40 Resources for Changing Your Church

If you and I have ever talked for more than five minutes about the future of “mainline” Protestant churches, then you know that I think the vast majority of them need to experience significant transformation in order to have a future as part of God’s work in the world.

Keep Calm and Change NowBut in most parts of “church world” that I have inhabited the urgency and magnitude of the changes necessary have been downplayed or ignored.

Currently, my wife and I are serving a church where they have decided to wrestle directly with the need for change. We have a congregation that is not ready to “go quietly into the night,” our Session (governing board) has begun a lot of hard work in this area, and over the next 6-18 months we will be seeing some bold ideas turn into reality.

But here is my confession: I was never trained for this. 

In seminary we were taught how to do things in ways that used to serve the church very well, but no one instructed us how to help create the church of the present and future.  So over my twelve years of ministry I have had to educate myself, and have tried to do so in a variety of ways.

I thought it might be of interest to some people to see a collection of the resources I have found helpful.  Some come from the mainline Protestant world, some from business circles, and still others from a more evangelical mega-church context. While I may not embrace all of the theology found in every book I have found that there are things to be learned in unsuspected places.

I plan on updating this list as I come across new resources and would love to hear from others what they have found helpful.

Books:

 

Blogs

 

What’s wrong with the new PC(USA) website

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So the new PC(USA) website was rolled out today.  The old one was somewhat disorganized, visitor unfriendly, and unattractive.  The new one appears more organized, is slightly more attractive, yet remains, in my opinion, visitor unfriendly.

The first thing my eye was drawn to on the new page was a video player that has mini-testimonies from Presbyterians about why they are Presbyterian.  Nice idea, start with people. But the videos are just someone talking for a minute.  No music.  No other images . Just a talking head.  The other prominent thing I noticed on first glance was the “Find a Congregation” box.  Which assumes you came here looking for a PC(USA) congregation or the videos moved you to find one (not likely).

Let me highlight some things further down the page.

  • A big headline that reads “New book honors life and work of Clifton Kirkpatrick”
  • A short piece inviting you to listen to the “Revised Common Lectionary Podcast”
  • Several links denominational events and resources with no description of what they are

Way down at the bottom of the page is a directory under the title “Looking for a church department of office?”  The headings for this directory are:

  • General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC)
  • Office of the General Assembly (OGA)
  • Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation
  • Presbyterian Church (USA) Investment and Loan Program (PILP)
  • Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC)
  • Board of Pensions
  • Middle Governing Bodies

In my opinion, this page was built for insiders with a token nod to appealing to outsiders who like acronyms and don’t mind that “General Assembly” is on the page multiple times without ever being explained.  There is nothing here that communicates in an engaging and simple manner who we are or what we are about.  The paragraphs under “Get To Know the Presbyterian Church” read like a General Assembly motion prepared for and approved by committee.  Sound theology but no life or practical application.

I’m sure that a number of people put a lot of thought, time and energy into this new website.  Maybe they decided that the target audience was existing Presbyterians and the website doesn’t really need to try to appeal to others. I realize I’m coming across pretty negative.  The fact of the matter is that I’m disappointed.  

When I heard the PC(USA) website was being redesigned I was hopeful.  I frequently go to the websites of other denominations and I like a lot of what I see there. When I go to the front page of the United Methodist Church website I see lots of headlines that would interest Methodists and visitors.  There are links to the UMC Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as several blogs.  The wording of the various sections are not insider speak (no acronymns).  The visual design of the website could be a little more attractive but at least it has lots of visuals and pictures of people (not just talking heads).

Similar impressions from the United Church of Christ website. The visual design is really good and appealing.  I really like their section headings: Church Stuff, Big Things, Change the World.  Their dropdown menus are very helpful as well. I’m not saying that these two websites are perfect or that we should have cloned either one of them to use, but they both share some similar approaches and concepts that the PC(USA) website lacks.  The UCC and UMC websites appear to be outreach to people as well as a resource for those within the denomination.

Our website fails to engage or appeal to the world and seems to exists solely for the church’s benefit.

“Sins of the World” Video

I am not an expert, technically or artistically, at making videos, but I do what I can. Keep this in mind as you look at this video I made for our Good Friday service. It was part of our Prayer of Confession where we were asked to remember not only our own personal sins but the sins of society and the world and the role (however) small we play in them.

