The Functional Church Blog

koinonia * kerygma * diakonia * marturia

You can’t say that here

Posted by functionalchurch on 2013/12/03

I am sure that everyone has heard of Yolanda, the massive typhoon that struck the central Philippines in early Nov 2013. The storm not only brought a lot of high winds to the area, it also pushed a 6m-high storm surge into the city of Tacloban. Reports say that this storm surge reached up to 700m inland destroying most of what lay in its path. The result was immense destruction and heartache that will continue for years to come. 

Of course after a disaster of this magnitude assessments are made to find out what went wrong with the plans that were made and how can they be improved in the future. In this case, one of the issues appears to center around the warnings that were issued regarding the coming “storm surge.” Many apparently did not understand what a “storm surge” was and therefore did not take adequate precautions. Studies are now underway to find out what Filipino terms might be used in the future that would help people better understand the dangers that may be approaching. Current options include daluyong and humbak but the debate continues.

There is a similar issue in theology. The group I currently work with in the Philippines uses an Affirmation of Faith that is in English. This is because it was adopted from the Affirmation of Faith from the first missionaries to the area, who happened to be Americans. I recently had a discussion with one of my Filipino colleagues about this statement that seeks to express the faith of Filipinos in a language that is not entirely their own. Our discussion centered around making our faith understood. Of course, translating concepts between languages is fraught with danger. What if there are words that have no equivalents? What if concepts are not transferrable? Like the use of the word “storm surge” was not adequate to communication danger to those in Samar and Leyte, perhaps words like “grace,” “baptism” and “church,” which have no Filipino equivalents, are also inadequate to express God’s desire for Filipinos today. In fact the word “baptism” is itself not even adequately translated into English. Rather it is merely transliterated from the original Greek word.

It leaves us with the question: How do we make our beliefs understandable to those of other languages and cultures and how do those beliefs legitimately change when that translation occurs?

I had intended to end this post here until I was reminded of something. When I was a child in Canada, we had heard of tidal waves — massive surges of water that inundate the land. When I got older I found out that in fact “tidal wave” was not the correct term at all for that kind of wave. Rather it is “tsunami,” from the Japanese. I guess part of my misunderstanding lay in the fact that those kinds of events are quite far from Saskatchewan and therefore my frame of reference is skewed. In this case, a foreign word was needed to help me express a foreign experience.

I guess that leads to another question: How much of theology is a similar “foreign experience” that needs new words in order to be adequately expressed? Or must theology always be expressed in one’s heart language in order to be truly understood?

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What is church for?

Posted by functionalchurch on 2012/12/04

Enjoyed this video from Seth Godin regarding school. Take a look.

I have a similar question: What is church for?

We debate about what church is? Some would say, “A church is a big building that sits on the corner of our street.” Others would counter by saying, “No. It’s not a building. A church a group of people who gather together to worship God.” Actually both are true, if you look at the dictionary definition of “church” so there is no need for us to argue over that one anymore 🙂

But have you ever thought about what church is for? Can an understanding of why we do church help us in defining it? Millard Erickson talks about two aspects of defining church in his Christian Theology (Chapter 49). One is the essence of the church or the church’s nature. We use biblical and philosophical ways to answer this. The other is empirical. This is the church as it is lived out in the world. I think that perhaps we have focussed too much on trying to find the church’s essence that we have neglected its functionality.

Godin’s argument is that once we understand what school is for, we will be able to adapt/change what we are doing now so that we can actually meet our goal. I would argue the same for church. If we don’t know why we do church on Sunday (or whatever other day you do it — the concept is the same, just a different schedule 🙂 then how will we know we are meeting our goal?

 

So, how would you answer the question, “What is church for?” Do you agree with your answers?

Posted in church, church impact, ecclesiology, legacy | 2 Comments »

Church is no longer an “everyday word.”

Posted by functionalchurch on 2012/12/04

The Greeks used an everyday word to describe when they gathered together as Christians. We use a religious word to describe the same thing. And that fact has a tremendous impact upon how each of us understands the concept.

The funny thing is is that it is the same word: “Church.”

