Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Kingdom of God is like Disney World.

Some people say...

The Kingdom of God is like Disney World!

Others say, The Kingdom of God is like Six Flags!

While others say, The Kingdom of God is like a rock concert!

And still others say, The Kingdom of God is like the Super Bowl!

But the King of this Kingdom says, "[No], the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Open Apology Letter to the members of the Institutional Church of America

Dear American Institutional Church members,

You must know something about me.  I've struggled with the sin of pride since I was in high school.  I'm around so many encouraging people that it was hard not to get hyped up on myself.  It got a lot worse when I came to college.  Everything I did (except my grades) seemed to be overwhelmingly successful and people kept praising me for it.  And my massive head kept growing.

I've come a long way in the past 4 years in shrinking this ego, but I have come to the realization that in one major way a lot of shrinkage still needs to happen.  And this is where my apology comes in.

You see its really hard not to jab and critique the church when you are a seminary student.  Believe it or not, you are actually required to do so quite often if you want to get that expensive piece of paper that says you smarter than you actually are.  (all it really says is that you are a glutton for punishment)

Here's where I went wrong...

1) I used social media as an outlet to express my frustrations.  These things are better left to personal conversations with trusted friends and mentors.  (Thanks to my best bud Brent Bailey for teaching me that).

2) When I did that, I sometimes did it in a way that made it sound like I thought I was better than them because I was doing something different.  The reality is, the Lord has called me to something that he may or may not call you to.  You should do what the Lord calls you to, no more, no less.

For these things I am genuinely sorry.  I'm sorry I hurt you.  I'm sorry I said things you weren't prepared to hear.  I'm sorry I was not careful with my words.  I'm sorry I did not have these conversations in person.  I'm sorry I didn't always do it out of a motivation of love.

I'm sorry.

Okay, hopefully at this point you've found it in your heart to forgive me.  If not, go check out Luke 6:37, hopefully that will change your mind and you'll forgive me ;-)

Now that you've forgiven me, lets get to the good work.  The work of unity.  This was Jesus' dying prayer (John 17:20-21).  So if that was this important lets get to it.  Unity does not mean conformity.  It means that despite our diversity and unique characteristics we will love, encourage and support one another.  I'm not going to ask you to come and do things your way just like I don't expect you to do that to me.  What I do hope is that we will come together, listen, and do what Jesus wants us to do.

Lets be prayer partners.  Lets be dreamers.  Lets be friends.  Lets be neighbors.  Lets share meals at the table together.  Lets share our lives with each other.  Lets join together in the good work that God is doing to reconcile all things and all people to himself.

Lets challenge each other.  Lets grow together.  Lets share prophetic words with each other that make us better followers of Jesus, and lets do it out of love for each other and for the Body of Christ.  Lets love and celebrate our differences and the way our unique design contributes to Christ's body and grows His Kingdom.

I want to learn from you.  And I hope I have something that you can learn from as well.

Let's be friends.  Because I think Jesus wants us to be.

Thanks for forgiving me,

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Missional Church Part 5: A Dream

This is part five of the series.  Make sure you read parts one-four first to get the full picture.

A Dream
I have a dream.
I have a thirst for this dream that cannot be quenched by anything less than Christ Himself.
I have a vision for a church without walls.
A church that is as mobile as the wind.
A church that multiplies like rabbits in the Spring.
A church that loves each other more than family.
A church that walks in humility.
A church that gives good news to the poor.
A church that proclaims freedom for prisoners.
A church that gives sight to the blind.
A church that sets the oppressed free.
A church that proclaims Jesus’ reign over the powers of the world.
This is the same dream that Jesus has for His Church and we must settle for nothing less.

Missional Church Part 4: A Small Taste of Hope in a Baby Church

This is part four of the series.  Make sure you read parts one-three first, or else you may find yourself lost.

A Small Taste of Hope in a Baby Church
I am part of a very young organic church that meets in our apartment and various other homes. We began two years ago, but slightly less than two months ago we birthed two churches out of the one. So the church I am currently a part of is only a few months old. We are very much still a baby church. But the exciting thing about babies, is that they have such amazing potential, especially when nurtured well under the reign of Jesus.

