Monday, June 18, 2007

Manifesto of Hope for Edinburgh (What Scotland can learn from MH III)

Barclay Church, Sunset on Bruntsfield Lynx
I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the churches in Edinburgh, which is were I live. This frustration began shortly after I became a Christian. Now I don't want to blog a whole shed-load of negativity; rather I want to set-forth a manifesto of hope in Christ for Edinburgh. This is my dream: this is what the Bride of Christ in Edinburgh should look like; this is the church I am looking for. If I can't find it, maybe I will start a new one...

In this post, I pick up lessons we can learn from Mars Hill, and following their methodology, offer a vision of a contextualised church for Edinburgh which is shaped in response to the city and country.

  • Jesus At the end of the day (and at all other times!), if a church does not focus on Jesus, you might as well just forget everything else. Yet I know for a fact that many so-called churches in Edinburgh have forgotten their first love. If you think I am being harsh, simply pick up your bible, flip to the New Testament, and read a random couple of verses. If you don't find yourself reading about Jesus, I reckon you've picked up the wrong book. Now compare to how many times you hear him mentioned in your church service. If you hear something or someone else mentioned more often, then you know what I mean. Increasingly, I've noticed that Jesus is literally everywhere in the bible. You can't get away from the man! Mars Hill Seattle have really shown me the importance of exalting Christ. I'm not alone here, as Adrian Warnock blogs on how blessed Terry Virgo is as a result of the Christ-focused teaching of Mars Hill.

  • MissionI am looking for a church in Edinburgh that spends the bulk of its time, money, prayer, and energy on Edinburgh. Hardly a novel idea, you would think, but its a fact that many churches devote themselves to easier tasks such as blessing overseas ministries. This is of course to be admired, but I am looking for a majority focus on Edinburgh, not a token amount of prayer/outreach money after the bulk of resources has been used up by non-missional activities.

  • Relevant Scottish Worship I don't know why churches don't get it. Why is there a different musical genre when one walks in from a pub or club into a church? Of course I realise that worship will sound different to other types of music; but there is no excuse for the boring, dreary, cheesy annoying sound that to be honest is barely better than the old pipe organ. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, take a look (and listen!) to the music playing which everyday normal people listen to. Is it so hard to then use this genre and redeem it for Christ? Scotland is home to an entire movement of techno/rave, but the only time I've heard it used in worship was when I was spinning the decks myself. The Edinburgh clubs are filled with hard rock bands, yet reach out to them and you'll be forced to tell them that Christian worship in Edinburgh is 30 years behind their musical expression. Folks, this is not about worship wars: this is about worship being contextual, being missional, being relevant, and quite simply keeping with the times. Where is the Celtic worship? Where is the folk worship? Again, Mars Hill scores points here: their music (and they have about 7 different genres represented in their musical worship) may not be your cup of tea, but that's the point: its Seattle's cup of tea, which is all that matters.

  • Neither religious nor anti-religious Many churches I have visited fit into one of these categories: either they have a spirit of religion over the church, permeating much of what they do; or, there is a weird spirit of "anti-religion", which ends up being the same thing. Its hard to explain the latter, but its this attitude of "we aren't like the religious churches" sort of thing, which becomes a religion of its own. Thankfully Mars Hill doesn't fit into either category. We need more churches in Edinburgh which can say the same.

  • Celtic Spirituality: Signs & Wonders I believe that Edinburgh needs a greater emphasis on this than is present at Mars Hill Seattle. Our country has a wonderful heritage of the supernatural, thanks in part to the ancient Celts. We are a spiritual nation, in the broad sense of the term. The great powers of spiritual darkness over Edinburgh need to be broken in Jesus' name in part through the supernatural signs of his Kingdom.

  • Unity - breaking the spirit of tribalism & sectarianism Compared to other cities in the UK there is a disturbing lack of unity amongst the churches of Edinburgh. Surprisingly, there is a lot of grass-roots inter-fellowship between the various churches. Yet most churches simply plough on doing their own thing. And in the nation at large, we are plagued by tribalism on the small scale and sectarianism on the larger. The whole East vs West thing in Scotland is another example. This is one area that the church needs to demonstrate to the Powers that it is One in Christ, and that all peoples should be One in Christ.

  • Land of the Book Scotland was once a land that revered the Word of God. Edinburgh is also very much an educated, humanistic and elitist city. The church I am looking for needs to be both soaked in God's word and be able to present an intellectually credible faith for the educated masses of Edinburgh. It must also be able to oppose and denounce any and all philosophies which turn our attention away from Christ.

