A Center Lost

The word is that Google just released a custom-made search engine for the People’s Republic of China that filters out information disapproved of by the Chinese government. Topics like human rights, democracy, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama are either filtered out or redirected to articles condemning these things by the Chinese government.

Suddenly, as Andrew Carreaga at bloggedyblog says, Google has gone from being “hero to villain in a single week.” Whereas Google was once celebrated for being revolutionary (in that it makes any information available to anyone anywhere in the world), it now runs the risk of being condemned for compromising its values.

Shame on Google!

Now let me shift gears. I have a feeling that what has happened to Google is a lot like what has happened to the church in America. And the church in Europe. And probably in other parts of the world, too.

I’m reading a book right now titled, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society, by Rodney Clapp. I’ve only finished the first two chapters, but let me give you a nutshell summary.

Clapp argues that as soon as Constantine made Christianity the state religion, Christianity changed. It went from being counter-cultural to being the controlling force of the culture. And as soon as that happened, Christianity lost its center. A compromise was made. Clapp says that "with the Constantinian shift the church decided to derive its significance through association with the identity and purposes of the state."

So now we live in what has come to be known as Christendom, a culture in which Christianity is not only the norm, but also a requirement for social advancement. Many, of course, rightly argue that Christendom is essentially at its end (i.e., we're beginning to live in a post-Christian age), but many Christians and churches still believe that the church derives"its significance through association with the identity and purposes of the state."

As a result, we have a church that is weak and ineffective in making deep changes in people's lives. The church ought to be a force for radical change in the world. Instead, the church adjusted its expectations to allow the state to continue to consider itself respectable.

And that brings us back to Google. Google has compromised. It has made adjustments that are contrary to its purpose. One Google spokesperson rationalized their decision by saying something to the effect that they'd rather provide some information to China than no information. But in doing this, Google has become an agent of the Chinese state--just as the church became the agent of the European (and eventually the American) state.

I believe the church is at a crossroad. Either it will "retrench" (to use Clapp's word) back into the seeming safety of being an agent of the state, or it will rediscover its place in culture as a real, day-to-day way of life.


Subtle Creativity

Here's another thing that I think is essential in the StretchyChurch: Creativity! Not necessarily over-the-top, in-your-face creativity. But simple, subtle pointers to Jesus. Here's a cool Easter poster I found over on the "Church Marketing Sucks" blog (http://www.churchmarketingsucks.com/).

I love the simplicity of this poster. I love that it doesn't come right out and say, "This is about Jesus!" I love that it engages the viewer--there's kind of an "Aha!" moment when you "get" the poster.

This is the kind of creativity the church needs more of.


Liberation Blogology

Get it? That's like a play on "Liberation Theology"! HAHAHAHA!!! *sigh* Me and my razor-sharp wit.... heh heh....

So, anyway, I'm still kind of trying to figure this whole blog thing out. I'm having a lot of fun with it. Writing that last post was kind of fun--something I had been thinking about earlier in the day.

But, being a blog newbie, I've been feeling like I have to post something every day. In fact, while I was writing yesterday's post, I kinda felt like I was trying to force myself to write something interesting. Today it dawned on me that, hey, I don't have to force myself to write something if I don't have something to write about! That's kinda cool... kinda liberating....

My brother, Jon, showed me how RSS works. Pretty cool. And another reason not to worry about writing something every day. He also showed me a bunch of blogs he keeps up on. In fact, if any of you have any interesting blogs you keep tabs on, let me know--especially if they're theology/emerging church/church-planting/faith and pop culture/film/cynical-about-mainline-Protestantism-related. Heh... well, maybe not that last one....

That's it. I'm out.

What's "Accepting" Got to do with It?

Question: Do we need to stop teaching people to accept Christ?

Ok, before you start calling me a heretic, let me tell you what I mean. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we we're saved by grace through faith. But it says nothing about accepting Jesus. The only verse I can think of that tells us we need to accept Jesus is John 1:12, which says that "to all who received him...to them he gave the right to become children of God." But I have a feeling that's something different than "asking Jesus to come into my life."

Here's where I'm coming from. I've grown up with the idea that every person needs to make a decision to accept Christ into their life. And that idea is still very comfortable for me. But somehow I'm not sure the language of accepting Christ accurately reflects what happens at salvation.

What the Bible does say over and over is that righteousness (and, therefore, presumably, salvation) comes through faith. The argument goes that there are three kinds of faith: emotional faith, intellectual faith, and volitional faith. The first two are pretty self-explanatory. The third is the kind of faith that involves making a choice. This is saving faith.

You might have heard the story of the tightrope walker who walked across Niagara Falls. Then he walked across with a wheelbarrow. Then with a wheelbarrow full of bricks. Then he asked the crowd if they believed he could take a person across Niagara Falls in that wheelbarrow. The crowd roared its applause and affirmation. But when the tightrope walker asked for a volunteer, the crowd was silent.

That crowd had emotional faith and intellectual faith, but no volitional faith. No one proved their faith by making the choice to get in the wheelbarrow.

