgrade!

Pastor. Said it before; saying it again. “Pastor” is a term that has been misappropriated, wholesale, in most Christian churches today. “Pastor” is etymologically related to “pasture,” i.e., a place for flocks, and the biblical role spoken of is that of the shepherd. While many who bear the title “pastor” actually do shepherd individual sheep and sub-flocks of sheep, there seems to be little, if any, scriptural evidence that pastor should be used as a singular, hierarchical title.

Senior Pastor. So-called “senior pastors” may be 35 years of age, fresh out of divinity school, and for some organizational reason set above “associate pastors” or “worship pastors” or “youth pastors” who have been serving longer and who may be older. I don’t get this. Of all the hierarchical machinations, this one irks me the most.

Some other time, I’ll comment on the titles “Reverend,” “Rector,” “Father,” and “Minister.”

Addendum: Please see this post, on or after 12/22/2009, for the follow-up.