Saddleback Cancels Sunday Services in order to…

… yes, serve the community. Saddleback Church has chosen to enter into service for all its people this Sunday.

By the way, for critics of megachurches who are “too big” to have a single Christmas Day service, a little FYI: Bill Hybels, with his family, will conduct a service at Willow Creek, at 10AM, with no support services (parking, ushering, anywhere, anyone).

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – In a rare move, the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Orange County is canceling all of its worship services during the second weekend in December in order to help facilitate a huge neighborhood volunteer opportunity.

Best-selling author and pastor Rick Warren is asking members of his congregation to take at least a half day on Saturday or Sunday (Dec. 10, 11) to go “serve in the community and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In its 31-year history, the megachurch has canceled weekend services less than a handful of times, according to Warren.

Church officials are hoping to mobilize Saddleback’s base of 5,000 Bible study groups, referred to as “small groups,” to perform their own chosen acts of kindness in their neighborhoods.

Pastor Erik Rees, designated as the pastor of Ministries and Life Worship at the church, is leading the team that is championing the event called, “Good Neighbor Weekend.”

“Saddleback has always been a loving and caring church that gives and gives, so this weekend will continue our commitment to love our neighbors,” Rees told The Christian Post. “The weekend will include a variety of ways to shower our neighbors with compassion, kindness and love. These opportunities include on-campus, in the community, and through our 5,000 small groups.”

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  • Alan K

    Cancel Wednesday night Bible study, cancel choir practice, forfeit softball and basketball league games, but don’t ever, ever cancel corporate worship. It’s like saying, “I’ll take out a few organs so I can make weight for the wrestling match.”

  • So ministering to the lost together isn’t corporate worship?

  • Pat Pope

    The church that I’ve been attending for several months did that. One of the members informed me my first Sunday there that there wouldn’t be service the following week because that was the Sunday that they did service projects in the community. I think it’s a great idea.

  • Matt

    You make a good point Alan. Most mega-churches have those superfluous programs that people are not willing to give up. And most of them are programs that we do more out of tradition than conviction. I think we’ve lost the beauty of what corporate worship can bring, and I think that is something that should rarely be cancelled. But maybe this decision fits Saddleback and its community. We make too much of a point to try to be like Saddleback. Doing something like this can really only be done on Sundays because that’s when people are home to be served.

  • Adam shields

    Alan, I think you miss the “corporate-ness” of the project. Yes you could cancel the extra stuff, but the entire congregation doesn’t do the extra stuff. The whole body worships together. Stopping the worship for one week does not stop worship, it reminds people why they worship. That I think will do much more for most people than having another service.

  • Alan K

    @2 K.W. and @3 Pat,

    I did not say that “ministering to the lost” (if we are adequate to make the judgment as to who the lost are) or service was a bad idea. My point was don’t exchange the ministry of Word and Sacrament for going out into the community. To do so is to hold worship in contempt and not understand its place and significance in the life of the church community. Certainly our imaginations can provide scope for where both can exist and one is not given up for the sake of the other.

  • Jeff Myers

    Why is this news (or blogworthy)? I love you, Scot. But the only possible reason to post something like this is to stir debate.

    I’m confident the leadership at SB sought God’s direction on this and is leading their congregation in a way that is worshipful, Christ-centered, and relevant to their context. This is not a mega-church issue. Churches all over the nation make similar decisions all the time. Every church in this nation occasionally makes a decision that the church down the street wouldn’t make. Big deal! My kids are different from each other, too. No need to question their wisdom or faith.

  • Gloria

    And what’s wrong with a healthy debate (#7, Jeff)???

  • Alan K

    @7 Jeff,

    I beg to differ. This has to do with questions of what is worship, what is the church, what is mission, what God is this. Actually, this debate is much more critical than that on this blog over Calvinism and Arminianism.

  • I think this demonstrates a misunderstanding of what the Church is vs. the institutional church, what the point of gathering as a church is, and what love of our neighbors should look like. As I see it one of the biggest problems is the idea that an institutional church needs to organize outreach for it’s members. We gather together to be equipped, and then we should go prepared to serve all week in our normal daily life. Shouldn’t pastors be teaching their congregants how to love their neighbors without special events.

  • Robin

    Good for Saddleback, our church plant (around 50 members) does this about once every 2 months and our other ministries (like small groups) do the same thing every 6 weeks or so.

