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I Like Jesus

I Like Jesus

“I like Jesus – but I don’t go to church.”

OK. Anyone who has been paying attention would be concerned. I’ve seen Christian communities I care about, approximately halve in numbers of people participating in the last fifteen years or so (a period in which the country’s population grew by 20%). The NZ Census figures on religious affiliation, released this week, present a similarly sobering reflection.

Does it matter? Church community involvement has, in the past, been the normal means for most to grow spiritually. I’ll return to that thought below. Let me brainstorm some of the causes of church attendance decline – add your ideas in the comments below. You may disagree with some particulars, some details I present. The devil, I suggest, in this case is not in the details. Any number of these causes work together to place us in the path of a perfect storm.

Our culture is commitment-apathetic. It is not commitment-phobic; commitment just isn’t something that even appears on the radar screen. People don’t join like they used to (from political parties through golf clubs to cycling clubs). That doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in politics, playing golf, or actually going cycling. Nor does not joining a church mean they aren’t interested in spirituality. Facebook understands the pulse of our culture by choosing to have a “like” button (you don’t “join” a page – you “like” it).

Analysis that the church is up against a group of young people that is individualist is unhelpful. The term connotes selfishness and self-centeredness. As pointed out, altruistic young people can see the individualistic-saving-from-God’s-wrath-and-hell, self-obsessed, club-survival-preoccupation of the church as being self-centered. Plank meet speck!

Gathering still happens in this culture. Young people still network and gather, it’s just not “every Friday night, from x to y time at z place” – it’s more gathering-by-texting…

Precarious Protestantism

Bible Study on iPadProjecting the Census statistics has non-catholic Christianity selling off their last church building as a cafe about forty years from now.

Much of Protestantism is more precarious in our new context. If faith is focused around accepting Jesus into my heart, and the individual-with-the-Bible-alone as all that is needed for personal, spiritual growth, then such a paradigm has always struggled with why go to (belong to) church? “To hear great Bible teaching”, might have cut the mustard in a pre-TV, pre-internet age. But, hello, those days have gone!

“Pentecostal-type churches are still fine” is the cry. Yes, young people go to that type of church. Young people. One pastor of a huge church spoke to me after finally doing the stats. His congregants stayed on average for 18 months. It was an infatuation/falling-in-love-with-God experience for them. Great! Let me stress: there is nothing wrong with that stage in any relationship! Quite the opposite – it is a good thing. But (sorry – spoiler alert!) it doesn’t last. The “Pentecostal-type churches” often struggle to hold the average person through further stages of faith. Story number 2: people at the getting-married/having-young-families stage of their lives, in the largest church I know personally, look back at the massive late-teens group they once were part of there – and now they can count those people still remaining there, a decade or so later, on a hand or two.

My pastor friend also found that when people left – they don’t move to another denomination. They leave church. Spiritual but not religious – have you heard that phrase before? “Traditional” denominations may be great for the long haul – but they are often hopeless at providing the environment for the falling-in-love stage. And tell me, in our market-driven-approach-to-church, where is the cooperation that is providing a natural pathway for its young people from traditional-type-church to “Pentecostal-type churches”; or show me the one from there to traditional-type-church?!

There is little scholarly analysis in NZ. That would mean the Moa taking its head out of the sand and acknowledging there’s a problem. The refrain in the little scholarship that is done presents overseas statistics but there is always little to nothing to guesswork for New Zealand. Dr Kevin Ward gives short shrift to the idea that Evangelical/Pentecostal churches aren’t affected. Only 3.9% of people attending such churches come from no church background. The deck chairs are not just being rearranged, but we are watching them fall over the side of the Titanic, and they are not being replaced.

Running out of babushkas

A priest tried to console me when, longer ago, I saw much of this writing on the wall. He thought of his parish as a community of babushkas, and he assured me that as they died off there would always be new babushkas to take their place in the pews. I didn’t much believe him then. I certainly don’t believe him now. People joining church generally do so younger. It is not something older people suddenly take on without any previous church background. Certainly, if they have had Sunday School background, or church school, or similar, they may come back to it later. But check out Sunday School attendance now. Or point to the number of church schools being newly opened. Do the maths.

