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discipleship

Discipleship

Willow Creek admits to getting it wrong.

In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

People like Dallas Willard have been saying this for years, increased level of church activities do not produce disciples, it just produces people who spend more time at the church (and out of their communities where they could be making a redemptive difference). The reason we default to activities can be explained by Lyle Schaller in his book, Reflections of a Contrarian where he talks about the kind of statistics churches and denominations count. Because it is easy to count participation in activities, we count that and therefore do things to increase those stats. On the other hand it is really hard to quantify a person becoming a better disciple of Christ which in turn gets put aside. Especially when almost every snake oil salesmen church growth consultant is selling churches on the idea of church programs (again, see what Darryl has to say about that). Good for Willow Creek to come to grips and their mistakes and for sharing them with the rest of the church. I think the problem runs deeper than teaching more Bible reading and spiritual disciplines but at least the discussion is happening.

Contextless Links

Richard Dawkins as an "enthusiast"

On Becky’s blog she is quoting Richard Dawkins who makes the claim that he may be passionate but is not a fundementalist.

No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.

First of all, I might as well just say this. I am an evangelical but I am not an fundamentalist.

The confusion of these terms is irritating and until George W. Bush became President, they did mean separate things. Jimmy Carter is an evangelical. Tony Campolo is an evangelical. Jim Wallis is an evangelical. At the same time James Dobson, John Hagee, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell all claim to be evangelicals as well. It is an awfully large camp but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists and to be honest, we don’t all believe the same things like evolution, only male leadership, or Biblical literalism. I grew up in an evangelical household and I don’t even remember discussing these things growing up. I think my mom may have been a closet literalist but the lack of moat and parapit around our house meant that she was too ashamed to being it up much :-)

Secondly, I disagree Dawkins insistence that science is somehow pure in its pursuit of knowledge. One of the better books I read last year, 1491 (Amazon.com) is a tale of scientists refusing to give up on their theories and attacking other theories of the origin of civilization in North America. It is a story of people not changing their minds in face of evidence. I am not saying all scientists are fundamentalist, just that fundamentalism can be found in all fields. If you have ever listened to Joe Morgan call a Oakland A’s game, even baseball has people who can’t see something that is outside of how they see the world and this is a game which is supposedly all statistics (and yes I am killing the metaphor by calling Joe Morgan a fundementalist but his closed mind approach to sabremetrics shows an awfully closed mind).

Also, in one of my favorite blog posts of all time, AKMA, writes to incoming seminary students about the pursuit of truth in theology and the Christian life.

I start from the premise that everything about discipleship (and ordained ministry is in many respects simply an intensified mode of discipleship) grows out of the practice of truth. All the different theological disciplines, all the techniques and skills and habits you learn, derive their importance from the Truth you live; whatever facts you memorize, whatever devices for handling parish (diocesan, academic) organization, if they do not contribute to articulating a Truth that goes deeper than your personal preferences, your family’s habits, your community’s prejudices, those learnings amount to nothing more than gilding on a goose-egg. sooner or later, the egg will rot, and a pretty exterior won’t take away the stink.

The Truth will sustain your discipleship, even the intensified kind, with a nourishment, a light, a harmony, and a sense that do not depend for their validity on buzzwords, platitudes, fads, simple answers or correct answers (whether of the popular or academic sort). It’s not for nothing that Acts shows us the earliest followers of Jesus calling their fellowship as “the Way.” Ours is a Way entrusted to us from saints who knew it much better than any of us is likely to know it. That Way grows in us by the work of the Spirit, but we ought to make room for the Spirit to form us in the Way and cooperate with the Spirit in bodying forth the Way in our lives.

Are there fundamentalists out there that fear a truth outside of their worldview? Absolutely. Some of them are listed above and proclaim their fundamentalism proudly. Even among the GOP presidential candidates, some believe in a young earth seven day creation of the earth in face of overwhelming scientific evidence (This undermines my argument but last summer at Arlington Beach during the Free Methodist camp, there was a display up that linked people like me who don’t accept a seven day creation/young earth to secular humanists and homosexuals who are destroying the faith – I thought I should let you know what a heretic I am). While there are Christian fundamentalists out there that can not or will not accept new information outside of a specific framework, there are many of us whose pursuit of truth lead us to faith. For others it was witnessing the supernatural (in my case seeing a miraculous healing in response to prayer growing up) while for others it was a personal encounter with God or as Plantinga has written over the years, some of us just have “faith in God” and it is logical to do so. I don’t see that as a contradiction to evidence. In the end, I have to disagree with Dawkins, he is as much of a fundamentalist that he claims to be against.

Related:

The Present Church

Below is a rather wordy article for my denomination‘s magazine to help get people thinking outside the box in how we see the local church. Not sure if it worked but people have been saying nice things about it to my face at least :-)

For Lent this year, I decided to give up politics. In the past I had given up caffeine, chocolate, television, and even NHL hockey playoffs but this year I decided to step back from following politics which is something I spend too much time thinking and reading about. Of course this meant trying to ignore the Quebec election of which I had some success in doing. On Monday, March 27th, I was agonizing over the final edits of this article, which was supposed to be about the future of the church. I decided to take a brief television break and was confronted with some really boring choices. While surfing channels, I found myself watching CTV Newsnet and seeing what the talking heads were saying about the Quebec election. Before I caught myself, I heard the panel chortling to themselves over the comment, “Who could have predicted that this result was going to happen to Jean Charest?” I remember the exact same comment being said during former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow‘s final election when he was handed a minority. A couple of hours before that I remember a well known political commentator leading off his networks coverage with, “Is there anything that will stand between the NDP and another strong majority? No there isn’t”. Well the prognosticators were wrong that evening as well.

The phrase made me think about a book I had read a couple of years ago by Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon called The Ingenuity Gap. One of the books recurring themes is that we live in a world with a tremendous amount of variables which are overwhelming and make it very difficult to predict the outcome of our decisions. The book goes to show how complex our inter-connected world is and how poorly we understand how it works despite our proclamations to the opposite. From the food chain in the English Channel, to water planning in Las Vegas, to international markets during the Asian currency crisis; time and time again experts missed something that invalidated all of calculations for the future. Not only is it hard to know all of the variables that will influence our future, we are constantly hit by fads that while seem important, really aren’t (like election news stories over which tie color resonates best with voters)

As I returned to edit my article for Mosaic, I realized that I was probably making the exact same mistake. There are too many variables, too many things that can change. If the all knowing pollsters and Mike Duffy can’t forecast a 40 day election, how do we talk about the future of the church farther than that? All of the variables of culture plus the complexities of denomination and local church dynamics make it hard to predict any future.

So what can we talk about? Instead of talking about the future, it may be helpful to discuss the the factors that are happening now that will impact the future. To often organizations live in the past as it is easier to understand and don’t have the needed conversations on what is happening the present that will shape their future.

