What will your church members do with their “economic stimulus” checks?
"I thought that spending my check from the government was supposed to be the patriotic thing to do, but I'm not sure it's the Kingdom thing to do." That is how my friend Chuck began explaining his idea about what our congregation could do with the economic stimulus payments that begin arriving in the mail this week. After hearing so much about the sluggish economy and our responsibility to jumpstart it through consumption, he was wondering if there might be a better way to invest Uncle Sam's rebate.
On Sunday, I invited Chuck to join me in front of our church. I asked him to explain why spending the money on himself was not the best thing he could do with it. "As I read about the government's plan in the news, the more the idea of spending money on myself seemed to be at odds with the values of God's kingdom," he said. He told us he'd been reading Jesus' words in Luke 12 and it appeared to be opposed to the message that we can spend our way to prosperity, security, and happiness.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear? Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted.
Chuck said that Kingdom investment doesn't necessarily mean giving money to the church.
Monsters movies are a tired, moribund, nearly dead genre. Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla remake was horrible - all the effects, none of the joy. It had a traditional scenario, established stars, and extravagant set pieces. But the end result was a snooze. Where was the giddy thrill of discovery? The fear of what happens next?
Cloverfield goes back to the original Japanese source material to reinvent Godzilla. It has all the familiar notes: What is that thing? Where did it come from? No time to find out--RUN! The tension builds in traditional ways. Long quiet passages punctuated by panic. The rats in the subway tunnel run the same way. It offers a creature in the background you can't quite see.
But Cloverfield didn't just revive an old genre; it also uses the latest video camera technology, such as creepy night vision, in a raw and authentic way. The movie generated antipathy simply because of its shaky, handheld video style. It feels loose, informal, and spontaneous - it can also make you seasick. The style itself becomes a stumbling block. Plenty of viewers longed for Cloverfield's camera to settle down and conform to some pattern. But the chaos also means you can't be a passive observer. The audience is forced to participate.
Emergent churches are equally authentic, immediate, and lived. Their services feel unscripted, even though they may be planned. Like Cloverfield, they offer the illusion of spontaneity which is an art unto itself. The generation that embraces Cloverfield and emerging churches isn't interested in second or third order reflection. They live in the moment, treasuring direct and unmediated experiences.
"Today there are many who doubt that there is just one gospel. That gives them the warrent to ignore the gospel of atonement and justification. There are others who don't like to admit that there are different forms to that one gospel. That smacks too much of 'contextualization,' a term they dislike. They cling to a single presentation that is often one-dimensional. Neither of these is as true to the biblical material, nor as effective in actual ministry, as that which understands that the Bible presents one gospel in several forms."
-Tim Kelleris pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. Taken from "The Gospel in All its Forms" in the Spring 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
The emergent movement, like the monster flick Cloverfield, is an underground phenomenon, but can it deliver on its hype?
If you hate Cloverfield (or don't even know what it is), then you probably loathe emerging Christians. If you like Cloverfield, you're likely to dig the emergent conversation. Both deliver on their grand promises in a novel way (that is decidedly not for everybody). But why does the film (and the emergent folks) inspire such antipathy? Why can't we appreciate the next generation's re-imagination of tired clich?s?
Movies offer a safe way to process our cultural anxiety. In monster movies we're presented with an opportunity to corral our fears. Zombies or UFOs or viruses wreak havoc for ninety minutes before order is inevitably restored. Cloverfield depicts a seemingly ordinary evening in New York City that is derailed by an unexpected and unexplained attack. Sound familiar? Cloverfield is a direct response to the fear unleashed by the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Eerie shots of panic in the streets remind us how vulnerable we felt. We follow shell-shocked New Yorkers crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in search of safety. The film doesn't offer any reasons for the monster's rampage. It is pure terror. Our way of life as we know it is vanishing, and nothing seems capable of stopping the assault.
For some, the emergent movement has become a monster to be dreaded and feared. Despite leaders' best efforts to explain their theology, rumors about the Emergent Village keep swirling in the blogosphere. A struggling, insecure church has identified emergent Christians as the new enemy. How a small band of smart, reasonably clean-cut ministers like Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt or Rob Bell could inspire so much fear is a tribute to the mania available on the Internet. To some evangelical watchdogs, public enemy number one has a goatee, an earring, and a dog-eared copy of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. How did this get so far out of hand?