So if you want babushkas in the future, or young families, or post-midlifers, put energy into giving children a positive experience of church. Of church. They are not going to come back if their only experience is being siloed off to a room by themselves, separated from the experience of ordinary Christian worship, to colour inside the lines! They don’t want to come back to colour in. They can do that at home.

And open church schools. And staff them with 21st-century Christians. And train and form clergy. Properly.

Being church in the Internet Age

The church, generally, is still doing its mission and ministry in another country: the pre-internet country. Yes, there are still some people living in that country, but most now live in Internet Land. Everything, from movies, and newspapers, through shopping, to education, is metamorphosing what they do to live in this new land. But not the church.

Don’t tell me that human hunger for God, that our passion for spirituality and meaning, has lessened in the same measure as the graphs of church-affiliation and church-attendance declines. A church paradigm that sees belonging to church and participating in sacraments as central to growth in spirituality has a chance of surviving. A church paradigm that sees growth through getting good Bible teaching obviously won’t. And doesn’t deserve to. There’s lots of apps for that.

I think we need a new paradigm. One that takes seriously our new “like Jesus” culture, where we gather for more than just getting what you can download off the web or watch on YouTube, and where we are there together not just for ourselves, not just for growing the numbers in our group, but for genuine loving compassion and service for others. I don’t know what that will look like.

*****

ps. If you really want to prevent young people looking at church with any seriousness, church leaders should spend all your time and energy arguing about something that stopped being an issue for the rest of society long before they were born, and that directly applies to about 5% or so of the population. Set up commissions, have meetings, consultations, and make discipline solely around that one so-last-millennium issue.

pps. For those not convinced of the networking power of the internet, one post I put up this week on my facebook page reached a quarter of a million people.

ppps. In many ways the above post follows my post from two days ago presenting the NZ Census figures on religious affiliation. Other places discussing these figures: here, here, and here (I have yet to be convinced of the thesis of this last post, both the statistics of the 1890s aberration, and the assumption that the slope starts there rather than that, if the stats are correct, the 1890s is a spike).

pppps. In response to my previous post on the figures, I was sent articles with a regular thread of the importance of schools and formation to Roman Catholic young adults.

*****

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26 Responses to I Like Jesus

  1. Wonderful questions, as usual, Bosco. But maybe your most interesting point is that people are not “joining” other things either anymore.

    So rather than trying to figure out why they’re no longer joining – or staying – maybe we need to figure out where they ARE spending their time.

    Here in the US I’d suggest that work is now taking up more and more of people’s lives. Employers expect more and more time devoted to work activities – even including being available via their smartphone for emails at any time of day or night or on weekends. Even vacations! And commutes are getting longer and longer for a variety of reasons.

    Anyone here who can be classified as a supervisor (often based on the flimsiest excuses) can be expected to come in early, stay late, and even show up on weekends (for no extra pay). That’s one end of the pay scale. And the other is the working poor, who often have to cobble together two and three jobs – just to make ends meet. And that’s in single parent households as well as two-parent households. (With very little time for parenting or family, let alone time for church or spiritual growth in a communal setting.)

    I could be barking up the wrong tree. But from my vantage point (a retired therapist, concerned about those still out in the job market – or longing to get into it), I can see the difficulties and struggles of so many. Also, when I think of the young couples in the little Orthodox church I joined, those who form the heart of the community have a professional, working husband and a stay-at-home wife – the traditional spousal division of labor – even though the wives are educated and could be in the workforce, if they wanted.

    On the other hand I know a professional woman who formed a group “outside” her RC parish – for women hungry for spiritual growth, spiritual conversation. (They did this to avoid an authoritarian young RC priest, whom they didn’t trust. And these were women with children in a Catholic school, whose Sunday attendance at that parish was geared to keeping the children enrolled in the school.) This may change under Pope Francis… but only time will tell. (And will those children never sense their parents’ ambivalence?)

