September 2011


Continuing my thoughts and opinions on what I believe the evolution of the church is going to look like over the next twenty years, I’ve compared it to hash, the kind of stew my grandfather used to make in a big black pot over a hot fire in the backyard when the mornings got cold enough for hog-killin’ in the fall.  I’ve identified a couple of spices that I believe are going to define the distinct flavor of the church over the aforementioned time span, starting with Ministry as a ‘Career’ vs. ‘Calling’, a look at the idea that because of difficult economic times, we’re going to see more home-grown, bi-vocational pastors in the future.  There’s a less-than-subtle suggestion in there that pastors who are planting churches might do well to stop looking at target audiences, and attempting to style a worship experience to suit them, and instead look at the primary occupation of their target audience, and work in that type of field, in addition to being a pastor.  This would give a pastor more insight into the daily joys and struggles their community faces.

I’ve also considered The Evangelical Response to Growth in Orthodox Denominations, stating my belief that as orthodox movements become more visible and popular, we’re going to see some of our churches be against the movement, living in the same paranoid suspicion that many evangelicals have had for Catholics and other traditionally orthodox groups for generationsSome evangelical churches will adhere to some aspects of orthodox worship,  taking on liturgical practices in their worship services because they see it as the “hot” thing to do during worship, a tool for reaching those who are hipsters, or whatever they will be calling twenty-somethings in ten to twenty years.  Others will adopt orthodox tradition, fully becoming a part of denominational groups like the Anglican Church of North America, or the Orthodox Church in America.

Today, I’ll explore the current revival in liturgical practices, and attempt to answer the key question, “Are liturgical practices here to stay?” 

My illustrious grandfather, Boscoe Fouche (so nick-named because the doctor that delivered him suggested it, as he had just been to the carnival in Athens and witnessed the wonder of “Boscoe the Amazing Snake-Eatin’ Man”), would make a fresh pot of stew every year when the weather got cool enough.  As a young boy anxious to assist my Papa in any way, I had two jobs when it was time to make hash.  One was to stay out of the fire.  I believe that task was actually assigned by my mother, with several threats attached, some involving disfigurement and bruising.

My other job, and the one I loved the most, was to stir the pot.  If my memory serves me proper, and my older siblings will surely correct me if it doesn’t, he had a stick that somewhat resembled a small version of a boat oar, made of hickory, that was used for stirring the pot.  Shoot, I must have really loved the job, because I’ve been stirring the pot ever since.

The word “liturgy” is Greek in origin, and means “work of the people”.  Liturgy is composed of those things we do on Sunday morning, offered up as a cumulative expression of thanksgiving to God.  I, for one, believe that liturgy, or the work we do as an expression of thanksgiving to God, extends beyond the church doors, but this is a subject for another day.  Every church has a liturgy, even the most contemporary ones.  Liturgy is simply the order in which things are done.  The liturgical revival that is happening today, the one I’m such a fan of, is a return to an ancient, “traditional” way of doing Sunday morning worship.  As I’ve said in previous posts, for me, it has nothing to do with music style or genre, but everything to do with having a pattern of worship with depth and substance.

That being said, if the other ideas I’m considering in this series are the spices in this pot of hash we’re watching being made, I would suppose that liturgy is the stirring of the pot…It’s how we actually, actively, “do church”.  And in many circles, the way church is done is looking a lot less like the seeker-friendly movement we evangelicals have embraced for the past couple of decades, and more like it did in the earliest days of Christianity as an institution.

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I’ve been sharing my opinions on what I believe the future holds for the American church over the past few posts, attempting to give you all an idea of what flavor the church is going to have, or at least could have, if all the pieces fall together like I believe they might, or at least, wish they would.  I’ve identified five spices that are going to play a big role in what this pot of hash we call church tastes like twenty years from now.  They are:

1) Ministry as a “career” vs. “calling”.             

2) The evangelical response to growth in orthodox denominations.

3)  Return to liturgical practices:  Here to stay?

4) Fundamentalism vs. Mysticism.

5) Church planting: Evangelical fad or built to last?

Today, we’ll devote some time to looking at the evangelical response to growth in orthodox denominations.

First, I need to define what I mean by orthodox:

-Not necessarily Eastern Orthodox, but does include that denomination.

-Some are evangelical (Anglican, Presbyterian, etc.), but don’t look like a typical Baptist church in their practices.

-Sacramental in tradition.

-Adhere to a form of Episcopal order of church government (Bishops, Priests, Deacons).

