Archives For April 2009

A Moral Disconnect

April 29, 2009 — 4 Comments

I can’t find it right now but I do remember the verse about “to whom much is given, much is expected. I don’t think Jesus was against a person being worldly rich although he did tell that one rich man to sell everything ūüôā . What he is against is people who obsess on money. These days we discover that seems to be many in the corporate world especially CEOs. How can anyone think they are worth what many of the CEOs make today. Especially when the company they run is going down the drain. ¬†Most make more in one day than some of their workers make in one year. It wouldn’t be so bad if on the average they gave generously to God’s work. But, the sad reality is that people making more than $100,000 per year, let alone the millions that they make, give a very low percentage of their income to charitible causes. On average a person making less than $20,000 per year give twice the percentage than one making more than $100,000. Instead of giving in proportion to what they are given many desperately seek tax loop holes to help them avoid even providing for the general welfare!¬† Shame on them. I certainly celebrate the exceptions to this. That is, those rich who do support God’s kingdom on earth. Unfortunately they seem to be far and few between. Giving to the least of these seems to be very out of fashion with today’s upper income earners.

I recently read a quote from an article in Politico entitled Why Republicans are devouring a recently released new book
on the Depression entitled “The Forgotten Man” by Amity Shlaes. Here is the quote from the article:

¬†It (the book) also looks at the Great Depression with particular sympathy upon the plight of those who were burdened with supporting the “weak members of society” during the New Deal and endeavors to give a voice to those “forgotten men.”

¬†This book is said to be gobbled up by Republican Congressmen as proof that the Depression actions were totally wrong and so are the current administration’s efforts. How far must we go to further our political agendas. Now we have to lament the “plight of those burdened in supporting the weak members of society”! Oh, woe is us!! This is just more evidence that we Christians get into more trouble aligning ourselves with a political party. It is said that 75% of the evangelicals are Republicans.¬† The way the press commonly reports it you would think that that number is 100%. How many of those evangelicals think it is a burden to help the least of these? Have¬† those who do¬†even picked up a Bible recently? Jesus’ words shout that that is a privledge¬†for those who were given much.¬† It should never be thought of as a burden.

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Matt 25:35-40

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Who are the “least of these” mentioned in the above text. I don’t believe that Jesus intended to make the above list an all inclusive one. Of course it does include those who are hungry and thirsty (about 1/2 the world’s population), strangers (this could include many people), the poor (those needing clothes), the sick and the prisoner. But I’m also sure he includes the homeless, the financially challenged, drug addicts (both legal and illegal drugs), the handicapped, and all those generally on the margins of society and who typically fall through a conservative safety net. In other words most of those people who Christians feel pretty uneasy associating with. Jesus was always right among them and I think he expects us to be there also.

I have read a book entitled “101 Ways to Reach Your Community” by Steve Sjogren who is the founding pastor of Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati. (A full review will come later.)¬†He is a graduate of Lutheran Bible Institute and is the founding pastor of that non-denominational mega-church. In that book there are some very unique ways to draw the community to your church. ¬†He also wrote another book called “Irresistible Evangelism”. Both books are worth the read. ¬†He grew his church to more than 6,000 and he kept Jesus front and center in his ministry the whole way. It is not the size of the church that matters but I think the angels in heaven are rejoicing each of those 6,000 followers of Christ in that church. In his books he emphasizes that you cannot just use one tool over another but must use many tools to bring them to the Lord. He says we need to be open to what works in today’s mission field and disregard old things that maybe once worked (like cold calls if they ever worked ÔĀäÔĆ.

¬†To me the bottom line on outreach is simply showing the Lord’s love in our lives. And of course for me, and I believe for most others that means servant evangelism. I was reading something interesting about how this person believed that Jesus purposefully linked communion with service by washing his disciples feet on Maundy Thursday. It was not a coincidence that he did both that night. In his mind the two go hand in hand. Given the face of the church by many on the outside we have to show them what it means to be a disciple and not just give them words.¬† Words just bounce off the unbeliever as hypocritical without actions to back them up. Actions do speak louder than words. ¬†Outreach is giving them a reason to check us out to see if we are really like what we appear to be.