    We may need a whole new concept of what Church means, I suspect.

    Nevertheless, God will never stop seeking us. Nudging us. Turning us topsy-turvy. Of that I am certain. And in Pope Francis we definitely have living proof!

    • Thanks. The increasing inefficiency of Western work habits is a huge subject. With computers and technology, leisure should be increasing, but we have created whole new layers of “jobs” above the producers who push (often digital) paper around, making more work for the producers to complete unproductive documentation which is then circulated into higher and higher layers of people who themselves must know, deep down, that they are adding nothing to human flourishing. It’s a great way for a culture to avoid being human. Blessings.

  2. Interesting bosco, as often.
    I guess as a non-church backround convert to a Bible focussed church who has been through an intense period of doubt (and other less intense ones) I like the analysis and honesty, but have real doubts about where you are shooting your bullets. There is more to the Bible oreinted churches (at least the ones I have been involved in) than what you can get from a dowload – notable hearing the Scriptures together, and working out how they work out inlife together, and spurring one another on (to use a term from Hebrews, I hope that is ok 🙂 ). The churches I have been in are vitally aware of that.
    Not that they don’t have their problems – and real problems catching up to the present. But that has never been a non-issue as far as I can see through church history – including during the entrenchment of Christendom – the visible church and vital Christianity have never been the same thing.
    Just a few thoughts. Thanks for the post.
    God bless

    • Thanks, Chris.

      Not sure that I was thinking of them as bullets – more, some causes.

      Just because the causes may not apply to the churches you have been part of, doesn’t mean that they are not causes in other churches, nor that the overall (3.9% point) issue will not affect the future of the churches you point to.

      I’m presuming you understand Roman Catholicism in the category of “Bible oriented churches” – all the positives you describe of the churches you have been part of can apply to Catholicism.

      Blessings.

      • Hi Bosco – not so much RC (at least in my little bit of experience) in that reflection and preaching of the word are not as central in my admittedly very limited experience – could be wrong on that.

        But I suppose I only noted Bible oriented churches (or perhaps better ‘Jesus as known from his apostolic testimony’ oriented churches – at least I am more happy with that 🙂 )

        I suppose also the churches I have belonged to have, at least I think, had more people like me than that 3.9% would point to (ie people not of church background who have become Christians) – however there is still an enormous amount of work to do, and lots to grow in – hence my appreciation of your points. (and I need to read Keith Ward’s article, which I haven’t done yet, to get some context)

        I suppose I mainly heard critique of Bible oriented churches in your post (and on a very brief second flick over I don’t think that was too over-sensitive of me:) ) when in fact at least in a number of cases those aaren’t at the worst end of church-non-growth as far as conversions go, nor do they seem to be particularly dying (though we are all only a generation or two away from that, whatever the stats may be doing). That is what struck me as odd about it all.

        cheers.

        • Thanks, Chris.

          I’m struggling with your terminology: “Bible oriented churches”, “‘Jesus as known from his apostolic testimony’ oriented churches” – these are terms not in my ordinary experience, I’m afraid.

          Yes, I don’t think the percentage is 3.9% as the maximum, which is how you are understanding it in your third paragraph. Kevin Ward very much addresses the but-our-type-of-church-will-be-fine response to these stats.

          I’m sorry if you mainly heard critique of Bible oriented churches [whatever you mean by that] in my post. The stats we are looking at are primarily presenting a major issue for non-Catholic churches. I am, as I said, brainstorming reasons why that may be so. If you find that threatening, the stats are not mine. If you have other explanations for the decline, let’s have them. That’s the request I started my post with.

          Advent Blessings.

