So the freshers are turning up already.
We got about a dozen or so newbies at churchcentral this morning. I am always chuffed when people get stuck in straight away. It does my head in when faff around a bunch of churches until half way through their second year when they finally commit to one church that they probably wont go too much anyways!! The guys and girls this morning all seemed up for churchcentral straight away. This pleases me.
Every year we get students who will wander around the edge of church (and probably a couple of other churches). It is the thing about student work that frustrates me most. If these guys and girls committed then I could guarantee them that they would grow as a Christian. I know they will get discipled, challenged, well taught, meet people who are students and have a large group of very cool friends. However, because they stay detached they get none of this.
The amount of times I have heard second and third years say that they regret not joining a church as soon as possible (not just at our church but all over the UK). Some of them don’t sober up until Christmas of their second year, some of them realise their faith is in fact their parents, and some go to Christian Union instead of church.
I don’t know anyone who regretted joining a church quickly. Especially when they pick a church, which stretches, challenges and motivates them.
So if you’re reading this and your a fresher then find a church quickly, if your already in a church then tell your mates to stop wasting their time and sign up now.
And so it begins.
On Monday the freshers’ season begins at all the Universities across Birmingham (Aston Uni, Birmingham Uni, Uni of Central England and a bunch of higher Ed colleges). This means that churchcentral (my church) will slowly fill with new students. This is, without doubt, my favourite time of year. Me and Vix lead the student work at churchcentral so from now until about April we will be busy having students round for dinner, discipling, teaching, training, pasturing, offending over sensitive Christians (that’s mainly my job and I seem to be getting better at it with age), bringing through leaders, organising a weekend away and a whole bunch of other stuff I have forgotten.
This year I hope it will be a little different. We have grown every year by Christian freshers signing up to churchcentral, and I am so grateful for those guys and girls. However, this year I want something different.
I want Non-Christians to become Christians. Seems obvious, but in Birmingham that would be a bit of a revolution!
We want to see a change of culture amongst the Christian Students in Birmingham.
We are going to spend the next year telling our students that they are missionaries and that they should immerse themselves in the Uni culture like a missionary would when he goes to a foreign country. We will encourage them not to get caught in the Christian student bubble (I know a few who go to Christian meetings every night of the week!) and to have a huge amount of Christian friends.
Having a vision like this means that we cannot manufacture a victory, or spin results to make us look good. In fact, we are utterly dependent on God moving and on our students deciding they want to live radical lives.
We are not running lots of events or programs. We are stripping it back to basics, i.e. love Jesus, love church and be at the centre of your culture.
The great thing about blogging that I am discovering is that the process of posting an opinion really helps to refine what you think about something.
My last post suggested that worship music might put people off church. I was referring to the white boy soft rock/lame funk/easy listening that takes place on most Sunday mornings.
It was pointed out to me that the music I am referring to is actually the least likely to offend anyone. It is a very safe middle ground. Fair enough.
I do think there is room for some experimentation. I would love to see conferences like Newday, Soul Survivor, Mobilise and Momentum using a bit more imagination. Seems odd to me that teenagers have worship times with music that they are unlikely to listen too normally.
Probably not the most important issue that the church is facing today but I am interested none the less.
by the way, listen to these guys. Peacebone is a cracking tune.
In my last post I wrote about the “I’m from Barcelona” gig I went to see. I made a throw away comment about how it was more fun than any time of worship I have been in for a long time. I feel like I should explain myself a little.
I love worshipping God. I love worshipping God as part of a church. I love worship times when there are songs with fantastic theology, when spiritual gifts are in abundance, when people bravely pray or sing out in public, when the power of God moves and when, at the end, people feel a bit closer to God or have met God for the first time. I am fortunate enough to be part of a church and part of a group of churches where this is a common experience.
The music, however, drives me potty.
My dislike of the music doesn’t stop me worshiping God because the words in the songs are largely excellent and because worshipping God is a choice that feelings play no part in. (Having said that I once went to a church where the worship leader couldn’t sing, couldn’t play guitar, screamed the next line of the song like an angry monkey, the PA was clearly made by Fisher Price and the band looked utterly despondent – that put me off…). However I think we are missing a trick with the Middle of the Road soft rock we use.
Some of you may think this is a stupid thing to gripe about and, up to a point, you are probably right. However, I want to argue that the middle of the road rock/funk/easy listen that most worship leaders produce actually puts a whole bunch of people off church.
I was chatting recently to a friend of mine who is a youth worker with Kids in a deprived area of Birmingham. I asked her if she ever thought about taking these kids to Newday and she said that the music in the meetings had put them off. These kids all like hip-hop and dance. They definitely don’t like Coldplay. God could clearly meet with those kids regardless of what style of music the worship band plays (apart from Country, that stuff is pure evil) but the issue might be getting those kids there in the first place.
I would love to see churches that have worship leaders who can lead people into the presence of God using dance, trance, hip-hop, electro, punk, etc etc. I am convinced we put people off with the white 30+ soft rock that most churches use.
What do others think?
This week has been a pop culture week for me.
On Monday evening I went to see I’m from Barcelona who are a Swedish 20 piece band, on Tuesday we watched two more episodes of the Sopranos (season 1 – we are late comers to this amazing show), yesterday I saw Knocked Up and watched England destroy Russia.
I’m from Barcelona were cracking. They seem to be across between the Flaming Lips, the Cardigans and the Tweenies (i refuse to provide a link to these monsters of evil). The live show consisted of about 20 people on stage, Kazoos, a lot of balloons, confetti and a very good vibe. It was more fun than any time of worship I have been in for a long time.
The Sopranos is amazing. Fact. Not for faint hearted Christians (it’s across between Goodfellas and the West Wing) but brilliant none the less.
