The Expatriations of Bono and TS Eliot

As soon as I became an expat in the summer of 2015, I began feeling a new kinship with those who throughout history have gone to take up residence in a land not their own.

In the past year I’ve been fixated on the so-called “Lost Generation” of expats who lived in Paris after the Great War. First it was a near obsession with Hemingway. Then I got a group of friends together to read this generation. We’ve read Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Joyce, and now Eliot. In their lives and literatures, they were trying to dial into life after the cataclysm that was World War I.

Eliot’s difficult waistcoat

As I’ve studied The Waste Land, I’ve paid close attention to Eliot’s expatriation. As Yale’s Langdon Hammer humorously notes (in his Open Yale Course), Eliot is the only major British poet from St. Louis. In speaking of Eliot’s forced entry into British culture, Hammer makes a big deal out of the young poet’s waistcoat. (Being a sartorial old soul myself, I was all ears.) Hammer says Eliot’s waistcoat can be read as a symbol of his quest to strip himself of his Americanness, to fully embrace British culture, and to inscribe himself within its literary tradition, however uncomfortable, stuffy, and restrictive that might seem.

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Photo: The Telegraph

As Eliot settled into his British tweed, he made it his practice to quote heavily from authoritative literary and religious texts of the past. He was conscious of their power to convey an authority to him by their very citation. But he was also conscious of the fact that everything had changed in the wake of the Great War, and that he would have to do something new with the old he treasured. The result was a sort of bricolage of lines from Shakespeare, Dante, Virgil, Homer, the Bible, and Buddhist texts. Nick Mount’s fantastic lecture on The Waste Land likens Eliot’s use of texts to a Canadian soldier’s gathering of bits of broken stained glass from across Europe and their assembly into a new window at the University of Toronto. Eliot was old and new.

He was also difficult! In his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, he insisted that, following the War, poetry had to be difficult.

And so Eliot set out to become a tastemaker in his new home. By quoting authorities, he wanted to tell Britain what its literary and cultural legacy was, and he, the American, wanted to make himself the standard of what it meant to be literary, cultured, and British. Spoiler alert: he basically succeeded.

Bono’s star-spangled jacket

U2’s front man maintains a home in Dublin, and has most definitely not renounced his Irish citizenship or roots. And while in 2000 he had “just got a place in New York,” he was not new to America. The Joshua Tree feels like the wide open spaces of the American west. The video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was filmed under the pulsating lights of Las Vegas. “Bullet the Blue Sky” was addressed to the American industrial military complex and its commanders-in-chief. The Rattle and Hum album and tour was an immersion in American sounds and culturescapes. They re-toured The Joshua Tree for its 30th anniversary, convinced that it had something yet to say to the two Americas under Trump.

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Image: Getty/GQ

After 9/11, it was U2 who memorialized its dead at the Super Bowl halftime show that winter. The names streamed up the screen like a New York skyscraper as though they were headed to “Where the Streets Have No Name”. Bono showed his American flag jacket lining in solidarity with the country reeling from the attack less than six months prior.

All of which is to say that Bono is a lot like Eliot. He has quoted America’s traditions to it, and has made himself himself its modern interpreter and its most enthusiastic champion. Though while Eliot renounced his Americanness to cozy up to the British, Bono has used his outsider status to hold a mirror up to America—to try to convince America of its exceptional history, ideas, status, and burden to serve and lead the world in all things free and brave.

However, Bono hasn’t postured himself as America’s authority. As recently as last night, Bono sang two songs to America on Saturday Night Live. In one of them, he sings:

I could sing it to you all night, all night
If I could, I’d make it alright, alright
Nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside
I can help you, but it’s your fight, your fight

Moreover, Bono, unlike Eliot, increasingly doesn’t seem to be convinced (as perhaps he was during the Zooropa/Pop period) that, in order to point America back to its founding documents, his music and lyrics need to be difficult. Where Eliot thought the cataclysm of World War I called for difficulty, Bono seems to think the post-9/11 world needs joy and simplicity “with an acid drop mixed in with the sweetness.”

