Posted by Christopher Johnson | Monday, April 22nd, 2013 | Uncategorized | 61 Comments
Congratulations! You are about to embark on a noble and eminently-worthwhile endeavor in which Christians have been engaged since Jesus ascended into heaven and something I myself used to think about doing from time to time.
Other people might be impressed by massive churches or cathedrals in which richy-apparelled ministers perform beautiful and elaborate liturgies for the glory of God and the edification of the people. I am too. But I am also moved by little storefront Pentecostal churches, affiliated with no one, who preach the Word in season and out of season.
You may have a perfectly valid motivation for wanting to begin your own church, either inside a particular tradition or outside it. You and your conservative Anglican friends may live in a place where the nearest Anglican Church in North America parish is 500 miles away. You and some of your Baptist friends may feel yourselves drawn towards liturgical traditions and might feel more comfortable starting some kind of intermediate “church” prior to becoming Roman Catholics or Orthodox Christians.
And there are many other reasons. While, as I said, I’ve considered the idea, I’ve never actually started a church myself. But I since I run one of these blog deals that all the kids are into these days, my opinion matters more than yours does. So if you’re contemplating starting your own church, here are a few factors to consider:
(1) Don’t reinvent the wheel. – Do you think worship should be beautiful? Roman Catholics do a kickass liturgy and if the beauty of Rachmaninov’s setting of the Russian Orthodox Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom doesn’t scare you to death, then I hate to break it to you but you’re deaf.
Or maybe you’d prefer worship that was less liturgical and more directly focused on the Word of God. Maybe you think the pulpit should be in the middle of the church rather than the altar, so to speak, in which case, the Southern Baptists, the Presbyterians and other Reformed Protestants have you covered.
Maybe you’d like to consider yourself “spiritual” without having to believe anything in particular, in which case the Unitarians, if you’re low-church, or the Episcopalians, if you love a good show, are possibilities. Or perhaps you’d prefer a more high-octane, pedal-to-the-metal, emotional worship in which case your Pentecostal friend could probably hook you up. But if you can’t work your way around these issues, you might want to ask yourself why you want to start a church in the first place.
(2) Since it tells the world about you, be very careful about your church’s name. – Ever wondered why people name their individual parishes the way they do? While there are exceptions, there seem, for the most part, to be two different naming conventions among Christians. One, found mainly in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican traditions, is to name your parish after some person in the Bible (Christ the King, Good Shepherd, Mary Queen of Peace, St. John the Baptist, St. Paul’s, etc), some Biblical event (Annunciation, Holy Communion, Resurrection, Ascension, etc) or some saint.
The other, found mainly in the Reformed traditions, is to simply declare to the world who you are and where you are located (Kirkwood Methodist Church, Harrison Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, Old Orchard Presbyterian Church and so on). To me, both these approaches communicate the same message.
This isn’t about us. It’s about Him.
Contrast that with a new church here called The Gathering, which seems to be affiliated with the Methodists. I should say up front that I know nothing about that church or who attends it other than to observe that I first found out about from advertising yard signs the church puts up from time to time. For all I know, the people who attend it may be better disciples of the Lord than I am or ever will be.
But that might be the single worst church name I’ve ever seen. Leaving aside its cultish feel, it communicates absolutely nothing. A gathering? A gathering of who? And what are they gathering for? As I said before, these people may be on fire for the Lord Jesus Christ. But if one of them ever invited me to attend church at something called The Gathering, I’m going to take a rain check that I probably won’t ever cash in. Which brings us to…
(3) Timeless good; meaningful…BAD. – Do you know why people still listen to and care about Bach, Mozart or Beethoven while no longer giving much of crap about the Ohio Express, Wishbone Ash or Pacific Gas & Electric? Because the first three wrote for the ages and the last three only got into music to pull the birds, as the British put it.
Why do even non-Catholics like me enjoy Gregorian chant? Why do I love listening to such simple hymns as “It is Well with My Soul” or “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There” but can’t think of a single modern Christian song that moves me in any way?
Why do singers like Mahalia Jackson, Thomas Dorsey, Willie Mae Ford Smith and Blind Willie Johnson still have a power that no modern Christian artist can remotely approach? If my apartment was ever on fire, why would I grab my lectern Bible, the three CD’s I own by this artist* and let all my other possessions burn?
If you genuinely don’t know, I feel sorry for you.
Let’s put it this way. You might start a “church” whose “hymns” consist of singing along to recordings of Bruce Springsteen, U2, BonJovi, Sting or other soon-to-be has-been artists and you might find such “worship” incredibly “meaningful.”
You might even make a going concern out of such a “church.” But I’ll bet the rest of my inheritance on this: fifteen years or so down the road, your kids will bitch at you every single Sunday morning until they go to college, eventually throwing in with the Roman Catholics, for making them sit through that elevator music you inexplicably like so much. And finally…
(4) Pick a side. – I’ve had this persistent, hacking cough for at least two months straight so I see two doctors about it. One of them gives me a quick, cursory examination and tells me that there’s nothing wrong, that the cough will clear up by itself.
The other does a far more extensive examination, sends me to a specialist who prescribes all manner of tests and who finally informs me that I have advanced-stage lung cancer.
Which one of the two is the better doctor?
It’s like this. You can tell the culture whatever the culture wants to hear in order to keep the Young PeopleTM on board, forgetting that the Young PeopleTM eventually become the Old PeopleTM who have actually thought things through.
Or you can tell the truth right from the start. Might cost you a few bodies in the seats now but it will pay dividends down the road.
*Seriously. If you ever find one of this woman’s CD’s, buy it immediately. You’ll thank me later. As scary good as the Russian Orthodox recording I linked to above is, she is as good or even better.
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