How I came to see ordinary life, rather than church, as the focus of God's work.
by Chris Nye
As a pastor it’s easy to believe that everyone cares about spiritual formation as much as I do. In a community group years ago, I remember rambling on about something our church was beginning and something I, as a pastor at the church, really wanted everyone to understand. I was very excited about it and shared with this group how important all of this was going to be for them. Afterward, as my wife and I recapped the night, she gently said to me, “Chris, you need to remember that you care more about the church than anyone else.”
She was right. I care about the word “missional,” and how often a person interacts with his coworkers about faith. I care about church attendance, reactions to sermon series, and how a person defines “the gospel.” But most people don’t. They care about their kids, their families, their jobs, and their bills. They care about life. And this realization is how Dallas Willard saved my ministry.
Willard didn’t write many books intended for pastors, but most pastors have read his books. He wrote about life--the vast area in which God is working--of which “church ministry” is just a small subset. For example, after a long chapter describing the curriculum for Christlikeness in The Divine Conspiracy, Willard took just over one page for, “Some Practical Points About Implementation—Especially for Pastors” (pg. 371). The final chapter of Renovation of the Heart is, “Spiritual Formation in the Local Congregation,” and is just 20 pages of his 257 page book. Willard’s words were not just for pastors—and not even just for Christians—they were for all of life; our mundane and ever-important life.
Before leaders recommend or condemn Rachel Held Evans's book, they should at least read it.
by Matt Mikalatos
As leaders, we're often asked our judgment on books, especially as a book grows in readership or controversy. Unfortunately, sometimes we share opinions before forming thoughts on the topic. You probably recall the enormous number of reviews of Rob Bell's "Love Wins" that flooded the Internet before his book released, based purely on a few minutes of preview video. Likewise, I heard a lot of opinions about Mark and Grace Driscoll's "Real Marriage" long before the book hit the shelves.
The latest controversial book in Christian circles is Rachel Held Evans's "The Year of Biblical Womanhood" in which Evans explores what the Bible says about womanhood by living out a variety of explicit commands in scripture, including things like wearing a head covering, calling her husband master, and following the Old Testament purity laws during her period.
I asked Evans when the first review for her book came in, and she said, "My dad the other night told me he remembered being at his computer, looking over a review of my book, and then he looked over at me and I'm sitting at the dining room table with a pile of books working on the manuscript. He was reading a review of this book I hadn't even finished writing yet." So, the first negative review for the book came before the book was written. I believe the motivation in reviews like this is protecting others from harmful ideas. I also believe it's being done poorly.
You Lost Me. Live! shows the tough road ahead for churches trying to reclaim prodigal Millennials.
When I first left home for college seven years ago, I was finally able to search for a church on my own. I’d attended a single church up till then, and I was anxious to find a new body of believers. I quickly found a college group at an established church, but I was shocked by how detached the group felt from the rest of the body. In the years since, most of the churches I’ve attended don’t know what to do with my generation, the Millennials. As Millennials leave the church in droves, church leadership scrambles to find ways to retain the few that stay and hope that the rest will eventually return on their own.
David Kinnaman and a number of guest speakers address this very issue in the conference series, You Lost Me. Live!, presented by the Barna Group. I attended the conference in Chicago and found myself in the company of Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers, and many Millennials. Here are a few points that stood out to me:
The world is becoming more complicated. We’ve given people a cultural vision of Christ, but not the tools to live in this increasingly complex culture. Millennials are coming of age in this new culture, so it defines them in a unique way. While Baby Boomers are constantly astounded by new ways to communicate and access information, Millennials were born connected.
Piper says there's a lot more going on in Romans 1 than we realize.
When seeking a biblical justification for opposing homosexual behavior, many people turn to Romans 1:26-27, but John Piper argues that one cannot separate these verses from Paul's argument about idolatry in verses 18-25. While all would agree that context is important, do you buy Piper's conclusion that same-sex attraction is a form of self-worship? Watch the video and discuss.
Last week we brought you a video with Tim Keller discussing how the church ought to respond to LGBT neighbors. This week N.T. Wright discusses the need for meaningful debate on the issue rather than a shouting match. He also unpacks how he reads the Scriptures on the issue of marriage.
A new study finds large worship gatherings can be chemically addictive, and why it is a serious problem for the church.
by Skye Jethani
In 1515, Michelangelo completed a sculpture of Moses. The marble figure depicts an old but very muscular Moses with the Ten Commandments under his arm and a billowing beard. But tourists are often shocked to see what appear to be devilish horns protruding from Moses’ head.
The horns can be traced to a mistranslation of the Bible in the 5th Century. The story from Exodus 34 says that after Moses met with the Lord on Mount Sinai, the people were afraid because, “the skin of his face shone.” The Hebrew word for a ray or beam of light was mistranslated into Latin as “horns.” So, when Michelangelo read his Bible he believed the people were frightened because Moses had grown horns while meeting with God on the mountain.
Today we no longer depict Moses with horns, but a misunderstanding of his mountaintop experience remains all too common. According to the Apostle Paul in the 2 Corinthians 3, Moses did not hide his face because the people were frightened, but to hide the fact that the glory of God was fading away. Whatever transformation he experienced in God’s presence on the mountain was temporary, and the veil hid its transient nature. Moses’ mountaintop experience was genuine, glorious, and full of God’s presence-but it did not bring lasting transformation.
Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multimedia theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. Many of us ascend this mountain every Sunday morning wanting to have an experience with God, and many of us leave with a degree of genuine transformation. We feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.”
No doubt many, like Moses, have an authentic encounter with God through these events. But new research indicates another explanation for our spiritual highs.
A copy of Apples, Snakes and Bellyaches was given to me in 1991 while serving as a student missionary in Oregon. I stayed up half the night reading and laughing aloud at thought-provoking poems addressed to children, yet instructive to adults.
This was my first exposure to the writings of Calvin Miller. It would not be my last.
The next year at university, I came across the book The Table of Inwardness. I did not immediately connect the author of this book to the same man who wrote Apples, Snakes and Bellyaches. And why should I? Children’s poetry and Christian mysticism are completely different genres. To this day, Table remains my favorite book. I read it once a year.
Entering Southwestern Seminary, I made it a priority to meet Calvin Miller and take every class he offered, whether or not they were part of my course requirements. Along the way, a friendship was born. The greatest honor Calvin bestowed upon me, besides that of being my mentor, was the opportunity to serve as his research assistant. I learned as much sitting across the desk from Calvin as I did in many of my seminary courses.
It was also a privilege to be part of a small group that met at Calvin’s house on Tuesday nights to read through his final draft of Walking with Saints. There were five students in this group, and every one of us remains in ministry. Statistically, at least two of us should be washed out by now. I believe it was Calvin’s influence that prepared each of us for the trials of ministry.
Tasting, Touching, and Feeling Our Way to Spiritual Growth
Reviewed by Brandon O'Brien
What does forgiveness taste like? How does grace sound? These are the kinds of questions Brent Bill and Beth Booram invite readers to consider in Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God (IVP 2011).
Bill and Booram don’t denigrate propositional knowledge or downplay the importance of more traditional, verbal sorts of communication. But they do lament that the majority of our spiritual education comes from “sermons, books, Bible studies and other spiritual resources that instruct our thinking” but often “miss our souls.” This leaves us with a spirituality informed by half our brain—the left half, which interprets our experiences—and largely ignores experience itself, which is why the right half of our brain is important: it “does the experiencing through our senses.” Instead, the authors want readers to use both sides of our brains and our five senses to gain an experiential knowledge of God. They want to “help more of you [singular] experience more of God.”
