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So What Do We Do? By Rev. Matt Bridges

 

*Part 4 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges

So What Do We Do?

We must reclaim the word “church” so that the original meaning and intent is not lost for good. And for many of us, it will mean claiming a new identity in our lives as believers individually, and collectively. Making this mental and communicational shift will be an incredible step toward reclaiming and I think practicing much of the gospel in our daily lives in brand new ways. Claiming this identity as a people equips us better as followers of Christ at the outset to live into the charge to make disciples, baptize, and as my denomination promotes “make disciples for the transformation of the world.”

I believe this shift in language and action has the power to revolutionize how we live into these lofty and faithful goals of being a relevant presence in this world for God. Living as the church enables believers to be the people who tell of the Good news anytime, anywhere, and under any condition. An unhealthy pattern we have, and even sometimes promote as leaders, is that we invite people to a place where God is talked about and that’s where “church” happens. This is an unhealthy model because it makes the evangelism limited to a place, and it allows people to pass off the telling of the good news on someone else. What to do? We embrace the church as us, a people, and we unbind the ways we’ve bound the gospel. It’s going to take work in our heads and hearts though.

We have to change our language, and sometimes that means adding words. In an age of trying to streamline much of our existence in both form and expression (virtually any form of sources we look to as a hub for communication promote expression with as few words or symbols as possible), we don’t always like to upset this norm. But I believe we must if we want to recover generations of whittling down such an important word, and meaning, and state of existence.

After all of these words, I think of my friend Daniel. My friend and brother in Christ Daniel O’Doherty, a pastor in the Assemblies of God denomination where I live, told me he makes sure to end his service each week with “Let’s go be the church!” And his congregation leaves the sacred space of worship as a people back out into a different part of the world to be the people who follow Christ, who rely on each other for how to follow Christ, and live on as the Body of Christ, the church.

So, I want to end the same way. Go be the church if you believe and follow Jesus. Don’t be attached to a building or event in time and call it “church.” If that idea of church has been weighing you down and giving you reason or excuse to not pursue a daily life of faith, be free of it. Be connected to your faith and life in Christ like never before. Invite people into a relationship with you, and then show them where and how the church lives out their faith when they meet together on occasion. Take the time to help a person become part of the church by helping them understand the power and beauty of being a follower of Christ. Go back to the beginning of this article. Have the phrases above changed for you? How?


final-bridges2 Rev. Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Okay, So What? Part 3 of 4 Rev. Matt Bridges

*Part 3 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges

Okay, So What?

I believe limiting church to a location or an event in time ultimately allows people to hold their church and their relationship with Christ at arm’s length. It allows people to fall into any number of unhealthy categories of how to approach a faithful life of following of Christ: episodically (unhealthy) versus continually (healthy). Any definition of “church” which has limited the word to a geographic location (or locations) or an event in time like worship will weave in too much identity with a location or event rather than in a healthy relationship with Christ, and thus turn it into a faith lived out episodically. In terms of sharing this faith and identifying as a believer, these assumptions of and this mixing of meanings has become unhealthy evangelism if our goal is to tell others of the good news of Jesus Christ. Our evangelism then becomes episodic and very limited as well. It is limited to an invitation to a place or event.

But What About the Children?

If we raise our children up in the mentality of “going to church” as though their ecclesial identity is linked directly to a location or a worship service, well, no wonder they feel lost and don’t connect as they progress in their lives of faith. No wonder they grow more distant and don’t relate until feeling like this identity with Christ is simply irrelevant? I am reminded of the phrase I used above making a distinction about “Big Church” and “Children’s Church.” It is little surprise when I encounter people who feel lost when they can’t find an exact replica of the identity they were taught was “church” because their church identity is too entwined with a place or event. Also, their identity is any number of models of children’s church and being told explicitly and implicitly for years that they weren’t relevant to the “big” worship space. If all of this is woven together and called church, then it is right to feel disillusioned with the church. If we send our children out into this world and expect them to have a healthy idea of faith and a healthy idea of their relationship with Christ; and if that idea is based on the identity of a very narrow view of how that faith and life are expressed, they will fall away and their views of faith as relevant will degrade as well.

