Sunday, March 25, 2018

Celibacy - A Personal Choice or Requirement?

Today the issue of celibacy is a popular topic with both the uninformed and the opinionated. In the United States as well as in many nations around the globe, the Catholic Church has had to face very serious issues of child sexual abuse allegations and convictions. Some connect the alleged crimes to the church’s practice of celibacy. The thinking is that somehow celibacy creates pent-up sexual frustration that is then released through criminal conduct.

However, while the child sexual abuse allegations are very serious and no child should be subjected to abuse, there is no evidence I have found that priests are more likely to abuse children than are other groups of men. The Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM) has stated repeatedly that there is no profile of a typical sex offender. (32)  If that is true, then child sex offenders can be male or female, married, divorced, or single. Research indicates that the majority of the offenders are minors themselves, typically older boys preying on younger boys and girls. It follows, therefore, that only a very small percentage of these sex offenders would be frustrated because of celibacy.

The news reports of clergy sexual abuse, just like other stories of infidelity, theft, power struggles, or any kind of abuse within the church, have wounded the church and created a blemish on the desirability of a career or vocational calling to the priesthood. Many people believe that celibacy has contributed greatly to the decline in the number of priests.

In total the number of Catholic priests in the United States dropped from nearly 59,000 in 1975 to about 41,500 last year. (33) These issues, coupled with other demographic and macro trends in the Catholic Church, have led to a serious decline in the number of men going into the priesthood. The requirement of celibate priests in the church is ancient, meaning the advocacy of celibacy for both priests and monks dates back centuries. The picture at the beginning of this chapter is of Origen, who was born at the end of the second century in Alexandria, Egypt. The Alexandrian school was one of the first advocates of monastic living, including a very ascetic lifestyle that was void of all material comforts. Origen was famous for being a devoted Christian, an early theologian, a heretic, and an early advocate for celibacy (not all at the same time). So passionate was he about his own celibacy that he reportedly castrated himself.

The celibacy of the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church is a discipline, not a doctrine. This means it can be changed, though there doesn’t seem to be much movement at the top indicating it will change anytime soon. The definition of celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church is also slightly different in that it strictly refers to the requirement that their priests remain unmarried. This is not at all to indicate that the Roman Catholic Church is not interested in purity or chastity, as there are vows that all priests take regarding the sins of the flesh. There has been much research into the origins of the celibate priest movement. Most of the apostles were married, Peter was married, and seven popes were married. Likely the teachings of Gnosticism that material things and sexual relations even in marriage were evil led to the teachings on celibacy.

The first recorded requirement of celibacy was issued at the Synod of Elvira (circa AD 305–306). This same synod also issued injunctions against the use of any pictures inside the church “so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration” and that “candles are not to be burned in a cemetery during the day.” (34) It was not unusual for many of the councils to have injunctions or proclamations that were later reversed or even considered heresy. For example, just a few years after Elvira, Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council of the church, with many bishops in attendance from both the East and the West. At this council in AD 325, officially called the Council of Nicaea, there was a discussion on clerical celibacy. The council disagreed with the requirements handed down by the Synod of Elvira. They agreed with the Egyptian bishop—St. Paphnutius, the confessor of Thebes—who argued successfully that celibacy should be only a matter of personal choice and not a requirement.

Church clergy remained married without any restrictions until Pope Pelagious II (AD 579–590) issued a series of proclamations regarding celibacy that were designed primarily to stop property from being transferred from clergy to children. However, this papal proclamation was often ignored. It was not until the Second Lateran Council in AD 1139 that the Latin (Western) Rite of the Catholic Church decided to accept people for ordination only after they had taken a promise of celibacy.

The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to follow the thinking of St. Paphnutius. To this day about 90 percent of all Orthodox clerics are married.

The text above is from pages 104-108 in Celibacy- A Personal Choice or Requirement?- Chapter 19 of "Roaming Catholics" Picture at top is of Rev. Alberto Cutié, former Roman Catholic Priest. 

Was Peter the first Pope? Should Christians pray the Rosary?  Should priests be married?  These are among the provocative topics addressed in Roaming Catholics: Ending the wandering to embrace the wonder" 

This thoroughly researched book presents the development of the Catholic Church in an engaging way to help Christians understand their common history shared by all.  The apostle Paul referred to the church as the "Body of Christ," not the "Body of Christians."  Rather than Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female he proclaimed we are to be one in Christ. 

Pastor and theologian Kenneth Behr shares his own religious evolution from a Catholic altar boy to an evangelical pastor and engages readers with a parallel story of the evolution of Catholicism. 

Click here to buy (via Amazon) the book
Click here to buy (via Amazon) the study guide;   Study guide is available free via Kindle for Amazon Prime users

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Starting a Saturday Service

Solomon is quoted as saying “There is nothing new under the Sun”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and while many churches are just starting to consider having a Saturday worship service, it’s actually been around for a while. Yes, there is that Sabbath Day vs the Lord’s Day issue but I’m talking about the churches that are finding that a Saturday worship service may be good stewardship of their existing resources and may also open the doors to people that are busy working on Sundays or may just prefer a Saturday service.
A Saturday service is a significant worship addition to the local church and it is often introduced as a response to overcrowding on Sunday.  Many churches have found it to be an additional opportunity to reach new people in the community and to expand service (volunteer) opportunities in connections, children, worship and guest services.   The popularity of Saturday services in churches is an acknowledgment  that accommodating an American culture that is changing and now works, plays and embraces recreation on Sunday, is a way to advance the gospel.

