Cool church?

This is so encouraging to read – especially from a church with the size and influence of Life Church:

The American Church is not lacking for “cool” pastors. Like a single guy who is trying just-a-bit-too-hard to impress a girl, some churches are simply trying too hard to be cool.

I’m very encouraged to see a shifting in direction. For years, many of us seemed focused on:

  • Designing relevant church experiences.
  • Producing entertaining videos.
  • Creating inviting environments.
  • Crafting sermon series to draw a crowd.
  • Writing sermons with shock value and plenty of humor or stories.

While all of the above can be effective tools, many of my friends are intentionally moving in a stronger direction. So many great Christian leaders are seeing far better results with:

  • Bathing a sermon in prayer.
  • Fasting regularly.
  • Practicing personal confession and repentance.
  • Preaching from the overflow of time alone in God’s word.
  • Caring deeply for others in biblical community.

I’m thrilled so many leaders are placing less emphasis on being cool and more emphasis on being like Christ.

Relevance matters as long as we define relevance as meeting people where they are at a point of need. But it’s so easy to spend time fighting a battle we won’t win. We can have fun and tell great, meaningful stories. That’s good and important. But if it’s about the flash and cool-factor alone, we’ll never beat Hollywood, Comedy Central, or even SNL! Creativity is great, but there’s something more to our message.

Be unsafe

Ben Arment’s a guy I’ve been following through his blog for at least four years – through his work as a church planter, to relaunching that same church with a new name and location, to packing up and moving to Georgia to work with Catalyst.

(It’s amazing the lessons you can learn from a guy you’ve never met. Thanks for sharing your life online and answering random emails Ben!)

Well, he’s off on a new adventure – moving back to Virginia Beach to start a production company. That’s all I know. I’m sure he’ll give more info soon.

But that’s not exactly what this post is about.

In the comments, he said this about his wife’s view on it all:

ainsley told me yesterday that she has been praying since the age of 18 that she would be “unsafe” as a parent and christ-follower in the eyes of her kids

Wow. I love that.

We always want safety – for ourselves and – I’m guessing here – even moreso for our kids. Trusting God in times when it’s risky sets such a powerful example of what it means to follow Christ…

God & pain

I’ve been thinking about Steven Curtis Chapman and his family today. My heart is so saddened at the loss of his 5-year-old daughter, Maria.

It’s odd to feel pain for a family you don’t even know, but I guess music can form a connection, too. In fact, a song of Steven’s helped me walk through difficult times (a version of it is below).

I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a kid. I just can’t. All I can do is pray that God will be with the family as they move forward in the upcoming days/months/years.

Here’s a site about Maria the family set up.

So these three theologians walk into a …

Seminary’s a weird place. You’re learning a lot about God. Some of it’s even useful and incredibly beneficial. But you also get stuck in this “other world” with terminology and ideas that can separate you from normal, everyday life.

That’s why I love this joke a buddy sent me today. It’s the only seminary joke you’ll ever see on this blog. Trust me.

Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and Reinhold Niebuhr find themselves all at the same time at Caesarea Philippi. Along comes Jesus, and he asks these three famous theologians, “Who do you say that I am?”

Karl Barth stands up and says: “You are the ‘wholly other,’ the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christomonism.”

Following this, Paul Tillich states: “You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.”

Reinhold Niebuhr gives a cough for effect and says, in one breath: “You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming oughtness in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”

And Jesus looks at them and says, “What?”

Becoming missional communities

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a “missional community” – how small groups can organize around outward mission that enables those relationships with God and each other to grow and be developed along the way. Alan Hirsch has a lot of great things to say about this here.

The problem is, life isn’t giving me much time to think, and I haven’t been able to put much of it into words to share here. But never fear! There are people much smarter than I’ll ever be talking about the same stuff. Here are a couple of pieces of good “thought food” from Drew Goodmanson.

I’m serious. It’s good, thick stuff. Take some time to look at it. If you need more of an intro to some of the ideas, read the Hirsch article above first. It’s from a different perspective, but it’ll begin to give you a framework through which to process the ideas.

Organic Movement – Reverse Church Planting
Today, a lot of what is called church planting is really starting a new 1 hour service for people to attend.  There’s a belief that just by opening your doors and great preaching, you will start a revolution.

