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1/17/2006

EVENT DRIVEN CHURCH

I'm not going to try to be eloquent or clever here. I'm just going to vomit out something I've been thinking about a lot lately: Church. Not my church; church in general. A certain way of doing church actually. My thinking about this kind of church peaked this past weekend when I spent time with a small denomination Seventh Day Adventists. It was a youth event. Something I rarely do, especially alone with my acoustic guitar. But these kids were so different from other kids I've spent time with. They listened. And afterwards they talked with me for over an hour - about Napoleon Dynamite, Mormonism, favorite classes etc. But they also asked great questions and, without being show offs at all, could incorporate scripture and and life experience into the conversations about their beliefs and how they differ from other denominations. They spoke naturally about community service and volunteering at church. I can't describe it well; they were just mature, more mature than most youth I meet and definitely more mature than I was at their age - maybe even at my age today.

One pastor explained how they do church, how they've always placed training above entertaining. And how the fun still happens but it's just not the center of their youth ministry and it's not all a kid remembers when she grows up. This is different - he said - from event driven churches. What's an event driven church?

Event driven churches supposedly think of church as that thing that happens on the Sabbath. Event driven church staffs put the bulk of their time, thought, money and people into Sunday morning - into those three or four hours when members and "seekers" are on the church premises together in one room singing and listening. The event is "big church". The church service is a well done concert, is entertaining, is engaging, is articulate and excellent in every way, it's everything the church has to "attract" people. It is an attraction, a spectacle. It's the front lines of doing church. That room, those few hours on Sabbath. That's the focus of the church. The main thing.

Seekers, it's reasoned, will accept Jesus if we can get them to come to and accept church, and they won't come to church unless it's cool, simple, perfect/excellent and makes scripture instantly applicable in four easy steps beginning with the letter P.

Everything else - more detailed bible study in smaller groups (Sunday School or cell groups), one on one discipleship (if it exists at all), service to the community (ditto), evangelism, mercy showing, peace making, counseling, global missions, teaching of any kind outside of "big church" - these things come second, a distant second sometimes, to the event of Sunday morning's largest gathering or, for many youth groups, the event of Wednesday night church services - their largest gathering.

The event model of church isn't bad in and of itself. I love how well event driven churches do Sunday morning services. Incredible creativity and professionalism. It's not what they're doing wrong in their church service that I'm pondering today (that's just methodology), it's what they might not be doing that leaves me wanting something more (I think this has something more to do with theology: what Jesus cares about beyond the church service.) What happens, for instance, when a young person graduates from high school and moves off to college where they're unable to find a church that provides the same level of excellence their home church provided on sunday morning? What if the church service was all the ever knew of church, because that's what was emphasized the most by the church? What happens when that college church - taking in lower offerings because of the lower incomes of their college congregation - is fresh out of jumbo trons, smoke machines and strobe lights? What happens when church is boring by comparison there or in the smaller town that student moves to for their first job? What happens when all their faith consists of is a people called church (not an event) and a book called the bible (and not a power point presentation) and sermons named for chapter and verse (not named for the latest blockbuster movie or TV show) and opportunities to serve (not opportunities to sit and hear and see)? What happens when the preacher wears a suit or the band is replaced by an organ or a guy with a guitar struggling to get through the four chords he knows?

What happens is 90% of evangelical young people leave church when they graduate from high school, perhaps in part because it's hard to find a church outside the big city willing to bend over backwards to please the crowd while teaching the crowd. They grow up and get bored with anything less than the entertainment level and excellence of home. That - I was told - doesn't happen to the same degree in Adventist churches. People leave, but there's no mass exodus after graduation, perhaps because their faith goes deeper than a Sabbath event and seeker preaching.

I'm pretty convinced, after five years of travel and church services across the country, that we do event church services not because they "reach" the non-Christian better than other kinds of church but because they retain the Christian. They retain me. And I'm convinced as well that event churches in general - the one's I've been to - don't do a good job of taking "seekers" deeper and farther in their understanding of Christianity after they've prayed the sinner's prayer. These churches instead offer simple surface teaching in "big church", Sunday school, midweek bible study, small groups and in the requisite on campus book store. This is especially odd since these churches often attract professionals with degrees, sometimes even advanced degrees. It's as if we pastors think folks can design a building or perform surgery but are too stupid to understand scripture. It's as if we think a fifteen year old can learn Algebra and build a web site but can't moved beyond Daniel and the Lion's den in his faith. So we have churches full of believers taught like seekers. Don't we?

We've got some pastors coming here to SHLOG.COM who work in such churches. I'm not attacking you. I do things this way in fact. But I'm wondering if I should and I want you to help me think through this. Think about this with me. Honestly. Your Sunday morning is packed, but how hard is it to get nursery volunteers? Your people love the video clips you run but how involved in the drama of those hurting around them are they? You put your best and brightest, your largest staff and financial appropriations, the bulk of your care and attention and planning into Sunday morning services and you do it very well but how much are you investing in teaching Sunday school teachers how to teach, in making sure what is taught is true and well presented, in discipling the next generation of pastors? You can tell what a church loves buy how it spends people and money and time can't you? Where is yours spent? In meeting physical and spiritual needs of people around the world, in creating disciples who follow Christ and have a deep and thorough understanding of scripture and are able to talk about it and reason as Paul did outside church walls? In connecting people to needs inside and outside the church, in being the solution and the hope of the world? In bringing Heaven's perfection here now to our relationships and communities? Or in creating an event in your building designed to get people signed up for Heaven SOMEDAY when they die? What do you honestly worry most about: the number of people coming to your church or the number of people leaving your church more like Jesus? One pays the bills and the other might not right? Or is it more about philosophy than economy? Not sure it is for me.

