Thursday, April 20, 2006

A place where everybody knows your name

I have been engaged in a dialog with some folks on a blog that I have been frequenting lately. It is a blog that is primarily focused on folks like me who either, were or, are a part of the Church of the Nazarene. What began as a conversation around Stephen the Martyr and his activities that led to his death included an observation that these activities were not necessarily authorized by the early church. That developed into a discussion around the roles and authorities in the local church. Many have very strong opinions on that. I know that I certainly do!

What also developed out of that dialog was an idea or two about what it is like to serve in some ministry capacity in a local church. And further, whether or not that ministry is fulfilling on various levels. There were some clergy vs. laity battle lines drawn. I participated in that discussion vigorously. (Perhaps too vigorously at times.)

Several things can be noted from that discourse. Consider the following:

Many times neither side understands the stresses and issues that each other faces in their daily lives. Many times pastors, who have come right out of college and into seminary and then into the pastorate really don't know what it is like to work in an environment that is unfulfilling to say the least. They do not have a recent experience or understanding of what it is like to punch a time clock.

And equally, many times laymen do not understand the stresses involved in trying to grow a church and lead a group of volunteers. Again, I am not indicting pastors or laymen here. I am only pointing out there is often not a common basis of experience on which to operate. My hat is off to all those bi-vocational pastors out there who work right along side of us laymen and who also carry the load of leading a small church. Those guys may very well have a special reward in Heaven some day. At least I hope they do!

The discussion among the 6 or 8 of us participating indicated that sometimes there was not a mutual respect and acknowledgment of each others Spiritual Gifts. That led one church to create a policy directing the pastor to recognize the fact that the lay people in his church had gifts and graces also. And that sometimes the Holy Spirit prompts the most unlikely people with new ideas or directions and it is up to us (the church) and the clergy to be open to at least consider these ideas and not immediately shoot them down as irrelevant.

This brought out a posting that quoted the passage in the NT where Jesus Christ gave authority to bind in heaven what was bound on Earth.

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:18 RSV

One of the folks participating pointed us to an article regarding the concept of binding and loosing.

In that article, the author uses John Wesley's small groups to help see how this might work in a living context. He developed it around the last of the four questions that were asked of each of the twelve members of the “class meeting.” Those questions were the following:

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations have you met with?
  3. How were you delivered?
  4. What have you thought, said or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

Look at that last question. “What have you thought, said or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?”

Wow! What a question! How can you ask that of a total stranger? The answer is, you can't. You must have a fairly intimate relationship and investment into each other's lives before you can ask that kind of question and receive a meaningful answer in return.

This lead me to an observation at least, if not a conclusion about the local church.

My opinion, and it is only an opinion, is that the local church that we were all referring to should be the smallest and most basic element possible. Some may call them cells or small groups. John Wesley certainly seemed to agree with that and he called them “Class Meetings”. In fact he put a great deal of emphasis on that small group. There were specifics actions and accountability in that small group structure as demonstrated by the four questions that were asked in turn of each member of the class meeting as noted above.

However, all of this goes counter to our culture that tells us that bigger is better. Culture tells us that we need to be a big church to really meet the needs of a lost and dieing world. We need auditoriums to seat thousands and thousands. We need snow machines in Houston, TX at Christmas time so that kids can play in the snow at church.

Really? Is that what we need?

Please pardon the secular illustration, but do you remember the theme song from the sit-com "Cheers"? It went something like this:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go.
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.

You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same.

You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name.

Again, my apologies for the distinctly non-Christian illustration from that sit-com. But I think it is illustrative in many ways of what many folks are looking for today from a church. They want that kind of camaraderie that you saw on “Cheers”. They want to know people like that and be known by them. They want someone to pour my heart out to when they are hurting. They want someone to laugh with them. They want to celebrate together the successes that each encounters.

That is certainly what I am looking for! That's the kind of place I would want to bring my friends to visit.

My only response to that kind of an illustration of the local church is to ask when the church, as a whole, grew the most throughout history? It was while it was being persecuted and meeting in catacombs underground. (By the way, I have been to the catacombs in Rome and the acoustics in there would rival any modern grand cathedral that you can imagine!) They were dark and dank and not exactly the most inviting place to be.