While there are some churches that have intentionally made their Saturday services “different” the prevailing wisdom, particularly for churches that are growing and need to provide a response to overcrowding on Sunday, is to build the service and experience to match as closely as possible to what happens on Sunday.   If the primary reason to offer a Saturday service is to alleviate over-crowding then the primary objective in building the service over time is to make it “just the same as Sunday” in as many ways as possible.

The move to Saturday is like an introduction of a second service and akin to a church developing multi-site.  It requires different communication strategies, an increased commitment by volunteers and staff and more planning.

Building Volunteer Teams

Volunteerism is at the heart of being a disciple and church leaders need to remember that recruiting more volunteers or asking more of church volunteers is beneficial to the health of the local church.  The Saturday service needs to have the same compliment (even if in smaller number) of volunteers as the Sunday services.  In particular:

·        Greeters in the front doors are particularly needed as the church may not look ‘busy’ initially.  Many churches find that even if parking is abundant, it may be good to station a volunteer outside near the driveway entrance to give that initial welcoming.

·        Children’s greeters and volunteers need to be available for the Saturday Service. While churches may want to combine some classes initially, you’ll want to be able to accommodate all of the age groups you would normally accommodate on Sunday.    

·        Systems should all be running on Saturday.  That would mean that the computer, printer and tags should be used on Saturday for children and parents just as this level of security is provided on Sunday.   Volunteers need to be present at the end of the service as well for pick up.   It may be less crowded but churches have found that keeping security tight is a good priority.

·        Worship volunteers will need to be expanded.  The goal for worship on Saturday is “just the same as Sunday” and churches that have firmly set that as the goal are the ones that experience success.

·        Connection opportunities, the ability to sign up for events, take a class, be baptized or become a member should not be reserved for Sunday attendees only.   Build the volunteer teams and offerings available on Sunday.   The goal should be “just the same as Sunday” and while there may not be as many offerings, none of the important activities or steps in being a disciple should be excluded from Saturday if they are regularly offered on Sundays.  

Special Worship Considerations

A common saying among church planters and church consultants is that ‘people will come for the worship experience; people will stay for the preaching.’    While there are churches that intentionally try to have a different experience on Saturday to attract a different group or demographic (i.e. contemporary or more casual), that is not true for churches that are primarily introducing a Saturday service to relieve overcrowding on Sunday.  Again, the goal is “just the same as Sunday.”

To develop a healthy worship service on Saturday is more about commitment than any particular plan. Volunteers can be recruited and engaged on Saturday or Sunday; volunteer teams can rotate; volunteer teams can be on two weeks and off two weeks, etc.  There are many different ways to develop additional worship teams however it has to be a clear strategy that is focused and communicated.

Many churches find that to provide a high-quality worship experience, some of the worship leaders are paid.  This is a practice in churches that is closely related to the size of the church.  The greater the size of the church, the greater the number of people being paid.   As churches add more services (and more campuses) it is the norm that the paid worship staff is supplemented with ‘contract-1099’ paid worship leaders.    While this introduces an additional cost and complexity, the success of the project is related entirely to the commitment, development and communication of the plan.  Churches that plan ahead have a clear policy of the number of paid worship leaders.  For example, a church could provide a flat payment of $90 for each of the three members of the band (typically bass, drums and guitar) that would play at all three services, one on Saturday and two on Sunday,  and then consider raising the payment for the weekend to $120 when the fourth or fifth service is introduced.

Paid Staff

All paid staffers that are responsible or need to be available on Sunday should have a similar responsibility on Saturday.   This is often controversial but being part of a paid church staff requires a commitment that is really not much different than an employee at Target, Subway  or Disney.    Church employees need to work when there is work to be done.  Adding Saturday responsibilities is not necessarily an increase in the number of hours that an employee must work.   It has been the practice in churches to provide time off during the week for the hours that are worked in the evenings or on weekend.

Other Considerations

While “Just the same as Sunday” is obviously the core of my recommendations, that doesn’t mean that while the church is trying to build Saturday, it can’t offer anything different on Saturday.  For example, pre-service gatherings, cookouts, tailgating as well as after service ‘fun’ builds community.

As churches grow and they add additional services, there is an immediate need for improved communication, better coordination and a logistical plan.  While people that attend a worship service that is over crowed are fully aware that the service is over crowed, they likely don’t know what the plan is to relieve overcrowding.    Churches that are building new and larger auditoriums can point to the building plans and encourage the attendees to ‘look forward to the new and larger space.’   However, churches that do not have immediate plans for a larger auditorium need to just as clearly be communicating that the solution is to attend other services.

In advertising, the term ‘effective frequency’ refers to the number of times something needs to be communicated before it is understood.   God of course understands this better than any of us as the Bible is full of stories, imperative, warnings and encouragements that are repeated often.   For example, Peter repeats the story of the vision of the unclean animals twice in Acts 10 and then a third time in Acts 11, “verily” is always used twice “verily, verily.”

The communication plan often is the key to the success of a Saturday service.  What is the church trying to accomplish?   Who should be attending the service?  How can people help the Saturday service succeed?   Personally, I’m disappointed when I read articles on church planting and church growth that do not emphasis communication.   Communication in organizational leadership (secular or sacred) is one of the basic functions of management and is the key component of transmitting the vision, culture and plans of any organization.   Furthermore, communication only occurs when it is understood by the receiver.   Some messages are so important that feedback or consensus is required, and that opportunity should be provided when necessary.  At a minimum, the frequency and continuity of the communication must be sufficient so that ‘the-many’ do hear and respond.

The Real Virus Is Fear

There is a virus that is attacking and ravaging this country but it is not Covid-19.   It is fear.  This fear is being spread by people ...