5 Characteristics Of A Christian Congregation

Started by Dave Likeness, October 07, 2019, 06:43:49 PM

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David Garner

Quote from: Charles Austin on October 09, 2019, 09:18:56 AM
I am not talking about the good things the congregations do. I'm speaking to the idea of merely having a happy peaceful congregation was somehow or other going to make people look at us and like us. People looking for happiness have plenty of places to find it. People are looking for caring groups have plenty of places to find those too, I know lots of groups of care for their members more than some congregations I know about.
What do we have to offer that is distinct, special, uniquely ours, something you cannot get anywhere else? Are people looking for that one special thing, do they know where to find it? How can we make it known that we have one special thing that is ours to give?
But the bigger deal is, and it is a much bigger deal, how do we reach out with this one special thing to people who don't know about it or where to find it?
Our people do not live in "compounds." But Lutherans are notorious for not talking about their faith. We'll talk about a good restaurant, a good movie, a good trip, but we do not talk about going to a good church. The truth is, we don't even know ourselves ourselves why we go there.
And we are lousy at explaining what "church" does for us or why that matters.

I mean, my former pastor used to wear his clerical everywhere he went (I assume he still does), and he would strike up conversations with people in restaurants, at the store, wherever.  The clerical was a conversation piece -- "nice to see you Father, where is your church," etc.

He was ALWAYS sharing the Gospel.  So maybe it is stereotypically true that Lutherans are notorious for not talking about their faith.  But it certainly hasn't been my experience.  When I was a Lutheran, I did not approach things any differently than he does.  Nor do I now.  I don't proselytize, but I am very open about my faith, what we believe, why I am an Orthodox Christian, etc.  That isn't something I found in the Orthodox Church that was missing when I was Lutheran. It's something I brought with me.
Orthodox Reader and former Lutheran (LCMS and WELS).

Eileen Smith

Quote from: David Garner on October 09, 2019, 09:28:57 AM
Quote from: Charles Austin on October 09, 2019, 09:18:56 AM
I am not talking about the good things the congregations do. I'm speaking to the idea of merely having a happy peaceful congregation was somehow or other going to make people look at us and like us. People looking for happiness have plenty of places to find it. People are looking for caring groups have plenty of places to find those too, I know lots of groups of care for their members more than some congregations I know about.
What do we have to offer that is distinct, special, uniquely ours, something you cannot get anywhere else? Are people looking for that one special thing, do they know where to find it? How can we make it known that we have one special thing that is ours to give?
But the bigger deal is, and it is a much bigger deal, how do we reach out with this one special thing to people who don't know about it or where to find it?
Our people do not live in "compounds." But Lutherans are notorious for not talking about their faith. We'll talk about a good restaurant, a good movie, a good trip, but we do not talk about going to a good church. The truth is, we don't even know ourselves ourselves why we go there.
And we are lousy at explaining what "church" does for us or why that matters.

I mean, my former pastor used to wear his clerical everywhere he went (I assume he still does), and he would strike up conversations with people in restaurants, at the store, wherever.  The clerical was a conversation piece -- "nice to see you Father, where is your church," etc.

He was ALWAYS sharing the Gospel.  So maybe it is stereotypically true that Lutherans are notorious for not talking about their faith.  But it certainly hasn't been my experience.  When I was a Lutheran, I did not approach things any differently than he does.  Nor do I now.  I don't proselytize, but I am very open about my faith, what we believe, why I am an Orthodox Christian, etc.  That isn't something I found in the Orthodox Church that was missing when I was Lutheran. It's something I brought with me.

My pastor, as well, always wears his collar and interacts with those outside of the church walls.  Imet a pastor once who said she took off her collar purposely when outside of church so not as to offend - felt it gave her more license to talk with others.  My former pastor always wore his collar and on hospital visits to members would stop in the ER and just meet with  people as they wished. 

To the point above, it's not quite 'happy and peaceful' it's how we serve one another.   When we serve others in the congregation or when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable enough to be served it changes us - and that can be transmitted in our words, actions even countenance.   