Post-Christian Canada and the West

In a couple of books I have read in the last year, they have referenced some recent studies that point out by 2040, under 5% of people in England may be Christian (only 9.4% are attending church now) According to church statistics, the four main UK denominations, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, are all suffering from a long-term decline in attendance figures. The good thing is that they realize this and are trying new ideas to reverse the decline. The Anglican and Methodist Churches have started their Fresh Expressions initiative which encourages new expressions of church like alternative worship, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury plans to be broadcasting his sermons on YouTube in an acknowledgment that more and more Anglicans just aren’t in church on Sundays. While some of the initiatives talked about as other Fresh Initiatives seemed a little off the mark, it is encouraging that the Church of England the Methodist Church in England are acknowledging that something has to change.

In Australia, things aren’t that much more encouraging but in a recent book called The Forgotten Ways, missiologist Alan Hirsch sees it this way

A combination of recent research in Australia indicates that about 10-15 percent of that population is attracted to what we call the contemporary church growth model. In other words, this model has significant “market appeal” to about 12 percent of our population. The more successful forms of this model tend to be large, highly professionalized, and overwhelmingly middle class, and express themselves culturally using contemporary, “seeker friendly” language and middle-of-the-road music forms. They structure themselves around “family ministry” and therefore offer multi-generational services. Demographically speaking, they tend to cater largely to what might be called the “family-values-segment”–good, solid, well-educated citizens who don’t abuse their kids, who pay their taxes, and who live largely, what can be called a suburban lifestyle.

Not only is this type of church largely made up of Christian people who fit this profile, the research indicates that these churches can also be very effective in reaching non-Christian people fitting the same demographic description–the people within their cultural reach. That is, the church does not have to cross any significant cultural barriers in order to communicate the gospel to that cultural context. (pg 35)

In the United States, the number attracted to the idea of church may be as high as 35%. Canadian polls suggest that about 20 – 30% of Canadians may share values that would be open to going to church (approximately 20% of people say they attending church regularly but that number is often inflated by people exaggerating how often they attend church). That number is a both a blessing and a curse. It shows that at least about six to seven million Canadians are open to the values articulated by the church which do provide a large pool of Canadians for the church to draw from but even that is difficult as pollster George Barna sees the family values segment of the population to fall by half in approximately fifteen years.

While nothing is wrong with those within that segment, most of us as Free Methodists would be there and by in large, they are not that offensive of a people group. Six million Canadians is nothing to sneeze at and does provide a significant opportunity for the church but that is only part of the story.

Of course what is to make of the people outside of that family values segment? Depending on how one looks at the numbers, anywhere from 65% to 85% of Canadians are removed by various degrees from that category and from those values. They make up the vast bulk of Canadians that have to overcome some obstacles to come to our churches as the church is not even on their radar. According to what Alan Hirsch writes in The Forgotten Ways, in addition to not being on the radar for most people, a large percentage are at some level alienated by the church. From bad experiences, to strong preconceived ideas about Christianity or from a cultural context that is hostile to Christianity, it would be as hard for them to be a part of a church as it would be many Free Methodists to join a non-Christian religion. Doing “church” better; PowerPoint, better music, wittier or more theologically astute sermons probably won’t make any impact on those that are outside the church because they are unlikely to bother entering the doors in the first place.

The other factor in society is that there has been a breakdown in the mass markets. Where at one point a church used to pick a neighborhood and then put down it’s roots and if church was “done right”, it had a good chance to reach their area for Christ. Depending on the church, property values actually rose if you were closer to a church. A middle class neighborhood would have middle class people in it with middle class values. Today that is changing where traditional people groups have segmented and segmented again. The mass market is shrinking and those neighborhoods are made up of a variety of sub-groups.

What does that mean for the future of the church?

While it is popular to lament the loss of the Christian fabric in Canadian culture and condemn those that don’t share our values, that probably won’t do anything to reverse the change. Complaining that people don’t go to church anymore won’t change anything.

When Anglican Bishop nd missionary, Leslie Newbiggin came back to England at the age of 65 after spending most of his career in India, this is what he found.

Ministry in England, he discovered, “is much harder than anything I met in India. There is a cold contempt for the Gospel which is harder to face than opposition. . . . England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church” (Unfinished Agenda).

It is hard, Newbigin knew, for a Hindu or a Muslim to come to worship Christ. For an Englishman, it would seem, it had become even harder.

Whats life for the church going to be like in a post-Christian Canada. A world in which we are seen more and more irrelevant? There isn’t a definite roadmap or program to follow and I think the mass segmentation will force the church for the first time in a long time to chart their own paths as we enter into new territory. That being said, there are some that have been at this for a little longer and have adjusted to their own contexts.

The Freeway in downtown Hamilton is both a church community and coffee shop serving both those looking for coffee and a place to connect online as well as the urban poor.

Three Nails in Pittsburgh is an Episcopal church plant that has embedded itself into the community by meeting a need that I never would have thought of and that is making really good New York City style hot dogs. They helped open a restaurant that used to be called Hot Dogma but was sued over the name so now they are called Franktuary. Their motto in case you are wondering is And the meat shall inherit the earth.

Harambee in Pasadena, California Back in 1982, Navarro Avenue in Pasadena, California had the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California. Believing that the only way they could make a difference was to move into the neighborhood, Dr. John Perkins started a ministry on “blood corner” (named because of the drive by shootings). Twenty five years later it had largely changed the neighborhood and curbed the violence. Not only that but it has prepared two generations of church leaders as well on a campus that is essentially several small houses with a common backyard. It doesn’t take much to change the world.

The same can be said about emerging congregations and church plants in the Free Methodist Church. Ecclesiax and ThirdSpace reach artists and creative types in different ways because their local contexts are different.

Some Anglican churches in London, England empowered and nurtured new faith communities who met in their own buildings. Most often with no staff or clergy, these communities formed what is now called alternative worship and is engaging a portion of England’s population that would never enter into a traditional worship context. At the same time they give new life to traditional congregations.

Some churches in urban areas saw what a place called Paragraph NY did, which is create a place that is essentially a gym but instead is a place for writers and creative types to work. They looked at a lot of unused space, got a good coffee maker, and wireless Internet and opened up the doors… and people came in.

At the end of the day, the church is going to have to learn to reconnect with their community as opposed to rely on the community to come to them. Whether or not churches can do that will largely determine how long of a future they have.

The Future of Theological Education

I remember being a conference years ago when the comparison was made between the average income of baby boomers measured against things like education, mortgage, and transportation. Then they compared my generation. Everything was more expensive but especially education and at that moment I realized that the Freedom 55 commercials were not targeted at me. The presenter put it into what it meant for the church. To go to seminaries like Wheaton or Fuller, it meant that you either had to be older and saved up some money, come from a wealthy family, or willing to take on a large amount of student loan debt. This has affected even smaller Bible Colleges who are faced with an aging donor base and less contributions which has meant higher tuitions.

