Beginning the church search

After making the decision to leave Imago Christi at the end of the month, we find ourselves in an unfamiliar position: starting the church search. My church history is fairly short and doesn’t include much searching: while growing up we attended a C&MA church, a small Berean church, and then a small Bible church. When I went to college I floated around for my first semester until Becky invited me to her medium-sized Bible church, which we then attended for the next 3.5 years. When we moved to Iowa, we were recommended to a church up here, and after about three weeks of visiting other churches decided to stick there where we had been recommended, at Noelridge. We were at Noelridge for 8.5 years before leaving to plant Imago, and we were at Imago for the better part of a year. So my total church searching experience is a few months of aimless wandering in college and a few weeks after moving to Iowa. That ain’t much.

Church searching has changed a lot since 9 years ago when we were looking around here in Cedar Rapids. Back then your main resources were the yellow pages and the religion section of the newspaper. Today, though, it’s all about the websites. You can find out a lot about a church’s beliefs and ministries with just a few clicks of the mouse. You can even listen to recent sermons. I think I’ll have to be careful not to do too much pre-judging by the websites.

Several things I am anticipating will make this church search tough:

  • Theological pickiness. I don’t expect that I’m gonna agree with everything at any church I attend, (heck, I didn’t at Noelridge or Imago, either), but I’d like it to be close. And I’ll need to have the freedom at a church to hold some views that don’t quite line up and not be ostracized for those. For example: one of the churches we’ve been considering has a rather long excursis in their doctrinal statement concerning the exact sequence of a premillenial end times. I’m OK with them believing that, but I won’t be able to handle it if they’re dogmatic about it.
  • Leadership Expectations. Now, I have no desire to be in leadership again for a while. But I’m going to want to have the pastor and elders of a church I attend be men who enjoy reading and discussing theological topics. I almost feel sorry for the pastor and/or elders who will have the typical so-you’re-interested-in-our-church meeting with me. I have a feeling I’ll have far more questions for them than they will have for me. Bonus points for anybody that’s read any N. T. Wright. 🙂
  • Limited Choices. Now, while some of my friends will step in and suggest a bigger denominational change, I just can’t see us moving to a more mainline denomination, even a conservative branch of one. We’re not gonna end up Catholic, Lutheran, or Methodist, and we don’t even have conservative Anglican or Presbyterian options in Cedar Rapids. Which pretty well leaves us Baptist, Bible, maybe E Free, and, well, not much else. Even in as big a town as Cedar Rapids. 🙁
  • The Struggle for Contentment. I am acknowledging here up front that we may not find someplace that I’m completely happy with. And that will have to be OK. I would dearly love to have Steve McCoy’s church or Joe Thorn‘s church or Rae Whitlock‘s church nearby. I would totally go for an Acts29 church, and would take a very long hard look at one of the new breed of PCA churches. (We have one PCA church here about 30 minutes away, and it appears to be the old, stodgy flavor of the PCA.) But given that those aren’t available, we will have to be content with what we have available here. We’re praying that God will be clear in His leading.

We get a pass this weekend – we’re leaving in a couple of hours to head to Wisconsin to visit my folks. But next weekend we’ll have to bite the bullet, pick one of our options, and give it a try. I’m planning on blogging our adventures, so check back. If you’ve got any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

moving around

So, it was time for a little blog reorganization. I’d started about a year ago, with the intent of posting more regularly there on topics surrounding the church plant. Well, we’re no longer at the church plant, so that doesn’t really make sense. In addition, my old scheme of having a place where my various family members could blog never really came to fruition, because, well, I seem to be the only inveterate blogger of the bunch.

So, my conclusion: time to move things around. So, with the help of my intrepid hosting provider, those of you visiting or (yes, I know there is still at least one person with a bookmark to that original location… and I won’t name names, but I’m married to her!), you will now be seamlessly routed to the new All the same content, just a new location.

If you notice anything acting weird, let me know.

Order of Service 8-16-08

Order of service for 8/16/08 at Imago Christi:

Welcome and Announcements
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
He Is Exalted
How Great Is Our God

Requests and Prayer
Knowing You
More Precious Than Silver

Sermon: Forgiveness
Musical Meditation: Mystery of Mercy

Finding the right Saturday-night service time

One of our challenges at Imago has been figuring out the right time to hold our Saturday night service. Pick a time to early, and folks find it hard to attend because they’re still wanting to finish their Saturday activities. (Especially during the summer.) Pick a time too late, and you’re running in to evening plans (which is bad if you’re trying to attract college students), dinner schedules, and small children’s bedtimes.

When we started back in January we decided on holding the services from 5:30 – 6:30pm. The reasoning went something like this: it’s early enough that people can eat afterwards, even go out to dinner with someone else from church after the service. It’s early enough that people with small children won’t run into trouble with bedtimes. It’s late enough that people should be able to make it and still have been able to put in a good day of work on Saturday. And really, for the past 7 months, that’s worked pretty well. For our volunteers, it means something more like a 4:30 – 7:00 commitment, but that’s still not awful.