Leading a Missional Community
A Missional Community (MC) is a committed core of believers who live out the mission of God together in a specific area or to a particular people group by demonstrating the gospel in tangible forms and declaring the gospel to others – both those who believe it and those who are being exposed to it.

Multiplying Missional Communities
As our communities gather rdinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality, we should both pray for and expect the Spirit to work among us.

Jesus, sinners, and you

I’m always amazed at how Jesus not only hung around rough crowds filled with corrupt businessmen, prostitutes, and sinners but how those crowds actually wanted to be around Jesus. How does that happen? His message essentially tells them they need to change, but they invite him to parties.

When I’m in a new group and want them to “like” me, my first instinct is to impress them. If I look the right way and say the right things, they’ll think I’m cool and want me around, right?

Yeah. It’s a lousy approach. You can work to impress people, or you can try to connect with them. Impressing involves working to send all the right signals. Connecting involves spending a lot more time listening, asking questions, and sharing stories. It’s being who you are and caring about the other person rather than showing off a certain look or feel.

So the down-and-out crowded to be around Jesus. But today, most people outside of church avoid Christians like the plague. Part of the problem, it seems, is that while Jesus worked to connect, we’re working to impress.

I’m convinced it’s all about love. Jesus’ love was attractive. Somehow, the amount he cared about the people he was around came through enough that it was the message.

For us as individuals and the church, it’s a freeing message. Be yourself and love people.

It doesn’t mean we have to soften the rough edges of Christianity that might offend. Just be yourself and love people.

It doesn’t mean we have to lead perfect lives so everyone can see what a Christian should be like. Just be yourself and love people.

It doesn’t mean that our creative church services must be perfect every Sunday. Just be yourself and love people.

For some folks, this call is more difficult. It’s easier to put on a show than to simply be. But God’s call to love God and love others is centered around that type of relationship. Jesus’ call to “follow me” focuses on those relationships as well.

So how about this. Stop worrying about impressing people. Follow God. Be yourself. Love people.

Theology with feet

One of the constant (healthy) tensions I face in seminary is what the theology means in life. We can spend a lot of time thinking great ideas about God. But what does it mean for following God?

In the midst of talking about Hebrew parsings, evolution and creation accounts, sermon structures, the nature of evil, and the rationality of faith, it’s been important for me to come back to a few thoughts…

What does it mean to follow Jesus? We need to examine our understanding of theology. The deep, technical stuff isn’t for everyone, but we all need to push our beliefs and make sure we understand what God has taught (and is teaching) us. But following Jesus takes action – not just thinking. So where are the feet to this belief?

I love how Andy Stanley put it in a recent sermon: “God does not give information for consideration or contemplation but for cooperation.” (Thanks Heather)

There is a lot to consider. But it’s also important to focus on and respond to the basics. I like Scot McKnight’s focus on the Jesus Creed:

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

That’s not the only place to go to follow God, but it seems like a good place to start …

Learning from other pastors…

David Fitch (author of The Great Giveaway) writes about the things he wished he’d done more of during the past few years as a missonal pastor. I found them enlightening and encouraging. The first three are below. Click through to his blog at the end to read the rest…

Over the past several years of church planting I wish I had done the following:

1. Spend less time writing sermons, more time listening and speaking truth relationally lovingly into people’s lives. My goal, when I am preaching, is to never spend more than twelve hours a week writing sermons. Preaching the Word is important. It takes skill and practice. Yet the sermon is for speaking truth over people’s lives, not for entertainment. Sometimes the “entertainment” piece takes too much extra work. The sermon proclaims the true reality as it is under the Lordship of Christ and calls people into Him. It is my opinion the reason why sermon prep takes so much time is that often pastors place too much self-importance into it. How many hours a week do you spend on sermon prep?

2. Spend less time reading-writing on leadership and more time walking with/mentoring young leaders, speaking into their lives, having them with you when you minister, in the hospital, in the coffee house… in the homes, in the neighborhoods. I am finding less and less time to do this but am aiming to make for more. How much time do you spend mentoring leadership? It is absolutely essential to missional community.

3. Spend less time planning the worship gathering – more time in silence before God on a quiet hill overlooking the missionfield of NW Suburbs (this place is Walter Payton Hill – Arlington Hts.) Sunday morning gathering is liturgy. It has its moving parts. It is people coming together organically to be centered in God thru Jesus Christ thereby being re-centered for Mission Dei. My theory is, that even if everyone who was participating in the service somehow came up sick 5 minutes before service, everything should be able to go smoothly. This makes possible more time for mission. How much time/energy does your church spend on the worship gathering?

