Saturday, June 6, 2009

From Movements to Monuments

History needs people who are willing to look at the status quo and simply ask the tough questions: Why do we need to do it that way? What does that say about us? What if we try something different? What if we’ve been wrong for quite some time? Who is making these decisions and why?

Each generation looks back in hindsight and remembers the women and men who have asked tough questions like these. Without them, our world would be a much different place. Often, those who challenge the status quo are viewed with contempt by those currently in power. They are seen as rebellious, characterized as stirring up trouble, and are given a scarlet letter by those in leadership.

-Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church and threatened with execution after he questioned, among other things, the doctrine of papal infallibility and the selling of indulgences. His desire was not to start a revolution, but to begin a conversation about church power.

-Gandhi peacefully protested against governmental abuse in India. Never raising his fist, he upset those in power, which led to his eventual assassination. 

-John Wesley asked questions of the Anglican Church that pertained to many aspects of church life, including ordination of the ordinary church person and a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit. As a result, he was strongly persecuted by the Church of England and accused of heresy.

-Martin Luther King Jr. is seen as the premier figure in the civil rights movement. His sermons, talks, protests, and marches led to the eventual abolishment of institutional segregation. What did he receive in return? Imprisonment, harassment, threats upon his family and eventual assassination. But history will never forget him.

While world history is filled with those who challenged the status quo, Christianity’s entire foundation is based upon challenging notions of absolute power. Whether it is the Old Testament prophets staring down the unjust kings of Israel or Jesus proclaiming a Kingdom other than Caesar’s while at the same time shaking the Pharisees to their core, Christianity is at its heart a dialogue about what’s right and who’s ultimately in charge.

The denomination in which I grew up proudly calls itself a movement, but after observing it for a number of years, it is evident that it has stopped moving. Somewhere along the way, it forgot what made it move in the first place. After a number of years, most all movements lose momentum and forget to move. They become institutions. They attain the power and abuse they once fought against and they become comfortable. 

When I’m comfortable, I don’t want to be moved. I don’t even really want to talk, let alone engage in some kind of action or dialogue.

When an object ceases to move and stands still for a number of years, it no longer deserves to be called a movement. It is a monument. Undoubtedly, those who point out the abuse of power and inaction of the Church will be called heretics and maybe even tools of Satan. This is typical, and I like to think that they are in good company. 

If the nature of institutions is to enjoy power and discourage honest questions and dialogue, then maybe such “strife” is needed. Maybe it is even a divine calling and gift of God that springs new movements.

Now I want to hear what you think. Am I way off base here?

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Possible Alternative to Outsourcing the Faith

Disclaimer: Before you decide to label me a heretic, there are a few things you should know.

1. I absolutely love the church, for without it I would be a living wreck and dying one as well.

2. If my writing ever offends you, please know that is not my intent. I wish to question and challenge, but not offend.

3. If you feel the need to push back on my comments, you are welcome to do so. Just make sure you keep it civil and are speaking to the actual issue, not a psychoanalysis of me that you made in haste.

4. This note is long. I felt that I first had to build my case before presenting my alternative. Sorry for the length.

A Possible Alternative to Outsourcing the Faith:

There is something mystical when those who call upon the name of Christ gather together for the mutual encouragement in the faith. There is something beautiful when this same group of believers ventures out to spread the love of Jesus, whether it is through acts of charity or just through being a positive presence in a world that needs to hear Good News.

My fear is that this mystical, beautiful entity we call the church has abandoned the commission given it by Christ in the name of efficiency and convenience. Look at a typical Sunday in most churches across North America: Each week, a mass of people gathers inside a large room. They sing a few songs and call it worship, shake a few hands and call it fellowship, and smile while hurting inside. They will face the front and listen to one individual who presumably has heard the voice of God that week. This person will interpret the scriptures for each individual person and communicate what they say God has said. These people will then leave in an orderly fashion, usually heading for the nearest chain restaurant and may embarrass Jesus by forgetting his admonition to be kind to our neighbors.

