Archive for May, 2011

There is a lot of discussion about the legitimacy of the institutional church lately. There are intense debates occurring in print and online. I have read books and blogs written by people who suggest that we get rid of all remnants of the institutional church. I have also had discussions with some people who believe the church as we know it is fundamentally, biblically flawed. I follow blogs and twitter feeds that share ideas by people who feel strongly about their beliefs regardless of which side of the issue they fall upon. I believe that those who want to get rid of worship services are trying to do what they think is right, but I have to disagree with them on this issue.

Reading sections of the New Testament, those who want to dismantle the church find verses that (when cropped to cut out the parts that they don’t want to talk about) support their notions that the church (usually identified as the “institutional church” to make it sound like it’s a literal prison) is anti-biblical. This is the panacea for all those who find fault with a pastor or a congregation, or a worship team’s decibel level. No more scrambling to find the perfect church (which doesn’t exist). Hey, I don’t have to go to church at all because Paul wrote a letter telling the church of Corinth that all people should be able to use their gifts in their meetings. If you find that passage, please stop reading as soon as you get to the part where it says that everyone should use their gifts, because after that verse, Paul says that women should be quiet and not interrupt the men. Paul says women should not speak in church because they are distracting. When you ask those who want to destroy the institutional church about that section, immediately following the one about everyone getting a chance to speak, they say that the women thing is only written to that specific church at that specific time. The other stuff is timeless though. Interesting. I guess we can all just take what we want to take out of Scripture and make it say what we want it to say.

I do not have all of the answers. What I am saying is just because something is not brought up in the New Testament, that does not believe it is ant-biblical. In his book, “Pagan Christianity”, Frank Viola derides the institutional church because there is nothing in the New Testament about believers meeting in buildings, and that a pastor leading a congregation did not exist for the first Christians. These may be accurate facts, but if there were no Sunday schools, or youth groups, or worship teams in the Bible, does that mean that they are inherently wrong? Do those things, or can those things, bring value to God’s people? Can they bring hope, or love, encouragement or challenge, knowledge or wisdom? Just because they are not part of Christianity two thousand years ago does not mean that they are worthless, or worse yet, heresy.

I believe that there is value in the church system. If you are only getting your faith from a sermon on Sunday morning, I think you are missing a big part of your faith. I believe that personal quiet times with God grows a person’s faith deeply. But for those who do read the Bible and pray throughout the week, Sunday morning church services are amazing boosts. Pastors are paid to devote their time to study and pray so they can help teach, encourage and challenge a congregation.

I went to college and paid professors to teach me things that I could not have learned from books directly. I paid them to spend their time to plan lessons and to challenge me to grow. That did not take the place of personal study and homework, though. I could not have passed without studying on my own or doing work outside of the classroom, but I could not have learned as much as I did without going to class either. I feel church is very similar. I think that we should look at church the same way. Our faith cannot come from a pastor, alone. But we should not discount the gathering of saints on a Sunday morning, or a Sunday night, or a Saturday night, or whenever that congregation meets. To do that is to cut off the body from a vital part of faith. Belonging to a congregation can be a great experience. In a congregation, people can learn how to live with other people with other personalities. People can learn how to faithfully and biblically handle conflict, how to serve and to follow others. In a congregation, we learn how to put others first, how to listen.

I know that this is a touchy subject for a lot of people. I believe that God is working in the hearts of those on both sides of the issue, and I know that His glory will still shine in the world regardless of where we meet. I’m sure some of you reading this will have strong opinions about what I have said. Feel free to comment, but please try to keep from tearing people down.

I have not been teaching lately. With the wedding coming up, and some important details still in the air, I have delegated a lot of my youth group leading to other leaders. The young adult group that I lead is on a hiatus for the summer, as well. Therefore, I am not teaching right now. This break started a couple of weeks ago, but already something is noticeably different.

Image: smokedsalmon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hello??? Am I just teaching myself here?

I feel like my relationship with God has changed, or has at least dwindled some. The funny thing is, I have been reading my Bible more often and my prayer life is as good as, if not better than, it has been over the past few months. I was kind of at a loss about what was happening, until I talked to an old friend of mine the other day.

He told me that faith is a very interesting thing. It is something that only increases as you give it away. He told me that it was normal to feel a little out of it right now. He told me that my break from teaching right now is what’s causing my supposed slump. It isn’t that my faith is weaker, but just that it’s different. I’ve been teaching the young adult group for about five years and both that group and the youth group for around three. My faith has grown into something that I love sharing and teaching. So now that I’m not teaching anyone, it feels like something is wrong. I don’t believe that there is actually anything wrong with my faith right now (not compared to when I was teaching twice a week), but that I just need to learn how to deal with this aspect of my faith.

