The megachurch as a polycentric organism

Despite being an agglomeration of large hordes of people, the megachurch is by its nature polycentric.  Leadership evolves at the levels at which it is needed.  Just as neighborhood associations evolved to fill the gap left by ever-larger towns, Sunday school classes, small groups, special interest teams each develop their own leadership as they grow and flourish.

The question for the megachurch hierarchy is how to respond.  The most successful church will be one which guides, supports, accelerates, and celebrates these sub-groups and their leaders.

Rather than support the development of leaders, certain churches with which I am familiar seem to be ever at odds with their base.  Too frequently, they make top-down decisions which dishearten and disenfranchise their hard-working volunteers.  Certainly, there is room for spiritual correction and church direction.  But should the direction of the church as a whole be driven from what leaders at the top discern, or by what God is raising up from within?  Or both.





The Seven Layers of Christmas

Archaeologists excavating at ancient sites often refer to the different layers of a city, as each generation builds on top of the rubble of the previous.  "Troy 6" is the layer where, presumably, the Trojan horse was delivered.   Author Stewart Brand speaks of "fashions," that sometimes transcend their era to become "Culture."  As I think of our Christmas traditions, this description seems apt.

It occurs to me that we really celebrate seven different "layers" of Christmas in the United States.  Here, then, is my attempt at some cultural archaeology, to uncover the cultural layer-cake,  starting from the top down.

Retail Christmas.  This is the top layer.  It's ephemeral, a bit like a tent city.  This year's latest trends, this year's holiday advertisements.  You could call it the "Cabbage Patch Christmas," or the "Playstation Christmas." Or the "Macy's Tree Advertisement, you know, the one with the tiny tree and the pile of presents" Christmas.

The Burl Ives Christmas.  In this layer, we find cartoons and claymations that are perennial favorites. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  They added a few new songs to our repertoire, but many of the voices are actually ghosts from the previous layer...

The Bing Crosby Christmas.  In this layer, we find all sorts of influences from the pre- and post-war period.  These are the "standards" of media culture.  Spanning from AD 1939 to perhaps AD 1955, these are the movies and songs that tell us what Christmas is "supposed to" look like, sound like, be like. "It's a Wonderful Life," "White Christmas," Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Mahalia Jackson, Johnny Mathis, Gene Autry.

The Victorian Christmas. Thanks to Charles Dickens and his Scrooge, and Clement Moore's enchanting description of Santa, the culture of Victorian England, as a whole, is part of our Christmas culture.  Carolers in top hats and scarves, ornate decorations, and "bah humbug." In addition to crafting our picture of Santa Claus, Moore's poem added reindeer and sleigh to our Christmas lexicon.

The Medieval Christmas.  We have these folks to thank for the Christmas Tree, the "twelve days" of Christmas, and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

The Roman Christmas.  Decking the halls, giving gifts, and the very date of Christmas come from Roman culture. Even if December 25 was Jesus' actual birthday (there are historical arguments for and against this) the celebration of Christ's birth was, regardless, merged with existing pagan holidays.

The First Christmas. This is where it all began...a feeding trough in the stable, where a Jewish baby, believed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, was born.  This is the "reason for the season."  And, as a footnoote, our tradition picked up stars and angels.

Now, you may want to argue about how to properly classify the subject matter, as archaeologists sometimes do. You might contend that I have omitted the "Red Rider BB Gun" layer, or the "Firestone Christmas Records" layer, or the "Martha Stewart" layer.  And let's not forget the "Christmas Vacation" layer (though it was really more of a stand-alone piece).

But my question to the reader is this: in your home, with your family and friends, which layers of Christmas do you treasure?