  3. Great analysis, Bosco. A piece many mission-minded people need to read, as well as traditional church leaders. I’ll do my best to send it around my contacts too. One thing perhaps that’s missing is that we’ve overemphasized the love of God for a century (not that we should ever throw that out), but we’ve put aside the judgement of God, the holiness of God…and that (awe-ful) word, Sin. We’ve replaced these with non-words that mean little, or focused only on the ‘positive’ side of God: love, grace, mercy. I’ve been reading P T Forsyth a good deal recently, and am impressed as to how much of what he wrote back in the early part of the last century is still pertinent today, and that much of what he predicted is visible in our contemporary society. He had his finger on the pulse then…we could do with him now!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Mike. We’ve sometimes over-worn words. Even the word “God”. I think we need to learn to translate what we mean into words so people can hear today. “God’s love” is not what some people hear it as… Blessings.

    • Great, thanks, Jethro. Some foundational principles translate across into the school context, of course. But the idea of replicating much of the above, applying to parishes, directly into schools as if schools were identical to parishes, would be sorely mistaken. It would be great (continuing some of my points in my post) to have specialist training and formation focusing on developing Christian schooling. That appears to be a dream too far. In the church planning following the destruction of so much of Canterbury through the earthquakes, how much thought was given to partnering to develop new Anglican schools (with schooling, readers beyond NZ understand, being highly in flux in our post-quakes context), parish-based or otherwise? None. Blessings.

  4. As a millennial and a clergy person, I struggle with this changing reality. Most of my parishioners are grieving the church of the 50s, 60s, 70s, full of boomer children, and G.I. parents. They often ask, “Where have all the young people gone?” I sometimes say, they are you. The young people you remember became the middle aged and later life people still here.

    This may be the same for NZ, but in Canada, mainline protestants have allowed mission to happen by accident. In the mid 20th century Canadians just automatically became Christian simply by virtue of being born in Canada. Lutherans did evangelism by showing up at trains stations and listening for the European immigrants getting of the train who were speaking German, Norwegian, Sweedish, Danish etc…

    People just came to church because that is what good citizens do. The state isn’t evangelizing for us anymore. Society isn’t making people automatically Christian. And while many of my people are grieving this change, as a Millennial who has always known a church in decline I am okay with this, I am not grieving. To me, this change means that the people still here are interested. They are not attending for social reasons, but for faith reasons.

    Now, I don’t think this decline is going to last forever. As human beings we are good at thinking what has just happened will happen for ever. 50 years ago if I had told a Lutheran that the church would be shortly entering a period of extensive decline, I would have been laughed at. The same applies today, I think churches are going to start filling up again in the coming decades. (Start laughing now).

    100 years ago, churches were struggling, but into the war period of the 20th century people needed places to find hope. Churches boomed in the 50s and 60s, but I don’t think they were doing church better or worse than we are now. The world around us changed.

    The western world is moving out of a period of prosperity and high individualism, and into growing crisis over economic inequality and the environment. People are going to start looking for communities that offer hope, the can help explain their suffering. They will want communities that speak out against injustice. They will seek communities that point to a power great than the powers apparently in control in the world.

    We don’t know why churches filled up 50 years ago, and we don’t know why they are in decline today, and I don’t think we will know why people started coming back.

    But the next few decades will need for us to be different. Church will have to have social media presence. It won’t be 1950 were every time a new family moves to town they look for a church first. People are going to go looking online and all probably make first contact through social media. Churches that stay offline will never be found again. Churches that are online, will become hubs for new forms of community. Communities that communicate and organize online before they meet IRL (in real life). Many of the folks my parents or grandparents age probably feel I am wasting my time online, that I should be out visiting little old ladies more. What they don’t see is that I am undertaking a massive renovation to our structure, building for the present and future. Communities of faith are finding their new place online already, and many of our congregations and parishes are being left behind.

    • I certainly agree with your last paragraph, Erik. As you realise I am highly intentional about web presence. It distresses me when people make it sound like it’s so difficult. It isn’t. I check important Christian websites and they tell me what will happen at the start of 2012! Or earlier! I’m not as sure as you that when people want to be part of changing inequity, or injustice, or protecting the environment, that church will be what springs to their mind. In Christendom church undergirded a lot of that. In post-Christendom those values are promoted, often far better, outside of church. Blessings.