The costs associated with education keep many interested learners at arms length. A building costs money; faculty need to be paid and they expect certain privileges associated with their position. Beyond that, the physical space of education limits the number of students who can participate (those who can get to the location, those who can fit into the facilities). After a while the school’s priorities shift toward the necessities of taking care of the building and faculty, and these begin to displace the original educational goals.

This starts to impact the wider church in a couple of ways as it also influences students. As I heard one seminary faculty member say it, whether the student or his family is footing the expensive cost of seminary education, it makes students less inclined or less able to enter the mission field or enter into a ministry context that does not pay a certain amount of money or safety.

The long term consequences of that happening to more church leaders is easy to see. Only wealthy churches have access to quality theological thinkers and the church may have to withdraw from areas that can not afford a certain level of compensation.

There has been others who have seen this happening and are working to create an alternative future. City Seminary of New York is a collaborative project of churches across New York City who brings in theologians and speakers to help church leaders in their local contexts. Fees are as low as $10 (to cover meals). The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia is developing training materials and offering classes for those that can not afford it. Closer to home, in Kingston there is the Invisible College which tackles big issues from a Christian worldview. Topics like globalization and how technology impacts our lives have been past topics. Resonate has hosted several local discussions with theologians and thinkers over the last three years in Toronto and Hamilton all for free.

While seminaries and many local churches have been slower to adopt this model in favor of selling content, more and more universities are giving away their lectures, course work, and even tests for free over the Internet. M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare allows you to tap into M.I.T.’s vast teaching resources as a teacher or self-learner for free. It doesn’t grant you a degree or credits but it does share the wisdom. TED, a world leading conference of big thinkers has recently used Google Video to make their entire conference available for free online. While I questioned the Archbishop of Canterbury’s use of YouTube when the idea was floated, almost 8000 people have watched his latest video in three weeks, far more than what would have heard him speaking in a church and that number will keep climbing.

While the Free Methodist Church in Canada’s Foundational Courses and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s efforts come from a denomination, many of the other alternative forms of theological education are coming from the grassroots of the church. Motivated local church leaders striving to make a difference in their communities. Whether that will be online or offline in churches and third spaces, in partnership with existing educational institutions or creating new ones, how it shapes up and we decide to view new forms of education will go a long way in shaping how we see church.

Discipleship

This is related to the discussion on theological education but we can’t ignore the issue of discipleship or lack of it in local churches.

In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ron Sider points out that evangelicals do a rather poor job of living out what we preach. In fact in some areas that evangelicals profess to care about, we tend to live worse then those we profess to want to “save”. Robert Webber writes on this topic in his book, Ancient Future Evangelism where he suggests that discipleship is a forgotten practice in many churches, a theme which is echoed in Dallas Willard’s book which is aptly named, The Great Omission. Duke University’s, Stanley Hauerwas suggests that we have confused North American values with Christianity and reduced being a Christian to being a good neighbor and good American [or Canadian]. Eugene Peterson simply asks that how can we know so much and live so badly. Both Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard talk about the church services.

Eugene Peterson says this,

The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice. We bring ourselves to the altar and let God do to us what God will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table, entering into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving—the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed; and that eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But this is not the American way. The major American innovation in the congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting and requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable. It didn’t take long for some of our colleagues to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our churches is to identify what they want and offer it to them. Satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel into consumer terms—entertainment, satisfaction, excitement and adventure, problem-solving, whatever. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Dallas Willard says something similar but in just three sentences,

We must flatly say that one of the greatest contemporary barriers to meaningful spiritual formation in Christlikeness is overconfidence in the spiritual efficacy of ‘regular church services,’ of whatever kind they may be. Though they are vital, they are not enough. It is that simple.

Even if we get every other aspect of church right and people do engage with us again. What do they get when they get here. An entire “discipleship industry” has formed within the church trying to sell me an answer to that question and there are a lot of different opinions.

As technology and culture change, it changes the world in which we learn in. What would have been considered deviant behaviour a generation ago isn’t questioned today as being abnormal. I remember reading a book on how young Christians needed to act and it concentrated on issues like how long should your hair be and if sideburns are okay. It was as funny to read then as it is today but it does go a long ways in determining what we saw were important things back then. Today, things have changed. A friend showed me his high school son’s instant messenger buddy list. Every single one of them was a sexual reference. While we were talking about that, a song came over by an underage artist talking about sex acts with her boyfriend. What does the church look like in a culture that is changing, materialistic, confused, and intolerant of how it sees the church being intolerant? While the much of the discussion centers on the forms we use for discipling, statements from many theologians suggest that we may have to rethink what a Christian is in today’s world.

If there is good news in all of this, it is that many Free Methodists are having these kinds of discussions all over the place, both formally (like at last years Ecclesiology Study Commission) and informally. Many of those voices will go into papers and ideas to presented at the next General Conference and of course are being discussed in local churches. As I told a colleague not that long ago, some of us are too young to have experienced the “good old days” of the church but this is the time that God wanted us to be here for and there is something exciting about that.

The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson

I have been enjoying Eugene Peterson’s latest book, The Jesus Way. The book is based on this article published in Christian Century. Here is are a couple of quotes from the introduction

The popularized acronym WWJD (“What would Jesus do?”) is not quite accurate. The question must be “How does Jesus do it?” – page 8

More often not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often then not violate the ways of Jesus. North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential–whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers–hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. Doesn’t anybody notice that the ways and means taken up, often enthusiastically, are blasphemously at odds with the way Jesus leads his followers? Why doesn’t anyone notice? – page 8

If Christ is King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-orientated to a away of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus. This is not easy. It is not accomplished by participating in a prayer meeting or two, or signing up for a seven-step course in discipleship at school or church, or attending an annual prayer breakfast. A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at thing–what Jesus commanded in his no non-sense imperative, “Repent!” is required.

The ways and mean promoted and practiced in the world are a systematic attempt to substitute human sovereignty for God’s rule. The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King. Not that there isn’t plenty of lip-service offered along the way across a spectrum ranging from presidents to pastors. But when it comes down to an actual way of life, most of the language turns out to be court protocol–nothing to do with the way we actually order our affairs.

Those of us who understand ourselves as followers of Jesus seem to be particularly at risk of discarding Jesus’ way and adopting the world’s ways when we are given a job or a mission to accomplish, when we are supposed to get something done “in Jesus’ name.” Getting things done is something that the world is very good at doing. We are hardly notice that these ways and means have been worked out by men and women whose ambitions and values and strategies for getting things done in this world routinely fail the “in Jesus’ name” test. Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.

The one positive thing that can be said for the ways and means approved and rewarded in this world is that they work, something magnificently, in achieving grandly conceived ends. Wars are fought and won, wealth is accumulated, elections are won, victories posted. But the means by which those ends are achieved leaves a lot to be desired. In the process a lot of people are killed, a lot of people impoverished, a lot of marriages destroyed, a lot of children are abandoned, a lot of congregations defrauded. – page 9.

