Wednesday, April 28, 2004

There's A Mouse Down...

Last night, as I was peacefully blog-surfing, Wendy & Jordan came crashing up the stairs to the third floor of our house, which is the master bedroom, all hyper-ventilating and wierded-out.

"We're down a mouse!!" gasps Wendy, looking shaken, while Jordan leaps onto our bed and goes almost fetal.

"What, one of the mice has gone missing?" I ask. (Jordan has had a gaggle of mice in her room for her & Keniesha's science fair project for over a month - interesting smells have resulted.)

As they both continue to talk over each other, I realize that Wendy has done what she normally does when she's (A) really tired, or (B) hyper over something: her Germanic grammar takes over, and she switches her word order. "I mean, a mouse is down - I think it's dead!" Wendy says.

"And I think the other one is half-eaten!" Wails Jordan from the safety of our bed, clutching a pillow.

I go down to Jordan's room, and discover (A) yes, one of the mice is dead, so I "bury it at sea" via our sanitation device (toilet), and (B) that the pile of hard-to-identify whatever in the other corner of the terrarium is, indeed, the half-eaten remains of one of the other mice. It, too, is sent to Davy Jones' Locker.

The remaining (live) mouse is dashing furiously around the terrarium, spinning on the rodent wheel, and looking decidedly feral. I decide to re-name him Hannibal. After cleaning the areas where the recently deceased were discovered, things seem to return to normal (as our family defines "normal").

Shortly afterwards, as I am watching X-Men 2 on the tube, Jordan comes downstairs, still looking somewhat traumatized, crawls into my lap and curls up with her head on my shoulder. "Daddy, can I just sit here with you for a bit?" she asks.

"No problem," I reply, kissing her on the forehead. Any time my 15-year-old daughter wants to sit with her daddy to comfort her is absolutely fine by me.

I might even forgive Hannibal.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Star Wars Denominations

Sometimes, we just need to laugh (at ourselves, I mean). Keeps us humble and less anal-retentive about our denomination's "distinctions".
Lutheran and Reformed are like Obi-Wan and Darth Vader--they're both really cool and have the Force, but the Reformed have to be all sinister and scary about it.

The Baptists are Han Solo. They're pretty cool I guess, but no Force powers and lose my interest fast.

Liberals (PCUSA, United Methodists, ELCA) are Jar Jar Binks. They somehow escaped from a cartoon and are in our universe. Go away.

Arminians are C-3P0. I don't think it needs too much explanation.

Charismatics are R2D2. They live in their own universe, no one understands anything they say, and they hang out with the Arminians a lot.

Anglicans are Lando Calrissian. You're not sure whose side they're playing for, but when they get their act together, they usually come out with the good guys.

The Catholics are the Storm Troopers because there are basically eight quadrillion of them, so you really can't ignore them. The Pope is the Emperor.

The Orthodox are the Ewoks. They're really weird and do weird things, no one really knows much about them, but you gotta love 'em because those hats are just so cute. And the Storm Troopers tried to kill them once.

Oh yeah...and the megachurches are the Trade Federation from Episode I. They're huge, there are a lot of them, but man, they're just not that cool and you wonder why they even got written into the plot at all because the Storm Troopers are way cooler.

Televangelism is Jabba the Hutt.

I totally forgot the Independent Fundamental Born-Again Separated KJV-Only Baptists. They can be that sleazy little flying alien running the used podracer parts shop in Episode I. I can't stand that guy. Or better yet, Anakin Skywalker from the same movie. Eh, just make any of the annoying characters (other than Jar Jar) the Fundies.
So, which Star Wars character would the Vineyard be (and why)?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

A Different Kind of Anniversary

It was a year ago that Wendy & I flew west for a weekend of meetings with all of the present and former pastoral couples that were ever involved at Eastgate Vineyard Christian Fellowship. The entire focus of the weekend was on reconciling relationships between pastors, and between pastors and congregation.

I can't go into details, since I'd have to name names and explain some knotty situations, which would be totally inappropriate. Suffice it to say that a lot of healing, restoration, and forgiveness swirled around a group of six couples, during some very intense, but very healing, days at a retreat centre. There was also a reconciliation service at the climax of the weekend, Saturday night, where many current and former members of the church joined with us, and were led by a local Anglican pastor in a very significant Eucharist celebration together.