    I think our modern notions of worship services are certainly flexible enough to accompany this. If we can have an Easter pageant instead of a regular worship service of a Christmas play or a “Fifth Sunday Singing” We can certainly have a special Sunday dedicated to Mercy. Not to mention if we can consider the Lord’s Supper a normal part of worship yet only celebrate it quarterly.

    Interestingly in our community it has spread from our small church plant that has been doing it since we started to the local “Megachurch” that has around 2,000 members. It is heartening to me to see thousands of Christians taking some time to meet the practical needs of the community…and the community has started to notice.

  • Fish

    Wow, Nathan, a church without missions! I can’t imagine it, because they are so deeply embedded in the culture, but you make a good point.

    Even the word “mission” has the connotation of urgency, of purpose, of a target. If you were to call something a mission in the business world, you’d be giving it a military do-or-die flavor.

    But it also means an event, not an everyday thing. A project to be completed rather than a discipline to be worked at.

  • Jeff Myers

    The church is not a building and worship in not just music. When both of these concepts are explored, we discover just how multi-faceted they really are. Much like our God! 🙂

  • RobS

    I’ll concur, sounds like a good idea. There’s probably a good percentage of the people that typically dedicate the Sunday morning time to corporate worship and church meeting and now they get to try something new.

    I hope/expect/pray that many lessons and stories are learned out of this one. I truly believe they will.

    I wouldn’t do this often, but sure, see what happens. I expect there is also a follow-up idea/theme to follow the week after.

  • Peter

    Maybe Warren will address the flock the week after like Jesus did to his disciples when he sent them out. What did you see? What did you hear? How did it feel?

    Wait, you are are right all you people that argue for the corporate worship time with music and word, we shouldn’t make concerted efforts in showing what is actually important. We should just talk about it more.

    STOP thinking you are better than everyone else because you do what you are “supposed” to do. The ecclesiological model needs to be shaken up from time to time otherwise people become way too comfortable. This is good for the church and for the people being served.

    May his name be praised!

  • @1 Alan: To limit worship to Word and Sacrament both misunderstands the definition of worship, and misunderstands the purpose of the church. I agree; this is about that. I can’t agree with where you’re taking it.

    Our mission is to go into the world and preach the gospel. It’s to do as Jesus did, to bring God to the community that wasn’t ever gonna show up in synagogue or temple. He didn’t come for the well, but the sick.

    Our worship is to connect us with God, and one another, for the purpose of that ministry. But if we NEVER DO IT, there is no point in the worship. It’s dead religion. It’s like the Hebrews in Isaiah 1, where God has to tell them He’s sick of their worship because they never do what He told them to.

    So skipping a Sunday worship, on one Sunday out of the year, for the sake of obeying Jesus? Makes perfect sense to me. Deciding instead that the Word and Sacrament are too holy to set aside one week? False gods.

  • LT

    I think some of this conversation partakes of a false dichotomy, suggesting we can’t have corporate worship and serve a community. The reality is that the community is there 168 hours a week. It does not require the cancelling of the one hour of corporate worship to serve them. I doubt that the community will be any more receptive to the gospel on Sunday morning than they would be on Saturday afternoon, or Thursday evening, or whatever.

    Furthermore the idea that Christians are to act like Christians only one hour a week, and it’s either corporate worship or community service, is not the kind of Christianity Jesus taught.

    Simply put, this is unnecessary because it devalues what the church is … a group of people who meet regularly and go out to serve in between.

  • Kenton

    Props to Rick Warren for being the priest who stops to help the beat up guy along the road instead of crossing over to the other side. It’s a perfect application of Luke 10.

  • Bill

    “We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for this very important…” I’m sure that’s a quote from the gospels… some place…. Jesus must have….

  • Alan K

    @16 K.W.,

    You misread what I’ve written. I did not limit worship to Word and Sacrament. Nor have I said what you are inferring, that mission takes a back seat to corporate worship and that I have made this an either/or issue and have upheld the “privilege” of corporate worship. I have not taken this where you think I have taken this. What I have argued all along is that Word and Sacrament should not be set aside, even for the good cause that Saddleback has. Obedience to Jesus Christ does not ever require the “skipping of a Sunday worship.” Yes the church exists for mission, but there is no mission if there has been no gathering. There is no following Jesus Christ into the world if we have not been brought by Jesus Christ before God.

