Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Is Your Church High? Pop? or Folk?

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Dear Friends,

An expert on American culture described it as existing in three variants. “High culture” is like a meticulously prepared gourmet meal prepared by trained chefs. This is where tradition reigns and connections to the past are diligently maintained. “Pop culture,” the prevailing culture today, is fast, fleeting and faddish. Like the latest food truck craze, this culture features what's new and exciting to engage an easily bored generation that seeks continually changing experiences. “Folk culture” is like the home-cooked meal using grandmother's recipe. There’s a connection with the family's past and there is care in the making of the meal, but the emphasis is on the family who sits around the table to enjoy it. Each family member is personally engaged in an enjoyable, endearing experience. 

Churches also fall into one of these three categories. The HIGH CHURCH are those liturgical churches who use traditional hymns with an occasional “contemporary” Christian song from the 80's. Meticulously written liturgies are prepared by seminary trained pastors who deliver a ten minute sermon to keep the service time to one hour. The POP CHURCH attempts to engage contemporary culture with cutting-edge concert experiences that feature dance club lighting, fog machines and ever-changing video effects to engage the spectators. A brief motivational feel-good message is the spiritual fast-food delivered by the Pop Church. The FOLK CHURCH emerges from a community of Christians who come together because their family gatherings engender their love and worship of God and love for each other. Worship songs engage the heart and bring them into the presence of God. The message is based on scripture and relevant to their lives. The service is prayerfully planned but open to a Spirit-led change of direction to minister to a specific need or situation. (Yes. I’m biased.)

Last night I was looking at the website of a mainline liturgical denomination and saw a statement that their liturgy performed today (think Catholic or Lutheran liturgy) goes back over two thousand years and was what Jesus’ “services” looked like when He was in the role of the priest and teaching His disciples. Really? I laughed as I pictured Jesus standing before the altar as Mary Magdalene passed an offering plate among the disciples and the organist played Hymn 103. 

(Fact Check: It’s well documented that the earliest liturgy resembling a service today is St James Liturgy which a majority of scholars agree was most likely written 300 years after Jesus walked the earth.)

The cultural church today that most closely resembles the church experience in the days of Jesus is the Folk Church. Pop Churches focus on an entertaining emotional experience but the constant diet of religious fast-food does not generate good spiritual health. Liturgical churches tend to highlight the cerebral and disparage the experiential, but liturgical main-line denominations are fast leaking their church members to experiential Charismatic churches. An article in Catholic News states that Catholic losses to Spirit-filled churches are severe and every hour 400 Catholics convert to Pentecostalism. Our church culture is shifting in the world today as people leave liturgical churches that sing hymns about God and join churches that sing worship songs to God and create a spiritual environment that draws people into His presence where their lives are changed. 

The Apostle's lives were changed not because they read about Jesus or heard a lecture about the Son of God. They were changed through their personal experience of Jesus. And, God sent the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17) to dwell within us that we would continue to personally experience God.

More than ever, people today crave participation experiences. Whether immersing themselves in the boutique coffee shop where the sights, sounds and smells of roasting coffee engage all the senses or immersing themselves in participative church experiences where all the physical and spiritual senses are engaged, people are seeking authentic experiences that add value to their lives. People are not seeking an intellectual understanding of God. They seek a personal experience with their Heavenly Father. They long for the overwhelming love of Jesus and the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

God can be found in both “High” and “Pop” churches but not in lifeless liturgy or in shallow church entertainment. Our Spirit-filled liturgy needs to be where an authentic expression of our worship takes place. And when we simply come before God with open hearts and invite Him to lift us up into His presence, He always does. Amen?

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