Created on Tuesday, 21 March 2017 11:47
Written by Michelle Gee
I hope you all know how much I love Element and our Sunday gatherings, but occasionally, one of my favorite things to do is attend another church’s service. It’s always a tangible reminder of how diverse the Church is, and how beautiful it can be to see traditions expressed in such different ways.
Before I go on any further, I want to clarify that is blog post is NOT an indictment of another particular congregation I recently visited. There is so much division within the Church, and the last thing I want to do is throw stones at a body of believers—especially since my perceptions are based off only a single service I attended. However, I do think it is important for believers to critically engage any local church they attend, and to continually discern the truth in what we hear. If anything, this post is an assertion of the Gospel, and a reminder of why it is so important to preach Christ crucified in all that we do.
The church my husband Jon and I visited is geared toward the recovery community. It was a wonderful sight to behold how well they have managed to reach that specific subculture. In many ways, I saw elements of a good missional strategy—understanding the needs of the community, adopting the language of that subculture, etc. We were met by a warm and vibrant group of people, and were quickly welcomed in.
Throughout the service, however, I felt increasingly uneasy at what I was hearing. The lyrical content of the songs we sang together, while uplifting, was vague in their focus of worship. Communion was likened to having “the best conversation you can remember, where you felt completely safe and heard.” The message mainly consisted of the pastor’s argument that theology is not so important as much as practice, and that we all must develop our own personal theology.
Now, I do believe there is some truth to what the pastor said. In communion, we are reminded of the safe, intimate access we have to God, where we are fully known and heard. When it comes to theology, it is true that little will be transformative if it hasn’t taken root in our hearts and actions. However, what left the message feeling so hollow to me was the omission of what all these truths hinge on: the Gospel.
The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has defeated Satan, sin, and death, and is making all things new—even us! This good news, or story, is rooted in the actual historical event of Jesus’ death and resurrection—a singular event we can point to as proof of Christ’s work, and the ultimate expression of His love for us. I’m saddened to say that none of this was mentioned throughout the service we attended. It is because
of Christ’s victory over sin that we can feel safe and heard. Jesus tells us that in communion, his blood is “of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). While we may often hear of “God’s love,” we can know as believers His love is not some vague feeling, but demonstrated through an action that has already occurred. We can be absolutely assured of His commitment to us, because the Cross happened.
Regarding theology, while it is Jesus and not theology that saves us, it is important to understand the practical role of theology in our lives. As one of my professors used to say, “Right theology leads to right worship.” As we continually grapple with the ideas of who God is, we gain clarity, and can more accurately convey who He is to others. While I did agree with this pastor that Judaism is a religion that focuses more on orthopraxy (“right practice”) rather than orthodoxy (“right belief”), it’s a stretch to say Jesus didn’t emphasize theology. We are studying right now in our current sermon series at Element, Jesus consistently asserts His authority as the Messiah. Jesus claims that He alone is God and able to forgive sins. He makes controversial, exclusive statements about exactly who He is—separating the truth from lies.
In a way, I’m thankful for the experience of visiting this church, because it reminded me of how powerful the Gospel message is. Likewise, I was reminded of how mediocre our “good news” can sound when we fail to tell the whole story of Christ’s redemption. As Romans 1:16 says, “…I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” As we near Resurrection Sunday, let’s remember that every good thing we are free to experience in Christ hinges on the Cross, and as Paul said, “preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Created on Tuesday, 29 November -0001 16:00
Written by Aaron
I had a friend of mine proof read last week’s blog,
when done they said it reminded them of this modern hymn written by Ruth Duck. I thought I would share it with all of you as well, enjoy:
Moved by the Gospel, let us move with every gift and art.
The image of creative love indwells each human heart.
The Maker calls creation good, so let us now express
with sound and color, stone and wood,
the shape of holiness.
Let weavers form from broken strands a tapestry of prayer.
Let artists paint with skillful hands their joy in lament and care,
Then mime the story: Christ has come;
With reverence dance the Word.
With flute and organ, chime and drum, God’s praise be ever heard.
O Spirit, breathe among us here, inspire the work we do.
May hands and voices, eye and ear attest to life made new.
In worship and in daily strife create among us still.
Great Artist form our common life according to Your will.