When I reflect on my own experience and how I am seated in multiple generations of Christianity in the 20th and 21st century (I’m 35), I grew up “going to church” with varying degrees of willingness. I didn’t realize that until my late teens that I had grown up identifying my faith almost solely with a building or events in time like “worship,” “youth group,” or “choir.” If I identified myself as “the church” or “part of the church” and it was a reference strictly to a people or my relationship with fellow believers, it was only implicit, or an afterthought (or that catchy hymn at the beginning of this post). In many conversations over the years, I know that I do not write this as an isolated and self-serving case study.

Upon this revelation for me (it was a revelation for me) of the word “church,” I am much more intentional in my usage with my congregation, with my child, with my family, with everyone. My faith has been changed, and I’ve had powerful conversations with parishioners, unchurched, de-churched, and atheists with this change in, and approach to, the word. I no longer go to the church to work.

I go to my office, at the church building, to work. I don’t go to church on Sunday nor do I prepare throughout my week for church on Sunday. I prepare sermons, music, prayers, orders of worship, all for the sake of sharing the gospel and doing my part to be the church. I sit with the church next to hospital beds and offer prayers, encouragement, and communion. I cry with the church in loss, and I shout with joy with the church in success.

My faith and work simply cannot be episodic now that I embrace this shift in meaning. I try to show distinction inside and outside of worship. I have a running joke and “test” with the youth group and they have fun correcting me, and being corrected. “Me: Hey __________, are you going to church tomorrow?” “Youth: Haha, no Brother Matt, I am the church….and I am going to the worship service tomorrow.”

 

*Stay Tuned for

Part 4 Nov 22 “So What Do We Do?”


final-bridges2 Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Breaking Down the Word: What’s the Big Deal? Part 2 0f 4 by Rev. Matt Bridges

*Part 2 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges

Breaking Down the Word: What’s the Big Deal?

Now, here at the outset is a disclaimer: anyone who knows me could tell you that I play pretty fast and loose with language. Language is fun, and it is messy. The English language in particular can be messy because it incorporates so many words from other world languages and is therefore continually growing and changing. English could possibly be compared to a youngest child who gets all of the hand-me-downs and not all of those hand-me-downs fit, but who cares because at least the youngest is clothed. But I’ve come to recognize a certain bank of words that I have had to rethink and get back to the roots, not to discover or further burden with new meaning, but rather the meaning that was always there and got lost in the handing down to me. I believe “church” is one such word and I want to attempt to get back to the original meaning. I want to revive the richness this word in meaning and usage can offer the church today.

The word church, in its most basic form is the derived from the Greek words kyriake (roughly “belonging to the Lord”) and Εκκλησία, or ekklesia (“assembly”). These words together form the sense “the worshipping assembly called forth by God” (Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms). In any definition I have come across in any translation, and traced back to its nascence, “church” is in reference to [a] people. Even in referring to an “assembly” of people, it is not in the act of “gathering as a people” or gathering at a location, but the already “gathered” people (in physical presence or Spirit). A slight difference; however, I want to cover my bases. Theologian Paul Minear wrote a book titled Images of the Church in the New Testament and counts some ninety-six different images or analogies of the church found in the New Testament alone, which is fascinating in and of itself. You could take on a new image and analogy of the church every couple of days and live it out! Hehe, now that would be an interesting experiment. In taking a deeper look into Scripture as an exercise in searching for meaning, even in the references the Apostle Paul makes in his letter to the Corinthians, that “[we] are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9), whatever the structure looks like, it is made out of people, the assembly; and Paul goes on in the remaining verses to describe this in great detail leading to the popular verse 3:16 about how we are a temple. The word refers to the people gathered who faithfully practice together their faith as followers of Christ. In the letter to the Corinthians, the body individually and collectively therefore becomes a dwelling place for the Lord to do the Lord’s work.

