Archive for April, 2008

Weddings and the Imago Dei

Friday, April 11th, 2008

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There is something in our makeup, reflecting the image of God, which needs and even craves celebratory experience.

I have increasingly grown to appreciate such ceremonies and the surrounding celebrations as part of the innate rhythms of communal life that give meaning, shape and form to what it means to be fully human. Every culture has such anthropological realities.

And we see God not only honoring such events but also instituting them throughout time and history. I can’t help but believe they are reflective of the Imago Dei and tell us much more about the nature of the triune God than we realize on the surface.

“… a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.” John 2

Confessions of a FOTB

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

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My only daughter, Christine, is getting married this Saturday and I’m the “father of the bride.” So how does this once-in-a-lifetime experience feel thus far?

• It is really different than when a son gets married. More responsibility, more details and more expense.
• It hit me a couple weeks ago…her name is changing! No longer Metcalf, which I have used for 25 years.
• Like most dads, I’ve always been protective of my daughter from predatory males, and now I’ve giving her over to one. It’s an emotional switch.
• Home is no longer our house, but wherever she is with him.
• There is deep satisfaction knowing the man she is marrying is a wonderful match for her. We have grown to love him dearly
• Seeing one’s child make a wise and godly choice in choosing a mate has got to be one of life’s most fulfilling gratifications.
• Her room will no longer be just “hers.” She’ll have a guy in there with her whenever she’s here.
• This event is another one of those milestones, which highlights my mortality, and the fact I’m getting older.
• The gambit of emotion, so far, runs from deep joy, anticipation of the celebration, moments of frenetic activity to make sure details are worked out, and occasional sadness because relationships will never be the same again.
• I have a growing admiration and sense of bonding with Steve Martin.
• It is great to have another man in the family from the next generation who can eventually change my Depends and will probably someday help lay me to rest.

Megachurches

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

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I want to fend off some of the potential critics and those who think I am bashing megachurches. I’m not.

In fact, there is an excellent recently published study that helps replace lots of myths about the megachurch in North America with some solid research. Beyond Megachurch Myths is a good book. Before anyone hurls critical missiles at the mega-church, I would recommend they absorb this volume.

I believe the megachurch is a fixture solidly established in the diverse mosaic of the American religious landscape. While it may struggle and slowly morph to adapt to a rapidly changing culture around it, the form itself is not going to disappear in my lifetime or for several generations to come. While there are hoards of people who are disillusioned and fleeing the traditional structures, there are still plenty of sons and daughters of the boomers who are stepping into their parent’s shoes to inherit the religious institutions they have created and/or embellished.

Whether it is Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral which appealed to my grandparent’s and parent’s generation, Saddleback and Willow Creek which are boomer focused, or Mosaic, Rock Harbor and Hillsong whose demographic is gen-x and millennials, the mega-structure is an enduring phenomena on the North American scene. As Peter Druker commented in 1998,

“Consider the pastoral megachurches that have been growing so very fast in the U.S. since 1980 and are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last 30 years.”

Megachurches have great strengths. They can do things that are simply out of reach for a house church or a group of 100, and megachurches exert leverage that can shape the entire Christian movement in their locale and beyond, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. The influence they and their leadership exert is far out of proportion to the numbers of attendees, particularly as megachurches are held up as the model for other local church expressions to emulate.

Best estimates are that there are 1250 megachurches in the U.S. (out of approximately 320,000 Christian congregations) with 4.5 million attendees on a weekly basis. These churches account for one-half of 1 percent of all the religious congregations in the nation and yet the largest 1% of American churches contain at least 15% of the total worshipers.

Be we also have to be honest about megachurch limitations. I would agree with Alan Hirsch’s observation that only about 30% of the North American population is within reach of the institutional/traditional/attractional church and an even smaller percentage of that would ever meaningfully connect with a megachurch. While megachurches may represent a significant slice of the religious population, their influence on the general culture may not be much to crow about. Bigger may be by some criteria better, but it may not be always best.

The bottom line is that the American religious mosaic is incredibly diverse and complex. In the Protestant realm, it is distinguished by ethnic and socio-economic diversity, urban vs. suburban, the emerging church (which mainline evangelicals are going after like a mother eating her young …a whole other topic), organic/simple church, the missional/incarnational models, third-place groups, neo-monatistic movements, liturgical models, old-school evangelicals, mainliners, megachurches, etc ….

Put that all in a blender and add the presence of the supernatural and what swirls around is a remarkable cacophony that reflects the creativity, diversity and the accommodating graciousness of the triune God.

Is Bigger Best?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

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I was sharing lunch with a businessman and friend who chaired the board of elders at one of Southern California’s booming (at that time) megachurches.

They were launching into what would be over a 30 million dollar expansion which was to give them a building that would seat at least 5,000 for worship. The idea was to double the present size of the attendees from 5,000 to 10,000 and the 30 mil would allow them to do this.

He also admitted they were going this direction because they wanted to provide a bigger, broader platform for the senior pastor who was drawing more people than they could accommodate because of his charisma.

So I asked what seemed to be an obvious question:

“Have you or the church leadership considered the alternative of investing those millions into starting perhaps ten new churches of 1,000 each rather than expanding the present physical plant?”

His stare was blank. He admitted such a concept was not on the table. No one had even considered the idea of planting and multiplying, only of growing the present set-up larger.

The result: they built the building at great sacrifice and effort. The Sr. guy is no longer there. And the faithful in that part of Southern California continue to just circulate around to whichever megachurch meets their needs as consumers while the net number of unchurched people continues to rise.

While some may have considered bigger to be better, it is hard to believe it was best.