Created on Tuesday, 28 February 2017 11:16
Written by Aaron
I think I am a bad Christian. I was reading a recent survey about movies made in 2016, and “who had seen what” over the course of the year. The Barna article stated, “Evangelicals were much less likely to view some of the other favorites among the general population including Deadpool
(20% compared to 37% among all adults), Suicide Squad
(13% compared to 24% among all adults), X-Men: Apocalypse
(9% compared to 26% among all adults) and Batman vs Superman
(20% compared to 31% among all adults).” What does it say about me that I have seen ALL of those movies listed as “less likely” to be viewed by Christians?
The article then says, “They (Christians) also watched Miracles from Heaven
(21% vs. 9% among all adults) more than the general population.” Is it bad that I did not see this movie, and had never even heard of it prior to this article?
This is the problem we have today of labeling things “Christian” and “worldly.” When someone with any authority slaps a label on something and calls it “Christian,” many Christians begin to blindly consume whatever that thing is. I read a book about the “Christian” music industry a couple of years ago where the author lamented the fact that many “Christian” bands aren’t really Christians; it is simply a market in which they can easily make money.
Back in our Genesis series, I mentioned this kind of labeling is a result of chapter 3 (the fall), and not Genesis chapters 1-2 (God’s perfect vision of life and peace). All truth and beauty come from God’s gracious hand, and when we try to label art (in any form) as “safe for consumption,” we will always fail—we are trying to validate something that wasn’t intended to be validated.
When God blessed the world, He already validated it, and His voice and opinion are the ones that truly matter. I believe a Christian subculture can be dangerous with its own (often inferior) versions of coffee, stickers, paintings, and movies, because there are some people who will blindly accept it based on the label, who won’t critically think about whether it truly glorifies God. Believe it or not, there are things in our world that scream of truth and beauty and life and holiness that do not
come from an approved Christian subculture…and there are dark and ugly things that have nothing
to do with Jesus that do come from an approved Christian subculture.
As followers of Jesus, we must begin to ask the question about what we consume with our minds: “Does this reflect the harmony and beauty of God's peace?” I am not saying all the movies I have seen this year reflect God’s peace, but I also think it is amazing that God’s truth often shows up in the least expected places. There are many artists telling compelling stories that we should engage with—stories that tell the truth and grace of God in practical ways. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings
To live on mission means to share the blessing of the Gospel, and this means making it known to the world in ways that speak to people exactly where they are. That means we must be aware of our speech, our actions, and our entertainment in ways that see the broader picture of truth and beauty. We must be able to engage in conversation with people in the beginning of their journey, not the end. We must always live in the truth of the Gospel of Jesus, but also take that truth into the common places of our world in words, art, and music that make sense in the midst of people’s struggles.
May we become a people who can appreciate beauty where we see it and glorify God in the midst of it.
Created on Tuesday, 21 February 2017 09:28
Written by Aaron
I recently read an article about pastors and what causes (or can cause) burnout. One of the largest causes of burnout is division within a church’s eldership. At Element, we believe the word “elder” is synonymous with the word “pastor”; as a result, Element’s eldership is very small—currently only three people. If you were to count all the people Element has had as elders (including those who have moved away), our total would be a whopping five people.
You can go to the “Who We Are
” page of our website and see our list of current staff and elders (myself, Eric, and Mike), but this doesn’t show you Tom Holmquist (Montana or bust) or Jonathan Whitaker (who occasionally teaches when he is back in California or writes a blog when he is feeling whimsical).
The article I read showed that if a church has a power struggle among the Elders, the burnout risk is four times as high! If the Elders have a bad relationship with one another, the risk is almost five times as likely. Yet, when the Elders act in a singular vision, burnout is nearly cut in half
. Praying together also has the effect of cutting the risk of burnout in half.
I tell you this because the Eldership at Element is on the same page in what we hope Jesus would do in all of our lives. We want to see Jesus high and exalted (above ourselves), redemption understood in how Element functions and teaches, and true worship lived out in everything we do as a church body. We believe the Gospel is practical and speaks to every part of our lives. I feel blessed to serve with the Elders at Element.
In the coming months, Element will be entering a new phase of life. Our lease in our current building will be ending and we will be moving. In the midst of this transition, I want you to know that our vision hasn’t changed (although, it may have become more refined over time). Your Elders want to see Jesus proclaimed in all we do—no matter where we are. It is humbling and exciting, and I hope you share in those feelings as well.
1 Peter 5:1-2 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory
We serve under our great Head Shepherd, Jesus. It is an honor and privilege to lead and serve Element as a church body, especially because we can trust Jesus in where He leads us.