The word “church” has transformed in usage over the years, the centuries. The word itself describes subjects, or a collection of subjects into an assembly, all bound together. But the original definition and intent has given way in common-speak to refer to or attract people to a place or specific event in time (like worship). And the church has engaged in many, many different tactics to accomplish these goals (with varying degrees of success if the goal is to attract to a location or event). But the location and/or event meaning does not stand alone. Other solutions to reclaiming the word “Church” have been proposed.

I’ve listened to the argument of expanding the word “church” to become a verb as well, that through adaptation the word can actually morph into a new part of speech. Many words do this in colloquial usage, sure, and I am certainly no purist when it comes to language and usage. But I think the way we have adapted this word in objective definition, usage definition, and certainly practice, is rendering the word useless; it is eroding “the church” in the same way our church buildings—our half-century old (or older) fortresses in some cases—are eroding. I see many parts of the church attempt to expand and stretch the meaning of the word to attract and empower believer and non-believer alike, but the attempts often end up being localized to attract to a location or particular mode of accommodating worship style. While I find myself agreeing with the goals and intentions of various attempts and campaigns—of which many are trying to get people to discover God in a rich and powerful way (Amen!), I still see the limitations these efforts present and unknowingly impose on people’s relationship with the Body of Christ.

We try to expand a definition and meaning in an attempt to empower people of the church in new ways, but it ultimately distracts the believer from embracing an identity as a follower of Christ among followers of Christ as the church. I am all for an active faith in any aspect one can live out their faith in Christ, but being an active church is a people who follow Christ and use their facilities and gatherings in healthy ways to be active and growing. The distinction is crucial for understanding the big picture idea of believers being bound together in Christ. I just want people identifying with others first as the Body of Christ rather than a building, a particular denomination of faith, or an event. And embracing this identity as a person will lead to the active part of our faith. It is much healthier to identify as a people bound together in Christ first and then after that celebrate the ways and opportunities we practice and experience our faith together.

Yes, we all are paying a price for the church not reclaiming the word “church” and putting it back into its rightful place as identifying a people, not a place or an event in time. We need to reclaim the word from the institution the church has become.

*Stay Tuned for

Part 3 Nov 15 “Okay, So What?”

Part 4 Nov 22 “So What Do We Do?”


final-bridges2 Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Don’t Go To Church by Rev. Matt Bridges

*Part 1 of 4 in a new blog series by Matt Bridges

Don’t Go To Church!

Consider the following phrases

-Go to church.
-Going to church.
-Went to church.
-Don’t go to that church. They’re [boring, too churchy, too hipster, too contemporary, too      traditional……].
-Where do you go to church?
-We go here.
-I used to go to that church, but they just weren’t feeding me anymore.
-Parents go to “Big Church” and children go to “Children’s Church.”
-I have to go to church later.
-Be sure to invite someone to church.
-Wow, church was awesome today.
-Wow, church was bad today.
-Meh, church is boring and that’s why I don’t go.
-Oh man, you got churched!
-I can have church anywhere and at any time, why do I have to go there?
-I have church by myself in nature.
-“I’m spiritual but not religious, and so that’s why I don’t go to church.”
-“I don’t fit in at that church.”
-Oh, come to my church, you’ll fit in great there.
-Worship at the church of your choice.
-I make this place my church.

 

 

 

 

“The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” If you “go to church” and sing this song and believe the words, then you are in the midst of an ironic situation. You are embracing that the church is not a building but a people, yet you “go” to church. What has happened in this situation is that you have substituted one meaning for another.

It’s often easier to say “I’m going to church” because we all seem to know what that means. These kinds of phrases are comfortable to say. They’re quick and easy and it’s easier to assume people know what you are referring to. But in the mixing of these meanings for the same term, we have come to where we have lost the original and basic meaning in how we talk about church—if not lost, at least favored one meaning over another by how we use the term. We make basic assumptions of people when we use that word and our response if questioned might be “well, of course we know the difference.” Also, in the uses of this word “church,” assumptions are imposed upon us too. Just as we create and use definitions through experience and impose those definitions on others, the same thing happens to us. With a word like “church,” the definitions and assumptions imposed can really make a difference.

