Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deconstructing the “Church” -Part 1

What we have been attempting to do for about four years I will call "deconstructing" the church. Basically we have been attempting to digitize the church, that is, reduce it down to its most basic and irreducible form, where, if we remove one more thing, it will no longer be the church. There are a lot of reasons for this, one being that the replication of DNA takes place at the cellular level, rather than the most developed, complex level... another is that I am too tired to do the big church thing.... another was the influence of a book by Lamar Boshman on "Future Worship” that traced the locus of emphasis in church life from the sacraments in the middle ages.... to the pulpit in the reformation… to the platform in the electronic church.... and he predicted that in the digital age the locus of God's presence would be "in the midst of his people"....

From a missional point of view, we wanted to develop a model of church life that can easily be replicated in any social group or context with minimal scaffolding...Like catching or uploading a virus.

So, we started “deconstructing” layers of church life. The building was the first to go…then Sunday School, worship team…centralized giving and a joint financial account, then the leadership structure: the senior pastor, elders and staff.

Not surprisingly, one of the hardest things to get rid of was a weekly “meeting” for structured worship (worship meaning music and singing). This was especially hard for those who were raised in a context of weekly Sunday morning meetings. We now encourage the smaller committed groups to decide for themselves how often, when and where to meet, as we also encourage them to to give but empower them to hear from God about where to give.

We suggest Acts 2:42 as a guideline for their gathering. To truly empower the laity, and abolish the clergy-laity division will require more radical action than most leaders have been willing to take up to this point.


Michael said...

When we begin deconstructing an organization or institution we have invested heavily into, we begin to deconstruct ourselves. It is a challenge to re-think what we have known and built securities around.
I still get hung up at times about not going to church on Sunday. It is not easy to shake. My replacment for this activity has been to work or have fun. Tough to figure out and not feel guilty.

Dr. Sam said...

I would add the word "detoxing" from "church" as we know it. It has been almost 8 years since I did formal pastoring of a "church." Since then, God has taken me back into the secular world to directly swim with real sharks and I must say, I love it! Being so long in a system where I was scared to lose a paycheck, where my paycheck was controlled by less mature indidivuals, being in a situation where I had to sing and dance a certain traditional way or I was not "cool"... all that has been slowly surrendered. My identity was very heavily tied up with being a "successful" pastor. Never mind being with Jesus and walking close to Him. I say this because I've known many immature and less spiritual pastors who have thousands of congregants more than I have ever had. Jesus said that only ONE thing was needed. It was not becoming a successful chef... if you get the metaphor.

Jim said...

Traditions….. Traditions, Traditions, Traditions…..

So sang Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” in early twentieth century Russia. Tevye daughters tried to break the “tradition” of being married by a matchmaker and by their father.

In our traditional or American Church model as Dow says, I am curious how difficult it is to break what we have traditionally had for a form or worship. Paul might have warned us not to fall prey to ‘doctrines of men or doctrines of devils’.

Michael, I too miss the corporate worship experience…where God inhabits the praises of his people, but I’ve found a music CD, DVD or even the psalms on CD can bring what pleases the Master, praises to the Lord Most High.

josenmiami said...

yes, good comments...I agree with everything said.

I met with an Hispanic pastor this morning who's congregation has shrunk to the point they cannot pay him a salary, nor can they continue to pay for their meeting place. He was trying to figure some way out to "keep the system going".

I'm afraid I dropped a few bombs on him. He said the people seem to expect him to come up with some kind of "financial miracle" to keep things running. I told him that was because they were "trained" by listening to him expound God's word for an hour plus a week, to see him as God's intermediary between them and God....a holy man, a priest.

There are a lot of churches being shaken right now...and a lot of pastors getting shaken out of the modern priesthood. At the root of much of it is the money trail. This guy has no way to support his family apart from keeping the religious system going.

The only time I can think of that Jesus got seriously disturbed was over the commercialization of the religious system of his day.

I told him he better start looking for a job, and considering some career options.

mbrennan said...

The task of deconstructing is being carried out by God. Joseph has shared these stories about meeting a pastor who is about to have to "shut it down". I think that we won't necessarily be able to see what has a hold of us, but God will begin to shut it down. The job now is to agree with Him and begin to sluff off what He's killing off. Don't fight to save what He is transitioning out of. Fight to save your relationship with Him and see what relationships are holding up.

