Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Forgotten Ways - part 4

At the heart of it all is Jesus. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. “

Hirsch is often asked why he think the Chinese underground church has experienced such rapid growth. He responds, “if one is willing to die for the faith, one has gone beyond easy believism into the realms of genuine faith and love for God.”

Recently I was at a Church Planting Movement conference. David Watson, the main presenter said that in the Chinese churches they generally ask an “extra” question when someone is being baptized. “Would you be willing to die for Jesus?” They ask this question because it is a real possibility that they will be asked to lay down their life for the King.

Hirsch says that in order for the Chinese Church to survive within the context of persecution they have to rid themselves of all unnecessary impediments. This includes: the institutional conception of ecclesia (assembly or church), condense and purify their core message (Jesus is Lord), adopt a more cell-like structure, rely heavily on relational networks. They also must remove all of the traditional interpretations and theological paraphernalia in order to stay under the radar.

This causes me to question if it will take this kind of persecution for the western church return to its core message and theory and practice. What does it really look like to make Jesus Lord? Lord of your entire life? What would it look like if the Church really made Jesus the Lord of everything they were about?

Hirsch says that at the heart of all great movements in Christian history there is a recovery of a simple Christology. He is the initiator of the New Covenant, and He, Himself is the New Covenant. Thus discipleship (becoming like Jesus) lies as the central task of the Church.

“The greatest proof of Christianity for others is not how far a man can logically analyze his reasons for believing, but how far in practice he will stake his life on his belief.”

We must lead God’s people not from a place of honor and demanded respect, but rather from a place of inspiration. If we want to help lead the church back to its true leader, Jesus, we must stake our lives on the statement that Jesus is our Lord. And if you take a hard look at the Gospels while doing this, you will truly be an inspiration and be able to lead from that place.

According to Hirsch, “Inspirational leadership involves a relationship between leaders and followers in which each influences the other to pursue common objectives, with the aim of transforming followers into leaders in their own right. It does this by appealing to values and calling without offering material incentives.”

He says that the quality of the church’s leadership is directly proportional to the quality of discipleship. So I leave you with this question. Who are you discipling? And who is discipling you?

The Forgotten Ways - part 3

“How will we ever find a better cure if at each critical moment we always opt for the traditional treatment?” ~Alan Hirsch

Hirsch and many others (including myself) often find themselves thinking about how we (the church) are actually further away from “getting the job done” than we were at the end of the third century. By getting the job done I mean Jesus’ great commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

If you skipped that last quote because you’ve already heard that a million times go back and read it. I included the first and last sentence that most leave out on purpose so that you would see that they key here is Jesus. It is not about the work that we are doing. It is bookended by the fact that this is something Jesus will be leading. This is vastly important to everything the church does.

The point here though, is that we ask the question, “why are we further away from getting the job done?” Yet we fail to question our “mode of the churches engagement” as Hirsch puts it. He says that we typically aim at adding or developing new programs. This is just a surface level issue. Hirsch paints this picture more clearly for us by saying that when Apple Computers want to continue to progress their technology they do not simply create newer better programs. In fact they rarely do this at all. Instead, they rethink the operating system and the hardware. If they get this right, then they may think about developing new programs, but they largely lead the programming up to their customers! Thus, the app store.

The church could learn a lot from Apple. If we can get the hardware (mode) and operating system (leadership structure) right, the people will do the programming. And they will do it for free because they love the result. Just ask Wikipedia about that. Or Google. Or Firefox… you get the idea. They will become more engaged and passionate about this work than anything else. This is because God made us in his creative image.

“Far too long historians have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax.” As soon as Constantine sought to control the church and handed the reigns to highly paid educated men, the Church ceased to be a movement of Jesus followers and became an institution of spectators.

According to Barna in 2001 there were 111 million US Christians without a local church. This number is much higher 10 years later. This should cause us all to question our mode of church. If the Christians don’t even want to be a part of it, why should anyone else?