Cultivate Missional Living

Last night while working on Resonate‘s website, I checked out the referrals and I saw some links to Pernell’s newest project, the Cultivate Missional Living discipleship training community.
Of course like I have done before, I assumed that because it was online, it was ready to go and I linked to it. Well, now that the cats out of the bag, Pernell decided to call of the hired goons to beat me up and let me spread the word about it.
If you are so inclined, help spread the word as well.

Review of The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch

Published by Brazos Press :: Purchase at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca
294 Pages
Website
: www.theforgottenways.org which also has an excellent weblog which is published by Alan Hirsch
Disclaimer: Publisher (Brazos Press) sent me a free review copy but I would have purchased the book regardless.

Before you start into the review, my initial thoughts on the book topped 9000 words which testifies to how good of book I thought it was but it was a little depressing to think that I needed to edit that long of a review (Wendy says that any review that long is not a review but a sequel). The book is divided into two sections so what I plan to do is review the first section now, take a week or so break from it and review the second section. I will put it all together for a single review when I am all done. As is the blog policy, all typos and spelling mistakes are mine and we will blame the spell checker in Google Docs and never speak of them again.

A couple of months ago now I started reading Alan Hirsch’s latest book, The Forgotten Ways. Along with Michael Frost, he wrote The Shaping of Things to Come, one of the most important books in the area of the church and missiology that many of us have ever read. Not only can they write good books together but they can write solo as well. Michael Frost’s book Exiles came out last year and Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways showed up in my mailbox in early 2007. For the last two months every free moment has been spent with the book or thinking about the consequences of what has been written. It’s a book that I will read more than once but here are some early thoughts that will do the book justice.

The book is divided into two sections. Section One is “The Making of a Missionary.” Hirsch tells his own story. It is a path that many of us would recognize that starts with him in the “come to us” attractional model of doing church that has defined evangelicalism since it became part of the establishment to moving towards a missional incarnation. Section Two is titled “A Journey to the Heart of Apostolic Genius.” There we explore what Hirsch calls Missional DNA. Methodists will recognize the work of Howard Snyder who has used the DNA analogy in the past. For us Canadians who read a lot of Alan Roxburgh, you will recognize the concepts of liminality and “communitas vs. community”.

Forward by Leonard Sweet.

Sweet opens up with a great forward that was quite helpful to me in dealing with the frustrations I have talking with those in traditional churches and especially those that have been schooled in church growth thinking. He uses the metaphor of occasionally having to defrag our computers and get all of the bits and pieces put in their proper places. Not only do we have to do it with our computers but also with our minds.

Sometimes our hard drives need fragmenting. Data entered on our hard drives isn’t always done neatly. The more files you have, and the more programs you download, the more your hard drive gets scrambled by confusing, scattered, random inputs that get sprayed over lots of space. Computer crashes, power outages, and stalled programs just add to the fragmentation.

The harder your hard drive has to work to retrieve the original information, the slower it becomes, the more blurred the pictures are, and the more resistant everything is. As a serial procrastinator, I tend to put off my defragging until the computer almost grinds to a halt. Defragging requires I dedicate the computer to doing nothing but cleaning up the confusion my messes and misses have caused. This housecleaning can take hours. But once I got through the defragging process, my hard drive recovers its speed, and my images once again snap, crackle, and pop with clarity and conviction.

Christianity has undergone untold crashes and clashes in the past two thousand years. In the last five hundred years its original hard drive has wiped out so many times, especially in the West, that it has almost ground to a halt.

I appreciated Len Sweet’s forward to the book as I can’t remember how many discussions I have had about the emerging church and people bring up the measuring points of Christendom. There is a desire for something different but we drag along all of this clutter from what where we have come from.

The discussion starts with a good question. How did the early Christian movement go from roughly 25,000 members in 100 AD to roughly 20 million by 300 AD? More importantly, it did it without all of the things that today’s church defines as vital for ministry. Buildings, a defined Scripture, professional clergy, John Maxwell seminars on leadership, Hillsong worship CDs, Christian radio or television (I may be embellishing his list but you get the point). Not only was the church “deprived” of the “essentials”, it was also under persecution. It isn’t just a discussion of the early church, the church in China had a similar growth rate under the same kind of persecution and also the Methodist revival in England is touched on. So how do they do it. Hirsch identifies six elements of what he calls Missional DNA or mDNA.

  • Jesus is Lord
  • Disciple Making
  • Missional-Incarnational Impulse
  • Apostolic Environment
  • Organic Systems
  • Communitas instead of community

Chapter One :: Setting the Scene

He notes the same thing that many of have been saying (probably because we read it in his first book) that great missionary movements begin on the margins.

In the study of the history of missions, one can even be formulaic about asserting that all great missionary movements begin at the fringes of the church, among the poor and the marginalized, and seldom if ever at the center. It is vital that in pursuing missional modes of church, we get out of the stifling equilibrium of the center of our movements and denominations, move to the fringes, and engage in real mission there. But there’s more to it then just mission; mist great movements of mission have inspirited significant and related movements of renewal in the life of the church. It seems that when the church engages at the fringes, it almost always brings life to the center. This says a whole lot about God and gospel, and the church will do well to heed it. (page 30)

For the longest time, I have been saying that churches can’t or won’t go through tremendous change. I gladly eat those words when I read about Hirsch’s community, the South Melbourne Restoration Community (now called Red). At some very frustrating times in my pastoral journey, I would have loved to have read there story of transformation from the holding pattern that most churches are in to becoming missional was worth the price of the book for me (disclaimer, I didn’t pay for the book, I got a review copy but you know what I mean). A particularly jarring part of the book is his mention that only 10-15% of Australian culture is attracted to the contemporary church growth model.

A combination of recent research in Australia indicates that about 10-15 percent of that population is attracted to what we call the contemporary church growth model. In other words, this model has significant “market appeal” to about 12 percent of our population. The more successful forms of this model tend to be large, highly professionalized, and overwhelmingly middle class, and express themselves culturally using contemporary, “seeker friendly” language and middle-of-the-road music forms. They structure themselves around “family ministry” and therefore offer multi-generational services. Demographically speaking, they tend to cater largely to what might be called the “family-values-segment”–good, solid, well-educated citizens who don’t abuse their kids, who pay their taxes, and who live largely, what can be called a suburban lifestyle.