We are organic and we are simple. We are a community of daily fellowship. We make time for each other throughout the week to intentionally spend time growing our friendships and blessing one another. Jesus is our Supreme authority. He is the master of ceremonies anytime we gather. We make abundant space for His voice to be heard. We are also led by the priesthood of all believers. Everyone has equal voice in our community when we gather. No one preaches, instead all share from their hearts and share what God has been revealing to them throughout the week. There is no overhead cost because we don’t have a building or any paid staff. Our tithes are used instead to bless the lives of those God puts in our lives in service of His Kingdom. Each of us are in very unique and different places in life and thus spend much of our time in different contexts. We encourage each other to constantly be paying attention to what God is doing in our own contexts and to be bold in our participation of that work in order to more fully participate in God’s mission to reconcile all things to Himself. When we gather, we then share our stories with each other. We like to ask the question, “what has God been doing in your life over the past week?”  It is vital that we share these stories with each other to better understand God’s mission and our part in it. We are still a baby church. But like all babies, we offer great hope. We offer a hope of what Christ’s Church has the potential to become.

And that is good news.

Missional Church Part 3: A Practical Missional Ecclesiology

This is part three of the series.  Make sure you read parts one and two first, or else you may find yourself lost.

A Practical Missional Ecclesiology
If the Church has become so corrupted, where is the hope? Fortunately, we serve a God that always has a plan for redemption. His plan, of course, is the same as it always was, to lead His church. Our job then becomes to step out of the way, release the control, and allow Him to lead His Church. Here a few practical ways to do that.

1. Sell your church building. Church buildings are expensive. They take up a tremendous amount of resources that only hinder Jesus’ mission to set captives free, heal the sick and especially give good news to the poor. They stifle Kingdom growth and encourage the idea that Church is about a weekly gathering.

2. Sell your homes. Sell them, and move into a neighborhood together. If you want to reorient your lives in such a way as to be able to daily commune with one another physical proximity is key. It is this kind of sacrificial love that will blow the people of the world away and show them who Christ really is. They will desperately want to know this kind of love and to know the source of your love for each other, Christ.

3. Stop practicing with the worship band. Instead, use that time to love your neighbors. Don’t worry, you already sold the building, so you don’t have all of those people to impress anymore. Use your spare time to look after the widows in your neighborhood. Teach the kids across the street who’s dad has been in prison most of their life how to throw a baseball. Cook a meal for the single mom next door. Throw a block party in the front lawn to get to know your neighbors. I promise you, Jesus will be honored more through this than making sure the worship set is perfectly executed.

4. Listen to your neighbors. Ask them questions. Be vulnerable with them so they can be vulnerable with you. Find out what injustices are happening in your neighborhood. Find out who needs to be set free. Discover who needs healing. Then pray for the King to do what He promised He would, to bring healing, freedom and good news.

Take a step of faith. Let go of the control. Invite Jesus to lead His Church. Then watch as the Kingdom of God breaks in in ways you never imagined possible.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Missional Church Part 2: What Must Change

This is part two of the series.  Make sure you read part one first, or else you may find yourself lost.  Also, remember, part 3-5 are coming, so don't lose hope after this somewhat depressing post.  The fire purifies and makes us stronger.

What Must Change
The earlier description of Church and Mission may seem foreign to most Christians. If you asked most people what their congregations mission was they probably wouldn’t quote Luke 4:18-19. They might say something like, “to be God’s community front porch” or “to serve God through word and witness.”  (Yes I actually got these off of a few church websites) While these may sound good on the surface level, they are not what Jesus set out to do. The issue here is not bad mission statements. This is just a reflection of many things that have gone wrong in the Church since the Emperor Constantine institutionalized the Church in an attempt to steal control away from Jesus and have it for himself. There are many issues we could discuss here, but for the purpose of this blog I will focus on three.

First, institutional churches are led by a few individuals. The model of leadership for these churches is a top down structure where a few individuals (or in some cases one person) makes decisions that effect the entire direction of the whole community. The members job then is to trust that the leader(s) is(are) working under the guidance of God or some special knowledge that they obtained during seminary and to just go with whatever they decide. This is more like a business model than a Scriptural model. When Paul wrote, “[Jesus] is the head of the body the church... in everything He has the supremacy” he truly meant that Christ has the complete supremacy. This means that your pastor, priest, bishop or Pope are simply members of Christ’s body and should be looked at as no different from any of your other brothers and sisters in Christ, because “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession."

