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    Entries in Church (20)


    A Good All Can See


    Disclaimer: These are some rambling reflections on work.  Read at your own risk.

    Work and the workplace.  Each job has an environment all of its own.  And what emerges from that environment is often a reflection of the type of work that is being carried forth, forming and shaping workers as well as the rules and boundaries that govern their relations.  For example, how different is a church office from a fast food restaurant, or a software design firm from a bus company?  What kinds of people do these workplaces draw, what kind of people do they produce, and what impact does it have on how we relate to one another?

    Within the context of discussing the workplace, Matthew Crawford makes an interesting observation.  In light of how crass a construction site or mechanics workshop can become, Crawford wonders why these environments tolerate sexual and base humor, often directed at and between other members of a work crew, even when such crews may represent a mixture of genders and societal backgrounds.  Why is the office, of all places, so highly regulated, when the shop is not?  What is it about the nature of "knowledge" and highly skilled "corporate" workplaces that demand tightly regulated social controls?

    The answer: the shop produces measurables that the office does not.  Either it works, or it doesn't.  Either it is soundly constructed, or it is not.

    [I]t is the office rather than the job site that has seen the advent of speech codes, diversity workshops, and other forms of higher regulation.  Some might attribute this to the greater mixing of sexes in the office, but I believe a more basic reason is that when there is no concrete task that rules the job--an autonomous good that is visible to all--then there is no secure basis for social relations.  Maintaining consensus and preempting conflict become the focus of management, and as a result everyone feels they have to walk on eggshells.  Where no appeal to a carpenter's level is possible, sensitivity training becomes necessary.

    -Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, 157

    Measurables that are concrete, visible, leaving little doubt concerning a job done right.  Level and plumb line.

    Through Shop Class as Soulcraft, Crawford makes the argument that the type of work that we do is character shaping.  He persuasively argues that a great deal of knowledge work is dehumanizing, and that other types of work, such as motorcycle repair, allow for a type of human flourishing that is all too often degraded in our upwardly mobile, American economy.  He observes, rightly, that construction, woodworking, auto repair, appliance and machine maintenance, and the like, are jobs that cannot be outsourced to cheaper, hungrier, rising knowledge workers somewhere around the world.  He observes, also correctly, that work that requires "craft" over image and relational management is far more stabilizing, grounding, and capable of producing mettlesome individuals.  Of all the books I've read this year, the insights given in this book rank among my top five.

    Interestingly enough, church work is both knowledge work and work that is deeply concerned with matters of character.  The "craft" element in the work that is "church" are things like listening, care, provision of resources (including, but not limited to financial assistance, housing, food, medical care, and the like), grief support, healing, and even worship.  But how might we "measure" such work to establish a "secure basis for social relations?"  How do we know when we have become a people who listen well, or care with excellence?

    Reading Crawford's account of work, I couldn't help but be drawn into his delineations between knowledge work and work of a different sort, such as his responsibilities as a mechanic.  I found myself agreeing that much of white-collar work and "management" requires more image management and blame-shifting than it does leadership, in many instances.  As a former Starbucks employee, and now as an employee of a transportation business, Shop Class enabled me to think differently about different jobs that I have held.  However, when applied to the work of church, the church seemed to emerge as a distinct entity that did not follow the rules of "work" as presented.

    In the life of the church, the "good all can see" is difficult to define.  It is difficult to discern just how one's work might "produce" the good.  And oftentimes, the good we work for, even when we may act faithfully, is elusive, for Christians acknowledge that while our agency is not inconsequential, it is God who provides the growth, even if it is we who plant and who water.

    We might know good when we see it.  But when it comes to church, it is amazing how often we are surprised at what brings about the good, and how often it is that we seem to be groping in the darkness for how to bring about the very good that it is we hope for.


    Revival and Renewal in the Evangelical Tradition :: What Does it Mean?

    Among my peers, the renewal of the church is of great concern.  Many of my friends want to see the church make a radical difference in our world, and because they sense a great disconnect between the people of God and their surrounding communities, they recognize there is a great deal of work to be done.  I've heard many of my friends bat around various ideas for the bringing of renewal and revival.  Some of them are doctrinal, some are programmatic, consisting of both the abstract and the concrete.  Renewal is the end to which my peers would like to see their efforts move, but the type of dynamic required, or how and when renewal has occurred throughout church history, has yet to find coherent expression within the context of a vision for how such renewal might take place within this generation.

    See more from Simon_K on Flickr!Even though I've heard my friends talk about their desire for renewal, I had not thought specifically of how and when renewal takes place until recent days.  In other words, I had failed to take into account "meta" level questions.  I have expressed the need for doctrinal coherence and faithfulness to essentials.  I've urged (and participated in) excellence in ministry, service, evangelism, and worship.  I've stressed the importance of living a virtous, Christ-like life.  But I haven't tied them all together, and considered, on the whole, how renewal and revival come about.