I, as a young guy, was also ejected from the traditional church culture and was forced to reconstruct church without being able to replicate. I think that covenant relationships are key. In the end all I need is one other person to stand with me in ongoing fellowship, prayer, transparency (a new term for CONFESSION), worship is now sourced from heaven not emotion. I have church with a good friend of mine on the cell phone each morning. When a brother walks in my office to talk about His marriage, we have church. When I am riding in the car, we have church. I get the word through CDs, conferences, peers, my wife, books, the Internet. It's just moving away from program sourced church life to a whole new set of channels - relational and technological. Pilgrim church. Travelling church. Undercover church. One on one church.

This is what Bob's ACM talk about "Seeing His Face" meant to me and His statement about "Post Christian" and "Post doctrinal". It's a cry to lay down the programs and live on pure, direct Ultimate Reality alone. We need to make this move. We need to grow into this. Our children will not have the luxury of "going to church". We will have to show them that we are the church. Incarnation of the church.

Dr. Sam said...

Good stuff, guys! Joseph, your words are wise for our time.

In my humble opinion, that paycheck really incapacitates and, in some cases, makes some pastors/ministers feel like a woman of the night in having to sell themselves, their dreams, and go pimping themselves and grovel to immature committees and congregations. I know of many a pastor growing old, sad, and wasted, not having seen God do all that they dreamed. Some times their wives consider the "church" a mistress they hate but can't say so because it "ain't" the Christian leader thing to say. If she did, her husband's job would be down the tubes. Sad.

Ruth said...

Funny...this conversation makes me think of C.S. Lewis' book 'Screwtape Letters'. There is a part where the human that is the subject of the book becomes a 'christian' and begins going to church. Screwtape advises his nephew that this can be a good thing! He can be lulled into a false sense of security, because after all...humans cannot truley fathom what 'The Church' really is.... (if I'm quoting the wrong book I'm sry its 7 am and I haven't slept yet seeing as i got off of work like 2 hours ago lol)

I think of missionary fields and realize that there are many lost souls trying to find their way in the 'church', not just in the world. Sad really, because so many in the world judge our faith by the lost members of 'the church'.

It was a friend of mine's birthday last night, and Joseph had a little get together for him at the bar where I work....after about 3 hours of listening to my friend go on an on and on talking Joseph whispered to me that he wished my friend had a mute button haha!

But I realized something. The friend in question grew up in a Jehova Wittness household, shortly after some hurtful situations became an atheist, and currently is leaning more towards being agnostic. And I honestly think that me and my father are the first 'christians' he has met that aren't 'of the church' if that makes sense, and my father is the first male authority figure that he feels he can talk to about spiritual things and get REAL answers!

So I guess my church atm is my parents and the random get together at the bar i work at haha...but what better place for the Father's spirit to move?!

Btw Sam, very good analogy. I know growing up I always felt that way about my father and the church, I felt neglected for Her, and in the long run the church was the driving wedge between me and him. I aplaude my father for realizing what was going on, and moving away from a destructive situation, and towards a healthier one (as far as our family was concerned).

Sorry I got so long again lol.

josenmiami said...

hey, no more comments on this subject?

good comments Ruth. I really enjoyed being there at Stick and Steins on Friday night, and especially having Dr. Sam with us. I am sure the presence of "Christ in us, the hope of glory" was lighting up the area. I really like the people who hang out there.

Dr. Sam said...


I enjoyed joining your father and you at your hangout. I enjoyed meeting your friend and his funny cohort.

They show signs of liking "catching some rays" of light as the truth was emanating via the simple thing of being loved and accepted. That's more powerful than a thousand sermons on Love. Thank you, also for the free sodas.

Ruth Hillary said...

I was really glad to have you both and Samuel Jr there =). It is truely amazing how starved for attention and affirmation some of these guys (and gladys lol) are.

And Dr. Sam, the sodas are no problem at all =)

josenmiami said...

so... back to our original discussion the "deconstruction" of the church... I appreciated Matt's observation that we don't have to deconstruct the church, that Jesus is already doing that.

