Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Church (Page 1 of 5)

Author interview: Alan Molineaux, Sea and Islands

Sea & IslandsA little while ago, an online acquaintance named Alan Molineaux announced that he was publishing his first book, titled Sea and Islands: A Search for Evangelical Morphodoxy. I thought it sounded interesting so I approached Alan and he kindly sent me a review copy. As I have occasionally done before, rather than writing a straight review I thought it would be interesting to interview Alan to find out a bit more about the motivation behind the book and its message.

Alan lives in West Yorkshire, where he leads a church as well as running a management training business. He previously worked in the electronics industry and has an M.A. in Pastoral Theology.

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Alan, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about yourself and your book. First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your spiritual journey?

I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church in Manchester, England at the age of fifteen. Having originally trained in electronics, my wife and I planted a church in Norfolk in 1993. Shortly afterwards I began studying for an M.A. in Pastoral Theology. Following something of a personal crisis, we moved to Yorkshire and I returned to business management. It wasn’t long before the urge to plant a church gripped us again and we started a small congregation in Bingley, West Yorkshire in 2008.

During all of this, we have travelled from some of the certainties of Pentecostalism to a wider appreciation of church history and practice.

What would you say is the single most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in all your years in church leadership?

Don’t be so consumed with a vision that you lose your essential self. Many of the leadership events we went to during our early time of ministry massaged our need to “succeed”. Larger churches were presented as the gold standard and we were encouraged to “enlarge our tents” without being fully aware of the cost that might be paid by ourselves and others.

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Some thoughts on Lent, repentance and the power of symbol

5521959239_37e036560e_bThis year I’m observing Lent for the first time.

For most of my Christian life – over thirty years, in fact – I’ve attended Pentecostal churches. Seasons on the church calendar like Lent and Advent barely register on the radar of Pentecostal and other non-traditional churches. However, we’re now transitioning into a local Anglican congregation. What this means in practice is that we’re also still going to our former Pentecostal church every few weeks to keep our daughter company. (Going to both a Pentecostal and an Anglican church makes for some interesting contrasts, I can tell you!)

Anyway, this means I have the opportunity to experience some of the more ancient practices of the church in ways that I’ve never even been aware of before. Thus my observance of Lent.

In brief, Lent is a period running up to Easter during which Christians focus specifically on prayer, repentance, self-denial and charity. It generally begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday), though there are variations depending on which branch of the church you belong to (Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant). This period is intended to commemorate the forty days Jesus is said to have spent in the desert before commencing his public ministry. It is essentially an opportunity to quiet the voice of the ego or the “false self” (what the Apostle Paul often referred to as “the flesh”) and allow certain behaviours and/or thought patterns to die so that the Spirit can breathe new life in their place.

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Some thoughts on the Eucharist, Anglican style

3294797689_811f4439b2_bI’ve written about the Eucharist (aka Holy Communion) before, notably here and here. But today I want to share a couple of brief thoughts about my own recent personal experience of this sacrament.

In recent months I’ve received the Eucharist a number of times in an Anglican church. Being a Pentecostal of thirty years’ standing, there are some key differences in the way Communion is celebrated in these two traditions that really stand out to me.

First, let me summarise how I’ve known Communion to be understood and practiced within the Pentecostal tradition with which I’m oh so familiar.

In the churches of which I’ve been a part, Communion has always been made out to be a Big Deal. There has been an air of solemnity about it, perhaps heightened by the fact that it’s often the only vaguely ritualistic component of an otherwise very free and fluid style of corporate worship. There are two features of the typical Pentecostal Communion that appear to be central:

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Some thoughts on church growth

HillsongSaddleback Church in California, pastored by Rick Warren of Purpose Driven Life fame, recently announced a three-year, $71 million fundraising campaign to finance what leaders are calling its “largest and most ambitious plan ever to expand the mega-church’s ministry”. Yes, that’s right, your eyes didn’t deceive you: I said $71 million.

This is a staggeringly large amount of money, and I guess it’s a fair bet that a good chunk of it will go into bricks and mortar and technology. But I don’t really want to get into a critique of Saddleback Church itself. This news has, however, had me pondering about church growth and how it is understood and pursued, particularly among western evangelical churches.

You see, to me this is a striking example of how much of the western church relentlessly pursues numerical growth as the one and only valid mark of “success”. Indeed, at this point I’d say that a good many churches and church leaders have numerical growth firmly at the top of their list of signs of a “successful” church.

The reason I’m putting “success” and “successful” in quotes is that when it comes to church purpose and vision, I don’t think the word “success” should even be part of the conversation.