I'm not irritated with anyone in particular. I hate print because motivations are so often communicated by eyebrows and hand gestures aren't they? I just admire denominations like Adventists who, as uncool as they may seem, do discipleship and service very well in spite of their less entertaining Sabbaths. And I was an evangelist for the event church model for years,, fought with "old" guys with words like "relevant" and "cutting edge" and now I feel very wrong for having done so, and I see more and more the downsides to drinking that Kool-Aid, the damage it's done to me and others. I'm for a moment wanting more boring church services or less time put into them, but I'm wondering if we can put the same amount of care into what's taught (not just how it's taught) and into other purposes of church like missions, service, justice, mercy, community etc. I'm thinking a lot about the things we/I care about most and the things Jesus seems to have cared about most. I wonder if He would spend $250,000 on a big screen, $100,000 on a catwalk and intelligent lighting, thousands more on plush interiors or would he build a housing project for low income families or spend more on mission work, start cottage industries in unused church space, buy sonogram machines for crisis pregnancy centers, train the unemployed, pay people's bills, start a free medical clinic, provide free counseling for members, give scholarships, fund the underground churches of the world, train foreign pastors in theology etc etc.

Would he demand that members of his church volunteer to work in the nursery as parts of the "body" of Christ or would he pay outsiders to do that for them and essentially let them off and teach them that they have no responsibility to each other? I wonder if he would sign any warm body up to teach Sunday school and then let them say and teach whatever they felt like without ever checking in or would he train teachers as Paul trained Timothy even if it meant there were fewer of them? Would he start a baby church that watches taped sermons every week from the mother church's pastor (man, this is happening a lot now) or would he invest in discipling a pastor to teach there instead? Would he insist on music from a band in every service or insist on service to the community from every Christian? What would matter most to him? Would he so over-stress the importance of entertainment in church that his youth group would walk out on Toby Mac for being boring (ours did a few years back) or would they be respectful, eager to learn and listen even to an old guy with a guitar - though of course they'd/we'd all appreciate entertainment - just not demand it? Would his youth be cool or disinterested in cool, above and beyond cool? Or could even Jesus get teen agers to stop caring what people think about them?

These aren't rhetorical questions for me. I don't have the answers to most of them but I'm asking because I don't like some of what doing church the event way has done to me and to so many of us? Do you? IKON is full of young people who've given up on church but for whatever come to IKON because it's not emphasizing the same things. Is that good? I'm not sure. Is there a different way? What's that look like? Can we make Sunday services important and excellent but not the top priority or at the very least make other aspects of church a priority as well? What do you think?

53 Comments:

Blogger HawkNest4 said...

WHEW . . . well said . . . thought provoking . . . affirming . . . alarming . . . inspiring . . . another GREAT point made!

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

recently God got ahold of our youth ( of which I am blessed to work with ) They now come to the church building to pray on their own for hours, pseak at their highschool. No events just serving God. Guess what THEY WANT MORE

You are soooo right

1/17/2006  
Blogger Amy said...

I think my church falls somewhere in between, but that's been enough for me to be restless. To be honest, there have been times in this past difficult year of waiting on God when I thought it wouldn't make a difference in my life if I was at church or not, that's how irrelevant it is in my life. And while I've tried to get on board with some of the outreach programs, I find my church to talk a good talk, but still deeply ingrown. We are building a new building to "reach the lost" but i find no good evidence that is what really happens with a bigger building that frankly, we don't need.
I believe the people at my church mean well, but are we so entrenched in one way of thought we can't see it? It's scary to change.
I didn't leave the church after graduation (i went to bible college) but in these difficult 20 something years, I could see that as a possibility.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

You happen to have written about the single issue that is closest to my heart these days--the state of the Church. I grew up in a small-ish Mennonite church in Indiana. A few years ago they hired a pastor of the "event church" model who has gone on to transform the church from a house of worship to a Fun Center. We visited at Christmas--well, Christmas Eve. They were closed on Christmas. But the jazz combo played a fantastic rendition of "Winter Wonderland" during the offering, and the pastor invited everyone to come to the "kickin!" new youth group. There was no altar call, there was little mention of Jesus at all. The service was , indeed, non-threatening. I also didn't feel like I was worshipping. Rather, I felt like I was at a play or concert--watching a performance. I can't help but wonder how such an experience week after week would leave a parishoner. Would you have been filled with the blessing of corporate worship and well-armed to meet the challenges of the world? Or would you feel as if you had just been to another movie, with just as little relevence to your daily life as the latest blockbuster?

