Fr (Rev) Chuck Owens shared part two of his seminar on "Rising to the Challenge to a standing-room-only audience of leaders at the New Wine Conference in Sligo. VOX Editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you this summary of what he had to say:
Luke 5: 37 - 39 - New wine must be stored in new wine skins. Jesus’ ministry was all about change. The established religion of His day didn’t like Him! No one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine!
We can pretend nothing is wrong. But in reality we are called to be shepherds and stewards of God’s people. Our church buildings are some of the worst examples of stewardship - look at how much money we invest in a building we only use for a few hours a week. God cares passionately about His People. Miss the people and you miss the purpose of the church.
Luke 24: 13 - 35 The road to Emmaus. People in the church have developed spiritual cataracts - they no longer see Jesus. When was the last time you have seen Jesus? When people meet and talk with you, do they see Christ present with you? Does your spouse? Do your children?
People in the church have developed spiritual cataracts - they no longer see Jesus.
Luke 24: 30 - 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him. As Jesus broke the bread, I think perhaps they saw a demonstration of the pattern of the ways of God.
Anybody can see God’s deeds. But is it more important to understand something of His ways. When we don’t understand the ways of God, we can misinterpret tragedy and pain, hardships and trials… we can think that somehow God has let us down.
Ex 33:13 Moses prayed teach me your ways so I may know you...
God works with people to take, bless, break and give… in the same way Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. God breaks us so He can use us! We like being blessed but we do not like being broken. I don’t think you can be used by God until you’ve been broken. It is only when you are down in a ditch and can’t get out, that you come to your senses. It is not until you’ve been broken, that you reach up. When we run out of our own resources, we need a Saviour!
God is breaking our churches because we’ve sought to please ourselves instead of him. When we are broken, then he can use us again. He is taking us into a time of circumcision, so that we can be given and used for His purposes.
Since the time of Constantine, churches have not allowed people to grow up. The role of the shepherd was not to feed the sheep. He protected them and brought them to a place where they could feed themselves. The role of the shepherd is to get the sheep to produce wool, milk and more sheep (to be fruitful). Being faithful is doing whatever it takes to connect the unchurched to the Gospel. A shepherd cannot have sheep. Only sheep can have sheep. The expectation is most churches is that the hired gun in the pulpit does the evangelism. That is not biblical.
We need to circumcise…
Take up your cross and follow me. Rend your hearts and not your garments. God wants a broken and contrite heart. We are supposed to die to ourselves. Why? So we can live for Him and for them.
We need to be dead to ourselves with our hearts beating for others. We go through life with an attitude of “gimme, gimme, gimme, grab, grab, grab, hoard, hoard, hoards” - we need open hands and open hearts. This world is not our home, and we’re just passing through. Too often we’re majoring in the minors.
***Our Worship Services
In what century does your worship service reside? It would be a giant leap forward if most of our churches moved their services in to the 20th Century. Then we would be only one century out of date!!
Only 57% of clergy say their worship is vibrant and only 28% agree with them! That means 43% of clergy go into church expecting to lead a “dead” or boring service and 72% of the laity are expecting a “dead” or boring service. Why in the world do they keep coming?
Most churches are surrounded by a cemetery. What a downer! You walk into church and there are graves all around you. You might expect that the biggest grave of all is in the middle of the cemetery ...and sadly often you are not disappointed.
The weekend worship service is the “front door” of most churches. Boredom is deadly! A Nazi mental health experiment looked at how people respond to meaningless, unproductive activity - the result was utter despair… in fact people were killing themselves at such a rate that they did not need to use the gas chamber.
Is it any wonder that people are walking away from our churches?
We need to open the front door of our churches to our target groups. We cannot cater for everyone but we do need to know who we are targeting. There are four possible targets:
The ultimate target should be unchurched, unbelievers but most churches target on churched believers. If you are going to catch fish, you have to go where the fish are! You need to consider advertising, curb appeal, community events and “come and see”. Peole are thirsty. They are looking for clues for where they can find water. But are you ready for them if they come?
Make sure you can say “Sunday worship is for you” to a visitor
**Welcoming - will they feel welcomed, valued, will you make space for them or force them to sit in the worse seat?
**Facilities - are they clean and comfortable? Would an outsider WANT to spend an hour here?
**Accessible - do they know what to do (when to sit and when to stand), do they understand why you do things and can they understand the language you use… or does everything about your service scream “You don’t belong here”
**Themed - help people take away one simple truth. Don’t confuse with multiple messages.
**Heart, not head, centred - not an academic lecture but a real, heart-felt truth that also makes sense!
**Relevant - does what you say in the pulpit relate to my Monday morning experience?
**Music - does the music style reflect “real” life or throw back to “ancient” times
. **Excellent - don’t embarrass your visitors by offering second best.
**Time sensitive - recognise the value of the gift of time, leave people wanting more not desperate to get away!
**Authentic - integrity, honesty, vulnerability, humility, reality!
**Invitation to engage - involve people. Don’t create spectators.
***Our institutional structures
All too often our institutional structures have been run with a secular mindset. In this structure, everybody on the bottom serves the people on the top. The most important person makes the decisions. The danger of the institutional church is that it will ultimately raise people to preserve and perpetuate the institution. In crude terms, it is about butts in the pews and bucks in the offering plates.
The church exists for the people and the most important people are the ones not in it. The Bible teaches that the leader must be a servant - the way up is down. Authority is given by virtue of relationship with God. The way of spiritual leadership is the way of humility and service. He must increase and I must decrease.