  • Financial Generosity Unfortunately I believe Scotland suffers from a poverty spirit. One of the ways this needs to be broken is by the wholehearted proper funding and resourcing of Mission, along with a new generosity which will blow the city away by the amount of time and money the Edinburgh Church gives to its own city, and especially the "poor".

  • Celebration If there is one thing we can do well in Scotland it is to party. This is something the church simply MUST capitalise on. People often ask my why I don't dance more often in church (I love to dance). The answer is quite simply: well play some darn music that makes me want to dance! The Church Edinburgh needs is a church that is caught up in God's Joy and in the celebration of the victory of Christ. Currently, quite frankly the non Christians in Edinburgh are doing a better job of celebrating than the rest of us. Its high time this changed. In the Old Testament, an entire 10% of Israel's income(the whole tithe was over 30%) went towards community celebrations. How much money does your church spend on parties for the city? Last time I checked, it was the Pagans that were funding city celebrations. Shame on us.

  • direct confrontation of the Pagan Powers Edinburgh has its fair share of Pagan activity. The church needs to stop avoiding this issue and hit it head on, now. And before anyone jumps in, I would be the first to say the church can learn from many of the pagans and witches and whatnot. They have a unique view of spirituality that we can learn from. But ultimately, the spiritual background to their faith is demonic. And we can't sit around and ignore their activity any longer. Its high time the church of Edinburgh got their act together here.

  • Finally, raising up the Warfare generation. Scotland is plagued with inactivity, indifference, "what do I care?" attitude. The spiritual power has influenced the church as much as the rest of the land. Its high time for the church to start fighting back. In prayer and intercession, I might add. There is so much disinterest in prayer. And I include myself in that sweeping generalisation. Warrior prayer is needed to apply Christ's victory to our darkened land. And this applies even more so to the men: because they are the ones who are absent from most prayer meetings. Men of Scotland, get yer freakin' act together, unite, and form a prayer army, and lets pray for our city and nation.

So what do you folks think? Does such a church exist? Am I just dreaming of the impossible? Should I hold out to find this church? Should I try to bring this vision to where I am currently at? Or should I just attempt to find some like-minded souls and start a jesus-centric, Kingdom-working, Missional, Relevant, Contextualised, Charismatic, Evangelical, Warfare, Partying church? One thing is for sure, I have no more time for "business as usual" or "church as usual". Forget it.

Oh, and before I sign off, one more thing. The Scottish church of tomorrow will need large dose of a "senses of humour" :-) Cos we're gonna need it...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mars Hill Church: part II: what can Scotland learn?

Yesterday I blogged about the time my wife and I visited Mars Hill, Seattle. Today I will continue to discuss Mars Hill and without further ado highlight what I think contributes to their success. I should note that I am an outsider to Mars Hill and I would welcome comments from those who consider this their home church, as I am sure you know much more than me.

  • Community - right off the bat, its obvious that there exists a great sense of community at Mars Hill. I find this interesting for two reasons: 1) I don't get the impression that Driscoll stands around preaching on the importance of community, as some churches have done. Yet I get the impression that, despite the size of the congregation, the community at Mars Hill is one of the appealing aspects of the church. The other reason I find this interesting is that the Sunday service itself is not designed to be community inclusive: its not as if everyone gets up to share a word, as happens in some churches. Yet despite (or because of?) the from-the-front emphasis of the Sunday service, the rest of the church life appears to major on community.

  • Professional attitude. I have always said that the problems with many Christians and churches is that when they do something for God or ministry, its always in a half-hearted way when it comes to the level of professionalism and the amount of financial investment. I think of the number of clapped-out church sound systems I have come across, for example. Or the quality of the coffee I've been forced to drink over the years since I became a Christian. I am happy to report that when Mars Hill does something, it does something well. I simply love this - and in Edinburgh I believe this is something we really need to learn. We often operate under a poverty-spirit, a spirit which has afflicted Scotland for some time now.

  • Missional worship. Another topic I have been banging on about for years, but no-one seems to be listening. Its clear from listening to the podcast feed that Mars Hill Worship attempts to bridge the gap between Christian worship and "secular" music. This whole sacred-secular thing is a pile of nonsense. Why are Christians forced to listen to cheesy, trite worship songs which bear no musical relation to the music we all love to listen to? Why does Christian music sound like the secular music of 20 years ago? When I am at home or in my car I listen to all kinds of music, including funk, hip-hop, techno, country, etc. But so often these genres are not to be found in church. And why don't we here any Scottish folk music in Scottish churches? At least we sing the old hymns, which often have a Celtic feel to them. But nothing more contemporary.