Bono’s and Eliot’s expat churches

One final consideration of Bono’s and Eliot’s expatraiations.

Everywhere in the world where there are expats, there are congregations for them. Eric Liddell went to the English-speaking presbyterian church in Paris on the Sunday when he skipped his Olympic event. Flushing, New York has Korean congregations that dwarf the rest of my denomination’s churches. I currently pastor an English congregation in Seoul.

Perhaps it was just another of Eliot’s anglophilic waistcoats, but the poet converted from Unitarianism to Anglicanism in 1927. He submitted to the authority of a bishop despite his professed Puritanical temperament. While he moved and shook the literary world, effectively becoming its archbishop, in ecclesial matters he sat in the pew and became, liturgically, an English commoner seeking communion. For all we can tell, he was a quiet orthodox church member until his death. Two years after his death, his name was emblazoned in stone in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. That seems like a fitting place for one who became both the English language poet of the twentieth century and a humble Anglican.

On the other hand, as one of my fellow expat churchmen has recently pointed out to me, Bono’s relationship with the church has been a different sort of expatriation experience. As Joshua Rothman ably recounts, U2 struggled in its early years with their potential for international stardom and the felt demands of their fringy ascetic ecclesial community. Eventually, they chose rock n roll over church. The Irish context of Protestant-Catholic violence certainly contributed.

The result, as I’ve hinted at above, is that Bono became something of the megachurch worship pastor of America’s sorta-spiritual and maybe-kinda religious stadium rock crowds. He doesn’t fancy himself a papal authority in American music or culture the way Eliot saw himself in the world of British letters. Bono has always taken more of a persuasive posture of influence; he just doesn’t have an ex cathedra temperament. But if one made a bit of a Puritanical analysis of Bono’s dealings with the American soul, one might say he is an unauthorized street preacher; a circuit-riding camp meeting convener; an officiant of strange fire.

In the end, Bono has not expatriated the way Eliot did. Part of me thinks Bono is doing it right. Who instinctively cozies up to Eliot’s renunciation of homeland? Who can bear his stuffy sartorial affectations? Who cannot look on quizzically at his brazen cultural interpolation? And, by contrast, who cannot help but admire Bono’s admiring pep talks in star-spangled jackets?

But the churchman in me, along with the would-be rebel in me, knows that while Bono bends over backwards not to be seen as an American authority, his churchless spirituality ultimately amounts to an unwillingness to sit under authority. He’ll read the Psalms, interpret them, sing them, and make them sexy enough to sing in an arena. He’ll earn his money, and then he’ll decide where it should go and who it should help. And ultimately, he’ll make himself a sort of Unitarian pastor in a “church” where everyone that’s feeling the vibe feels at home, as long as their politics are sufficiently socially conscious and they’re okay periodically holding up their consciences to a certain figure of Jesus of Nazareth.

Bono has expatriated not from Ireland, but from the church. This leaves him homeless, dislocated in a way that Eliot would have remained had he merely gone all-in with the British literary tradition and not settled into the back pew in his local parish church.

It has been 35 years of ecclesial homelessness for Bono. My hope is that he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for in churchless spirituality. My hope is that, if he still can’t reconcile church and rock n roll, he will become uncool or irrelevant enough, soon enough, to settle down into some quiet parish outside Dublin and perhaps duck into Redeemer when he’s playing expat at his other home in New York.

To be at home, to repatriate, he’ll need to take some of the advice he’s giving to America on the new album and get out of his own way.

[Update: As I mentioned to my critical fellow U2 enthusiast, sometimes we assume we know the perspective from which Bono speaks and the audience to which his songs are addressed. We don’t, necessarily. It turns out that America may not be the primary audience of “Get Out of Your Own Way”—instead, that honor seems to belong first to his daughter and second, to himself. ]

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Small Room = Big Feel

From the start of our church plant, we adopted a contrarian “no launch” launch plan.