Leon and Shawn’s Unnamed Podcast

Leon Bloder and I are working on a new podcast.  Each episode we plan to take a look at where Christianity is making the news or appearing in pop culture.  We’ll be discussing what messages and images of Christians are out there for people to see.  In this pilot episode we’ll be discussing the public faith of athletes including Tim Tiebow, Drew Brees, and Chad Hendrick (see videos below).

Download our pilot episode here or listen below, and then tell us what you think!

I am emerging

Bruce Reyes-Chow sent this twitter earlier today.

""I am emergence" post coming today. Want in? In 140 WORDS or less, blog/FB about it WITHOUT defining by what you are NOT and I'll link back."

I twittered my response in exactly 140 characters.

I am emerging since I am in an ongoing and incomplete process of questioning and answering what God calls the church to be today

Then I noticed that he said 140 words, not characters.  So,

I am emerging because I am in an ongoing and incomplete process of questioning and answering what God calls the church to be today.  Specifically, questioning and answering what God calls the particular church that I serve to be.  I am emerging in my current and local context, because that is the only way I know how to be emerging.

I wrestle alongside others in my church with what it means for this group of Christians to follow Jesus' calling in a world that is like and unlike the world in which our faith was formed.  Honoring our context means we can't simply throw everything out and start over, at the same time it means we can't simply do what we've always done and truly be faithful to our calling. 

Not just a river in Egypt

I'm taking an online course right now through Pittsburgh Seminary about using digital media in worship services.  Thankfully, I am at a church that uses projectors in all three of our worship services.  But this is the first church I have served that has the capability to use digital media throughout the service, so I am taking this course to become more fluent with images and video in worship.

I just finished writing a response for the class and wanted to share a slightly edited version of it here as well.

"This is a conversation I have been in countless times:

Person A asserts that we need more current music or media in worship to reach younger generations.

Person B responds that they know someone who is young who doesn't like <insert new thing here> and prefers <insert traditional thing here>.

Person C says they know someone young like that too.

Persons B and C see no need to change and go back to their congregations where 80% (or more) of the people in the worship services are above 65.


So often in these conversation people use anecdotal evidence to say why these "sweeping generalizations" about younger generations and media are wrong.  In my experience, almost all of these anecdotal examples are only anecdotal and never represent the general trends and demographics.  

"There are many 30 year olds that like contemporary worship, and many who don’t." I would bet a large sum of money that there are more 30 year olds that like contemporary worship then there are 30 year olds that like traditional worship.  And that's not even getting into the fact that most contemporary worship services aren't that contemporary anymore.

The need for digital media and updated music especially applies to people who have never been to church.  Your typical unchurched younger generation member is going to feel very strange in a traditional service with a pipe organ, "thee and thou" hymns, and talking head liturgy.  But if the service is styled in the media and music they experience every day their barrier to entry will be much lower.

Are we going to lose younger generations without digital media in worship?  This won't be the only cause, but it will be a big part of it.  Just look at churches that use digital media regularly in their church life, vs. those that don't.  The demographics speak for themselves.  We've already lost a generation or two, in part because we haven't changed our traditional worship services significantly in decades.

I'm looking at "The Worship Book" right now, which was published in 1970.  This was the worship guidebook for Presbyterian congregation.  The order of worship, liturgy, and music suggested is nearly identical to what the majority of Presbyterian churches use today.  Worship hasn't changed significantly in over 40 years.  The large majority of young people aren't watching movies or shows, listening to music, reading books, engaging in pasttimes, or doing much else that was popular in 1970.  So why do we think that a church service from 1970 will appeal to them?

What the Hell? -part 3

In part 1 of this series I wrote about a recent Presbytery meeting where beliefs about Hell were discussed. Part 2 was about why it is important for all Christians to be clear and forthright about their beliefs. Part 3 is my attempt to layout a brief sample of Christian beliefs about Hell. Please note that I am not endorsing all of these beliefs. I am providing multiple viewpoints for two reasons: because they are out there and because, in my opinion, no one belief about Hell makes perfect sense.

