How to fail at church

A self-righteous hypocritical guide to failing as a cell church

Following our simple method will ensure sporadic attendance, lack of discernable growth, and poor discipleship retention.  Failing at church can be FUN!  I know I know, every church is just a little dysfunctional in some way, if you ever found the perfect congregation you would run away screaming lest you infected their edenic beauty.  As we come up on Easter and near the anniversary the first FSRCotH meeting so long ago, I am suddenly given pause to take a critical look at our progress over the past couple of years and take stock of some of the things that we got absolutely wrong.  Maybe its nostalgia, maybe its indigestion, who can say?

 

  • Have an enigmatic name which could be easily misinterpreted by traditional Christians and non-believers alike.  If you name your fellowship “Texas Avenue Baptist Church” and you happen to be a Southern Baptist church whose building is located on Texas Avenue then people driving by can rest assured in the knowledge that they can reasonably expect to know what’s going on behind closed doors.  If you name your fellowship “Star Spawn of Unknown Kadath” then you should expect a certain amount of uncertainty and confusion revolving around what you and your parishioners are up to!
  • Don’t have a building.  There’s nothing like a lack of stable routine meeting location to disrupt attendance.  People enjoy the established reliability of showing up at the same place every week, they like their personal parking spaces, sitting in their assigned seats, being surrounded by a comfortable private environment engulfed in their unvarying ugly wallpaper and stained carpet left over from the 1970’s.  If you really want to turn people off, meeting in public parks, private lesson studios, Vietnamese coffee houses and Islamic Indo-Pak cuisine serving restaurants is a great way to fail to meet potential attendees’ expectations for bland predictable permanency.
  • Meet at on a different day, and if possible at a different time every week.  We love out habits.  We enjoy the expectation that at 7:30 on Wednesday evening our favorite comedy television troop will invariably display their quirky lives to us in the privacy of our comfortable living rooms. Most of us are pretty busy too, and having the threat of some unknown scheduling conflict lurking within the voluminous folds of our Google calendar app is generally enough to dissuade even the most resolute saint from penciling the service into their calendar.  Oh yeah, and to double the deterrent effect, only post your meeting location on a select few electronic venues and text messages within 48 hours of the actual service, that’s usually the icing on the cake!
  • Invite people of varying faiths and worldviews, and engage each of them in loving dialogue opening the floor for each to express him or herself to the group in honest conversation.   This is especially effective if you can ensure that you’ll have at least one member of two conflicting political persuasions who feel vocally vehement, loudly denouncing the opposing leaders, spokespersons, economic practices, or pants.  On rare occasions, if you have the misfortune of actually achieving some sort loving environment where your group members actually communicate with each other and somehow manage to build relationships outside your church meetings, rest assured that they will eventually offend each other on Facebook somehow, and then neither one will ever attend again for fear of running into the other.
  • Lack a firm repetitive structural component which dictates the order of service. We all know that effective discipline can only occur when church services are very precise about having a 30-45 minute slick radio-friendly pop music performance, followed by a short welcome by the pastor, who then invokes several more lower energy contemplative songs, which usher in a 20-40 minute long socially relevant sermon presentation, followed by a PowerPoint barrage of pictures of starving African children and plaintive pleas for cash, culminating in several more joyful up-tempo rock inflected praise choruses.  This exact progression IS the essence of CHURCH, it’s in the Bible, look it up! In addition to avoiding all of the above displays of religious devotion, I heartily recommend that you utilize some sort of outdated and frumpy looking liturgy as your guide for whatever scripture readings you feel like incorporating into the service.  Despite the obvious facts that historically orthodox believers have been using liturgy for centuries to teach and explain the mysteries of scripture, let’s face it liturgy just sounds old and smacks of your great aunts mothball scented services you were forced to attend at Christmas and Easter when you were a child. On no account should you actually allow people to talk freely or openly discuss either the contents of the liturgy, or any unrelated personal trials or questions they may have.
  • Set aside part of your time for prayers for each other.  This is a great way to force people to prove their spirituality by making them speak their petitions to God aloud and in public, preferably sitting around holding hands with closed eyes in the middle of a crowded Middle Eastern restaurant during Ramadan.  Glare at people who don’t participate in this vocal exercise (for whatever reason) and welcome long-winded rambling prayers covering blessings for personal material wealth for each individual member of the petitioner’s family.  You might get lucky and have the prayer time last longer than the entire rest of the service, and especially lucky if one of your members spontaneously remembers their gift of tongues/prophecy/Taylor Swift songs in the middle of their benediction.