If you are “launching,” then you need people. Enough of them. Experts say at least 50 of them, or else there’s an 85% chance you’ll never make it to 50.

Congregations are Psychological Animals

I think that part of what’s behind that statistic is psychological. There is a certain effect that empty chairs have on the morale. If you “launch” with 25 people in a room that could hold 125, you’re going to feel pretty pathetic. Try as you might to get this fledgling congregation to imagine filling the space, psychologically, there’s not much that can be done to engender optimism with so many vacant cushions.

If you have a group of 25 people, chances are they are anxious to launch. To get out there in the wild. To get out of the living room and into something that feels more like church. The gurus will say to wait. Launch later, launch larger.

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Some Standard Contrarian Counsel

My advice?

Never launch. Just don’t. Reject the whole idea. Then you don’t have to “wait” until you hit some magic number in order to “go public.”

Nah. Stay put until you’re bursting at the seams. Until there is so much energy in the teensy little room you’re in that you simply must acquire a new meeting space.

Why? Because, instead of launching, you can continually calibrate the psychology of your church plant by pressing the limits of whatever space you inhabit.

Upsizing and Downsizing

In our case, we stayed in the living room until we simply couldn’t. Then we moved into a public space, but we didn’t “go public.” We just met there instead. That was two years ago.

This summer, our evening service began slumping in attendance due to vacations. So we moved that service (and the pot luck that goes with it) back into a home. Now we’re bursting at the seams “again”. Going forward, this gives us the option of either meeting in two homes instead of one in the evenings, or moving back into our larger space. Both things will feel more like momentum is in our favor rather than against us.

In the mean time, the psychology of our evening crowd is not “man, that stinks that we got so small that we went back to being in living rooms.” Instead, it’s “whoa, there’s a lot of people crammed in here!”

If you are in a small room, you’re probably experiencing a big feel. Always be a little crowded as opposed to a little empty.

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Be a ‘Food Church’ // The Churched Disciple: Sabbath / In / ‘Feast’

Much of what we’ve been talking about under the Sabbath rhythm of church life has already involved feasting. We believe that the best way to facilitate enjoyment, expectation, and even submission as we receive from Jesus on Sundays is to do so in the context of a feast.

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OF COUSE WE’RE A ‘FOOD CHURCH’

Scholars have observed that Jesus essentially eats his way through the gospel of Luke. He is always on his way to a meal, at a meal, or on his way from a meal. That means that every miracle of his goodness, every challenge made with love, every surprising embrace of his grace, every rebuke and warning to the self-righteous and hypocritical, and even every movement of his passion, occurs in the context of food and drink.

If you don’t eat and drink with your fellow disciples of Jesus, it’s very difficult to claim that you are, in fact, Jesus’ disciple. If you don’t share meals together with the family of God, it is very difficult to maintain that you are indeed a member of the household of faith.

A mark of a truly “churched disciple” in our context will be an increasing commitment to break bread on Sundays with your spiritual family. You should find it awkward to show up right at the time the service is supposed to start, and to have a seat with your hands folded in your lap. Hardly anyone else should be there; they ought to be clearing their plates, stealing a few extra moments of feasty togetherness around the tables, and savoring the bonds of friendship that are formed and strengthened over bagels and coffee, or pot luck fare.

A PRIORITY AND HABIT

So, make it a priority and a habit to feast with God’s people on the Sabbath, for this, in large measure, is what will make you Festal Sabbatarians, and not obtuse people who woodenly adhere to an ancient law.

In a sense, you owe it to your spiritual family members to show up ready to feast, just like you owe it to your mom to come to the table at dinner time, and just like you owe it to your grandmother to be at the big table on Thanksgiving Day. Your presence and your readiness to feast enriches the experience of the whole family.