I very much support not only our service to one another within the church but beyond our doors as well.  I don't think one necessarily has to serve on any sort of social ministry team but simply by doing service within the community or simply coming to the aid of a neighbor is outreach for we, as Christians, do this in faith and thanksgiving.   The reason I'm reticent to speak to outreach is that it has become confused with worship in our congregation and, I know, in many others.  We are created to worship God and care for his children.  But for some it's become either/or.  People think that if they come to church and fold clothes for the homeless or cook a meal or whatever outreach might be going on they've "gone to church" that is, this is their Sunday worship no matter what day of the week it may be.   At times our churches -- local, local synod, and churchwide look more like a social services organization than a worshipping church.

peter_speckhard

Quote from: Eileen Smith on October 09, 2019, 01:59:54 PM
Quote from: David Garner on October 09, 2019, 09:28:57 AM
Quote from: Charles Austin on October 09, 2019, 09:18:56 AM
I am not talking about the good things the congregations do. I'm speaking to the idea of merely having a happy peaceful congregation was somehow or other going to make people look at us and like us. People looking for happiness have plenty of places to find it. People are looking for caring groups have plenty of places to find those too, I know lots of groups of care for their members more than some congregations I know about.
What do we have to offer that is distinct, special, uniquely ours, something you cannot get anywhere else? Are people looking for that one special thing, do they know where to find it? How can we make it known that we have one special thing that is ours to give?
But the bigger deal is, and it is a much bigger deal, how do we reach out with this one special thing to people who don't know about it or where to find it?
Our people do not live in "compounds." But Lutherans are notorious for not talking about their faith. We'll talk about a good restaurant, a good movie, a good trip, but we do not talk about going to a good church. The truth is, we don't even know ourselves ourselves why we go there.
And we are lousy at explaining what "church" does for us or why that matters.

I mean, my former pastor used to wear his clerical everywhere he went (I assume he still does), and he would strike up conversations with people in restaurants, at the store, wherever.  The clerical was a conversation piece -- "nice to see you Father, where is your church," etc.

He was ALWAYS sharing the Gospel.  So maybe it is stereotypically true that Lutherans are notorious for not talking about their faith.  But it certainly hasn't been my experience.  When I was a Lutheran, I did not approach things any differently than he does.  Nor do I now.  I don't proselytize, but I am very open about my faith, what we believe, why I am an Orthodox Christian, etc.  That isn't something I found in the Orthodox Church that was missing when I was Lutheran. It's something I brought with me.

My pastor, as well, always wears his collar and interacts with those outside of the church walls.  Imet a pastor once who said she took off her collar purposely when outside of church so not as to offend - felt it gave her more license to talk with others.  My former pastor always wore his collar and on hospital visits to members would stop in the ER and just meet with  people as they wished. 

To the point above, it's not quite 'happy and peaceful' it's how we serve one another.   When we serve others in the congregation or when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable enough to be served it changes us - and that can be transmitted in our words, actions even countenance.   

I very much support not only our service to one another within the church but beyond our doors as well.  I don't think one necessarily has to serve on any sort of social ministry team but simply by doing service within the community or simply coming to the aid of a neighbor is outreach for we, as Christians, do this in faith and thanksgiving.   The reason I'm reticent to speak to outreach is that it has become confused with worship in our congregation and, I know, in many others.  We are created to worship God and care for his children.  But for some it's become either/or.  People think that if they come to church and fold clothes for the homeless or cook a meal or whatever outreach might be going on they've "gone to church" that is, this is their Sunday worship no matter what day of the week it may be.   At times our churches -- local, local synod, and churchwide look more like a social services organization than a worshipping church.
I would much rather live in a town full of congregations that love one another than a town full of congregations dedicated to outreach and the effort to get me to join. The former would be more likely to get to me to join as a side effect of being a place where they love one another.

Steven Tibbetts

Quote from: Charles Austin on October 09, 2019, 09:18:56 AM
I'm speaking to the idea of merely having a happy peaceful congregation was somehow or other going to make people look at us and like us.


