While exploring Winnipeg, a co-worker told us about the basillica in St. Boniface. Since I was driving and am a sucker for a great looking church (or ruins of a church), we headed right over there. We jumped out to take some photos. By the time I had snapped 12 photos, my hands were so cold I could not operate my camera any longer, my ears had frozen, and I was having trouble enunciating. Welcome to Winnipeg.
The best part is that it costs $1.99 at the app store.
Described as "the perfect aid for every penitent", it offers users tips and guidelines to help them with the sacrament.
Now senior church officials in both the UK and US have given it their seal of approval, in what is thought to be a first.
The app takes users through the sacrament – in which Catholics admit their wrongdoings – and allows them to keep track of their sins.
It also allows them to examine their conscience based on personalised factors such as age, sex and marital status – but it is not intended to replace traditional confession entirely.
This isn’t their first digital effort
Two years later created a Facebook application that lets users send virtual postcards featuring the pontiff.
Before you mock it, when I went to Bishop James Mahoney High School in Saskatoon, we had a similar checklist to speed up the confession process (as a Methodist, I just judged others silently) so it’s not like this is a new idea. Of course we still had a priest to administer the sacrament.
In the Wall Street Journal
Are we witnessing the death of America’s Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion—Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.
More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?
It’s not all bad news for denominations
Where hymnody once came from the spontaneity of slave spirituals or camp meetings, worship songs are increasingly now focus-grouped by executives in Nashville. The evangelical "Veggie Tales" cartoons—animated Bible stories featuring talking cucumbers and tomatoes—probably shape more children in their view of scripture than any denominational catechism does these days. A church that requires immersion baptism before taking communion, as most Baptist traditions do, will likely get indignant complaints from evangelical visitors who feel like they’ve been denied service at a restaurant.
But there are some signs of a growing church-focused evangelicalism. Many young evangelicals may be poised to reconsider denominational doctrine, if for no other reason than they are showing signs of fatigue with typical evangelical consumerism.
For example, artists such as Keith and Kristen Getty and Sojourn Music are reaching a new generation with music written for and performed by local congregations. Yes, prosperity preacher Joyce Meyer sells her book "Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes," which encourages Christians to "lighten up" by eating cookies and buying shoes (seriously). But, at the same time, Alabama preacher David Platt is igniting thousands of young people with his book "Radical," which calls Christians to rescue their faith by lowering their standard of living and giving their time and money to Church-based charities.
A lot of you have asked why I have stopped posting about items of faith and Christianity here and the reason is pretty complex. First of all after reading around 5 books a week for 15 years or so, I no longer have the time or the desire to read that much. Much of that reading was theological or about church life and what has been said on the topic for me has been said. I still get probably 100 books a year to review and most of them are just rehashing what has been said and said and said again. On the occasional time when I can force myself to enter into Scott’s Parable, I see the same book, just written by different authors. I know I am taking some shots at some friends here but it seems like a lot more reflection and a lot less publishing may help everyone.
It goes for me as well, if I don’t have anything to say, I am not going to log in and write anything. To paraphrase a good friend of mine who used to joke, “If you want a better sermon, get Max Lucado to write better books”, so in other words, if you want a better blog, write better stuff for me to link to.
The more serious reason is that I struggle with the distance between neighborhood/community and the church. I have read and heard pastors say that they need to vision cast (what a geeky and churchy phrase) or sell their church on the idea that they need to be a part of their community. This is a phrase I have heard for years but I never realized how strange it was that the church had stopped being part of the community. Now of course with more and more churches wanting more real estate, they are literally moving outside of their cities and towns so they can create more programs that compete with and pull people away from the communities they are apart of. The fact that we have to “vision cast”, sell, manipulate, or coerce our congregations to be part of the community, in fact, we had to come up with new church growth terminology to describe what should be our natural reaction as human beings… (I’m missional, your missional, we are all missional) that is our responsibility to make our local communities a better place for everyone to live in.
Years ago I listened to a series of podcasts by Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard in which Hunter talked about one of the metrics his church used was how far people were travelling to get to his church without realizing the impact it had on local communities. While that may represent one extreme of the equation, it was quite similar to what we experience as a family in finding a church in Saskatoon. There is a pull to be a part of the church community, which church leaders tend of think of as a true or at least superior community which puts us in tension with my commitments to other things that are going on in my geographic community. While I agree there is a need for involvement in the church, our local communities the need is often just as pressing. So I have kids clubs that interfere with Mark taking karate, small groups that only work for people who work 8-5 (and definitely not for those who like Wendy and I who are work from 7:00 a.m. when I go to work to 10:45 p.m. when Wendy walks in the door from work). I have prostitutes on my street, a brothel on my block, guys grinding drugs across from the local elementary school, the Terror Squad working out a local restaurant and bar and I keep hearing that my number one priority needs to be a small group in a church.