No amount of candles, perfect music, entertaining sermon or drama will bring the lost to your church. “I therefore present the same challenge here to the emerging church and the established church: if you don’t want to be another church fad, don’t just make the service and spirituality suit a postmodern audience, start at another place – put the M[issional] in the equation first, the E[merging] C[hurch] will follow.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Forgotten Ways - part 2

“If you want to build a ship, don’t summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs, and organize the work, rather teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean.”

This is really the way I have come to approach life in the communities to which I belong. I’ve never been big on telling people what to do. In fact I probably lean too far into the abstract and I imagine that might be a little frustrating for some who I coach.

I am a vision caster. I am not a prescriber. I hope all of my readers hear that well when I write. I never want to push my methods of church and life on anyone. Rather I want to cast a vision in their hearts of what a full life in Christ might look like for them and their community. I hope to do it in such a way that it becomes their hearts deepest desire to live that vision out. I have full faith in the Spirit of Jesus Christ to work out the methods and details.

However, I do think it is important to share with the church how Jesus has historically created the kind of amazing movements that I spoke about in part 1. I think it is important to study how the methods used during these movements created space for Jesus to lead His Church and to see how powerful a movement can become when the leader is Jesus and not any man, or group of people. (I am not arguing for anarchy, I will address this issue specifically in another post).

Alan Hirsch says that 95% of evangelical churches subscribe to the contemporary church growth strategies in spite of the fact that there are very few reports of success with these strategies. In the same way that we should pay attention to the methodology that does seem to work, shouldn’t we pay attention to that which clearly doesn’t work. I would like to contend that the reasons these church growth strategies don’t work is because they quench the Spirit. They are led by people who cannot let go of control, and so they setup a system that requires their presence to function.

Don’t believe me? Try this… imagine what would happen if your preacher and song leader slept in on Sunday morning. What would happen when the church gathered together? What would you do? I will leave it up to your imagination to what would happen, but this is what I mean by control. If the absence of one or two people would stop anything significant from happening, I think there is something seriously wrong with your methodology. I think that if this is the case, Jesus is probably not leading that church.

This may sound too harsh.

For the record, let me say that I believe the Lord works in and through all things, good or bad. I believe that the Lord has done amazing work in the lives of millions of individuals through the institutional church. I am in fact a product of that and I am very grateful for my faith heritage. Yet I believe there is a more faithful, holistic, and fruitful way to live in community as followers of Jesus. And it is to that end that I dedicate this blog, and for better or worse, my life.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Forgotten Ways - part 1

When you are in seminary you read a lot of books. Some are good, some are hard to stay awake through, others change your life forever, and some just give language and vision to the things you already believe to be true. This falls into the last category for me. Although this is a read that could certainly fall into the "change your life forever" category for some who haven't thought through these ideas yet. It was the most helpful thing I have read thus far in graduate school. I would like to spend some time unpacking it for you. This will take several posts, but its something I think may be very helpful to some of you as it was to me.

I would first like to say, Alan Hirsch is a practitioner. This is helpful to know. He's not one of these guys who only works in the theory world. These theory voices are helpful, but its hard for me to take them without a grain of salt when they haven't staked their lives on their ideas like Hirsch has. Practitioners have not only thought deeply about their ideas, but they are living them out in the real world with real people and have the ability to see real results... good or bad. So remember this as you read the following posts (or better yet if you have time, read the book).

Hirsch lays a foundation by saying, "There are primal forces that lie latent in every Jesus community and in every true believer." He calls this missional DNA. He says we should ask the western church, in light of our current situation, "Will more of the same do the trick? Can we simply rework the tried and true Christendom understanding of church that we so love and understand, and finally, in a ultimate tweak of the system, come up with the winning formula?" I sense a bit of sarcasm in that there seems to be an obvious answer to the question. No.

Hirsch argues, and I fully agree, that we need a whole new vision of reality, "a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions and values especially as they relate to our view of the church and mission."