After all, people who are part of a happy peaceful congregation would never, ever speak of their church with anyone other than those already involved in it, nor would their participation in the life of such a congregation ever display itself in the ways they interact with neighbors, co-workers, and others.  And, of course, such a congregation never has occasion to serve those who aren't intimately involved in the life of that congregation because happy, faithful Christians just don't do that sort of thing when they're part of a happy, peaceful congregation.  No, they work hard to just blend in with faceless crowd...

spt+
The Rev. Steven Paul Tibbetts, STS
Pastor Zip's Blog

Charles Austin

I ask again. Why would they come to us for happiness? They can get that elsewhere. What do we have to offer which is unique, special and they can't get any where else? And how do we let them know they need it?
Iowa-born. Long-time in NY/New Jersey, former LWF staff in Geneva.
ELCA PASTOR, ordained 1967. Former journalist. Retired in Minneapolis. Often critical of the ELCA, but more often a defender of its mission. Ignoring the not-so-subtle rude insults which often appear here.

peter_speckhard

"Love alone is credible." A congregation of people living in love for one another speaks for itself. Nobody needs convincing that they need to be a part of it.

David Garner

Pastor Austin, I could answer those questions a multitude of ways.  And I will in due time.

I'm curious, though, how you answer them?  What do you think the Church has to offer that is unique, special and they can't get anywhere else, and how do you let them know they need it?
Orthodox Reader and former Lutheran (LCMS and WELS).

Steven Tibbetts

You know, I just re-read Pr. Likeness' opening post, and I've got to wonder if the whimsical Pr. Austin is simply trolling us.

Quote from: Dave Likeness on October 07, 2019, 06:43:49 PM
According to 1 Peter 3:8, there are five elements which should characterize a Christian parish.

1. Harmony......Live in harmony with one another and share common goals
2. Sympathy.....Be responsive to the needs of others, a time to weep and a time to rejoice
3. Love............Treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ
4. Compassion..Have a tender heart which cares for others
5. Humility.......Put the interests of others  ahead of one's own interests.

Unity of heart and mind is critical for the Christian community. It comes from a common focus on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The result is a vibrant relationship of church members with one another.  These five elements provide the fellowship (koinonia) that is essential for a healthy congregation. The desired outcome is not uniformity, but unanimity.

Can this become a reality in a Christian congregation?   What are the obstacles that the Devil, the World and our Flesh throw out to prevent a healthy parish?
The Rev. Steven Paul Tibbetts, STS
Pastor Zip's Blog

Charles Austin

It is asked:
II'm curious, though, how you answer them?  What do you think the Church has to offer that is unique, special and they can't get anywhere else, and how do you let them know they need it?
I answer:
The gospel. A relationship with God. Forgiveness of sins and a way of looking at life that includes God in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the blessings of faith. An Answer to some of life's serious questions. How to seek God's help when you don't have answers to serious questions.
Study of the Bible by people who really know it and believe it.
That's what we have that you can't get anywhere else.
Iowa-born. Long-time in NY/New Jersey, former LWF staff in Geneva.
ELCA PASTOR, ordained 1967. Former journalist. Retired in Minneapolis. Often critical of the ELCA, but more often a defender of its mission. Ignoring the not-so-subtle rude insults which often appear here.

David Garner

Quote from: Charles Austin on October 09, 2019, 05:45:13 PM
It is asked:
II'm curious, though, how you answer them?  What do you think the Church has to offer that is unique, special and they can't get anywhere else, and how do you let them know they need it?
I answer:
The gospel. A relationship with God. Forgiveness of sins and a way of looking at life that includes God in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the blessings of faith. An Answer to some of life's serious questions. How to seek God's help when you don't have answers to serious questions.
Study of the Bible by people who really know it and believe it.
That's what we have that you can't get anywhere else.

All of those are well and good.  I'd add a few, union with Christ, love of neighbor, but this is good.

So how do you get that message out?  I would submit it is chiefly in living out that Christian life, in other words, showing forth a relationship with God, forgiving sins of others, showing forth the blessings of faith, demonstrating that life's serious questions have answers and that we know how to seek God's help when you don't have answers to serious questions.