And if your propensity is to keep the feast straight through the afternoon between festal gatherings, then have someone over for lunch or head to an Old Town eatery together.

HARD PLAY IS HARD WORK

One other thing to keep in mind: while the Sabbath is a day of rest, and may well involve a holy siesta, the growing disciple of Jesus recognizes that hard play is hard work. Do what you can to prepare your food on Saturday. Do what you can to leave the clean-up till Monday. Recognize that you’ll need energy to be joyful for a whole Sabbath feast, especially as you turn your face and your life toward your spiritual extended family in a posture of acceptance.

Trying to do everything on a Sabbath feast day, including making lots of meal preparations and cleaning your kitchen, will make it so that you won’t enjoy much of anything. Conserve your energy for the uniqueness of the Sabbath feast day.

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The Churched Disciple: Sabbath – “Expect”

Alas, back to our series on ‘the churched disciple’. If we’re going to have the kind of church that doesn’t underwhelm earnest Christians and encourage them to opt for ‘community’ instead of church, what kind of body of disciples do we need to become?

“Discipleship is never complicated or easy, but always simple and hard.” – Mike Breen

That’s certainly true of this call to discipleship. We’re called to expect that Jesus will give us plenty to receive in each Sabbath feast.

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The great London Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once had a pastor-friend who came to him discouraged. He was upset about the lack of fruit he saw from his preaching ministry. The pastor complained that he was not seeing people come to faith in Christ under his preaching.

“Well,” Spurgeon retorted, “you don’t expect that someone will come to faith in Christ during every sermon, do you?” Sheepishly, the pastor said, “well, no.” “That’s precisely the problem,” Spurgeon said.

SMALL EXPECTATIONS?

We often suffer from abysmally low expectations of what God will do in the power of the Spirit when his people are gathered in his presence.

Growing disciples of Jesus, in contrast, will experience an growing anticipation of what Jesus will do. Especially when we come to God in the posture of receptivity, we come expecting that it will primarily be him that does a great work in and among us.

We no longer look at Sunday as the religious version of a dreaded Monday. We no longer see it as a day when we have to get the children up, get them dressed, get them fed, and keep them quiet so that we can say we went to church, and that our kids didn’t embarrass us.

Instead, Sunday becomes one of our favorite days of the week—even if we love going to work on Monday and we begging out with pizza, beer, and a movie on Friday night.

3 LETHARGIC ALTERNATIVES

Some fast-growing churches seem to put all their energy into making the worship experience so spectacular that someone could wander in half-dead and be resurrected by the sheer force of the music, the lights, the preaching, and the crowds.

Other stagnating and declining churches seem to simply go through the Sunday motions, which can make the most zealous Christian comatose ten minutes in.

Some Christians have seen all this at its worst, and have lost hope in ever seeing it at its best. And so they are satisfied with small group gatherings and private devotions.

Our church’s experience of Jesus is dependent on our church’s expectations of Jesus. Will he pour himself out by his Spirit when we are gathered to keep his feast? Do we expect it? Do we believe that Jesus always throws the best feasts and brings the best wine?

So, what’s our challenge? How do we be become an expectant people?

ARE WE EXPECTING?

The challenge for those preparing to lead us in Festal Sabbathing is to mine the riches of the gospel of Jesus in its diverse implications for a more abundant life under his lordship. Preachers must prepare with diligence, with prayer, employing all their God-given powers of spiritual imagination to proclaim the gospel with authority and generosity (2 Tim 4:2). They must expect that God will accomplish much through its proclamation.

Those that cook food for the rest of us to enjoy should cook with love, expecting and praying that it will be received (there’s that word again!) with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). Those who watch the young children in the nursery, those who lead music, those who clean the kitchen, and all others who serve at the Sabbath feast should ready their hearts, expecting that their humble service will be used by the Spirit of God to enable others to receive his grace and be transformed by it.

