the church of the personal pronoun:

the story:
once upon a time, in a land far, far away, during a time long since forgotten, stood the church. the church was rather small and would gather in the center of town on main street, around the city fountain. each sunday, as they woke the people of the town would gather and come to the church to here what was being said, and to share in the fun and community. during the week, the people of the church would gather for weekly meetings, gatherings and other social events; they would hear others and give birth to their voice. as a community, the church would celebrate births and weddings and together they would morn the passing of a loved one. their lives were connected. as time passed, the church became a very important part of the community and was very active in the lives of the people. as people spoke of the church, they would share how wonderful it was and how blessed they were to be part of the church. they would share their experiences at the church with others, and others started to come to share in that community. soon, the church was larger then anyone could have dreamed and the joy of it all filled the air. the people of the town were happy being part of the church.

but darkness soon fell upon the church and the people of the town; it was the day something happened, something so hideous, so destructive, so corrosive no one could have ever dreamed of such an event. one day, as people were sitting around talking of the church, a stranger slid into town and started to get active in the church. as was the custom of the church and the people of the town, they welcomed the stranger with open arms and encouraged the stranger to share voice at the church. the stranger spoke a language no one truly understood. this stranger spoke of "me, my and mine and they." the people of the town did not understand this way of thinking, yet they welcomed the stranger with open arms and the love of christ. soon they saw the hurt and pain caused by the way the stranger talked and acted. soon, the stranger was speaking in terms of "my church" and "they do not have it right." soon, the stranger was speaking louder and louder and always against another; soon others were speaking the same way. as time went on, this stranger soon found he had developed a large following and they soon formed "their own church" on the other side of the street.

it wasn't long before the peaceful people of the town found itself in the middle of a "me, mine, ours, their, they." where at one time people would eat together and have conversations about the church, they soon found themselves arguing over "my church," "our church," "their church" and "your church" - soon, what was "the church" became the "the church of the personal pronoun." from that day to this, "the church" lost all connection with the people. many in "our church" did not welcome those who came from "their church" to "my church." people found little reasons to form new "churches of the personal pronoun" and justified their actions by claiming to be the only ones who got it right.

the case:
how many of us use the term "my church?" or "our church?" or "their church?" how many of us think in terms of church in a personal pronoun? how many of us ask others, "how is your church doing?" how many of us think in terms of ownership when we say, "how many people go to your church?" why is it that we have "your church" and "my church?" the idea of it being "my church" or "their church" is found no place in scripture, so why do we do it? what makes a church "yours" or "mine?" if it is "mine" can it be another's as well? can i claim ownership of a church, while allowing others to hold an equal ownership in the same church? is it a good thing, or a bad thing, or just a thing, to connect personal pronouns to the idea of church? should we think of church the say way we think of our car, our house, our boat, our tools? is it wise to see the church as "my church" or "their church?"

the scripture:
the idea of using personal pronouns in connection to the church is based more on a western idea of ownership then on scripture. it is, if you will, a consumer based hold over from the modern consumer driven church; which in my heart should end. when we define things as "mine," or "yours," or "theirs," or any other personal pronoun we assign ownership to either ourselves, or another. in so doing, we automatically determine who has "the right" to make changes, make alterations, determine direction of decide the use of "church property." after all, only those who are in "our church" should determine the color of the carpet. but is the idea of ownership a good idea? is it a scriptural idea? the term "my church" appears only once in scripture. it is in matthew's recording of events when jesus is speaking to peter and says, "on this i will build my church" - at no other place does anyone use the term "my church." in fact, the terms "our church" and "their church" or "your church" do not appear in scripture; in paul's second known letter to the corinthians he does refer to the church as "God's church," which is so far from the idea of the "church of the personal pronoun" we strive to hold to today. the term used the most is "the church" - one of the things i find most interesting is that when john is writing to the churches in his revelation, he never says "their church" - he writes to "the church" which happens to be in a certain location. the implied reality is that it is "the church" just in a different town.

i think this idea of "my church" is the most destructive force placed upon the followers of christ. while, some have used this idea that "the body" means all churches and denominations have a different function, and they make up "the body of christ" [the church], but that is stretching the use of that scripture to far for me to find comfort. some denominations use the scripture as a way of implying they are right in what they are doing. but what paul is writing about in his first known letter to the corinthians is that "in the body" - the church, the church in a location - people in that body have different gifts and talents and need to use those gifts for the church [local]. that scripture does not "give approval" for dominations as many strive hard to imply. scripture speaks in terms of unity, unity of the church, unity of the followers, unity of the leadership and not in terms of a "church of the personal pronoun." the idea of "the body of christ" is that as a the church local we are given certain gifts that should be used to help the church grow and reach the hurts of others. it is when we start thinking in terms of "me and mine" that we lose the reality that everything we have is ours in christ.