I know and appreciate that different worship styles are suited to different personalities. But I think the Seeker-Driven church has moved from the hymns vs. choruses argument into a new and more dangerous territory. I'm glad to see other believers raise the same questions.

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seems to be a common topic of discussion with my friends. And, being 20 somethings, aren't sure what we can do about it. But, I'm glad to hear that someone like you cares about this. Keep shlogging - this may be my first time to comment, but I've been reading for months.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Amy said...

amen and amen.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

I understand about kids dropping out of church after high school. My church has this special youth Sunday the day after graduation and basically it's the ceremony that kicks a youth totally out of the youth group, youth choir, and leaves them to fend for themselves until they're about to get married or (God forbid) have a child a be a single parent. No I'm not kidding, my Sunday School on some Sunday's consists of me and my teachers and that's it. Sad I think so. When I first went to IKON on a Tuesday night I was like my Lord I wish my church had this!! It was amazing to be with college students that almost filled a room! The teaching was great because it made me think. One night we started to discuss about whether God changed or not and it was just amazing to sit and hear both sides then question for myself. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if a pastor would cancel Sunday school and send out the congregation and tell them not to come back until they had a guest who'd never been to church before with them. If we were so eager to talk about Christ to our friends and people that we meet on a spur of a moment then just mindless chit-chat I bet Christianity would be a force to be reckoned with.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

service. . . homeless people, poor ones, hungry ones, angry ones, hurting ones, lonely ones. . .

when i have encounters with these people and am able to help them and show kindness and love i feel like i never did feel in any church meeting ever. I feel that not only do 'event driven churches' live in danger of spiritual shrivelling, but I also feel that 'big-headed' churches, who are into their Bible study and scriptural knowledge have these little, puny 'arms' and teeny, shriveled 'legs'. . . Their 'head' gets bigger and bigger and full of knowledge and they can't go out to where the needy live on the margins of their importance. . .because they have no legs to go with and no arms to lift others up from the pit or embrace 'undesirables' criminals, mentally ill, drunks, addicts, never mind those who who have no glaring physical or social needs, but who are victims of their own independence and strength, who will not admit to the presence of that gaping hole in their hearts. GAH!!!! When I get going on this subject. . . i get so. . . .________________.
i cry.

1/17/2006  
Anonymous shaungroves said...

It's definitely a balance thing we're looking for isn't it, Kathryn? Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Baptist Theological once said something like..."No one is balanced. Anyone who seems to be at the moment is just passing through the middle on their way to the next extreme." I know that's true of me. I'm in the middle for a minute and then it's off to the other side I go...

1/17/2006  
Blogger Mary Alice said...

Wow. Every believer & every church leader should read this.

Thank you for your powerful and convicting words. Keep them coming.

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW!

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Craig said...

This is some great, thought provoking stuff here. I've felt for some time that many churches have their priorities out of whack when it comes to how they spend money and use resources. These are certainly things that we should be thinking and talking about in our communities of faith.

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Ardman said...

I am fortunate enough to be a member of The Experience, an Adventist church plant in Meridian, Idaho. We have a huge focus on service and outreach.

Unfortunately it is the first church like it that I've attended, and I was born an Adventist. Many of my friends, with whom I went to Adventist College, have left the church.

I appreciate your kind words aboout Adventists, and I hope what you say is becoming more and more true within our denomination. Maybe you're right--maybe we are better at this than some, but I believe we still have a long ways to go. I hope and pray that Adventists, Baptists, and many other denominations will work hard to push beyond the Event oriented philosophy you speak of. I'm glad there are people like you out there helping this to happen.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

balance. . yes.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Rica said...

Being a teenager that's been raised in some very service-outreach oriented churches, I always wondered why teens were leaving the church after they graduated. Shaun, now I know the answer. Or at least maybe a small part of it.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Paula said...

I don't think that my church is an "event driven" church. Yes, we do have events, but their either outreaches or conferences. Our outreaches include christmas and easter, and even "unconventional" events such as a motorshow, and our kids holiday club "kids whac", which is attended by 50/50 churched/unchurched kids. Our conferences are geared towards our church membership, and are often held as part of the weekend services.

But, I do know that as someone who is usually involved in outreach events - usually christmas and easter productions - the time you commit to rehearsals can really take away from the time you have to "be Jesus in your community".

Once again Shaun, you've given us food for thought.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Call Me Ishmael said...

There's got to be a way to arrange your second-to-last paragraph so it can be sung to the tune of Ray Stevens' "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex (On His Television Show)?" I guess I'm just not purpose-driven enough to lay aside time for that enterprise right now.

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Tiffany said...

Oh man, I've seen my church at home grow from fading to pretty much dying, and I truly think you hit the nail on the head with its problem. They open the new 3 million dollar building next week, and it couldn't break my heart more. I've gone to that church pretty much since I was born, so it's hard to come home during summers and Christmas breaks to realize how sad it's become.