Whatever we bring to the feast, we bring it with the joyful expectation that Jesus has given us the gift, and intends to use it for the edification of the body (Rom 12:4ff).

It is incumbent upon each member of the feasting body to calibrate their hearts throughout the week, expecting that the feast will be satisfying, and that Jesus will delight our souls on the richest of fare.

The challenge for each of us is much like the challenge of our entire Christian lives: to live our week in the hopeful expectation that the best is yet to come, and that each Sabbath feast is a foretaste of the greater feast of the New Jerusalem, which we also expect to enjoy soon.

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The Churched Disciple: Sabbath – Be Contradictable

Are you contradictable?

It’s time to get back to my string of posts on how a church, and especially a church plant, can become the kind of holistic discipling culture that would make underwhelmed veterans of evangelicalism like Donald Millers stay put and dig deep.

Today, a first swipe at why “going to church on Sunday” is still a really good idea.

This is probably the least sexy reason I’ll give.

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Community. Dialogue. Living life together. Going on mission together. These are the necessary antidotes to the truncated version of church that many evangelicals have regrettably experienced. They’re also the things that many people have begun to find outside “traditional church” (whatever exactly that means). A lot of such folks, according to Donald Miller, just don’t go to church much anymore.

But consider this:

Scripture is the breath of God, given so that it might teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us to be godly and ready for every good work Jesus calls us to walk in. Agreed?

‘Organic’ is Great, But …

Humanly speaking…

When you’re reading your Bible alone, your mind is the limit of what you’ll see in a chunk of Holy Scripture. Your own heart is the limit of how the sermon you’re preaching to yourself will be allowed to get at you. Your schedule and personal discipline are the limits of how much listening to Jesus you’ll do in one sitting, and how frequently you’ll sit and listen.

When you’re dialoguing about the Bible with friends, your friends’ minds become the limit to a potentially enlarged understanding. Your friends’ willingness to say hard things to you, often with others sitting right there beside you, now becomes the limit to how closely the Bible will press in on you. Your friends’ schedules are another limit to the quantity and quality of these Bible reckonings.

There are a lot of factors that make these group and individual encounters with God’s word potentially powerful. And there are even more ways to make a sermon in a church on a Sunday almost useless to discipleship.

What makes your eardrums beat?

But the advantage to sitting still for 30 minutes every Sunday and hearing someone give a monological discourse from God’s word is this:

You cannot control what is said. You cannot direct the conversation where you want it to go. You cannot pick the passage. You cannot determine the trajectory or scope of its application.

You also aren’t dependent on the guts of a person in a group setting to say something difficult to your face. You don’t have to wait around for your friends to get there, move past the chit-chat, hope the vibe is right, and then, hopefully, hear something insightful, life-giving, and perhaps even challenging. You don’t have to send 291 emails to reschedule when life gets busy for this organic group of Bible-appliers.

At both 10:25am and 7:25pm every Sunday in our church a fresh, never-before-heard, well-struggled-over, well-prayed-over, very much fallible and sometimes even outright boring, but always earnest, gospelicious, challenging, provocative bit of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness aimed at equipping the body for every manner of good work can be heard.

You can doze off, play on Facebook on your iPhone, harden your heart, or even make better discoveries from the passage than the preacher makes. But what sets your eardrums beating will not be your choice. You will be contradicted. You’ll be called to change your mind and to change your life. You’ll be called to quit proving yourself right and instead rest in the righteousness of Jesus given to you.

Relationship Requires Contradiction

As Tim Keller has suggested, admitting that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself so much as it contradicts you is the crucial step toward being in an actual relationship with the God whose breath the Bible is. From there, the question becomes: how can I ensure that I’m regularly opening myself up to being contradicted by the God who speaks in the Bible?

One of the most basic answers to this is, yes, to sit under its preaching.

Even if you have an exquisite preacher, you can still spend your life ignoring everything he says. But it’ll get said. Over and over. And much of it—especially the bits that contradict you—won’t get said by your private homilies to yourself or by your friends around the table, no matter how much they care for you.

