Caring about the right stuff

24 07 2008

I saw this post this morning on which states in a brief form the paradigm changes that are happening all around us:

A couple of years back Mike Bishop asked some great questions: “If you are reading this and have some vested interest in a community of faith – whatever your flavor, old-school or new-school, emerging or submerging – do yourself a favor and stop caring about the following things:

1. The number of people in your church. Really, it doesn’t matter.
2. The “relevancy” of your common worship.
3. How often or if ever a new person shows up at one of your common worship times.
4. The size of your church budget, building, or paid staff.
5. What any other church in the world is doing – good or bad or otherwise.

“And please start caring about the following things:

1. Actively looking for the evidence of God’s kingdom – where what he wants done is done – at work, at home, at Starbucks (heaven forbid), at the beach, and anywhere else you might find yourself in the course of living your normal life.
2. Simple, honest worship.
3. Having friends that don’t give a rip about your church. Maybe you might just rub off on them.
4. Giving away money to people who need it; using existing, familiar (and free) spaces for common worship such as homes, restaurants, parks, or community centers; flattening the organization’s need for paid leadership and support roles.
5. Go on a unique, unreproducible journey with a group of people and rejoice with other groups of people who do the same.”

Relationships and church

18 07 2008

If you have ever been on the home page of you have noticed how many blogs they host – the number today is 3,592,233. That is a heck of a lot of communication – perhaps overwhelming but if your antenna is tuned well there is much that can be fairly easily gleaned – and it is very helpful if we desire to navigate rather than drift through this liminal time. Aside form getting information, blogs are good at connecting us not just personally but conceptually – you can explore your imaginations/concepts/ideas and see if they resonate with anyone else. I think finding those resonates provides a much need sense of direction and quite possibly a clue in confirming what God is up to.

I recently experienced one of those resonates in reading David Hayward’s blog. From his “about” he is a pastor, musician and artist who lives in New Brunswick, Canada. Here’s what he had to say in two recent posts:

Communal Risks: Friendship

Although there are many communal dangers, I want to talk about the difficulty community brings to friendship. I told Lisa this morning that I feel like there’s a stone of sorrow anchored deep within me. On one level I trust all will be well. This is where any hope I have resides. At another level I see through a very dark glass and live in a world without any glimmer of hope at all. Being in the church has its good parts. When it’s good it’s awesome. But it is also a very difficult way to live. Like one friend said to me recently: she’s found the church to be a place of incredible pain when it comes to relationships. She’s surprised she’s still committed. But she’s right. Where there’s any spirit, the flesh wars against it. Which is why mixing friendship with religion and community is incredibly delicate, risky and often painful. When there’s agreement, things sail. When there’s not, there’s severance, divorce, destruction and indescribable grief. That’s been my experience. I could choose to have a few friends, kindred spirits, and keep it at that. Then go to a church where I can remain anonymous, get my liturgical fix and go home to my buddies afterwards. But no. That’s not me.

Or I could just keep faith out of my relationships altogether. Don’t even bring it up. But unfortunately faith isn’t just a hobby with me, an intellectual pursuit, a passing interest, an anthropological obsession. Somehow, faith, spirit, religion, relationship with I AM, has gripped my life to such an extent that it’s become essential to who I am. It is integral. To neglect it or deny it or suppress it in my relationships would be at least inauthentic and at worst suicidal. I can’t stand relating on a superficial level, pretending to be something I’m not pretending you’re someone you’re not. I have to be all out there or not at all. I resist becoming a rubber stamp endorsing what others do just to avoid conflict and make the mood in the room comfortable. I wish not to dial down just to stay in relationship with someone. And this has brought me the loss of many, many friends. It continues to happen to this day. And it tears my heart out every single time.

Let’s see: keep friends but deny who I am and live on a superficial level; or live freely as who I am and risk the loss of relationship? Believe me, the choice is a difficult one.


Fatigue = “a lessening of one’s response to or enthusiasm for something, typically as a result of overexposure to it.”

Some of you might say that I need to get out more. Take breaks! Go fishing! Take a ride on your motorcycle! I do that, but that only helps momentarily. There is something deeper that is wrong. It is more serious than just overexposure. I believe that it is somehow related to the fact that much of what we do isn’t related to real life. Somehow, we find ourselves sucked into doing something that isn’t essential to who we are. We carry this gnawing suspicion that we are serving a system we don’t believe in. Most of our energy is consumed slaving under meaningless duties. Years ago I took a time management course because I felt I was wasting too much time on useless stuff. The seminar was expensive. I left that course very passionate about organizing and managing my life. After a few months, however, I realized that all I was doing was organizing and managing the same old useless stuff. I had a revelation that managing my life was meaningless unless my life itself was changed.

Years ago I read a book by Easum and Bandy called Growing Spiritual Redwoods. I don’t recall anything else about the book except one declaration that the future church would not support codependent relationships. I remember how radical and dangerous an idea that was because that would pretty much empty most churches. Imagine if you stopped supporting codependence in all your relationships. Do you wonder how lonely you’d become? Most of what we do is fulfill other’s expectations of us. We grant other’s their desires.

