Franchising church

church unlimited

Last weekend saw the launch of Church Unlimited in Whangarei, with billboards popping up around town in anticipation. From what I can tell this is the second church in the city this year which has rebranded as it partners up (or comes under the wing of) a larger church. First Kamo Alive became Arise Whangarei in February (also complete with a glitzy billboard advertising campaign), now Crossroads has become Church Unlimited Whangarei.

This trend of smaller churches becoming regional outposts of larger metropolitan churches seems to be becoming more commonplace in New Zealand, particularly within the Pentecostal ‘megachurches’ (well, comparatively mega for New Zealand). It’s like church franchising in a way, as you’d see with McDonalds or Subway, except in this case they’re selling God and community. Often, from the outside looking in, it appears the church brand and/or the lead pastor, is at the forefront in marketing the church franchise to the wider populace – from what I can gather with Arise at least, it seems to be a very top heavy approach, with their lead pastor regularly visiting (or beaming in from Wellington on the big screen).

I can’t help but wonder if it’s merely an attempt to cater to the consumeristic culture of the world around us. We want church to be cool. We want it to be flashy and big. All of the advertising and marketing points towards an amazing experience which you can turn up each week to receive.

These approaches to church makes me uncomfortable.

Perhaps it just disturbs my Baptist sensibilities and thoughts around the autonomy of the local church (which links back to the priesthood of all believers). Perhaps it the growing consumerism seeping into the church. I’m not sure exactly.

Ultimately I realise that churches are never going to be one size fits all. It’s near impossible to have a church which caters to every person (as awesome/messy as that would be). If the Arises and Church Unlimiteds of the world are reaching members of the city who would not otherwise be reached, and creating places of community where people are actively challenged and encouraged to grow as disciples, then that’s great. But for me, I like my church to be a bit rougher around the edges, where everyone is encouraged to get involved, even if that means the church sacrifices some of its polish from a worldly perspective.

Is it wrong to doubt?

doubt

At our church members’ meeting this week (which I mentioned in my previous post), a Word for Today devotion was shared on the topic of doubt. The devotion suggested that doubt is ‘the doorway through which Satan enters your life’ and that ‘your doubts reveal a lack of confidence in what God says’ – I’m not sure I agree with these statements.

Surely some level of doubt isn’t unhealthy, or is even healthy. I believe that questioning what we believe and why we believe it strengthens our faith. Sharing these doubts and working to understand them with others is crucial to developing a truly authentic community of Christ followers.

I recently listened to a sermon by Nate Pyle where he touched ever so briefly on the topic of doubt in the context of speaking about the Great Commission. Matthew 28:17 says “When they saw him [Jesus], they worshiped him – but some of them doubted!” Here it is in black and white – it’s not wrong to doubt, it doesn’t make us a bad Christian. Nate finished by saying that doubt only becomes a problem when we use it as an excuse to not continue seeking God. Doubts, knocking on the door, asking him to answer, is okay.

Rachel Held Evans, in her book Evolving in Monkey Town, discusses doubt and makes an important observation:

Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter is a virtue.

I think this differentiation is key, and perhaps the Word for Today devotion was primarily addressing the former. However, it portrayed it in such a way that it suggested all doubt was wrong, which is so unhelpful for those of us sitting in the pews with nagging questions of ‘why?’, ‘how?’ and ‘when?’ running through our head.

I’ll finish with another quote from Rachel’s book (which is a great read if you haven’t already picked it up!):

Doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves. It is a refining fire, a hot flame that keeps our faith alive and moving and bubbling about, where certainty would only freeze it on the spot.

Faith isn’t about being right, or settling down, or refusing to change. Faith is a journey, and every generation contributes its own sketches on the map. I’ve got miles and miles to go on this journey, but I think I can see Jesus up ahead.

And for further reading, few interesting articles on Christians who aren’t afraid to doubt:

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