Be contradictable.

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The Churched Disciple: When ‘Going to Church’ feels like a Distraction

In my last post, I suggested that many of the Donald Millers of the Christian world would be re-engaged with the local church if our churches gave them a compelling story about why their particular church exists.

photo: Sara McAllister. saramcallister.com

photo: Sara McAllister. saramcallister.com

Now, I’d like to suggest that a church’s broadened, compelling why calls for a integral and tightly-aligned, but diverse, multi-faceted, and sprawling how. If “going to church on Sunday” provokes a blasé response from passionate Christians, then it may be that the church has abandoned some key dimensions of its corporate calling.

Why leads to how

If your church believes most deeply that Jesus wants more than anything else to assemble his people for worship and instruction, and that its corporate calling is therefore to gather people to worship God and instruct them in Christian doctrine, then Sunday for 120 minutes or so will probably do the trick. That will be its how. 

On the other hand, if your church has a more expansive belief about spiritual reality, and a corporate calling as expansive as “the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus for the flourishing of Rock Hill”, for example, then your church is going to have to gather, bless, challenge, equip, and deploy its people across a number of different spheres of kingdom reality.

Worship, or ‘every good work’?

In our case, that means Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation. Because we believe that Jesus is Lord over all, and because we believe that he has entrusted the mystery and power of the gospel to the church, we know that we’ve got a much larger job than providing worship and Sunday School. We need to gather the people of God so that we can open the word of God, teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training one another in righteousness so that every one of us will be fully equipped for every good work. Every good work. That’s what the church is responsible to help the people of God with.

And that’s partly what Donald Miller is grieving over as he looks at the ecclesiastical landscape, and at his local options. He has learned to worship God through his work! He gets something that many Christians never get. And yet he isn’t graced, challenged, or equipped by the church for what he is called to do with roughly half of his waking hours.

We need grace and truth, warm invitation and robust challenge, not just for the good work we’re called to do on Sundays “at church”, but for the pursuit of our neighbors and our networks, and for faithfulness in our spiritual, spousal, familial, educational, and occupational callings.

When ‘going to church’ is a distraction

What I’m suggesting here is this: If our beliefs are too narrow and our ecclesiastical missions are too truncated, our Donald Millers may end up becoming too ‘distracted’ by the glorious expansiveness of their personal kingdom callings to take even 2 hours a week to “go to church on Sunday.”

And I find it difficult to blame them.

In the next few posts, I’ll outline what I believe what a more expansive approach ministry looks like. I’ll discuss what I mean by Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation, and how these or similar ecclesiastical hows can more fully equip God’s people for every good work.

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The Churched Disciple: Responding to Donald Miller

Last week there was a fairly major dust-up by evangelical standards when the popular spiritual memoirist Donald Miller told the world that he rarely attends church these days. He cited a personal learning style that was not particularly responsive to monological teaching as one  reason. The other was a lack of connection with God through singing.

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I’ve had some constructive dialogues with people who have defended Miller’s nonchalance with respect to church attendance. These conversations have stirred up in me the desire to spell out my philosophy of ministry. So, at the risk of appearing self-important and possibly overly cerebral, I venture forth. While I usually use this blog as a miscellany of short church planting proverbs, now I’ll take a more programmatic approach, even if just for a week or two.

CS Lewis said that the best way to counteract negative cultural developments is to create their happier alternatives. I’ve tried to do this in my church plant itself instead of simply whining about unfortunate church cultures. I’ll try to do something similar here by articulating a happier alternative to the particular sort of church culture that dominates evangelicalism, making it possible and perhaps even understandable for someone as serious about their spirituality as Donald Miller to rather blithely opt out.