the good, the bad and the emerging:
being emerging, i have a hard time drawing the "black and white" line of good and bad. pros and cons are simply a personal point of view; if i lose 50 bucks and you find it, it depends on which side you are on to see it as either a pro or a con; so it is hard for me to think in those terms - but i can share with you how i view this situation and how i believe it is formed and controlled.

when i see the "church of the personal pronoun" in action, i see a church that forms around plaques, dedicated stain glass windows. this ownership pollutes the idea of change and forces us to hold fast the the past without regard for the future. i remember once pastoring a church that wanted to expand and put in a handicap entrance. while the idea was great, and the addition was needed, there was a problem. you see, a tree had been planted some 150 years ago un the name of a person who had long been dead. so, because the tree was planted in "memory" of a person some 150 years ago, the plans for the addition were put on hold until we got permission from a relative of the person. after six months of searching the only person who could be found was a fifth-cousin who lived over 1,000 miles away - and they were in their 80's. the church board asked if we could cut the tree down and the women, who admitted not having any connection with us, or the town, said "no." so, we did not proceed with the addition. when we place "ownership" we place others in control of who we are as a community.

when we think in terms of the "church of the personal pronoun" we lose the reality that we do not own the church. we start to see our offerings as ways "we pay the bills and keep the church alive." we believe we own the church and that if we stop giving the church will close. we then fight over what will and will not happen. one church i was given the opportunity to visit [the "ds" wanted me to serve their] was a rather interesting community. as i was being shown around i was brought into the sanctuary of the church - which was painted in the most disgusting shades of purple, multiple shades i might add. when i mentioned that the sanctuary might need a fresh coat of paint, the "chairman of the board" informed me that he had just paid people to come in and paint his church for his daughters wedding. the colors matched the theme of her wedding and they were not going to be changed, now or in the future. it was right after this i left the united methodist church, in fact the very next day.

while some believe that "ownership" is a good thing, i have never seen it as such. people strive to think, speak and act in terms of "ownership." "owning" the church is no different. people think, because they either "joined" the local church, or they give money to the local church, or their past relatives have been active in "building" the church building that they "own" the church. one of the absolute signs of ownership is the church that are called things like, "judson memorial baptist church" [i have seen, pullen, broadus, dawson, sisk, judson, snyder, heartford, fergeson, and so many more] - a church in the memory of judson, biblical? the idea that "this person was a great christian figure" does not mean we name churches after them - that is the ultimate in "church of the personal pronoun [noun]." what the name tells me, even if it is not what they desire, is that the judson family is the people in control and i would have no voice in any part of the church.

so, do we change?
i hope so. i hope we start thinking in terms of "the church" and "God's church" and we stop thinking in terms of "mine, ours and theirs." to do this we need to have a fundamental shift in thinking, a fundamental shift in the way we speak, act and think. we will need to move from cultural to biblical in the way we see church. we will need to see and express the idea of community in some very different ways. we will need to shift our thinking from "giving to the church" to "giving to God" - and mean it. we will need to think in terms of community and holding things in common, and allowing new people into that common bond. if we continue to view church as "mine, ours and theirs" we will miss the wonders of being in "God's church" because to be honest, i would rather be in God's church then your church, any day of the week.



i have to give credit where credit is due,and i got the seeds for this idea from my good friend jim palmer, the author of "divine nobodies." the idea, at first, was to "stand before God" 100% "unzipped," naked if you will - but i have been praying over this for a number of weeks and i have to say, i just and not on board with this idea of having to stand before God "unzipped" - the reason is, it sounds like a christian sales job - let me explain.

one of the things we tend to do as "christians" is we try hard to develop catchy little slogans and then try to place some kind of twisted theology into it so we can "sell" the package to the public. take, for example, the idea that "God Loves You." simple, basic and true, so we "sell" it as our slogan - tell the world, "God Loves You" - well, let's be honest this is the biggest load of garbage we can sell anyone - God loves everyone, no matter what - so our faith is not based on knowing how much "God Loves You;" it is based on How Much Do You Love God. we like the "easy sell" slogans because we think they make us a "better christian" but they do not, they just make us cheap.