I follow some pastors and church leaders on Twitter and I realized it’s a giant irrelevant echo chamber where the tweets and retweets reinforce what they believe. I haven’t lost my faith in Christianity, I am just in doubt that the church is an accurate representation of what it represents anymore. I was in a room of pastors earlier this year and they were still talking about media in worship, ancient future song writing, and all sorts of peripheral things about church life with great interest and not one of them mentioned life in their community. A friend of mine sent me a sermon the other day on YouTube to check out as it would cure what ailed my soul. The stage looked like it was stolen from David Letterman and I am pretty sure it was meant to be a copy and after watching the sermon, I realized that he was speaking in the same style that Vince does while pitching Slap Chops. Sadly not only did I used to speak like that in public but so do so many other pastors I know. I realized while watching this that the church had become a parody of itself. The Emperor has no clothes.
I realized that I no longer see most churches any differently than Kiwanas or another service club but this one has higher fixed costs. Are all churches like this? I don’t think so. One of the great experiences I have had in life was spending a bit of time with Dave Blondel and the Third Space. Both Wendy and I have said that we would be quite comfortable attending a church lead by my friends, Scott Williams, Randall Friesen, Pernell Goodyear, Kim Reid or Darryl Dash but those kinds of churches and those kinds of pastors aren’t that easy to find. The problem for me is when I see the kind of church that is engaged in creative ways in it’s community, it’s awfully hard to go back. When I was down in Maple Creek, I did some pastoral work with people. We literally put on some orange Salvation Army vests, went from flood ravaged house to flood ravaged house and chatted with flood victims. Everyone in that community knew the Salvation Army Corps officers, Captain Ed and Charlotte. Every last person. When he was in Saskatoon, he was everywhere in the community as well. If he can do it, so can other churches and their leaders. If Wendy, myself, my staff, and a bunch of volunteers can work amongst Saskatoon’s poorest, so can everyone. What we do isn’t brain surgery (umm, except for my staff, you are all brilliant… underpaid but brilliant) but a compassionate response to the community around us. Instead I find churches that are isolated and focused on themselves. Too many times over the last couple of years to hear a sermon on parenting, the need for leadership, church growth or again, church growth. Did I mention I hear a lot of sermons on the need for church growth. Sadly I am not alone. A good friend of mine recently left his long time church and said, “I’ve learned all I need to learn from the pulpit on the need for church growth”. It’s like the church has lot’s it’s reason for existence and is just looking at how to keep paying the bills. Yet sadly in a lot of communities, the need for the church and it’s redemptive message has never been greater.
The other thing is that while I hate the overuse of the concept of “a dark night of the soul”, it has been an extremely lonely time spiritually for me. God was extremely distant and I don’t really have a lot of people to talk to about this stuff. The praxis of my spiritual life was solid but there was no connection. After exhausting my traditional options, I sought out a Roman Catholic spiritual advisor who I spent a lot of time talking with. He was the one who said, “It’s not a dark night of the soul, it’s a wounded soul that I was dealing with.” A co-worker once said to me, “We aren’t normal. We are so desensitized by what we see sometimes, we aren’t bothered by what should bother us.” I thought about it a lot and realized that my job had changed me deeply and for the worse and I wasn’t equipped for what that has done to me. As an INTJ, I am already an underdeveloped feeler which at times makes it hard to fully understand what I am feeling. Looking at life from a rather cold and analytical mind has it’s advantages but it always makes it hard to look at life when the problem isn’t a rational one and as any of the staff that I work with will say, rational behavior can often be in short supply with what we see some days. Toss in that the amount of violence and death we have seen this summer, it has taken a toll. It seems like every murder and suspicious death in the city has been connected to someone I know and it’s hard. The first thing I am doing in the morning is dealing with another one. Jaded or not, it has had an impact and those add up a little bit.
As my spiritual advisor and I have talked, I shared that when God reveals himself to me, often I feel He was disappointed in me. I have long that was my biases, insecurities, and self worth issues coming out. I have come to seriously wonder if maybe God was quite disappointed in me and the reason for the silence, or just lack of disappointment is that maybe He isn’t anymore.