Brandon O'Brien, assistant editor of Leadership, has a provocative article over at ChristianityToday.com about the shortcomings of the new Christian men's movement. From worship songs that inspire men to "Grab a sword, don't be scared. Be a man, grow a pair!" to chest-thumping sermons, the de-feminizing of the church may be doing more harm than good. Here is an excerpt from O'Brien's article:
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, desires greater testosterone in contemporary Christianity. In Driscoll's opinion, the church has produced "a bunch of nice, soft, tender, chickified church boys. ? Sixty percent of Christians are chicks," he explains, "and the forty percent that are dudes are still sort of chicks."
The aspect of church that men find least appealing is its conception of Jesus. Driscoll put this bluntly in his sermon "Death by Love" at the 2006 Resurgence theology conference (available at TheResurgence.com). According to Driscoll, "real men" avoid the church because it projects a "Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ" that "is no one to live for [and] is no one to die for." Driscoll explains, "Jesus was not a long-haired ? effeminate-looking dude"; rather, he had "callused hands and big biceps." This is the sort of Christ men are drawn to - what Driscoll calls "Ultimate Fighting Jesus."
A (relatively) painless exam to determine if you're an emerging Christian.
In the introduction of their new book whose title says it all - Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (Moody, 2008) - authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck offer yet another attempt at defining "emergent Christianity." I've included the full quotation below. Check it out and tell me whether you fit the bill.
After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement. You might be an emergent Christian:
if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash's Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Frank, Walter Winks, and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem;...
I'm sitting at the airport in Louisville, Kentucky, heading back home after spending two days with 5,000 theology freaks, and I mean that in mostly a good way. Together for the Gospel ("T4G" to the initiated) is the second gathering of the friends and fans of Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and their very systematic theology (there are XVIII Articles in their doctrinal statement).
The first T4G event in 2006 drew over 3,000 of the "young, restless, and reformed" (Collin Hansen's nicely turned phrase and title of his new book). The event this year was so large it had to be held in Louisville's International Convention Center.
This year's feeding of the 5,000 was a series of addresses on theology, specifically Calvinist theology--yes, total depravity was the topic of an entire session, as was "The Curse Motif in the Atonement"--but, interestingly, traditional Reformed emphases of infant baptism, the covenant, and presbyterian polity were missing.
Let's make a couple of assumptions about a church leader who reads Jesus for President. First, he or she actually finishes the book despite the occasional punch in the gut. Second, that this same church leader agrees (on some level) with the premise that too much of our American church life has been shaped by our comfortable relationship with the state. If one accept both of these assumptions, what then?
While the book offers plenty of fodder for thought and conversation, it is not a how-to manual of subversive Kingdom living. Since most of us will not be leaving our churches to join a New Monastic community with Claiborne or Haw, what is our response? How do we serve and lead congregations that preserve Kingdom distinctiveness while demonstrating God's redemption to our neighbors?
One way to answer these questions is found in how Claiborne and Haw compose their book's last chapter: story telling. The authors claim, "Preserving the distinctiveness of the kingdom of God has always been the most important task for the church." And, "The only thing all Christians are called by the New Testament to imitate is Jesus' taking up his cross." Rather than tell us exactly how to do this, they've decided to show us in the final portion of the book.
The final session of Shift 2008 featured Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and regular contributor to Leadership and Out of Ur. Kimball shared some insights from this book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church.
He began with the good news - our culture is very interested in Jesus. He pulled a number of items from a bag: a Jesus bobble head figure, Jesus band-aids, a Jesus eraser, and then showed images from a Madonna concert where the queen of pop hung on a cross with scripture verses above to highlight the 12 million kids dying from Aids in Africa. Kimball says there is no doubt that people in our culture are curious about Jesus - and many find him very attractive.
Now the bad news - popular perceptions of the church and Christians are very different. Kimball showed a video of college students in his town describing Christians as judgmental, homophobic, and hypocritical. He humorously recounted the response of a girl at the health club when she discovered Dan was a pastor. She said, "Pastors are creepy" but admitted she didn't know any personally.