so, when i started to think about this idea of "standing before God unzipped" i realized that it was the same thing - i do not need to stand before God unzipped, no one needs to stand before God "unzipped." God sees us naked as we are, God knows all the parts of our life and all the problems we live with - so, to "stand before God unzipped" seems silly. but, when you think of standing before yourself and your community of faith unzipped, naked, the idea takes on a whole different meaning.

you see, God is not asking us to stand before him unzipped, but he is asking us to do so before yourself and others, our community of faith, unzipped and open. think of it this way, if you can not stand with your community of faith and share your most horrid secrets, your most inner feelings, every hurt you have had and how you honestly feel at any given time - then that community is not worth living in and if you can not express your heart to others, you are never honest enough with yourself to matter. the idea of being so honest, so open, so accepting of others is scary to must people, but it should not be to those of us who follow christ.

to stand unzipped before your mirror and in community is a way we can process our lives and open our expressions of faith to the world around us. to be unzipped before self, before others, before those closest to you, those who are your family in christ is exciting and scary. but i think it is the best thing we can do; it allows us to heal and to express love, forgiveness and grace. now, i am still in process with this, and i think i have been very open about my life and my hurts over the past - just look back at the archives - but i desire strongly to keep being unzipped before self, before all, to be myself and express my life in ways where healing can happen and faith can be found.

what i have found most interesting is that over time,and i believe so many others have the same reality, that when ever our lives are at a point of being hurt, being opened, when we are having our scabs picked and our stitches ripped out - what we have experienced is a community of faith that hurt us when we stood unzipped before them - so we turn and run the other way when it comes time to even think of opening ourselves to experience such pain again - i know, i have been there. but i believe we can never truly express ourselves as humans in need of healing unless we are unzipped before self and others.

denominations are dying - guess why?

i have been wondering as of late if many denominations know they are dying? do we truly think any denomination will live past the next ten years of the 21c? i mean, given the stats over the past years i wonder if denominations know they are dying? if we take into account all the "emerging/evolving" communities of faith who deny any denominational connection, and even many of the modern evangelical churches that do the same, are we saying that belonging to a denomination is a 'bad' thing, or a 'good' thing? or is it a 'thing' at all? i have been amazed at the lack of information people 'in power' and in 'leadership positions' have concerning the emerging/evolving. they are the ones who are feeding the "new coat" thought to the people - "just make your church hip and cool and they will come" seems to be the driving mantra of many in leadership of denominations, that is if they have ever heard of the emerging/evolving. i can share with you some of the personal stuff i have been dealing with from denominations at 247 - you see, we felt it would be cool to have a "larger accountability and covering" but the response we got is amazing.

over the past two years i personally approached the district leaders and bishops from the evangelical luthers, the pcusa, the ucc, the doc, the episcopal church, the united methodist church and even the american baptists - i know, a pretty diverse gathering, but hey we are emerging/evolving community of faith and we want to hear what all have to say - well, here is what has happened:

the "local" elca, or "evagelcial lutheran church of america was a very interesting experience. i met with the bishop for the area for about an hour, maybe more and he seemed excited about the possibilities and promised that others from his office would contact me on the follow-up. one month later, after hearing nothing, i called and no one, no one, remembered meeting with me - and i got to thinking, how many other shave head, earring wearing, tattooed, 6'2" 250lbs guys do they meet with for an hour talking about the emerging church? needless to say, as they looked on the calendar they found when i spoke with the bishop and they saw the notes that someone was suppose to call. i got a call, and i was told to "download forms and fill them out and send them in"- which is weird because in order to do that i also had to download a "special" lutheran program to read the forms [adobe does not work for the lutherans] - and none of it worked. i tried to call back and leave a message with the person who called, but no one knew who she was and i never heard another word from them - and they never returned my follow-up calls. so, we let it go.

the "local" pcusa office was the easiest one to deal with. when i called i was told by the receptionist that, "we already had some other 'ethnic' [spanish i believed] church from your area join us, so we would not be interested in anything you had to offer" - ok, given that i never expected a call back from anyone, but i left my name and number any way and i was right, no one ever called. i will be the first person to tell you that people "in power" tick me off, but people without authority tick me off more - because they simply decide for other what they will and will not hear, never knowing the way things work. one reason this denomination may be dying is because receptionists get to answer more then just the phone.