Read the rest here.

[ht: pastorhacks]

Do something. Just don’t do everything.

As you can probably guess from my quotes page, I really believe that what we DO gives us much more credibility than what we KNOW or what we SAY. We can hold a lot of beliefs and ideas, but how we live says a lot more about what we truly believe.

I’m beginning to realize, though, there’s something unique about this. In the ministry world, I’ve been in a lot of different circles, and they all value different things. Some folks value great communication – if you can preach a strong, clear message, you’re in. Some are incredibly evangelical. If you’re living a life that’s sharing with people who don’t follow Christ, you’re doing what you should. Others focus on mission – are you regularly serving the poor? The oppressed? The needy?

It’s tough because it leads to a lot of divided focus for people pleasers like yours truly. We should be living all of these things out in some way in our personal lives. But “professionally,” as a minister, I can’t be the champion of every cause. I care about them all deeply. But I guess I’m realizing I won’t be the standout in every field, and that’s ok.

I’ve written about it before, but I really believe that beyond strategy and vision and everything else, following God means listening and following him right here, right now. That typically means starting something small, incomplete, and imperfect and taking steps forward as he leads. Some of the most amazing churches (groups of people) started as a small crowd stumbling their way around and worshipping God together. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

The other thought is this: you/we/I don’t have to be great at every part. God shared something important with me through someone special a few years ago: you don’t have to achieve the goal alone. Whatever we’re doing – especially the spiritual things – isn’t meant to be just about us. Churches should have gifted evangelists, teachers, shepherds, and more. Follow God. Be who you are. Grow.

So here’s the deal. Start something imperfect today. And don’t do it alone. 

Life change, anyone?

Unclutterer.com posted an interview with Peter Walsh, host of TLC’s Clean Sweep that talks about his new book and his mission to help people keep “stuff” from controlling their lives.

This doesn’t just apply to clutter…

Unclutterer: What steps do you take to insure that your clients won’t revert to their old clutter-hoarding ways after you’ve worked with them? Any tips to help people stay on track?

Peter Walsh: As odd as it sounds, I don’t focus on the clutter when I help families declutter. The stuff is a distraction to potential success. The first step in addressing clutter in a home is to help the family define the vision they have for the life they want – what do they want their lives, their home, their rooms and living spaces to look like, to feel like and to function. This is the starting point in the process. If you work from this point, the chances of permanent change are significant and almost guaranteed. It’s not about the stuff; it’s about what you want from your life and how you will make that dream a reality. Long-lasting change is possible – I see it every day. That said, the single most important maintenance tip is to respect the limits that your physical space places on you and, once those limits are reached, you must remove an item from your home before you can add a similar item – one in, one out. It’s simple and it works.

Accountability

Keeping accountable to others can be the difference between finishing well and failing miserably. But most of the time, it isn’t done in a way that provides much more than a slap on the wrist and a guilt trip.

Usually there’s a list of questions regarding different sins you could have committed that week.

Did you lie? Did you cheat? Did you lust?

Did you have a quiet time every day?

You have two choices … you can lie or feel guilty. It’s even worse when the other guy had what was apparently a “perfect” week. The problem is, you end up simply looking to avoid certain sins, which has the potential to draw you even more to those areas. At the very least you’re focusing more on failures than on a positive vision.

I’ve recently started meeting with a couple of guys, and the approach has been different.

We talk about things like integrity (at work, home, school – how are you using your time?), evangelism, time with God, etc. We talk about how we need to grow, but we focus on where we want to end up.

Do we address each other’s blind spots and challenge each other? Absolutely. Life’s still a journey. It still takes work. We still need God to refine our hearts and characters. But the emphasis isn’t on the little stumbles we all make. It’s on the steps we’re taking to follow God daily.

Leadership hinges on discipleship

We all have different giftings and passions. Even in the same field, one person may have a different emphasis than another. When I was in journalism, I worked with writers who focused on sports, features, and “hard news.”

It’s time to see pastors in the same light. There’s not one proper style for church leadership. Most pastors see themselves in a traditional “shepherding” role, but God calls different people to different places at different times. That’s why I love how Alan Hirsch talks about APEPT leadership. People are each gifted with different pieces of the Ephesians 4 model.

