Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Monday, January 29, 2018

Honor Where It's Not Due

John Wimber used a string of metaphors to describe what the Church is and how we’re supposed to engage with one another and the world. John said, “The Church is called to be a family, a hospital, a school and an army.” We experience the truth of these metaphors, not just through their positive characteristics, but through their negative characteristics as well or the unintended consequences of functioning in these ways together.

A question I’ve been asked many times in pastoral ministry has been in relationship to one of the Ten Commandments. The question goes something like, “How do I honor my father and my mother when they’ve…” and there is a spectrum of things with which you can fill in the blank that range from the cruel and criminal to the thoughtless and absent. Family is like heaven when it’s good and it can feel like hell when it’s bad.

If that’s true, it’s just as true about church family. And it can really scramble our eggs when this family we’ve become a part of is the setting of both our healing and our hurting. What is true of family systems can be especially true of our denominational or ecclesiastical systems. And the special kind of grief and hurting that family systems generate for those within, our church government systems will not only duplicate but even amplify because of the mixture of familial relationship and the practice of faith in God.

In the church system of today there is a culture that has developed that further compounds the hurt and harm done. This culture is found in many or most of the expressions of the church in North America today but is probably most prevalent in the Fundamental, Evangelical and Charismatic sub-cultures. We’ve taken this beautiful idea of “honor your father and mother” and turned it into something controlling, shaming and dismissive. An “honor culture” has come to dominate our culture in a way that makes, “speaking the truth in love” seem abusive or at least disrespectful and wrong.

I’m not suggesting this is something brand new but I am saying that we are now reaping the full effect of this dysfunctional way of relating to each other as the family of God.

How does the honor culture manifest? We have come to believe that honoring men is more important and pleasing to God than telling the truth about abuse or neglect. When someone in leadership is doing or has done something wrong we quote, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” As if it actually says, “Love covers up a multitude of sins.” And that we are somehow honoring God by protecting the reputations or speaking well of those in leadership because God places a higher value on honoring people in power than calling them out for the hurt they cause. And while there are egregious examples that make the news and we can all shake our heads over and feel good that we’d never “do that,” it is the result of the very same culture that we’ve allowed to develop wherein a senior pastor speaks in ugly and disrespectful ways to the worship pastor on staff and we make excuses and insist on everyone holding their silence and telling ourselves that the number of people coming to faith is more important than calling the leader out and insisting their behavior stops.

In family systems there are rules that develop. The members of the family aren’t given a manual or asked to watch a video detailing the rules and yet the same rules come up again and again in these dysfunctional families. A counseling organization’s website lists some of these rules:

Here are some typical spoken or unspoken rules in unhealthy family systems:
Do what “looks good”, even if it is dishonest
Don’t be a bother and don’t rock the boat
Deny things you don’t want to see, and they will go away
Do what I say, even when I do the opposite
Express only happy positive feelings
It is wrong to be angry or sad
You must never question our behavior, but go along with it
You must conform to what we expect of you, no matter what
Your needs are not as important as our needs[1]

So, here’s a simple question. Have you ever heard or felt any of the above coming from the leadership of your faith community? Your denomination, network or your movement? Do you think God is more interested in “honor” or health or truth? Do things usually get better because we look the other way or do things tend to only improve when we speak truth to power? Ask yourself, do the people who we ask to follow the rules feel as empowered as the people who make our rules?

There’s a risk here, whether it’s in our biological family or our church family, denomination or movement. If you rock the boat and speak up you are likely to be told you have a rebellious spirit or told you are being cynical or have a spirit of cynicism or told the only problem is that you keep complaining when no one else is or, and this is the hardest cut of all, you'll be ignored until you go away. When talking to others who are feeling the need to speak up in family situations like these I always offer the same warning, don’t bring it up unless you are fully prepared to have the family shun you – we are quicker to turn on the person who turned on the light than the person who brought the darkness to begin with. This is especially true in our church families.

But I still have this conviction that these words are true, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

What rule of dysfunction have you broken? How can we honor each other without ignoring the harm we and others in our family system do?


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My Open Letter to Vineyard Music

Dear Vineyard Music,

This is a long overdue letter of appreciation. 

I still remember the first Vineyard meeting I walked into. Before a message was preached, a word given, or a ministry time happened, there was the music.

It was in the worship that I felt God spoke to me, it was in the songs that I heard my own heart’s cry, it was the intimate, hungry, vulnerable, simplicity that I, like many others, was moved to say, “this is my tribe, these are my people.”

We used to eagerly look forward to the newest CD that you would produce and our worship leaders and teams would mine them for the songs we would sing. I still remember attending a small Vineyard on holidays that had no band so worship time was a set list pre-programmed to play from Winds of Worship CDs. I settled into my seat expecting boredom and found myself moved to tears as the Spirit came into the room as a song, recorded months earlier in a continent away opened our hearts to God. Those albums not only gave us songs to sing, they shaped our communities with good theology. The songs not only communicated our Vineyard values but the inclusion of local worship teams and songwriters from local churches made us believe we really meant that everyone gets to play.

Thanks to you, I connected with words and music that have brought me closer to God. You’ve been the conduit through which the artists among us, the poets and prophets, could share what God was putting on their hearts. Our whole movement has been enriched through the ministry you all have performed for us. Thanks to you, our churches have had a common songbook from which to sing for 30 years now. Thanks to you, these songs have transcended our own movement and have gone on to inspire other movements and denominations with our theology and values.  A generation of worship leaders and songwriters now exists who have been influenced significantly by the men and women who have shared their music with us through you.

John Wimber used to say that you could tell what we value by looking at our calendars and our checkbooks.  I am grateful that, as a Movement, we have invested a part of our annual income to contribute to the flourishing of our worship community within the Vineyard. I’m grateful that, as a Movement, we have put worship events on the national calendar and we have used the finances we collect from local Vineyard churches to encourage and develop local church worship leaders, sound people, songwriters, singers and musicians.  I would be deeply saddened if there ever came a day when we stopped investing our time and money in Vineyard Music, it would say something tragic about the state of our Movement.

Like the sound person who everyone ignores when things are going well but everyone turns to give the stink eye to when something goes wrong, I feel like we don’t adequately appreciate what we have in Vineyard Music. VM doesn’t belong to a big label, unlike other groups producing worship music. VM doesn’t have the deep pockets, in fact you have worked with shrinking pockets, that many other church labels have. Our songwriters and artists have received little or nothing with which to fund their projects over the last few years and yet we continue to have amazing songs from them come to us through you. You have been swimming in the pond with much bigger fish with a lot more resource for promotion and production and yet you've continued to bring us songs and worship projects that give us a lot of gold to mine.

I suspect very few of us are aware of how little finance you have to work with and while we should be marveling at how you’ve multiplied it to do more than seems possible, we’ve been critical because you haven’t done more. I’m sorry for that. I’m grateful for your willingness to make sacrifices that go unnoticed and the imagination you’ve brought to the table to do more than the resources on hand would seem to make possible.

Thanks, Vineyard Music, for all you’ve done and all you are doing to make our Movement, our local churches, our individual lives, richer and deeper and more beautiful. Thank you, songwriters, musicians, singers and worship leaders for giving and giving in this new age of digital music when making a living at your craft has become all but impossible. Thank you, Vineyard Music, for the hard work you do behind the scenes that has brought life and encouragement and resources to our local churches that makes us who we are.

My hope for the future is that we will invest more and more into Vineyard Music and put an emphasis once again on the power of God's presence - free of hype - that has always been a part of our story as worshipers of God and rescuers of men.