To do that, they suggest, we must each learn how to interpret our daily experiences as sacraments, means of God’s grace in our lives. So, after a brief introduction, the book is divided into five sections, one for each of the senses: tasting, seeing, touching, hearing, smelling. Each section opens with a short introduction that lays out the principles that direct what follows. But the bulk of each section is given to practical spiritual exercises related to a specific sense.
The authors discourage reading the book straight through. They prefer readers take the sections slowly, work the exercises, and be intentional about engaging the senses, not mastering the content. So instead of reading and reviewing the whole book, my reflections here are based on the first section, taste.
What the Resurrection says about the nature of the cosmos, and how it might impact the science vs. faith debate.
by Skye Jethani
Did God create the universe in six 24hr days, or was it a gradual process over eons? Were humans made from the dust of the ground, or did we evolve from earlier species of primates? Was there a literal Adam and Eve? What about the fossil record, dinosaurs, and genetic evidence?
Since I was a kid I've loved discovering how our universe works. Despite my layman's appreciation for science, I have stayed far, far away from the faith versus science controversies that our society and media seem eager to engage.
It isn't that I think these questions are unimportant, or that I don't sympathize with those who struggle to reconcile their faith with science. And I am grateful for those seeking to thoughtfully and graciously bridge the divide between the scientific and faith communities. Some members of my own church have done wonderful work in this area. And lately I've been intrigued by the work of BioLogos. The group was started in 2007 by Francis Collins, the brilliant scientist who led the Human Genome Project. BioLogos' mission is to show the compatibility of science and religion. The group's website includes endorsements by many theologians, scientists, and pastors, and it includes articles on many of the questions I list above.
Like those behind BioLogos, I share the belief that science is an indispensable, legitimate, and God-ordained vehicle for truth. It can tell us how our universe works, and these answer become the basis for solutions to many of humanity's most vexing problems. So why do I remain hesitant to allow externally verifiable logic to always trump faith when controversies arise between science and religion? Here's why: While science can tell us how our universe works, it cannot prove the universe has always worked, or will forever work, the same way.
Reducing abortion is important, but Matthew Lee Anderson doesn't think this is the way to do it.
by Url Scaramanga
Earlier this month evangelical leaders from every sector of the culture gathered in Washington DC for the Q conference. One of the panels focused on the staggering number of abortions among single women within the church. Panelists discussed the problem and how churches could begin to turn the tide. At the close of the discussion the audience was asked to respond to an instant poll: "Do you believe churches should advocate contraception for their single twentysomethings?" 70 percent responded "Yes."
While affirming God's intent that sexual activity be confined to marriage, those attending Q recognized the greater evil presented by abortion. While still affirming the ideal of pre-marital chastity, pragmatism led 7 in 10 leaders at Q to embrace the wisdom of preventing abortions by those who don't reach the sexual standards of Scripture. Many were likely persuaded by the undeniable statistics showing the failure of "abstinence only" sexual eduction to prevent pregnancy and lower abortion rates.
But should the church be swayed by these practical arguments? And can we truly hold up the biblical sexual ethics and simultaneously encourage singles to "sin safely"? Matthew Lee Anderson says we cannot.
There may be no easy answers to these problems. And the most convenient—advocating for contraception for sexually active single people in our churches—may temporarily reduce abortions. Yet whatever good consequences it might have do not mitigate the fact that such advocacy will inevitably further engrain into our communities the broken understanding of sex and community that is at the heart of our predicament.
Are churches making following Jesus too easy? Where's the call to count the costs?
By Drew Dyck
I recently stumbled across an interesting set of questions. They are used by Asian Access (A2), a Christian missions agency in South Asia, to determine a new convert’s readiness to follow Christ. In the West, we might ask newcomers if they prefer contemporary or traditional worship. As you can see, the questions they ask in other parts of the world are a little different. Here they are:
Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
Are you willing to lose your job?
Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?
Are you willing to go to prison?
Are you willing to die for Jesus?
Besides making me feel very grateful for where I live (and slightly guilty for feeling grateful) the questions sounded familiar. I heard an echo of Jesus’ words from Luke 14. You know the passage. Jesus spins around to the people following him and says, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Does a cosmic gospel diminish the call to personal evangelism?
by Url Scaramanga
This interview by Ed Stetzer with Mark Dever caught me by surprise. They're talking about the renewed interest among evangelicals in a "larger gospel" that captures a kingdom theology. Dever sees it as exceedingly dangerous because a focus on doing good may take away from evangelism. Check out this clip.
What surprised me was Dever's honesty. Consider his remarks:
2. But Dever worries that focusing on this biblical definition of gospel will diminish our focus on individual salvation and evangelism. So,
3. He wants us to rely on a "systematic" idea of what gospel means based on a "long tradition of reflection" that emphasizes the individual redemption of people rather than the cosmic restoration of all things.
Is Dever asking us to put theological tradition ahead of Scripture?
The ministry of apprenticeship: If you are one step ahead of anyone, you have something to offer.
Andy Stanley’s final message at Catalyst stressed one big idea: the vitality of Christian leadership depends on apprenticeship. Stanley defines apprenticeship as the process of “selecting, modeling, and coaching for the purpose of replacing yourself.” As Stanley said in an earlier talk, most of us have a problem with that word selecting. It seems so unfair. But Jesus wasn’t "fair"—in the sense that he didn’t spend the same amount of time with each disciple. According to Stanley, "Our job is to look behind us and pour our lives into a few selected people.”
This leads to another implication for every leader: “Your responsibility is to empty your cup. It is not your responsibility to fill someone else’s cup.” That should take a huge burden off of us as leaders. We don’t have to know everything. We don’t have to be experts. We don’t have to fix people and fill their cups. For Stanley, “If you are one step ahead of anyone, you have something to offer to someone who is one step behind you.” What a great—and liberating—goal for every leader.
Last month I met with David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, to discuss our new books. He wanted to talk about how the themes in my book With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God fit with the research he lays out in You Lost Me: Why Young People Are Leaving Church...And Rethinking Faith. Central on David’s mind was rediscovering a theology of vocation. Here’s a quote from his book that articulates the problem:
For me, frankly, the most heartbreaking aspect of our findings is the utter lack of clarity that many young people have regarding what God is asking them to do with their lives. It is a modern tragedy. Despite years of church-based experiences and countless hours of Bible-centered teaching, millions of next-generation Christians have no idea that their faith connects to their life’s work. They have access to information, ideas, and people from around the world, but no clear vision for a life of meaning that makes sense of all that input (You Lost Me, page 207).
If Church365 is going to be intentional about engaging all 8 elements of the culture, then it must find a way of linking vocation and discipleship--the maturing of a follower of Christ with Christ’s particular call for that person. In other words, if a 20-year-old is called to a career in the financial markets, her curriculum for discipleship must focus on how to be a financial analyst with Christ. A cookie-cutter, off the shelf discipleship program isn’t going to cut it.
Why right thinking and right doing are not enough.
By Brandon O'Brien
In 1995, Mark Noll argued in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind that the problem with evangelicalism is “that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” His solution was to take scholarship more seriously. A decade later, Ron Sider argued in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (2005) that the problem with evangelicalism is that Christians live just like nonChristians. His solution was to take the social and corporate implications of the gospel more seriously.