Now we’re approaching fall and we want to add a couple of adult Bible studies on Saturday nights. We’ve tossed around all sorts of service times, from starting earlier (5:00?) with classes afterwards, to having classes first, then the service, to moving everything later… Even though we’re talking about at most a two-and-a-half hour block of time, for some reason it seems a lot more difficult to fit it in on a Saturday night than it would be on a Sunday morning.

Tonight at our core team meeting the elders are going to propose the following schedule:

  • 5:00 – 5:15 prayer for the service
  • 5:30 – 6:30 worship service
  • 6:30 – 7:00 fellowship and snacks
  • 7:00 – 7:50 adult Bible classes

I think it’s probably the best option we’ve got right now. The other challenge is what to do with the kids during the class time given that we’re struggling with having enough manpower to do kids ministries. But we’ve got to do that somehow, to make the opportunity available. We’re trusting that God will provide the workers to teach the kids He brings in.

Wrestling with ideas about church membership

One of the things we’ve been wrestling with as elders at Imago is the concept of church membership. Now, we all agree that membership is important, both for accountability for folks who are a part of the fellowship, and to provide accountability for the church leadership. But most of us come from Baptist churches where “membership” is too often considered a ticket to gripe and cause trouble at business meetings.

Our objectives for “membership” and the “membership process”:

  1. Provide a way for people to feel like they are a part of the congregation
  2. Provide a process whereby people can understand Imago’s distinctives, including doctrinal statement and leadership structure
  3. Create an environment where people come to think of “membership” as having responsibilities and commitments rather than “privileges”
  4. Keep the voting base limited to the core planning/leadership team, rather than the standard Baptist congregational democracy.
  5. Oh, yeah, and the end result needs to be church members, committed to service and under the authority of the church.

We have pretty well settled on a set of three “covenants” that might be looked at as “tiers” of membership, though we’re trying hard not to call them that.

Fellowship Covenant

  • I will support the ministry of Imago Christi Church with my regular attendance at worship services and other events sponsored by the church.

This one is pretty basic. This allows people who want to feel like they’re a part of a fellowship to say that yeah, they’re a part of the fellowship. I have really wrestled with whether or not this covenant should include a statement of accountability to the church. I am thinking maybe it should.

Ministry Covenant

  • I will support the ministry of Imago Christi Church with my regular attendance at worship services and other events sponsored by the church.
  • I will support the church with its financial needs as the Lord so directs me.
  • I will use my spiritual gifts in ministry opportunities of the church.
  • I will become better acquainted with ministry opportunities and strategies by attending planning and evaluation meetings of the church. I understand that I am able to contribute to the discussion at these meetings, but do not have the right to vote.
  • I will submit myself by being accountable to the leadership of Imago Christi Church.

Part of the commitment at this level would require completion of a membership class, which would include a review of the doctrinal statement. At this level we wouldn’t require that the person agree with the doctrinal statement 100%, but we’d ask them to identify any differences they have and discuss them with the elders.

People committed at this level would be able to assume responsibilities such as teaching children, assisting in (but not leading) ministries, and would be welcome to participate in business and planning meetings of the church, but would not have a vote.

Leadership Covenant

  • I will support the ministry of Imago Christi Church with my regular attendance at worship services and other events sponsored by the church.
  • I will support the church with its financial needs as the Lord so directs me.
  • I will use my spiritual gifts in ministry opportunities of the church.
  • I will attend and participate in the discussion at planning and evaluation meetings of the church and have the right to vote on any church business as prescribed by the church bylaws.
  • I will submit myself by being accountable to the leadership of Imago Christi Church.

At this level, we would require that folks agree with our doctrinal statement, have been baptized by immersion, and have completed the membership class. This level would also require the approval of the elders.

We’re still not sure when we’ll institute this process – I’m guessing probably in January. A year is plenty long for us to run with no members.

Comparing Services

This past weekend I had the pleasure of leading music both at Imago Christi on Saturday night and at Noelridge on Sunday morning. It was the first time in a month that I’ve been to Noelridge, and with a month of Imago under our belts it was a good chance to draw some comparisons.

Look and Feel
At Imago we’re meeting at night in a 100-year-old sanctuary with lots of stained glass and insufficient lighting. At Noelridge we’re meeting on Sunday morning in a smaller 50-year-old sanctuary. Noelridge has a smaller, intimate, friendly feel to it; Imago has a deeper, more awe-inspiring feel. I think I prefer the relative expanse of Imago. We do need to do something about the lighting, though. (Plans are in process.)

OK, the music was basically the same. At Imago I led on an electric keyboard with Dave playing guitar behind me. At Noelridge I led from a baby grand with another Dave playing bass and Tapuwa on the congas. I’m much more comfortable sitting down leading at the piano rather than standing up – partly I need a mic stand with a longer boom so I can situate the stand better; partly I’ve just mostly led while sitting down, and it’s a bit of an adjustment to stand up. Both congregations knew the songs pretty well. There was a bunch of sound generated by each congregation with the singing. I am struck, though, by how much more live the sanctuary at Imago is. Hardwood floors and a big high ceiling let the sound rattle around in a way that creates some presence. Noelridge with its low ceilings and carpet is dead by comparison.