-Practice historical forms of baptism (infant baptism, for example).

-Have a liturgical system of function (use the church calendar, lectionary, liturgical order of worship, etc.).

-Acknowledge that the first 1500 years of Christianity did, in fact, occur, and that there is some intrinsic value left over from that period in church history.

I would consider churches or denominations that adhere to the above as orthodox with a lower-case “o”.  Eastern Orthodox, which has an upper-case “O”, is a denomination unto itself, but is orthodox, with a lower case “o”, as well.

I’m also considering the growth in popularity of reformed theology, which is difficult to quantify.  They may not love rood screens, vestments, and chant as much as I do, but Presbyterians are sacramental in their theology, so, at least for the purposes of this blog, I would consider them orthodox.

I recently looked at numbers from the The Pew Research Center, perused some denominational websites, and came up with the following info:

+ The five largest denominations are:

1) Catholic (Over 1 billion world-wide; 68 million in the U.S.)

2) Eastern Orthodox (200 million; 2 million in the U.S.)

3) Anglican (82 million; 36 million in Africa; 26 million in England; 4 million in the U.S.)

4) Lutheran (75 million; 13 million in the U.S.)

5) Baptist (47 million world-wide; 40 million in the U.S.)

+ According to a 2007 USA Today article, the fastest-growing denomination in the U.S. is…..drum roll, please….Eastern Orthodox!?!

Is this surprising to anyone out there?

A number of eye-opening things are occurring in Orthodox (with an upper-case “O”) circles:

-More than 200 U.S. parishes have been opened since 1990, and are reporting positive growth.

– 43% of Orthodox seminarians in the U.S. are converts, not immigrants from Eastern European countries, or folks raised in that system of belief.

-Whitney Jones Religious News Service reports that the Orthodox Church has grown by 16% over the past ten years.

Here’s some additional data to consider about orthodox (lower case “o”) traditions:

– The National Council of Churches’ 2010 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported that the Catholic Church grew by 1.49% in the U.S. in 2010.

– The Presbyterian Church of America reported 1.96% growth from 2003-2007.

– Every Protestant denomination in the U.S. reported loss in their memberships in 2010, outside of the aforementioned PCA, and the Church of God, which reported a 1.27% increase in its membership from the year before.

– Since the birth of the Anglican Church of North America a couple of years back, Archbishop Robert Duncan has proclaimed that the ACNA is the fastest-growing denomination in the States.  I haven’t seen the numbers, so I can’t say for sure.  I can say that the ACNA is committed to planting 1000 churches over the next few years, and has made excellent progress in doing so.  I hate to admit it, because of my own ACNA leanings, but there are a lot of disaffected Episcopalians in those numbers.  PCA also includes a large number of former PCUSA folks.  These truths might skew the numbers a bit, in the minds of many.

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“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Continuing our discussion of the future of the American Church, I’m attempting to encapsulate my own thoughts and personal opinions about where she is headed over the course of the next twenty years or so.  In my previous post, I discussed pastor’s salaries, and how many young preacher boys come out of seminary with the idea that they will be provided with a ministry position that enables them to pastor as a full-time vocation.  Being in ministry, and knowing many young pastors, and young men and women who are being trained for ministry, full-time pastor pay seems to be a universal expectation.

But what if being a pastor meant that you worked more than one job to support your family?  I’ve done it in the past, and it is a painfully difficult juggling act!  I believe it’s also a healthy juggling act, in terms of building an effective ministry.  I pointed out that some of the pastors I’ve known over the years who have left the most enduring legacy in our local community were men who planted and led churches while also working full-time as construction workers.  In our little corner of Northeast Georgia, the primary occupation of the population is, guess what…..construction worker.  Effective pastors are pastors who are hands-on and involved in the culture around them.  They understand the demands, struggles, and joys of life of the people they minister to because they are experiencing them, as well.

I don’t have a specific problem with paying a pastor a full-time salary.  I have experienced pastors who viewed the pulpit as much a career as they did a calling, though, becoming slaves to the income they receive for their services.  This can send confusing messages to the congregation.  Pastors encourage us to get married, then charge a fee for conducting a wedding.  The most distasteful thing I’ve seen is pastors who have a set fee for conducting a funeral.  That’s just gross.

Pastors aren’t called to collect a comfortable income for doing ministry.  They are called, like the rest of us believers, to be the light of the world.

In considering the thought,   I have to think in terms of BEING light.  If  I actually AM light, then I have to consider the qualities of light in order to correctly frame the passage and apply it to the topic at hand.

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