I attend a school where there are so many college students who grew up in the church, but never made it their own. So now, left to themselves, don't see anything wrong with partying and living in the world and have very little desire to go to church. I think that it could be because all of those events make you "feel" like you're a Christian. But when it comes down to it, these kids have had nothing but events to sustain their walk. They have no true faith, no true spiritual life, but it's so easy to fake when you go to youth group all the time and talk about cool topics, maybe adding a verse at the end. It just breaks my heart to see them continue where they are. My question to you all, is what can we do now? What can I do, as a growing Christian college student, to serve and reach out to those around me? Kids who know all about Jesus yet it means absolutely nothing to them?

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so does anyone think that there should be a set of guidelines or rules that Churches should go by in building their buildings and how much money they can spend on decorations, gymns and other goodies?

Been thinking about this also, but spending most of 2005 on the side of this point of view i am kind of swinging back to the middle. when i have heard other discussions on this it always sounds like most of the complaints or painful observations come from the fact that people are not hungry to see and experience the Love of God. Who has more of the Spirit of God a church with 6000 strong an impressive weekly baptism roster or the little 250 person inner-city church filled with weirdo's. It just depends on the amount of Love exchanged. The widow had barely anything but she gave it all. I used to say "well of course the inner city church" but i am not so sure anymore. You can be in a little church and be griping that your not growing just the same as the big giant church where its never enough. Being in Houston, the "ive got the biggest church" capitol of the universe, i am getting just a little tired of all the rigamarore.

It was a little black church of about 70 people in the bad part of Waco Texas that knocked my on my arse with the Love of God and turned a Jaded Christian into a thankful sinner. This little Church barely had electricity,- just enough for the Hammond-B-, but it was filled with people who loved me, the ONLY white guy there, and showed me the love of God every time i went until it wore me down and broke me.

Bells and whistles dont mean CRAP if you have not Love. your church is a big giant clanging retarded cmybal if you dont show the Love of God through serving your brothers and sisters.

I guess what I am trying to say is that i think that it just depends. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a Loving and caring church where half the people are divorced and the pastor and staff is VERY active in serving internationally and here in Houston. And I dont mean sending the check. They go THEMSELVES to the slums of eastern europe and clothe the starving children. Do we have a brand new building? yes, Do we serve the community the best we can? I think we try. I was really miffed for a while about the price of the building but then i realized that the building we built, under the specifications of Sugarland TX (rich suburb of Houston) building codes blah blah, was pretty modest. Are we in the slums? no but i think the people out here are spiritually impoverished in their prada shoes and bmw status-rides.

Great post

Seth

1/17/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband's reading a biography about Mother Teresa and just today he was telling me about her attitude towards ministry. Apparently, she caught a lot of flack for "not doing things bigger" and her response was basically (this is a paraphrase) "I don't care if what I'm doing is the biggest thing. I don't care if it's the best. I don't care if it's the prettiest. I don't even care if it's the most efficient or most well run. I just want to love each person I meet and love them well."

It all comes down to us, as the church, listening to the still small voice of God rather than the loud, "cool" voice of the world and praying that our pastors would have the grace to do the same.

I think that's another point as well. Prayer. Really, how much do we do it? How much does my church do it? It should really be the very foundation of everything we do, and if it were I don't think we'd be having this discussion.

Excellent post Shaun.

kat

1/17/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

listening to the still small voice of God and prayer - we're in trouble for sure without these 2 essentials.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Toby said...

Shaun,

Great Post. As a seminary student, I'm tossed somewhere in between. I see the power of the even church draw and the necessity of the teaching and purposeful discipleship such as are prevalent in Adventist churches.

I certainly don't think church should be about the event, nor do I think Sunday should be the spiritual event of the week. I believe that everyday should be devoted to living life well within your context. No matter our situation we should be demonstrating the Kingdom in everything we do. Our faith should ooze from every pore. Not in the forced cheesy Christian movie way, but it should be a natural part of us.

I think one of the things that would help to limit the event-like atmosphere of church, and would probably be very unpopular with most preachers, would be to allow a time for the congregation to ask questions. Nothing makes someone know what they're teaching like facing a Q&A to defend what they said, and people learn better interactively. My desire is to see a church service less focused on the specific time frame, such as getting out by 12pm, and more focused on learning together. To keep with the Utah theme, I like the way the Mormons block their worship time. They take a four hour block for worship and teaching. How about a Baptist service that incorporates music and teaching followed by a Q&A about the subject. After all the questions are answered as best as can be, then everyone goes home.

1/17/2006  
Blogger fasternu426 said...

Man, this is a lot to think about. Here are some of my church experiences. I got "saved" in an old tymie Baptist church when I was about 12. Brother Kenny (Who was missing an eye and had a large scar on his bald head, covering a metal plate where a bull stomped him. He was a bull rider) was up at the pulpit screamin and slobberin about how all of them sinners (and staring at me with his one good eye) were gonna "roast in hell" and there would be "much weeping and gnashing of teeth" and "the Beast was going to tattoo a number on me" or..I didn't stick around for the rest...I ran to the front crying like a little girl. I didn't really get saved, I just put off whatever horrible fate that I deserved. No follow up from any adults on my salvation.

