Archive for the ‘missional church’ Category

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

Priorities

Posted: March 30, 2012 by Jim Killam in missional church

“Leadership in the emerging church is no longer about focusing on strategies, core values, mission statements, or church-growth principles. It is about leaders first becoming disciples of Jesus with prayerful, missional hearts that are broken for the emerging culture. All the rest will flow from this, not the other way around.”

– Dan Kimball

In “Building a Discipling Culture,” Mike Breen adds this: “We need leaders who will step out of ‘managing church’ and make discipling others their primary objective. The time has come to humbly acknowledge before God that we have failed to train men and women to lead in the style of Jesus. Whether through ignorance or fear, we have taken to the safe option, training pastors to be theologically sound and effective managers of institutions rather than equipping them with the tools they need to disciple others.”

 

So a rabbi walks into a synagogue, and he says to the guy in charge …

If only the scene in Luke 4 could have been all Disney-like mirth and happiness. It started out in Hallmark Hall of Fame territory and almost ended in Quentin Tarantino Land.

A dear missionary woman I met in Manila — a firebrand of a woman, a brass-tacks woman — once called Jesus’ revelation of himself in Luke 4:14-30 the Nazareth Manifesto, and it’s stuck with me. It was the grand statement of Jesus’ grand purpose, taken directly from the book of Isaiah. The folks listening to Jesus that day should have put 2 and 2 together; but instead, they heard Jesus tell them exactly the opposite of what they wanted to hear. Jesus told them that he was the hoped-for Messiah, and that he came to release prisoners, give sight to the blind, preach good news to the poor and send the oppressed away into a new life of freedom.

In other words, the meat of the gospel.

That wasn’t what people were hoping the Messiah would deliver. They wanted a hero, a conqueror. They thought they were God’s chosen people because they were better, and therefore deserved a superior place in the world. Jesus essentially said that they weren’t any better than their Gentile neighbors and enemies, and that in fact, God had never thought of them that way, even when Israel still had the prophets and a kingdom. He simply loves whom he chooses to love, and expects us to follow suit. Period.

Ouch.

I often fear that I want the wrong things from God. I fear that what I’m aiming for has nothing to do with God’s priorities and everything to do with pressing forward with my goals, my priorities. If the Nazareth Manifesto, and the ensuing riot, teach me anything, it’s that I would do very well to search hard for what God wants and not let my disappointment at not getting what I want cloud my view of him.

One spring day about 20 years ago, I went to Menard’s to buy paneling for a basement project. Then and now, I typically go for the cheapest product available if it looks good in the store. So I chose a wood-grain pattern in $6.99 sheets the approximate thickness of a business card. I loaded the 4-by-8-foot sheets onto one of those raised, flat carts, paid and wheeled everything outside.

I’d forgotten that this was a blustery April day. As soon as I reached the crosswalk between the store and the parking lot, a wind gust of about 40 mph whipped the top sheet of paneling off the cart and sent it sailing just over the heads of two elderly women on their way toward the store.

I don’t know if there are any documented cases of decapitation by cheap paneling, but this came horrifyingly close. The soundtrack still plays in my mind:

WOPPA WOPPA WOPPA WOPPA SPLAT.

The paneling landed harmlessly in the parking lot. The ladies didn’t seem like they’d even noticed – they were both wearing those plastic rain bonnets sold at Walgreen’s for 79 cents; consequently they had no peripheral vision.

My basement project proceeded with scratched paneling and no court date.

And then, in a damp basement, within a couple of months the cheap paneling warped and got moldy. I ended up tearing it all out and throwing it away. The paneling that had looked so good under the protective store roof lasted only a couple of seconds when exposed to the outside world. And then, even surviving that shock, it quickly became useless and embarrassing when permanently placed in a hostile environment.

I thought of that brush with infamy the other day after talking with a college student. He grew up in a small town far from suburbia, went to the small church there and lived a sheltered life. When he arrived at a large state university, he quickly realized that a majority of people there saw life very differently than he did. Things weren’t as black and white as he’d been led to believe. Good people did some pretty bad things. People he’d been taught were bad were actually pretty nice. The people having the most fun didn’t seem to hold any faith at all.  Exposure to the bigger world made his faith seem irrelevant. The other small-town values he’d grown up with seemed irrelevant, too.