Meanwhile, there is no major change in their lives. The ways they relate to family and work will remain the same. The content of their thoughts will be unmoved. There is no challenge, only boredom. There is no adventure, no abundant life. All of this goes on while a hurting world slowly bleeds for some type of positive change. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Last week, I posted a blog/note called, “Outsourcing the Faith,” in which I stated that the structures of the church do not allow for The Body of Christ to fulfill it’s God-given call. What it does instead is allow for those within the church to shrug off responsibility to a chosen few “professionals” who would facilitate the faith for them.

Most churches are run like Fortune 500 corporations that are governed from the top-down. The Senior Pastor is the CEO. He or she makes the decisions (casts “vision”) and runs them by the board/elders. The boards in most churches are usually similar to shareholders in a company. They are those who tithe the most and are most often known for their shrewd business sense (most church bylaws I’ve seen don’t have maturity in Christ as a written requirement for board participation). It is then the job of the Associate Pastors to “catch the vision” and communicate that to their various departments. This is also similar to the way Vice Presidents of corporations work within their companies (If the truth be told, most Associates are viewed as Vice Presidents. They are given the responsibility of overseeing the “ministry” departments of churches while the typical layperson is expected to follow.

What’s wrong with this is that if someone disagrees with the direction or vision the Senior Pastor supposedly received from God, then that person is ultimately in disagreement with God, since God is the one communicating to the Senior Pastor. This is a more localized version of papal infallibility and it’s dangerous.

Our structures and organizations for church speak volumes about our theology (as much as any sermon ever could). There is a doctrine spoken of in church history and in the scriptures and that is that every believer is a minister or a priest. Every person who calls on the name of Christ has just as much access to God as any other person, regardless of who writes their paycheck.

As I stated in my last note, I am not against paid church staff. Please understand that. When a church reaches a point that it needs someone to work full time so as to do the work of the Kingdom, then hiring someone to facilitate and help with administration only makes sense.

A point that I want to make clear is that most churches do their hiring from outside the church. Usually when they do this, they’re looking for someone “professional” who can be “efficient.” I have attended and know of several churches that were in need of hiring someone who could work with the youth ministry vocationally. Each time, there was a person or persons from the community who knew the kids well, taught well, and helped parents in training their children to become disciples. They were completely willing and able to lay down their other vocations to come on staff for the church, but those in leadership desired someone who fit a more “professional” profile. This idea of professionalism in ministry kills the identity of the average church attendee.

So the church, like a corporation, hired an outside “expert” to do the work of the ministry for them. What’s one of the first things that happen when a new person is hired to head a ministry in the church? Most everyone who played a major role within that ministry steps back, takes a deep breath, and goes back to life as usual. These people who were intimately involved in the community no longer feel necessary. They often feel that if they were to stay and help, they would get in the way of the professional has been given the title of new leader (What’s sad is that they probably would get in the way of this person, even though they are still very much needed).

My alternative is to do hiring from within the church community itself. If a minister leaves and someone or a group of some ones from the community steps in to fill the leadership void, maybe that’s God moving. Maybe he’s pushing someone into their calling of being a minister and maybe if the church hires an outside professional, they’re going to against what God wants. “But what if the person or group of persons can’t come on staff?” Why do we feel the need to hire staff to fill every ministry in the church? To be honest, I think much of this is because churches and their leaders will feel inadequate when compared to other churches. We’re like Israel demanding that God give them a king so that they could be like every other nation (an example as to how using the Old Testament monarchy model for church governance is dangerous).

When the community gathers, there needs to be opportunity for believers to encourage, prophesy (simply say the will of God), and worship together. This may mean that our gatherings need become smaller. In a culture that values quantity over quality, this can be a humble endeavor. What happens in many churches is that the leadership attempts to build a large mass of people who gather once a week. Once that mass becomes so large that no one knows anyone else, the leadership then decides to initiate small groups. Maybe a possible alternative would be to do this in reverse. Maybe the primary expression of communal worship could be the smaller groups gathering for mutual encouragement and correction. It’s much easier to gain momentum with a smaller group than a large one. It’s also easier for those within the group to engage the ministry using their gifts. Each smaller group could then gather with other groups for support and could work together for carrying out the way of Jesus in the world (I’m not saying this alternative is the only one. It’s just one that has been in the back of my mind lately. Other churches open up their teaching time to include progressive dialogue, which allows all people to add to the teaching, disagree, and encourage).