He spoke about how the early church did something absolutely incredible that makes no sense to most westerners as it went against all odds to grow into the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in only 200 years. In the year AD 100 there were as few as 25,000 Christians. In AD 310 scholars say there were over 20,000,000 followers of Jesus. And just imagine their cultural climate... They were an illegal religion. They had no church buildings. They had no New Testament. They had no professional paid pastors. They had no programs or seeker services. AND They actually made it hard to join the church! So how did they grow from being a small movement to the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in 2 centuries?

Hirsch says that this is not a freak historical event. He gives the example of the underground church in China. When Mao Tse-tung took power and purged the church, killed/imprisoned all the leadership, took control of the buildings, etc. there were only 2 million Christians in China. Since then there are now more close to 100 million! They have no professional clergy, no official leadership structure, no central organization, no mass meetings yet despite (or maybe because of) these things they have grown like no other movement the church has seen since Constantine came to power. Hirsch says, "I can only suggest that they found it in themselves… this potent coding (missional DNA) is placed within them through the work of the Spirit and by the power of the gospel in the community.” They simply needed a situation to force them to find that which was already in them.

Thank you Mao Tse-tung. You tried to stamp out the Kingdom of God in China. But you cannot stamp out the Spirit's fire. When you try, it simply fans the flames. 100 million Chinese flames and counting.

Stay tuned for more on The Forgotten Ways...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pirate Monks (Changes part 2)

This is part 2 of the Changes series. If you didn't read part one it would make a lot more sense in that context, so you should go do that first...

Part 2 is about the "new monastic community" I started in Edwards Hall this semester. It is a group of 10 students at ACU that all live in Edwards. 8 freshmen, 1 sophomore and 1 junior. I was thrilled yet nervous about initiating and leading this community, “Pirate Monks.” I wasn’t sure if there would actually be anyone that would be interested in making this kind of commitment, nor how I would be as a leader of this type of community. Yet I was determined to be faithful to this call that the Lord put on my heart.

Pirate Monks has been a truly a phenomenal expression of covenanted communal discipleship. Ten students committed to a spiritual rule that I thought impossible for college students. They are committed to daily conversation with the Lord, the 10:02 prayer (a prayer for more harvest workers), a soul friend relationship, weekly fasting, reading the Sermon on the Mount three times a week, and meeting with all of their monk brothers every week. They have been far more committed to these rules than I could have ever imagined and it is transforming them deeper into the image of Jesus day by day.

Next semester I am going to begin meeting with them one on one for 30 minutes every other week for coaching. This is something I wanted to do from the beginning but it was difficult to find the time. I think it should be easier at the beginning of the semester to get it going. I also think this will be helpful in one of my seminary courses as we are learning how to be a better life coach. I think it is important to partner education with practice. This should be a good way to combine these two things.

If you are interested in keeping up with more about the Pirate Monks you can visit my other blog that I am beginning that is strictly about that community...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Changes (Part 1)

This semester was one that had huge potential from the onset. Sara and I made some big decisions this summer and last spring that we knew would spark some really great outcomes this semester. We were leaving our comfy mega-church to participate in what we felt like was a more faithful expression of what we believe the Lord desires his church to be. We moved into a different residence hall and I became a full time employee at ACU. And I was planning to start a new monastic community in the residence hall. So as you can imagine, we were thrilled to get things underway.

The next series of blogs will be about some of these changes mentioned above. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on some of the work the Lord is doing in and through these changes... First things first. Here is the reflection of our change in our expression of the gathered church community. I would also like to throw a disclaimer out for those that know the congregation we were a part of. My descriptions about this particular place, are not indeed about this particular place exclusively. They are more a reflection on our experience of institutional churches. This just happens to be the one we were a part of. Thus I refer to it as "comfy mega-church." I simply use this pseudonym so that those who are there can know that I am truly not attacking them in any way. Hopefully you can find some humor in this.