Secondly, institutional churches are centered around a weekly gathering. This is also not a Biblical model for Christian churches. There clearly was a weekly gathering for the churches as described in the New Testament, but they were also clearly not centered around this weekly event. They were together in each others homes daily. They shared everything in common. They lived life as a family with each other. This is the vision God had for His Church from the beginning, because it is who the Triune God is in His very nature. God is community. As God’s people, we are called to live deeper into the lives of each other, not to simply show up for singing and a lecture once a week. If all church is, is a weekly gathering, the pressure is on. You better make it one hell of a gathering (pun intended). And this is exactly what Churches are doing. Highly trained, educated, and skilled people put 100+ man hours per week into preparing for an hour to two hour gathering to make it a top notch experience each week. Jesus did not come to earth and sacrifice Himself to a torturous death to get His people to put on a good show once a week.

Finally, most churches are so focused on their own growth as a congregation, that they show little or no concern for the Kingdom of God. Let me give a few points to support this bold statement. The average church plant costs $200,000-300,000 in the first 2 years. The average mega-church has a yearly budget of $5 million. And the average mega-church pastor is paid an annual salary of $147,000. It is no wonder that these churches are so focused on their own growth as opposed to Kingdom growth. They have a lot of bills to pay! And the pastor is highly rewarded for His success in growing His audience. This is why you drive around a town like Abilene and see a church on every street corner. Statistics show that 80% of church growth is transfer growth, not converts. This is because most institutional churches only care about growing their own congregation, not about growing the Kingdom.

Missional Church Part 1: The Relationship of Church and Mission

I am setting out to write a 5 part blog series on "Missional Church."  In part one I'll discuss the relationship with the Church and God's mission.  In part two we will take a broad look at what must change in most of our churches.  In part three I give a few practical missiological steps your church can take to get started in the right direction (beware, they are gonna be tough).  In part four I share a bit of my own experience in Missional Church.  And in part five I'll cast a vision for you that really gets me pumped!  So without further ado...

The Relationship of Church and Mission
Most of my life I never gave a second thought to the meaning of “church.” I wonder how many Christians are like me. How many of us have stopped to think, “Why are we all doing this? What is all of this about? What is the purpose of the Church? Where did we come from? And what does God want us to be doing?”

Six years ago, I began a journey asking these questions to myself and my Christian brothers and sisters. In this blog post I will attempt to answer these questions according to what I have found in Scripture, and in my journey trying to discover Jesus’ reason for establishing a Church.

In order to why Church and Mission are inseparable, one must first understand who God truly is. We must understand that God in His very nature is community. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are one fellowship. They share everything in common. Yahweh is One God in three distinct Persons. The three live in perfect union and love with each other. This is why God created humankind, because it is His nature to love, to be in fellowship and perfect unity.

When He created humankind, He set aside a specific people (Israel) that He called His own and said He would bless the entire world through them. As God sent a blessing to Israel, so they would be his advocates to the world by passing the blessing on to the Nations. Unfortunately, God’s people continually turned their back on him despite the blessings.  Yet He continued to pursue this love relationship with them. Eventually, He did so through His Son, Jesus, that was sent into the world as a missionary to bring His people back into this love relationship. Then as the Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Spirit to the Church to empower them to be full participants in God’s mission.

It is through this understanding that we see that God is a missionary by his very nature. Mission belongs to the Trinity, and as such is a gift that the Trinity gives to the Church. Our great example of course is the first ever missionary, the King Jesus Himself. It is through His example that the Church understands God’s mission. For a great understanding of what this mission will look like, we look to what many scholars call Jesus’ inauguration address.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus makes it clear that God will continue the work of blessing the world through His people as He blesses them. And this is exactly what we see Jesus doing throughout His ministry. He proclaims good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, gives sight to the blind, sets the oppressed free and proclaims the good news of His Kingdom reign. This is God’s mission, nothing more, nothing less. And this is the responsibility of Christ’s Church: to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, give sight to the blind, set the oppressed free and proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Kingdom.