I would welcome your comments as these posts get going. But unlike with my more one-and-done posts, I might wait to make my replies until I’ve had a chance to sketch out the contours of my philosophy of ministry as a whole. This is one of those awkward “hang on, I’ll get to that!” moments. Don’t mean to be professorial.

But to give you a quick sense of where I’m going, I am going to make the case that a church community committed to engaging together in the life rhythms of Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation will be the sort of church community that our Donald Millers wouldn’t dream of casually opting out of.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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Resist Romantic Worship

Is Sunday worship more of an expression of our love for God, or an expression of God’s love for us?

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Back in my grumpier days, I would have said, unequivocally, “GOD’S LOVE FOR US! IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, DUMMY!” The need to love God was something that once made me feel so insecure and pathetic that I quickly covered it up with the declaration that God didn’t need my love: I needed his. And I would have insisted that public, corporate worship was not the time to tell Jesus how we love him (because we probably didn’t, very much). These days I’m actually thrilled and challenged and stirred by the suggestion that we should love God, and do so vigorously.

I’ve flip-flopped, then, right? Worship is self-expression?

Nope. I think public worship is still supposed to be about God gathering us so that we can receive his love, rather than us gathering the three persons of the Godhead so that they can receive our love.

Zachary Hoag said yesterday:

“After journeying for a while with an older congregation I’ve realized that a lot of church planting is theologized emotional immaturity.”

Church plants tend to be romantic environments. We violently overthrow the passive, static, boring worship practices of the churches that put us to sleep when we were back in youth group. Now we’re going to really express ourselves. Raw emotion. Passion. Love toward God. Loud and proud.

Why am I not super excited about this? Because of the Trinity.

Huh?

Look at it this way: Michael Reeves writes that

“While the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, there is a very definite shape to their relationship. Overall, the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved. The Bible is awash with talk of the Father’s love for the Son, but while the Son clearly does love the Father, hardly anything is said about it.” (Delighting in the Trinity.)

What the New Testament does speak much about, Reeves continues, is the Father sending directing the Son to loving action. This doesn’t work in the reverse: “The Son never sends or directs the Father.”

If the Holy Bible is primarily concerned with the Father’s love for the Son, and the Father’s sending the Son of his love on a loving mission to us, while remaining relatively silent about the Son’s love for the Father, then perhaps it’s okay if our corporate worship remains fairly thin on our passion for God, and rather thick on God’s passion for us.

And not just his passion for us, but his passion to send and direct us to love the world as he and his Son did, and do.

In other words, it turns out that corporate worship—even in a church plant, where we want to be passionate and engaged—might still be best thought of as a gathering of quiet, waiting, receptive, submissive, surprised, overwhelmed, emboldened, freshly-graced, and freshly-sent people. We can respond to his love with some vocal expressions of our own love, as Jesus sometimes is found doing in the Gospels. But if the Bible is comfortable revealing to us a Father who is the fountain of blessing and life and love and mission, which eternally cascade from his loving heart to the Son, then we can be comfortable having the Fount of Every Blessing cascade upon us, his gathered people, with his life, love, and mission—without becoming preoccupied with our pursuit of self-expression.

It turns out that to follow Jesus, our Worship Leader, means that in corporate worship, one of the best ways we can express to God our love for him is by reveling in his love for us, and by readying ourselves to do everything he sends and directs us to do. To take this posture, our church plants will need to carefully resist Romantic worship.

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Perfect Pastoral Pride

Technically, it’s awkward to say, as I often do, that the church is just as much the church when it’s scattered and sent as when it’s gathered together. It’s awkward because “church” is ecclesia, a word which means “assembly”. It’s freighted with gathered-ness.

And yet there’s something very exciting about moments when we spot the scattered church “being the church” beyond the church, beyond the gathering.

I get to experience this quite often with my church. As pastor and church planter, I feel the best sort of pride in my people. I’ve assembled them. I’ve churched them. But then out they go, into the world, doing their thing. Doing in many cases the very things they were doing quite well before I came along and churched them. I can never take any credit for what they’re doing, or the special quality with which they do what they’re doing. But I still feel … proud.

