Tag Archives: Church

We Are Not God

“We are not God. We are ministers – companions on the journey.”*

Bonnie Anderson, describes the Episcopal Church’s “circle of ministries” as a practice of equal exchange and honor, drawing upon the unique charism of each individual, whether God calls us as lay, diaconal, presbyteral or episcopal. Each of us have been given gifts from the Spirit to do the work we have been given to do, to build up the body of Christ. But we are not God; as are called to care for others we also need to care for ourselves.

As educators (from all the ‘orders’ of ministry) there are questions to keep us grounded:

  • What reminds you of who you are and whose you are?
  • What reminds you of your brokenness and helps make you whole?

What might you add to this list?

  • Friendships
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Balance
  • Allowing myself to be ministered to
  • A peer group
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Re-creating in God’s world
  • Learning to say “no” (and recognizing what motivates me to say “yes” all the time
  • To step back and remove myself from conflict when possible
  • Take on a new role by volunteering outside of work

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord* has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ* dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

*This week I am attending a Christian Formation at Kanuga Conference Center, located in the Smoky Mountains in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The above quote is from Kate Gillooly, minister for Christian formation and program at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In one of her keynote addresses, we explored the pastoral nature of the role of a Christian educator and how we care for ourselves while caring for others.

Should There Be Collective Sunday Schools?

Thank you Mary Jane Wilkie for sharing your opinion in “The Sunday school of the future, proposed” posted on June 1st at Episcopal Life Online via Episcopal News Service. You have opened the door to a wonderful conversation about what the future of Christian formation for ALL ages can be at its best in The Episcopal Church as well as all mainline traditions.

For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone one whom the Lord our God calls to him. Acts 2:39

Metropolitan churches are not that different than rural and suburban churches as far as their desire and need to provide quality opportunities for children to grow in the life of faith. Some of the smallest churches have the greatest children’s ministry programs. Bigger is not always better. All churches in today’s world are faced with fewer financial resources, fewer adults who have the time to volunteer as Sunday school teachers (let alone any other ministry on Sunday morning), and the challenge of sharing facilities with the community and other church activities. These “struggles” provide the church with wonderful opportunities to engage all in mission and ministry – the newcomer, the parish matriarch, the child, the youth, the adult, the elder and those who have yet to walk across our thresholds.

Opportunities do involve new collaboration and the sharing of resources from a variety of areas. An example is the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors, an organization of 400+ individuals (clergy & lay, paid & volunteer) who regularly share ideas and resources. PEALL (Proclaiming Education For All) reported to General Convention (via Executive Council) of the collaborations that do exist and how they can be strengthened. Read the report here. And the Standing Commission on Lifelong Christian Formation (CCAB) recently met to discuss this very issue. Member Bishop Porter Taylor of North Carolina shared in a post, this “pushes us to discern what knowledge and practices are essential as well as to find more innovative practices. What do we need to know and how can it be learned more creatively? What do we need to hold onto and of what must we let go? That is, we must focus on the essentials of our faith and insure that we invite and inform people to embrace them.”

Separating generations by geographic location for education, as proposed by Ms. Wilkie, would only add to the disconnectedness of all involved in our already fragmented world. The whole concept of “Sunday School” is a modern concept and was established to teach working children how to read. The model of pouring information into the empty vessels of children is a thing of that past – anyone who is involved with children knows they have gifts and experiences of God that are freely given to anyone who can take the time to listen. Children are full members of the Body of Christ by virtue of their baptism and deserve full inclusion with the whole community – especially at worship. (See The Children’s Charter for the Church) is through worshipping together that we are formed as a people of God, breaking bread together and sharing God’s love. Sending them (even with their parents) to another facility makes them second class citizens. Perhaps we should close those sanctuaries that are not full on Sunday morning and worship in the local library with our equally low attended church down the street.

Yes. We need more adults who are competent to “teach” in our churches. Finding the right curriculum is always a challenge – what works for one congregation might not be the best for another. In leading teacher training workshops all over the country for a variety of denominations, I stress more than anything else that “we” (aka “you”) are the curriculum. It is how we share our personal faith story in relationship with the biblical story than has an impact on an individual’s faith formation.  A set curriculum cannot do it alone. Many adults who have “grown up” in our churches continue to have a 4th grade understanding of the Bible and other religious precepts – their education stopped when they were Confirmed at the age of twelve.  And many adults who are new to the church are neophytes in the faith. If anything, we need to focus our energies on adult education, perhaps reinvigorating the catechumenal process in all our churches and dioceses.

There is no reason for any church to make sacrifices, especially where our children are concerned. Multiple ages learning together and generations passing along faith to one another is grounded in scripture. Yes, we separate into smaller groups for developmental reasons, but the church that includes liturgy with children is richer for everyone. I believe the challenge of Christian formation today is to equip adults to be able to share their faith and accept the responsibility for all the children within our buildings as well as those in our neighborhoods.

Our leadership on all levels needs to lift up the importance of family ministry and encouraging faith practices in the home. Our churches need to focus on formation for all ages together – education, worship, outreach, pastoral care and fellowship. One place we can start is to explore The Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation adopted at the 2009 General Convention.

Christian education needs to be life giving not consumer oriented. Building bigger and better programs for our children and youth only enables parents to abdicate the spiritual development of their children to others. As it is, many adults drop off the kids to hang out at Starbucks or sit in the car and read the NY Times. Why give them the opportunity to drop them off at a location separate from the worshipping community with teachers who may see this as an occupation for pay instead of a vocational calling?