Two issues here. One, his faith wasn’t very deep. He’d been living his parents’ faith, which also wasn’t very deep – more cultural than spiritual. And two, he’d never tested it in the culture he’d eventually live in as an adult. So a big part of it blew away like a piece of cheap paneling in a windstorm. The remaining part was unsuitable for its new environment, so he soon discarded it as useless and irrelevant.

In the current issue of Relevant magazine, Barna Group president David Kinnaman observes:

“The ages of 18 to 29 are the crossroads – the time in life when people – if they are going to do it – are most likely to rethink their spirituality. Though people often become more spiritually minded as they get older, they don’t change very much in terms of spirituality. They tend to stay committed to faith perspectives that have served them for decades.”

Here’s what this looked like in the not-too-distant past: Most Americans, like my student, grew up with some Christian experience – anything from twice-a-year church attendance to devotedly following Christ. During their college and young adult years, many placed their faith on a shelf – or saw it shredded in a cultural hurricane they weren’t ready for. A fair amount eventually would pick up that faith again – often when they had young kids of their own.

Today, a huge proportion of American youth have no church experience – none. Their spiritually disillusioned parents never took them. Faith has absolutely no role in their lives and Christianity is no more than a punchline on a cartoon show. This has happened quickly – within one generation. Too many churches failed to recognize the scale of the problem until it had snowballed. Now it’s a crisis.

In a blog post titled, “This is Why We Plant Churches,” Scott Thomas of Mars Hill Church in Seattle cites Barna research in noting that, in the past 20 years, the number of Americans who don’t attend church has nearly doubled. At last check, only 18 percent of Americans are attending church on any given Sunday – and that’s projected to drop below 15 percent in the next decade. The largest unchurched population? Twenty-somethings.

I realize that church attendance and Christian faith don’t necessarily co-exist for everyone any more. But generally they still do. And that means Christianity has little to no role in the lives of a heavy majority of Americans today – especially those under 30.

So, while spiritual rethinking still likely happens between ages 18 and 29, it now occurs, for many, without any Christian context. The usual end result is wishy washy, inclusive theology (all roads lead to some concept of heaven) that has no basis in anything other than good feelings. That kind of world view, when truly tested, gets whipped into the street like a sheet of cheap paneling. And people are left looking for better answers.

Churches that focus heavily on reaching and discipling young adults – even at the expense of other ministries – are likely to become part of a new reformation that’s already begun. Those that fail to do this may find their doors closed. Very, very soon.

Slavery in the 21st Century

Posted: November 1, 2010 by Lincoln Brunner in missional church, missional living, the poor, Uncategorized
My friend Sam sat on a balcony overlooking a deep ravine, talking about young children in India who get bought and sold like cattle among perverts and criminals.
Sam said that these kids suffer unspeakable abuse in the brothels of big cities like Kolkata. The rape and loneliness — and finally the diseases — that run rampant among these sex slaves gives them a life expectancy of three to five years, eight on the outside.
AIDS is a horror, but many times it is merely a consequence of a greater one — the slavery of young children at the hands of animals who know nothing of human dignity.
If there were any one issue on which the church should stand united, it is this one. Where is the outrage? Where is the digging deep for answers to the poverty and hopelessness that drives parents to sell their own children?
Read this article, and think about it.

Tough week here. On the college campus where I work, a student who went missing 2 weeks ago is now feared dead. Authorities found burned human remains in a park near campus; they waited a week to tell the public because it took that long to determine that the remains were human. The case has been reclassified as a homicide investigation. And, with no suspect yet in custody, the campus is scared.

For whatever reasons, I’ve found myself on the scene during the aftermath of some horrific tragedies these past few years. Post-Katrina New Orleans and post-earthquake Haiti were of my own choosing, as I had an opportunity to do relief work. No such choosing with the 2008 NIU shootings and now a grisly homicide.

A common thread I’ve noticed in these situations is the heroic response of the church. Not “a” church. THE church. Denominational differences don’t amount to much. Neither do doctrinal debates about Calvinism or spiritual gifts or gender roles in the church.  And all of those “why” questions about why terrible things happen to good people can wait. Right now, the question is “how?” As in, how can we serve?

It’s in these times that WWJD – What would Jesus Do? – means something a lot deeper than a Christian marketing slogan. We can say, with complete confidence, that Jesus would comfort those within his reach. Not by handing them a pamphlet, but simply by crying with them. Quietly and inconspicuously serving them. Working alongside them. Sometimes, praying with them.