I spend a lot of my time trying to define this word for leaders in the Christian movement. We look at how it is used in the Bible; we look at what it meant in the original Greek; we study how it has been used through the ages since the 1st century; and so on and so forth. And when we come to a conclusion we proclaim it from the hilltops: I know what “church” means! (Of course, there is the corollary that if I know what it means then you probably don’t. So you need me to tell you. Good on me!)

But what if we couldn’t use that word? What if it was not available in my heart language? What if my culture had no concept of that word? What would I do then? How could I describe the body of Christ without the word “church”?

Is it possible?

Want to take a shot?

How would you describe the concept of church without using the word “church”?

Would you be willing to give up the word in favour of your new one?

Posted in church, cross-cultural, ecclesiology | Leave a Comment »

I Claim this place in the name of …

Posted by functionalchurch on 2012/11/29

New Chinese passport map of disputed area.

New Chinese passport. The dotted line in the lower right corner shows the disputed area that China is claiming.

Have you ever thought about the idea of laying claim. I remember as a child looking at pictures of early European explorers visiting “new” lands and, after planting a cross or a flag, claiming that place in the name of the king (or queen or whoever). Now before you get offended remember that I share both European and First Nations blood 🙂

Recently you may have read one of the following articles regarding China’s new passports. Apparently the show a map that includes disputed portions of the “South China Sea” as being a part of China. As you can guess, various countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the USA have made their opinions known. That’s because they also have claims in the area. It is a problem that has been brewing over many years but has recently come to a head. Time will tell how this will be resolved.

I began to think about the church and about missions. Do we lay claim to things that don’t belong to us? I wonder what people in the 10/40 Window think about all the maps of their countries that have been distributed over the years? I wonder what “Manila Ben” or whoever Saddleback named their target audience thinks when s/he sees the various effigies of who they are and how to “reach” them?

The concept of “claiming” implies concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil. Those doing the claiming always come out on the good side, while those who are claimed are always on the wrong side. But is this really the way missions works? Can any of us claim to be perfectly and totally connected to God? Aren’t we all on a journey?

Are we making unfair claims upon the people of the world? Do we have any other choice? Do those people then have the right to make a similar claim upon us?

What do you think?

Posted in church impact, cross-cultural, discipleship, ethics, good news, kingdom of god, missional, missions, philippines, transformation, truth-telling | Leave a Comment »

Thoughts arising from Mike Breen’s “How do you make Missional Disciples?”

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/10/11

I have been following with interest the current discussion led by Mike Breen regarding disciple making and the missional church. Since both missionality and disciple-making are personal interests of mine, I have enjoyed reading the blogs and reflecting on how they will reshape my understanding of church and mission.

Today, Roger Helland, posted on the BGC Alberta Facebook Page the following statement/question in response to Mike’s latest post:

As I reflect on Christian life and leadership, I am both convinced and convicted, that disciple-making is the goal, end result, and organizing practice to which I must commit. Disciple-making is the Jesus ordained mission of the church. But, it is built more in organic relationships and imitation. I need to take some time to explore Mike Breen’s questions, which are both convicting and compelling for me personally. If you want to read his blog, have a look, and offer your reflections about the need and nature of disciple-making. How would you see disciple-making flourish in your life and leadership, in your church, and in our district and denomination? Do you, does your church, have a plan for disciple-making? Is the plan working? What are the outcomes? How do you measure them beyond simply the number of baptisms?

Bums in pews is the traditional way that we have measured disciple making. If we have more attending church on Sunday morning then we are making disciples. Our goal: “Invite your friends to church.” Once you have done that, the discipling process goes through stages such as teaching them to tithe, getting them to teach Sunday School/lead a cell-group, getting them to join the choir or the board or the deaconesses, etc. By definition a church in this model means basically a Sunday-morning worship service. Thanks to Reg Bibby we realised that we were just circulating the saints and that more bums in my pews meant less bums in my brother’s pews. And of course we forgot the mission of the church and so we looked for another solution.

So then we thought, let’s look at baptisms as a guide. Our goal: “We are having a regularly scheduled baptism on _____. If you want to be baptised just let the pastor know and we will add you to the list.” This is considerably less “missional” than the previous “Invite your friends to church” (because it is primarily insiders who are asked to participate) but it does at least try to answer the “circulating saints” issue. But then, for example, I know of one specific church that has baptised literally hundreds of people. Unfortunately, you would be hard-pressed to find many of those baptised believers involved in a church today (much less involved in mission). And the church that was planted no longer exists.