After I "grew up", I didn't go to church much except for bootcamp. I went to the Catholic service, because it was the longest. I got a reprieve from lying on my belly doing pushups or something by going to church. To me it was all ritual, no God. When I finally found God, I really should've ran from him and hated everything to do with a church!

I got married and after 5 years, my ex wife went to church with a male coworker (see this coming?)who worked part time at the church. I worked a bizarre shift and was not able to go to church on Sunday morning with her. And yup, she ran off with him. The pastor of the church could care less when I talked to him about this. All he said to me was "yep...yep...yep...I'll pray for you, sorry but I have to go...I have a meeting, we are trying to buy the property across the street to expand our ministry, pray for us". I wanted to stick my fist in his face! (This really happened!!) I should have been angry at God and spent the rest of my Sundays for the rest of my life lying on the couch watching football or fishing or something, anything but Church. God was either mean and wanted to sneak up and hit me with a stick, or he just didn't care! I then had a moment of total clarity where God revealed to me that all my life I had experienced "church", not Him. In the worst moment of my life, God told me that he was with me, not in any of the buildings that I had walked into. That he was with me, not in any thing built by man. I prayed the sinner's prayer and was led to a good church. I also found my new wife in Sunday School!

In the middle ages, churches tried to be the government. It seems that now they are trying to entertain us. We attend church to worship God. To sing praise, fellowship and learn from each other and from him. We are the family of God (Eph 3:15) and the household of faith (Gal 6:10). Some families are warm and inviting and some are critical and mean. Some put on airs and pretend everything is allright and do the right things and sing the right songs as everything goes to crap around them. Anyone attending a church should ask if the church they attend is following how the bible defines a church. Am I here to do something other that sit in a pew on Sunday? Am I here to get entertained, or get recharged and informed so I can reach out and share the gospel with someone else? Does my pastor and the congregation "feed His Sheep"? When people in our church get saved, do we abandon them after they get baptised? Do we follow up on our mission to be a "royal priesthood?"

The first thing is to have a relationship with God ourselves. No church, just me and God. Go from there. Ask him what is right and wrong. Read his word. He will tell us. If we listen.

1/17/2006  
Blogger Bill said...

Shaun,

I just love watching God at work withing you...

John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What would matter most to him? His glory.

The church needs to make the Word (Jesus Christ as revealed through God's Holy Scripture) supreme. Jesus was the perfect balance of grace and truth.

1/18/2006  
Anonymous Jess :) said...

I love my church, I've grown up in my church and I have found a family there. Maybe that's why I love it, because it is a part of my family.

I don't think it's perfect, there are things about it that I would probably change if I could. But I think that it at least retains something of what God intended the church to be. Does it always provide what I need? Does it always challenge me to go deeper? Does it always leave me with a sense that I am being taught and shown all I could be? No, but that may have as much to do with me as it does with my church.

The church was never intended to entertain people. It's supposed to be a community of believers that love, teach and encourage each other. A group of people that work together towards making Christ known while becoming more like Him themselves. When I think of community I don't think of people that meet once a week, but people that share their lives together. Do we do that in our churches?

So have we lost the plot? I think we have to an extent. I think you're right in that we need to focus on the needs of people rather than a slick program. We need to challenge people instead of entertaining them.

Church will not be able to give us everything we need all the time because it is made up of a group of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. But I think that we could get a lot closer to where God would want us to be. I wonder if He would even feel comfortable walking into a church today? Maybe He'd be more comfortable sharing a meal with a group of people, reading the Bible, talking and questioning?

Like you Shaun, I don't have answers to a lot of the questions that you put forward (and I'm one of the college aged people that seems to be leaving the church). But I know that I don't actually want glitz and glamour. I want something real and solid, cause it seems like just about everything these days is a bit of an illusion.

But I think it's a good indicator that there are a lot of people exploring the questions.

Hmmm, well that's my word vomit for now I think.

1/18/2006  
Anonymous Ryan G. said...

Great thoughts! It really spoke to me. I lead worship at my church and I'm really struggling with the depth of what we're doing, instead of putting together a nice program.

1/18/2006  
Blogger emmsy said...

whoa this is a lot to think about... and something I have been thinking about a lot, just never managed to put it in words. I was raised in, and still attend, a traditional church that I personally find very numbing... I think thats the best way I can describe it. I often find myself sitting on a Sunday afternoon, unable to remember what the sermon was about, or sitting in church, wondering what that hymn I just sang means? In fairness, the current minister (who has been here for 2/3 years) has made an effort to 'change' some things. For example, he introduced a few more modern songs into the occasional church service. I think I find it very difficult because I have had the privilage to also be around churches that are more forward-thinking, use modern worship songs more, etc, and therefore maybe I expect so much more? It has taken me a while to realise that what the minister of my church has done is actually a significant step forward for the church.

One particular church I have been involved with quite a lot (in addition to my 'home' church) is perceived by some outside the church to be a very 'youth-orientated' church, ie like the event driven churches you described. The reality though, is that it is reaching out to the local community in ways that so many others aren't. Lives are being transformed. People are meeting Jesus.

And isn't that the point?

1/18/2006  
Blogger Dave Haupert said...