Something else I’ve noticed: one week I decided to analyze the phone-calls and visits I was getting at the church building. The greatest majority of them were business related… that is, almost all of them had to do with somebody wanting something or trying to get me to want something. It’s like when you’re having supper with your family… that’s when the tele-marketers call.

It’s one thing to be actually engaged in life and relationships in a healthy way. It’s another to be entangled and trapped in an artificial pseudo-life and in unhealthy codependent relationships. I don’t think I suffer from overexposure to church and ministry. I compare it to fishing when you are being inundated with black-flies and mosquitoes. The fishing itself is a pleasure, but after a while the perpetual menace of insects exhausts you. It’s the distractions that kill us. Like someone once told me: “It’s hard to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators!”

What is the church for?

18 07 2008


Problem: so many books – so little time.

Solution: google and blogs.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with all the good books and clearly unrealistic to read very many of them.  But when we don’t read we place ourselves in a vacuums place – detached from the world of ideas and I think from an important lens to see the activity of God in our broader culture.

I came across a few thoughts about a book titled A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight (©2007) on Paul Littleton’s blog.  In his book Scot tackles the meaning of the atonement in a more holistic way (regarded by some as inflamatory because he challenges (the limitations of) some long held perspectives).  Here’s a short quote from the book before the thoughts from Paul Littleton:

“To be forgiven, to be atoned for, to be reconciled – synonymous expressions – is to be granted a mission to become a reciprocal performer of the same: to forgive, to work atonement, and to be an agent of reconciliation. Thus, atonement is not just something done to us and for us, it is something we participate in – in this world, in the here and now. It is not just something done, but something that is being done and something we do as we join God in the missio Dei.” (p. 30-31)

(A)ny theory of atonement should keep the end in mind – what was atonement meant to produce? In answering that question McKnight notes that the atonement was not just meant to produce forgiven people, but that “the work of God is to form a community in which the will of God is done and through which one finds both union with God and communion with others for the good of others and the world.” Thus, the atonement was meant to produce a certain kind of community. I like his approach. I think it is very helpful in formulating a well-rounded and holistic view of the atonement. It avoids getting “stuck” in one particular place, overemphasizing one aspect of atonement to the neglect of others. In fact, he mentions the various views of atonement and likens them to a bag of golf clubs. A golfer might make it through a round with just one club (I think there are even friendly golf games that might involve just such a feat), but don’t expect to shoot par, or probably even close.

Perhaps McKnight’s approach would benefit our understanding of the church as well. Ecclesiology, or the study of the church, is becoming pretty popular these days. One age-old question about the church is, “What are the distinguishing marks of a true church?” Historically the answer to that has been 1) one, 2) holy, 3) catholic and 4) apostolic. To that the Reformers added that a true church is one in which the word is faithfully preached and the sacraments are faithfully practiced. Books on the church tend to proceed from there, describing what one, holy, catholic, apostolic, the word and the sacraments mean. In addition, there has been added to those things such as the fourfold ministry mentioned in Ephesians 4. Those are all valid questions and worthy of our attention and serious thought, but we might be helped in asking the question, “What does God intend to produce in this thing we call the church?”

The church in liminality

16 07 2008

The guys at Biblical Seminary are working well with the paradigm shifts and how those shifts impact and provide opportunities for the church.  The seminary president, Dave Dunbar, has written several easily digested articles that are available on their web site.  I thought this one titled What’s Different About Missional was a good representation and entry point:

To be evangelistic is to be committed to and involved with the proclamation of the gospel (the evangel). For many of us the gospel is primarily a verbal message focused on what God has done and will yet do in Jesus Christ to reconcile fallen humanity to himself. The form in which this message came to us was shaped by Scripture, by the Protestant reformers (especially Martin Luther), and by the revivalism of the 19th century. It was often a brief summary of the good news (the “Romans Road,” “The Four Spiritual Laws,” “Steps to Peace with God,” etc.) combined with a strong appeal to “trust Christ” or “accept Jesus as your personal Savior.”

There is no denying that many people (including me) came to a deep and abiding faith by this approach. But we should also recognize that those who are reached in this way are normally people who have been prepared for the message. Like me they may have grown up in a Christian home and, though they may not be church attenders, they at least have a “Christian memory.” By this I mean that they have acquired a basic stock of Christian truths that they embrace, even if they have never come to a place of personal commitment. A brief, focused presentation of the gospel is often very effective with people at this level of spiritual preparedness.

What the missional movement recognizes is that the percentage of the general population in America who now fit the above profile is rapidly shrinking. As I mentioned in my last article, our culture is increasingly post-Christian and biased against the gospel. So what should we do? Is the answer simply to be “faithful,” i.e., to say, “Just keep doing what worked before, and trust God for the results”? The problem with this answer is the assumption that “what worked before” was a comprehensive and biblically sufficient presentation of the gospel–one that doesn’t need to be examined or modified.