Whether or not these books can be credited with sparking current trends, it’s clear the spirit of both of them is alive and well in American Christianity. The so-called “New Reformed” movement is living out Noll’s call for greater intellectual engagement and doctrinal sophistication. And legions of younger Christians are taking up Sider’s vision to seek social justice in Jesus’ name. I support both of these relatively recent developments, more or less. But I think they have the same shortcoming in common. As different as they are, they both appeal to the intellect in one way or another. They both seem to assume that if we simply believe the right things (whether it’s the doctrine of atonement or the Christian’s moral responsibility in the world) then we’ll behave the right way.
I’m not convinced.
I think there’s another, deeper problem in evangelicalism, what I’ll call (for consistency’s sake) the scandal of the evangelical imagination.
Are youth groups helping or hurting the faith of young adults?
By Drew Dyck
Over the past year I've conducted dozens of interviews with 20-somethings who have walked away from their Christian faith. Among the most surprising findings was this: nearly all of these "leavers" reported having positive experiences in youth group. I recall my conversation with one young man who described his journey from evangelical to atheist. He had nothing but vitriol for the Christian beliefs of his childhood, but when I asked him about youth group, his voice lifted. "Oh, youth group was a blast! My youth pastor was a great guy."
I was confused. I asked Josh Riebock, a former youth pastor and author of mY Generation, to solve the riddle: if these young people had such a good time in youth group, why did they ditch their faith shortly after heading to college?
His response was simple. "Let's face it," he said. "There are a lot more fun things to do at college than eat pizza."
“Welcome to Portland. Have you gotten high yet?” That was how Donald Miller welcomed the 600 participants of Q to his hometown. As a very “progressive” and “post-Christian” city, Portland is a colorful backdrop for this year’s Q Gathering. Much of the city’s cultural texture was captured by a clip from Portlandia that played during Miller’s welcome:
Gaby Lyons, the founder of Q, added his welcome. He reminded the room full of iPads, faux-hawks, and black framed glasses that the event is called "Q and not A" because we don't have all of the answers. That launched a day of engaging conversation and some controversy.
Leadership's senior editor Skye Jethani will be in Portland later this week for the Q Gathering. He'll be giving us a few live updates and reports from the event.
While there is no shortage of ministry events around the country, Q offers something different. Talks are limited to 9 or 18 minutes (and there is a large countdown clock visible to the audience that keeps presenters accountable). And speakers originate from different cultural sectors, not just the church. For example, here are some stats released by the Q organizers about who will be attending the Portland gathering:
37 Years Old
Channels of Cultural Influence Represented at Q:
13% Social Sector
9% Arts & Entertainment
3% Government and Politics
Catalyst One Day is coming to Phoenix! Next Thursday, November 18 at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix, Arizona. Join Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel for a one day leadership event focusing on the topic of Momentum. How to create it, how to sustain it, and how to implement systems and tactics in your organization that will fuel momentum on a continual basis. This practical leadership experience includes Q and A, dynamic worship and music, and a full day of practical insight from two of the principal voices on leadership in the Church today.
Visit www.catalystoneday.com to register to attend. Use special Rate Code ONEDAYAZ to receive a discounted ticket price of $99.
Are we inoculating people to the gospel by talking more about living FOR God rather than WITH him?
Yesterday Leadership Network hosted their very popular online conference "The Nines." 6 minute videos ran all day featuring church leaders discussing "game changing" insights. Skye Jethani, senior editor of Leadership Journal and Out of Ur, used his 6 minutes to highlight a turning point in his ministry when he realized much of what we do "inoculates" people to the gospel because we emphasize living FOR God rather than living WITH him.
Best selling author Anne Rice has quit Christianity. She is not quitting on Jesus Christ or the Bible, she says, but she is quitting organized Christianity.
Ms. Rice announced her quit-decision not through a resignation letter (where would one send it?) but through her website and TV interviews.
Anne Rice’s decision to go public with her decision is not the only way people quit Christianity. Some do it quietly, gradually dropping out of the programmatic activities of religious institutions and out of personal contact with people whose devotion to the faith seems solid. One day someone notices an empty seat in the sanctuary and says, “I haven’t seen Bob (or Jennifer) around for a while. Wonder what’s happened to him (or her)?”
Sometimes people quit the faith entirely.
The first time I heard of anyone quitting Christianity I was incredulous. The quitter was a boy in my prep school class, and as long as I had known him he’d been the model Christian in our student body. He arose every morning at 5 a.m. for his quiet time. He knew the Bible from beginning to end. He was the first to call for prayer meetings in the dorm about this issue or that. And he was always active in chapel leadership.
Then on the first day of my senior year, we had a class meeting. The model Christian made an announcement. “This summer I gave up my faith in Jesus,” he said. And he formally disassociated himself from all Christian activity on campus.
Since then I have seen more than a few men and woman do the Anne Rice thing.
"In my research I found that churches often lean in one of two directions. Some believe that people should be "self-feeders." The church's responsibility is to create impressive worship services with practical teaching, and maybe connect members into relational groups. From there, however, the people are expected to do the rest. Their spiritual growth is in their own hands.
"On the other side are churches who are "spoon-feeders." They place a high value on biblical teaching and exposition. The sermons are deep and these churches imply that if you just come and listen, you'll grow in your faith. "Maturity migration" happens when attenders at a "self-feeder" church desire more depth and make the shift to a "spoon-feeder" congregation.
"There are problems on both extremes."
Darrin Patrick is the pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri, and vice president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. To read the rest of his interview in context, pick up the Spring 2010 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
How can churches know if they are being effective at making disciples?
Many churches are measuring the wrong things. We measure things like attendance and giving, but we should be looking at more fundamental things like anger, contempt, honesty, and the degree to which people are under the thumb of their lusts. Those things can be counted, but not as easily as offerings.
Why don't more churches gauge these qualities among their people?
First of all, many leaders don't want to measure these qualities because what they usually discover is not worth bragging about. We'd rather focus on institutional measures of success. Secondly, we must have people who are willing to be assessed in these ways. And finally, we need the right tools to measure spiritual formation. There are some good tools available like Randy Frazee's Christian Life Profile and Monvee.com, which John Ortberg likes.
Now that we've identified those leaving the church, what are we to do about them?
by Skye Jethani
I ended Part 1 of this post with a question—what is the church to do about the growing ranks of the de-churched? I believe the answer depends on which de-churched group one is talking about. In Part 1 I identified two sides of the de-churched population—those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they’ve encountered the true gospel.
Let’s start with the false gospel side. As Matt Chandler explained, these de-churched are fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God’s rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God’s actions through moral behaviors.
While there are many churches that promote this sort of false thinking, including those within the prosperity gospel crowd, I believe most do not. So why do so many Christians, particularly the young, carry these beliefs? In most cases the problem isn’t what the church is preaching, but in what it is assuming.
For example, the popular summarization of the gospel known as “The Four Spiritual Laws” begins with the statement, “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” This idea, drawn from scripture and rooted in orthodoxy, may be faithfully preached in your church. But how is it received? How does a person formed and hardened for decades in the furnaces of consumerism hear this statement?
Walter Wangerin on the art of storytelling and why doctrine still matters.
by Brandon O'Brien
Last weekend I attended Spark, a children's ministry conference near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The theme of the conference was "The Art of Storytelling." I think you'd be hard pressed to find a keynote speaker better suited to speak on that topic than Walter Wangerin. Pastor for 16 years in inner-city Chicago, father of four, grandfather of eight or so, and author of more than 40 books, Wangerin has lots of experience telling stories. And he's good at it—really good. In his two plenary sessions, he touched on a good many things that concern me—the role of the teacher, the power of stories, and the nature of the relationship between art and truth. What I appreciated most was his sense of balance.