I grew up in the Catholic church and often watched with a jaded eye about all the money collected and spent on the buildings and the altars and such. A lot in common with today's 'event driven churches' in some ways, though the focus was more on beauty than entertainment.

One day I felt the Lord speaking to me through John 12- where Mary is washing Jesus' feet with expensive Nard, and Judas calls them on it saying that money could be used to help the poor and sick. That sounded a lot like me and what I was thinking (and was coming from Judas, of all people- someone who was supposed to be on Jesus' side, yet was betraying Him), and often times what a lot of people think when they consider the amount of money spent on making the 3-10 million dollar sanctuary of today's mega-churches.

Jesus' response-
"You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

We all know Jesus spent much time saying to live out our faith by helping the poor, but He also said the above, and I believe that God covets His Glory in both seeing His people doing acts of service, and also being extravagent in the Churches, Altars, and even giant HDTV screens. Because it adds to His fame, and His glory.

1/18/2006  
Blogger ModernPilgrim said...

This posting is the reason I keep coming everyday to this blog! Awesome! Great Insight! Thanks for the T-Bone Shaun.

1/18/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I've made minor changes to the post in case anyone wants to reread the novella. Basically, I wanted to make sure I was clear that I'm not against excellent entertaining church services That's just preference for some folks, not an important issue. I'm just wondering if we as pastors can continue doing church service the way we do them and at the same time somehow make other aspects of church important to us and our congregations. Can we put more or the same amount of emphasis we place on music, technology, drama, video, set design etc on other things like service, discipleship, what is taught everywhere (not just how it's taught), mercy, justice etc etc... The over-simplicity of the event (what I'm calling the Sunday service), when it affects the scope and depth of teaching scripture does bother me. But that shouldn't have even entered into this post. Like I said at the beginning, I wasn't trying to be edited or eloquent. Just thinking out loud. Apparently a lot of us are thinking the same thing. So what do we do about it?

Anyway, I want to turn positive here in the comments section for a minute...When have you experienced church as a well-rounded multi-faceted thing that goes beyond a church service? When have you seen church placing importance on other aspects of faith: community, mercy showing, service, justice, discipleship, mentoring, fun, prayer, missions, evangelism etc? Let's share stories now of church done better - if you believe that is better.

For me, the best I've seen was pulled off by Darren Whitehead (now at Willow Creek over the college stuff) and Jon Tyson (no a church planter in Manhattan). They were once our youth ministers at the peoples church and I was a volunteer teacher for them of a small group. They had the big event on Wednesday night but students were also strongly encouraged to go beyond that to participate in community service on Saturdays (few did it, but the chance was there), to be discipled in a small group or one-on-one, to worship individually and together, to be involved on their campuses in telling of and living like Christ, in praying for each other, in volunteering to help out around the church etc. They treated kids like adults in a way, expecting a lot of them in all areas of life. Most, true, stayed on the surface. That's human nature. But out of those who went beyond the event - which was always excellent - there were many opportunities to experience ALL that church could be. And from that small group came dynamic intelligent well-prepared leaders who have not left church behind as they grew up and graduated. Well done. They're example is the model I think of most when doing y job at IKON. We're not there yet, but we're aiming there.

What's your success story?

1/18/2006  
Blogger Hale-Yeah! said...

That's good stuff! The same thing is true at my church. It's as if there is this imaginary wall that we all keep backing up to, even though everyone wants to go deeper and become more real in our worship. It's time the walls come down. I think we need to take note from Soul Survivor when Mike Pilavachi took away the lights, the sound, and the instruments and Matt Redman just led worship acoustically with no mic. This is where the song, "the heart of worship" was born. Let's forget these boundaries, stop trying to impress people with our relevancy and give them the True Word of God, which has always been relevant.

1/18/2006  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

When have you experienced church as a well-rounded multi-faceted thing that goes beyond a church service? When have you seen church placing importance on other aspects of faith: community, mercy showing, service, justice, discipleship, mentoring, fun, prayer, missions, evangelism etc? Let's share stories now of church done better

Believe it or not, that's why I go to the church I attend now. First Baptist Nashville (short plug) is all of those things. We have enriching services, our Sunday School equips us for real-world service and we have continued ministry and outreach--especially in the downtown area.

We have several community service projects, and many of our youth go on to seminary.

A lot of times the big old-fashioned churches get written off as institutionalised sepulchures. Ours is most definitely not the case.

1/18/2006  
Anonymous keith said...

2 success stories from the church I attend: First, the Sunday School teachers meet as a class themselves every Wednesday night to learn how to teach. Our excellent pastor of education teaches them and they discuss how to best present the lesson the following Sunday. I hear that almost every teacher is faithful to this meeting. Second, our students are treated as adults and taught sound doctrine in their "events." Our student pastor has just started a sermon series on the sermon on the mount that you can listen to here if you want an example of what I'm talking about. Also, anything on that page with Seth Postell's name on it is pure gold.

1/18/2006  
Blogger Kat said...

My husband works from home, so we could live anywhere in the country, but we moved to Waco from Houston just so that we could be a part of the church we went to in college.