    I believe what Saddleback is doing is entirely well meaning. But it does raise questions as to why it is doing what it is in the way that it is doing it. Would it be too hard or impractical to begin the day with worship and then go out, following Jesus Christ into the world after having heard the proclamation and receiving the bread and cup? Could it be as powerful for the community to sabbath and to rest instead and therefore announce to a busy world that even the tyranny of time has been overcome? That we actually trust our God to save us instead of saving ourselves?

    Yes our worship is to connect us with God. But how does the Epistle to the Hebrews actually portray that? What is the place of Jesus Christ in worship? And for that matter, what is the place of Jesus Christ in mission? The same Epistle to the Hebrews will not let us separate the two or exchange one for the other. The same Jesus Christ who is the “leader of the liturgy” is also “the apostle.” I’m not taking this anywhere. I’m just going where the New Testament has always gone.

  • Steve Sherwood

    It seems to me here, that God thought that Israel might be well-served by doing something like what Saddleback is doing. Amos 5.

    11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
    Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
    though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.
    12 For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

    There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
    13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

    14 Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
    Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
    15 Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
    Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.

    16 Therefore this is what the Lord, the LORD God Almighty, says:

    “There will be wailing in all the streets
    and cries of anguish in every public square.
    The farmers will be summoned to weep
    and the mourners to wail.
    17 There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
    for I will pass through your midst,”
    says the LORD.
    The Day of the LORD
    18 Woe to you who long
    for the day of the LORD!
    Why do you long for the day of the LORD?
    That day will be darkness, not light.
    19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
    only to meet a bear,
    as though he entered his house
    and rested his hand on the wall
    only to have a snake bite him.
    20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—
    pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

    21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
    22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
    Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
    23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
    24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

  • Cindy

    I believe we must weekly, if not DAILY, minister to the needs of our neighbors. Attending a corporate worship service including singing, reading of the Word, teaching of the Word, giving to support corporate ministry, and having fellowship around the table as we eat together and pray together refreshes me for the next several days to continue ministering to the needs of my neighbors on a daily basis. Outside of a major disaster, I just can’t understand a church of any size NOT facilitating corporate worship and fellowship. I know it’s tough sometimes, but who ever said living authentic Christian lives would be easy?

  • Pat Pope

    @Alan, you said, “Obedience to Jesus Christ does not ever require the “skipping of a Sunday worship.”

    I respectfully disagree with you on this. I believe in the gathering together of the saints, but I also believe that there may be times that corporate worship is skipped to serve the greater good. I think of the time several years ago that friend called me on a Sunday morning in distress over a divorce that she was going through. I was ready to go to church, but I stayed and talked to her. I missed church service that day, but I don’t believe I missed church. I believe I served Christ that day by ministering to someone in their time of need versus rushing off to corporate worship. I just believe that we have to be careful not to exalt even seemingly good things like corporate worship lest we miss the greater good that God may be calling us to. Will we miss a sermon that’s right in front of us for being busy to get to the one place where we believe the sermon happens?

    I think the canceling of the service is more for the congregants than the people being served. I think it’s a church’s way of shaking some of its members out of the slumber they may have been lulled into by doing the same thing week in and week out. We sheep need reminding about what our mission is and while corporate worship is good and needful, we can think that’s all there is. It takes someone to shake us up and our routines from time to time. Who’s to say that out of an effort like this that someone won’t make greater strides in the rest of their life to do more for others or to make a greater commitment to the faith? Granted, the lesson will be lost on some, but that’s inevitable with anything you do. I personally like the idea, as I’ve already said, and believe that it can be a positive thing.

  • Percival

    It seems indicative of where the American church is today that no one even mentioned the idea of a day of rest. No one believes in a Sunday rest anymore I guess. Honestly, I don’t either, but I expected someone to bring it up.

  • Alan K

    @24 Percival,

    See my #20 above, second paragraph.

  • Jerry Sather

    I can see where he’s going, but after years of leading ministry I can almost guarantee someone will show up at the door and say, “Aren’t we having church today?” Of course, I’m sure SB has planned for that. I’m also certain good will come of it but there will be many, who think of it just as a gimmick. O good, we’ve loved our neighbor for a weekend–checked that box. Yeah, I can get cynical at times.

  • Percival

    Oh, so it was mentioned. My bad.

    It’s nice to make passing references to quaint beliefs we are embarrassed to hold. 🙂

    Not saying YOU are embarrassed, but obviously it is not a point that is going to find much firm footing among this audience.