Four critical questions about how we do youth ministry, and all ministry.
If there is one thing that everyone in youth ministry seems to be talking about it's how to keep students following Christ after high school. That's been a hot topic here at Shift, and this morning Kara Powell addressed the problem head on. As the executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, Powell knows the sobering statistics.
Her data reveals that 50% of high school students who had been deeply involved in a church's youth ministry will not be serving God 18 months after graduation. And that's not counting the many other high school students who are only going to church because their parents are forcing them. She also cited the LifeWay study that was highlighted on Ur last year.
Powell stood next to a table piled high with ministry books and resources. She asked, with so many resources available to us why are our students falling away at such alarming rates? Her thought: the more resources we have the less desperate and dependent upon God we feel. And we begin making "mindless, automatic decisions about our ministries." She called for an end to "autopilot" youth ministry, and for us to start asking hard questions about what we're doing.
Today, Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow, recapped the study and then shared some changes that the church is now making in response to the research. He said they're making the biggest changes to the church in over 30 years. For three decades Willow has been focused on making the church appealing to seekers. But the research shows that it's the mature believers that drive everything in the church - including evangelism.
Hawkins says, "We used to think you can't upset a seeker. But while focusing on that we've really upset the Christ-centered people." He spoke about the high levels of dissatisfaction mature believer have with churches. Drawing from the 200 churches and the 57,000 people that have taken the survey, he said that most people are leaving the church because they're not being challenged enough.
Because it's the mature Christians who drive evangelism in the church Hawkins says, "Our strategy to reach seekers is now about focusing on the mature believers. This is a huge shift for Willow."
For the third podcast recorded here at Shift, we sat down with Switchfoot band members Drew Shirley and Jerome Fontamillas.
In it, Drew and Jerome discuss the ways in which they've seen student culture change over the past 10 years, as well as how those changes have redefined their relationship and connection with their audience. They also share quite a bit about the starting place for the music they create, and the motivation for being in a band, recording and touring.
The second day of Shift 2008 ended with the Thursday Night Experiences, aimed at having the conference extend beyond just what happens in main sessions and breakouts.
To start the night, everybody began together in the main auditorium for a Q&A session with the band Switchfoot. The conversation covered everything from Switchfoot's "strategic touring" of good surf destinations, to the motivation and inspiration behind their music. Lead singer Jon Foreman and fellow band members discussed their desire to avoid the narrow labeling of sacred and secular, and instead create "music for thinking people," helping listeners question and think about the larger issues of life.
After Q&A, lead singer Jon Foreman played a short acoustic set of Switchfoot songs, as well as material from his new solo effort, and a new song written for the soundtrack of the upcoming Prince Caspian film.
Why social justice is much more than a political issue.
We've got our second podcast from the conference. Mark Miller is an author and pastor at Life Church in Wheaton, Illinois. He's speaking at a breakout sesssion at SHIFT on the topic of "Engaging Students in Global Justice." In it, he discusses his own journey of discovering global justice being much more than a political issue; it's a deeply spiritual one. He also discussed the excitement about a new generation of students who are passionate about following the way of Jesus by serving the needs of the world. Click below to hear the podcast.
Social activism is gaining popularity with evangelicals, but is it making any difference?
Kara Powell spoke during the final session at Shift this afternoon. Powell is the director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. She began by bursting a pretty big bubble. Many churches have gotten involved in short term missions trips (STMs) that often involve a service project in a developing country. But are these trips making any real difference?
The research isn't encouraging. Powell shared about how those being served by North American church groups often feel demoralized by our service, and how many wished these churches would simply send the funds so they could do the work themselves. On the flip side, evidence suggests these trips are having a minimal impact on students as well. In an article she wrote called "If We Send Them, Will They Grow?" she concluded that students who go on STMs are not more likely to become long-term missionaries, and it doesn't impact their materialistic lifestyles.
Powell said a lot of our local and international efforts toward the poor are really a placebo effect. They make us feel better about ourselves, but they're not really impacting people the way we'd like to believe. What's the answer? She believes we need to shift from shallow service to "deep justice."