So what was it? What caused the growth? It happened long before there were praise choruses and PowerPoint. It happened without a multi-purpose gymnasium.

That thread certainly sparked a great deal of response. Albeit by a relatively small few. But hopefully those who were observing are being challenged in their own hearts and minds also.

Is there anyone else out there other than me who wants to walk in to their church and have folks warmly yell, "Norm!"?


  1. I think your secular illustration is perfectly fine because you are using it to teach about people and what they are feeling. Yes, the bible teaches all about that as well but we do need to listen to what people are saying. I have a local band (now broken up) that I listen to on CD from time to time. Some of the songs have swearing in them to which I now cringe, but when I listen to the lyric I think about what Jesus could do or say to that person to bring healing, deliverance, and freedom to the pain they are singing about or the dysfunction they are experiencing.

    Thank you also for prompting me to look at Stephen's story again to see what you may be discussing.

    I know at our church we are trying to get us laypersons to be more equipped to do the ministry and get us out of "let the pastor do it all because that's what they are paid for" mode.

  2. Here is the post that started the thread that prompted my blog yesterday. I need to point out that the comment at the end was made tongue in cheek.
    Acts 6:1-6

    1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
    5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

    Okay, so the church chose Stephen to administer the compassionate ministries, and then he goes off and starts preaching and picking fights, ending with a mob lynching.

    The net result:
    Acts 8:1b
    On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

    Somebody really should have told Stephen to stick to his assigned duties.

    Here is a link to that whole thread if you are interested in following it:

  3. Hey, somebody's got to do it. (preaching and picking fights, ending with a mob lynching I mean)

    I think it just shows how God uses some he places his spirit in and also it shows how we should choose who leads in various tasks in the church, namely, "choose from among you those who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom" not "who's breathing" or "who showed up".

  4. Anonymous10:00 AM

    Moving back and forth every 6 months, it's refreshing to have someone say,"It's so good to see you". Maybe they wouldn't be so glad to see us if we stayed in one place all year ha ha.
    Me again

  5. Maybe it's time you and Mrs. Anonymous consolidate to one piece of real estate!

  6. Here is the link to the beginning of the thread that I referenced in my post.

  7. I think you've hit a very valid nail squarely on the head. The thing we all need to help us walk out this life in Christ in a way that imitates Him is to have people with whom we can be open, honest and vulnerable. To know and to be known is the beauty and blessing of accountability and intimacy.

    As the pastor of small groups in my church, I can tell you I've seen the difference (on a large scale) having said community can make, not only in a person, but in the larger corporate Body. Whole sections of our church are cared for, connected, encouraged, discipled and challenged. All the while another, smaller (thank God) segment feels disconnected, uncared for and are certainly not being intimately accountable in a way that produces further/deeper discipleship.

    I think the call to community is really a non-negotiable if we are really serious about living our lives as we were intended. I certainly don't know what I'd do without mine!

    By the way, you shouldn't apologize for your "secular" illustration. I really don't find it all that "secular" to begin with (in the literal definition of the world). Secular, taken from the latin, Saeculum meaning "of this world in time" as opposed to "eternal"....I find the sentiment quite eternal. Don't you? I think it expresses the heart of God for community in a world dominated by individuality and isolation. Nah. Not "secular", really.

  8. scott7:20 PM

    I am still fairly new to the whole small group thing. In my last church, it was a mens group and not very....."meaty" if you get my drift. An old guy(don't get me wrong here either, they love the Lord) would sit and read and give a few of his thoughts and we were done. If anyone had any questions that were on the edge of anything, they sorta got ignored or brushed over....for instance, who was Cain afraid of that would murder him? We asked that question and he had no answer....

    Anyway, I am in a new church with some dern smart people in it, but the thing I like most is I am challenged to think in the new setting. I am still kinda shy and to myself with some thoughts (that is my personality), but I am becoming more comfortable, mainly due to the fact that I do feel welcome when I come in. I think you bring up some very valid points here!