Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Broken Glass

The church I planted/pastored in Nashville (the church @ hickory hollow) was just a few weeks old when we asked Jason Bullion to come & be artistic. (This wasn't a stretch for Jason - he was an art major!) While I spoke about the creativity of God and His dreams for the church, Jason painted an impressionistic work of a stained glass window.

Interestingly enough, the stained glass window looked like someone had thrown a rock through it... but the place where the glass was missing formed a jagged but still recognizable cross with white light streaming through the opening.

That cross became the symbol/icon for our church - a rag-tag group of people burned by more traditional churches who wanted to throw some rocks through the practices & beliefs we thought were enslaving us and let the light of Jesus illuminate everything we did & said.

In the end, we were probably better at breaking things than we were at letting light in. There was, at times, an attitude for all of us that reminds me of one of David Letterman's old stand-by jokes - throw something out the window and see how it explodes when it hits the ground. When I'm honest with myself, some of my desire to sledgehammer church tradition was out of frustration & anger rather than following the leadership of God.

And yet, even with the problems, I think we were onto something. Too often, we do church life (and the rest of our lives, for that matter) based solely on what has gone on before. We get so focused on keeping programs alive and keeping up with the Joneses (i.e.. the church down the street, across town, whatever) that the light of Christ grows dim behind our ever-thickening panes of stained glass.

So, the painting still hangs in my office.

And the spirit of the painting? It's still around, too.

Which brings me to Sunday nights here at NewLife. For the time being, we will not be having Sunday night activities for adults or children on Sunday evenings. (The youth, under Aaron's leadership, may still meet on Sunday evenings.)

There are a number of reasons why: wide age range of children to take care of coupled wit inconsistent attendance, a declining interest from the majority of our adults in participating in studies & classes, the need for more workers to adequately staff Sunday evenings - set against the need for workers for Sunday School and Children's Church...

...but at the heart of it, there's really only one reason to set these programs aside. We were doing Sunday night activities because we'd always done something on Sunday nights, not because we had a clear leading from God that we needed to do something.

I realized a few weeks ago that while we've done some good stuff on Sunday nights, we've primarily been working to find curriculum & leaders to "fill space" - to make sure that we have some kind of spiritual activity in a particular time slot. No wonder we had trouble getting people to come!

So, this spring, we're going to throw a rock through this stained glass window...

Now, that doesn't preclude us doing things with our Sunday evenings. I know of at least one life group (small group Bible study) that is about to begin meeting on Sunday evenings. This Sunday night, Dr. Allen Troxler will be teaching our Winter Bible Study. Later in the spring, we're going to use this time slot for "pilot" versions of our second "emergent" service. This decision simply means we won't be creating activities for the sole purpose of activity. Oddly enough, we'll try & be purpose-driven... for more than just 40 days. :-)

One Sabbath, Jesus was strolling with his disciples through a field of ripe grain. Hungry, the disciples were pulling off the heads of grain and munching on them. Some Pharisees reported them to Jesus: "Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!"

Jesus said, "Really? Didn't you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn't you ever read in God's Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it's not held against them?

"There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant--"I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual'--you wouldn't be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he's in charge." Matthew 12:1-8 (The Message)

This article originally appeared in the 2/21/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.


Anonymous said...

So, are you going to post a photo of the painting or what?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I barely remember what I painted. It has been a looong time...

Anonymous said...

that is something that always frustrated me about c@hh -- it seemed like you were doing things differently just for the sake of being nontraditional. church tradition can be beautiful. don't completely sledgehammer it.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

I don't have a good photo of the painting... but I did add the clip art that we used on the old website of the same kind of image.

Anonymous - sorry we frustrated you. While I think (as you read earlier) that we made some mistakes in reaction to traditional churches, I still believe we also broke down some cultural traditions & barriers that have NOTHING to do with scriptural truth.

It is so easy for us to confuse the delivery system with the message... the first is beautiful in the eye of the beholder, while the second is beautiful, period.

And there's nothing wrong with traditions - EVERY church has them, no matter how "emergent" or "pomo" or "boomer" or whatever they are. The problem is traditionalism, where the traditions becomes idols for us to worship: a particular order of service, using an altar call, sitting in pews, certain songs that must be sung, using a particular translation of Scripture, and so on.

Anonymous said...

regarding the "anonymous" post...

Personally, that was one of the things that drew me to the church. To each his own, I suppose.

However, I think it's a little late to criticize TC@HH. The time to promote your petty "frustrations" is long gone. It definitely doesn't make those of us who poured our lives into the church feel any better.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with anonymous. At one time, I was somewhat against tradition. Then I found the original source of Tradition...the authenticity of the ancient rituals of liturgy, statuary, and the Eucharist.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...


First... did you even read my reply/comment?

Second... could repost in English what you mean by "the original source of Tradition"?