    • Yes, indeed! The trends are cause for hand-wringing only if the institutional church remains intent on monetizing the sacraments in its now conventional manner. Just as the printing press as a communication aided the reformation of the mediaeval church, the web is likewise at work to reform its modern descendents. I suspect God is relaxed with such technology and the creative destruction it brings, even if some of his people are getting fretful … 🙂

  5. Interesting indeed. An insightful analysis from NZ perspective is Mike Riddell “Threshold of the future”. I read it a while ago and have just bought a copy to reread.

    Church control structures are generally older people who like things the way they are. When they finally lose their sunday school because no young families in the church, then panic sets in and finally some change. However, the change is generally unwelcome to those remaining and too late to bring people in and so the church just trashes around in decline. Quality kids ministry is a key, if not the key factor. Hard to build up from a no-kids situation though.

    Riddell proposes some very different models for “church”. I dont know if these are “the answer” but its a conversation that churches need to have.

    • Thanks, Phil. As I said at the end, I don’t know what model we should embrace. I just hope that this post, Mike’s book, and others, are at least beginning a conversation. Blessings.

  6. A thoughtful and stimulating post. The point about church schools seems particularly apt – I’d just add “and make them part of the state-integrated ststem”. With 3 kids, our only option for Anglican schooling would have cost $30000 a year, and that was just for the primary years. Few can afford that, and formation in a Christian worldview suffers.

    But I wonder also about the “brain-deadness” of so much of modern Christianity. I’ve often reflected on whether I could, or should, have invited work colleagues to church. But absent a personal crisis that might have driven them to seek something pastoral, I have repeatedly been brought up short by the very low quality of so much preaching (mainly, in my case, Baptist and Anglican). It is as if the clergy has lost confidence in the stunnning truths the gospel proclaims, truths which have in the past attracted many of the finest minds, as students and preachers. Of course, preaching is only one dimension of what church is, but the contrast between the rigour and depth of what we expect in a work context, and what we so often find in church is a real stumbling block for some.

    • Thanks, Michael, for the encouragement.

      Yes, absolutely, to take the Canterbury context, be exploring integrated schools with the Ministry of Education in planning for post-quake reconfiguration of mission and ministry. That is specifically why I was using the word “partnering“. It seems to me to be win-win-win all round.

      As to your second paragraph. I am a broken record about the need to have top quality study, training, and formation of our leaders and clergy. And you saw me mention it, yet once again, in this post.

      Advent blessings.

  7. Thanks, as always, Bosco. My context is “Silicon Valley” Bay Area California, statistically the most secular (unaffiliated with church) region in the USA. Typically we have 130-ish souls on Sunday (three services, each very different, each with a distinct “clientele.”). Interestingly, as we move thru Advent and Lent, those numbers rise, and we will see 250-300 folks at Christmas, and an equivalent number at Easter. And this phenomenon points to what I see as one of our “problems.” Throughout my life, until I came to St. Thomas Episcopal in Sunnyvale, I had often cringed at Christmas and Easter services, as I in sermons and announcements, comments ranging from the condescending to the downright insulting (i.e., “We wish we would see you more often than twice a year…”) aimed at the occasional attendees. Instead of seeing the occasional attendee as member, they are seen as outsider. It is a symptom symbolized by the walls of our buildings: There are the insiders and the outsiders. Recently, within our diocese, the bishop has been talking about these defining metaphors, and pushing us to examine our lived response to the question “what is the church?”, and challenging us to think about, and experiment with being church beyond the comfortable walls of our sanctuaries.