So now we are looking at disciple-making as a guide. If disciples are being made then the mission is successful.

It seems to me that we have a problem of definition. For some, a disciple is someone who attends church on Sunday and gets involved in some part of that operation. I suspect that if you asked someone on the street to define disciple of Christ they would include regular Sunday-morning church attendance as one of the key factors. Baptism would be much farther down the list – I suspect that tithing would be higher in the minds of many 😉

So in answer to your question, Roger, “Does you church have a plan for disciple-making?” My answer would be, “Yes, all churches do.” Next question: “Is the plan working?” My answer would be “Yes, insofar as they each fit our own definition of what a disciple is.”

Obviously there are problems. But perhaps because we are both too specific AND not specific enough in our definition of disciple. Disciple means “bums in pews;” disciple means “baptisms. But disciple means far more than that. Mike Breen talks about “Dinners. Parties. Work days. Grocery store trips. Mission. Worship services. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Funerals.” This I think is really at the crux of the matter. For me it’s not so much what are we doing wrong as it is how can we enhance the disciple-making that our churches are already doing to be more holistic, inclusive, universalistic, biblical, accessible, understandable?

So the question is how can I get this going in my life so I can contribute to the disciple-ness of someone else, even as they contribute to mine?

Posted in christian life, church, discipleship | 3 Comments »

So if you had to make a choice, which wo

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/03/18

So if you had to make a choice, which would win: God’s love or God’s justice?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Impact or Engagement: What does the Church do?

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/03/12

Impact is a word that excites me particularly as I think about how the relates to society. I teach about the church having impact, about the church doing its role of influencing society to become more and more like the Kingdom of God each day. I have often thought of a nail as a good example of this:

If a nail wants to be used effectively – it if wants to fulfill it’s function – it needs to find a hammer to impact it and drive it into some wood. Impact is essential to the functionality of a nail.

But impact is also a one-way street. Getting back to the nail and the hammer, when the hammer impacts a nail, the nail’s only participation is to be hit repeatedly on the head. The nail really has no impact on the hammer (unless of course you believe the warning label that says the head may shatter – see the Mythbusters episode to see how this really works out).

Another word excites me too. It is “engagement.” Engagement is a better word because it is not a one-way street. It is two or more parties working together for a common goal. It is not simply dependent upon one party to do all the driving – both parties participate.

So when it comes to the church what is the best word to use? Do we say that the church needs to have impact and be the driving force behind any change or transformation in society or does the church engage society, working together toward a common goal?

Here are a couple of verses to help us in our thoughts:

Matthew 5:13-16 – “You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, how will it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. “You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16 seems to imply that there is some part that we have – we are salt and light – in societal transformation.

Romans 8:19-22 – All creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal who his children are. Creation was subjected to frustration but not by its own choice. The one who subjected it to frustration did so in the hope that it would also be set free from slavery to decay in order to share the glorious freedom that the children of God will have. We know that all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time.

One the other hand, Romans 8:19-22 seems to imply that creation wants to participate in something – it is not just waiting to be used but wants to be part of the solution (but also knowing that it depends upon God to redeem it).

So what about you? Which concept is the best depiction of the church’s role in society? Impact or participation?

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What is the Good News? Certainly not this!

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/02/23

I first came across Bill’s story quite by chance doing some surfing through Wikipedia. It interested me a little but not enough to research any furhter. Then I came across this post on Anthony Bradley’s blog and got another perspective.

Reading this made me emotional. I was sad as I read Bill’s story. But when I got to his description of his parents’ religion I got angry. Let’s see what you think:

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, my parents are fundamentalist Christians who kicked me out of their house and cut me off financially when I was 19 because I refused to attend seven hours of church a week.

They live in a black and white reality they’ve constructed for themselves. They partition the world into good and evil and survive by hating everything they fear or misunderstand and calling it love. They don’t understand that good and decent people exist all around us, “saved” or not, and that evil and cruel people occupy a large percentage of their church. They take advantage of people looking for hope by teaching them to practice the same hatred they practice.

