Wednesday, May 03, 2006

the franchising of the church

I wish it were as easy as 1, 2, 3. A friend recently wrote on his blog that sometimes it might be easier if his job entailed just one thing. Like a truck that paints lines on the highway. I don’t wish for that. I know it would bore me to tears. And I like the challenge of pioneering something new. But sometimes a little help would be nice.

I learned today that one of our churches here in London is credited for helping to pioneer detached youth ministry, that it’s ministry had far reaching results and even that Paul Simon wrote “Sound of Silence” while attending this youth project as a young man. I’m still trying to iron out all of the details, and get a fuller picture of the story, but still, what I know is enough to make me add this story to the ever growing list of stories that fall under the heading of, “What in the world went wrong?”

How did we lose our edge?

Did we become complacent? Did we franchise this church out to people who had no business running their own business? Did we fall out of favour? Did we become too arrogant? Did we lose sight of our original mission, becoming therefore, irrelevant?

Did you ever visit a chain restaurant that had been franchised out by somebody who, you could just tell, didn’t quite get the spirit of the chain?

The world doesn’t need the church any less. And there are certainly churches out there that are growing by leaps and bounds (though, to be fair, very few of those, if any, are mainline denominations), so blaming it on changes in society seems like poor form. So what is it? Lack of good leadership? Lack of humility? Have we taken an extremely relevant message, faith, and mission, and somehow made it irrelevant?

I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago meeting up with some fellow youth workers there. As we were driving through one of the poorest neighbourhoods there, my chafer explained to me that the Army church in this area was shutting down, that it was no longer relevant there. And before I could stop the words from coming out of my mouth, I said, “how can the Salvation Army be irrelevant in a poor community?”

But that question poses a much wider question. How can the Salvation Army be irrelevant in a world that is dying to see faith backed up by action? A world that is seeing more and more people get involved with social action issues? And a world that is seeing a measurable rise of interest in spiritual pursuits? How can the Army be irrelevant in that world?

Could it be that the one thing we base our success on, Sunday morning attendance, is the one thing we do that is the most irrelevant? I’m thinking as I type here.

My wife and I were given an Army church (corps) building about a year and a half ago. Up until that time, though the building was located in a poor community, it hosted no programmes to help meet any of the community’s needs, except a Sunday service, and that service was extremely poorly attended. The Army was shutting this church down, so my wife and I offered to take the building and see what we could do with it. A year and a half later and the building is full every time we open the doors. Right now that’s three days a week. We hope to make it five in September. And, even as we search desperately for the staff we need to open the building up more often, people in the community are asking for more. And I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no excuse for the Salvation Army becoming irrelevant in a community like this one. Except one. We have a singular definition of what church is. Church is the Sunday morning gig.

I don’t share that to gloat. Fact is, my time is spread way too thin and somebody with more time than me could have that building packed out, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. And I really struggle with that. I struggle with the fact that this community is being short changed by a guy who has his hand in way too many cookie jars. But I’ve also proven what I’ve always believed to be true. Reaching people is not the hard part. The hard part is taking those, already involved, to a place where they can reach people. Changing their concept of what it means to be a Christian, and be the church. And, maybe even harder, changing our own concept of what it means to be a Christian and be the church.

Even as I type that, I realize that I too don’t really understand what that means. But I’m beginning to get a clearer picture. I’m beginning to see, more and more, what it might look like to be a relevant Christian, and a relevant church, with the same message and same theme we’ve had for two thousand years. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbour as yourself.

Comments on "the franchising of the church"


Blogger Larry said ... (1:58 PM) : 

You made me think today. Thanks
No pithy comments. I am struggling with much of what you are talking about.

God bless you and your work Tim.


Blogger Bill said ... (6:31 PM) : 

"Could it be that the one thing we base our success on, Sunday morning attendance, is the one thing we do that is the most irrelevant? I’m thinking as I type here."

I kind of think you are right. Sunday attendance is the measuring stick. Successful corps have large sunday gatherings. So, what else can we use to measure whether or not what are doing works?

For me its in changed lives.

Anouther thought, in the Army our history is rarely told. I mean the fact the Army was always urban until after WWII. If we are not Urban are we the Army?


Blogger surrendered said ... (7:57 PM) : 

Awesome stuff, Tim. Sorry I missed you at Roots. Someone who loves you very dearly told me that some of the best stuff happening in the Army in the UK is being done out of your corps. Grace to you. Keep up the good work and keep challenging us to show what we believe by what we do.


Blogger Sean said ... (8:17 PM) : 

Tim, you have opened a can of worms for me, so I will try not to go off too much.

Also, this will make people mad, and it should. Feel free to remove it if you think I am just being bitter.

Since leaving the Army 8 years ago I have still had close contact through camp and friends and my parents and now my wife who works for my parents. Since my family is close again, I get to hear again alot of the things I did when I was growing up, about the Army.

A preface ... the Amry has been good to my family and I love their vision at its core...but, what in the fat! I agree with the Sunday yard stick problem in part. I am huge on the idea of Church not via the pews, however I am also a fan of a gathering of saints. I think that if a church really focusses itself on gathering the saints and equipping them for battle, it will grow.