Same pastor, same sermon, pretty much. I don’t have recordings of either of them, and I was semi-distracted during the Imago service during the sermon (trying to decide what song to sing for a closing meditation), so I’m going on middling memories here. The Imago version was more concise and seemed targeted a bit more toward unbelievers in the audience. At Noelridge it went kind of long (which seemed OK, though). Still, quality stuff from John 1 both times.

This is where there are two very distinct feelings between the two churches. At Imago, since we’re so new, everyone seems focused on finding the visitors/new people, greeting them, pulling them in. At Noelridge we have an established congregation, so it’s much more of a family feel – people have established relationships, and it shows. Noelridge is still very friendly to visitors, but it’s a slightly different feel. What I gather from this is that we at Imago really need to work on developing relationships among the core team and volunteers, getting us feeling more like a warm family and less like a band of volunteers.

Conclusions? There are good things going on both places. We both have work to do. We both have things we can learn. In both, the gospel is proclaimed, and so I rejoice.

The importance of training others

“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim 2:2)

Paul’s wise counsel to Timothy is applicable on many levels, and has a multitude of benefits. A few that I will mention today:

It about the message, not the messenger. Paul was a good example of this, not being jealous of others who gained renown preaching the gospel, but rather simply rejoicing that the gospel was proclaimed. Pride will tempt us to want to be “the guy” – the teacher and leader that people remember and look to. But what is of primary importance isn’t us, but is the gospel that gets preached. When we practice entrusting to faithful men, we are shedding a few of the (multitudinous) opportunities for pride.

The message must carry on after us. Paul himself knew that his days on the earth were short. To have his most effective ministry, he needed not only to preach to unbelievers, but also to teach the teachers who would reach the following generation. I have heard it said that your effectiveness as a parent isn’t shown as much in how your children turn out as in how your grandchildren turn out. For Paul’s spiritual grandchildren to be vibrant and mature Christians, he needed to make sure his spiritual children were well-trained.

You can’t do it all on your own. This is the big temptation for me, and was the initial thought that prompted this post. Just because you (or I) have the skills to do the task yourself doesn’t mean you should be the one to always do it. There is far more work to do than any one of us can handle. Finding and training others who can both assist and replace you is essential in maintaining health, sanity, and the healthy operation of any ministry.

Rich Mullins’ A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band

If there was ever a “perfect” album to come out of the (largely mediocre) world of CCM, Rich Mullins’ A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band was it. (Are the ‘A’s supposed to be capitalized? It looks funny either way.) This album is fifteen (fifteen!) years old this year, and yet still sounds as fresh and vital as when it was released. If you’re not familiar with the album, let me give you an overview. (If you are familiar with the album, you won’t mind the refresher at all.)

Split into two halves, the first half is the splendid Liturgy. Here In America is the Introit, or entrance. It is followed by the stunning text of (Isaiah) 52:10, the hymn of praise recognizing the beauty of creation called The Color Green, the supplicant’s prayer Hold Me Jesus, the bold restatement of the (Apostle’s) Creed, and Peace, helpfully subtitled A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square. Each song in itself is excellent, and as a set they reach the level of masterpiece. When, in Peace, Rich starts the first two verses with this juxtaposition

Though we’re strangers, still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that’s much to ask…

And though I love you, still we’re strangers
Prisoners in these lonely hearts
And though our blindness separates us
Still a light shines in the dark…

We understand immediately the tension of the Christian fellowship – bound by the love of Christ, and yet so frustratingly driven apart by our sinful humanity. It’s beautiful stuff from beginning to end.

The second half is the Legacy: a reflection on life. It starts with the upbeat instrumental 78 Eatonwood Green, then moves into the challenge of being like Jesus (Hard), the challenge of living life away from family (I’ll Carry On), a child’s wonder at Christmas (You Gotta Get Up), the challenge and frustration of the world we live in (Mark Heard’s How To Grow Up Big and Strong), and finally the most beautiful picture you’ll ever hear painted of the tension of living in a country you love while simultaneously looking forward to the heavenly home (Land of my Sojurn).

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’re going to love it and how you’ll never belong here
So I’ll call you my country, but I’ll be longing for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me…

And the Ragamuffin Band? Well, they sound fantastic. From Rich’s clear piano and the cymbals mirroring the ocean’s crashing in Here In America, to the mellow electric guitar and fantastic drum fills in Peace, to the dulcimer driving Land of my Sojurn, the album has an organic acoustic sound that rightfully has become the inspiration for a younger generation of musicians. My first inclination is to say that it is lightning in a bottle, that it’ll never be captured that way again. But then I listen to the guitars of Andrew Peterson and Andy Osenga, the piano of Ben Shive, and the percussion of Todd Bragg and Garrett Buell, and I will instead be thankful that the musical and songwriting heritage of Rich Mullins has indeed carried on.

If for some reason you don’t already own this album, you can buy it at Amazon.