A random example:

“I am personally convinced that if a Muslim truly believes and obeys the Koran, he will be a terrorist.” – George Zeller, August 24, 2010.

If you choose to follow a religion where, for example, devout Catholics who are trying to be good people are all going to Hell but child molestors go to Heaven (as long as they were “saved” at some point), that’s your choice, but it’s fucked up. Maybe a God who operates by those rules does exist. If so, fuck Him.

Their church was always more important than the members of their family and they happily sacrificed whatever necessary in order to satisfy their contrived beliefs about who they should be.

I grew up in a house where love was proxied through a God I could never believe in. A house where the love of music with any sort of a beat was literally beaten out of me. A house full of hatred and intolerance, run by two people who were experts at appearing kind and warm when others were around. Parents who tell an eight year old that his grandmother is going to Hell because she’s Catholic. Parents who claim not to be racist but then talk about the horrors of miscegenation. I could list hundreds of other examples, but it’s tiring.

 

What right do these people have in calling themselves followers of Jesus? Then I was reminded of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who seemed to get it really wrong even though they so badly thought they (and only they) were getting it right. How does the good news get messed up so badly?

Here is the post in full over at Anthony Bradley’s blog:

Bill Zeller’s Painful Suicide Note–Sexual Abuse & PTSD + A Conservative Christian Home = Suicide – The Institute.

It does lead me to ask myself, however: How am I getting it wrong in my presentation of the good news? What are you doing right?

Posted in Anthony Bradley, christian life, christianity, ethics, good news, legacy, truth-telling | Leave a Comment »

Anthony Bradley’s Functional church made practical –> On “loving the city” long-term

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/02/23

Functional church anyone? This guy (Anthony Bradley) has got the idea right. But not just the idea, the practice that goes with it! He doesn’t care about forms and appearances but is solely concerned with church engaging society. I like it a lot (even if it is scary).

A functional church really has to get down to this level — the behind-the-scenes-not-pretty-but-really-where-the-problem-is kind of stuff.

It’s one thing to set up a place to get together and talk but it is quite another to take a stand and try to root out some really issues.

Here is the link to the article:

On “loving the city” long-term (in contrast to well-intentioned hipster, neo-paternalistic versions) – The Institute.

What things would you add to the list?

Posted in Anthony Bradley, church, church impact, discipleship, ecclesiology, ethics, good news, kingdom of god, legacy, marturia, missional, personal impact, service, transformation | Leave a Comment »

Here’s How 1 Church Defines Functionality

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/02/22

Of course in a blog entitled “The Functional Church Blog” it might be a good idea to add real-life examples of churches that are acting in functional ways. One of those churches is locally known as Hope Christian Fellowship Transformational Ministries (HCFTM). Here’s how this church defines functionality. They think that it is so important that they decided to add these four points to their statement of faith.

1. Proclamation is HCFTM’s way of declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people. We declare Jesus as Lord and Saviour of our community and we recognise His central role in transforming the world through intentional evangelism, communicated effectively in a culturally-relevant way by people who have themselves experienced the transforming power of God.

2. Service is HCFTM’s way of showing the love of God to people both inside and outside of our faith community though acts of mercy, relief rehab and development. We will be engaging in educational ministry services such as establishing schools of all levels. We will be delivering free medical-dental clinics. We will be conducting livelihood programs for the poor of our communities.

3. Truth-telling is HCFTM’s way of being God’s prophetic voice by engaging society with biblical truth through participation in public advocacy, social justice, value transformation, promotion of freedom, engagement in the public square, involvement in market places, and the transformation of public perception through education, evangelism, church planting, intercessory prayer, and discipleship.

4. Community-building is HCFTM’s way of revealing the joys of the kingdom of God to people outside of our faith community through active participation with like-minded faith communities, active cooperation with like-minded groups, and active accountability in both the religious and secular world. All this is typified with the Christian attitude of unity in matters essential, liberty in matters non-essential, and charity in all other matters.

Basically HCF is saying that without these 4 functions, a church is not doing what it is supposed to do. Do you agree? What would you add? What would you subtract?

 

Posted in church, church impact, ecclesiology, good news, kingdom of god, marturia, philippines, service, truth-telling | Leave a Comment »