What is the one thing (or several things) that is essential to be the ecclesia? What is a core issue that cannot be removed without the church ceasing to be the church and becoming just a social group?

John M. said...

I published this last night on the "Post-Istitutional" thread, but I kind of mixed my response to comments made on both threads, so, thought I'd put it over here too. If you've already read it there, I apologize.

Hey Ruth! I'd love to [come visit more often]; if you can figure out how to do it free, I'm sure I'll show up more often! Wish I could have been there Friday night for the Birthday party. Glad Sam made it.

I resonate with a lot that's being said here -- especially Matt's description of what is "church" for him. I can identify with much of what you're saying there Matt.

Sam, it's been eight years since I broke out of the traditional salaried pastor box. I wouldn't go back for any amount of money.

Steveinthevine said...

1) The one thing is JN 15:5. Jim taught me that. (Thx!)

2) Deconstruct if you must, but please detox first. Great note, Sam. It's the "beam in the eye" principle (Matt. 7:5) that Joseph higlighted thru Commands of Christ. (Thx!) Let's teach our leaders and kids to detox before trying to "fix" what is "broken."

How different would our world be if people detoxed before correcting? Seriously--politics, religion, education, everything gets better. You don't have to listen long in any conversation to find poison. We all have it.

3) To me, deconstructing seems more of a human thing. I question how much time God spends on it. His energy is spent positively: creating, healing, restoring, reconciling (2 Cor. 5:18). Is that part of "deconstructing"? I just see it as taking something apart. Does God do that much? Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind.

God touches something, and it changes. Things or people that lose connection to Him are destroyed. It's a natural consequence. Conversely, His Church is dynamic and always growing, even if we don't see it. He's a gardener, clearing the way for His Vine to keep growing. I don't see where "deconstruction" fits in that model. If I have a big speck of poison in my eye, please let me know.

I think most of us are still more caught up in our humanity than we realize. I think we create most of our human structures for us, not for Him. We need to get caught up in His divine nature, and everything else will fall into place (Jn. 4:24, 2 Pet. 1:4).

I'm still learning how to do that.

Keep stretching for the Light,
LA Steve

Ruth Hillary said...

I think Deconstruction plays a bigger part in Gods model than u think steve, but in a different way than it is being looked at. Like the vine analogy u used. He is the vine and we are the branches...but as gardeners know (my mind goes out to Ed Biggs when he trims his trees) many times you have to prune a treee/vine/bush for it to flurish and blosom again. See when branches die, sometimes they don't fall off the vine, and God has to cut them away to save the life of the vine.

Another thought that comes to mind is how you say that deconstructing is a manmade thing...I wonder is institutionalism a part of God? (I know this kinda mixes into another topic on the boards here sorry). When one looks at the early church, institutionalism isn't found family/community is. Maybe had we not instituted institutionalism we wouldn't be trying to deconstruct it.

One other thing is this...many churches seem to be deconstructiong naturally. Joseph talked about a pastor friend of his that is having to find a job outside of the church...this is happening more and more lately. And if you truely look at the next generation, we are shoving institutionalism away as if it was in some ways it is happening on its own.

The delema is this: The older generation is comfortable in the institution, its four walls a roof and a floor to keep the "evils" out...I'm reminded of Ozzie in Matt's post...he was shaking up the institution and they didn't like it. The good news is, there are people like the ones on this board that see this and want out of the box....and want to bridge the gap and chill with us Ozzie's out here.

Realize this, God never intended for his "church"....his body to sit in a building and spin inwardly (Brother Charles or brother Bob tlaked about this at ACM last year). "But you will recieve power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaris, and to the ends of the earth." ACTS 1:8

I'm sorry I can't believe that the church today is what the Father intended for it to be....the fact that there are a few leaders in the church willing to see that and act on it gives me hope for my generation!

(whew u guys really get me going haha.....I always get on here thinking I'm just gonna write a short note lol)

John M. said...

LA Steve, welcome! I liked what you said in your post and found myself agreeing with it -- until I read Ruth's! Actually, I agree with both of you, because I don't think what you're saying is contradictory -- just two different perspectives of a large issue.