You might expect (as I did) that when speaking to a room full of ministers, a person who makes his living telling stories would emphasize how story telling is superior to other forms of teaching, such as catechism or object lessons or memorizing facts. In fact, I've come to expect that perspective at ministry conferences in general. It's become very popular to claim that narrative is more important that systematic theology; after all (the argument goes) Jesus spoke in parables not doctrines, and the Gospels are narratives not bullet points. Fair enough. But Wangerin wanted to emphasize the relationship between story and doctrine, between the imagination and the intellect.
The value of story, for Wangerin, is that it allows people to experience the truth. You can tell someone, "Jesus loves you." That's a doctrine. But if you can tell a story that shows that Jesus loves me—maybe a parable like the Good Shepherd—in which I am invited to associate with a character that is receiving the love of Jesus, then I will experience the love of Jesus.
Some are leaving the church because they've received a false gospel. Others are leaving because they've found the real one.
by Skye Jethani
In days gone by, missional efforts were focused on presenting and demonstrating the love of Christ to non-Christians. But in the 1980s a new term was coined to describe the growing number of North Americans without any significant church background. They were called the unchurched. Untold numbers of books were written about them. Ministry conferences discussed them. Church leaders orchestrated worship services to attract them.
The shift from “evangelizing non-Christians” to “reaching the unchurched” was perceived as benign at the time, but it represented an important shift in our understanding of mission. The church was no longer just a means by which Christ’s mission would advance in the world, it was also the end of that mission. The goal wasn’t simply to introduce the unchurched to Christ, but—as the term reveals—to engage them in a relationship with the institutional church. This paved the way for the ubiquitous (but flawed) belief today that “mission” is synonymous with “church growth.” (Another post for another day.)
Well, another new term is on the rise and gaining attention among evangelicals in North America. Those without a past relationship to the church are called unchurched, but there are many with significant past church involvement who are exiting. They are the de-churched.
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church near Dallas, explains the de-churched phenomenon in this short video:
What a not-so-Christian movie says about the goal of the Christian life.
by John Ortberg
I have been thinking a lot lately about Colossians 1, where Paul writes: "We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this reason I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." It strikes me that this comes close to a creedal text for those of us involved in church ministry. Sometimes we get so immersed in the X's and O's of church work that we forget to step back and ask what 's the real reason we're doing all this. Paul has great clarity on it, and is more concise than usual: "so that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
If your church is looking for a big hairy audacious goal, this will do for starters.
The scale: everyone.
The outcome: mature in Christ.
That's not common language in our day. So recently I have asked church leaders in a number of settings to take a few moments to describe what someone who is "mature in Christ" looks like. Certain words always make the list: loving, joyful, peaceful, forgiving, serving, courageous, loyal, humble, generous.
And when "mature in Christ" is explained in those terms, there are not many people who are uninterested. This offer has remarkably broad appeal. I went with a friend to see Avatar last week. The 3-D thing is pretty cool. The writer does not actually attach a denominational label to the script, but it was pretty obviously not produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. However, the qualities in the heroes are remarkably consistent with many of the words listed by church leaders: courageous, loving, giving, loyal, generous. What it means to be a good person has been embedded by God pretty deeply into human consciousness.
The danger of replacing Communion with a coffee bar.
by Paul Louis Metzger
It's very difficult for many contemporary Christians to recognize how much we have been shaped by the consumer culture in which we live—it is in the air we breathe and the water (or coffee) we drink.
Consider that in many churches the coffee bar has displaced the Lord's Table as the place where real community happens. Due in part to the neutralizing of sacred space that has been popular since the 1980s, churches began removing or deemphasizing the Lord's Table and introducing coffee bars. Without doubt the desire has been to build community by offering people a culturally familiar setting to engage one another. But we must ask: What formative message does a coffee bar convey?
A coffee bar mostly carries the values of our culture. We've come to expect coffee bars to offer a number of choices to meet our desires (decaf, tea, hot chocolate), and the setting is one of leisure and comfort. We usually gather in affinity groups. We sip the beverages not because we're thirsty but because we're conditioned to want them.
By contrast, what does the Lord's Table convey? It is a symbol of sacrificial love that breaks down cultural divisions and barriers of affinity. It reminds us that life is about being chosen by the Lord for interpersonal communion rather than choosing to consume stuff, and it reminds us we are called to take up our cross rather than seek personal comfort.
The downside of trying to re-brand your Christian identity.
by Jason Byassee
Anyone can understand the desire for an alternative to the word “Christian.” There are plenty of “Christians” I’d rather not be associated with. I’d much prefer to maintain my relationship with Jesus while making clear to others I am not in relationship to Pat Robertson or Jack Spong.
Lisa Miller, true to form as an excellent religion journalist, has brought attention to efforts to follow Jesus without calling oneself a “Christian.” Non-Christian Christ-followers even seem to have some scripture on their side. The first name of the Jesus movement in the book of Acts is “followers of the Way.” There are plenty of other fully-biblical alternatives: disciples, apostles, friends of God. Apparently the movement has legs: more than 900 Facebook groups call themselves some variant of “follower of Jesus.”
There’s some sleight of hand here. Imagine a banker in the current financial crisis objecting when you name her job description. “I’m not a banker, I’m a cashier.” You would be unimpressed. Or a Major League Baseball player seeking distance from the steroid scandal this way: “No no no, I’m not a baseball player, I’m a second baseman.” It’s as if my alma mater, Davidson College, disgraced itself in some horrible way. When people cluck their tongues at me, I cleverly respond: “Not me, I’m innocent, I’m not from Davidson, I’m just a Wildcat.” I’d be fooling no one. So too with these non-Christian Christians.
Christianity Today International, Out of Ur's publisher, and The Lausanne Movement, a worldwide movement of evangelical Christian leaders, present The Global Conversation: a year-long series of essays, short films, and photo essays about issues facing the church worldwide. These videos highlight topics to be addressed at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization being held in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010.
In November the Global Conversation focuses on the prosperity gospel—the teaching that true Christian faith results in material wealth and physical well-being. While it has its roots in America, it has found fertile soil on other continents as well. To accompany the lead article in Christianity Today by Ghanaian scholar Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, director Nathan Clarke went to Ghana to explore the forms the prosperity gospel takes in that West African nation.
Why don't more ethnic churches have a small groups ministry?
by Sam O'Neal
I came across an interesting interview in the recent issue of Leadership Journal. The subjects of the interview were from River City Community Church—a multi-ethnic ministry located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Leadership talked with Daniel Hill, who founded the ministry, along with several key leaders of the church.
Here's a brief excerpt of their conversation:
What kind of person is attracted to River City?
Hill: Most of our new people are white. But there's a revolving door with the white community here. They have a romantic notion of being part of a multi-ethnic church, so many of them get frustrated and leave when they realize how difficult it is to erase their assumptions about the way church is supposed to be.
What assumptions do white people carry into the church?
Arloa Sutter (pastor of community life): When I came I said, "Let's just start small groups! Everyone wants to be in a group, right?" The fact is small groups aren't as important to other ethnicities as they are to white people.
Small groups are a white church thing?
Hill: White people rely on small groups to connect. Other ethnicities form community more organically, more relationally. Immigrant communities find fellowship within extended families. In the city a lot of community happens on the front porch or sidewalk. So non-whites aren't as eager to set up structures and systems like small groups.