  • No religious mumbo-jumbo. Many churches are have their own lingo and jargon, which although sometimes is helpful, often simply alienates and further distances the congregation from the "real world" (TM). In accordance with modern missional thinking, I'm happy to report that Mars Hill avoids all such Christian babble. All of their spoken output seems free from the incessant nonsense that comes out of many churches.

  • No charismania. I love the Holy Spirit, and I love when he moves powerfully through anointed speakers. I love all the gifts of the Spirit. But since I became a Christians I've had the misfortune to come across a tribe of people known ascharismaniacs. You know of whom I speak. These people always have a "word" for you (its never a biblical one, and often a condemning one), fall of their chairs during worship services, and make strange animal noises when being prayed for. Now there is a time and a place for everything, and the annoying thing about these people is simply that they don't put a lid on it. Curiously, they are almost always single, and female. Mars Hill, whilst embracing the gifts and ministry of the Spirit, seems to be walking the line and avoiding excesses of charismania. Actually, I think they seem over cautious. From my perspective, they seem like evangelicals first and charismatics second. My own church background would be the opposite.

  • Focus on the city Mars Hill is on a mission, and is clearly focussed on bringing Seattle to Jesus. This is a stark contrast to many churches I know, which don't really seem to have any clear vision for their own city. They are often active in second or third world countries, but have little money or time or thought left for Scotland. If you don't believe me, just compare the amount of money some churches allocate in their budget for overseas "ministry", and compare that to the local outreach fund. Normally the overseas ministry spends an order of magnitude more. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against foreign mission, but if a church is not spending the lion's share of its prayer, money and time on local mission, something is seriously wrong.

  • They are cool. Controversial I know, but it seems that most Edinburgh church buildings I have visited seem to be described by one or more of the following: old-fashioned, cheesy, trite, childish, overly feminine, drab, ugly, shambolic, boring. Take your pick. I really feel like we have lost something here. Maybe it was the fault of the reformers, but many of our churches do not have a theology of beauty and aesthetics. What could speak of God more than beauty? Beauty is one of the values of Mars Hill. I think Scottish churches need to recapture this.

  • They speak out on relevant issues Finance. Sex. Dating. Marriage. Work. Things that people are interested in, and things that matter. Real stuff. They make theology interesting, and practical. Unfortunately many church leadership teams in Edinburgh are living in denial as to the world in which their congregation lives in.

  • They don't assume everyone in church is a Christian. The entire church service is missional: its equally relevant and accessible to Christians and non-Christians. I've been hammering on about this for years as well. Churches over here make two mistakes, typically, when it comes to this issue. Either they completely alienate visitors with obscure preaching and out-of-date music, or they force visitors to put their hands up half-way through the service. Talk about a big no-no. No wonder these churches are struggling to grow.

I could go on and on, but this will do for now. Hopefully we can see that Scotland has a lot to learn from Mars Hill. In my final posting on this topic I will wrap it all up, and perhaps reflect on a few ways that the Scottish church needs to forge ahead in a different direction from Mars Hill.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mars Hill Church: Part I: my own experience

Been a little busy recently, folks, so I apologise for the lack of blog posting. For a few posts I want to change topics and talk about Mars Hill, before going to issues such as hermeneutics and the atonement.

Mars Hill Church, Seattle WA, is a great success story. Starting off as a bible study in Mark Driscoll's living room, the church has grown consistently at around 60% per year after a few initial rocky years. Every time you check out their numbers, the size of the church appears to have grown. Last time it was around 6000. I think they peaked at around 10,000 for their Easter services.

Some people, when told of the growth and size of Mars Hill, simply mutter something about "oh, its in America, its different over there". Indeed, in the Bible Belt states, much of the population considers itself a Christian, so its no surprise to hear of large churches. However, this is not the case in Seattle, which is very much a liberal, educated, left-wing, alternative-lifestyle city, which along with Portland, OR, has the lowest figure for church attendance in the US. Most people on Sunday mornings are in Starbucks, not church! Further more, the few churches of note in Seattle tend to be in the more wealthy sub-urban areas, rather than in the city itself. This makes the success of Mars Hill all the more intriguing.

Having visited Mars Hill, heard hundreds of their sermons, read numerous interviews and articles, and both of Driscoll's books, I would like to offer some insight as to where they have got it right, and why they are doing so well. I may also offer a critique or two in a few places, although the thrust of this article is to look at what they are doing right. To begin with, I'd like to recount the time my wife and I visited Seattle and checked out Mars Hill.