the "local" american baptist church office never returned my phone calls - never, and i left four messages. so it seems silly to say but, we are not connecting with them either; and we let it go.

the "local" episcopal church was the most responsive, and also the most restrictive - for us to become a episcopal church i needed to go back to school for one more year - a seminary of their selection to study episcopal history and stuff [never mind the fact that i have a mdiv and start my dmin soon] - also, if we joined we could no longer use the music we have been using, we would have to pick our music from a pre-selected list approved by the church office; also, we would not be allowed to call ourselves "247" anymore - we would have to pick a saint name, or a latin name - we were thinking of 247 in latin - but that is a mute point now.

the " local" united methodist conference was the most legalistic of all the groups. they called me back and said, "if you get a copy of the discipline and read it and agree with it call us back and we can start talking - the book of discipline is over 500 pages and is a "legal" book or order. needless to say, that did not go far.

out of them all, the only denominations that expressed an interest in talking with us was the ucc and the disciples of christ. i find if rather ironic, no not ironic but rather interesting, that none of the people i spoke with had ever heard of the emerging/evolving conversation, and none had ever heard of anyone, or thing, connected with the conversation - none, they did not know our authors, conferences, gatherings, connections, sites, blogs [several had never even heard the word 'blog' before] or anything at all about the emerging/evolving conversation. one of the leaders, in one of the denominations told me that he was 'hip to the new lingo' and all the new things happening in the church. he told me he was 'on the cutting point' and he never heard of anything like the emerging/evolving conversation. he figured it is so new, he had not heard of it and he suggested waiting a few years for it to "catch on." i thanked him for his time and went on my way.


a new coat?

i have been thinking a great deal lately about how many churches are on the "we are emerging wagon." it seems that each and every day we recieve about 25 to 30 requests from churches who say "we are emerging" and yet there is little, if anything, emerging about them. recently i came across this writen by a disciple of christ pastor in sacramento, "...many churches are looking for a formula to place over their existing processes to make them suddenly attractive to new people and see “emergent” as something that would fill the bill. [click]"

man, does shout with reality. too many churches are claiming to be emerging/evolving but are not - too many are claiming to be this because they believe it is "the latest and greatest" program being offered. they place the idea of being "emerging" along side their 40 days of purpose, their "passion, the movie" teachings and so much more - they see it as a way to "market" to those outside the church, hoping it will "draw them in." they see other communities of faith use the same stuff - thinking cool graphics, cute slogans, hip pastors, spiked worship leaders and the like will actually change the reality that they are still force feeding the same stuff as always, its just now they are using different plates.


ladies and gentlemen, the church has left the building

as the lights dim, and the concert ends, those behind the stage curtain expect the crowd to shout for more; just then a voice comes over the speaker system proclaiming, "ladies and gentlemen, the church has left the building." while many standing behind the curtains chant for more with their lighters in hand waving back and forth trying hard to get the crowd excited; they do so to empty seats, many have found the exits and are heading out of the shell that was the church to experience something new, something different, something scary, something exciting, something dangerous, something doubtful, something reaching, something christ called us to be - many are finding themselves outside the church, striving to be the church, while not wanting to even think about the church, or think like the church, or about the church - the paradox between being "THE" church and being "the" church is incredible; the schizophrenia is enough to make a crazy person lose sleep, shave their head and tattoo monkey's all over their back [play that one in your mind for a while]. but there is a bigger back story to this adventure, there is something very interesting happening in the narrative of the church, something almost touchable, something smooth and shiny, yet rough and edgy. most in the church are missing this back story because they believe that what they are doing is the "only true expression" of "the church." they are lost in their "church" maze and refuse to just peek over the hedges to get out.

you see, not growing up in a christian home i have always been amazed at what some people in the modern evangelical church see as "off limits" to a true and exciting expression of what it means to be a follower of christ. it seems that many in the modern evangelical church are unwilling to address certain issues. certain traditions that seems to have been around "forever" are off limits and the story is never questioned. in talking with pastors, and other "church leaders" i am amazed at how little they know about church history [the story] and how long the church has been doing certain things. here, i would like to address two of the ones that have effected my story over the past few years, the role of one of the "pastor" and the role of the "denomination." let me first address the role of the "pastor." keep in mind, these two area will be related, and yet very random in nature.