Online churches are missing a few essential ingredients.
by Bob Hyatt
**Editor's Note: I apologize for the lack of posts in recent days. We've been experiencing some technical difficulties. -Url Scaramanga**
I was disappointed to read Douglas Estes’ piece last week on Ur, for a number of reasons, but chief among them is this: it fails to deal substantively with a single serious critique that has been raised regarding virtual church. In fact, Mr. Estes not only fails to address the critique, but he seems to fail even to understand it.
So in a spirit of Christian love and good dialogue, let me respond point by point!
First, Mr. Estes asserts that critique of virtual church can be boiled down to “Internet campuses and online churches are not true churches because they don’t look like and feel like churches are expected to look like and feel like (in the West, anyway).”
Respectfully, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my concern about internet church is that it’s too much like what we expect (and want) church to look and feel like (at least in the West).
Douglas Estes, author of SimChurch, responds to critics of online churches.
by Douglas Estes
A myth is growing in some circles of the blogosphere that online church is not good, not healthy, and not biblical. If we read carefully the criticisms levied against internet campuses, they boil down to some very common and tired themes: Internet campuses and online churches are not true churches because they don’t look like and feel like churches are expected to look like and feel like (in the West, anyway). Arguments against virtual church follow the idea that if it doesn’t look like church, feel like church, swim like church, or quack like church, it’s not a church. This may be a useful test for ducks, but churches are far more complex animals.
This myth is causing even open-minded people to have doubts about whether a church online can be ‘real.’ Let’s lay aside for a moment that nowhere in the Bible does it preclude online church, in any way. Let’s lay aside the fact that church history almost nowhere would lead someone to conclude that a virtual church is not valid (the lesson of church history is that new formats for church always go through a period where they are attacked as invalid). Let’s lay aside the troubling truth of the testimonies of meaningful community that are coming out of online churches. Let’s lay aside the problem that most (all I’ve read) of the blogposts criticizing virtual churches are based on cultural factors, pop psychology, materialistic misreadings of a few New Testament verses, or worse, citations of famous pastors who have doubts.
An even greater concern is the proliferation of a related myth: The myth of the “virtual” church. As a result several of the churches who have launched virtual campuses are telling their pastors and people, “Don’t use the word ‘virtual,’ because people think it means fake.” For the record, virtual doesn’t mean fake, it means synthetic. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether church culture embraces or discards the word virtual, but we need to be accurate in our representation. Virtual churches are not fake churches; they are real churches that use synthetic space as a meeting place (or a synthetic medium as a means of building community). The ‘virtual’ part of the term—which identifies where they meet—has nothing to do with the question of their realness or validity.
Calvin’s definition of “church” is where the Word is preached, the sacraments are received, and church discipline practiced. That’s a good summary of the defining characteristics of the New Testament ecclesia and a good summary of the main problems with internet church.
Is the word preached “at” an internet campus? Absolutely. In fact, the Word preached becomes the centerpiece. Church is boiled down to singing a few songs and hearing a message.
And while internet campuses provide a great sermon delivery vehicle, and even allow you to virtually raise your hand in response, what they don’t do is allow you to be known and missed. You can’t stand at the end of the gathering and ask for help moving. You can’t help tear things down and clean up afterwards. You can’t look after someone’s kids while they pray with someone else. You can’t take a visitor out to lunch. How can our community be a sign and foretaste of the kingdom when our method of gathering keeps us from ever physically serving, loving, or being present to one another? I know how participating in a congregation begins to make me more like Jesus. I’m unsure how that happens with an internet campus.
Online church is close enough to the real thing to be dangerous.
by Bob Hyatt
In the early 1950s when Robert Schuller and others across the nation combined a growing car culture with “Church,” they believed they were reaching a segment of the population traditional church wouldn’t or couldn’t. “Drive-In Church” allowed parishioners to hear a sermon, sing some songs, even receive communion and give—all without the fuss and muss of face-to-face interaction. Except for a through-the-window handshake from the pastor as they rolled away.
And while they may have been able to point to a number of folks who “attended” that otherwise might not have, the question of what was being formed in these car congregations through limited interaction, a completely passive experience, and a consumer-oriented “Come as you want/Have it your way” message, meant that (thankfully) after a brief period of vogue, “Drive-In Church” has remained a niche curiosity.
The problem with the drive-in church model isn’t that it isn’t church—it’s that it is just “church” enough to be dangerous. What this almost-church does is park people in a cul-de-sac where they have access to the easiest and most instantly satisfying parts of church while exempting them from the harder and more demanding parts of community.
And while I’m glad such an absurdity has remained on the fringe, as I watch the discussion about “internet campuses” I can’t shake a certain feeling of deja vu.
Troy Gramling vs. Mark Driscoll on the legitimacy of internet congregations.
Earlier this month Frank Viola confronted the growing trend of “post-church Christianity,” with a biblically-rooted argument that a gathering of two or three close friends is not “church” and therefore cannot be a substitute. We’re eager to continue the debate about what constitutes a legitimate church, and we found a worthy follow-up in the new book, A Multi-Site Road Trip by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird.
In a chapter titled, "Internet Campuses—Virtual or Real Reality?," the authors profile the web congregation started by Troy Gramling of Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, Florida. The follow excerpt is intended to answer the critics of internet churches. It also includes an extended rebuttal by Mark Driscoll who does not believe in the legitimacy of web-based church. (On a side note, Driscoll’s church issued a press release today announcing the release of a Mars Hill iPhone app which allows users to listen to sermons, watch sermon videos, receive church news updates, and even give donations toward the church’s mission.)
In a bricks-and-mortar church, leaders can limit distractions and use a variety of tools to create experiences to connect people emotionally to the music and message. With an online church, that is much harder to do. The people attending your church online might be doing a million different things in the background while the service is in progress. Or they might be in an environment filled with distractions. The growth edge for internet campuses is their need to move their attenders to full engagement. Perhaps the most challenging part of the internet campus idea is the reality that when people aren’t physically in the room, as they are in a church sanctuary, you can’t control the environment.
The postchurch perspective fails six tests of legitimacy.
by Frank Viola
In my first post, I argued that the primary text used to support the postchurch viewpoint is not about the nature of the church at all. Instead, it's about the process of excommunication. Now I have more evidence against the postchurch viewpoint. In my mind, it fails to pass six important tests.
The Original Language Test
New Testament scholarship agrees that the word ekklesia (translated "church") meant a local community of people who assemble together regularly. The word was used for the Greek assembly whereby those in a city were "called forth" from their homes to meet (assemble) in the town forum to make decisions for the city. The Christian ekklesia is a community of people who gather together and possess a shared life in Christ.
As such, the ekklesia as used in New Testament literature is visible, touchable, locatable, and tangible. You can visit it. You can observe it. And you can live in it. Biblically speaking, you could not call anything an ekklesia unless it assembled regularly together.
There is a growing phenomenon in the body of Christ today. Alongside of the missional church movement, the emerging church movement, and the house church movement, there is a mode of thinking that I call "postchurch Christianity."
The postchurch brand of Christianity is built on the premise that institutional forms of church are ineffective, unbiblical, unworkable, and in some cases, dangerous. Institutionalization is not compatible with ekklesia. So say postchurch advocates.
But the postchurch view goes further saying, "any semblance of organization whatsoever . . . any semblance of leadership...is wrong and oppressive. Church is simply when two or three believers gather together in any format. Whenever this happens, church occurs."