Not only is this type of church largely made up of Christian people who fit this profile, the research indicates that these churches can also be very effective in reaching non-Christian people fitting the same demographic description–the people within their cultural reach. That is, the church does not have to cross any significant cultural barriers in order to communicate the gospel to that cultural context. (pg 35)

Since almost all churches in typical western cities are working from this model, they are all competing for the same demographic. I started flipping through Michael Adams book, Fire and Ice and I would say our percentage is 15 to 20% of is in that “family values segment” versus 35% for the United States. To make this simple for everyone, the way we do church in Canada manages to avoid 75-80% of the population. Not are the vast majority of churches competing for the same segment, according to George Barna, it is a shrinking segment which by 2025 is expected to decrease by half. Despite the fact that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity, it is what we do. As Hirsch says on page 37

What is becoming increasingly clear is that if we are going to meaningfully reach this majority of people, we are not going to be able to do it by simply doing more of the same. And yet it seems that when faced with our problems of decline, we automatically reach for the latest church growth package to solve the problem–we seem to have nowhere else to go. But simply pumping up the programs, improving the music, and audiovisual effects, or jiggering the ministry mix won’t solve our missional crisis. Something far more fundamental is needed.

So what do we do about this? Well as Hirsch shares his experiences, changing the system does have some effect. As he diagrams out, on pages 43 and 33, moving from a pulpit ministry (5%) to a platform and programmed ministry (10% active in ministry) to a alternative worship gathering (20% of people involved). While 20% is a sizable improvement, it still leaves 80% as pew potatoes.

In his discussion about this on page 45 he offers up this interesting footnote.

In a dialog between Michael Frost, many members of the faculty of Fuller’s School of World Mission, and me, it was generally acknowledged by all there that church growth theory had, by and large, failed to reverse the church’s decline in America and was therefor somewhat of a failed experiment. The fact remains that more than four decades of church growth principles and practice has not halted the decline of the church in Western contexts.

So how do we reach out to the remaining 80% of people who don’t have the church on their radar if church growth principles aren’t the answer? Hirsch draws a correlation that I don’t think I have read before but makes a lot of sense. Hirsch concluded that the fundamental issue was that they had been ineffective at making disciples, and so were failing at living missionally. This coincides with what Ron Sider wrote about in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience and what Robert Webber writes in Ancient Future Evangelism, we don’t do a good job in making disciples which undermines everything else we try to do as a church.

The phrase, “we cannot consume our way to discipleship” hit me hard. For years I proposed that if we could give people enough opportunities to learn, they would. While I worked at Lakeview Church we tried to expand our offerings which overlooked the consumeristic nature of what we were trying to do. Christians come to church to be fed and we are just feeding the idea of a consumption based faith reinforces the church shopping ethos at the expense of undermining our efforts at discipleship before we can begin.

The alternative according to Hirsch is to move away from the idea of choices that come from consumerism and take a covenantal approach to discipleship which reminds me of some of what Stanley Hauerwas has written as a response to capitalism. How does that happen?

  1. Structural changes :: To address the problems of passivity, they became a cell church so it made it harder to be a pew potato.
  2. Instead of core values and statements, they adopted a covenant and some core practices. Most core values in churches are all the same anyways but what they wanted were something that would cause movement. So instead of appealing to the head, they appealed to the feet.
  3. Each cell group had to practice spiritual disciplines. The model they came up with is called TEMPT.

Chapter Two :: Setting the Scene

“Nothing is more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than achieving a new order of things.” Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

“Strictly speaking one ought to say that the church is always in a state of crisis and that its greatest shortcoming is that it is only occasionally aware of it… This ought to be the case because of the abiding tension between the church’s essential nature and its empirical condition…. that there were so many crisis centuries of crisis free existence for the church was therefore an abnormality… And if the atmosphere of crisislessness still lingers on in many parts of the West, this is simply the result of a dangerous delusion. Let us also know that to encounter crisis is to encounter the possibility of truly being the church.” David Bosch, Transforming Mission

Hirsch starts the second chapter with this from Edward de Bono.

…if there is a known and successful cure for an illness, patients generally prefer the doctor to use the known cure rather than seek to design a better one. Yet there may be better cures to be found. He rightly asks how we are to find a better cure at each critical moment we always opt for the traditional treatment. Think about this in relation to our usual ways of solving our problems. Do we not constantly default to previous patterns and ways of tackling issues of theology, spirituality and the church? To quote another Bono, this time from the band U2, it seems like we are “stuck in a moment and now [we[ can't get out of it."

The follow up thought to this is “most efforts at change in the church fail to deal with the very assumptions on which Christendom is built and maintains itself.” ( page 51) In part, this is why we are “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it” (U2).

Hirsch then uses an analogy from the computer world. Apple Inc. is synonymous with innovation. In that world innovation translates into reworking three components: hardware, OS, and software. We saw that with the iPhone where Apple asked that Cingular change their wireless protocol to accommodate the innovation of the iPhone. To take advantage of new hardware, you need a new operating system. If you don't have new and great software ready to go, what's the need for a new operating system. Working at one and not the other doesn't always make a lot of sense (somewhere Bill Gates is sitting on top of a pile of money disagreeing with Hirsch but we get the point) without the other.

As Hirsch continues on page 52 that many efforts to revitalize the church aim at simply adding or developing new programs (Alpha in many churches comes to mind) or sharpening the theology and doctrinal base of the church without changing the foundational understanding of Christendom or how the church operates. Leadership needs to develop new assumptions on which more missional expression of the church can be built.

How do we do that, Hirsch quotes refers to Ivan Illich on page 53

Ivan Illich was once asked what he thought was the most radical way to change society; was it through violent revolution of gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. Neither. Rather, he suggested that if one wanted to change society, then one must tell an alternative story. Illich is right; we need to reframe our understandings through a different lens, an alternative story, if we wish to move beyond the captivity of the predominantly institutional paradigm that clearly dominates our current approach to leadership and church.

He sees the system story at the center of who we are reaching out to affect everything else we do.

Church consultant Bill Easum is right when he notes that…“Following Jesus into the mission field is either impossible or extremely difficult for the vast majority of congregations in the Western world because of one thing: They have a systems story that will not allow them to take the first step out of the institution into the mission field, even though the mission field is just outside the door of the congregation.” (Unfreezing Moves, 31) He goes on to note that every organization is built upon on “an underlying systems story.” He points out that “…this is not a belief system. It is the continually repeated life story that determines how an organization feels, thinks, and thus acts. This systems story determines the way an organization behaves, no matter how the organizational chart is drawn. It’s the primary template which shapes all other things. Restructure the organization and leave the systems story in place and nothing changes within the organization. It’s futile trying to revitalize the church, or a denomination, without first changing the system.” Drilling down into this systems story, the paradigm, or mode of church, is he suggests one of the keys to change and constant innovation.

Easum notes that most theories about congregational life are flawed from the start because they are based on an institutional and mechanical worldview. Or what he calls the “Command and Control, Stifling Story.” This is particularly marked when you recognize how different the predominant forms of church are from the apostolic modes.