what is a "pastor?"
God opened my eyes to this reality not to long ago. you see, i serve a community of faith as the narrator. now, for a long time i would have said, "i serve a community of faith as the lead pastor and we call that position 'the narrator.'" you see, the "narrator" was always in quotes because i wanted those who read it, or those i spoke too about it, to see that the position of "narrator" and "lead pastor" were the same, so they would know i was the boss - but in reality they're not the same, and never were. i have come to the realization that we have no "lead pastor" in our community of faith, only people who share in the story and seek to find their place in the narrative. people willing to take the step and share the story of who jesus is to them, in their lives and in their context. you see, a "lead pastor" needs to be a person who defines what faith is for others; they are the "go to guy" [yes, usually male] who must address all issues of faith; they seek control and demand that people listen to their words. they are the ones who dictate the story and define the plot, the players and the outcome. but i have never been comfortable being that kind of person, not because i can't be that kind of person, i can; i have always been uncomfortable being that kind of person because i believe that is not the role of anyone in a community of faith. it is not that i do not have an idea of what my faith is, but because i believe scripture tells us to simply be supportive of each other and that the only true boss is jesus. now, i know so many people are going to say, "yes, jesus is the head of the church" and then they will add, "but...." and give some reason they need to be the power broker, no matter the title given. i believe we need to rethink this and we need to address the issues at hand. you see, all voices need to be heard and all voices need to be given an equal light of expression. it is when people who claim the title "pastor" start to define the rules and set the boundaries we lose who we are as a free people in christ. in 2 corinthians 1:24 paul writes, "we're not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. we're partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours." this is a reality most "pastors" just seem to miss. in this there are no "buts" only the reality that my "boss" is christ and no other person can define that for me.

for me, i like being the narrator and not a "lead pastor." not because i think the responsibility is less, but because i see my role as sharing the story, walking alongside others and sharing story is exciting. you see, as a narrator i talk with people, i share how things are with me and i express how faith works in my life. as a "lead pastor" i would be required to give a "three points and a conclusion" message that in reality shares nothing. the role of a narrator is to help people think, the role of a pastor is to tell people how to think.

the denomination
not growing up in the church i never understood denominations. when i lived in new jersey i started to attend a "methodist" church, but i had to call a friend to make sure that the "methodists" were "christian" and not "mormons." my friend took an hour to explain the differences, and to be honest i was not sure what was happening when the conversation was over. as i read the history of the faith i truly believe that all denominations have need started by men who sought power and control. now, some will say that "their hearts where in the right place" - but i wonder. when we read the words of jesus we never find words that divide the church, in fact jesus speaks about unity of the church. in luke [9] the disciple tell jesus that they stopped a man from casting out demons because he was not "part of our group." but jesus tells them not to do that, because as jesus sees it, if the man is not against jesus, he must be for him. but what is even more interesting is that right before that jesus tells the disciples that they need to overlook what they think is important and get with the possibilities. in my reading of church history denominations have been started because someone did not like the teachings of so other group. there is no unity in the body of christ when we think in terms of denominations, because everyone else thinks they are right and all others are wrong, and everyone wants to be the head - no matter that they say in public.

i was speaking with a person who was one of the leaders in a rather large denomination when i started to say that denominations, in general, were like elephants, to large to change direction, and when in a group turning becomes impossible because they will trample over each other. he laughed and was quick to exclude his denomination from the comparison. he said his denomination was like "a bird." it could take to flight and change at any point quickly. my first thought was "Horton the Elephant" [Horton hatches and egg]

because story is so important i need to share with you a part of my story; i have actually been turned down for positions as a pastor in churches because i did not grow-up in a "christian home." i have also been turned down for positions because i was not a "member" of the denomination, even though the denominations have ways of accepting "outsiders" into their fold. to be open, that needed to be shared because it does cloud my personal view, and i know it does. in that, i still find the way we view pastors and denominations to be very interesting, and unsettling at the same time. interesting, because it show that human nature can not be broken by the church [even though scripture teaches us that when we are in christ we can over come our human limits] and that we trust our own more then we trust those who are new to their walk with christ; unsettling because it assume that if one is "born into" a christian home, they have a deeper walk then a new comer to the faith. also shows newcomers are never truly welcomed into the church, no matter what the church says. but this experience is a reality for many who have come to the church over these past few decades. you see, while they desire us to come and fill the seats and give a tithe, they are not willing to hear our voice.