Here are some examples of what you might hear a postchurch advocate say:
His unexpected message to church leaders: fully embrace your Christian identity.
By Skye Jethani & Brandon O'Brien
Eboo Patel is not the most likely seminary professor. His credentials are not the issue. Patel earned his doctorate from Oxford University, and he is a respected commentator on religion for The Washington Post and National Public Radio. He has spoken in venues across the world, including conferences for evangelical church leaders.
What makes Eboo Patel an unlikely seminary professor is that he is Muslim.
The editors of Leadership first encountered Patel at the 2008 Q Conference, where he challenged 500 Christian leaders to change the rules of interfaith dialogue. "Muslims and Christians might not fully agree on worldview," he said, "but we share a world." Patel spoke of his enduring friendships with a number of evangelicals and his desire to move beyond the "clash of civilizations" rhetoric that dominates Christian/Muslim interaction. While holding firmly to his belief in Islam, he also affirmed church leaders. "Even though it is not my tradition and my community," Patel wrote after the conference, "I believe deeply that this type of evangelical Christianity is one of the most positive forces on Earth."
We were intrigued, so we contacted Patel to talk more about the ramifications of increasing religious diversity in America, as well as his outsider's perspective of the church's response. Patel gave us more than we bargained for. He invited us to attend a class he was teaching on interfaith leadership at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
The following is an excerpt from a chapter called "Internet Campuses - Virtual or Real Reality?" in the bookA Multi-Site Church Road Trip: Exploring the New Normal, by Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird (Zondervan, 2009). This picks up mid-chapter; so to bring you up to speed, we're talking about the strengths and weaknesses of internet campuses as they relate to spiritual growth and formation.
Even if a church does a good job of creating an engaging and life-transforming online worship experience, it may not be enough. What about the rest of what it means to be the church? When I pressed Troy [Gramling, senior pastor of Flamingo Road Church in Florida] with this question, he said that both physical and internet campuses are trying to do the same thing: help people take the next step from where they are to where God is calling them. "The first step is accepting Christ," Troy explained. "That can happen anywhere. The next step is baptism, and we have discovered that can happen anywhere as well." Indeed, in 2007 Brian Vasil baptized a new believer online for the first time. They didn't use virtual water or a cheesy clip art graphic. It was the real thing.
A young woman from Georgia who had never attended any of Flamingo Road Church's physical campuses gave her life to Christ during a service on the internet campus. She wanted to be baptized, so she contacted her campus pastor, Brian, via email. He spoke with her on the phone about her decision to accept Christ and about her desire to be baptized. Then he helped coordinate the event. She was baptized by her mother-in-law in the family Jacuzzi tub with the Flamingo Road internet family watching via webcam and rejoicing in the significant moment for one of their peers. That's taking the next step. For those involved with the church, it was the real thing.
The Porn Pastor talks about ministry in Las Vegas.
The Spring '09 issue of Leadership journal should be arriving in mailboxes this week. The issue is called "UNHOOKED: Finding Release from Vices and Addictions." We editors searched for ministers who were tackling addiction head on, whether in their churches or in parachurch ministries. And we're pleased with the final product.
Our lead interview in this issue is with Craig Gross, founder of XXXChurch.com and, more recently, the Strip Church in Las Vegas. In the video below, Craig talks a little bit about the mission of the Strip Church and what it means to take the gospel into the darkness.
It’s often neglected, but the imagination is critical to discipleship.
by David Swanson
The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful. –John Piper
I begin with two assumptions. First, John Piper is correct about the magnitude of the imagination to the Christian life. How else can we relate to our spiritual ancestors, distant in time and culture? The teachings of Jesus demand his hearers to imagine a different way of living; his parables draw us into worlds we’ve never experienced. Scripture is filled with the poetic, apocalyptic and prophetic along with nail-biting and head-scratching narrative. Imagination helps me participate in this active Word of God; it’s what moves me from an observer to an accomplice. Through a Christ-centered imagination history becomes my story, poetry becomes my prayer, and the coming Kingdom of God becomes my reality.
Second, Christian imagination is either stimulated or sedated by our surroundings. Having recently made the transition from the suburbs to life and ministry in Chicago, I’m convinced that our environment either hinders or stimulates this overlooked facet of discipleship. Consider a few generalizations from my previous and current zip codes.
Music, theater, visual arts and film all prod us to consider the world in new ways. Chicago has dozens of small theaters, film festivals and galleries of all kinds. A woman from our church recently staged a series of one-person Bouffon clown shows; something I didn’t even know existed until she invited my wife and I to a performance. With few exceptions, suburbia’s artistic exposure comes from one place: the megaplex. The movies consumed at these theaters generally reflect Hollywood’s interest in the box office bottom line. The aesthetic quality of standard megaplex fare can be argued, but there is no comparison with the myriad of imagination-provoking artistic venues found in the city.
Leadership's upcoming interview with Craig Gross from The Strip Church.
The winter issue of Leadership is still a few weeks away from your mailbox, but the editors have already started working on the spring issue. They're still refining the topic, but it will be something about ministry in a culture of brokenness and addiction.
In a few weeks Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien will be traveling to Las Vegas to interview Pastor Craig Gross, founder of XXXChurch.com - "the #1 Christian porn site on the Internet." Craig has been on a mission to help the church talk more openly about the epidemic of pornography and provide support for those seeking to escape its grip. He's also recently relocated to Las Vegas to start a new ministry called The Strip Church.
Here's a video of Craig Gross being interviewed about his ministry to porn addicts and producers.
Jethani and O'Brien will be talking with Gross about how ministry needs to adapt to a culture where vices are becoming more prevalent and more acceptable. They may also connect with other pastors in Sin City to hear how churches are wading into these cultural currents. They'd like to know what questions you have for Craig Gross, and what the editors of LJ should ask churches on the front lines of the vice wars.
Dan Kimball: The churches I know that are winning new believers and drawing people who did not grow up in the church are not using too many liturgical elements. I think we might be seeing people who were raised within the church and who are tired of the contemporary approach being drawn to the ancient practices. But, at least on the West coast, I'm not seeing young people from outside the church being drawn to liturgy. Every person I know - and obviously I don't know everybody - who has moved into a liturgical context has come out of a very large, contemporary church and they just got burned out on the machine. They now find refreshment in a smaller setting with liturgy.
At the same time, our church is using some liturgical elements like responsive readings and the Doxology, but we're not following a formal liturgy. Either way, I think it's great that some people are engaging liturgy again. It's good for young people to know that Christianity was not born in 1980, but it has ancient roots. Are new people coming to faith? Whether our church is liturgical or contemporary we need to ask that question.
Two years later, the evangelical leader says "I'm very, very sorry."
It has been two years since Ted Haggard resigned as the senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. The scandal reverberated through the media just before the pivotal 2006 elections, and made Haggard a favorite target for many outside, and inside, the church.
After two years of silence Ted Haggard has stepped back into the pulpit. Last Sunday he spoke at a church in Illinois where a close friend is the senior pastor. Audio of the entire sermon was uploaded at TedHaggard.com, but has since been removed. ABC News reports that Haggard apologized for his sin without ever identifying the nature of his transgression. He also acknowledged the pain he'd caused his family and his church.
[When the story first broke in 2006, Gordon MacDonald wrote a blog post for Out of Ur that became one of the most read articles ever for this website. You can find the post here.]