If we truly believe that all who call on the name of Christ are priests of God and ministers to a dying world, then our message needs to line up with our methods. This is not happening. I leave you with a quote from a brilliant man named Marshall McLuhan who coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” It goes like this, “The content or message of any medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb.”

Enough of my rambling. What do you think?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Outsourcing the Faith

out⋅source /ˈaʊtˌsɔrs, ‑ˌsoʊrs/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [out-sawrs, ‑sohrs] Show IPA verb, -sourced, -sourc⋅ing.–verb (used with object) 1. (of a company or organization) to purchase (goods) or subcontract (services) from an outside supplier or source. 2. to contract out (jobs, services, etc.): a small business that outsources bookkeeping to an accounting firm.

–verb (used without object) 3. to obtain goods or services from an outside source: U.S. companies who outsource from China.

The following definition for the word "outsourcing" was taken from the latest edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language. It's a word that has quickly become a part of our vocabulary in the United States. You may have heard it mentioned in speeches, news programs, and political blogs. Usually, this term is used in referenced to the ailing U.S. economy, but I'm concerned that the idea of outsourcing has worked it's way into the church. You may ask, "What in the world is this guy talking about and what does this have to do with faith?"

Bare with me as I explain. As Christians, there are certain God-given duties and responsibilities that we all share. Among them are, living what has historically been called "The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)," carrying out what the Apostle Paul called, "The Ministry of Reconcilliation (1 Corinthians 5:11-21)," and the list goes on. In the scriptures, the church was called to be an assembly of believers who would come together to encourage, correct, and extend grace to each other before being sent out to demonstrate to the world that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

My concern is that somewhere along the way, those within the church began relinquishing their God-given responsibilities to the professional paid and volunteer staff of the local church. Take a look at the typical evangelical church of today and what do you see? There is usually someone in a role whose sole job is to look after the spiritual development of a certain group of people. There is usually someone else whose sole job is to look after the spiritual development of another group of people, and so on. Each area is divided up and given to a "point person" or team of "experts" who looks after spiritual welfare of a given area.

Soon, ministries of the church become "services" and those who attend church become "consumers" or "customers" of the "services" the church offers. It's the youth pastor's job to provide the "customers" of the church with the "service" of a "good" youth ministry that will keep their children entertained while providing spiritual direction and maturity. Suddenly the responsibility of raising children to become mature disciples of Jesus shifts from the parents to the children's pastor and the youth pastor (The same can be said for areas of worship, Christian education, and other "services" the church offers).

While attending church and working in a paid staff positions, I have often heard the following statements verbatim: "I don't know what to think about that. Let me ask my pastor what he thinks." "It's not my job or my spiritual gift to evangelize. That's what we pay you for." "I need you to bring new students into the ministry or the church will fail." "It's your job to make something happen."

The scriptures have much to say about the role and identity of each believer, regardless of their employment status within the local church. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says that each of us are priests of God. This was a radical idea, one that helped ignite the Reformation and split the church in half. The idea that we all have equal access to God and bare equal responsibility when it comes to the details of our lives is revolutionary. This is why I refuse to use the term "full-time ministry" when referring to those in church staff positions. All believers are full-time ministers regardless of who writes their paycheck.

Please allow me to clarify: I am not against hiring people to work in the church full-time. I am against a way of thinking that places these people on a pedestal and outsources the joy and responsibility of our calling to these "chosen few."

What would a church look like if all people within decided to take responsibility for the work of the church instead of relinquishing responsibility? Maybe the world would look different. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reasons to Believe

The following is taken from an online conversation that I had with a friend on why I believe in God and Christ even though they cannot be scientifically proven. Let me know if you agree or disagree and why. Is there anything you would add or take away?P.S.- Sorry for the length

That's not an off-the-wall question, so don't even worry about it. It makes total sense. One of the obvious answers to what made me initially decide to be a follower of Christ would be the fact that I was raised in a "Christian" household (I use the quotes because it didn't really embody the love of Jesus). Eventually, I had to get real with myself and ask some hard questions. I asked, "Why is Christianity the only right way?" "Who was Jesus?" "Who is God?" "What role does my upbringing play in how I think? Has it made me biased one way or another?" "Has it messed me up?"