In other words, by doing exactly what Pastor Likeness' first post said we ought to do.
Orthodox Reader and former Lutheran (LCMS and WELS).

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: David Garner on October 09, 2019, 07:24:06 AM
Quote from: Brian Stoffregen on October 08, 2019, 08:50:31 PM
Quote from: Dave Likeness on October 08, 2019, 04:59:07 PM
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at  Ephesus, he commended them for their faith
in the Lord Jesus and their love for one another. (Eph. 1:15)

A generation later in the book of Revelation, we read the letter of Christ to the church at Ephesus.
He rebukes them for having abandoned the love they had at first. (Rev. 2:4)

It is possible for a Christian congregation to lose their love for Christ and one another.   It is not
something that we can take for granted that our love for Christ and others will always be a reality.


The church at Ephesus is interesting. How did they abandon the love they had at first? By hating what the Nicolaitans are doing (2:6). While they are commended for this, this hatred of heresy had bred an inquisitorial spirit that left no room for love. They don't put up with those who are evil. They test those who claim to be apostles. They go around looking for lies. They had set out to be defenders of the faith, arming themselves with the heroic virtues of truth and courage, only to discover that in the battle they had lost the most important quality. Without love all others are worthless. In trying so hard to be the perfect church with no falsehood, they became judgmental haters rather than acting out of love. If they don't change, their lampstand will be removed: they will cease to be a real church. Their light will no longer shine in the world.               

I assume you realize, because you say "they are commended for this," that Jesus is not making an argument against steadfastness, but in fact was praising the Ephesians for their steadfastness.  He praises them for testing those who claim to be Apostles and are not.  He praises them for not bearing those who are evil.

I mean, he even says "you hate the work of the Nicolations, which I also hate."

You take this and turn it on its head, saying the Ephesians were "trying so hard to be the perfect church with no falsehood, they became judgmental haters."  Literally every word of that you added to the text.  Your gloss on these things is always a sort of reverse ad hominem.  It's always more about what you want to say than what the Scriptures are saying.


Yes, I am interpreting the text. I'm also following an interpretation by G. B. Caird in A Commentary on The Revelation of St. John the Divine in Harper's New Testament Commentaries. He writes:


The one charge against the Ephesians is that their intolerance of imposture, the unflagging loyalty, and their hatred of heresy had bred an inquisitorial spirit which left no room for love. They had set out to be defenders of the faith, arming themselves with the heroic virtues of truth and courage, only to discover that in the battle they had lost the one quality without which all others are worthless. John has much to tell us about the demonic process by which all that is noble and good can be distorted into opposition to God, but nothing more eloquent than this simple statement that zeal for Christian truth may obliterate the one truth that matters, that God is love. John is a rigorist who shares the hatred of heresy which he attributes both to the church of Ephesus and to the church's Lord; but he recognizes the appalling danger of a religion prompted more by hate than by love. The only legitimate hatred is a revulsion against all that thwarts the operations of love; and how easily that hatred can turn into something less innocent! For all its apparent strength and vigour, this church is in danger of losing its lamp, of ceasing to be a real church. (pp. 31-32, emphasis in original)


I believe it's a valid interpretation because I've seen it happen in our own day. Expressions of the love of God disappear when hatred towards others takes center stage. (Think Fred Phelps)


We also have to recognize that μισέω has some different nuances than our verb, "to hate." Thus, Jesus can tell us to hate our family members and even our own lives (Luke 14:26); but it's not likely he meant to treat them as enemies or to express animosity towards them. We are also commanded to honor our parents and love ourselves. Matthew (10:37) better expresses the meaning of the words: We are to love our family less than Jesus. It's an issue of priorities, not of animosity.


I'm more than willing to have you offer your interpretation and application of this text. If the loss of love isn't connected with elevating their hatred of heresies to be more important than love, then what is it?
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: peter_speckhard on October 09, 2019, 02:58:52 PM
I would much rather live in a town full of congregations that love one another than a town full of congregations dedicated to outreach and the effort to get me to join. The former would be more likely to get to me to join as a side effect of being a place where they love one another.