A better boycott for the Holidays

There has been so much concern this year about the word "Holidays" (word origin: Holy Days) in lieu of "Christmas," that it has really inspired a lot of thought on my part. It disturbs me to see so many Christians up in arms over such a non-issue. As followers of Christ, "in this world, you will have troubles." "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."
So we should rejoice in our persecution.
Except, we aren't really being persecuted. Now, if Target (for example) forbade employs to speak the word "Christmas," that might be a different story. But why should it matter to us (Christians) what a secular retailer uses in its ad campaign?
The worst part, though, is the bad taste it leaves in the mouths of non-Christians. (I know a few) Once again, Christians are seen as self-righteous, declaring their entitlement for all to hear. What happened to the early Church which, "enjoyed the favor of all the people?" (Acts 2:47)
Here's the note I sent to AFA, initiator of the Target Boycott.
Why so much angst about secular stores' choice of wording in their advertisements? "Christmas," especially as we celebrate it in the US, is an amalgamation of pagan holidays gathered (unfortunately?) under the banner of Christ. And, why the need to demand that a secular merchant, catering to all sorts of folks, behave like a Christian company?
The puritans in New England actually forbade the celebration of Christ's birth, as did the early church.
I would also argue that your resources are better used fighting battles that benefit the causes of Christ (persecution of Christians in the third world, or hunger, for examples), rather than fighting battles that are only self-serving. And if you must boycott a retailer, perhaps try boycotting Wal-Mart. As the leader in retail, they are driving manufacturers to China, where human rights abuses are widely known.

Christian leader decries LOSS of separation between church and state?

Wednesday night, Charlie Rose interviewed former president Jimmy Carter.  Carter has written a new book expressing concern over the unprecedented shift in our corporate values in the United States.

Carter expressed serious concern about the erosion of separation of church and state.  In an era when most of my friends and relatives regularly bemoan the growing secularization of the US, and the abandonment of Christian ideals in government, Carter's concern is the exact opposite.  He is concerned by the "my way or the highway" fundamentalism of both church and state, and the increasing collaboration between the right-wing Church and the right-wing Republicans. (Lest you think his concerns partisan, he repeatedly reinforced his point with historical examples of Republican leadership)

I was deeply intrigued to hear this wise sage, Nobel laureate, and overtly Christian man express this counter-intuitive concern.  He spoke of his "savior, Jesus Christ," without shame, his life drips with the fruit of the spirit, and here he stands in opposition to the evangelical Christian mainstream.

Maybe I need to read his book...


See also for the open-minded side of the Republican Party.



Christian values in un-Christian Germany?

It's interesting that all the statistics I hear portray Europe as un-Christian.  Yet the political party of newly elected Chancellor Angela Merkel is explicit about the role of God in their policies.  I've not read anything from parties in the US that compares.  And the style (at least in the English translation) is calm, almost matter-of-fact, yet unapologetic.
A few excerpts from their platform:
Responsibility before God
....Everyone is responsible for doing so and has to answer to his or her own conscience and, as Christians see it, to God as well.
Error and guilt
...politics also has its limitations. Realisation that this is the case prevents us from propagating ideological panaceas and assuming a totalitarian approach to politics, and creates a willingness to achieve reconciliation. However great our commitment, we cannot create a perfect world.
Preservation of God's Creation

11. We Christian Democrats view Man as part of God's Creation....

....The basic guiding principle for our political actions is the Christian view of Man and the basic values of freedom, solidarity and justice derived from this.

....We respect extra-marital partnerships and the conscious decision by individuals to live without the legal framework provided by marriage, but we are against such partnerships having the same legal status as marriages.

The importance of Christian churches

63. The vast majority of people in Germany are members of one of the Christian churches. In their role of proclaiming the word of God, the churches offer a pointer to something beyond our finite existence on this earth and contribute towards giving many people a sense of purpose in life. The churches and religious communities have a particular role to play in establishing and maintaining values in society. In addition to this, they carry out excellent charitable social work and educational activities.

Religious freedom

We are grateful that Jewish communities have reestablished themselves in Germany following the crimes committed by the National Socialists. Jews and Christians are closely and inextricably linked through common values and traditions. The Jewish communities are part of our culture and an essential element in our society. With their social commitment they also contribute towards Germany's international reputation. There are many people living amongst us who belong to different religious communities. We respect their beliefs. Our free democratic constitution guarantees them an inalienable right to practise their religion. We expect states and governments throughout the world to grant religious freedom in their countries.