Five adjustments we need to make in a changing culture.
Darren Whitehead leads the student ministry of Willow Creek. He compared the church in our changing culture to his own experience as an immigrant (he's from Australia). Most immigrants suffer from "cultural freeze," he says. This is the tendency to maintain their old culture in the midst of the new one they find themselves in.
He says the church is doing the same thing. We're preserving church from the 1960s in a world that changing. He says this is really uncomfortable for newcomers. When someone comes into the church "it's sort of like walking in on two people making out. It's intimate and you feel kind of strange being there."
This has led to what Whitehead called an "epidemic of ineffectiveness." He cited numerous studies that all show huge numbers of students leaving the church after high school and never returning. He says, "The rate of change in the culture is far exceeding the rate of change in our youth ministries."
Brian McLaren helps us navigate the deluge of postmodernity.
The second day of the conference began with Brian McLaren's breakout session, "Onramp to the Postmodern Conversation." This was designed to help newcomers to the issue understand the shift that is happening in the culture. He compared this change to a hurricane that assaulted Honduras a number of years ago. 100 inches of rain fell in one week. The country was devastated. When the rain stopped the landscape of the country had been changed.
In one case, a bridge that had spanned a river was now on dry land. The river's course had completely shifted. To the bridge's credit it was still standing; it was very well built, but it was totally useless. This, says McLaren, is what the modern church is facing. The modern church was very well built and designed for stability, but the ground is shifting and it's no longer as effective.
A similar storm is hitting the world today. Brian covered western history in about fifteen minutes, revealing paradigm shifts that have occurred in the past - including the one that gave us modernity about 500 years ago.
We are experiencing another prefect storm today, says McLaren.
Interview with Mark Yaconelli, author of Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry.
Yesterday morning we recapped Mark Yaconelli's talk from the first day of Shift 2008. Thanks to those of you who have left comments on this post, along with the reviews of the sessions with Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne. During his session Mark spoke passionately and with a good dose of humor about some of the unglamorous aspects of serving in student ministries. And one point he bemoaned watching the "good youth groups" at summer camp walking around with their Bibles while his students were "lighting marijuana cigarettes and sneaking off to the bushes."
Shane Claiborne on grace, Baghdad, and the imagination.
Here at Out of Ur we've been hosting a conversation about the themes found in Shane Claiborne's latest book, Jesus for President (part one and part two). As is evident from this conversation, Shane is a guy who provokes a response in those he encounters. Certainly those at the Shift conference who just heard Shane speak about The Scandal of Grace got a taste of this.
Before proceeding, let me tell you how hard it is to summarize Shane Claiborne. The guy is a non-stop storyteller! Stories about growing up in Tennessee attending youth group. Stories about his home in the rough neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Stories about going to Iraq on the eve of the bombing of Baghdad. On top of his stories, Shane quotes incessantly: Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King JR, and Dostoevsky among others. Consider this a plea to check this post in a couple hours when we can post some video of this session.
Update. Here are some video highlights from this session.
Mark Yaconelli makes the case that broken and empty is better.
The second session at Shift began with a plea from Bo Boshers, the Executive Director of Youth Ministries for the Willow Creek Association. He shared that a survey of this conference's attendees showed that 67% of the youth leaders and students are not being mentored. "Folks, we've got to get this one right!" he said. It seems that the need for one-on-one relationships in youth ministry is one of the shifts the conference organizers are concerned with.
Mark Yaconelli, who just finished speaking, pointed out another major shift he believes must happen. Through a wide-ranging talk Mark kept coming back to his theme of emptiness and brokenness. Given the many resources, curriculum, and programs available at the conference, it was almost ironic to hear Mark tell youth pastors, "You don't need anything. You need less. You can come to a conference and get so overwhelmed that you forget you already have everything you need. Your love of your kids and your desire to love God is enough."
UPDATE. Here are some video highlights from this session.
Brian McLaren on why everything must change in youth ministry.