It's not a big church - maybe about 1,800 if you add the two services together and it's about half college kids and half families, but I have seen more done through this church than through many "mega churches" that I've been to.

For example, after the tsunami last year, within a couple days of it happening, our church had organized relief teams comprised of doctors and nurses in our congragation. We had over 75 people travel at their own expense and using their own vacation time to help and minister to those in need in Sri Lanka. They didn't stop there, though. We now have a long term team living there and we've raised over half of a million dollars to rebuild one of the towns - not just the houses (96 of them), but also a community center, a playground, cricket field and a medical building. A town is literally being rebuilt.

This is just one of an endless number of stories I could tell. I am constantly challenged to lay down my life for Jesus and others. It's not a huge church - about 1,800 I guess. It's not a rich church - mostly college kids and young families. It's not a cool church - people sometimes look at me a bit odd when I tell them where I go to church. But I see lots and lots of live literally being transformed from the work being done here. It's almost as if Sunday is the tip of the iceberg - the celebration of all that God has done Monday - Saturday. It's not so much the place where we learn, but the place where we celebrate and renew our vision.

1/18/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Which church in Waco is that?

1/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Antioch Community Church - have you heard of it? I heard you went to Baylor. If so, Antioch is a sister church/church plant of Highland. Not sure if either of those names will ring a bell for you.

kat

1/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey kat, my bro-in-law and a bunch of friends go to that church! so are you in a life group?

seth

1/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lead one with my husband. Who's your brother in law? Or who are some of your friends?

kat

1/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bro-in-laws name is eric evans. After i sent the message off i realized how long it has been since i have been in waco 4 years. lordy. so some of them may no longer at the church. the current members i know are through eric and his friends. patrick, robbie, shannon, MJ. I do think that is amazing that you moved back there to because of the church. Antioch seems to have that effect on people. I actually went to Highland after i finished my time at that little church I mentioned earlier. God used the combination of the little church (greater waco east presbyterian church) and Highland to really save me from a miserable road.

Seth

1/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seth,
I'm not sure if I know Eric or his friends. Is Patrick, Patrick Byers? That's the only Patrick I know. I do know an Eric, but I don't know his last name. I'm part of the "older" thirty something crowd at ACC.

I went to Highland when I was in college. God totally changed me through that church.

To get back on topic, I guess that should be the goal of every church. For people to be transformed.

kat

1/19/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

And I think that is the goal. I've never been to a church whose staff doesn't seem to genuinely want the right things. It's how those wants manifest themselves in the day to day practices and programs and priorities of the church that differs dramatically. It would truly be easier to say come pastors love people and want them to be "transformed" and others just don't wouldn't it? A + B always = C so if we don't see C it's because A or B is missing...problem solved. Not so easy in reality though is it? A (love for God) and B (love for people) are both present in churches where prosperity doctrine is preached, where wealth is promised tot he faithful - for instance - aren't they? The differences in churches don't seem to arise from a lac of right wants - it's the order of those wants, the priorities and how they're stacked against each other that seems to account for the differences in churches. But that's just my experience talking. Maybe I just don't want to believe there are churches that don't want people to be "transformed."

SG

1/19/2006  
Blogger Bruce said...

Thanks for the post. My daughter, who is now a freshman in college at Texas Tech, literally dropped out of church her senior year. Not because of the lack of entertainment or programs, but because of a lack of relationships and involvement with her by the interim youth leader and crew. When the youth pastor suddenly up and left there was a void because the staff felt like his programs should continue the same way they had for the last four years. It took a while for the church to hire a new youth pastor because they wanted him to perform the same way - in the same programs. Once they realized it was time for change, they found the man God wanted there. But it was too late for my daughter. We tend to forget how important relationships are to our youth - we think they just want to be entertained all the time.

B~

1/19/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Bruce, it's not the lack of entertainment alone I blame for college folks dropping out of church. It's not the church alone I blame. These students are people making a bad choice that will negatively affect their spiritual development. A bad CHOICE. The church can't make them abandon church of course. Anyway, tangent. My reason for responding is first of all, I'm sorry to hear that about your daughter. If there's ever anything I can do more specifically to pray or help out please let me know. Secondly, the description you gave of relationships not being a priority to your youth ministry is the kind of thing this post is about. I'm not saying this was the case for you guys and your church but it is possible for community/relationship/face-to-face time with staff to become nominal in pursuit of investing almost entirely in the Sunday morning church service. How many event church pastors are able to spend face time with the people in those services. Partially that's a symptom of size - unavoidable - and partly a symptom of priorities - avoidable. Even if the lead pastor can't have face time with people could other staff members (like youth ministers) not be more intentional in picking up his slack? Can SUnday school teachers (for lack of a better title) have it impressed upon them to build those kinds of relationships? Of course they can, but my fear - and I don't know this for sure, can't know this for sure - is that event driven church staffs have primarily SUnday morning services and the numbers of those attending on their radar.