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be concerned about how many children or teachers we have enrolled in our Sunday school program. Together we will come to be fed and nurtured in worship and education so that we can go out in the world as Jesus’ disciples with the joy we have experienced in community.

I welcome the conversation. Join in!

For a related article, read “Not Your Grandmother’s Sunday School.”

It’s Not the Museum of Modern Art – It’s a Church

The Midwest MOMA?

In many of my travels and conversations with Christian educators, the topic of the “big box church” competing for their children and youth’s attention usually comes up. How can the “average” church engage families when there is something more exciting in town? And they’re not talking about Sunday morning soccer or tee-ball. How can a congregation “compete” with a church that can pull out all the stops for the Gospel mixed with entertainment?

North Beach

Tour the campus. At North Beach, students cross over the bridge between 2 orange palm trees through the glass entry where they check in and hang out and visit while announcements are shared over huge flat-screen TVs overhead.  Or they can gather in the Kowabunga Kafe for a snack, the Mezzanine that is lined with arcade games, pool tables and air hockey. The Hang Ten Room is another sitting area, or the Fire Pit and Pods are open for community building. These pre-staging areas all lead to the Main Area, where the Stage is located and the service takes place. (Northview Church)

About a month ago I was in the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis to lead some workshops for Christian educators. The participants didn’t bring up this subject – I did. And later that day, my host, Debra Kissinger drove me around the neighborhood of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church (a brand-new complex of immense size itself) in Carmel, Indiana to see what was popping up in town. It wasn’t Home Depot, Walmart, or IKEA. It was the megachurch – and I’d never seen so many in such a short 3-mile radius. My jaw continually dropped as we rounded each corner. How does a community sustain this many huge churches?

Joel Osteen draws the largest weekly church crowd in America – 30,000, at three services. Rick Warren counsels pastors and political leaders in many countries (and has the bestselling nonfiction book in US history). Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Association mentors more than 11,000 churches. These high-profile pastors are helping shape a religious phenomenon that is growing in a neighborhood near you – the megachurch. Defined as a non-Catholic congregation with at least 2,000 attendees, on a typical weekend, the largest megachurch hosts roughly 30,000 people, with a 300-member choir and a 10-piece band.

We're not at the Mall

As we drove from site to site (with the theme song of Mission Impossible thumping through my brain) we stealthily wove our way in and out of parking lots as members began the steady stream into the amphitheater-style buildings for Saturday evening worship at 5:00pm. Debra drove as I hopped out to take a quick snapshot. The parking lots were filling, just as they do in my hometown on a Saturday night at the megaplex. I was incredulous. What’s the big draw? Anonymity? Good coffee? A live band? A charismatic leader? Comfy seats? Easy answers? Gospel-Lite? The assurance of going to heaven?

Megachurch memberships generally explode within a two- to five-year period, becoming overnight successes. This can serve as a powerful attraction to one who is contemplating which local church to attend. As one member commented, “You hit a certain size and you can become self-generating. You attract people by your sheer size. People know that you are on TV and that this is that big place…There is a sense of something going on here…and size itself begats [sic] more growth” (Hartford Institute for Religion Research).

Door to Door Service

Upon entering this particular church, you would see why it is so attractive to the average person. In the foyer, you are immediately greeted by five 50-inch plasma-screen televisions, a bookstore and a café with a Starbucks trained staff. Those who enjoy Krispy Kreme doughnuts will be happy to know that these are served at every service. For the children, there are numerous Xboxes available to hold their attention (ten for fifth- and sixth-graders alone). And don’t want to walk across the football-size parking lot to the main entrance? No problem – there’s a little shuttle bus to bring you door-to-door.

The website is a portal into the pulse of the church. Podcasts of sermons. A special section for newcomers with service times, information, directions, FAQs and how to plan your visit. The latest message, “Healthy Family – Contemplative Family,” click here. VBS programs at Grace Kids Camp, click here. “Serving Central” offers a volunteer database to find a ministry to serve using your gifts and talents, click here. And it’s never too early to sign-up for our next baptism service, click here (Grace Community Church)

It's not IKEA

What do these churches have that many of our “traditional” churches lack? Besides all of the above for the most part, they cater to those who are seeking answers and are looking for community. And they make it easy. They ask for a commitment, including one’s stewardship of time, talent and treasure. And I believe they tap into the culture we live in today of wanting customized service, ease of access, the latest technology. Being a person who loves her liturgical tradition and the open-mindedness of not leaving one’s mind at the door, I wonder what us “mainliners” can learn from the Big Box Church.

Your thoughts?

Virtually all these megachurches have a conservative theology, even those within mainline denominations.  A large number are nondenominational but the majority are affiliated with a denomination. The groups in the table below account for 80% of all megachurches:

A lush campus with fountains

Nondenominational 34%

Southern Baptist 16%
Baptist, unspecified 10%
Assemblies of God 6%
United Methodist 5%
Calvary Chapel 4.4%
Christian 4.2%
In terms of theology of the congregation, the label that 403 megachurches, surveyed in 2005, selected to best fit their membership’s orientation were as follows:
Evangelical 56%
Charismatic 8%
Pentecostal 8%
Moderate 7%
Traditional 5%
Seeker 7%
Fundamentalist 2%
Other 7%

* Statistics are from The Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2005. Hartford Seminary

Update: An article posted on USA Todays’ Faith & Reason blog page adds to the conversation. When it comes to worship, does size count?