After a conversation with Scripture he concludes that "we realized that Bible sustains a thoroughly consistent warning against the centralization of power in a few individuals and concentration of it in inflexible and impersonal institutions (pg 55)

Reinforcing his view is Martin Buber and C.S. Lewis. (pg 55) .

...[Buber] warns us about the dangers of religious institutionalism when he notes that “centralization and codification, undertaken in the interests of religion, are a danger to the core of religion.” This is inevitably the case he says, unless there is a very vigorous life of faith embodied in the whole community, one that exerts an unrelenting pressure for renewal on the institution. It was C.S. Lewis who observed that “there exists in every church something that sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard, by the grace of God to keep the church focused on the mission that Christ originally gave to it.”

For those of you who have read Brian McLaren, the name Ralph Winter may be familiar. Basically he gives us the concept of cultural distance. It is a good guide to help a church conceptualize the barriers it must cross in order to be effective missionally.

As one moves along the scale each step from left to right it indicates a barrier one must cross to demonstrate the Gospel.

  • m0-m1 Some concept of Christianity, same language, similar interests, same nationality, same socio-economic class to yours and your church’s. Most of your friends are in this bracket.
  • m1-m2 Stereotypical non-Christian. Little interest in Christianity and suspicious of the church or had a bad experience with Christians. Just go to the local pub to find these folks.
  • m2-m3 No idea about Christianity or antagonistic towards Christianity as they understand it.
  • m3-m4 The most distance and active resistance. Major cultural and/or worldview obstacles exist.

As Hirsch points out, the Edict of Milan and Constantine’s deal with the church provided a uniform context in the western world for about 1600 years. As Rodney Stark puts it on page 60.

Far too long, historians have accepted the claim that the conversion of Emperor Constantine (ca 285-337) caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into a arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be brutal and lax.

The church has largely conformed to that mode and is comfortable working with the m0 to m1 regions. The other regions were largely “missionary” concerns until the end of WWII. as Hirsch pointed out early, the m0 to m1 zone is vanishing (Perhaps 15% in Australia to 35% of people in the United States). We are surrounded by people in our neighborhoods that have m2 – m4 barriers up. In Christendom “outreach” often worked as the barriers to acceptance were much less. In post-Christendom and the pluralistic environment, the cultural distance has increased and our local context has become missional.

Hirsch breaks down the move from Christendom to now with this important thought on pg 60

With the breakup of the modern period and the subsequent postmodern period, things have begun to radically change. For one, the power of hegemonic ideologies has come to an end, and with that, the breakdown of the power of the state (e.g. the Soviet Union) and other forms of “grand stories” that bind societies and groups together in a grand vision. The net effect of that has been the resultant flourishing of sub cultures, and what sociologists call the heterogenization, or simply the tribalization, of western culture…

People now identify themselves less by grand ideologies, national identities, or political allegiances, and by much less grand stories: those of interest groups, new religious movements (New Age), sexual identity (gays, lesbians, transsexuals, etc), sports activities, competing ideologies (neo-Marxist, neofacist, eco-rats, etc.) class, conspicuous consumption (metrosexuals, urban grunge, etc), work types (computer geeks, hackers, designers, etc.), and so forth. On one occasion some youth ministry specialists I work with identified in an hour fifty easily discernible youth subcultures alone (computer nerds, skaters, homies, surfies, punks, etc.). Each of hem taks their subcultural identity with utmost seriousness, and hence any missional response to them must as well.

Hirsch uses Alpha as an example which while over three million people in the UK have participated, they have not been integrated into traditional churches. He points out that it is most successful with the dechurched and instead of being a missionary tool for the unchurched, pointed out that we often don’t reach very hard beyond our own walls (pg 63) Why don’t they want to go to church? It is the “Jesus yes, Church no.” phenomenon again where people come to faith in small informal groups but don’t want the organized part of the religion to be part of the deal. Hirsch suggests that the prevailing expression of church (Christendom) has become a major stumbling block to the spread of Christianity in the West.

So for those of you who are feeling uncomfortable, the good news is that it hasn’t always been done this way. Hirsch refers to Robert Webber and points out that we are probably closer to life in the early church than in Christendom (although being in a post-Christian society is radically different than being in a pre-Christian one of the early church). He quotes Loren Meed on page 66 who brings a healthy dose of reality to where we are at.

We are surrounded by the relics of the Christendom Paradigm, a paradigm that has largely ceased to exist to work. [These] relics hold us hostage to the past and make it difficult to create a new paradigm that can be as compelling for the next age as the Christendom paradigm has been for the past age.

From there is a discussion on the emerging church that has this great comment by Hirsch.

Another quite remarkable feature is that by and large this phenomenon flies under the radar of must church observers, because they are looking for the familiar features of the church as we know it through Christendom. As such it tends to be an underground movement. I have often had to field criticism of the EMC in the guise of pragmatic questions like, “Where is it working?” or dismissed in phrases like “When I can see some success, I might consider it”. But it is working. The answer is right there under our noses, but we can’t seem to see it because we are looking for the wrong things. If we look for certain features obvious in the Christendom paradigm (like buildings, programs, over leaders, church growth, organization, etc.), we will miss what is really happening.

That’s enough for the first section of the book which for me is worth the price of the book. If you haven’t read the book already, you need to purchase it. For leaders of Christian communities, the book is that good and that revolutionary. The second part of the book is even better and gets at the heart of what needs to happen in more theological and practical terms.

When is the next part of the review coming? I have a couple of days off this week and will have the second half of the book review online next Sunday. That way I won’t be too far being in my effort to review 52 books in 52 weeks.

For more on the book…

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Not feeling at home

From page 23 and 24 of Where Resident Aliens Live by Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas are some great thoughts I re-read tonight while looking for another story that I know is in there (I read the book twice tonight trying to find it).
The image of resident aliens means in a possibly offensive way that American [or western] Christians need to stop feeling at home.  We agree with Leslie Newbigin that today’s Western church ought to feel like missionaries in the very culture we thought we have devised.  American Christians thought we had created, through our Constitution, a culture in which people were at least safe to be Christians.
 
That was a mistake.  The very notion that we Christians could ever feel at home in this culture or any other was criticized by Hugo of St. Victor: “The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom he entire world is a foreign place.”  By being adopted to be part of a journey called discipleship, Christians are permanently ill at ease in the world.
 
Wise Malcolm Muggeridge prayed that, “the only ultimate disaster that can befall us is to feed ourselves to be at home here on earth.  As long as we are aliens we cannot forget our true homeland which is that other kingdom You proclaimed.”
Constantinianism, which attempted through force of the state to make the world into the kingdom, which attempted to make the worship of God unavoidable to all without conversion or transformation was an ill-conceived project that has at last died of its own deceit.  As Stanley has said, “It is unclear who started looking like whom first, whether Southern Baptist pastors started looking like Texas politicians, or Texas politicians started looking like Southern Baptist pastors.”
 
