For those of you reading this who aren’t familiar with Franklin Lakes Baptist Church (FLBC), an explanation of what this is and why we’re doing it can be found here.
Last night we began a series of discussions on the church and the changing cultural as well as religious climate of our world. The following series of posts (Meetings 1-8) are meant to serve as a basic review, general impressions/observations and follow-up to each meeting.
Our time opened with an uncomfortable reading of the preface to Who Stole My Church. The information and delivery method of the author, Gordan MacDonald [GMac], is uncharacteristically direct and a little harsh as compared to the rest of the book. A few samples:
“What they did not see coming was a reshuffling of the church’s priorities, so that lost and broken people rather than found and supposedly fixed people became the target audience.”
“I tried to find a kind way to say, ‘Get used to it,’ but I wasn’t very successful.”
“You need to think about the fact that any church that has not turned its face toward the younger generation and the new challenges of reaching unchurched people in this world will simply cease to exist. We’re not talking decades—we’re talking just a few years.”
“There is one primary issue that I am concerned with in this book: how do people face change when it threatens their comfort zone?”
We acknowledged the awkwardness and potential discomfort/fear that was likely created by some of these statements and I asked a few questions that I would return to close our meeting. The questions were: Why do you think I’m having you read this book? (What’s my motive?) and Who do you feel this book is for?
We quickly moved on.
From here, the discussion picked up. We went through the introduction, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 with some enjoyable conversation and perspective from the group (more of which I hope to achieve in the coming weeks).
The introduction did what it suggests, it introduced us to the main characters and to the initial conflict that drives the story (ie. a business meeting gone awry).
Chapter 1 hit on a variety of personal feelings the characters were harboring about their changing church. There was some comic relief as these fictional people reminisced over some of the more markable and controversial changes their generation had experienced and/or ushered into the church “back in the day.” This led to an interesting personal observation, for me… more on that below.
Chapter 2 got us into Scripture (Matthew 20:28) and addressed a recurring pattern amongst every generation, young and old, namely… they are critical of the way we do church. For the youths, the way we engage in God’s mission is short-sighted, slow, archaic and culturally backward. For the older generation, there is frustration, feelings of under appreciation, concern and resistance.
GMac’s point in all this? Recurring patterns. The youth of yesterday becomes the older generation of today. The medium and methodologies change but the result of dissatisfaction and disunity remain the same. All this is put into perspective as GMac and the group contemplate the reality of Matthew 20:28 – Jesus died for the church… Jesus loves the church.
We neared the end of our time together in some very open discussion about difficulty and fear that accompanies inviting our friends, neighbors, co-workers, family and so on to church. More on this in a minute.
Our time concluded with prayer, after which I returned to my opening questions with a brief response to each. While these aren’t direct quotes, you get the heart of it:
Why do you think I’m having you read this book? (What’s my motive?)
I think it’s time for open dialogue and I want any change the Lord is directing in the life of our church to involve our actual church people. Strength and wisdom in numbers. This is a journey we were meant to take together.
Who do you feel this book is for?
If you think this is a book for our older generation of people only, then you’ve missed the heart of the book and you misunderstand the heart of your pastor (me).
I was very nervous headed into this meeting. I got the impression that a number of my church family were right there with me. What was going to happen? What does all this actually mean? What if someone is upset already? What if this turns into an argument?
All those feelings were rushing through the room.
But I was excited and I got a note of that from a number of others in the room as well. It feels like something is happening, even if we don’t know what it is, and that’s exciting.
About half way into the meeting the room warmed up. The tension level noticeably fell and our pastor led meeting quickly became a family discussion. My hope is to build on this week to week because it was enjoyable.
I learned a few things from listening (who knew that listening worked!?!?!?). Two things in particular that stuck in my head and one that kept me up for a good while last night.
The First, the one that kept me up, was that the greatest changes (at least the ones that have been most greatly felt) that our church has undergone in its over 50 years of history have only come in the last 6 years (5 of which are under my leadership). The Bible translation change from NKJV to ESV, the AWANA to Praise Factory transfer, the Sunday Evening Service shift from traditional to contemporary music and (of course) the radical pastoral transition.
While I’m certain this church has been through notable changes in the past, none seemed to have left any feelings of discomfort or memories of substantial, difficult transition. How is that possible? I have three theories, and they’re most likely all a little bit right.
Theory 1 – the people of Franklin Lakes Baptist Church [FLBC] are unique and have known the goodness and grace of God in terms of love and unity as a church family. They’ve also been under amazing leadership, over the years, that introduced change in such a way that it was not invasive or difficult (and if any of them are offering classes, I’m in).
Theory 2 – the changes that have been experienced at FLBC were not innovations but circumstantial necessities—response to need. For example, some of the larger music issues for the church (eg. live vs. “canned” music) were never issues of contention here because there wasn’t an option.
Theory 3 – because of the familial health of the people inside the walls of FLBC, the societal, culturally sociological and anthropological changes that were happening outside its walls didn’t significantly factor into the church.
For me, as the pastor and pot-stirrer in the church, this helps me understand a few things. When I say change, it’s scary. When I talk about cultural integration or assimilation, it’s foreign. And, when we actually begin the process of missional engagement with our town, county and state… it’s going to feel radical.
The world grew up around us and now we’re going to attempt to philosophically, practically and physically step back out into it, engage it, love it and create a Christ-culture within it.
The Second… we’re ethnically sensitive.
Allow me a moment of bursting pride.
I love these folks.
It was a good night. I’m looking forward to next week (Chapters 4-6). See you then.