Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Parable

Maybe in order to reverse the decline of churches, we might learn an important lesson from this parable.

Thanks Dave for pointing me toward this video.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Churches of Christ & The Rocky Mountain News

If you don't live in Colorado, you may not know that today marks the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News a daily paper in business since 1858. Today I bought the last issue, my first, so I readily admit that I don't have a dog in this hunt as they say. I am one of those people who get all my news/information on the Internet and Radio (I don't even watch TV).

Listening to the radio yesterday and reading the story of the history and now fall of the paper has been... well interesting. And I don't think there is any one single reason that explains the closing of this paper. Economics seems to be the leading contender, with more specific issues of loss of circulation, loss of advertising revenues, and the rising cost of production being discussed heavily.

But in listening and reading I think there is a perception that needs to be considered in evaluating the closing of this paper (and what may become a trend in the newspaper business). One Rocky Mountain journalist remarked that she "still believed in newspapers." And that may be an indication of the problem. I believe a good question should be asked is, "What is your business?" I believe the wrong answer is, "We are in the newspaper business." The correct answer is, "We are in the News & Information business." We live in changing times. More and more people are getting their news & information from the Internet, Radio and TV. Another columnist quoted "Thomas Jefferson, who said that if he had to choose between a government without newspapers and newspapers without a government, he'd choose newspapers." But I think that misses the point. Jefferson had only 1 medium for news and information. We have many. It is the news - a free press (or blog, or website, or radio program or all-news, all-the-time TV stations) that matter.

So what does this have to do with Churches of Christ? If you've been reading The Christian Chronicle for the last 3 months you know they have been running a series of important and excellent articles about the decline of Churches of Christ. And there has been a great deal of discussion as to the cause of this decline. I would like to throw out a suggestion as to a possible cause (at least one of several, and in the cause a solution.)

I wonder if like in the newspaper business, we have a slightly skewed view of our "business"? It seems to me, that many think that we are in "the Church of Christ business." We worry and fret that so many of our children (as well as quite a few of Baby Bomers and even seniors) are leaving the church (The Church of Christ) and going elsewhere. Are we worried about The Church of Christ? Are we worried that the institution that we are so familiar with, marked by signs that read, "The Church of Christ Meets Here" is going into decline and maybe even one day might disappear from the landscape of American religion? I believe we have misplaced our concern.

What if we were less interested in The Church of Christ, and more interested in The Christ who is head of His church? We are not in The Church of Christ business, we are in the Gospel business, we are in the Service business, we are in the Worship business, we are ultimately in the lifting up Christ business, and I think that a lot of our congregations have forgotten that.

When I interviewed with the Shepherds here at University some six months ago. We talked about the vision for the local church that we each had. During the break, one of the Elders said to me, "I hope you understand that we are not interested in being 'The Church of Christ', we are interested in being a church that honors Christ in all we do." The difference in perspective is significant. When we restore what it means to be the people of God, understanding that His Church will never die, then we can stop worrying about 'the decline of Churches of Christ' in America, and what we are going to do with fewer churches and members.

Like journalists, we are in the story telling business, not the building business. Journalists don't need a newspaper for that, and we don't need the institutional structure that we have built, in fact sometimes that is the obstacle for powerful story telling.

Let us begin again to live and share the gospel of Jesus Christ, as Paul said in Romans 1:16, "I am not ashamed of the gospel for IT IS THE POWER of God for the salvation of everyone who believes."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Crux of the Matter

My Great (x5) Grandfather, Captain Fabius Hicks, was a Gospel preacher.

My Great-Grandfather, William Isaac Jackson, was an Elder in the church.

His son, My Great-Uncle, M.C. Jackson, was a gospel preacher and and an Elder.

My Father was a Deacon and did some mission work in Indonesia.

My Mother taught Bible Class.

I have been in Ministry (or Ministry training) all but 1 1/2 years of the last 30.

I have a Master's Degree from LCU.

Are you impressed? No? Well hold on, there's more.

I was awarded a Bible in August 1971 for being the boy who brought the most kids to VBS.

I was born on a Sunday and was probably in church the next Sunday.

I have a full head of hair.

I could keep going on, but I'm sure by now, you must be in awe.

No? Good! Because none of that matters for anything.

The problem is that for too many of us, stuff like that does matter. They have become central to how we see ourselves and the church. When churches and individuals begin flouting their resumes and geneologies as evidence of authority, then we have let go of the authority that really counts.

I have heard way too many times individuals talk about how many years they've been a member (or elder, or deacon, etc.) of the church, how much money they've donated to this or that program in the church, that their parents or grandparents "built this church" or any number of such (in Paul's words) 'rubbish'.

As congregations we've gloried in too much periphery thinking. We have identified and practically deified the 'Distinct Identifying Marks' of the church. Things like a plurality of elders in every congregation, acapella singing, the Lord's Supper every week, and even baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins. None of these things are the crux of the matter to what it means to be a Christian or the Lord's church.

Maybe that's why we are in decline (if you've read this month's issue of The Christian Chronicle) It is because we've forgotten what really matters.

What does really matter? The Cross. Nothing else. The Cross: Jesus' life, his death, and his resurrection is our power. The Cross is our one and only 'distinct identify mark.' Putting anything else at the center of who we are will result in 'the Cross of Christ being emptied of its power.' (1 Cor. 1:17) And will result in what we are seeing today; congregations in decline, individual Christians without real vitality in their faith.

So look in the mirror. How are you doing? Look around you. How is your congregation doing? It is easy to blame our culture - "people just don't have faith anymore, like they used to" is what we often say. My guess, is that people just don't have faith in our cultural expression of Christianity anymore. The Cross still has power to convict and change the hearts of people. But we must get back to the cross and quit advancing our unique (or so we think) resume and pedigree.

But what was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7-11

I recently preached 2 sermons on The Crux of the Matter which you can download or listen to at