  • Matt

    Again, I think Alan and the people responding to him are both making good points. If we want to get all New Testament, the pattern I mostly see in the early church is gathering and proclaiming the Word of God and then going out and sharing the message (think of Pentacost). Which is what Alan said in 20 paragraph 2. Instead of canceling our gathering once every year to serve the community, why don’t we gather on Sunday morning AND go into the community to serve afterwards every week?…instead of getting in that Sunday nap. *guilty*

  • Kenneth Te Wano

    The message He gave was the Kingdom of God. It was the center and circumference of all He taught and did. We Preach everything else but the central message of God…
    There is a distinct difference between ‘belonging to the Church’ and ‘moving in the Kingdom of God’.We are suppose to be an outpost of heaven on earth weve huddl;ed up in building instead of taking dominion out there in the marketplace- When Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, blind, cast out demons he was outside the Church is inside… get it right people I hear alot of religious dogma, rhetoric its nonsense
    To Jesus, the firstborn Son of God, the Kingdom of God was the most precious thing in the universe and possessing the reality of it was of all things most valuable. Repeatedly He made it clear that the Kingdom had a worth which was above all earthly things and standards. Weve made Çhurch, worship meetings, programs and seeking blessings our idol worship. He admonished, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” He said, “If your eye causes you to miss the mark, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be swallowed up of death.” He spoke many parables about the value of the Kingdom. He said that once there was a man who was digging in a field; as he dug his spade struck across a buried treasure the Kingdom which we are suppose to establish on earth. But we are busy building Church, building religion and pur worship is in vain.
    Those who reign with Christ cannot be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, nor deceived by every good sounding theory of man that poses as deep revelation. They will not be moved by smooth-tongued orators or fast-talking deceivers. They will perceive the hearts of men and understand the true nature of all things. God is not interested so much in what is going on today within the church systems of men. God does not want just anybody to go out and do miracles, signs and wonders. He is preparing an incorruptible order of people to do these things on a level never seen before. There are many miracles and good works done in the name of Jesus by men whom the Father has not sent. God is very selective in this hour of those He chooses to manifest His power in the earth. Not just anybody is suitable. God trains and chooses in many ways.

  • Paul W

    At the church I attend we receive a blessing in the benediction at every worship gathering and are sent out to serve and live the good news that we have just heard. Please forgive if I run the risk of sounding arogant but I just can’t hardly imagine that in any of the churches I have attended that the members of the congregation (by and large)were not positively involved in local concerns or supportive of local charity.

    Do evangelicals churches not have a benediction and sending?

    Do evangelicals not understand the corporate worship time as a service in and of itself?

    I thought evangelicals were often associated with the political right. Does that not translate into local action or involvement? Is ‘right wing’ involvement seen in categories different from those of compassion, kindness and love?

    Are we to understand that the Saddleback community has a particular difficulty at being locally involved in positive ways?

  • Chuck

    God bless Saddleback. My only angst however about this type of thing (Let’s cancel this so that we can all go do that) is that it is nothing more than another brand of programmed ministry. My church has done much more of this kind of thing in recent years and my observation is that it tends to produce flash in the pan rather than genuine, lasting ministry.

  • Steve

    #21 Steve, AMEN.

    Love that passage, one of my absolute favorites ever since reading Bruce Birch’s brilliant book “Let Justice Roll Down”

  • Amos Paul

    I agree with Alan here in part, though perhaps from a somewhat different perspective. I look beyond the merely ‘Christian’ roots of the Sunday Service into the Judaic and Messianic roots. That is, the institution of the Sabbath day as the *HOLY DAY* was God both telling men and women how to healthfully live with a time of rest from their duties as well as teaching us how to coporately set aside a time frame that is a throne for God in our lives. We bow down to honor God as Lord of Sabbath, or, the time of peace.

    Now, I am not saying that serving the poor, needy, or fellow community members is *not* coporately honoring God above us. BUT, I am saying that I want the church to unequivically teach their congregation and every guest that might walk in the door that the Sabbath time they observe as a community is a time of rest, peace, and worship. It is a time that all can come to taste and see that the Lord is good. To set themselves apart from their daily lives and be filled in ways that, hopefully, assist in refreshing both their bodies and souls.

    But what about Jesus! You say. Didn’t He help people on the Sabbath? Didn’t He tell us that this was good to do?!