While acknowledging that "I'm very, very sorry that I sinned," Haggard also says, "I'm a stronger Christian than I've ever been in my life. I have a stronger marriage than I've ever had in my life."
"It's not an issue of whether or not we should engage moral evil and politics, but is it our primary job? It's not the main job of the church to be running the government or to influence legislation. The main job is to live out the kingdom. I feel like some Christians put the political cart before the kingdom horse. Christians in America differ very, very little from the broader American culture. We're almost indistinguishable. I'm focused on getting my congregation to live out radical kingdom principles 24/7. If we get that done, I think we'll have a lot of clarity about how to engage the culture, including politics."
-Gregory Boydis pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Taken from "Body Politic" in the Summer 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.
What's really at issue in the new masculinity movement?
Back in April, Leadership assistant editor Brandon O'Brien wrote an article in Christianity Today about the recent trend toward manly Christianity in some evangelical churches. The article generated quite a buzz on the website and in the blogosphere. Brandon was recently interviewed on the subject for an article in USA Today. Last week, Skye Jethani, Leadership managing editor, talked with Brandon about the articles and asked him a few hard questions. What really keeps men out of church? Where do our gender stereotypes come from? What's really at stake here?
Ur's O'Brien featured in USA Today regarding men in church.
Today you can read Leadership's own assistant editor, Brandon O'Brien, was in USA Today. The report by Cathy Lynn Grossman highlights the lengths churches are going to reach men. O'Brien wrote an article last spring for Christianity Today on the errors that plague some of these Christian masculinity movements. He was tapped by USA Today to comment on the trend. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
O'Brien says most of the "guy churches" don't go to the degree 121 has, "but much more prevalent and more alarming is the number of churches that promote a stereotype of muscular male behavior as the only correct godly way to be."
He describes a 2002 gathering of comedian Brad Stine's GodMen ministry, featuring videos of karate fights, car chases and a song with lyrics urging, "No more nice guy, timid and ashamed ? Grab a sword, don't be scared - be a man, grow a pair!"
O'Brien counter-punches that those who prefer lattes and books to bows and arrows are equally able to embody Christ-like qualities. "Guy church" pastors should not forget that "humanity in the image of Christ is not aggressive and combative; it is humble and poor."
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."
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."
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."
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.
"The old paradigm of evangelism was a transactional sharing of the gospel. I would try to get people to intellectually agree with me. But the new paradigm is different, an approach in which I invite you to walk alongside me, examine my life, and see evidence of the truth, and hopefully there will be something compelling that you see. It's a no-strings-attached invitation to enter my life as I follow Jesus."
-Ken Fong is the senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles. Taken from "5 Kinds of Christians" in the Fall 2007 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.
Greg Hawkins responds with the truth about REVEAL.
Last week's post about Willow Creek sparked a lot of conversation. It all flowed from comments made by the church's leaders following a three year self-evaluation of Willow Creek's ministry effectiveness. Your comments caught the attention of Greg Hawkins, Willow's executive pastor. Below Hawkins reponds to your thoughts, clarifies what Willow has learned, and discusses the church's future.
I'm thrilled to see the high level of interest and energy behind the blogosphere comments about REVEAL. But I've read enough postings to think that it might be helpful to provide a few facts on three issues that keep coming up. Trust me. I'm not into "spin control" here. I just want to fill in some gaps.
1. It's Not About Willow
? REVEAL's findings are based on thirty churches besides Willow. In all thirty churches, we've found the six segments of REVEAL's spiritual continuum, including the Stalled and Dissatisfied segments. And these churches aren't all Willow clones. We've surveyed traditional Bible churches, mainline denominations, African-American churches and churches representing a wide range of geographies and sizes. Right now we're fielding the survey to 500 additional churches, including 100 international churches. So, while REVEAL was born out of a Willow research project in 2004, the findings are not exclusive to Willow Creek.
Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."
Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels' office hangs a poster that says: "What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?" Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry - church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage - has impacted every evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, "We made a mistake"?
Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings "earth shaking," "ground breaking," and "mind blowing."
If you'd like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels' reactions, recorded at last summer's Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.
Why are we so good at leading people to faith and so bad at prodding them to maturity?
Gordon MacDonald's column for October is my own lament: Why are there so many spiritual babies? And why don't the mature believers do something about it? We're really good at bringing people into the kingdom, Gordon says, but lousy at prodding them to maturity. Our sage is not afraid to point fingers.
I have been musing on the words of Martin Thornton: "A walloping great congregation," he wrote, "is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints.
The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre."
"Saints," he says. Mature Christians: people who are "grown-up" in their faith, to whom one assigns descriptors such as holy, Christ-like, Godly, or men or women of God.
Now mature, in my book does not mean the "churchly," those who have mastered the vocabulary and the litany of church life, who come alive only when the church doors open. Rather, I have in mind those who walk through all the corridors of the larger life - the market-place, the home and community, the playing fields - and do it in such a way that, sooner or later, it is concluded that Jesus' fingerprints are all over them.
Expert advice from Leadership’s first sage, Fred Smith, Sr.
Leadership's longtime friend and sage Fred Smith, Sr., died on Friday, August 17, 2007 at age 91. Smith was an accomplished businessman, church leader, and mentor at the time Leadership journal was launched in 1980. He was featured in the first issue, and we have welcomed his sage advice in the journal's pages many times since.
When his health prevented him from leaving home for lectures and group meetings, Fred began inviting young leaders to his house for a weekly breakfast. That led to a website and new interaction with a new generation of leaders through his "Ask Fred" e-mails.
Even at his advanced age, Fred was learning what's really important in life and ministry. Here an excerpt from Fred's last article in 2005, the distillation of Fred's final years as a mentor.
It must be awfully safe to write to a 90-year-old, because I get lots of questions. Most of them deal with hard issues of character, spiritual growth, and suffering. I suspect many think of me as playing in my second overtime, so they assume that the answers may be coming from a little closer to heaven.
They tell me they believe I will give them an honest answer and that at my age I should have more answers than they do. I do my best to thoughtfully respond. But sometimes I just have to say, "I have been struggling with that same issue for all of my adult life, and I will be praying for you."
Dallas Willard has said, "We fail to be disciples only because we do not decide to be. We do not intend to be disciples." But which is the greater problem, the person who does not intend to be a disciple or the church that never expects him to be one? Dave Johnson, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota, shares about a man from his childhood church. Ray was an elder who showed no evidence of transformation, and the church never seemed disturbed by that fact. Johnson asks the obvious question: What's up with that?
His name was Ray. He sat in the 3rd row on the aisle seat of the church I grew up in. Every Sunday, there he was - watching, critiquing, making sure my father said it right. Ray's Bible was a thing to behold. Words underlined and circled with arrows pointing to other words - notes in the margin of almost every page. I think he knew the Bible better than God.
Ray was a church guy. When I was 10, he scared me. When I was 20, after my father had begun to share with me the inside story of life in ministry, I came to realize that Ray scared him too. My dad was the pastor of our church. Ray was one of his elders - at least for a time - and he wasn't a happy guy. The Spirit's fruit, like love and joy, rarely showed up in him in any discernable way, and he didn't much like it if showed up in yours.
"Few people see Christianity as a shift of allegiance that prompts us to make personal changes in beliefs, habits, and lifestyles. We must continually examine our churches to make sure our message is one that requires transformation."
