Archive for September, 2006

Constantinian Crisis

September 6, 2006

I’ve been wondering of late – more than ever – what the benefits of a large church are.

For ages, the size of one’s congregation has been one of the key indicators of the health or success of the church.  Lots of people has traditionally correlated to a good church.  Even though I’ve been a proponent of cell church for the past six or seven years, I’ve always assumed that the big churches must be doing something right,  and that therefore they needn’t necessarily alter their approach.

But I begin to wonder more  and more.

The benefits of a big church seem clear from a member perspective.  There is a certain level of prestige associated with a large church.  A large church is likely to offer a broad diversity of programs that are appealing and even useful or necessary to it’s members.  But what about benefits beyond the membership base?

Support of missions should be a primary indicator of the focus and health of a church.  A big church means more members and therefore (at least in theory!) more tithe monies being received.  Therefore, it would seem, a large church should be able to do more to plant new churches both domestically and abroad.  But I wonder if this  logic holds?

Big churches mean a big campus, a big facility.  It takes considerable money to acquire land in a desireable area, and more money to build.  More money to expand.  More money to maintain.  More costs associated with utilities, taxes, payrolls, equipment leases & other capital expenditures.  All of these must eat heavily into the bottom line of how  much money is ‘left’ for missions – or any other substantial ministry beyond the membership.

I’m not saying that big churches don’t do good things.  Quite the contrary – big churches often do a great many good things.

But I’m  wondering if those good things are ultimately the best things.

And ultimately,  I’m wondering if the centralized church polity that took shape after Constantine (while there was an organized church polity before this time, I would  argue it was different in key respects) is really the best any longer.  At the same time,  it  seems clear that cell church, with a very decentralized title, has serious issues as well.  Neighborhood house church is all well and good, but it needs to be tied to the larger body of Christ in terms of accountability, and to achieve larger scale goals with other small house churches.  But tying these to a specific congregation ultimately limits their growth to what that congregation is willing or able to sustain (allowing of course for the power of the Holy Spirit to do what it wants, when, where, how and with who it wants). 

Is there an alternative to the traditional church organization that ultimately seems to create little ‘fiefdoms’ inclined to cooperate less rather than more with their neighbors?  I suspect that there could be.  But it looks so different than what I’m  used to, that  it seems almost insane.

But insanity has also been an adjective applied to a lot of the Spirit’s other workings throughout history, hasn’t it?

Food for thought (well, cereal, actually)

September 1, 2006

I know it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but I occasionally love a bowl of cereal.  That, and our children enjoy munching on Cheerios and Kix and other somewhat more innocuous varieties.  Sometimes we have name brand items on hand.  Other times, we have the generic, store-brand knock-offs. 

It should be noted that I like to read.  In that, I like to read in the same way that I like to breathe.  I can’t imagine not doing it.  If I have 10 seconds of spare time, I’m probably reading something.  At times, the only thing handy to read is the back of the cereal box or bag, and so I’ll read that.  And I’ve noticed something curious.

When I was a kid, the backs of cereal boxes and bags were for kids.  There were games, gimmicks, giveaways, promotions, contests, and the rare educational material.  But whatever the angle, it was angled for kids.  But on several occasions in the past few months, on store brands and generics, I’ve noticed that this has changed.

The backs of these bags and boxes are often for the parents, not the children.

This brings up some interesting questions.

** Who does the manufacturer think is primarily eating cereal these days?
** Who does the manufacturer think is primarily reading cereal boxes and bags these days?
** Is this a comment on the eating habits of our kids?
** Is this a comment on the reading abilities and inclinations of multiple generations of video gamers?
** Is this a comment on the attention span of children, who won’t bother to read a box or bag anymore?
** What is it that manufacturers think parents should or would like to know?

It’s this last question that I find most particularly compelling.  Manufacturer’s aren’t trying to get parents to buy things.  Nor are they attempting to entertain them.  And perhaps they know better than to try and convince them to save box/bag tops for contests and promotions.  But they are attempting to educate parents.

About their kids.

These cereal boxes and bags are plastered with helpful information about how to interact with your kids.  How do you get your kids to be active?  How do you get yourself to be active?  What are things that you can do with your kids when you have time together with them?  How do you entertain them and yourself?  How do you start conversations with them?  How do you teach them? 

All of these things and more I’ve found on the back of cereal bags and boxes.  It’s commendable in some ways.  In many more, fundamental ways it’s deeply frightening and disturbing.  Do parents have this little contact with their children?  Are parents this poorly equipped to interact with their children?  Are parents so self-absorbed that they don’t think to interact with their children?  Are television and video and the Internet and video games so pervasive now that when parents have some time alone with their children, they reach first for these things to occupy the kids before attempting to interact with them?  Is this what the children have grown to prefer?  Is this what the adults prefer?

I think it should probably be alarming that manufacturers seem less interested in trying to sell something to us, and more interested in trying to just get us to interact with our kids.  As the father of three small children, I know how daunting that task can be at times after a long day of work.  I also know how rewarding it is, and how essential it is if I hope for my children to grow up healthy and well adjusted in body, mind, and spirit.  I don’t need a manufacturer to tell me this.  But apparently I’m in the minority.  I don’t claim to be the perfect parent, or to have all the answers about parenting and parents.  But I do know one thing.

I hope parents like to read cereal bags/boxes.