Swinging from the Vine / 808 posts / 2,772 comments / feed / comments feed

“decentering” the Sunday service II

From Alan over at a Different Perspective

…when a sermon is still the center of a worship service which is in turn the main activity for that body of believers, the ideas presented from that pulpit (even when it looks very unpulpit-like) will be the main unifying factor for that local church…I’m not saying don’t teach. Not by any means, but if you truly expect a community of Christians from various backgrounds and theological traditions to exist for any length of time, you should consider moving the center away from sermons to perhaps the eucharist, corporate worship sans monologue, or even a more radical move which would place greater emphasis on the service of ministry than attending the weekly meeting.

Allow me to put it in terms I can personally relate to.

The pastor is really big on word of faith type prosperity. If he and his teachings are the core and center of what defines the unified body, there is absolutely zero chance that there is going to be any diversity in his church. There is also very little chance that the body is going to be able to expand beyond that core belief system.

People who go to that church will go there because the pastor preaches prosperity. Generally speaking, the church will eventually become one big pep rally for prosperity teaching so even if there are other things going on, that is what will define the church and subsequently limit the church.

I have come to believe that this, more than consumerism, is the main reason why people “church surf”. They come to a church for a specific belief system or bias and then if that bias changes either from the pulpit or in their own life, they no longer have a reason to continue going to said church.

A phenomenon I have noticed around here is people who attend a “less than charismatic” church and then come to believe strongly that God’s Spirit moves and speaks today and that the gifts and manifestations are still at work today and so they have to find a “real charismatic” church. (I have personally done this by the way, so I can speak from experience)

This is not just pontificating about the state of the Church, I believe this is something real and tangible that those of us in “church leadership” have to confront and deal with.

Here’s another issue Alan addresses:

Perhaps the most obvious place where church structure defines the message is in how you handle leadership roles. You can talk about organic, relational leadership all you want, but if the senior pastor still calls all the shots like a CEO (even while condemning the CEO business model for the local church), the message you send is antithetical to the teaching.


[tags]organic, alan hartung, a different perspective, sunday service, missional[/tags]

Related posts:

  1. “decentering” the Sunday service One of the thoughts that emerged from reading the...
  2. More on early Christ followers By the way, the letter quoted below can be found...
  3. reflections on organic I wrote this last March (on our wedding anniversary actually,...
  4. Externally Focused Church: part 1 * The Externally Focused Church shall henceforth be referred to...
  5. Through the looking glass: Alan Hirsch Hirsch has been posting discussions based off his new book...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.


  1. grace — February 6, 2007 #

    I enjoyed this post of Alan’s also and the thoughts you have added about church surfing.

    Finding myself in the position of attending a church that doesn’t “fit quite right” has been an opportunity to personally learn and grow in the midst of the discomfort. I’m not sure what I’ll know when all is said and done, but hopefully I will have learned the lessons of this season.

  2. molly — February 6, 2007 #

    Wow…those are some great quotes…particularly the concept of NOT structuring the thrust of a “service” around preaching.

    Thanks for sharing them and your own thoughts, as always. :)

  3. Paul — February 7, 2007 #

    oh thought provoking post - ty!

    When i read your reason for moving churchs i thought yep people ship out to find what they want - but i’m not so so sure that isn’t unrelated to consumerism - how often do we just make the same choice with shops, services etc - if they don’t have what we want we just take our business else where… especially if we live in an urban area where there is plenty of choice [in rural areas that choice might be limited]…

    Or perhaps what I am asking is why we don’t have a higher value on commitment?

    I also wonder how many people who critique the CEO model have actually worked in a corporate business environment? - all the big companies i’ve worked in have had CEOs which have not been just about one person calling the shots - personally i feel it is a sloppy application of the business model and i’d like to propose some alternatives:

    DER - as in dictorial/defacto executive ruler

    BSH - buck stops/spent here

    GKEYHO - Genghis Khan Eat Your Heart Out

    oh and for adrian…

    DLS - Dark Lord of the Sith [and he still can't conjure those plans out of thin air]

  4. Alan Hartung — February 8, 2007 #

    Thanks for taking my thoughts a little further, Ari.

    Paul -

    I think the CEO model actually fits better than your examples (other than buck stops here, but…). Even with the CEO most open to ideas and best at cultivating a contributional environment among all levels of leadership, don’t think for a moment the stockholders and others don’t believe the buck stops with the CEO.