Ok, that concept works for me. It makes sense. But I'm not sure the Bible makes the distinction between volitional faith and other kinds of faith. Consider mustard seed faith: Is faith the size of a mustard seed volitional faith? Or is it intellectual? Or is it emotional? Or is it all three? Can we even know? (I ask this because a friend of mine who died of cancer--and who struggled with his faith--told me his hope of going to heaven was Jesus' statement that all you need is mustard-seed faith.)

Let me get back to my point. I think the concept of volitional faith (vs. emotional and intellectual faith) is designed to help us understand the connection between faith and acceptance. But if acceptance isn't really mentioned in the Bible, do we need to make those distinctions?

I'll be honest with you. I really like the idea of volitional faith. It makes a lot of sense to me. It fits with my idea of making a decision to follow Christ, to accept Christ. And it's easy to teach at youth group! But before I just accept (heh... accept...) that idea, I want to make sure I'm not going down the wrong bunny trail.

And if we don't teach people to accept Christ, what do we teach them??


Just Call Me Trixie...

No big topic today. Anybody know how to get rid of the Google Ads thing at the top of the page? I thought I'd try it out and then get rid of it if I don't like it. Well, I don't like it. I feel like I'm prostituting myself.... And now I can't figure out how to get rid of it.

Let me know if you can help me... Thanks!

By the way, thanks, D.G., for being a faithful commenter so far! It encourages me to keep posting!


Teambuilding Question

Heh heh.... Now comes the hard part. Being consistent in my posting habits. I've never been one for journaling (although I think it's a great discipline for those who do it), so we'll just have to see how this turns out.

One thing that I think will help keep me motivated is knowing (or hoping) that someone else is reading this. I'm much more productive when I know I'm responsible to someone else.

So here's my thought for today.

One of my greatest desires is to continually grow as a leader. And in order to be a good leader you have to build teams. In my discussion with my pastor-buddies on Thursday we talked a little bit about how to help teams get involved in each others' lives.

At the church I'm at now, we build into our meetings a time for sharing "joys and concerns." On the one hand, I find value in this. But on the other hand, it's kind of a drag sometimes. And sometimes people say stuff just because they're expected to say something.

Bill, the only non-20/30-something in our group and who carries the wisdom and experience of one who's been in ministry for a great many years (feeling old, Bill?! heh heh...), said that in the staff meetings at his church (he's the senior pastor) they never bother with personal sharing. But personal sharing happens naturally between individuals.

I want to know what makes that happen.

Do we provide other times for relationship-building?

Do we somehow set an atmosphere of friendliness that leads to relationship-building?

Do we tell our staff/volunteers straightforwardly that we want them to develop relationships with each other?

Do we just pray that they will grow in their relationships with each other?

I wholeheartedly believe that strong interpersonal relationships are key to having strong ministry teams, but how do we make (or encourage) that to happen?

Welcome to StretchyChurch!


To tell you the truth, I've never really been a blog reader. I've just never gotten into the habit. But I've recently made some new friends, all of whom are young pastors in their 20's and 30's and have their own blogs. I'm gonna admit that I've actually never even really read their blogs (Sorry, guys!). But we have such great discussions when we get together--discussions that spark all kinds of deep thinking for the next two or three days--that I decided I really needed a place to unload all my thoughts. A place to collect my thoughts and organize my ideas. And hopefully get some feedback on my ideas! (And I promise I'll start reading your blogs!)

First of all, who am I? I'm Markus Watson. I'm 33 years old. I have a beautiful wife named Robin and a precious 10-month-old baby boy named Micah. I'm the Associate Pastor at Union Presbyterian Church in Union, Kentucky, just 20 minutes south of Cincinnati, OH. Originally, I'm from Los Angeles and I continue to consider L.A. to be home. One day, my family and I will be back in Southern California, God-willing.

Anyway, my primary responsibility at the church is the youth ministry, so for most of my hours "on the job" I'm a youth pastor. For the rest of my time I have to be a grown-up (heh heh...). I'm also in charge of our monthly contempory/postmodern service (I'm sure I'll have more thoughts on why I call it postmodern--or if I should call it postmodern) which we call the Third Service. Plus, I get to do all kinds of other pastoral stuff (like preaching--which I actually love even more than youth ministry!).

Here's the other question you're asking: why is this blog called "StretchyChurch"? For me, the name captures two things: 1) what the Church as the body of Christ is and 2) what the Church as an institution/organization should be.

As the body of Christ, the church is a family. And in a healthy family, there's flexibility. People are free to make mistakes. People are free to grow and change. New people are welcomed into the family, even people who are very different from us. The idea of "stretchy" also connotes God's own stretchiness, God's flexibility, in working with us, His church and His world.

As an institution/organization, the church should be stretchy--though most of the time it's not. We get into our ruts and routines. We do things the way we do things because we've always done things the way things have always been done. (Say that 5 times real fast!) I'm a disenchanted Presbyterian. I think that for the Presbyterian church to continue to thrive (although it hasn't been thriving for decades--it's been barely scraping by) we need to change the way we do things. Historical Presbyterianism doesn't work in our culture anymore. I believe that if the Presbyterian church doesn't change, adapt, stretch--it won't exist in 50 years (aside from maybe a few tiny, insignificant, and unfruitful congregations here and there).

So, there you go. StretchyChurch. I'll have more thoughts for you soon.