Whence perfect pastoral pride?

I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly what this is that I’m feeling, and why it feels so appropriate. Part of it comes from the mere fact that I’ve got these people. They’re coming to my church. Cool!

Beyond this, I think my pride comes from knowing that I get the privilege of nourishing their souls for the work they’re called to. And I get the joy of “churching” them alongside others who are in many cases much better at nourishing their souls than I am—or at least who can bring the nourishment to a place where it is converted into energy for their vocations.

The other sort of ‘un-churched’

As church planters, we must gather, we must church. But precisely because we church, we must un-church. And we can have the pleasure of a certain species of pride when we see our un-churched church doing its thing, or their things, at a great distance from the church branding, budget, and board. It’s not the pride of control or appropriation. It’s the pride of having done your part, and knowing that others, having been nourished by the part you’ve played, are now playing their part and nourishing others.

An invitation

While we’re on the topic, why don’t you come to Rock Hill, SC later this month for the 3rd annual Friday Arts Project forum? This year, they’re exploring ‘truth’. You won’t be disappointed. And you’ll get to experience one of my greatest sources of perfect pastoral pride.

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Sandra McCracken, Maurice Manning, Aaron Belz, delicious food, and much more.

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Expect Glory

There’s a curious tension at play when my church plant gathers for Sabbath feasting.

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Photo by Sara McAllister

Double Expectation: the Congregation

Folks gather for food and fellowship with a certain lightheartedness, even nonchalance—the kind of relaxed untuckedness that is present when family reconvenes for supper after a long day of attending to their vocations. There’s most often enough food at the pot luck by the time we give thanks, but we often find ourselves not-so-fervently asking for a loaves-and-fishes miracle. Usually someone shows up right after “Amen” with a mountainous pot of stew or a geyser of a casserole.

And yet most folks also gather expecting that they’ll leave changed, especially because they expect Jesus to show up in word and in sacrament. We all love food, but we all know that what we’re really after is soul food, some of which is gotten in the first act of the breaking of bread, but the meat and potatoes of which is set forth after the pot luck is set aside like an appetizer plate.

Double Expectation: the Church Planter

The same goes for your posture and expectation as the church planter. You’ll drive yourself mad if the mood you’re trying to curate cuts against the natural rhythms and expectations of your gathered feasting community. And so you need a healthy dose of go-with-the-flow as you go into your Sunday gathering. Dare I say it? You may even need to work on your nonchalance. This is family, after all.

But at the same time, you can’t afford not to expect glory.

The story goes that a pastor complained to Charles Spurgeon that he didn’t understand why people were not giving their lives to Christ when the fellow preached the word. Spurgeon said, “You don’t expect people to be converted when you preach, do you?” The fellow sheepishly shook his head, indicated the negative. Spurgeon suggested that this was precisely the problem.

Moses had a fading-glory ministry (2 Cor 3), a ministry of death, as he brought the law to bear on hard-hearted desert sojourners. But Paul says it was still a pretty dang impressive glory. People were rather stoked, at least for short intervals, considering it was “a ministry of condemnation”.

But we’re told that our ministry of the Spirit, and of righteousness in Christ, far exceeds Moses’ ministry, not least because its glory is permanent and unfading. The effects of our ministry are the opposite of the fleeting thrills of Moses’ congregation. When we minister the gospel in word and sacrament, under the the Lord that is the Spirit, there is a cumulative effect that transforms us from one degree of glory to another, the more we behold this never-fading glory in Jesus, clothed in his gospel.

And there is freedom. 

Are You Expecting?

All of this means that we, as church planters, may be as nonchalant as a grandfather coming home from work to eat with his extended family. But we had also better be, as Paul says he and his church planting cronies were, very bold. Bold because of the hope and expectation of glory.

Church planters: expect glory.

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