The Forrest Gump of the Evangelical World

The Forrest Gump of the Evangelical World

When people ask me about my spiritual journey, I tell them that I feel a little like Forrest Gump—intuitively finding myself in the middle of some of the defining moments of American evangelical history of the last 50 years. Much of my church experience has been within the context of southern California, but what has happened here also was happening around the country. I can identify four phases in my journey (and the church’s evolution) that have lead us both to the dawn of a new movement. PHASE 1: THE JESUS PEOPLE MOVEMENT As a child my family went to the original Calvary Chapel where Chuck Smith held services in a big tent. It was a time when many Christians considered it radical, if not heretical, to replace the organ with drums and to have the choir director sport sandals, a beard, and a ten-inch pony tail. Our baptisms weren’t done in dark solemn sanctuaries but on public beaches at Little Corona. People didn’t take “believers classes”, they just yelled out “I believe!” and jumped into the waves. A few years later, I moved to Berkeley and joined a Christian commune, took a vow of poverty, and wore the official Jesus People uniform of string-tied bellbottoms, sandals, and ponytail. This is where I learned that ministry is meant to be incarnational and that I could look established religion in the eye and ask, “What’s needed in a practical sense?” We led the church away from liturgy toward expository preaching, from handbells to folk bands. And we discovered that the larger the gathering or group, the more resources we could...
Evolution of the Church Service

Evolution of the Church Service

We are witnessing another fundamental shift in church culture with the decline of teaching-centric churches and the rise of service-centric churches. As I said in the last post, there have been three important components to church – a COMMON faith/experience that holds us together, COMMUNITY (relationships, meal sharing, sacred ritual), and TEACHING (including biblical exposition and moral exhortation). MORE THAN A METAPHOR During the recent emerging church movement, evangelicals in particular have used a more figurative paradigm than ever before. You could see it in the names of the churches: ROCKharbor, Jacob’s Well, Adullam (King David’s cave of refuge), Scum of the Earth – these names created a story that attracted people based on the experience and community they were looking for. Their meeting places also embraced the new metaphor – eschewing the junior college architecture of megachurches and instead taking over strip malls and old buildings of nearly dead mainline churches. But even those churches are experiencing the same survival rate as the “traditional” mega-churches. FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS So, it seems that church function, even its survival, needs more than just a change in metaphors. We are beginning to ask some very fundamental questions. Do we need to own a building that is used 10% of the week for a 90-minute attractional or teaching service? Does it make sense in this environmental, carbon-footprint world to drive to the suburbs to sit and listen to a non-interactional presentation, especially when people can capture that teaching while they’re out exercising or driving to work? Does the teacher even need to be present? Really, these questions aren’t anything new. Paul himself was...
Are We Training Pastors for a Job That No Longer Exists?

Are We Training Pastors for a Job That No Longer Exists?

It’s safe to say that the traditional expression of church has not varied for hundreds of years. This form worked well when the dominant culture in the world was agrarian, most people were uneducated and illiterate, and books were either unavailable or very expensive. Information and stories were spread by people who had dedicated their lives to learning, reading, and teaching. Many of these were pastors who received more schooling than most before going out into the world to build a church. Farmers from miles around would put on their “Sunday best” and walk, pile into wagons, or ride to church each Sunday morning. Together they’d sing and then sit and listen to the minister or priest teach from the Bible and his brand of theology. Afterward, they’d catch up on how life was going, learn how they could help each other, and perhaps even share a meal. WHAT WAS THE APPEAL OF CHURCH? It still sounds appealing in many ways, doesn’t it? There’s a simplicity to it that makes me feel a little nostalgic. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are three important things we can learn from this model: The people who came to church were drawn together by a COMMON faith experience. In rural settings, commonality just happened because there were very few, if any, choices in denomination or Bible translation. As society transitioned from being rural to urban, commonality was still important—we were just able to decide which church we felt most comfortable in ethnically, denominationally, and geographically. . Because most people were either illiterate or didn’t have the resources to educate...

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