“Turn or Burn”

The most common belief about Hell associated with Christianity is that belief in Jesus Christ as Lord is the sole requirement for eternal life, and all of those who do not believe will be condemned to Hell for eternity. This belief takes very seriously the many passages in the Bible that speak of a final judgment and the need for repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Lord. The oft-quoted John 3:16 supports this belief, as well as Acts 4:12.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Acts 4:12 “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

There are many passages in the Bible that speak of a judgment after death or at the end of the world where some go to eternal life and others to eternal punishment.  It should be noted that belief in Jesus Christ is not always the sole requirement to eternal life according to some passages and Christian traditions.  In Matthew 25 people are judged and condemned based on their care for those who are hunger or a stranger.  And the Roman Catholic church believes that certain types of sins will send you to Hell unless they are absolved by a priest.

“Give me just one more last chance…”

Some Christians believe in “universal reconciliation.”  One expression of this belief states that there is a judgment after death, but those who do not believe in Jesus are not eternally damned, but instead God still reaches out to them and works for their eventual salvation.  This belief takes seriously the many passages from the Bible that emphasize God’s unfailing love, and God’s will that all creation be saved and redeemed (1 Corinthians 15:22, John 12:31, Roman 5:18).

Many early Christians believed some form of universal reconciliation.  Clement of Alexandria wrote that God never punishes (retaliates for evil) but instead corrects and  “chastises” to seek redemption and conversion.  Origen believed that someone spending eternity in Hell was a contradiction to the divine will, since God wants everyone to be saved.  As long as one person  remains in Hell then God’s will is stopped.

God is the father of the prodigal son who will never give up on his son, always waiting and hoping for his son to return home.

“Can’t we all just get along?”

I have a hunch that “universalism” is possible the most widely held belief among Christians, not that most would ever admit it.  Universalism is the belief that everyone goes to Heaven and that there is no Hell.  It takes very seriously the passages in the Bible that state God’s unfailing love and intention to redeem all creation.  The passages about judgment are interpreted much more metaphorically, or as referring to specific situations in this present world.

I say that this may be the most widely held belief among Christians, because of my personal observations.  Most Christians I know do not act as if many of the people they most love in this world are going to suffer for all eternity.  If you were certain someone you loved was headed for horrendous pain it should motivate you to do all in your power to stop it, and I think it would also emotionally wreck you.

For an interesting look into universalism I highly recommend listening to the story of Rev. Carlton Pearson on episode 304 of “This American Life”.

In Conclusion

If a Christian is asked “Do you believe in Hell?” the proper (and sneaky) answer could be, “No, I don’t believe in Hell.  I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord.”  Although this may seem like avoiding the question, this also may be an appropriate response.  As Mike P expressed in an earlier comment, this answer echoes sentiments expressed in the Second Helvetic Confession:

“We are to have a good hope for all. And although God knows who are his, and here and there mention is made of the small number of elect, yet we must hope well of all…And when the Lord was asked whether there were few that should be saved, he does not answer and tell them that few or many should be saved or damned, but rather he exhorts every man to “strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:24): as if he should say, It is not for you curiously to inquire about these matters, but rather to endeavor that you may enter into heaven by the straight way.”

Or as Shane Claiborne expresses it in his recent letter to non-believers:

“I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.”

This ends my attempt to address this subject in a brief yet informative manner.  If you’d like to know more about Presbyterian beliefs on this subject, then take a look at this study from the PC(USA) on universalism.  It has been very helpful to me in thinking about this complex issue.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

What the Hell? -part2

In Part 1 of this series I wrote about a Presbytery meeting where ministers were questioned about their beliefs about Hell, and the boundary-defining issues that surrounded that meeting.  Part 2 of this series covers why I believe that it is important for Christians and churches to understand clearly and be able to articulate what they believe about Hell.

Some people reading this may be thinking that Christians and churches don’t have any problem articulating what they believe about Hell.  Maybe you are familiar with “Hell Houses” that a few churches create around Halloween.  These are like haunted house attractions except they are supposed to depict the Hellish fate of unrepentant sinners, in the hopes that those who go through the Hell House will turn to Jesus.  “This American Life” has a very interesting story about them in this episode.

Some of you reading this may be Christian and you know very well and very specifically what you believe about Hell.  Others may know Christians who are very clear about what they believe, and aren’t afraid to share it.  Like the Bullhorn Guy in this Rob Bell video:

Yes, there are many Christians and churches that know precisely what they believe about Hell and aren’t afraid to share it.  But… Continue reading