"Outreach" and "get me to join" are not necessarily the same thing. A couple of congregations in town have an outreach to the homeless. They bring them food. There is no hidden agenda that they might join the congregations. It's more likely that other people who want to help the homeless will join to participate in our outreach ministry.


"Congregations that love one another" could be just like a congregation's members who love one another. They become a private club that outsiders find hard, if not difficult to join. I've even had council members state: "If we take care of our own members, then others will come and want to join us." This came from a church that had been declining for 30 years. Their "love each other" wasn't working as a witness to the world.


Much more important, in my mind, are congregations who show their love towards me (and others) who come to visit. Members who will come and talk with me. Signs and bulletins that help me participate in what they are doing. Even the language of "members and visitors" creates a divide between the two. All can be called "worshipers". E.g., "all worshipers are invited to the fellowship time following the service."
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: Charles Austin on October 09, 2019, 05:45:13 PM
It is asked:
II'm curious, though, how you answer them?  What do you think the Church has to offer that is unique, special and they can't get anywhere else, and how do you let them know they need it?
I answer:
The gospel. A relationship with God. Forgiveness of sins and a way of looking at life that includes God in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the blessings of faith. An Answer to some of life's serious questions. How to seek God's help when you don't have answers to serious questions.
Study of the Bible by people who really know it and believe it.
That's what we have that you can't get anywhere else.


I would also add, incorporated into the body of Christ. A place where one's gifts are recognized and honored and used for the good of something larger than self.
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

Brian Stoffregen

Quote from: David Garner on October 09, 2019, 05:55:05 PM
Quote from: Charles Austin on October 09, 2019, 05:45:13 PM
It is asked:
II'm curious, though, how you answer them?  What do you think the Church has to offer that is unique, special and they can't get anywhere else, and how do you let them know they need it?
I answer:
The gospel. A relationship with God. Forgiveness of sins and a way of looking at life that includes God in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the blessings of faith. An Answer to some of life's serious questions. How to seek God's help when you don't have answers to serious questions.
Study of the Bible by people who really know it and believe it.
That's what we have that you can't get anywhere else.

All of those are well and good.  I'd add a few, union with Christ, love of neighbor, but this is good.

So how do you get that message out?  I would submit it is chiefly in living out that Christian life, in other words, showing forth a relationship with God, forgiving sins of others, showing forth the blessings of faith, demonstrating that life's serious questions have answers and that we know how to seek God's help when you don't have answers to serious questions.

In other words, by doing exactly what Pastor Likeness' first post said we ought to do.


How do we get that message out? The best proven way is to invite others to come to worship (and other church activities). Offer to bring them or meet them in the parking lot so that they are with someone they know before entering into a room full of strangers.


I theorize that often the reason contemporary services often grow larger than the traditional service is that people who attend invite others to come. That has happened to us. "We have a cowboy service on Saturday night. Wanna come!" That same congregation has a traditional service on Sunday morning. Our friends didn't say anything about that service.
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

Terry W Culler

I have been involved in Via de Cristo for almost 30 years.  We teach a Christian life that involves piety, study and action, both for individuals and congregations. We illustrate this with a 3 legged stool. In other words, we call on people to be active in prayer, worship and reception of the Sacrament; we call on Bible to be students of the Word; and we call on people to be active in ministry both within and without the congregation.  A healthy Christian life involves all 3 and a healthy Christian congregation is active in all 3.

Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with one of my mentors who is also one of the founders of the Via de Cristo movement.  We talked about how congregations are doing in this regard.  He said the congregation he attends in retirement is very good about action, but rather poor in both piety and study.  The congregation I serve is good on piety and study, and we're now trying to take more action in the community.  That is what all of us should strive for, neglecting none of the 3 legs of the stool.
"No particular Church has ... a right to existence, except as it believes itself the most perfect from of Christianity, the form which of right, should and will be universal."
Charles Porterfield Krauth

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