I know myself as a creature of habit, and I generally try to find patterns in things so that I can find the most efficient way to do any task. Once I get the pattern down, I can just hammer out whatever it is I need to do. While I was teaching, I had my faith organized to work within my schedule and my life. I am starting to think that my problem lies within my pattern based life. Maybe I do need this shake-up to take stock in where I am with God. Maybe He wants me to change how I interact with Him, and how I show Him to those around me? Have you ever been in a situation where God has changed some part of your walk so that you can refocus on Him? If so, how did it work out?

A scene comes to mind. A fairly large NY apartment where two guys used to live, but now only one remains. As he says goodbye to his roommate, the door closes and he turns away. Seconds later the door swings open and the departing roommate runs back in to hug his friend.

Living with a friend can either be a great bonding experience or a fantastically painful one (we can’t all be Chandler and Joey). Over the years I have had plenty of roommates both good and bad. Today I am writing about my friend and roommate, David Rotch. Well, if you’re reading this, he’s not my roommate anymore. He has moved on to greener pastures. You see, Dave just got married. Well, I guess it happens to the best of us, but I’m really going to miss Dave.

Dave and I have been roommates for three years, and in that time we have seen our lives stretch, grow, unhinge and fall apart. We have spent countless hours talking about life, usually standing outside until one or two in the morning. Throughout my life I can think of many people who have helped me and encouraged me. I have had many people challenge me and comfort me. I really am blessed to have so many great people in my life. My friendship with Dave has been a special blessing, though. He has been an encourager, a confidant, a sounding board, someone to sit and watch countless hours of tv with, and someone who truly challenges me to grow. He has dropped me off at the airport too many times to count. He has talked me out of stupid decisions and listened to me whine and complain about whatever is bothering me at the moment. Dave is a true friend.

I am a better person because of my friendship with Dave. I am excited for him and his new bride, Elia. I pray that their life together will be rewarding, fulfilling, and wonderful.

For those of you out there who have friends like Dave, let them know that you care about them. Sometimes we all need to know that our lives matter and that our friendships are meaningful.

I know this one guy.  He’s one of those people who is always running around.  He has a job, serves at his church, has a social life and a lot of other things that pull at him from seemingly every direction.  He never seems to rest, and is almost always stressed out or tired.  Actually, come to think of it, you probably know this guy, too.  He is probably every guy (or girl) you’ve ever met.  He’s probably you.  In fact, you’re probably hoping that this will be a short article so that you can get back to something else that’s demanding your attention.

The question is, how did we get here?  I don’t know about you, but my life is fairly busy.  I work, lead a young adult group, and help lead a youth group.  I am generally teaching twice a week (sometimes three times a week) along with having a full time job in IT.  I have wonderful friends who would like to spend time with me.  There are teenagers and twenty-somethings who seek me for advice and guidance.  I am a fairly busy man.  Don’t get me wrong, I ike what I do, so I’m not really complaining about it, I’m just setting the scene.

I think I hit the main problem with a lifestyle like this.  I like it.  In fact, I really like it.  I truly enjoy the lunches, dinners, meetings, group times, study sessions… all of the things that make ministry difficult and time consuming.  If I didn’t like these things, I would stop doing them.  But how long can I (or you) keep up this pace?  What happens when we start to lose our footing, or our momentum?

I think we need breaks.  Not necessarily long breaks, but we need breaks.  A couple of weeks ago I asked some of the other leaders in my groups to take over for a bit.  I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and looking for a house, so I need all of the extra time I can find.  I am grateful for these people who are helping me with the teaching and planning of these ministries while I take a short sabbatical.  One of the things I started to notice once I shared the responsibilities is that I felt free again.  Not in a “see you later, sucka” kind of freedom, but I noticed that I don’t need to lead everything all of the time.

photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just tell the intern I'm looking at houses

Since I have these people around me who are capable of teaching and leading, I should use them more often.  In fact, they have been asking to help out more often, and allowing them to step up not only helps me, but it also helps them.  What an amazing concept.

Now that I see that I have people around me who can take charge and lead these groups, maybe I will plan for a couple of these breaks every once in a while.  I know I can use the time off to regroup and refocus.  Also, I can help others to grow as leaders while I recharge my own batteries.

Do you take breaks?  How do you plan them out?  I’d love to hear how you guys do it.