My evangelical friends don’t really get what I see. It actually upsets many of them when I tell them what I am seeing. I was talking to one friend about the fact that there are 600 known prostitutes in the city (of course they move from city to city to city) and he was totally freaked out. Our conversation ended with, “I am glad our church isn’t on the west side, I couldn’t deal with this". Yet I talk with some of them all of the time. They are working tonight two blocks down from where I am writing this. Addicted to drugs, sexual abuse survivors, acquired brain injuries. They aren’t abstract numbers but real girls with real stories and real families but the church ignores it. They also ignore the fact that many of their congregants are the ones that are paying these girls to get them off. While my faith seems as strong as always, I am no longer interested in a religion that is disconnected from the community it is a part of.
I know there are reasons for that, Lyle Schaller will tell us that the idea of the neighborhood church died with the rise of the car and cheap fuel but at the same time when I hear that people are living in over crowded slum suites because of sky high rents, there are 600 known prostitutes in the city and the vast majority of them are being trafficked, gangs are taking an toll on our kids, and some local elementary schools have had to cut back to 30 minute lunch breaks to stop elementary school girls from working the street on lunch breaks… doesn’t this call people to do something other than giving away some free clothes and serve soup once in a while? If young grade seven and eight girls losing their virginity to STD carrying john’s doesn’t call us to drastic action, what will?
Over fifteen years ago, columnist Paul Jackson wrote in The Star Phoenix that the church had abandoned it’s role of social services provider – taking care of widows and orphans – to the government during the 1960s and 70s. As the economies in North America struggled to pay for their new obligations, Jackson felt the church needed to step up again. It hasn’t happened yet. In fact most trends show churches walking more and more away from those difficult tasks and instead continuing to move to younger and younger suburban neighborhoods and therefore away from the problems. It may be great church growth doctrine but what about the neighborhood and that you left behind. The east side of Saskatoon has twice as many churches per person than then west side does. Guess which side of the city has the higher concentration of wealth and guess which side has the core neighborhoods in it. I’ll let you figure it out.
AKMA has a fun graphic on how universities design their websites and how it’s not at all what we want. The same could be said about churches and many other NGOs.
Kester Brewin released his latest book Other. It’s only available in the U.K. right now but if you want to pay the Canadian government a lot of fees, you can get it shipped here (I paid more in taxes and fees for The Complex Christ than I did for the book but it was worth it).
I am pretty excited about this book because The Complex Christ forced me to rethink much of how I saw the world, looked at history, and read the Scriptures. While Brewin writes theology, his writing extends my thinking beyond where it has gone before. I rate him up with Thomas Homer-Dixon, Jared Diamond, Malcolm Gladwell, and Steven Johnson as people that have helped constantly reinvent my world view. I can’t wait until my copy gets here (the fees alone should erase Canada’s deficit).
As calls increase for the the Pope to resign over his alleged role in not dealing with pedophiles as the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich and subsequently head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, I was wondering if it has any historical precedent. To my surprise, it isn’t that hard to do and it has happened in the past according to the BBC.
The most serious claims related to Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, an Austrian friend of John Paul’s who abused an estimated 2,000 boys over decades but never faced any sanction from Rome.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Groer’s successor, criticized the handling of that scandal and other abuse cases last week after holding a special service in St Stephen’s cathedral, Vienna, entitled “Admitting our guilt”.
Schönborn condemned the “sinful structures” within the church and the patterns of “silencing” victims and “looking away”.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — who became Pope Benedict — had tried to investigate the abuses as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to Schönborn. But his efforts had been blocked by “the Vatican”, an apparent reference to John Paul.
Asked by The Sunday Times whether John Paul’s role in the cover-up of abuse should be investigated, Schönborn said: “I have known Pope Benedict personally during 37 years of amiable acquaintance and I can say with certainty that … he made entirely clear efforts not to cover things up but to tackle and investigate them. This was not always met with approval in the Vatican.”
The Groer affair became public in 1995 when former pupils of an elite Catholic school accused him of sexual abuse.
It get’s uglier
John Paul also faced criticism last week from Poland for protecting Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, who was accused of abusing trainee priests. Letters detailing the charges were sent to John Paul’s office and to Ratzinger in 2000 but were ignored. Paetz resigned in 2002 when the allegations became public.
Stanislaw Obirek, a Polish theologian and a former Jesuit priest, said: “I believe John Paul is the key person responsible for the cover-up of abuse cases because most of it occurred during his papacy. How can someone who is to blame for this be beatified?”
In America critics pointed out that although Benedict has borne the brunt of criticism over ignoring the scandal of Father Lawrence Murphy, accused of molesting 200 deaf boys at a special school in Wisconsin, Ratzinger had acted on the authority of John Paul.