Ruth I always resonate with your posts... you give me hope for your generation!

Joseph, to answer your question about how far we can strip it down and still have "church". My answer to that question keeps getting shorter and simpler.

At this point I would say, "At least two people gathered in His name." I guess you could flesh out a bit what "gathered in his name" means...

Here's a go at that: Spiritual hunger... desire to follow Jesus...desire to be receptors and projectors of his light... desire to love and obey him... desire to love and honor one another... desire to humbly love and serve those who are not yet following Jesus...

I could go on, but I think I've already made it too complicated.
I'm actually describing a maturing, functioning church.

I think the basic description of church is what I began with -- at least two people hanging out with Jesus in mind. He said that in that case, He would be there. And since he's there, if those two continue to hang together and genuinely and sincerely look for Jesus' involvement in their lives; He will take care of the rest...

Based on that definition any two people in any place at any time can do and be "church". Was that what Jesus was "imagining" when he made the initial statement?

Pretty awesome idea...

josenmiami said...

the definition that Neil Cole uses in "Organic Church" is two or more people gathered around the presence of Christ.

COle makes the "presence of Christ" an essential, non-reducible part of the requirement for church...which is making more and more sense for me.

YOu can have two or three people praying, reading, but if Christ is NOT there, it is NOT church.

John M. said...

Joseph, how would you define "the presence of Christ"?

If the two or more people were followers of Jesus, wouldn't they be "carrying" Christ's presence in/with them?

If the two or more people were genuine seekers who were "pre-Christians" wouldn't Jesus be present as he promised?

These are not confrontive questions, but a genuine attempt to sort out the meaning of your post.

I'm also thinking that for those with a sacramental approach to the church that the Eucharist would be a vital part of defining "Church" from "non-church".

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus "knew" Jesus in the breaking of the bread.


josenmiami said...

Hi john,

I am not sure I can define his presence. I was looking for my copy of the Organic Church. Neil Cole has a great minimal but flexible definition I there about two or three gathered around the presence of Christ. In notice that Paul P. uses that phrase a lot as well (gathering political people around Jesus).

I would define Jesus’ presence as … Jesus presence. I know when Debbie is present, and when she is not.

Since he is the king, his presence must equal the kingdom of God. Therefore, his presence might be inferred from the presence or absence of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” We might also infer his presence from when people are committed to learn and keep his commands (his friends).

All I know is that I can usually tell when his presence shows up in a tangible way. Other people seem to notice as well. Good question…

John M. said...

OK Thanks I can realate and identify with the subjective sense of Jesus' presence you are describing. I am aware of that too -- most of the time. I wonder, though, if sometimes he's "present" and we're not aware -- like the two disciples on the Emaus road -- before he revealed Himself to them when they broke bread to eat -- actually, I think they recognized Him when he prayed before breaking the bread.

You and I have talked before that possibly the "line" one must cross to transfer from the kingdom of darkness to God's Kingdom may be more "blurry" than we have made it -- and about the fact that it may be more accurate to define a "believer" as one who is moving toward the Kingdom rather than away from it -- that only God really knows when someone has "crossed over".

So here's my question: Will Jesus be present (as in "church") when two or more seekers are gathered in His name to attempt to sort out how to follow him or if they are going to follow him? That really would be "seeker sensitive" if Jesus were actually there helping them sort out their journey.

One last question. (Seems I'm full of them, but not "it" I hope! The verse in Matt. 18 seems to imply that his presence is a given if the two or three are gathered "in his name".

So is the determining factor, His presence or his name? If when we gather in his name he promises to be there, then, what does it mean to "gather in his name"?

Hey everyone! Are Joseph and I the only two interested in this? If so, we can talk privately. I don't want to violate the purpose of "Revolution" by getting too heady. To me this little discussion has a ton of practical implications, but that may be only me. Pipe up if you think we need to move on, and feel free to get another discussion going.

josenmiami said...


if you have time this weekend, why don't you get out your Organic Church book and see what he has to say about it. If memory serves right, he devote nearly a chapter to the importance of the active presence of JEsus in cp.

Ruth Hillary said...