I'm sitting in Willow Creek's auditorium as hundreds of youth leaders and students slowly make their way in. In a few minutes Shift 2008, Willow's student ministries 3-day conference, will begin. As previously mentioned, for the next few days Out of Ur will be hosting the online component of this conference. We'll do our best to summarize the ideas and questions raised by each speaker. Our hope is that those of you attending the conference will chime in with your comments about what you are experiencing during these three days. And for those of you watching from a distance, hopefully these posts will give you a taste of what is happening here in Barrington, Illinois.
UPDATE. Here are some video highlights from this session.
This morning's first speaker, Brian McLaren, just walked in and Charlie Hall is beginning to lead worship so I'll sign off for now. Check back in a couple of hours for a summary of the first session. Later today we'll be adding video highlights so keep checking in.
UPDATE. Read on for a summary of the first session...
Should the church be starting businesses to advance its mission?
I'm sitting at Ebenezer's - a coffee shop in Washington DC. That may not seem particularly remarkable, but this trendy meeting place represents the convergence of three social pillars - government, business, and church.
Ebenezer's is owned and operated by National Community Church. Often referred to as "The Theater Church," NCC meets at theaters located at three Metro stops around Washington. But the coffee shop serves as the church's headquarters. The upper floors are occupied by NCC's staff offices, and the basement of Ebenezer's is a multi-media venue where worship services are conducted as well as concerts.
The connection between the coffee shop and the church represents a growing trend of churches advancing their mission through for-profit businesses. Ebenezer's has been very successful for National Community Church. The business is thriving; it was even ranked among the city's best coffee shops. (Right now the place is quite busy.)
Mark Batterson, pastor of NCC, said the experiment with Ebenezer's has been so positive that they're considering expanding to other locations and even franchising the operation to help other churches launch coffee shops to function as "3rd places" and missional outposts.
Is having an ethnically diverse church a biblical mandate?
Brandon J. O'Brien
I recently returned to my native Arkansas - a world much less ablaze with all the conversations about emergent, missional, monastic, anti-institutional, and ancient-future Christianity. As much as I appreciate those dialogues, a heavy dose of them can obscure the fact that there are many local congregations nationwide that are not clinging to a sinking institution, are not confronted with a thoroughly postmodern youth culture, and are not terribly concerned with relevance (as such). They are, nevertheless, participating in great advances for the kingdom of God.
Take Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, for example. Located in the University District of Little Rock's south midtown, the church enjoys a prime location - for burglary, murder, and carjacking. It's in that part of town you wouldn't loiter in on Saturday night (I suppose all the evildoers sleep late on Sunday morning). But its location is strategic. In neither inner city nor suburb, and just across the street from the Little Rock campus of the University of Arkansas(UALR), the church's neighbors represent a diversity of ethnic and economic backgrounds. More importantly, the church's membership faithfully reflects the district's demographics.
As a lifelong Arkansan, I can testify that the joyful multi-ethnic and economically diverse fellowship that takes place at Mosaic is a monumental accomplishment.
How do we live as the people of God in the American Empire?
A few months ago, while visiting a church out of state, I had a moment of crisis. Just before the sermon, the pastor stood to give the announcements. After wrapping up, he invited a young man in military uniform to stand. The young officer had grown up in this church and had just returned from his first tour in Iraq. The pastor thanked the congregation for their prayers for the soldier and his family. The congregation responded with enthusiastic applause. So far so good.
But then the pastor reminded the church of the dangerous and noble work America's soldiers were doing in Iraq. He said they were protecting our American freedoms and that we should be grateful for their sacrifice. The congregation stood to their feet and began clapping?and clapping?and clapping. I have never experienced a more enthusiastic and prolonged standing ovation on a Sunday morning in my life.
What would you have done? I sat.
After the service I admitted to my wife that I was uncertain what the right response was in that situation. The tenor of the pastor's remarks and the zeal of the congregation's response did not seem to reflect Christ's call to love our enemies. I wondered how a brother or sister in the Iraqi church, which has come under increasing persecution, would have felt about this Sunday morning display of patriotism. At the same time, I felt like a total jerk for sitting while the rest of the congregation demonstrated their gratitude to the military. This experience and the questions it raised came to mind several times while I read Jesus for President.