Another beneficiary of John Paul’s discreet approach was Marcial Maciel Degollado, a Mexican priest known as Father Maciel, who founded a conservative religious order. He was accused by former members of abuse in 1998. John Paul blessed Maciel in the Vatican in late 2004, at a time when Ratzinger was investigating him. A year after Ratzinger became pope, the Vatican ordered Maciel to lead “a reserved life of prayer and penance”, effectively removing him from power.
John Paul was also accused of ignoring controversy over John Magee, a former private secretary to three popes including the Polish pontiff, who named him Bishop of Cloyne in 1987. Late last month Magee was forced to resign after an independent report found that his diocese in Ireland had put children at risk.
In the Vatican the spiraling allegations have prompted a siege-like mentality. Father Federico Lombardi, Benedict’s spokesman, declined to comment on John Paul’s handling of abuse cases. “We’re busy with Easter celebrations, let’s focus on the homilies,” he said.
The Polish cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s private secretary for four decades, rejected as “unfair and misleading” any attempt to distinguish between the approaches of the two popes to abuse cases. “Benedict is strongly committed to clearing things up, like a father,” Dziwisz told La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper.
In Europe there are signs of the faithful turning their backs on the church in large numbers. In Austria alone more than 20,000 Catholics left the church in March.
In America there was a furious response by Jewish groups to a Good Friday sermon by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Benedict’s personal preacher, in which he compared the wave of attacks on the church to anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, of the American Jewish Committee, protested: “So far I haven’t seen Saint Peter burn. The Vatican is trying to turn the persecutors into victims.”
While I doubt one will see Pope Benedict resign over the allegations, I had hoped for a less combative stance from the Roman Catholic Church. Comparing to the attacks on the church for something it obviously did to anti-Semitism is not only horribly insensitive to Jews everywhere but also to the victims of child abuse at the hands of the church. Years ago while driving home from Spiritwood, I was listening to an episode of CBC’s Tapestry and they covered the differences in how the Toronto and Ottawa dioceses handled sex abuse allegations. One handled it like it’s lawyer’s would want it handled with an eye towards preventing liability while the other one handled it like a pastor would with an eye towards healing.
The Roman Catholic Church needs to decide how it’s going to handle this. With it touching the Pope, he is able to wade in and set the tone in a different way than his predecessor did. He can set the tone for how those who have been hurt by the Church are to be treated and also how those that hurt them will forever be treated (never to be protected).
Now a friend of mine and reader of this blog (who gave me permission to post this part) who was sexually assaulted in his evangelical church does give some defense to the Catholic church. When it was found out him and some other boys had been molested in this small town parish, he said the guy was more or less run out of town. There was no desire for a cover up (not that he ever remembers) but he said the actions were taken because at that time (early 70s), no one knew what to do other than sending this guy on his way and the reality is that the offender probably went out and reoffended again. At the time was that it protected the kids and deflected shame from the families. Neither one of us are saying that that this makes it right what the Vatican did but it was a lot more of the common practice than it is now.
The Pope and the Vatican does have an opportunity in this and that is to really help those that have been hurt, lay out the consequences for priests who are pedophiles (excommunication, defrocking, and prison time), and build up structures for the protection of vulnerable people so it never happens again. The only way to do all three is to tackle it all head on and stop the distraction of people comparing it’s critics of anti-Semitism, gossip, and shaming them in homilies by attack dog Cardinals. It’s the issue that will define Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, we’ll see if he is up to the challenge.
Over the last year I have noticed a trend when in a mixed group of churches (often evangelical) and NGOs. It is the local evangelical churches inability to organize or work with outside groups. All of them share the following characteristics.
- The needs and convenience of the local church are more important than other partner agencies.
- Other partner agencies or the community are expected to conform to the church’s convenience, even though it is a big inconvenience to other parties.
- The church has a much bigger need for recognition than other agencies and groups.
The result is the same, the church is excluded in future discussions and is left on the margins while it’s reputation is hurt. One frustrated NGO leader that I know talked about dealing with adults and children and evangelical churches was put into the children category.
Over the years several people have seen this and suggested that pastors are relationally retarded, they just can’t interact outside of a hierarchical power structure. Bill Kinnon and I have talked about the narcissistic personality disorder and he also suggests that some pastors are sociopaths. I have noted that many evangelical churches don’t play well with others but I am sure in some cases that is the issue.