    Most pastors in established churches aren’t dictatorial, but they generally do have a “buck stops here” and thus a “final decision is here” mentality. A CEO model does not mean people abuse (on purpose) the people below them by forcing their agenda. It can often be a place where many voices are heard and not appear to be one person calling all the shots. I say appear, because a pastor feels responsible for the ministry he has been entrusted to in such a way that you can guarantee the business model for church ultimately rests in one man calling all the shots, even when it doesn’t look that way. The pastor may be open to ideas, endorse and support them, but it’s still top-down and flows from the business model.

    In fact, the business model functions quite well in some churches to the point where people question why to think about a different structure at all. When a pastor is a good CEO, all appears to be well. But you still have difficulties with an agenda inappropriate to a diverse local body, an emphasis on positions which ultimately create power struggles when you have too many persons with similar giftings and callings, and you place too much responsibility on one person, the Pastor/CEO.

  5. ed c — February 8, 2007 #

    Good quotes and follow-up thoughts. Part of leveling the playing field is opening up room for everyone to participate in dialog. That’s what pastor Todd Hiestand is up to over at http://www.meremission.org.

    Everyone is welcome to open an account and post over there about missional living. It’s a great idea and a wonderful opportunity for the church to share with one another about this important topic.

  6. Ari — February 9, 2007 #

    Thank you molly and grace :)

    Alan - thanks for dropping by, it’s an honor to have you grace these humble pages.

    I agree with you completely regarding the CEO thing.

    I have even found that in some situations the CEO model works so well, to question it is tantamount to questioning the Bible and God Himself.

  7. Ari — February 9, 2007 #

    paul - we don’t value commitment because it’s unrealistic and even unhealthy to expect “blind commitment”. Loyalty for the sake of it is odd. We have to examine our churches and see what it is people are committed to and is the loyalty to the right thing/person. I would say in most churches, we’ve set up the institution to demand loyalty to all the wrong things….thus the whole point of shifting the center.

  8. Ari — February 9, 2007 #

    ed - thanks for the reminder, I set up an account awhile back and forgot about it. heading over there now.

  9. robbymac — February 11, 2007 #


    I suspect we’ll have “emerging surfers” (if we don’t already) in the very near future as well. We have (in North America, anyway) SUCH a consumer, felt-need, what’s-in-it-for-me approach to all of life, it’s probably not surprising that it easily flows into our motivations for which church or house group or communitas we seek out.

    The tightrope that we may find ourselves walking, as “emerging missional leaders”, is calling people to a higher standard (the Jesus Creed, monastic-inspired rules, etc.) WITHOUT become controlling and rigid at the same time.

    The next few years will be awesome and/or terrifying, depending on how this is fleshed out.

  10. Ari — February 11, 2007 #

    robbymac - that’s for sure, I agree with some who have said that this next decade will be about behavior (rather than belief) where belief will still play a part of course but that there will be a lot of “fleshing out” of behavior and what it all means.

    I think that learning how to “walk the line” or even better - creating (in Brian McLaren’s words) above the line solutions - is going to be key.

  11. Paul — February 13, 2007 #

    Thanks Alan - i find if fascinating not least because i have seen/experienced examples that work in terms of a CEO model and those that haven’t - i think any structure of leadership is open to exploitation but to rule out one method because someone has the final say seems to be a little simplisitc.

    Or to flip it on its head, in my experience, people who don’t like the CEO model also don’t like the model of everyone being equal either and a collective responsibility - mainly cos its so hard to make decisions.

    Then again the bible seems to offer a plurarity of leadership models with the emphasis not on the model per se but on the character of the leader/leaders…

    So i can see cases where any leadership model proposed will have flaws and it will be a preference thang based on experience, disallusionment, disenfranchisement etc - which is a pity cos the answer seems more often to change model rather than to work on the character…

  12. Paul — February 13, 2007 #

    Thanks Ari - i agree with you on the blind commitment front - on the other hand i observe that unlike Jesus we don’t often spell out what commitment to Jesus means…

    I find it fascinating that early christians had to study/demonstrate christian ethics for 3 yrs before they were allowed to be baptised - not least cos they were likely to be martryed as soon as they were - the commitment was not to how they were feeling about their local church but whether they were going to die for the Lord… we don’t have that same pressue so its usually for me me about following Jesus as long as I am happy, which is a pretty transitry journey of not leaving my options open and my exit routes clear…

    so i’m applying my comment mostly to me in the first instance but i’m not getting all legalistic about it :)

Leave a comment