    This brings me to one of the most important experiences of my life. For fifteen years I served as a catechist in RCIA in my Roman Catholic parish. I think the genius of the catechumenate is in the initial, inquiry process. Over the years, we’d had no less than three hundred catechumens and candidates for reception. The approach was to take time … lots of time – six or nine months … to dwell on the Gospel. Our approach was to engage in gentle, open discussion as we worked through parable, healing, event and proclamation. I saw people who came to RCIA because they were intending to marry a Catholic literally fall in love with Jesus. The process, fueled by the initial personal motivation to achieve an end (i.e., marry a person who is Catholic) and energized by the effect of open and respectful sharing of life stories interpreted in the light of the Gospel, has resulted in highly committed members of the church.

    I think that the catechumenate process, and the fruits it yields, offers an attitudinal model for how engage the occasional attendees; It begins with respect for the needs and motivations that shape their individual lives, and requires that the church provide opportunities for them to encounter Jesus. The key thing to say is this: The occasional attendee BELONGS. Period. Full stop. Do we know what they need? Are we listening? And are we allowing those needs to shape our mission?

    • Thanks, Lou!

      I have long been a strong advocate of the catechumenal process. I produced catechumenal rites which are in my book Celebrating Eucharist {Services for a New Beginning (Catechumenate)}. The process was quite trendy for a while a couple of decades ago in the Anglican Church here. There were conferences for training. World experts flown in to help us. Catechumenate coordinators employed by the church. Expectation that parishes implement the catechumenate. And promises that the rites I produced go through the process to be the authorised rites of the church.

      Oh. It didn’t save the church!

      The Anglican Church here seems to suffer from attention deficit, because it is always trying the next trendy thing. Usually dissipating its energy by not focusing on one or two [and part of the issue with pretending we are a HUGE institution – we can afford to/need to have many irons in the fire]. Few would now have even heard of the catechumenate. I would still use catechumenal principles whenever appropriate/I can – but that is rare now.

      Blessings.

      Oh, ps. And those many other things the church keeps frantically trying – they aren’t saving the church either!

  8. Thanks for your post on this important issue. My first confession is I have only skimmed it and I am therefore just responding to a few headline comments. I promise to come back and read it in more depth – but I should really be loading up our church website at the moment. There are some thoughts I just have to get out there!

    Utter sadness, frustration and grief! I could have written/said much the same thing in 1985 when I left the (Presbyterian) church as an early 20 something. I joined into the (Anglican) church about 4 years ago, thinking things could be different. Some days I am inspired and think they can be, particularly we have a young and enthusiast priest. Other days I think nothing has changed – no one even understands what is happening. (and I don’t think the denominations matter – our local uniting church is in a similar position).

    Some (slightly charactatured) observations on the spiritual but not religious group – many of whom I count as dear and inspiring friends:

    1. they don’t like Jesus – Jesus is their devil, he has been forced down their throat by evangelists, sunday school teachers, parents et al; he represents a distorted, self interested, self promoting, idolatist, magical god they have no interest in. They see the “Jesus” messages and it just reinforces this image.

    2. the more informed ones are reasonably well persuaded that Jesus never existed in the first place or if he did, he was one of many rabbis of the time and somehow his followers later on created him into something more than he ever intended to be.

    3. most of them don’t believe in a “God” – not in the sense of a divine being. Spiritual means that there is a spiritual dimension to the world – something more to the world than we can understand, but that doesn’t mean God.

    4. many have been driven out of religion because of the insistence on a personal relationship with a personal god, who can do magical things in your lives if say and do the right things. They have called this for what it is. (refer point 1)

    5. the bible is irrelevant to them. They cannot see how something written by people who lived in a totally different culture 2,000 years ago is of any use to people today beyond possibly a few insights and wisdom teachings. They certainly are grossly offended by being told that their committed life time relationships to one another based on some sentence written in an obsure manuscript and translated from a dead language!

