Jan 2005 – Reaching today’s people

In Evangelical and Methodist, Riley B. Case advocates using early Methodism as a model for renewal. emphasizing reaching common people and changing hearts. But part of early Methodism’s success came from its willingness to abandon or revise church practices that had become ineffective because of changes in society. We need that willingness today, instead of conforming strictly to the narrow interpretation of doctrine that Case wants.

Part of the difference in Christians’ opinions about what the church needs come from personality differences, especially those the Myers-Brigg system calls differences between “thinking types” and “feeling types.”

Feb 2005 – The search for the Real

In The Way Things Are, Huston Smith, a lifelong Methodist and leading authority on the world’s religions, calls religion “the search for the Real, and the effort to approximate one’s life to it.” He sees Christians trusting science too little and too much—sometimes ignoring its findings and sometimes thinking it has the truth about everything. He sees differences in temperament leading people to different ways of describing the Absolute. Exoterics see formlessness as a lack, thus see formless things as nothing, while esoterics see formlessness as more real and more enticing than the world of forms. Smith finds Hinduism’s way of distinguishing four paths to the divine helpful, and he sees the four paths relating to personality or temperament types much like those that Carl Jung described.

Mar 2005 – Loving and serving—pastors’ first responsibility?

Some pastors see loving and serving as their first responsibility, but talent and skill are also essential, and church members differ in what they expect from pastors. In Confronting the Controversies, pastor Adam Hamilton echoes many other pastors by saying that a pastor needs to be in a congregation for several years before addressing controversial subjects in it. But if Jesus had followed that policy, he would have never mentioned anything controversial or said anything that might make his hearers uncomfortable.

Apr 2005 – What is effectiveness?

Both pastors and lay members are responsible for the church’s effectiveness. How we define effectiveness depends largely on what we think the church’s purpose is. And a church’s view of its purpose is revealed by the methods and the organizational structure it uses, as well as by what its leaders say in words.

May 2005 – Wisdom—a life-transforming tradition

In The Wisdom Way of Knowing, Cynthia Bourgeault describes a tradition that has been part of all the world’s major religions but that many Christians have never heard of. Using its spiritual practices such as lectio divina doesn’t require being a scholar, a monk, or a mystic. The wisdom tradition emphasizes x-ray-like vision that comes through the mind, body, and heart and requires all three to be engaged and awake. Surrender opens the way for wisdom.

June 2005 – Vitality in turmoil

In an Alban Institute report, James Wind and Gil Rendle say American religion is in the midst of a sea change and a time of crisis whose depths it hasn’t faced. Within the turmoil, crisis, and systemic dysfunction that currently exist, ferment, growth, and new vitality are emerging. Congregations can’t rise above their leadership, the Alban Institute finds, and lay members’ role is essential for helping their churches have first-class clergy leadership.

July 2005 – God and politics

In the Bible we find many God-inspired leaders speaking openly and forcefully about issues many members don’t want to hear about in today’s churches. These biblical leaders speak not only to their fellow citizens but also to rulers. In God’s Politics, Jim Wallis urges Christians to be more consistent and more vocal in applying Christian principles to politics, in adherence to the church’s God-given prophetic calling.

A Memorial Day service I attended included no prayer for our enemies or the civilian victims of war, and no mention of Christians’ obligation to try to eliminate war.

Some Temple-area Connections readers and I are doing the new DVD-based study course “Living the Questions.” which is described at www.livingthequestions.com .

Aug 2005 – A disturbing disconnection

Because so much of what I hear when I attend worship services seems disconnected from reality or contradictory to what I believe Christianity is about, I’ve decreased my attendance at Sunday worship, and I mostly enjoy not attending—a big change for me. Much of the disconnection results from the words of hymns, anthems, and other songs, which give what I consider a misleading picture of human beings and of God. I know many other Christians who feel similarly, yet I don’t see churches very concerned about their absence.

In The Edge of Adventure, Keith Miller and Bruce Larson urge giving as much of yourself as you can, to as much of God as you can grasp. I believe worship services need to help participants do that.

Sept 2005 – Connecting with worship

A steady stream of responses to the Aug Connections let me know I’m far from alone in my reactions to worship services. The readers I hear from feel deadened by the worship they attend. They want real community. They want opportunities to interact with other people who are thinking and asking questions. They’re sad, angry,  and frustrated.

Oct 2005 – Personalities influence worship

Personality differences strongly influence how we picture God, how we recognize God’s presence, and how we respond to God, therefore what kind of worship services we feel the need for. The Myers-Briggs system of classifying personality types can help us see why people’s reactions to worship services differ.

Nov 2005 – Worship at different stages of faith

Another reason for our differing reactions to worship and other aspects of churches’ programs is that we are at different stages of the faith journey. James W. Fowler’s description of faith stages can help us understand.

Dec 2005 – Seeking community and truth

Responses to the Aug 2005 Connections keep coming. They’ve been more numerous than I’ve received from any other issue, and the previous biggest response was to three issues about feeling like a church misfit—2-02, 4-02, and 6-02. These responses let me know that even if those of us with similar concerns are in the minority, we are numerous—too numerous for our churches to be justified in ignoring. The messages I’m getting from these concerned Christians emphasize remarkably similar themes, which I list in this Connections, and raise vitally important questions for all of us and for the church. It leads to wondering how to define “progressive Christianity.” In The End of Faith, scientist Sam Harris says that many religious beliefs are endangering our world.