I think this has led to a very important discussion. I have been thinking much can we deconstruct the church until we are no longer focusing around the Father? And i think that the Key item here is as people have posted, "where one or two are gathered...." More importantly is the "in His name.."

The Father can show up anytime he wants to, whether a person is alone, chilling with friends, or gathering with intent. however He promises us that when two or three of us gather with intent (in His name)he will be there. That doesn't mean he won't show up unexpectadly if u aren't gathering with intent.

But I think a fraction of what church really is, is gathering with intent.

My question is what else? Is it possible that the core of what church is, is really that simple? Or is it that our minds simply can't fathom what the church really and truely is?! The church that is the Bride of Christ...

John M. said...

Joseph, I haven't pulled "Organic Church", off the shelf yet, but I intend to.

Ruth, as usual, great post. I think I hear what you're saying -- can we deconstruct too much until we have something so simple that it's sub par or not really church?

Some initial thoughts... Just because you can strip something all the way down to its simplest form, doesn't mean that's the only form in which it can exist.

So, if the most basic church is two or three gathered in his name (I liked your word "intentionally".), then is it not possible that there can also exist more complex configurations of church which are also valid? We're talking a both/and situation and not an either/or.

What you're touching on in your last statement is very important. Obviously two or three gathered is not the Bride nor the Body of Christ. It may be church, but it is not the Church. It is merely a subset of that mysterious, spotless, bright, shining, terrible, spotless, victorious Bride of Christ.

If the simple church people disregard and invalidate the "complex" church, they lose someting important. And if the larger more complicated expressions of church, make the mistake of failing to recognize the validity and importance of the simple church, they become blind to a significant activity of the Lord in his Church.

Ruth Hillary said...

I agree with what u are saying John (wow it feels weird calling u that instead of Mr. And thank your for so eloquently (spelling? bleh) expanding on what I most likely butchered in my post haha!

One thing my last statement about the Church being the Bride of Christ...I don't even think the "complex" church understands what that is. I digress to C.S. Lewis' 'Screwtape Letters' again... there is a part where Screwtape writes to his nephew about how the church as humanity sees it bares no resemblance to what the true church is, and that unless we are looking in spiritual eyes, we will not truely understand her(the church/the bride).

Honestly I feel that the more simple we strip it down to, the closer we are at comming to the realization of what God intended the church, his bride, to be. That is not to say that the more "complex" church is wrong, or don't know what the flying flip they are doing haha, but instead to say that many large, institutionalized churches have begun to spin inwards on themselves. Part of the movement towards communities/organic churches/cell groups I think has been a result of people hungering for something more real, and something not spinning in on itself (again not to say that "all" complex churches are doing that)

I just wonder if we are going too far out....or if we must go further to find what the Father has for us.

John M. said...

Once again Ruth, I agree with you! Btw, please do call me John. I feel much more like J... than Mr. M...

Being the Bride of Christ... being the Body of Christ... way too huge to ever totally comprehend with our mind. It has to be spiritually discerned. The deeper we go in our spiritual understanding, the more we are confronted with mystery. I'm learning to love mystery...

I think you know where I fall when it comes to simple v. complex. I agree with your next to last paragraph.

Regarding your last question. We're probably not as far out as we think we are. The full reality is probably much farther out than most of us (or any of us) will ever go in our human existence. But we can still keep reaching and keep moving forward. We need to keep following the silver thread to see where it leads.

John M. said...

Ruth, here's a quote for you...

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." T.S. Eliot

I hesitate to use it very often because it can be so easily misinterpreted by those who do not have "ears to hear", but I think it fits with your question.

Ruth Hillary said...

So I would like to pose the questiong to anyone and everyone frequenting.....

How far out are you willing to risk going to find the Father's heart, desire, and will?

John M. said...

Yeah, we need to hear from the rest of you. Ruth and I are getting lonely in here!

josenmiami said...

well... I risked a wife and 4 children by moving to South America without much financial security... and actually a couple of kids suffered from that that what you are talking about?

Ruth Hillary said...

kind of...but alot of people will risk physically what they won't socially.

You and mom have risked everything in your journey towards the Father...I admire that, and hope that I can push myself as far or farther.