    Thankfully, I had a moment of clarity while reading.  It was John Stott who recently stoked my thinking toward revival within the context of evangelical belief and practice.  Stott, like many within the evangelical tradition, points out that revival and renewal occurs when the Spirit of God falls fresh on a body of people, with the result being conviction of sin, repentance, virtuous living (exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit), a binding cohesion within the fellowship, and undertaking initiatives of social concern, among others.  Renewal or revival, therefore, is something that is not wholly under human control, but is the outflow of something God has done and is doing.

    When we think of revival, oftentimes we have preconceived notions of exactly what must happen in order for the movement itself to be true.  Either it must be a well-coordinated campaign, or it must be something completely spontaneous and unplanned.  Either we must diligently work towards planning an "event" and mobilizing those who believe in Jesus to bring every person in the community under the tent, or we must be struck by the Spirit in the midst of an exuberant time of worship in a way that was almost completely and totally unforeseen.

    I would argue that both are right, and both are wrong.

    Two extremes should be carefully qualified and examined.  On the one hand, an excessive dependence on emotionalism and fostering a certain type of "experience "of the gospel of Jesus Christ does not necessarily indicate the presence of revival, and on the other hand, a programmatic approach to bringing about revival does not necessarily deliver the coming of a great awakening.  In other words, rolling in the aisles does not necessarily mean that the Spirit of God has descended afresh, nor does participation in a crusade or a formal process to evangelize the community.  While both of these may create conditions or foster space wherein "renewal" or "revival" might begin, they do not automatically result in a radically transformative movement within the people of God.  God cannot be manipulated or forced, rather, the Spirit blows where it wills.

    What I'm driving at here is simple: "renewal" or "revival" is not something that we create, but it is something that God sends.  However, this does not exclude the responsibility of Christian people to create space wherein renewal and revival can take place.  To cite an example from Tim Keller, our responsibility as the church is to prepare the altar, all the while longing that God would do something new.  When this occurs, it will not only be the case that non-Christian persons will come to see Jesus, but so will those who "believe," resulting in such radical transformation of life that the overall witness of the church will be undeniably strengthened.  Conversion will occur both inside and outside the church.

    For all my friends longing for renewal, it is time to begin a discussion that moves beyond a vague desire for the church to be made over and begin to examine, at length, the dynamics or conditions that must be present for renewal or revival to take place.  After doing so, we must then work to establish those conditions, and then place our full trust and reliance that the Holy Spirit will come and convert the faithful and unfaithful alike to faithful discipleship to Jesus, our Lord.  

    I'll confess that most of what I have heard concerning renewal and revival has been primarily concerned with universal principles or techniques that yield maximal organization excellence or effectiveness, and has had less to say concerning the spiritual and doctrinal dynamics that must be in play in order to create space for a dramatic movement that clearly has resulted from the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  I'd like to see this conversation balanced, particularly within mainline denominations, and within the discourse of the local church of which I am part, which has a great deal of influence and has made much headway in working towards renewal.  That conversation must start somewhere, and I don't expect it to be exhausted here.  But I'm hoping that perhaps my thoughts will kindle a spark within the hearts of those who also would like to see the church renewed, and who know, deep down, that it will not only require the right technique, but also a depth of commitment to doctrinal truth, social concern, vibrant and passionate love of God, personal holiness, and warm welcome that both precedes and accompanies a dramatic movement of the gospel.

    Let's set the sails, and let the Spirit blow us where it wills.


    Rites of Passage in an Individualistic Culture

    As I do every fall, back in October I travelled to Waco, Texas for Baylor Homecoming.  Each year I manage to catch up with a few friends, learning about changes in family life, location, occupation, etc.  This fall I ran into Todd Ferguson, a guy a bit younger than me who works with children and youth at Willow Meadows Baptist Church in Houston, TX.  Among the many things Todd and I discussed while the parade rolled by, he mentioned that he truly enjoyed creating moments that could serve as "rites of passage" for the young men in his ministry.

    Photo Credit: yushimoto_02

    From time to time I've thought of that conversation while interacting with students at Resurrection West or while learning about and analyzing our culture.  In the Christian community, where do we create space for young people to grow up?  In my local church, the obvious answer is confirmation.  But aside from taking on the title "Christian" and knowing that one is "confirmed," how does that occasion serve as a transition point in a young person's journey of faith wherein the confirmand now holds a greater sense of belonging and purpose within the community?  

    In other words, do our confirmation programs do more than affirm individual faith?  Do they bring students in to the body?

