Tag Archives: incarnational ministry

Celebrate the good in the church

buddychrist Every now and then, church stuff gets me down. I have decided that, when that happens, I’m going to look to the many amazing things I know are happening in the name of Jesus.  I need your help. There is some amazing stuff happening in churches around the country (and the world) that should be lifted up, but it is hard to know about all of it when we’re in our little corner of the world. I’m going to list some of the exciting stuff I know about and the awesome people I happen to be connected to. In the comments, add amazing stuff you know about and pass it on. I don’t want to put any parameters here; I’m looking for ministries that are life giving, new and/or renewed, and are moving the people of God into the future. New ways to reach people, interesting ways Christians are working towards the kingdom here on earth.

In no particular order:

Luther’s Table. My friend Gretchen Mertes (with the help of a number of churches and a million volunteers) runs this Lutheran cafe/bar/music venue in Renton, WA. There, one can rock out with a beer and with some Jesus. It is clear you can come as you are and you will be welcomed. The food is good too 😉 They do some great service for the community, including free holiday meals. Luther’s Table is also home to a growing congregation, Roots of the Table, where worship is very different from traditional Lutheran worship and the music is very good.

All People’s Church in Milwaukee, WI. All People’s is an vibrant urban church with an amazing vision and incredibly strong sense of community. If you ever want to listen to a sermon that will get you up out of your seat, listen to Pastor Steve Jerbi (another good friend of mine). The congregation does amazing community education, they are working on issues of food insecurity in their ‘hood (and education around the topic), have a community garden, a food pantry, are building a green house, do job training, and are just generally awesome. I wish I lived closer so I could go to there. I’ll have to subsist off of Pr. Steve’s sermons.

Church of the Apostles in Seattle is one of the original ancient/future or emergent churches. I keep trying to describe aspect of their ministry and, each time, the adjective I want to use is dynamic. I recently went to the ordination of their new pastor, Ivar Hillesland, and it was wonderful. I look forward to what they do in this new phase of their lives together.

Church of the Beloved is a new monastic community in Edmonds, WA. Their music is excellent, as is their idea of communal living. I couldn’t do it, but I greatly admire the way they live.

Valley and Mountain is a community that is also here in Seattle (see, I mostly know what is happening around me) and I love what they do. The way they worship is so life giving. Their tag line on their website is “deep listening. creative liberation. radical hospitality.” That’s a good description. I’m kind of sad I can’t be a part of their community, but that is the life of a pastor.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Lakewood, Ohio is my home church. The people there are a large part of how I grew to be the woman in faith that I am. They have a strong community presence, a soup kitchen, food pantry and community garden. They’re been Reconciling in Christ (open and affirming to the LGBT community and everyone else) for as long as it has been an option (I think) and instead of VBS every summer, they have Peace Camp. They’ve also had a woman pastor for as long as that has been an option. If you live in the greater Cleveland area and are looking for a church, go there. Oh, also, for you Lutherans out there, they’re a mostly white church that uses This Far By Faith. That is another thing I love about them.

Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church is my current internship site. I am an intern at a church that has young people showing up and becoming very active in the church. My first few weeks here I met so many people who were interested in joining who were in their 20’s or 30’s. This is an organ and choir church. This is a church where there is processing and elevating of the gospel and my supervisor wears a chasuble for worship (he gets really dressed up in fancy pastor things). Somehow, with all of the liturgy and hymns and organ, this church feels very alive, like the people aren’t just going through the motions. They’re super into it. And that draws other people in. Also, they are very, very into rite and ritual here, particularly baptism. The membership class is no joke — it’s an adult catechumenate. All potential members gather every Sunday night for months to eat together and have fellowship in small groups. In small groups, people share their faith stories and talk about matters of faith — no questions or topics are off limits. I love this. I’m kind of almost a little Baptist when it comes to asking people to make commitment to their faith, and too many churches seem to be afraid to ask much of members. Phinney asks, and in turn it receives many new members every Easter Vigil.

Re:Imagine out of San Fransisco. I love what they do. Mark and Lisa are incredibly warm people, and the one time I had the opportunity to experience their community, everyone was so welcoming. I wanted more.

Quest Church in Seattle. Multi-ethnic, social justice oriented, prophetic, welcoming… Just rad.

Sorry if I forgot anyone I should have thought about.

Now, what do you know about? Who is doing good work around you? Who is inspiring you? Let’s share the good news!

And this is why it’s dying

I’m on fire right now. Irate. Burning. I went to chapel today. I don’t go to chapel often. Here’s why.

Chapel has been arranged so that it is impossible to sneak in unnoticed if you are late (as I often am).

I remarked to a classmate, “There should be some kind of warning that you can’t sneak into the chapel anymore!” Said classmate was like, “Yeah, right?”

Another classmate said, “Well maybe you should come to chapel more.”

Me: “I would if I liked it.” (I admit, this wasn’t the best statement, but it is very true)

Another classmate (with much snark): “Good luck in your future parish, then.”