I wonder if in many cases it is a case of never interacting outside of the confines of the church. Growing up in the church –> Bible College –> Youth Worker –> Seminary –> Associate Pastor –> Sr. Pastor leads to fairly limited worldview as it totally focused on the life of the church. The church has been and continues to be a persons entire life. An entire career spent organizing within the community mean when in a situation where they need to be part of something bigger, they behave the same way they do inside the church, the needs of the church become the most important. The issue isn’t that pastors are jerks, it is that their education and career path hurts them. The more I think about it, the more it becomes a correctable issue.
What if we slowed down the path to the pulpit, either as denominations or as seminaries. What if a two year stint in the Peace Corps or something like working for the Canadian Coast Guard or navy was part of the journey? What about a two year stint in the mission field working grunge jobs and funded by the church that is sending them out to ministry. My friend Gloria always says that church staff need to work in the real world and the more I think about it, the more I agree with it.
The purpose is to show potential church leaders a bigger world and also put them outside the church for a while. Let them figure out some more about their personal faith, their calling, but also teach them how to work with other groups, learn what it means to be at the bottom of the totem pole. It would also teach them how hard it can be to make ends meet, be a good spouse, parent and participate on the life of the church. It would give them an idea how how much they are asking and how much people are giving towards the life of the church and what that means.
I know some people will leave the ministry along the way, they are going to find a better spot and serve. They may choose a career in the Navy, a career working in microfinance in Africa, or choose a career in business. Some will even lose their faith but that happens now. For those who are really called to pastoral ministry, it will give them a bigger worldview, a network a friends outside of the church, some more life experience, and the ability to understand how to work as part of a team, rather than just “lead” a team.
There is a reason why for years, culture valued leaders who served in the military as we felt that being part of something bigger than ourselves was a prerequisite of leadership. Even President Obama did this during his years as a community organizer in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods. Maybe a four year Bachelor’s of Theology needs to become a six year degree with a year breaks between year two and three and year three and four. A Masters of Divinity may require an approved year of learning outside of the seminary applying what has been learned. The Peace Corps, becoming a reservist, serving coffee in a Starbucks, being an intern in a shelter, or spending a year with YWAM become a required part of the curriculum. By moving people outside the church for education, we may just make them better church leaders who have learned some important skills connecting with others, building partnerships, and living in the community.
Well Resonate is back online with a new look and feel and the website is now powered by WordPress. You can check out what Resonate is up to as a community, find out information about church planting, and also a listing of some of the emerging churches across the country. The RSS feed and Twitter account is also working.
For those of you in the Greater Toronto Area and are looking for a place to discuss theology in a casual setting, you will want to check out Toronto’s Theology Pub.
Theology Pub is a monthly gathering of Christians in Toronto. We gather for fellowship and to discuss theology with a desire to grow in our love for God and obedience to him; to sharpen and encourage each other; and to pray for the city of Toronto.
It’s hosted by our friend Darryl Dash and looks like a great night out for all of you theologians out there.
I have to admit, I don’t follow Church, Inc. like I used to and I was shocked when I found out that Zondervan sold Youth Specialties and even more shocked when I found out Marko was laid off as part of the sale. I feel for the Marko and his family as I know how much YS means to him. The recession has changed a lot of organizations, companies, and lives around the world but it sucks when you hear it affecting people you know.
So, to recap, the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell ‘em about Jesus.
Let’s be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.
But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this ‘wow ‘em and tell ‘em about Jesus’ strategy doesn’t do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we’re doing something wrong. That we’re not growing Followers, that we’re not raising Disciples. Instead, we’re creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We’re not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they ‘said the prayer’ following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they’re ‘in.’
And here’s today’s problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they’re using the exact same strategies in the larger church.
Jim Henderson has a great post on what the black church has that the white church needs.
The White church is slowly being pushed toward the margins of a culture it once dominated.
- Cell phone towers are replacing church steeples as key geographic (and cultural) markers
- For all its political effort, the religious right has come up largely empty handed
- The fastest growing faith segment in America is the “nones” those who claim no religion
The Good News: The Black church has been operating from the margins from its inception
- They’ve never had power or influence over the majority culture
- They’ve always had to do more with less
- They have experience with being ignored
- They’ve developed practical gospel that brings heaven to humans (as well as humans to heaven)
- They produced the most significant Christian leader of the 20th Century Martin Luther King Jr.
The Bad News: We’ve rarely asked them for help
- We have largely ignored their accomplishments
- We have been suspicious of their version of the gospel
The Best News: If we ask, they’re willing to help us
- Create a more practical gospel
- Become more about others and less about ourselves
Make sure you read the entire post.