But this assumption is being challenged in some of the missional literature, and I find it a healthy challenge.  Consider these two lines of discussion:

Read the rest of this entry »

10 paradigm shifts

8 07 2008

“All over our nation there is a quiet movement of the Spirit of God that is causing believers to reexamine how they ‘do church.’  Churches around our nation are throwing out the old measures of success. It’s no longer merely about size, seeker sensitivity, spiritual gifts, church health, nor the number of small groups. It’s about making a significant and sustainable difference in the lives of people around us – in our communities and in our cities.

“There is a growing awareness that we cannot continue to do the same old things and expect a different result.  If we want to be the salt and light we as the church were created to be, we have to do something different…we have to be something different!  Community transformation is not found in programs, strategies, campaigns or tactics.  For most of us, it will take nothing less than a shift of seismic proportions in what the church is to be in the 3rd millennium.  A paradigm is a model consisting of shared assumptions regarding what works or what is true. A paradigm shift is that ‘aha!’ moment when one sees things in such a new light that one can never go back to the old ways again.  Each paradigm shift takes us from a model of thinking that we must discard to a new model that we must embrace.  A new paradigm is the new wineskins that will be needed to hold the new assumptions about what is true.  To maximize our impact on our communities – urban, suburban or rural, we need changes in at least ten of our paradigms of how we currently view church. “

The above is a portion of the introduction to a research project undertaken by Eric Swanson and published by Leadership Network in 2002.   Without ever using the word “missional,” Eric defines the 10 shifts his research shows the church needs to make:

1.  From building walls to building bridges.
2.  From measuring attendance to measuring impact.
3.  From encouraging the saints to attend the service to equipping the saints for works of service.
4.  From “serve us” to service – from inward to outward focus.
5.  From duplication of human services and ministries to partnering with existing services and ministries.
6.  From fellowship to functional unity.
7.  From condemning the city to blessing the city and praying for it.
8.  From being a minister in a congregation to being a minister in a parish.
9.  From anecdote and speculation to valid information.
10. From teacher to learner.

The report is linked here: Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation. Although I have not read his book, The Externally Focused Church (©2004), one reviewer may have summed it up well: “The Externally Focused Church is best book I have read that gives biblical, historical and inspirational examples for impacting the community with the good news coupled with the good deeds of Jesus Christ.”

Counter culture for the common good

4 07 2008

“Every Christian effort to contribute to culture – to participate in culture – should begin by understanding that Jesus is already present and working in every human culture. It’s realizing Jesus is already committed to the redemption of every human being in every cultural setting.

“And so the question for us is how can I join what He’s doing? What is He doing and how can I be part of it?”

Christianity Today produced materials a couple years ago titled Intersect Culture.  All I’ve seen is the website and this 5 minute intro video: Counter culture for the common good which I think describes well what being the church in today’s culture looks like.  The subtitles provide an excellent general framework for a change process : Begin – Dwell – Unite – Reconcile – Invest – Abide

Surveys, vision and leadership

4 07 2008

So why am I sending out surveys to our leaders? You may be wondering if you missed a meeting where it was decided to do a bunch of surveys? Well, perhaps I should have explained more on the front end why the surveys – if you felt imposed upon please forgive me. Here are my thoughts/presumptions as to why the surveys:

• God’s vision for a local body is at least confirmed – if not discovered – within that body of believers – hopefully including the leaders.
• We need to stop operating on vague presumptions. Our relational cohesiveness is fragmented and we infrequently disclose what we really think and feel to each other.
• The results of the surveys will hopefully provide a motivation to talk about the “elephant under the rug” – or at least our sense of where we should be headed and our willingness to sacrifice to get there.

Please also don’t think I am claiming to have the corner on this form of dialogue. I certainly can’t think of all the questions or even categories of questions that should be put on the table. So please jump in – send out your own survey – invite us to your blog – or just simply send a group email – you don’t need to get permission.

My real life experiences of being stuck in the mud have always required more than one person to get out of the jeep, get muddy and push. I don’t think our current situation as leaders is much different.

Top 10

4 07 2008

Mark Peterson serves with the Bridgeway Foundation in Ontario – and has served with his wife providing charitable service while living in Costa Rica, Colombia and the Philippines. I recently came across something he posted – what I would call a “top 10” list of what being the church in our community should look like (particularly in today’s culture):
1. Having a focus outward, not inward.
2. Serving with no-strings-attached, not driving an agenda.
3. Listening to the needs of the community, not imposing one’s own solutions.
4. Learning the language and customs of the community, not being incomprehensible or irrelevant.
5. Enjoying the journey together, not feeling that the destination is the only thing of value.
6. Moving out from our community incarnationally (I am at home everywhere), not bringing people into our community (I am only at home with my own kind).
7. Being all of us together, not “us versus them.”
8. Learning to dwell in the margins or risky areas, not preferring the comfortable centre.
9. Being changed – all of us – not just “them.”
10. Belonging before believing, not believing before belonging.

Where do we go from here?

2 07 2008

The latest survey reveals several areas of significant divergence – suggestions on how to process?