Wow. Yup. And that is why the church is dying. I don’t get much out of “traditional” worship, therefore I have no future in the church. To quote Cee-Lo, “Forget you.” Seriously. (Not the person, the attitude.)

Worship is so much bigger than we’re allowing it to be! It doesn’t have to be anything other than preaching the word and administering the sacrament — the form can be so many different things as long as it reflects the community! Acoustic guitars? Great! No instruments? Great! Hip-hop? Go for it! Bluegrass? Right on!

If your community wants to sit still in worship or they want to clap and dance, let them do it. If they want to stay quiet or they want to yell out, “AMEN!” let the spirit move them (and you), let the spirit fill all y’all! If your community wants you to preach for a half an hour, work into it, ask for help!  Yes, I realize I am using a lot of exclamation points!!!!

If we insist on restricting worship to what we know and what we are comfortable with and what we have historically done we are restricting the ways people can encounter God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I understand the irony in me not wanting to go to a type of worship I don’t like. It’s not even about whether I like it or not. That’s actually not what bothers me. Most of my church life has been in congregations that are fairly traditional and I can hang. It’s the attitude that this is the way it has to be, that this is the only style of worship that should exist or that is right or valid that gets my panties in a bunch. This is a learning institution, for crying out loud! We should be learning about all of the possibilities in worship, experimenting with styles and genres. STUDENT WRITTEN LITURGIES SHOULD BE SUPPORTED!!!! I have had enough conversations with my community here to know that the style of worship we have every week does not reflect the skills, desires or voices of the entire community. There are many people who are fed by “traditional” worship. There are many, many more who are not. This might explain why so few people go. This is also a reason why so few people go in the rest of our society. It’s certainly not all about worship, but the refusal of so many to even think of trying anything different most certainly contributes to our declining numbers.

Get out of the box. God is bigger than the box. It’s fine if you keep your feet in, but get your arms out there and see what the world is telling you it wants and needs. More importantly, see what God is telling you the world needs. I bet you it will be much bigger than traditional hymns and a mediocre sermon on a Sunday morning.

End of rant. For now.

I am, we are 32 flavors and then some.

If you program it, they will come (please stop thinking this way)

This is not a balm for the church's lack of young adults.

Programs, programs, programs! Let’s start a new program! We want more _________! What kind of program should we start? Where should we advertise it? What kind of publicity should we do?

Stop. Right now. Just stop. Stop with the programs, stop with the “if we do it and it’s cool and edgy and whatever they will come” mentality. Help me, help you. Help me, help you (add your own movie reference here).

Don’t get me wrong, I think theology on tap/theology pub is a cool idea. It gets church outside of the building and makes theology and worship a public act — and some are really cool and successful. But anymore it makes me cringe when I see someone starting one. We keep picking up things that have worked well in one context and plopping it into others. We keep looking for a cool idea or a program to solve all of our problems with church attendance in a neat and easy way. Have you ever tried to wrangle an escaped sheep? It’s a total pain in the ass. They don’t come when called. The run faster if they are chased. They occasionally respond to bribes, but, really, they are surrounded by grass when they escape and don’t really feel like they need you for anything. They don’t realize that you are there to help, to guide them, to keep them warm and safe. They see you as their captor and they want to keep away from you. You get the sheep back by getting them to trust you, to see you as a safe place. They come back when they see you as the best option in a big world. But you have to be careful, if you push too hard, they will get scared off and run away from you again.

This is not dissimilar to those who are un-churched or de-churched. They won’t come back just for a program that sounds cool. They won’t look at a poster and think, “Holy shit, church people drinking beer? I must see this!” It’s not that easy. You have to go to where they are and be present. You have to talk to them about their lives and not bring up Jesus beyond what you do for a living — until they want to talk about it. You have to build relationships. You have to walk slowly. You have to work and be patient. You have to be willing to have it not be neat or easy.

If you want the young adults in your community to actually start coming around, find out who the most receptive young people might be and give them a call. Offer to take them out for coffee. Say you just want to get to know them or to catch up. Say you need help understanding social media. Ask them to fix things. Let them know that the church is open for their bands to practice. Go hear their bands play or go to one of their art showings or hang out at a bar where some of them work. Just be present. Get to know young adults. Be real. Be honest. Be you. Don’t push. Just by showing them that you are a Christian person who cares, you’re going to make huge inroads. Then, one day, he may call you because of a dream he had or she may come to tell you about an experience in yoga class or someone might stop in in an existential crisis and that’s when you know that you have a relationship. That is when you know that you have shown them a little bit of Jesus, that’s when the grace breaks through. And it will be messy. Then it will be awesome. And, if the young adults say that you should totally start a Theology Pub, do it. Follow them. Let those who have come back take the lead.

My husband red the first iteration of this and reminded me of something. The motivation can’t be to bring the people to Jesus Christ. That’s disingenuous (Hi, I want to your friend, but only so that you come to Jesus) and totally obvious (and kind of creepy). The motivation has to be to love, as Jesus would have loved, and to be the presence of Christ in this broken world.

Less programs, more relationships. Less neat and easy, more hard and messy. Less cool/trendy/hip, more Jesus.