  • 7.30am We were staying in a nice hotel in the Queen Anne district. We have decided to visit the 9am service, for two reasons: (1) we wanted to spend the rest of the day sight-seeing, and (2) we had heard it is difficult to actually get into some of the later services, as they are so popular. Don't you just love that: how many churches in Edinburgh (or Scotland for that matter) have to turn people away ? I long for the day when this starts to happen in my own city. Anyway, after a healthy breakfast of muesli and Seattle coffee, we called a taxi and asked to be taken to Mars Hill, in Ballard. He knew where it was without further direction. I was impressed: the only time a taxi driver knew where a church was in Edinburgh, it turned out he was a Christian. Not so in this case. I make a mental note: this church is known in the city.

  • 8.30am The first thing I noticed as we approached their building is its simple exterior. Its a converted warehouse, painted in industrial grey, with a large clear sign. The building looks contemporary, and certainly doesn't look churchy. We walked around outside for a while, since we were quite early.

  • 8.40am As I walked in, I was impressed by a huge work of art adorning a wall to my left. I've never seen anything quite like it. It was a huge painting of the crucifixion, the work of a local artist. It just blew me away...I waited here for a while whilst my wife went to the bathroom. One thing I did notice is that no-one came up to me and tried to speak to me. On one hand, I appreciated not having an artificial conversation with a "greeter". On the other hand, it would have been nice if someone had said hello.

  • 8.45am As we walked into the auditorium, we were immediately struck by the low light level and a soft chilled out sound coming from a DJ's decks. It was very peaceful and relaxed. There was no band faffing about on stage, or anything like that. There was a sense of people coming together in anticipation. Rather surprisingly, even though the service was about to start in 10 minutes, the place look less than half full. "So much for not even getting in", I thought. Perhaps these stories were just exaggerations. Perhaps the 9am service was a quiet one. I took the opportunity to nip out to use the bathroom.

  • 8.50am Walking into the men's bathroom I was impressed by the quality. It was very stylish, with a low light level, stainless steel, and quality fittings. Probably the nicest church loos I've ever used... OK, so it won't start a revival but it doesn't do any harm to have a decent bathroom! By now I got the impression that Mars Hill was consciously trying not to look and feel like a regular church. I thought this was good. Ask most people what they think of when they think of a church building, and I'm pretty sure they would not describe anything remotely like this...

  • 8.55am Back in the main auditorium, I was absolutely amazed to see that the place had filled to the brim. I could barely get back to my seat. I immediately thought this was a huge contrast to my church-going experience in Edinburgh, where people wonder in casually throughout the entire service, meaning the service starts half-empty. Here, everyone was keen to arrive early!

  • 8.58 Waiting for the service to start, I read some of the notices that were being displayed on two large projections screens to the left and right of the stage. One good thing about the services here is that there are no announcements. Ask most people what they would change about the church service they attend, and its "less announcements". Sometimes I get the impression that churches make up things to say during this slot, as if by some Holy Command the worship must be interrupted to hear mundane news that 95% of people aren't interested in. At Mars Hill, announcements are done by video projection before and after the meetings, and by email, newsletter, and podcast.

  • 9.00 Pretty much bang on time, a worship team appears on the stage out of seemingly nowhere, and we are invited to stand. As the music starts, I am impressed by the quality of the PA. It sounds better than most gigs I have gone to, and better than any church sound system. I learned later that it was one of the best sound systems in Seattle, donated by one of their members. We sing a hymn and then sit down.

  • 9.10 Mark Driscoll has appeared on stage. He starts speaking as the band are still putting down their instruments. "They don't waste any time here", I thought. The lighting adjusts to help us focus on Mark, rather than the band. Without further ado he launches into the text for today. It was quite a contrast to some services I have visited, where up to five minutes can be wasted as people faff around trying to get the next part of the service ready.

  • After the preach we are encouraged to pray with one another, confess sins, take bread and wine and enter into the worship. Every week the congregation takes bread and wine as part of their worship. The whole experience was quite different to what I was used to, yet I clearly felt God in and through what was going on. We worshipped for about half an hour, maybe a little less. Then Pastor Lief appeared on the stage, reminding everyone about the BBQ that was on later that day.

  • After the service I grabbed a free cup of real Coffee and I approached a help desk and asked if it was possible to speak to Mark. I was told that would not be possible. Oh well. So we picked up some free literature and left to enjoy our day.

Next post I will offer some thoughts on what Scottish churches can learn from Mars Hill.