Because we grew up in mainline Protestantism, we know that project well, American mainline Protestants hoped to be so nice, hoped to remake the gospel into something so self-evident and obvious, that the world would think that it was already Christian without having to die and be reborn.  Fortunately, now that that project seems to be in its death throes, on the basic of membership statistics alone, many are now ready to let go of that deceit and to embrace their new status as sojourners.  America, for any of its strengths and blessings is not God’s salvation.

An Apprentice of Jesus

Church of the ExilesWhile in Newport Beach, I had a chance to talk with Mark Scandrette and Adam Klein from ReIMAGINE! in San Francisco. They were talking about The Jesus Dojo . While surfing the ReIMAGINE! website, I found the Dojo page and saw this incredible list of what makes an apprentice of Jesus. We have been discussing the same stuff at Church of the Exiles and I took the out the all caps and posted them over there for some later discussion fodder over coffee.

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Contextless Links

The church and popular culture

I don’t often disagree with AKMA becasue despite us looking at the world from different theological traditions, I find him right far more than not.  I read with interest his post on the church and popular culture.

Somewhere between “helpful” and “neurotic” lies the terrain on which people (very often church people) insist that the church’s leadership should immerse itself more fully in popular culture. On this suggestion, I wish to register a forceful dissent.

His dissent is this

When I hear this suggestion, context often suggests two more precise implications for the proposal. The less laudable reduces to the complaint that “the church doesn’t pay enough attention to the kind of popular culture I like.” So a homilist may scold me for not being sufficiently in touch with popular culture because I don’t watch TV or attend many movies — although I listen to rock’n’roll constantly, and spend recreational hours playing online games.

The more responsible version of the complaint entails (though I’ve never not usually heard this point made explicitly) that the church’s engagement with popular culture rarely escapes a stupefying aye-or-nay binarism. For a while, I heard abundant sermons about The Lion King, none of which raised the theologically- and culturally-critical questions that the movie raised. Instead, as best I recall (and I did try to suppress these memories), they drew facile comparisons between the characters in the movie with characters in the gospels, and noted with facile satisfaction the similarity of the young lion’s spiritual journey to Jesus’ (or ours).

If the church were a more congenial ecology for learning and critical reflection, the “popular culture” topos might bring to the surface more interesting issues: what shall we say about earnest disciples of Jesus who enjoy listening to songs with persistently misogynistic themes, or how we should negotiate the complications of Christian involvement with technology. If you’re just going to bash or endorse an ill-defined glob of under-examined cultural phenomena, though, I’d rather turn my iPod on or go play Warcraft.

As someone who does believe that the church needs to pay more attention to popular culture, I suppose I should disagree with AKMA but he has a valid point in that when the church does engage in popular culture, it often does a really bad job.  The greater point is not more sermons based on whatever marginally spiritual offering from Hollywood but being more immersed in popular culture allows the church to do what AKMA is asking and that is engage in the bigger issues of society (which this may be news to evangelicals, are larger than gay marriage and abortion).  To do that, you need to be in touch with culture enough to realize that people in the church enjoy listening to songs with persistently misogynistic themes and then know the best way to address the issues.  To often when churches to “engage in culture”, the desired result is to use culture to affirm church culture or to make church culture acceptable to the wider culture instead of any real engagement with it. 

From my own experience, the very few churches who are actually involved in their local culture and context (not the watered down idea of culture that passes for a Friends episode) are also the ones that value theology, discipleship, and pursue truth with passion.  I don’t know if it is a pursuit for truth that makes these communities more comfortable with dealing with the issues of culture (rather than the facial features on a lion) or if their engagement with culture leads them to pursue theology and discipleship but I take less offense with them than I do with the pursuit of culture as a way to boost attendance or to appear cool.

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Connecting but not connecting

I chatted with a couple of people both online and off today about my post here.  Here are some of things that I combined said to all of them

  • Back in the 1980s, everything in Saskatoon was closed on a Sunday except for Mac’s and 7-11.  Even our local pharmacy wasn’t open until 1 on a Sunday leaving lots of time for 99% of the population time to go to church.
  • As late as the 80s, Saskatoon only had one night of late night shopping and in our case, it was Thursday p.m.  Except for police, fire, and doctors, most of the population worked 9-5.  People who worked in bars and pubs worked later but as evangelicals we were pretty confident that they were going to hell anyways and we would go to hell if we talked to them while they were working.  It was better just to pretend that they don’t exist.  It was easy to take kids to kids club, go to Wednesday night prayer meeting and Tuesday night Bible study.
  • Drive around Saskatoon some night.  Take a look at what is open now.  Almost every mall, department store, restaurant, and many professional businesses are open a lot later now than they were back in the 80s.  This is good for jobs but it does make it a lot harder for other people.
  • Most church offices are open from 9-4:30 or 9-5 which gives pastors and staff time to go to church again in the evening.
  • Drive around Saskatoon on Sunday after you are finished church.  Almost everything is open.  Restaurants, stores, malls, entertainment complexes… everything.  Where and how are the people who are working those jobs going to connect to your church?  Before you suggest a small group, I’ll remind you that Wendy and I have one free night together a week now and one night a week that we are together as a family.  Is that to be dedicated to a small group and if it is, should it be a divorce recovery small group?
  • I said to a couple of people today, when you look at your church schedule, ask yourself if there are places to connect for people who are working weekends or have two jobs to make ends meet.
  • If there isn’t, have you thought of some online options for community?  It isn’t hard to make a podcast using Google’s free Blogger service.  Let people plug-in when they have time… coffee breaks, lunch time, on the drive home… whenever…  Stephen Shields at Faithmaps has been building communities online with Yahoo! Groups for years and people can plug-in when the time works for them, early morning, late at night… whenever.
  • The big question is one that Pete Ward asked in Liquid Church.  Is your idea of church linked to your land and building?  Can those that are not sitting in your pews have a chance to connect in a real way to your community?

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Clueless Christians

From my friend Kim Reid

What do you do when you run into christians who just don’t get it? Christians who just want to get together and be “ministered to”. Christians who have very little if any contact with the real world. Jesus told us to go into the world and make disciples. The only real way to do this is to go into the world and BE a disciple. To enter your community/culture with the same grace, compassion and mercy that Jesus did.

I find it disheartening that so many christians think the only contact they should have with “the world” is to preach at them. An interesting idea since Jesus didn’t make it a rule to do that. There is no record that He said anything to Zaccheus that even remotely could be construed as “preaching”. Jesus ate with him and loved him. Interesting that we feel the need to add to Jesus example.

God has asked us to feed the poor far more than he has asked us to preach, and yet we prefer to preach, and even use this as a reason not to feed the poor,… unless we can preach at them. Much of the church is over-fed and lazy and make excuses for not serving the unlovely.