Let's get started... Because of all of the unique ways that we were planning on making transitions this semester we had really great expectations. Expectations about what it might be like to leave comfy mega-church, and what a simpler form of church would look and feel like.

We had mixed feelings and strong convictions about this change. We believed that we could no longer contribute to the dualistic and consumeristic institution that we had been part of for the last 5 years. The Lord was calling us to something more holistic and faithful to the Church Jesus died to give flight too, something that looked more like the New Testament church. We also hurt knowing the relationships that we would undoubtedly leave behind. Even though I was tied deeper into the community at comfy mega-church because I was on staff, Sara expected to experience the most pain due to leaving the people. I expected to break ties without any consequences or ill emotions (this was foolish). I was simply excited about the change to become more intimate with our new house church community. I was excited about the change to become more like Jesus through the relationships in our house church that went deeper than many had become at comfy mega-church.

The transition from comfy mega-church to the house church has not exactly gone according to our plan. We stuck to our convictions and what we felt the Lord calling us to do, but “the detox” as I have affectionately called it, has been far more painful that I expected. During the first month of the detox I experienced an extreme amount of “emotional flux.” I felt lonely and detached often. I really felt like I had lost a big part of who I was as a human. When you work in a large "successful" church for several years and grow a ministry from next to nothing to the size of the campus ministry when I left, you tend to gain much of your identity from this position. Everyone knows you as the campus ministry guy and when you’re good at it, you like that mantra, as unhealthy as it my be. The difficult part was that I expected to simply jump into intimacy with the people in our house church. I did my best to really jump into it by being as open as I could through both the things I shared with the group, and the honesty of emotion in which I did it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as that. Others in the group still had a lot of things going on and hadn’t felt the same convictions about stepping out of institutional church (several were and are a part of institutional churches, and thats okay it just slows down our progress a bit because of time constraints). This made it all the more painful. However, I learned that you simply can’t jump into relationship. It takes time and I am beginning to see these relationships form in meaningful ways.

We have come a long way in the last 5 months however. Much faster than I really even thought possible, even if I wanted it to go faster. I really feel great about where our house church is going. Sara and I had Rosten, Ben, Emily, Laura and KT come over this Sunday morning to cook breakfast, eat, play wii and hang out with each other. This is the kind of thing I want to do on a more regular schedule to help our relationships flourish. It is really great to be in community with people that you can play with and truly invest spiritually and otherwise with. Its actually a really rare combination to find both in the same people. We are beginning to see this and it is a blessing.

Like I said this is part one (of 3 or 4 to come in the following days). I haven't even gotten rilled up yet. Talk to ya then.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

When Jesus is Everything

Do you ever wonder what it would be like if when the church you meet with gathered together you literally did nothing that wasn't directly praising Jesus? Do you ever wonder what it would be like if everyone had a place to share their heart and life with everyone else in the room? Or what it would be like if people specifically pointed out how they have seen Jesus at work in your life, and they could do so honestly because they know you so intimately?

Because that's what happened when the church gathered at my brother Kent's house tonight. Sara and I had to show up a tad late because of work, but from the moment we arrived all of our friends were gathered together in the living room meditating on the Lord Jesus. When we sat down we each took the bread and spoke to each other how we had seen Jesus in the lives of other individuals in the room. We did this for about 45 minutes, praising Jesus for the work he was doing in and through each of our sisters and brothers in the room as we shared the bread with each other. It was beautiful. The church was doing what it was designed to do when it is gathered. Build one another up and worship Jesus.

We then shared the wine as we spoke directly to Jesus telling him why we love Him and why we are thankful for him. I shared tears as I was able to express to the church how deeply I am in love Jesus for being able to call him my brother, best friend and King. Each person, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, economic status, speaking abilities, etc. shared their voice and their life with everyone else in the house. The Lord was glorified and the Body of Christ was built up.