    Yes, the Messianic roots. Our Lord did, indeed, do that. But I ask how you, when and how did He do it? Scripture *seem* to imply that Christ never missed a Sabbath Scripture reading. That he never missed setting aside that time for the ‘mere meeting’ and ritual–though he did, then, in His Sabbath observance go out and serve those He saw in need.

    If we feel so compelled to set aside some intentional community serving on the meeting day we observe as Sabbath, I say do it after and only after allowing the community to restfully bow down before the Lord their God in that archaic ‘meeting’. I never want to miss that. I never want any guest to get the impression that the Sabbath begins with anything else than inviting any and everyone to restfully observe the Lord their God.

    And, indeed, what of the community members who work a hard job Monday through Saturday (or whatever) and barely make it to church? What if they only get one in every 4 Sundays off? What if they’re looking forward to coming back to the corporate ‘service’? I don’t think I’m being dramatic, I think I’m being serious about respecting the hard, daily lives that many people have. And if those men or women don’t feel up to going out into the community *that day*, I don’t want to force them. If they need their rest, I want them to have their rest… and their service. Always.

    And, while I do admit that the book of my namesake, for example, illustrates a pushback against the ‘service’ without the serving–I don’t think that the very healthy criticism there necessarily implies that we need to have the serving without a weekly ‘service’.

  • Robert A

    Man, some people can’t get a break. I’ve seen a bunch of people griping about how mega-churches (like Saddleback) are too program driven and don’t meet the needs of the community…and then when they do something like this those same people gripe, well they are losing too much programming, they aren’t “worshiping.”

    Great gravy people. Either admit you don’t like anything unless you’ve thought of it or get over it.

    This is a great idea. I’m glad Saddleback’s leadership realizes objectors in comments fields of blog posts don’t change the world…going out and serving others does.

  • BradK

    Let’s say that 10-20 Saddlebackers get up Sunday morning and instead of going to the church they go and build a wheelchair ramp for an elderly widow in the community who needs it. While the ramp is being built, some of the folks sit with the lady and talk. Others prepare a meal while the rest build the ramp. After they are done building the ramp all sit down together, thank God for his blessings, and share the meal and talk about Jesus. Afterwards maybe they sing a song.

    What part of worship is missing from this activity?

  • TJJ

    I guess the most surprising thing about this post is that there is actually a “debate” about it. It is a great idea, it goes to the core of the churches mission and calling, and since when are weekly mass worship services sacrosanct? It is a good example that I hope other churches will take up and follow.

  • I find it disappointing that there is such a falsely displayed opposition between mission and worship here. Clearly, we would agree that worship is all of life, yet there is importance for the regular gathering, just as prayer is continuous yet, as Richard Foster says, “The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have set about praying some of the time somewhere.” Same is true with worship.

    Jesus’ custom, as the gospels tell us that Jesus’ custom was regular synagogue gathering (Luke 4:16), yet he knew that the sabbath existed as a benefit for humanity. Must we sacrifice one for the other? Hopefully, they fuel one another without devolving into legalism on one side or the other.

    What sort of outcry would there be if we called people to cancel a day of work to serve one another or the surrounding community? What we’re willing to forego or not may say something about our god.

  • P.

    It seems to me that this is a legalistic vs. flexible debate. Personally, I see nothing wrong with cancelling a worship service if it’s only cancelled every now and then. As many of you have pointed out, service is a form of worship (what you do for the least of these…)

  • Alan K

    @34 Robert,

    It sure would be nice to get over it. Perhaps you could help folks like me not take the witness of the apostles so seriously, not listen to the centuries of voices that have gone before us in pondering these questions, not earnestly ask “God, what would you have us do?”. It is a bummer sometimes that the NT and the tradition have the audacity to provide for us an ontolotgy of worship that is the basis for mission. It would be nice to think and act practically without regard to theology. The world would certainly be impressed by our practicality–“Isn’t it great that the church is becoming just like us!”. But, alas, our ancestors gathered on Sunday mornings to remind themselves that they were not the world, that Jesus had risen on a Sunday morning. They even had the audacity to not work that day because the true sabbath rest of the creation had arrived. It is a lot to get over, you must admit, and I will do my best, but I doubt the Spirit will let me.

  • Adam

    Alan you seem to be missing this point.

    Matthew 12:10
    and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

  • Rick

    I appreciate the emphasis Saddleback is placing on service, but I too agree with Alan. I am certainly not legalistic about this, but it should not be an either/or.