-Sarah Cunningham is a 28-year-old PK and former megachurch staffer now teaching high school history while part of a house church in Jackson, Michigan. She is also the author of Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation (Zondervan, 2006). Taken from "Dissing Illusionment" in the Winter 2007 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.
Regular Out of Ur contributor David Fitch is back to share his thoughts on church shopping, staying put, and ecumenism. And what's with all the evangelicals going high-church anyway?
I'd like to say some things about the evangelicals going high church and even the emerging church folks rejecting their denominations of origin. I have been tempted many times to leave evangelicalism for a lot of reasons. At times, I have been tempted to leave for more substantive worship or to avoid the narrow minded cheesy ways of selling Jesus. But I think to just leave one's inherited church, without being asked to leave, is a strike against the cause of ecumenism. What? Yeah ecumenism, the unity of the church. So I stay put.
There are good reasons for leaving churches, and also for having no denominational affiliation. Yet the trend of evangelicals leaving their church of birth for high-church traditions seems to be growing. Colleen Carroll, in her book The New Faithful, records this phenomenon. At my own alma mater, Wheaton College, many students raised as evangelicals are "converting" to either Anglo Catholicism or even Roman Catholicism. (I wonder if the Catholics count these converts like we do when it happens in reverse. The Generous Orthodoxy blog has some great discussion on the topic.)
"Christian leaders have to admit this is the system we have put together. We can't build churches that advertise 'tons of ministries to meet your needs,' then be surprised when people expect us to continually meet their needs."
-Kent Carlson, pastor of Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California Take from "Cookie Cutter Community" in the Summer 2006 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.
General Motors launched its Saturn brand in 1990 with the tag line, "A different kind of company, a different kind of car." GM believed they could carve out a market niche by addressing the collective American psyche's negative view of car dealers. They were right. Saturn's "no-haggle" sales policy earned it awards for customer satisfaction. In the car business, it pays to be different.
Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver and a regular contributor to Out of Ur, has observed that many churches are adopting the "different is good" marketing strategy used by secular companies. (Who can forget, "Little. Yellow. Different."?) But by championing our differences, are we treating other churches like fellow communities of Christ, or like competitors?
Because my church's primary service is on Tuesday nights, I have the opportunity to visit other area churches at least once a month. I call it my church-of-the-month club. This past Sunday I read this in the bulletin of the church I visited: "[Church Name] is a different kind of church." They went on to explain how their church is for those who don't like organized religion or for people who have not had their needs met by a traditional church.
The song "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode describes the faith of many: "Your own personal Jesus. Someone to hear your prayers. Someone who cares." In this post, John Suk, a professor of homiletics at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, The Philippines, challenges popular evangelical jargon by questioning whether having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is poor theology or, worse, a capitulation to theraputic secular values? Below is an excerpt. You may read Suk's full article at Perspectives Journal's website.
Evangelicals generally insist that "the meaning and purpose of life is to have a personal relationship with Jesus." That's how a Methodist pastor I was listening to a few months ago put it. Philip Yancey says it another way in his Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan, 2000): "getting to know God is a lot like getting to know a person. You spend time together, whether happy or sad. You laugh together. You weep together. You fight and argue, then reconcile."
But we also confess that Jesus is not physically present on earth. So how does one have a personal relationship with someone you can't talk to, share a glass of wine with, or even email? We need to do some fundamental reflection on the whole notion of having a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ. While, on the one hand, I respect the longing for intimacy with God that these words reflect, they also concern me because they betray a creeping sort of secularization of our language about God.
Many of the most prominent and influential ministries in the world are not churches. But, the spread of parachurch ministries in recent decades has caused some to wonder: do parachurches help or hurt local congregations? Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver, believes he has found the perfect parachurch model.
Most churches offer a wide variety of ministries to various demographics: men, women, children, youth, etc. Some even specialize more than that: singles, divorc?s, re-marrieds, single mothers, etc. Some even go above and beyond with ministries outside of their church: prison ministry, homeless ministry, food closets, etc. But for every ministry inside of a local church, there are dozens of ministries that meet those needs outside of the church. There is Promise Keepers for men, Women of Faith for women, Young Life for the youth, Focus on the Family for the whole family ? I think you get the idea.
But do these ministries supplement the local church, or take from them?
In his earlier post, Dave Terpstra described why the spiritually mature find most churches ill-equipped to assist them in their growth. This, he says, is why the more mature often leave the church or disengage from active service. After reading your responses, Dave has returned with further thoughts about spiritual growth within, and without, the church.
When my friend's dad died it was a challenge to his faith to say the least. His dad was a long time follower of Christ and had been in full-time ministry for years. He seemed to be at the height of his ministry career. The he got sick and died. My friend didn't officially "leave" our church. But as best as I can remember he stopped serving. He stopped participating in programs. I rarely saw him at worship services. I'm sure he missed more than he made. But God was up to something amazing in his life and with his faith.
Some of the comments in response to my original article seemed to hold the viewpoint that my friend was being spiritually immature because he stopped serving. But to cut straight to the point, I trust his maturity more than those who would question it simply because he stopped serving for an indefinite period of time.
Last month we looked at George Barna's new book, Revolution, which reveals that a growing number of people are seeking spiritual growth outside the institutional church. In this post Dave Terpstra, pastor at The Next Level Church in Denver and a regular contributor to Ur, explores why Barna may be correct. Although many will say preaching, music, or programs are why they left a church, Terpstra wonders if more people are simply outgrowing the church's ability to spiritually nourish their faith.
I'm sure there are just as many reasons that people leave churches as there are people who leave them. Perhaps more. In this consumer culture I'm sure that many people who leave churches are going to search for a better or newer "product." But recently I've wondered if some followers of Christ simply outgrow churches.
If you haven 't read the book The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich (Second Edition, Sheffield Publishing 2005) you need to pick up a copy. Although the book's subject is spiritual formation and not church dynamics, it gives great insights into why people leave the church - reasons many pastors have likely never considered.
Leadership associate editor Skye Jethani tells the story Mike Sares shared with him at a conference earlier this year. Tell us what you would do if you were Mike.
A few days before Christmas, pastor Mike Sares got a call from his associate. "Mike," he said, "Mary Kate Makkai has agreed to read one of her poems at the Christmas Eve service. It's really, really good, but it's got the F-bomb in it several times, and I just thought I should check with you about that."
Sares first told me his unexpected "F-bomb story" last March at the FutureGen conference in Orlando. We've all heard the tales of pastors accidentally detonating a vulgar ordnance from the pulpit (everyone's recent favorite being Blake Bergstrom's infamous "pitch your tents" faux pas). But the dropping of multiple F-bombs during a Christmas Eve service with laser guided premeditation? That is nothing to laugh about.
Mike Sares pastors a congregation called "Scum of the Earth" in Denver, Colorado. No, Scum of the Earth is not your typical congregation. Scum calls itself "a church for the right brained and the left out." They embrace authenticity, creativity, and those who are on the margins of society. That explains why Sares didn't immediately take the nuclear option off the table. But he wasn't quite ready to push the button either.
The following is from Jennifer Oxford, one of our Leadership team in Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference.
Erwin McManus took stage and continued to expound upon the very clear message of the entire Catalyst event...that it's not about formulas...the church, I mean. That there are no formulas that will enable a church to structurally meet every person's needs. Currently, when a new believer joins a church they are plugged into the structure where the church needs them most. They are discipled and led in ways that make them all look the same. For people outside of the church, who inherently know (and cling to the fact that) we are all unique, the sameness of the church, and the structure that they are potentially being asked to fit into doesn't work.