Praise be to our God and our King, our Brother and our Friend, our Great Master and Humble Servant, our Savior and Lord, the Ruler and Creator of both Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ. All glory to Him in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

More Church Rants

It seems the Lord is stirring up a lot of things in the hearts of several of the people closest to me in regards to the institutional church. And I don't think its just my influence on them that is bringing them to this place. Sure, I am pretty (insert extremely) frustrated with a lot of things happening in the Christendom world. But I am doing my best to allow my friends to go on this journey for themselves in the same way I did. I am trying to be a good friend and partner with them as they experience these frustrations. I am asking them questions to help probe thought and give language to the things they are already feeling and experiencing. It seems the deeper that they go into the leadership of the church the more frustrated they get. I think this is because they are getting to see the roots of the problems, not just the surface level things that the average church-goer sees.

To be honest, I really think the whole system itself is flawed. No amount of program tweaks will solve these issues. I read a book recently that I will probably be blogging about a lot in the near future and beyond. Its called "The Forgotten Ways" by Alan Hirsch. One of the things he says is, "Most theories about congregational life are flawed from the start because they are based on an institutional and mechanical worldview... such a worldview is not biblical. Instead, it is fatalistic and self-serving because the goal is to fix and preserve the institution for as long a life as possible. Such a worldview allows one to focus on mere organizational and institutional survival rather than following Jesus onto the mission field for the purpose of fulling the great commission."

This is the root of the problem for most churches. They exist, not for the sake of the world, nor for the advancement of the Kingdom of God (although they may use this language, in most cases it simply isn't true), but rather they exist for their own survival as a single church. The community is not about me. And it is not only about us, it is also for the sake of the world. For the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

So why are so many churches spending so much time trying to get the people that left their church because the preaching or singing sucked and just went down the road to the other church? Who cares!!! Stop worrying about transfer growth! Its not about you! Its not about your church! Its not even your church in the first place. Its Jesus' church. So stop pretending like you run the show. Step aside. And let Jesus lead his Church!


For anyone who may be wondering, I do love the Church, Christ's Bride. I do not indeed love the institution we have been trying to keep surviving since Constantine made it the law. But I LOVE Jesus' Bride. After all, I am a part of it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

By This All People Will Know

I got tested for allergies today. Probably a good thing considering I am allergic to the following: Juniper trees, Virginia Live Oak trees, Mulberry trees, White Ash trees, Pecan trees, Mountain Cedar trees, Wheatgrass, Redtop, Bemuda, Orchard, Fesque, Ragweed, Pigweed, Lamb Quarter, Kochia, Russian Thistle, Sagebrush, Marsh Elder, Cocklebur, English Plantain, Cat, House Dust, Mites, Molds and Mildews. Just to name a few... Or actually all of them that I now know of...

Each time I go to the doctor I think a few things.

1) This sucks.
2) I'm so glad I have a job that gives me good health insurance.
3) There are a LOT of people that dont have insurance and doctors are expensive!

What would it look like if the church was our insurance policy? If church was the kind of community that pulled all of their resources to take care of each other. What would that say to the world? Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Or what if we had faith enough that the Lord would heal us if we would just ask.

Still thinking... Not sure where to go from here. Any thoughts?

A Vision for the Church

Elaine Heath describes the current state of the church in the US as being in a "dark night of the soul." She says there is no guaranty that we will come out of the dark night any better. And while I agree that there is no guaranty, I am very hopeful of the things to come for the church in North America because of men and women, who, like me, are fed up with the churches status quo and yet are passionately in love with Jesus. I believe it is precisely this dark night that is raising up men and women across the country that say no to legalistic and judgmental expressions of Christ’s church. These people will say yes to making space for Christ to lead His Church the way that He so chooses. These people will go into the dark places of the world armed with love in one hand and peace in the other, befriending the spiritually hurting, dirty and dying. The love of Christ will be so obvious among these lost people that they will find themselves falling in love with Him as they participate in His work even before they believe in Him. Authentic families of Jesus will be raised up from out of the mud and the mire and they will truly look like the people of God. They will be radical. They will be holy. They will look a lot like Jesus. And this world will never be the same.