All I really want to do today is offer some brief thoughts on why it is that so many western evangelical churches have bought into the “success as numerical growth” paradigm. (Note that I didn’t say “all evangelical churches”, or even “most evangelical churches”… so please don’t shoot me down in flames as a church-hater, because I’m not. I’ve been a paid-up member of evangelical churches for thirty years, and still am as of today.)

So, here are three of the top reasons why I think a great many western evangelical churches are sold out on numerical growth:

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Going deep

Coelho woundsA few days ago, I saw a video shared on Facebook about the way in which God pursues relationship with us. On one level, it was just another faintly cheesy God-thinks-you’re-worth-it video that could easily be dismissed as yet more Christian schmaltz. But the voiceover included one phrase that resonated deeply with something embedded deep in my understanding and experience.

In seeking to account for our fallen human state, as demonstrated by our endless capacity for misunderstanding, rivalry and one-upmanship, this video spoke of our sense of lack and incompleteness.

This is something I find to be true not because it says so in the Bible, but because I know it in my own life.

We can all think of extreme manifestations of this lack and our attempts to fill it: the alcoholic who tries to quell the unbearable awfulness of reality through drink; the drug addict who seeks to numb her existential pain by injecting mind-altering toxins into her blood stream; the compulsive porn user who retreats from the complexity and pain of real-world relationships into the comforting virtual arms of a non-existent lover.

These are arguably all cases of our prevailing sense of lack and incompleteness driving us to seek comfort in some easily attainable temporal refuge.

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On corporate worship and dualism

WorshipFor most of my nearly thirty years in the Pentecostal church, I’ve been involved in worship music, for much of that time as a worship leader. Only in the past year or so have I laid down my guitar, piano and microphone and taken a big step back. And as I have, my perspective has begun to change.

Let me first say this: I believe in both the value and the power of corporate worship.

I believe that corporate worship is of great value because it unites us as the worshipping church, takes our focus off the individual, reminds us of God’s eternal attributes and instils a renewed sense of corporate purpose.

I believe that corporate worship is powerful because something happens when we come together as the gathered people of God that transcends the individual and the commonplace. Times of corporate worship can lift us into new realms of awareness of the beauty and majesty of God and inspire us afresh as we seek to walk out our calling from Monday to Saturday.

I’ve experienced some amazing, awe-inspiring, spine-tingling moments in corporate worship, when the presence of God seemed so thick you could feel its weight and the whole world took on a different and holier hue afterwards.

But… having said all that, I’ve been wondering. Specifically, I’ve been wondering about just how much of our worship, particularly in emotionally charged charismatic settings, is dualistic.

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On ministry, status and church culture

Hamster wheelAs I write this in September 2014, it’s not far off thirty years since I became a Christian and church went from being something I had rarely experienced to becoming a very big part of my life. If I could have a pound (or a dollar) for every hour spent in a church building or church meeting (or otherwise doing “church work”) since then, I could probably retire and live the high life until I die.

For pretty much all of that thirty-year period, I have been involved in some form of what is generally referred to as “ministry”. For me, this has mainly consisted of leading worship and playing in a worship band. However, I have also participated in running kids’ outreach, leading home groups, leading Sunday gatherings and preaching. I was also part of a church’s team of leaders/elders for a few years. The last few months have really been the only period during which I have not engaged in some kind of ministry, preferring instead to simply attend church on a Sunday.

Now, before I go on to say what I want to say, let me first clarify something: I do not wish to imply that all ministry is futile or misdirected. Nor do I wish to suggest that the institutional church is without merit, or cast aspersions on the motivations of anyone involved in ministry. I have benefited immensely from my journey through the church, and I know many people who sincerely and tirelessly seek to serve God by serving others in their faith communities. Not to mention many who have found compassion, love and healing through the institutional church. (I say this because some will inevitably assume that I have an axe to grind and am simply airing a bad case of sour grapes against the church. Not so.)

Having had a few months out of active “ministry”, and having at the same time had a good portion of my theological thinking deconstructed and rearranged, I find that my perspective on ministry involvement in church has evolved somewhat.

You see, with the benefit of thirty years’ hindsight and the increased clarity that comes from stepping back for a few months, I’ve begun to see some worrying aspects of the “ministry culture” that is found in many charismatic and Pentecostal churches.

We like to pretend that everyone in church is equal, that we are all simply using our various gifts to serve God together in a variety of ways. Indeed, I’ve often heard it said from the pulpit that the person who cleans the toilets is just as important as the pastor or the preacher. In practice, however, the reality is often rather different.

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