Here's what I found...Some may consider the answers debatable, but it's what I've found to be true:

God hiding in the hearts of humankind: C.S. Lewis talks about something called a "Universal Consciousness." What that means is that everyone is born with certain desires, laws, and modes of thinking. These can be found in the most random places, but they are universally true when viewed within society. Here's an example: You could take someone from a remote village with no technology and place him in downtown OKC. If he sees a woman being raped or taken advantage of, something inside of him might say, "This isn't right!" If there is a moral consciousness found in most societies or a need for law and order (even those cut off from others), who placed it there? A philosopher named Immanuel Kant said it this way: "There can be no moral law without a moral law giver." To me, God must be the moral law giver (This is not just limited to moral law but also ideas like love, hope, and desire. For those to exist in all people, it had to be programmed into us by something other than society. We call that something God).

When it comes to Jesus: We know that there was a man named Jesus who founded the movement called Christianity (even atheists believe this). We know that he was a Jewish Rabbi whose followers spread his message of good news inspite of the threat of immanent death. We know that Jesus made claims to be the Son of God and in some mystical way, also claimed to be one with God. We also know that he eventually died for making such claims. The decision we have to make is whether we take Jesus' claims seriously. C.S. Lewis said that Jesus was either one of three things: 1. He was the greatest con-artist who has ever lived, because all of history has been turned upside-down by the message he taught and the movement he founded. 2. He was a raving lunatic, because only a crazy person would claim the things he claimed and actually be serious enough to die for them. 3. He was who he said he was. The questions you and I have to answer are, "What do I think of Jesus? Do I take the things that he said seriously?"

Is Christianity the only right way?: If I take seriously Jesus' claim to be the way, the truth, and life, then what he said must be true. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of truth.

What about other religions (this is going to be controversial)?: There is alot of truth in other religions. All truth belongs to God, and since we belong to God, all truth belongs to us. Truth is found in a variety of forms and through a variety of channels, though it must always fall in line with the Bible. Paul used truth from Pagans when he was preaching to Greek philosophers (Acts 17:24-27). That is how I can listen to music and read books and watch movies made by nonbelievers and find biblical truth that will speak to me (I still believe Christianity to be exponentially more true than any other, hence my devotion to Christ. Remember that he is the embodiment of all truth).

Will people from other religions go to Heaven (again... controversial)?: In Romans 2:12-16, I think Paul makes a small allowance for some who have not heard the true message of Jesus to enter into righteousness and Heaven by following, "the law written on their hearts." This is also an example of the Universal Consciousness I was talking about earlier. However, I believe that if someone denies the message of Jesus, creates "Hell on earth" for others, or denies the law written on their hearts, Hell awaits them in the afterlife (That is why we need missions work and to spread the message of Jesus, because everyone needs to hear it.).

Do I believe what I believe just because of the way I was raised?: We would be lying to ourselves if we denied that our upbringing didn't have something to do with what we currently believe. However, just because we were raised to believe a certain way does not make that way untrue. Through asking honest questions and giving honest answers, we can find what it is we are truly looking for.

In the end, there is an element to following Jesus that science and reasoning cannot explain. A leap of faith has to take place. There are alot of things in the Bible that sound far-fetched and unexplainable, except that a force more powerful than ourselves orchestrated them. Is that so hard for us to believe? When I look at the world and the universe around me, I see alot of things science can explain, yet there are innumerable others things that science cannot explain. Science and reason can take us quite far, but eventually, it only completes part of the puzzle. Faith in something greater and more powerful than us has to be integrated at some point.

When you're hungry, you know that food exists because it will satisfy that hunger. If food didn't exist, then you wouldn't ever be hungry. You can know that water exists because you get thirsty. If water didn't exist, then you would never thirst. You know there is something more to life because you sense it. Maybe you can't explain it. Maybe it doesn't make total sense, but you long for something that goes beyond your five senses. You long for spiritual rest and peace. You long for an answer to the questions that keep you up at night. You may not get all of your questions answered in this life, but you find rest and trust in the love of Jesus Christ and voice of his Spirit inside of you. That's why I believe. That's why I follow Christ.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sometimes, life hurts...