But, for example....are you (in general to anyone who wants to answer) willing to risk your social acceptance, your reputation, your job security, your percieved sanity, your lifelong bonds with the people you call brothers and sisters in find where the Father is moving and where He would have you go?

Or are you happy to sit back and tell yourself that you are outside of the box....and not push further on the walls...?

revolutions require people willing to do anything to see a change occur....however most revolutions tend to pick up strays on the way that like to piggyback....which one are you?

josenmiami said...

are you talking to me specifically? YOu know me pretty well...which one do YOU think I am? Riding piggyback or cutting through the forest creating new trails?

John M. said...

Ruth, you take a hard line! I've been pondering your last post where you laid down the gauntlet of how much we're willing to risk, and honestly I'm at a loss to know how to respond.

At first, when you were mentioning things like relationships, job security, perceived sanity etc. I was feeling pretty good, because I've experienced and done some of that over the years.

But as I continued to read, I felt kind of like, "maybe I haven't gone so far out really..."

And then that one of seeing yourself as "outside the box", and then just resting there... Ouch!

After reading and mulling over your post for nearly a week, I still don't know how to answer.

I would like to think I fit in your final description, because that is my "ideal" and I would like to believe that I'm living it. But if asked to show evidence and fruit of that ideal... I'm not sure.

Maybe I'm only a piggy backer, or a pretender, or a wanna-be when it comes to this radical/revolution that God is up to.

I guess the real issue is that God knows my heart and my deepest desires and commitments. I hope that they are in line with His purposes. My spirit is willing -- my flesh is weak. Some days I'm ready to press forward, cut loose and do whatever... I admire the Caleb's (the guy in the Bible who at age 85 was ready to go take new ground), the Joseph Holbrook's, the Gary Henly's etc. But I must be honest that I also have days (maybe in close to equal amounts where the idea of "retirement", going with the flow, doing things "I" want to do, enjoying my grandkids and family etc. seem a lot more attractive than putting all my chips back out on the table... The older I get, the harder it is to keep it all out there on the line...

So there is my honest (I hope) and ambivalent (I acknowledge) response to your questions.

Ruth Hillary said...

Hmm....I think I may have pushed to far with my last post haha seeing as only John and Jose responded...

*breathes in*

here it goes...Jose all I can say is that I can only hope to have blazed as many trails and paved as many roads as you have by the time I'm your age. I'm sure you, just as everyone else, has your moments of wanting to sit down and just yell *POOP! I'm done!*, but usually you are back up and pushing forward before the words have even left your lips lol.


I'm at a loss...I didn't mean to come across harsh, or draw a line saying piggy backers /revolutionists. It just occurred to me, that many people along the way will jump on the band wagon....I don't want that (yeah that seems selfish even as I write it), I know it will happen, but i don't want it haha.

I want to push Christians to see what is happening around them, but I don't want them to get comfortable again. 9 times outta 10 the comfortable road is the wrong one, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' sound familiar?

I asked about bonds with brother's/sister's in Him....mainly because I realize that not everyone in the church will be willing to push, to risk. And when times are changing...change with them or get left behind.

I don't think u are a pretender or a piggy backer. Do I think you can push further? Yes. Its a matter of how far u are willing to push. But a pretender? No. I see you longing for more, chomping at the bit =) loosen the reigns a notch more ;)

John M. said...

Hey Ruth, Thanks, you are gracious. We all have comfort zones, and it's so easy to get stuck in them. That's why we need you, and others like you, to keep challenging us, so that we'll keep pressing on. Btw, you didn't press too hard -- but you made me think and take inventory -- that's good. In answering, I tried to be honest and vulnerable. It's too easy to give trite answers to questions like that and end up in a spot like Peter found himself in on the night of Jesus' crucifixion, after he had made his bold statements about being willing to follow Jesus anywhere no matter what. I would rather promise less and deliver more than the other way around.

Ruth Hillary said...

Then I'm glad I made you think =) and thank you for being open and vulnerable with your response, that means a lot.

Anyone else like to answer? hehe ;)

John M. said...

You're welcome, Ruth. It's good to hear from you. I've been missing you.


Ruth Hillary said...

I miss you too....

its odd it seemed so natural when you and vicki were down here recently...I miss u two.