    I was even more concerned when I read this in the Christian Post article that Scot linked to:
    “Warren recently enlisted pastors Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area, and Miles McPherson of Rock Church in San Diego, who gave weekend messages last month about evangelizing and giving service out of love to neighbors. McPherson, in reference to Christians, was recently quoted as saying, “We’re not here to have a church service, but to be the hope of the world.”

    Is McPherson saying we should not gather in corporate worship around word and sacrament?

    I wonder if the meaning of corporate worship (preaching/teaching, sacraments, etc…) is the real issue here, not the importance of service (which is a form of worship as well).

  • Interesting debate here. I’m sympathetic to both sides for different reasons, but if I may, I’d like to introduce what may be the next logical step in the conversation.

    Jesus, in Matthew 7:24 says, “Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who builds his house upon the rock.”

    Might these be helpful terms in discussing this issue? Hearing the word vs. doing the word?

    Now, it appears that Alan and others who agree with him do not seem to be advocating an all church/no service approach. Neither does it seem that those who disagree with that group are advocating an all service/no church approach.

    Put differently, we all agree that both hearing and doing of the word are important.

    The question is not whether one is more important than the other, but whether the church should facilitate both equally and in what fashion.

    Alan et al seem to believe they must remain very closely tied, with no doing of the word without a “same day” hearing of it.

    Others would disagree, noting that 51/52 weeks, Saddleback proclaims the word to its members and encourages them to do it (not debating, of course, whether Saddleback’s seeker-friendly messages qualify as “the word” not).

    With that being said, I wonder how Alan et al would respond to the question of how much time is too much between when the word is heard and when it is performed?

  • LT

    At BradK #35, You ask What part of worship is missing from this activity?

    The part where you assemble to teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, to hear the gospel proclaimed, to give financially for the support of the gospel ministry, to break bread together, and to encourage each other.

    The point you and so many are missing is that there is a biblical difference between worship and corporate worship.

    What you describe is a great activity. Why not do that on Saturday afternoon? Or Sunday afternoon? Or one of the other 167 hours of the week? Why in the world would you take the only hour a week set aside for the corporate worship of God in the fellowship of believers?

    To Steve #21, where does that passage say anything about what Saddleback is doing? Your post is one of the most condemnatory posts of Saddleback I have seen. I am not a big fan for a number of reasons, but I wouldn’t use that passage against them. Furthermore, that passage says nothing about disbanding corporate worship. The answer to Israel’s problem was not to stop sacrificing and start fixing social justice issues (far different than what is being discussed by Saddleback). The fix was to fix the social justice issues. There is nothing there that talks about canceling corporate worship.

  • It’s certainly not the end of the world if Saddleback cancels one service to do some outreach; the reason I have such a strong reaction against what they have chosen to do has more to do with the attitude I feel it demonstrates.

    Nobody who disagrees with what Saddleback has chosen to do and who has commented here thinks: we should not be loving our neighbor through service; service isn’t an act of worship; the Church is simply the building in which we meet on Sundays, we should just talk about loving others, but never need to actually do anything tangible; the Church isn’t called to missions; or that we can’t ever help anyone on Sunday; etc. To accuse us of such things is simply an ad hominem attack which does not actually further this conversation.

    What we are saying is that gathering with fellow Christians for a time of encouragement, corporate worship, communion, the hearing of the Gospel, and rest is so important it’s not okay to cancel it. And I would add, especially since to facilitate this time is the main task of the institutional church.

    A few years ago I would have thought what Saddleback is doing is great and that is was “missional”. Now I don’t. I few years ago I had a conversation with Michael Frost and he told me about a pastor who quit his job at a approx. 500 member church, because when he organized something similar to what Saddleback is doing as a proof that his church was missional almost no one showed up. He was disgusted by his congregation’s lack of care about outreach to their community. When I first heard that story I agreed with Frost and the pastor – that church wasn’t very missional. But, now I have a completely different view.

    First, it is arrogant for me to think that just because others don’t want to join in helping with my outreach, or service event that I’m the only one who loves my neighbors and wants to be missional. It is extremely arrogant to assume that just because our congregants aren’t taking part in an institutional church’s organized event they don’t spend time loving their neighbors, or sharing Christ’s love and his Gospel. As has been mentioned there are many people that work hard all week loving and serving others and they want a couple hours a week to be able to rest and be encouraged and served – there is nothing wrong with that.