    6. the damage to the reputation of the church may be irreparable. I am talking about the cumulative damage of child abuse not being dealt with in the catholic and other churches, unethical behaviour of US evangelists, the image of the church as telling people they are all wrong and sinful and will go to hell, etc etc. And they are aware this comes on 2,000 years of history of the church “behaving badly” And the rest of us sitting by in silence and failing to stand up for the rights of victims. Pope Francis is getting so much credit because he is actively moving to reconcile on at least some of these issues. But I don’t think that is enough.

    I am brain dumping this list because I think we need to face the reality of what the church looks like to the outside.

    The lesson we can learn from Pope Francis is that if we want to turn it around we need to start by being a humble and repentant church that listens.

    As a newbies to the Anglican Church – I don’t understand the dynamics – I realised that in a previous comments exchange about weddings and cathedrals. I do have a reasonable lived experience of the Congregation, Methodist and Prebyterian Churches. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, these churches really flourished on the service club model of social organisation. That model of social organisation has been and gone. It is not the church – it is a way of organising that the church adopted and used succesfully for several generations. So it is time to move on and find new models of organisation. That is not going to be easy.

    • Thanks so much, David. Your points certainly enlarge mine – and that is what I hoped the post would stimulate. Your points are not only expressing “what the church looks like to the outside” – this is, a lot, what the church looks like to me from the inside! Advent blessings.

      • On Sunday I was struck very much our reading from Matthew. When John the Baptist asked Jesus if his was “the one who is to come”. Jesus says, “Go tell John what you hear and see.” Not, what I have been saying or preaching, but what has happened as a result. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have received the good news brought to them.”
        So the signs of God’s kingdom breaking through to this world are not to be found in our worship, congregational gatherings, or doctrinal correctness, but in what difference we are making in the world. The little miracles we can do each day.
        On Sunday night, we had a family gathering. Our church is trying to organise a voluntary community activity next weekend and we need more helpers. My wife asked my extended family (the ones who are varying degrees of spiritual and definitely not religious). And they are not only keen to help but started thinking about friends who could help to. Because they could see it in the terms Jesus was talking about.
        So message from this – time to stop talking about Jesus. Time to start showing Jesus.

  9. Bosco, I have just finished reading a book about New Zealand’s ‘Destiny” Church, sub-titled ‘The Life and Times of a Self-Made Apostle’ by Peter Lineham. (Penguin, available at most public libraries).

    From what I have gleaned therein, I have come to understand that, certainly with the charismatic-style, youth-oriented, ‘Bible’ Churches such as Destiny, and, to a certain degree, many of the protestant evangelical Churches; there would appear to be an element of cultic following of the Chief Pastor. In Destiny’s case, this has been centred around it’s Leader, Brian Tamaki.

    In view of the fact that he has been credited with what might be called a ‘Messiah complex’, believing himself to be uniquely God’s Apostle for today’s world; one wonders what role this sort of cult leadership might have in drawing people into a particular Church ethos.

    In such cases, a particular emphasis on biblical prophecy – mainly from the Hebrew Scriptures – seems to have been articulated by the ‘Apostle’ in ways that encourage a fundamentalist vision of a black and white world of good and evil, that is attractive to people who want their theology cut and dried for them.

    In this world of oughts and shoulds – or, maybe, ought-nots and should-nots – religious adherence might be seen to be a desirable culture to latch on to. This may be at the root of large Single-Leader Churches, that major on strictly didactic uniformity, rather than spiritual exploration.

    Such communities are rarely formed around the more established Eucharistic foundational ethos which engages in Biblical exposition, but is generally open to a wider hermeneutic ‘search for meaning’ in the contemporary world. This, of course, means that Faith is centred, not on a charismatic preacher, but rather on the basic centrality of Christ in the Eucharist – on whom the community if fed, and by whom the Body of Christ is sent out to serve the world for God.

  10. If faith is focused around accepting Jesus into my heart, and the individual-with-the-Bible-alone as all that is needed for personal, spiritual growth

    It isn’t, or it shouldn’t be.* Any pastor who is selling that is selling people short.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

You are visitor number shopify analytics tool since the launch of this site on Maundy Thursday, 13 April 2006