In short, for us as Christians, it means disappearing. Getting out of the way and letting hurting people see Jesus. Pretty simple.

I think this song says it well.

Picking up where Linc’s Wednesday post left off …

No one will ever mistake me for a hipster. I drive ridiculous cars, shop at Land’s End and have no tattoos or piercings … well, except for that time I stepped on a pitchfork. I don’t even like coffee. I do, however, like hanging out with Christian 20-somethings, whether they’re hipsters or not, because I think they’re onto something great.

In the aforementioned article called “Hipster Faith” in Christianity Today, author Brett McCracken defines his term this way:

The latest incarnation of a decades-long collision of “cool” and “Christianity,” hipster Christianity is in large part a rebellion against the very subculture that birthed it. It’s a rebellion against old-school evangelicalism and its fuddy-duddy legalism, apathy about the arts, and pitiful lack of concern for social justice. It’s also a rebellion against George W. Bush—style Christianity: American flags in churches, the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, and evangelical leaders who get too involved in conservative politics, such as James Dobson and Jerry Falwell.

The new subculture of young evangelicals—I call them “Christian hipsters”—grew up on Contemporary Christian music (CCM), Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, flannel graphs, vacation Bible school, and hysteria about the end times. Now all of that is laughable to them, as they attempt to burn away the kitschy dross of the megachurch Christianity of their youth—with its emphasis on “soul-winning” at the expense of everything else—and trade it for something with real-world gravitas.

The article is a fascinating exploration of a new generation of Christians … joined by quite a few older Christians, me included, who have become disillusioned by much of what they saw in the average American evangelical church. McCracken sometimes paints with a broad brush … I could picture the walls of defense being raised by older readers in regard to these young people with their coffee houses and their tattoos and their gee-tar music.

The Hipster Doofus

And he’s right: There’s a component to most teens and young adults that is overly concerned with being cool. The young church is no exception. I am part of a generation of Christians that was never considered cool, except within our own Fortress. Much of that grew from a holier-than-thou attitude – sometimes conscious, more often subconscious – that we took toward people on the outside. In Jesus’ time, we’d have been quickly identified as Pharisees.

Now, as many have rejected those attitudes and the church culture that incubated them, there’s potential trouble on the other end of the spectrum. Certainly, it’s great to seek relevance in order to remove silly stumbling blocks between our friends and Jesus. But if we don’t stay focused, we may end up seeking relevance mainly so people think we’re cool. And then they won’t anyway. See: The hipster doofus.

Just as fascinating as McCracken’s article are the accompanying reader comments, because they sound like a hundred conversations I’ve heard in church. Older people can’t understand why younger people reject much of they stand for. Younger people can’t understand why their elders are so rigid and can’t change with the times. Some older Christians won’t condone any change in worship style, and there is no church instrument other than the organ. Some younger Christians have no interest in / appreciation for the wisdom that decades of life have bestowed on their elders.

It’s called the generation gap, people, and you can find examples everywhere from the Bible to Shakespeare to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to hip-hop music. Unfortunately, it’s often even more visible in the church. Rather than take any real interest in bridging this gap, much of the older set meets for endless potlucks and organizes voting blocs at the church business meeting. The younger set gets discouraged and simply checks out.

A commenter identified as “Archaeologist” writes: love not the world nor the things of the world. … it seems that the younger Christians love the idea of ‘cool’ or ‘hip’ and other false ideas. Christians do not change with culture, they stand with God and let Him do the leading.

Another writes: “God will judge these people …”

OK. Predictable given the magazine’s generally older demographic and the preference to label something you don’t understand rather than … well, try to understand it.

But then there were comments like this one from Josh Rhea:

Young people that do not live squarely inside the evangelical “bubble” are influenced by cultural currents but the issue is not which currents the church should latch on to, but rather how to respond to the timeless yearning of young people for a faith that is authentic and whole. When the church tries to just be “relevant”, it will rise and fall with the cultural current. Instead, preach love, forgiveness, understanding, creation care, social justice. Take the Bible more seriously than the fundamentalists. Take the gospel more seriously than liberals. Don’t care if your pastor shops at American Apparel or JCPenney – I’ve seen “hipsters” swoon at teaching from both types.

That’s the type of approach I’ve seen from young-adult Christians lately: Genuinely wanting to shed any baggage that obscures what following Jesus is really about. Wanting to disperse into the culture so they can reach the culture. Call it hipsterism, idealism, whatever you want. But sign me up.