Knocked Up is rude! A few very funny one liners and it also manages to deal with the issue of abortion without even using the word abortion (“It rhymes with Schmu-schmorsion”). The film also seems to be a sly promotion of the importance of the nuclear family. I am always surprised by the moralising of Hollywood films that are supposed to be hip slacker comedies.
Anyways, I have nothing deep to say. I just want to promote a cool band, a very very cool TV show and a reasonable film.
So the debate on community keeps moving.
Matt Hosier gets all theological on us and points out that there is community at the centre of who God is, i.e. the Trinity. He is in community with himself, father, son and holy spirit. Matt also explains that as Christians we have love and so in some ways it must be impossible for us to not live in community because if we are truly Christians we have love.
I agree with this and am grateful for the biblical anchor to this debate. However, what does this look like?
Any suggestion that all churches need to have a communal lawn mower and everybody share a large house make me want to run for the hills, on my own. I think we need to think realistically about community. Church needs to appear attractive to non Christians; a sense of community and family in a church can be a huge selling point to a non Christian. However, there must be a line where it can get weird for people.
A few bloggers have suggested that our materialistic culture is helping to kill community. They suggest that because we view our possessions as “our stuff not Gods stuff” we are not so good at sharing within a community. Maybe this sense of isolation is also transferred into our homes. So, we keep our homes as a refuge that we rarely invite others into because it is inconvenient.
I absolutely agree with the points made. However, let me suggest another barrier to community in church. Church itself. I often hear my friends (in my church and churches across the UK) tell me how busy they are “doing church”. I think we often make the mistake of viewing busy people as successful people. The more someone does at church the better that person is. This is a result of the culture we live in.
Perhaps as Christians we should spend less time on the structure of church and more time on just hanging out? Maybe that would also create more time for non Christian friends.
It is time that I am a little honest. I am a bit grumpy. I like my space. I don’t mind other people in my space but they have to be invited by me and they are not allowed to complain about any music that I put on (obviously I am free to be rude about other peoples music when I am round their house.). So it is possible to argue that I have no integrity to blog about community in church. None at all.
Having said that we love having people round for food (my wife is an awesome cook and I love doing BBQs). Every Sunday we cook too much so that we can have new students over to help them settle into church life.
Anyway, the question I am asking is what does a community look like for a church in 21st century UK? Matt Hosier replied to my comment on his blog:
One of my great frustrations in pastoring a suburban church has been the general reluctance of those who have spare capacity in their homes to offer that capacity to other church members in need of a place to stay. We may call ourselves “Christians” but in general our attitude towards our homes far more reflects our cultures approach – “my house is my castle, my investment, my refuge, my temple” – than it does a biblical approach.
Why is that? Phil Whittal (the simple pastor – simple because he likes to live simply not because he is intellectually stunted. At least that’s what he says) suggests that laziness could be a problem:
Convenience is a huge issue, we feel the pressure of time (rightly or mostly wrongly) and therefore we need things to be convenient, to hand, in reach and instantly available. Sharing is far from convenient. It requires much more effort.
A concern I have whenever I hear Christians talking about church community (especially when they want to live near or with each other) is that they really just want to keep the world out. Being with non-Christians can be challenging and so churches can create this “community” that keeps outsiders at bay. I don’t suggest they do it deliberately, in fact I have see Christians talk passionately about evangelism and then spend all their time with people from church.
My brain is whirring so more to follow…
Matthew Hosier has blogged about his visit to what sounds like a monastery. In his blog he writes about the welcome him and his family received, even though they turned up unannounced, and the way the people share everything together.
He then goes onto say how challenged he felt by this and how he would like to see this in church.
I wonder if this is even possible in our western 21st century culture. My experience of church is that we don’t depend on one and other; in fact I take some pride in the fact I can look after my family and myself. Why do I need a larger community around me? If the truth be told I don’t need anything! Materially I am set. In fact I am more than set. I own more stuff than I am ever going to use or need (you should see the state of my basement…) so the idea of church that is described in Acts 2: 42 – 47 seems very distant.
Maybe if we did have to lean a bit more on each other then church would look more attractive to people on the outside. Although I am not sure how that would work in our culture. If I were to start turning up at my friends houses unannounced all the time I am pretty sure I would annoy them all.
I am offering no answers here at all. I guess I am just blogging some pondering.
This comment appeared on my last blog entry:
I’m intrigued by the chapter 11 “what they wish church were like”
Can you summarise his thoughts on this? That kind of chapter heading turns me off reading the book as people tend to want churches to be liberal yet spiritually reassuring. I.e. not interfere with their lifestyle, but reassure them their dead relative is going to heaven.
So, what are his thoughts on this?
This whole book has a very pastoral feel to it. It’s clear to me that Dan Kimball cares about people who are outside of the church and he cares about how they see the church. This doesn’t mean he would compromise any beliefs or theology just to get a few more bums on seats.
Dan Kimball says in chapter 11 of they like Jesus but not the church:
“We have to be careful that we don’t become so seeker friendly that we lose the holy distinctiveness of the church. The church is a supernatural community that gathers to worship, to learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and to serve God together. So our purpose is not to change things just so that people outside of the church will like what we are doing. That misses the point entirely, and in my opinion it is dangerous to simply conform to what other people want instead of what the scripture gives guidelines for.”
I think Dan Kimball’s main motivation is to see Christians (especially church leaders/elders/those who work full time for the church) get out into the world, and out of the Christian bubble, and live as missionaries. He is keen that we find out for ourselves what non Christians in our towns, cities and local cultures think about Jesus and the church so that we can reach them more effectively.
I think that this message is of vital importance to the church in the UK because, lets face it, we are not exactly a thriving community!