It's possible your daughter and others like her are in part casualties of a Sunday service focussed system for doing church. Personally there have been weeks at IKON when the teaching (mine) seemed to suck and the music wasn't so hot and the technical side of things left much to be desired and a tornado warning whittled our attendance down to a handful but we still had a sense of community. Did we still have a sense of purpose beyond our meeting together for teaching? Did we leave and live differently, in relationship to each other and those outside the church? I'm not sure about that. I'd like to be.

1/19/2006  
Blogger Bruce said...

Thanks for the reply to my comment. I certainly agree that students leaving a church is a choice, but my daughter and her friends felt like there wasn't much of a choice to make. The church, as I hear so many adults complain, just wasn't meeting her and her friends where they were. She has found a wonderful church in Lubbock and is slowly getting back involved...but the freshman years are the hardest - trying to make a new life and starting to understand who she is in Christ APART from her parents and home church, the church she grew up in and was safe in.

I still appreciate your thoughts, and have enjoyed your writings. I've link to you several times.

B~

1/19/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

preach it.

last night while i was busy trying to wrap up chords and roll off pianos and think about video interviews for sunday i found myself practically ignoring people who wanted to talk about their daughter or son or a person who is in therapy that needs some guidance. i found myself saying "hey dipstick, cant you see i am busy trying to set up for sunday morning extravaganza?" i had to stop and force myself to listen. it was like bending a spoon.

From working in high powered churches like _____d Baptist in H-town i know that there is tremendous pressure on these pastors to "perform". if it aint poppin on sunday morning then you find yourself on Monster.com hunting for music pastor jobs. that means that either you have a staff that helps takes care of the flock while you direct the program or you end up finding the people to which you minister a nuisance. The event driven church has definitely created event oriented pastors. I remember feeling the thrill of watching that atomic clock as we awaited the feed from the main campus, perfectly syncronizing our music with theirs and if there was any lag time, i and the band had to fill dead time while the lights dimmed and the giant screen was activated. Dont get me wrong, i loved this church and the people in it, but the pastors, i think, rarely had time for much one on one ministry or discipleship.

Seth

1/19/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun,
I completely agree with you. I didn't at all mean to incinuate that some churches don't want people to be transformed. I just didn't word it right.

kat

1/19/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I get you loud and clear, Kat. No misunderstanding. We're on the same page.

1/19/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kat, i told my bro-in-law to look out for you, only i dont know what you look like and Kat could very well be your code name. but i said you seem very kind and insightful and also really old like me. maybe you'll bump into him. i think its great that you lead a life group with your husband. Most of the time I wish i could do that instead of what i do, not lead a bible study with your husband, but definitely with my wife. From what i have heard, those life groups are life changing groups that have a lasting impact, enough to make one move back to WACO, a mecca of culture and beauty,... just to be a part of something so good.

cheers

Seth

1/19/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seth,
Kat is actually my codename....ahhh the joys of annonymity. I can I can nitpick all of Shaun's wonderful blog entries and no one knows who I am. :-)

Seriously, I'll be on the lookout for him. Oh, and I'm not THAT old. I'm baaaaarrrreely 30. Closer to 29 really.

I do enjoy leading a life group. I really think that small groups bring so much life to a church. Before my husband and I started leading, we just went to our lifegroup and hung out. We didn't look for ways to minister to others. We hardly even saw the needs. But now that we lead and we are responsible for these 6 or so families...man...it's amazing what being responsible for someone will do for your focus and involvement in their lives. We're on our knees because we are so passionate about seeing each of them grow in the Lord. We want to be as desperate for them as we are for ourselves and I feel as though God's really given me a "mother's heart" for the women in my group.

Just like "event driven" churches might not be the best idea, I wonder if "pastor driven" churches aren't such a good idea either. I've attended churches where the pastor is pretty much the "go to" guy for each parisioners need. That's got to be exhausting. I love that our small group is really a little church all by itself. Obviously, we're submitted to others and we have leadership, but my husband and I as well as the other members are daily involved in each others lives and have daily opportunities to minister and pray for each other. It's so encouraging, challenging and life giving.

kat

1/19/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, you are sooooo right about that pastor driven bit. My dad is a pastor of one of those small inner city churches and he has worked his tail off for the past 30 years.

"It's so encouraging, challenging and life giving." - i dont think i have ever really heard those words come out of very many pastor's mouths when it comes to pastoring churches. I think i would start suspecting mental deterioration if i heard my dad describing his church with these words.

btw, no, 30 is not old. 31 on the other hand, is getting ancient.

seth

1/20/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

1/20/2006  
Blogger rebekah said...

hi, i have never gotten on your blog before, but a friend pointed me toward this post. i read it, thought it was great, and then scrolled thru a few of the comments. talk to me quickly about waco -- you said that you went to baylor? have you ever heard of robert or glen ewing??? or grace gospel fellowship/campgrounds? or ... the new testament church and divine order?

.... just wondering. i go to a new testmant church in middle tn that is submitted under the apostleship of a mexican pastor living in houston -- we are all connected with grace gospel in waco.

just curious.

1/21/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun, do you think that perhaps you/we should be a little more focussed on presenting these questions/options to pastors or in small group and thereby possatively affecting the church body instead of blogging and further leading young people away from an already suffering(in my Massachusetts community) church body?

4/16/2007  

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