 

Once again, good luck in your efforts!  Attempting to apply even a couple of these methods should be enough to disrupt your services, and if you can manage to incorporate all of them at once then failure is practically guaranteed.   Once we can remove our pride and worldly view of success from the way that we attempt to “do” church, then we open our community up to the movements of the Holy Spirit and allow God to have His way with our fellowship, shaping it and growing it in the way that He has intended rather than according to our plan.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

 

First Self Righteous Road Trip

My mother moved very far away some years ago, and so I rarely spend much time with her anymore. That’s really ok most of the time, we tend to get on each others nerves pretty quickly and tempers and words fly at the slightest provocation. She has been flying out a lot over the past two years to see her grandson, which works well for both of us- we get to put in some face time, say we love each other, and then part company quickly before enough time is passed in each others company to ignite our mutual short fuses. One major disadvantage to this otherwise idyllic arrangement is that if anything happens which requires our mutual and personal attention one of us needs to suddenly embark on a lengthy 900+ mile journey. This weekend has dealt me that card, with the sudden death of my mothers dogs I find my self-righteous butt uncomfortably settling into the plush clean-smelling seats of my Toyota Highlander and high-tailing it to central Florida to offer what comfort a sons presence may. Feel free to get together yourselves, you just won’t have mr. McStinky around to lead you through the Book of Common Prayer. Actually, that might be more incentive for you to revel in the communal bliss of mutual sojourners fellowship…

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Last meeting before Thailand

Well this will be our last meetup before Alicia and I split for the Pacific Rim, so it makes sense that we gather at our favorite meeting loaction (cà phê phin in Nassau Bay).  I’m not certain what adventures await us in Thailand, but this latest venture has found me adopting a very relaxed outlook on the planning stages.  In the past i’ve felt very conscious about making sure that everything is totally organized and all the plans are cemented- only to find that chaos and unpredictability tend to reign and run roughshod over my carefully constructed schemes.  SO this time i’m just leaving things in the hand of Providence and allowing adventure to direct itself.

Drink, and be glad!

Fourth-century poet Ephrem the Syrian wrote, “The word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty person is happy when drinking, and not depressed, because the spring is inexhaustible. You can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring; then when you thirst again, you can drink from it once more.”

Sleepless

20111001-004214.jpgI can’t sleep. It inevitably happens whenever I have something I have to be responsible for the next morning, and so it frequently happens on Friday and Saturday nights. Like some cruel joke played out time and time again, I find myself unable to doze off, and the mounting frustration does little to quell my thoughts. I know that by picking up a book, or hopping on the computer I’m being hopelessly irresponsible, and so I lay still in the dark and close my eyes, sometimes for 6 hours at a stretch. I know that if I was taking an algebra class I’d be able to doze right off, or if it was 9 am I’d crash out almost instantaneously. What would happen if, instead of persueing my regular habit of mentally beating my head against a wall I just spent this time in prayer? It’s a pretty simple solution really, either outcome would be pretty spectacular! Either I would find myself spending some 6 hours a week more in prayer than I do now (and God knows there are plenty of situations I could pray for, and worship through, and seek wisdom about) or else-like the disciples in the garden- I would falter within the hour and drift into sleep. Let’s see how long I can stay focused tonight- in the presence of the Lord, before the drooping lids finally overtake me and slumber flows Morpheus slow…

Long live the King

20110924-115010.jpgWhat would it look like to live in a country where Jesus was the king? Would it be a land of peace, a jeweled kingdom overflowing with milk and honey and a healing balm to her neighbors? Would her armies march out victorious, putting the heathen and the villain to the sword, divine judgement protecting the weak and poor? First Self Righteous is meeting tomorrow at 1:00 at Ca Phê Phín to talk about this and other matters of social and political consequence, see ya there hypocrites!