I met with a group of pastors this morning. One asked, “Is it our job to tell church people they don’t get Jesus’ message?” My answer to this was, “if christians are not doing the things that Jesus told us to, regarding the people he died for(that is everyone), ie. feeding the poor and taking care of those less fortunate, then they are “other than” christian. It is time they knew it.”

christians who sit back, demand to be fed and don’t do anything to love the world need to consider their “christian-ness”. Who does God say “I never knew you” to? They are people who thought their actions spoke loudly of God,….. but in the end, only spoke of religiosity.

Micheal Frost has suggested that Jesus would never be allowed membership in most of our churches,… interesting.

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The Ingenuity Gap

Many of us who read this weblog and others like it get asked this question a lot from colleagues, “Can you give me two or three books that explain the emerging church and all of this postmodern stuff to me?”  If you are like me, you sit down and try to give me in 600 pages, the essence of what the discussion about the Gospel and culture is.  You try to take into consideration their background and education (no too pragmatic but not too theological either) and hope for the best as their request isn’t that unreasonable is it?

On a lot of topics it isn’t.  If they are wanted to learn HTML or how to use Adobe Photoshop better, finding a book list would be quite easy.  Many topics in the church can be addressed this way.  I am not sure that the emerging church can be tackled in that way.  The reason why I am starting to think that is reading some of the criticism that has been laid out lately by opponents of what many of us are trying to do.  Lately I have been told a bunch of people that have an axe to grind with the emerging church all about our shortcomings.  When I mention specific books that address that very topic (evangelism, church in culture, historical orthodoxy) they look at me a little taken back and say that they will have to look into them (which they won’t).

The emerging church is a little different than other areas of the church.  While Wesleyan theology is a subject that has been written about a lot by theologians and historians and a degree of consensus has taken hold, it is only that way because of the time that has passed for study and reflection.  Could you imagine trying to pin down what Reformed theology was before John Calvin had written the Institutes?  Like a lot of things, it is in flux.  One of the reasons it is in flux is that it is only a couple of years old and secondly because it is a conversation from a lot of different perspectives on a pretty wide topic. 

Within that conversation there are new ideas in theology, missiology and evangelism, discipleship, the contemplative life and monastic communities, hermeneutics, and ideas about church structure.  Not only are they new ideas but the participants come a wide variety of perspectives both inside and outside the church.  This entire conversation is taking place during a time of change in the world from modernity to postmodernity.  In other words it is a big, complicated, vast, moving target and I suspect will continue that way for a long time.

This has happened before in church history but the invention of the web made it both a worldwide and public conversation.  While in the past the spread of these kind of ideas took place in theological books, the lack of a worldwide distribution system (Amazon.com , weblogs, podcasts, and e-mail) and the fact that the church hadn’t yet become big business (well it was but it was more localized) made the progression and sharing of thoughts slower.

More recently innovations in church life have happened in the age of television and media have been centralized (much of the seeker sensitive materials come from Willow Creek and Saddleback or in the Vineyard ‘s case centered around a controlled system of publishing outlets) or were more regional (the strength of fundamentalism tends to be limited to the southern United States) while this theological emergence is the first to happen on the backs of the web and is global.  When looking at the emerging church, there has always been a tendency to look for those defining spots, people, or books that make it all make sense or is a good target to attack and ignores the incredible diversity of the conversation.

We look for those defining locations and people for a lot of different reasons.  The main reason is that most church leaders are not church leaders.  As George Barna said a couple of years ago, most pastors are wonderful people but are not leaders and so we naturally want to appoint leaders to go where we are afraid to go ourselves.  Charlie Wear said something to me years ago in a Denny’s in Fullerton and it was something like, “If you have God’s calling, why are you waiting on the permission of someone else?” but that is strongly built in to how we see ourselves in the big scheme of things.  Despite everyone calling themselves a visionary leader, very few people are that.  Most are followers, even among “leaders”.  Even on Resonate there has been two discussion threads that start with, “Where is Canada’s Brian McLaren ?” or in other words, why won’t someone tell me what to do within my church?

My other reason for why we do this comes from our own intellectual laziness or fear of making a mistake.  A couple of years ago I read the amazing book by Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon who introduced me to the idea of a global ingenuity gap .  If you haven’t read the book, you not only really need to but you will really enjoy it.  In it he points out that all over the world, the experts don’t know nearly as much as we think they do and make decisions based on two narrow of knowledge.  This leads to the wrong answers, partly because they haven’t looked at all of the questions yet.  After a while it is easier to follow someone else that has had success and assume that they have it all figured out.  Coming out of a post-theology modernity, the temptation is to follow the lead in the area of programming.  The results are a bunch of clone churches based on Axis or whoever else is edgy and cool.

Maybe part of the solution is to allow ourselves to say that this isn’t easy.  It isn’t that simple either.  It is going to take more than just a couple of tweaks to our programming team, more media in our sermons, and a big fat tea light candle budget.  Maybe it is realizing that we have an ingenuity gap of our own and that we may have to start looking else where for ideas and those ideas are going to have to be tested and that is going to take time.  Accepting that the creative class in Saskatoon is a lot different than the creative class in Seattle which is a lot different than the creative class in Montreal.  It takes time to listen to stories from our past, our present, and discern the dreams for the future.

It is also going to take some time to build a foundation from areas that we didn’t learn much about in Bible college or seminary.  Time to read, time to discuss, time to pray, time to experiment, and a time to fail.  If we do find success, we need some time to figure out if it was a fluke or if we hit a chord that resonated with our community.   When we find that time, we move past executive summaries, candles and coffee, U2 PowerPoint presentations, and all of the other stuff that we are going to look back at cringe. 

Just some incoherent Saturday thoughts…

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What is the Missional Church?

Larry Chouinard has posted about some of the characteristics of the Missional Church.
(1) A missional church is externally focused.
(2) A missional church is culturally engaged without being absorbed.
(3) A missional church is incarnationally not institutionally driven.
(4) A missional church is about discipleship not church membership.
(5) A missional church is patterned after God’s missionary purpose in the world.
(6) A missional church seeks to establish Kingdom outposts to retake territory under the control of the Evil One.
(7) A missionary church seeks to plant,grow, and multiply missionary communities.
(8) A missionary church trains and equips new leaders to enter territories under seige by Dark Forces. We learn in the context of mission not in the security of our comfort zone.
(9) A missional church highlights character, virtue, and compassionate deeds as the most effective witness to God’s Kingdom.
(10) A missional church connects to Jesus through mission not doctrinal precision.
(11) A missional church adopts an organizational structure and internal forms based on mission not ecclesiastical traditions.
(12) A missional church sees itself as organic and not in static institutional forms.
(13) A missional church pursues relationships across generational, ethnic, economic and cultural lines of distinctions.
(14) A missional church seeks to partner with the community to “seek the shalom” of the community.
(15) A missional church assembles to seek God’s presence and to be realigned with God’s missionary purpose.
(16) A missionary church seeks to reawaken a movement ethos as together we engage our cultural context.
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