That was a year ago. Awesome weekend. Something Wendy & I had hoped could happen, but hadn't really believed was possible -- that churches and pastors would admit weakness and/or faults, and deal with them in a reconciliatory fashion. Let's face it, that doesn't happen often.

But once, at least, it did happen. Wendy & I are humbly grateful to the Lord to have been a part of it. Like many of the others involved, we had forgiven and let grievances go many years earlier (not wanting to become slaves to bitterness), but it was incredible to actually be able to get face-to-face with others to say, and hear, "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

I wish I could say more, but I respect the confidentiality that the sacredness of that weekend requires, so you'll just have to take my word for it: There are some real, live, healing stories out there of the people of God "getting it right", even if it required (and it did!) a lot of humbling of self and repenting to others.

Monday, April 5, 2004

Permanence: Part 2

Some helpful advice (I use the term "helpful" in a manner which could best be described as ironic, if not outright sarcastic) that I, and numerous other pastors, were given about ten years ago on the subject of church-planting:
"Within the first two years of your church plant, about 80% of the people who came with you to plant the church will have left already. Don't let that discourage you. Keep plugging away, and God will bring new people to replace those who have left."
I turned to our senior pastor at the time and said, "Then why plant a church with your friends, if you're assuming you're going to see them walk away? Aren't we really saying that this thing called 'church plant' is more important than maintaining our relationships with our friends?"

He shrugged and gave an answer that was something along the lines of church-planting being the most effective way of evangelizing neighbourhoods, so it was all part of "counting the cost". It was obvious that he didn't like his own answer; he was simply repeating (with some level of cynicism) what he'd been told by others.

My (somewhat cynical) thought at the time was that any wanna-be church planter should gather only people he/she doesn't really care about, since they were going to be gone in a year or so anyway, and safeguard his/her closest relationships by not including them in the church plant. 80%?!? That's an awful price to pay to ensure that the "vision for a new church plant" succeeds...

I wonder if the problem is really that 80% "typically" leave. I wonder if the problem might be far more insidious than that:
  • If you buy into that kind of thinking, that 80% will be gone in two years, then you would be tempted to approach the whole church plant in basically a mercenary fashion, using people that you consider expendable (since they're going to "desert" you anyway) to meet the goals of getting the church plant off the ground.
  • You would have a hard time being in "community" when you're expecting them to disappear fairly soon -- you'd be really hard-pressed to not guard your own feelings from being hurt by staying aloof to a greater or lesser degree. You'd talk about community, because that's what church-planters do, and deep down you really believe in what you're saying, but you'd have a tough time modelling it -- it would come across as promising one thing, and delivering another.
  • From the very beginning, you'd be already looking to the next horizon that doesn't include the circle of relationships you currently have. People will eventually realize this, and that may be the reason they leave -- they have figured out that the "success" of the church plant is more important than they are. "And I joined the church-planting team because I really believed this church was going to be different..."

The more I look at this whole thing called "church-planting", the more convinced I am that part -- a major part -- of what needs deconstructing is our understandings and assumptions of what makes a church plant "successful".

Is Permanence a Value?

If we're serious about "organic community" and desconstructing institutionalism (the blind faith in institutions), is permanence a value?

I ask that because, in the aftermath of numerous house church experiments that I'm aware of shutting down, you have to wonder:
  • Did these house church experiments "fail" because they haven't achieved some sort of longevity (and what is the magic formula to determine this)?
  • Or were they successful, despite being short-lived, if they saw real, honest community that helped people discover what God had gifted and called them to do, and then encouraged them to follow God in those areas, even if it meant the house church would "lose" some cool people?
Once upon a yesteryear, there were about twelve of us worship pastors sitting on couches at a regional Vineyard gathering in Langley BC, and one of the speakers was talking about the longevity of the old hymns, and asking us why these hymns had held on till today. My response was "Because the church has an idolatrous obsession with anything from the 17th century?" (Note to self: That wasn't the answer he was looking for.)

It's somewhat an "apples and oranges" thing to try and compare worship songs and church plants, but the attitude can be the same: if we write a song or plant a church that people are still impressed with years later, we've done well. If it only lasts for a season (a song or a church), but has great impact during that season, is it really a "failure"?

When did "permanence" become a Kingdom value?