It was Halloween night when we found out that Lindsey was pregnant. My initial feeling was a mix of shock and panic, followed almost immediately by excitement at the prospect of being a father. Ever since I knew Lindsey, I was positive that she was going to make an amazing mother. We would walk through restaurants and children would jump out of their chairs and follow her with arms outstretched (This actually happens). So there we were just a couple months ago; a mess of emotions and adjusting to the idea that we would be parents.

Wednesday night, Lindsey started bleeding and cramping. She called me Thursday and told me to pick her up from work because she was scared she was miscarrying. The bleeding persisted through Saturday night, when we decided to take Lindsey to the emergency room. We left with more questions than answers when the only advice they could give us was to see her doctor ASAP. This morning, Lindsey's doctor confirmed our fears. There was no heartbeat on the ultrasound and the baby had not grown much since the last visit.

I could never worship a God who made things like this happen just to teach us a valuable lesson. I can, however, worship a God who joins us in our pain and makes us better people in the process of going through trials. Lindsey and I take great comfort in knowing that we are not alone, and understanding that something good will come from something bad.

Grace and peace to all of our friends. Your prayers are very much appreciated.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Disclaimer: This random stream of consciousness is the product of too much coffee consumed during a late night. Enjoy……

Lately, I have come to the realization that life is in a constant state of flux. At least my life seems to have been that way as far back as I can remember. I used to resist it. I used to deny it. I now feel less inclined to choose either of those options and simply accept and embrace the reality that life is full of chaos. Chaos is not necessarily a bad thing. It just simply means that events in life are not as predictable as I had previously believed.

Update: I realize that it seems like an eternity since I have last graced the blogosphere with my presence, but this is for good reason. In August, I left the church of my youth and began a new journey with a church that better embodies what Lindsey and I feel called to do as part of the Body of Christ. This means that I am no longer occupationally a minister to youth. I am now a manager at a fledgling pizza restaurant in the heart of downtown Tulsa’s party district. This is a way of paying the bills, meeting interesting people I wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with, and shattering people’s misconceptions of what it means to follow Jesus in our current context. Lindsey and I have also purchased and moved into a new house on the north side of town (the “black” part of town), with the desire to be a blessing to our neighbors and a small embodiment of racial reconciliation.

Picking up where I left off: If you had told me one year ago that Lindsey and I would be where we are, attempting to do what we are doing, I would have thought that you were out of your mind. Now, it feels quite natural to think that where we currently are is the next step in the journey.

Embracing disorder and uncertainty as the metaphor in which we live means that we must dive deeper into the faith of our forefathers, who accepted martyrdom as a possibility at any moment. Embracing chaos means that we accept the reality that life is full of surprises. It means we take each twist and turn in life with a healthy level of responsibility, understanding that we choose how we respond to each circumstance in which we find ourselves. It also means that we must find some type of stability in a community of likeminded people who are also attempting to live in this state of chaos and flux, understanding our calling as priests of God and our duty to distribute grace to one another.

So what now? Now it’s time to go to bed so I can be rested for whatever tomorrow or even tonight may hold. Now is also time to turn out the light and get my beautiful wife some water. Did I mention that she’s pregnant? Time for more chaos.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Resignation Letter

To the Body of Christ at Southpark Community Church,

When I was a newborn, my parents held me close in their arms and carried me through the doors of this church. They found this to be a place of love and acceptance. The years found my family bouncing around from church to church, only for me to return to Southpark in high school. It was at this church that I graduated. It was this church that paid scholarships for my college experience. It was this church that mentored me and it was at this church that I married my beautiful wife, Lindsey. It was in February of 2007 that we embarked on a journey together with me as the youth minister of this church. When interviewing, we told the board and the search committee that we had dreams of eventually starting a new church. We let them know that depending upon the Lord’s will and timing, we might look for such an opportunity within two years of taking the job at Southpark. Recently, I had a friend approach Lindsey and I. He that mentioned he was beginning a new church in the Tulsa area and said that he believed we would make a good fit. After much talk and prayer, we have decided that it is time to seize this opportunity. As of July 31st, I will no longer be on staff at Southpark Community Church. I want to thank you for giving a young couple such as Lindsey and I the chance to impact this current generation for Christ and His Kingdom. Thank you for your prayers and support.

In His Service and Yours,

Ryan Boyls