I begin with an aside, as I sometimes get sidetracked before I even get started. I have blog comments emailed to me as they’re made so that I get a real-time prompt that someone has just said something on the blog. I try to then go to the blog so I can reply, but when I say “I try,” what I really mean is “I have good intentions about replying to comments.” Lately (by which I mean the past six months) I’ve been keeping a pace that means that most often, I don’t get it done. I tend to think that I’ll get around to it later and then respond to all the comments, but most of you have probably noticed how well that works out for me. All that to say “Sorry, I’ll try to do better” …by which I mean, “I still intend good things, but don’t bet the farm on it.”

So this afternoon I was greeted with a comment in my inbox that made me stop a bit short… it was attached to an older post which relates firstly in the mention of the beach, and secondly, perhaps, in the answer to the question. The comment, or question, was this:

My husband a Building Contractor meet with his workers on the beach twice a month to have bible study and prayer,

we have been told that it is not ethical and that there is need for a Pastor, or we should take them to the church building

grateful for advice

Okay, so here’s what made me stop, and has had me stewing a little as I think about it:

  1. Why is a church building a more “valid” meeting place than the beach?
  2. Why is a “professional” pastor required to validate bible study and prayer?
  3. …and, of course, the other thoughts that run through my head, like

  4. Why do people who run the local church feel the need to be so controlling?
  5. Why would these people want to assault someone’s missional lifestyle, risking the spiritual formation of those whose lives they touch?

I suppose these questions could stand rhetorically, but I think some responses could be fleshed out a little. First off, Julie, I remember the preamble to a response Brian McLaren gave to a question he was asked, and it applies here. Without getting bogged down in the question he was addressing, the preamble was basically that it was an unpleasant question to have to answer, because no matter how the answer was given, it threatened to hurt people he loved. In this case Julie, you may be faced with the choice of hurting the church people or hurting the construction workers. It’ll take some wisdom to handle the situation, but the facts of the matter, as I see them, are that your church friends are wrong.

The church has always grown through the work of nonprofessionals, and the mere receipt of a stipend by a pastor does not make him more qualified to talk to the friends and acquaintances in your lives. In the midst of the cultural shift we’re in, people want to relate “normally” such as would be the case on the beach with co-workers, and forcing them to church might lose them. What you (or your husband) is actually engaging in is a missional lifestyle. Make note of that word, “missional.” There are lots of people talking about this, and it’s an important idea to wrap your head around. (For a basic idea, Wikipedia now has a short article explaining what it means). Missional living is the next wave of the missionary endeavour, and I believe it will prove to be the single most effective strategy for church growth in the next decade, or longer. And let’s understand fully and firmly that church is where believers are, not where they go.

The second pair of questions is a little harder, and ultimately I’m not sure there is an answer at all, or at least not one that makes sense to most of us. Perhaps the way I’ve worded the questions reveals that I’m not really neutral on the point. It sounds to me like you’re started down a good road and are seeing results… but this is the time when a major change like forcing people to show up in church on Sundays at 11 instead of what they’re used to may well lose them. They’ll feel like sombeody did the old “bait-and-switch” with them, and it’s likely to reflect negatively into your husband’s workplace.

Ultimately, my answer is in the tagline for my blog. “Live your faith. Share your life.” This is, it sounds like, exactly what you and your husband are doing, building relationships and introducing faith through those relationships. I guess my advice is to stay the course you’re on. Now, I’m making a bunch of assumptions in my response, and I don’t feel I’ve really provided the kind of wisdom you’ll need to handle the situation, but perhaps we could have a bit of dialogue that will help.

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