09 October, 2006

Half-Assed Sunday School

There's this guy in my Sunday School class that I really appreciate. He grew up Catholic, and often brings a fresh perspective to our very Baptist way of doing things. Yesterday was one of the days where Chuck did it again. He unintentionally performed the greatest object lesson our Sunday School could ever have had.

You will likely be hearing a lot about my church in the coming weeks because we are, quite honestly, becoming something different. We're still God's church, but we are striving to achieve a new level of relationship with the communities surrounding our building. We are striving to be servants to the world where God has placed us. Hopefully Nashville will come to know us by our fruits.

I say all of this to say that yesterday's Sunday School class (not taught by me, thankfully) was about how we should build bridges to the community. We talked about how we had things to bring to the community and how the community had things to bring to us. And we also talked about the murky waters we had to transverse with the bridge. There was a whole list of things, including prejudice.

And during that discussion, Chuck said that we had to avoid 'scope-creep' or we would end up doing a half-assed job.

The entire room squirmed. Except me. I loved it. Because right there was a living example of what we were talking about. Here is a man from a different cultural background using a phrase that seems crude (but actually isn't) to discuss a real issue. And I thought to myself "if we get this upset about some guy saying "ass", then how on earth will we be prepared to welcome all of these new people we're going to be reaching? What happens when new Christians come to church and bring their culture--or lack of "church" culture--with them?

You know, it's a really interesting discussion to have. Especially for a person like me who doesn't believe that seeker-driven churches are appropriate. So where is the line? How do you say that some things are essential (Baptism) and some things are cultural (wearing fancy clothes)? How do you then say that you can relax on the culture without sacrificing the essential?

How do you do all of this without making it look half-assed?


At 3:41 PM, October 09, 2006, Blogger Elena said...

What in heck is scope-creep anyway?

At 4:10 PM, October 09, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

When the definition of the objective constantly changes, meaning that you never achieve your objective.

For example, if our objective were to have 10 potluck dinners a month, and then after 6 months we were to decide that we were going to change the potlucks to fish-fries. And then from fish-fries to bake sales. And so on.

At 8:31 PM, October 09, 2006, Blogger Patrick said...

Or, if the goal was to build "ten log houses a month," but in the first month we only built six, but someone built a doghouse, so we decided that the goal would be "ten permanent dwellings a month."

The next month we only built four houses, and managed to put together two doghouses. Some folks also picked up some of the house scraps and fashioned eight Survivor-style "lean-tos" so we decided that we actually meant that our goal was "ten dwelling-type structures a month."

The next month, no one really cared about the house idea, so none got built, and all of us just went off and built our own idea of a half-adzed idea of a house.

At 9:03 PM, October 09, 2006, Blogger Kerry Woo said...

Patrick, that will preach!
In a non half-adzed kinda way...
Now would those dwellings be on rock or sand?

At 7:24 AM, October 10, 2006, Blogger bridgett said...

My recent experiences in an organization that speaks of bridge-building is that my well-intentioned co-laborers are really just talking about a conveyor belt. The idea that they might be transformed by what walks across the bridge back to them is powerfully scary. My peeps like the idea of being benefactors, but don't relish the work of listening to what's needed (especially if it will require some prayerful change on their parts). I'm struggling to gently point out that an attitude of "Shouldn't our good intentions be enough for these people?" isn't going to help.

Keep us posted.

At 9:15 AM, October 10, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

The thing is you have to make church relevant to the flock you're reaching. If people assume there are all these rules they have to follow, they may find it stiffling and not come. I mean, I am not advocating using the seven words you can't say on TV at church, but you sometimes having the word ass in there isn't going to kill anyone...

At 3:29 PM, October 10, 2006, Blogger Patrick said...

I like Michael's comment about "relevancy," but it's important to really be focused on what the changes are that that word intimates. I hope that the ones that occur are the ones that bridgett is talking about. If "relevancy" turns into "relativism," you have scope-creep on your message... and that's something unbecoming the gospel.

At 3:41 PM, October 10, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

That's what i wrestle with in the culture argument.

Because I have to admit that I'm the first one who would quaver at the thought of screens in the sanctuary, hymns on powerpoint and more of the trappings associated with different worship styles.

One of the things I like about this church is that it has retained its primary culture of traditionalism while making allowances for different worship styles from time to time. We'll sing the occasional chorus and have the occasional guitar as part of the worship music.

I'm not a big fan of cussing, but I still think it was a good example of what we're talking about. What happens when we have a great influx of newcomers, some of whom prefer to wear jeans on Sunday? Or drink beer on Friday? Do we exert subtle territorial pressure to get them to conform to our existing culture or do we allow the culture to change to accomodate them?

And then if we allow the culture to change on points of seemingly minor issues (like jeans) then is it easier to allow compromise on bigger issues?

At 11:07 AM, October 11, 2006, Anonymous Lu said...

You are asking all the right questions. Wish I had all the difinitive answers. But all I've got are my own experiences. And as many questions as you....

What I've discovered is that I will only impact and influence as many people as I am willing to be uncomfortable with. And I'm not talking about the way we choose to worship (hymns vs choruses, yada-yada-yada..) That's nothing more than window dressing; and just like our curtains at home, its merely a matter of personal taste.

Look, I think in our "church culture" here in America, we've gotten the whole thing a bit backwards. It's not the church community as a group that's supposed to be culturally relevant. It's the individual followers of Jesus who make up the church body who're supposed to be culturally relevant. How can we make disciples of those around us if we aren't so? And changing the style of our services will not change the invidiuals within that service; will not somehow make them relevant to the culture around them. That relevance,and the desire to be relevant, has to come from within the person herself.

In order for that to happpen we have to become utterly, inexorably convinced to the point of compelled to action that what we have is what others need. Like lifeguards rescuing a drowning swimmer, we have to be completely convinced that what we have will bring them Life. Without that shift, we won't have any interest in being relevant to anyone but ourselves. But once we have that utter conviction, we will be willing to do whatever it takes to find a relevant way to communicate, to bring Life, to those who need it.

Problem is, I don't think we are convinced. I don't think we really understand the powerful Life we have, that Christ brings. I don't think we comprehend even the smallest amount of God's Life-giving gift to us. So we don't actually believe all our own words that taking Jesus to the world outside our church will make any difference in the lives of others.

At 4:25 PM, October 11, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...


Man, you've raised so many excellent points I have no idea where to begin.

I've been truly struggling lately with the concept of cultural relevancy and what that means for the practice of my faith. Throwing that struggle against the harsh background of reality makes for some interesting times.


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