I look at the Army and see a group that measures success by attendance on Sunday (which is often times scewed) yet half the time doesn't put the effort into making it the best representation of God it can be. If corps leaders honestly answered how much time they spent on making Sunday morning a place that truly equips the saints and gives the best effort to making the poor feel empowered to worship God( which again is supposed to represent their best) I feel like there would not be a good answer. (this is not completely to fault officers, but a recognition of the ratio of time spent in a work week on what measures succes)

I personally don't care if they do it Sunday or Thursday or everyday, using guitars, tubas, sermons, food or a place to hang out. I think trying to be relevant is over-rated and if they were to do as you described, they would find that people are there already searching for something. At the risk of sounding cliche, the love of CHrist is more relevant than anything you or I or anybody could do. Through Christ living in others more; more creativity will happen and reletivity will be the biggest non issue. I feel that the Army micro-manages people and teaches its upcoming leaders to micro-manage so that it squenches any spark of newness or creativity. As long as the uniforms are in place and the band plays. Of course their not relevant. I am now banning the word relevant for at least a few days.

I am not really in the Army anymore, but my heart breaks when I see it failing so hard in our culture. I feel like every week was another opportunity to empower people through Christ that got squenched by some initials, or some program that has always been there I believe that it will take some moving and shaking the likes haven't been seen in a long time to change the church. I believe that there is some serious repenting that need to happen for gossip and slander, pride, a lack of Biblical leadership and a succession of failing to use the resources God has given to impact communities.

That is very strong, but according to the Army I am still a soldier (somebody has me in their books,) bt more importantly as a brother in CHrist whose heart is to see the Army rise up and change a world that needs it, I pray that it would experience a true on their knees revival. I might dawn the uniform again if true change would happen.

P.S. know that I know that there are high points in the Army and lives that are changed, but at some point the Army has to look upon themselves with sober judgement. I also am limited to what I see right around me.

So for you Tim, go man go. Use whatever they give you or don't give you.


Blogger Nicole_Hostetler said ... (1:33 PM) : 

I feel your pain and hear your discouragement. Commitment to service is the biggest issue among many fellow officers (yes, I'm calling it out). We've allowed personal biases to infiltrate our service. Not loving with the heart of Christ, but with the eyes of humanity. How can we expect our people to rise up when we are satisfied with the checklist (ok, so a plug for my newest post)? Sunday service..check, Home League...check, Sunday School...check, Fundraising...check (I think you get the picture). Although I know that without the "required" meetings the Army would never be open in some communities (I've seen it) so where is the "balance"? How is this problem addressed? Individually, corporately, through the training process of officers or even before? I don't know...answers I'm struggling with myself!


Blogger surrendered said ... (3:43 PM) : 

"I might don the uniform again if true change would happen." I think this is an attitude I've had myself at times. the thing is - and i'm speaking to myself more than you - you can't affect change on an organization from the outside...


Blogger Cari said ... (9:26 PM) : 

How come me feeling good about what happened on Sunday has become a measuring stick for how well worship went? I will scream this until I go Home-church isn't there for the emotional benefit of the people. Believers OR nonbelievers. We are commanded to gather together (and not forsake it) to corporately worship God as Christians whether it's a Salvation Army Church, Baptist Church or Methodist...whatever. THEN after spending the time worshipping (which doesn't have to necessarily fit into our rigid time constraints) we go out into the world and meet needs and reach people and teach them how a loving God will save them, and then they'll want to praise the One who gave them life and breath.

I promise you if you come to church just ONCE and truly find God there (or at your house, or anywhere) you will never ever walk the same again. When we seek Him, draw near to Him, take one step toward Him, He closes that chasm and scoops us up in His arms and we bask in His glory. Then we can't help but want to tell others. So where does the frustration come? From me wanting to effect change myself so badly that if I don't get some sort of gratification I feel like everything is falling apart.

I know...I know. I wish we could all get on the Holy bandwagon together and save the world, too. But until people see God in us and Jesus own love shining thru our eyes, no one's gonna want a part. They're going to church and finding self-involved people who think they need to fix everything. We can't. We can trust that our little seeds are going to be grown by God. This is prophecy. The closer we get to seeing Him face to face, the harder and less productive our Christian lives will be.


Blogger Nicole_Hostetler said ... (3:49 AM) : 

I guess what it boils down to is...what do we have control over? Those things over which we have the choice to make...are our choices in line with Scripture and with what the Spirit has revealed to us? Are we trying to fit the mold or are we allowing God to shape our ministry? At the end of the day I remember that I have only myself and God to answer to...have I done all I have been called to do this day?


Blogger Sean said ... (3:23 PM) : 

" you cannot effectively change an organization from the outside" (or almost quotes) my first question is...really? Is it (any organization) really closed to objective outside influence? (that is not a challenge, but a question to ponder)
-two has the Salvation Army just fully embraced it's status as a non-profit social organization and not a part of the Church ...big C... which last time I checked, I am a part.

Tim wrote about grace last blog, the interesting thing about the discussion of right/ wrong, good/bad, how churches should opperate, is that at some point grace might necessitate action.

I can be "nice" gracious with churches a bit. There comes a point though when it becomes too heavy and it is on your heart, when you need to be not "nice" gracious but ask some tough questions and let them deal with it. They can decide wether to look at what has been said or chalk it up to..." they don't know me, they are an outsider" (of which I have recieved many times.) Nobody is perfect and there is no need to kick and scream about little things, but that doesn't mean you can't ask hard questions.

I am who I am today, a christian and a leader because someone was gracious enough to ask hard questions. THe church is what it is today because men and women have asked hard questions. You'd there'd be a verse about iron sharpening iron, or adressing sin in each other....hmmm


Blogger BLUE said ... (3:30 AM) : 

So dawn the unifrom again and make some changes.


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