Justin Hiebert

Catalyzing Change

Your traditions are sinful

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 in Christianity, Church, Culture | 2 comments

I have a strange online habit that I like feeding: I love looking at church websites. Websites, if done poorly, reveal a bit about where the church is at. If done well, a good church website gives great depth about the life and vitality of the church. And when I look, I check out everything. I look at job vacancies, because there we can get a glimpse about how the church views ministry, how it is handling the shift from institutional to missional, and whether or not they have realistic expectations for their staff (and you’d be surprised at how many churches are totally clueless).

I also look at service times and structures, visitor information, community involvement, prayer requests, and anything else that they might feel like posting (pictures, blog posts, etc…).

But there is one page above all that is my favorite: the “About Us” page.

Why?

Many churches write this out of fear, past bad experiences, or to draw a line in the sand about church x down the street that is up to no good.

It’s common to start with something like, “1st Street Church is a Bible believing church that…..” (as if other churches aren’t?)

I’ve noticed this sort of statement doing two primary things:

  1. Drawing a line in the sand between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ churches.
  2. Justifying the sorts of things they want to do.

It’s a common critique I’ve heard as I travel and talk with others: we make distinctions based on whether a tradition is ‘man-made’ or ‘God-made’. We’ve heard that before right? “Here at 1st Street church we don’t follow man-made traditions, only God-made ones….“.

Church HDR

Church (Photo credit: I_am_Allan

And I think that that’s a dangerous line to be drawing, because we all end up on the wrong side of the line, and even worse we exclude people that Jesus wouldn’t.

I’ve got my disagreements with certain portions of the American Christian theological culture, but I try hard to distinguish between differences and errors. And the more I examine, the more I see differences and not errors.

Look, every church claims to be Bible believing, and I think that we need to use that as a greater source of unity rather than a rod to beat dissenters with. The theological breadth and depth of the Christian tradition shows the multi-faceted way in which God is actively working to redeem all things. And it’s bothersome because it’s rarely an issue of sin.

I had a conversation with someone awhile back when they asked about baptism. They wanted to know if we practiced ‘biblical’ baptism (which turns out is full immersion). Boy was I relieved to find out that we were in fact a biblical church!

But I also quickly realized that I have many friends who aren’t biblical, and that I have in fact done not biblical baptisms (here’s looking at you MCUSA!).

See how quickly it hurts and divides? I baptized several youth as a pastor in an MCUSA church by means of pouring. Calls for that ‘man-made’ tradition to stop only isolate and divide us further. It separates and divides where Christ has called for love and unity.

As we continue to dialogue and process together about the place of the church in a postmodern and post-Christian society, let us be slow to call other’s traditions sinful. Often what we label as ‘God-made’ traditions are the things that we want to be doing anyway.

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By way of full disclosure, here is the ‘About Me’ page for my churchWhat can we tell you about us? We are people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses who choose to ignore those distinctions for the sake of Jesus and wanting more people to know him better. (I know, it’s awesome isn’t it?)

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What do you think? How have you seen this play out? How do you think we could move forward?

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Justin Hiebert

Leadership Catalyst - Entrepreneur - Coach at JSHiebert Leadership Coaching
I am a Business and Life Coach in both non-profit and for profit settings. I coach leaders, executives, and pastors in areas of vision, clarity, and values. In relationship coaching I focus on healthy and sustainable relationships, and in leadership development roles I catalyze change for individuals and groups to thrive. I also consult churches and organizations on how to train new leaders and create a healthy culture. In addition to that, I am an Anabaptist pastor in the Denver metro area. I specialize on topics that include: missional theology, discipleship, culture and the church in today’s society. I am married to my wonderful wife Elise and we have three kids. I grew up and now work in the United States Mennonite Brethren Church (USMB) and love the people and history of the Mennonite Brethren faith. I am a graduate of Tabor College with a dual degree in Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership, a graduate of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary with a Masters of Divinity, and a Doctoral Student and Bethel Seminary. I also teach college classes in areas of Bible, Communication, and Business.

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  • Amanda Lea

    The only problem with clueless churches is that they are full of clueless Christians. It’s been so long since the times Jesus walked on earth and yet our churches seem to have the same problems they had so long ago… misleading and excluding. When are today’s Christians going to stop acting like yesterday’s Jews?

  • Ryan Robinson

    I know this is sidestepping your main point (which is great), but…

    I briefly had a sideline small business venture which provided technology – specifically website design – to churches and other ministries. In preparation for cold-calling churches I looked at their websites and made notes on what was terrible about it; typically there was a lot terrible about it. The main theme I noticed was how inward looking their websites almost always were. They provided bios of the staff, a detailed statement of faith, the location. But, for example, you’d be amazed at how many churches fail to list the service times on their website; I think they just assume that everybody already knows them. Another trend was the lack of website accessibility for those with various disabilities, something I was trained on in a previous job. Most churches didn’t have it at all, even though it will be a legal requirement in Ontario by the end of the year. Both are pretty quick ways to cut people who may have been interested out of possibly joining the community.

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