    Second I believe it is the primary function of the institutional church and the pastor to serve the congregation. To minister to their flock – this in part means equipping them for the work of going out into the world to perform the mission of the Church (here Church meaning the non-institutional universal Church made up of all followers of Jesus Christ). By the way “loving your neighbor as yourself” is not the special mission of the Church – it is an obligation that all humans (including Christians) have towards one another. Now fulfilling this primary function may mean organizing events and programs that help guide people into service. However these events and programs cannot replace, or take the place of first ministering to the needs of the congregation – which include rest.

    Third events and programs organized by an institutional church are not missional. The biggest problem with something like this and any outreach/service program is that it can teach a congregation that all they need to do is come to events organized by their church and they have fulfilled their obligations. So, they either won’t do anything else because they will not feel they have to, will not know how to, or will not have time to. I’d rather go to a church that doesn’t have a single outreach/service event, but whose members are equipped to go out into the world and get involved with other people and institutions outside of their church. That would be a missional church – a church whose members are involved in the world outside of the institutional church they attend, whose lives are intertwined with non-Christians in work, play and service, not just when they serve them at an event. I’m not saying a church can’t have events, but this should never be the focus of the church.

    Of course as a pastor it’s nicer to have events, because these can be measured. A church can “prove” their loving their neighbors by pointing at their programs and events – that’s nice and easy. Actually letting go of control over the congregants and letting them do the multitude of things God calls them to in their daily lives can be hard.

  • BradK

    LT (43), says that my hypothetical example in #35 lacks “assembl[ing] to teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, to hear the gospel proclaimed, to give financially for the support of the gospel ministry, to break bread together, and to encourage each other.”

    But all of that was included in my example, LT. If the 10-20 Saddlebackers building the wheelchair ramp sit down afterwards to talk about Jesus, there is plenty of opportunity to teach and admonish one another (and to share the gospel.) I specifically mentioned singing a song. Buying the supplies and supplying the labor to build the ramp is an example of giving financially to support the gospel ministry and in the most direct way possible, just as Jesus did it. I mentioned having a meal together. Together, as in corporate. I’m quite sure that the act of kindness in building the ramp would be encouraging not only to the lady who needed it, but to the people serving her.

    Again, what is missing?

    Are the negative responses to this Saddleback decision surprising to anyone else? Is it viewed as an emergent church kind of activity and viewed negatively as a result? Or is it a “low church” vs “high church” kind of thing? The reaction is quite puzzling.

  • BradK – I consider myself to be part of the emerging church, and I’ve spent most of my church time in “low churches”, so that’s not my problem with it. I posted my problem with it just before your last post.

  • Shelly K

    I am Catholic. Mass would never be cancelled, as it is the heartbeat of the Church. Service is an intergral of our faith. It is never an either/or proposition. We go to Mass, and we are expected to carry forth the Church’s social justice mission every day.

  • I agree with BradK in many ways. I have found this whole conversation extremely interesting, blood pressure boosting and a little rediculous all in one. …And I appreciate those who take part in discussions like this. I do not worry about any of you who were sincerely invested in the debate disappointing Jesus on this account b/c when your heart is invested in service to others enough to care as you do, then I am sure you are serving and loving your neighbor (WHENEVER it may be) and, lets face it, that’s more than can be said for some.

    It seems to me that it’s not particularly the how/when to love our neighbor issue that is tripping us up here. Here’s what I mean: I imagine that Saddleback made this decision (hopefully Spirit-led) in order to, yes, serve the community and love their neighbors, but also to teach their congregation by example. When we have fallen so far to one side (as, say, in our definition of what “church” is) sometimes we need unorthodox ways of shaking things up to start these very discussions among our congregation… to make people think, become passionate about something that is passion-worthy, and strive to re-align ourselves as a result. But leading a congregation as large as Saddleback’s by example is difficult to do, merely due to it’s size and the logistical difficulties involved in any sort of church activity aside from worship through song/corporate prayer and teaching.

    I have a feeling that the majority of Saddleback’s Acts 2 church community happens not on sunday morning in the auditorium but rather throughout the week in their “small group” meetings. I would argue that Saddleback is not a church community in and of itself so much as a large collection of church communities (hopefully pursuing the One.Life – Scot, *wink wink*, well said there). Because let’s face it, what the Spirit created in Acts 2 is a far cry from many of our sunday services. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I love Sunday services… if they are a part of an Acts 2 whole… and whether we would like to admit it or not, we cannot program that. It depends upon the hearts and choices of those involved to take part in that kind of communion.