    I grew up in a "believer's church" tradition.  I can remember being taught that the Lord's Supper, or communion, was taken by those who had decided to follow Jesus Christ.  If you had not committed your life to Christ, you did not take of the bread and the cup.  I cite this example only to show that once I had made that decision and been baptized, I also knew that I could partake in the Lord's meal.  I had moved from one sphere of belonging (welcome guest and interested observer) to another (part of the body).

    Of course, this rite of passage only brought me so far--I wasn't given any official leadership position or authority.  But it did give me a sense of place within the church.  I had affirmed a personal relationship with God, while also being initiated into a corporate practice of the church.  Something had changed.

    For my friends that have grown up in traditions with confirmation as part of the process of discipleship, how did that moment serve as a rite of passage for your sense of belonging within the church?  What, if anything, changed?

    I ask this question because I am curious: how do our rites of passage work in an individualistic culture?  Other than confirmation, what other spaces do we create in our ministries for people to transition from one way of being to another?  Those two questions are distinct, but related.

    What do you think?


    Can You Guess When This Was Written?

    Americans are great people; there is no doubt about that.  They are great in building cities and railroads...Americans have a wonderful genius for improving breeds of horses, cattle, sheep and swine...American too are great inventors...Needless to say, they are great in money...American are great in all these things and much else; but not in Religion....Americans must count religion in order to see or show its value...To them big churches are successful churches...To win the greatest number of converts with the least expense is their constant endeavor.  Statistics is their way of showing success or failure in their religion as in their commerce and politics.  Numbers, numbers, oh, how they value numbers!

    -Kanzo Uchimura, Japanese Christian evangelist and Bible teacher

    So, what did you guess?

    Could you believe it was written in 1926?  Uchimura lived from 1861 to 1930, studied in the United States, and made many visits to North America in his lifetime.  This quotation was found in Mark Noll's The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith.

    At the very least, it raises some questions about how our cultural situation shapes our metrics.


    Do We "Need" Virtual Community, Or Is It a Bonus?

    I love Facebook, Twitter, and, after a shaky start, I've come to enjoy blogging. Never mind that I wonder how many people actually read the stuff that I write, or my concern that information glut makes it even more difficult to find those places on the web with quality content, or that social networking is an addiction for certain people that I know (like me). I think social media tools are fun, and they've enabled me to broaden my network and involve myself in conversations I could not have accessed otherwise.

    Social media tools have a lot of advantages. I was reminded of this by an article in the June 30, 2009 edition of The Christian Century. Lenora Rand contributed an article entitled, "The Church on Facebook: Why We Need Virtual Community," that was quite enjoyable. In the article Rand shares a personal story of a friend who makes "The Feed" on Facebook a source for her prayer life. Rand also notes that churches are now using Facebook and Twitter to keep parishioners abreast of the latest happenings in the life of their congregation. She sees these virtual communities as a great help in supplementing community, and throughout her article notes the numerous advantages such technological tools lend to our daily lives. Rand strongly concludes:

    These days...given the busyness of our lives and the distances we're separated from each other and from our church buildings, we...need the virtual church. We live in a world in which it takes a lot of commitment to carve out an hour or so on Sunday morning to meet with others for worship, and in this kind of world we need the Facebook and Twitter church, where on a daily basis we can confess our sins, weep together and laugh together, know the intimate details of one another's lives and pray for one another in very specific ways.

    Rand is not saying that Twitter and Facebook should replace our face-to-face gatherings.  She makes this clear in her article.  And I agree with her.  But I won't go so far as to say that we "need" the virtual community that Twitter and Facebook provide, and I refuse to give into the idea that such networks allow us to maintain some form of close connection in a busy world.  I would argue that our "long commutes" to our church communities, or Rand's description of the tremendous amount of commitment now required to gather for an hour on Sunday morning point to a larger problem within our networks.  You could diagnose this problem as hurry-sickness, sprawl, or consumer-Christianity that bypasses the parish church (imagine if we did have to gather at a church near our neighborhood, rather than drive to the congregation of our choice?).  You might have another diagnosis.  But there is a problem.  And Web 2.0 will not solve it.  In fact, it might mask it.

    To cite an example, my cell phone bill recently revealed a rather atrocious reality.  I found that the minutes credited to my data plan--the minutes used to access Facebook, Twitter, or the web--far outnumbered my minutes spent talking with people during the day or at night.  Even if you include my text messages, my time on Facebook and Twitter still dwarfed those totals.  I spend more time voyeuristically monitoring statuses than I do in direct conversations with friends.  Thus, I am able to feign relationship with others at a distance.  I feel connected.  But am I?

    We do not need virtual community.  But we have it.  It is a bonus.  Not a need.  Let's not overstate the case.

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