I’m more of an “Apostolic” type of guy. I get fired up seeing the church mobilized to serve and reach out to the world around them. I really do believe that if we try to start with ministry, we’ll never get to mission. But if we start with mission, ministry will happen along the way.

So when a guy like Bob Roberts writes something like this, I just have to post it.

If churches, denominations, networks, etc. put as much energy and resources into making disciples as they did organizing events, institutions, etc., I’m convinced it would speed up engagement dramatically. I hate the terminology using “platforms” to engage society. You don’t have to. Make disciples, help them understand their primary ministry is their vocation and that it should be lived out as a disciple and you’ll see God work and move. This is the only way the Gospel can, and will ever, be viral. I heard an incredible preacher last night at a gathering and he said, “too many churches have become like prisons. We’ve built prisons and the pastor is the warden. We should be in the business of releasing–not holding on.”

Preach it, Bob!

Here’s Alan’s take on a similar subject:

If this is not already obvious by now let me say it more explicitly: the quality of the church’s leadership is directly proportional to the quality of discipleship. If we fail in the area of making disciples we should not be surprised if we fail in the area of leadership development. I think many of the problems that the church faces in trying to cultivate missional leadership for the challenges of the 21st century would be resolved if we were to focus the solution to the problem on something prior to leadership development per se, namely that of discipleship first. Discipleship is primary, leadership is always secondary. And leadership, to be genuinely Christian, must always reflect Christlikeness and therefore…discipleship.

Speeding through that text? Slow down!

One of the lessons I learned from taking Greek wasn’t something I was expecting.

When you’re translating, you have to read the text slowly (sometimes VERY slowly). Beyond the nuances that reading the original language brings out, it is amazing how considering every word can make a piece of text you may have heard many times before come alive.

I’m a big picture guy who often finds himself skimming anything he’s reading. For me, considering each word opened up a whole new world of understanding. If you’re a detail person, looking at whole chapters or books may do the same.

What works for you in Bible study?

Another lesson from that coffee shop

I normally don’t write the “how church can get better by adopting business practices” posts. A lot of people are already doing that. Plus, I don’t believe it’s always a one-to-one comparison. There are different forces at work in church life (more community focused, outward oriented, God-driven) that don’t always neatly mesh with the consumerist-based end game of most business plans. And that’s fine!

But we can all learn from stories where people rise to the occasion and do what’s best for others. What makes this one even better is that the values were already instilled within the culture.

At Brand Autopsy, John Moore tells the backstory of a Starbucks manager featured in the new book, How Starbucks Saved My Life. He writes:

Tiffany helped to restore Michael’s belief system by being welcoming, considerate, and genuine. It just so happens those people qualities of being welcoming, considerate, and genuine are life skills Starbucks looks for in store-level employees, especially store managers.

On one end, that’s the type of thing churches are all about. At least, we talk about it a lot. But to what extent are those qualities valued in interaction between staff members? Between people within the church?

It’s easy to get bogged down or filled up with programs. It’s good to be busy – if it means actively helping and serving people outside the church. But often we’re so busy with busyness that the basic human values get thrown out the window.

So how are you going to value being welcoming, considerate, and genuine today?

Patience: that tension between doing and waiting

Tonight Grete and I attended Fuller’s Korean welcome event so we could have dinner with some folks from our community. We had a great cross-cultural experience of humming along with Korean worship songs and eating a full Korean meal (I skipped the kimchi, though!).

The pastor who spoke at the event talked about patience, referring to verses in James 5.

There’s definitely a healthy tension in the Christian life between following Jesus and waiting for Jesus. Sometimes we can use waiting as an excuse for disobedience. But sometimes we can also get so busy we aren’t seeking God anymore. It’s no use doing a lot of stuff if it isn’t the right stuff to begin with!

That’s why I love the farming metaphor used in James. Farmers must be patient for the fruit of their work, but they must put in the work for the fruit to grow!

The pastor reminded us to be patient in ministry. Sometimes we’ll be working hard, but we won’t see many results. Be patient. Continue the work, the study, the seeking God. Results will come.

He said young folks right out of seminary care too much about success, fame and book deals. When God calls us to follow him, it’s about moving down in position, not up. That type of success and fruit may come, but it’s not the goal we’re working toward.

Oh, he also mentioned that pretty people have it easy. He was glad he was ugly because it meant he sought God more. Then he joked that this is why ugly people went to seminary …

Maybe that part got lost in translation!