Can’t we just keep expanding our definition and understanding of this word to incorporate new meanings to this word? I mean, aren’t we still using a good word to reach out to people to know God? Well, yes and no. I don’t look at using this word “church” in a way to show “good” versus “bad.” It’s definitely not that simple. I also don’t think the word is static and should be above change. I want to look rather at the word itself and ponder some of the potential consequences—healthy and unhealthy—of expanding a definition and usage of a word past its original meaning. Can the word “church” be used in a lot of different ways? Yes. Should it? Perhaps. But at what cost to the church? The cost is important when we think of how believers might identify themselves as followers of Christ and part of the church. Let’s explore the word by itself and how it came to be. And in exploring this word, maybe we can see healthy and unhealthy implications and reclaim what perhaps has been lost in living our faith day to day.

*Stay Tuned for

Part 2  Nov 8 “Breaking Down The Word: What’s the Big Deal?

Part 3 Nov 15 “Okay, So What?”

Part 4 Nov 22 “So What Do We Do?”

 


final-bridges2Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled 1001 Times (and counting)  I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It That Way Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.

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Weakness into Perfection by Mikel Bechtold

Weakness.  It seems like “weakness” has become a dirty word.  I don’t know, maybe it’s always been that way, maybe it’s human nature to not allow anyone to see that we have weaknesses, that we are not perfect.

Perfection.  What is perfection?  As a Christian I have been taught that we must always strive for perfection, to live our lives in a way that is “Christ like.”  If we are to live as Christ lived, then we must work towards perfection, for Christ was perfection embodied.  But guys, Christ showed weakness.  He doubted, he struggled, he had moments of anger and deep sorrow.  He didn’t hide these moments of weakness from the world, from his closest friends, they are instead, well documented, and guess what? He’s still perfect.

Why then, do we attempt to hide our weaknesses from the world?  Why do we try to hide our weaknesses from ourselves?  Only when we truly admit to ourselves that we are not perfect, that we struggle, that we need help, that we aren’t always who we know we should be, can we really grow, grow towards true perfection.

It’s easy to put on a strong face for a couple of hours, those moments we need to be the super version of ourselves.  It’s easy to sit behind a computer and write, hitting that delete button when that version of ourselves that we don’t want others to see makes an appearance.  It’s easy to hide ourselves away when we are feeling weak so that no one has to see that part of us.  It’s easy, but is it right?

Maybe I’m in the minority but I long for transparent and authentic relationships.  I need to be around people who have weaknesses and who we can journey together, through the valleys and the mountaintops.  I need people in my life who understand weakness and who are willing to share those moments with me so that I can overcome my own.  Who doesn’t need people like that?

Christ is and has always been transparent and authentic.  He also knows our weaknesses and desires to walk beside us as we struggle.  If we aren’t being honest with ourselves as to where and when we need help, are we allowing God to work through us and heal us at the same time?

Love yourself, warts and all.  Don’t hide away when your soul is crying out for help, crying out in despair.  Don’t keep that part of yourself from everyone else.  Who knows, God could use those moments of yourself, those moments you hate and hide away, those pieces of you that seem weak, to change another’s life.

God is amazing.  His people are amazing.  We are capable of so much, but only if we are honest with who we are.  Only in that honesty can our true potential be realized.

I heard a quote recently and I’ll try to get it right here: “Who we are is God’s gift to us.  Who we become is our gift to God.”

Who are you going to become?  And how are you going to get there?


Mikel is the mom of thr13087918_10154164251769938_6289861413863975931_nee beautiful children and wife to our very own Bearded Theologian and aspiring bench warmer for the Colorado Rockies.  In her spare time she fights crime a seeks justice under the mantle of Wonder Woman.  She loves to spend time hiking with her family, reading, coffee, and of course Texas Rangers baseball…  Her passion is creating space for people to gather, right where they are in life, too be raw and real with one another and with Jesus.