I am really surprised that many seminaries only exposed their students to only one or two forms of outreach if that. And often times that is cold calling . ¬† Everything I have ever read about it says that is the least effective way to bring souls to Christ.¬† There are literally hundreds of more effective things to do! ¬†In my days in the corporate engineering world I came across the “NIH” syndrome many times. It think it is also prevalent in the church culture.¬† NIH is “not invented here”. That is if we don’t come up with it on our own then it is not worth the effort. I on the other hand believe that it is a total waste of time to re-invent something that has already been successfully done. In that regard we, as a church, should always be looking and studying how others do outreach and use what they have found to work. That is one of the reasons I am constantly on the lookout for books relating to this subject.

Now lets talk about church websites as a form of outreach.¬† I believe that websites are a good outreach tool. Especially to the younger generation who literally live on the web. And the younger generation are the very ones who are leaving church in droves! ¬†I have seen some church websites that put a very enticing face on their church. ¬†The point of the website is to get them initially interested in “maybe” coming to see what we are about.¬† Once we get them in the door other factors have to take over. A very essential one is the workings of the Holy Spirit. I know what doesn’t work with websites are those that are boring and do not reflect an active and enthusiastic congregation. Like it or not people are initially attracted to the members of the church before they are sucked in to the Lord’s love for them.¬† That is the reason why I say if you can’t keep your website active and enthusiastic then it should probably be shut down as it may do more harm than good.¬† To make it work you need members who are willing to spend a few minutes a week to craft posts about our activities and enthusiasm for Christ.¬†Will the site guarantee new members? Of course not but it will at least bring some to think about it.¬† Just how much work is justified to save one soul? Of course you know the answer to that.

In closing, I think a common problem with many churches is that they turn into country clubs where their members are just too comfortable to bother with ¬†reaching out to others who are not like they are.¬† ¬†When I first started volunteering in a Christian soup kitchen about five years ago I was somewhat uncomfortable with all the “bums” and “drunkards” who are sometimes there. But after a while I realized that most of the people there are pretty much like me except they have fallen on some hard times.¬† These are the exact people who I believe the Lord intends us to reach out to with vigor.¬† When we refuse to leave our comfort zone we are denying the teaching of Christ. I constantly pray that He will remind us when we get just too comfortable with the way things are.

¬†Thanks for listening to my ranting. We should always be uncomfortable with how we are doing outreach. If we are not then we are probably not doing it the way the Lord intends. Let’s keep challenging our comfort zones.

One of the many conflicts in churches today is whether to offer a “contemporary” service. There as very strong advocates on both sides of this issue. But even if a church decides to take the contemporary themed service off the table there are still many other outreach tools that can be used. ¬†Let’s not limit ourselves to just the old arguments against doing something. ¬†Let’s investigate how other churches have been successful with other methods. Let’s not take everything off the table just because some of it is tainted.

Personally I don’t think the Lord would mind if we used some songs that were newer than 100 years old in our service.¬†Many churches offer both types of services and they are both very Christ centered, just different. In fact the same sermons and reading are often done at both types of services. ¬†I know many have an ingrown bias against contemporary services and that is ok. Not all churches are as open to it as others. But, don’t put down others who do not share your viewpoint on that.¬†

I have been to a few nontraditional services. One was very much not scripturally based. Very me oriented. It was very uncomfortable even sitting there. The other did have much of the traditional service included. I was not up on all the predefined parts then so I really don’t remember if they did A,B,C,D or just A,C,D.¬† All I remember is that even though I was in my 50s it was very uplifting for me. I truly felt they God was pleased with their efforts. ¬†I was in the Catholic church when they went through this with their guitar masses. It got very vitriol at times. Embarrassingly so.

¬†¬†I guess my interpretation of Scripture is different from those who think God mandated a certain order of worship. I don’t see that God is so inflexible that only A,B,C,D,E is pleasing worship to Him. And if some churches or services do A,D,E or W,X,Y,Z that somehow is not God pleasing. I have studied, but not attended Amish, Quaker, Anabaptist services and they are quite different from the one I presently attend. I have attended Baptist, Methodists, and Presbyterian services and although they are different I didn’t come away with the feeling that they were sacrilegious or less honorable than what we do. ¬†

Back fence evangelism is important to every church’s evangelism strategy. It is great when it is successful but many treat that as the only way to do outreach. Do we need to limit ourselves to that strategy only? ¬† It is important that we are making every attempt to bring souls to the Lord. If we limit our outreach to one strategy how many souls would have been saved if we had a second or third strategy? Will God look kindly on us if we just stick to one strategy?

¬†I know that the Holy Spirit softens the hardened hearts to bring people to the Lord. But I am totally convinced that God never intended that to be a solo mission for the HS.¬† Otherwise the great commission is a phony!¬† In my mind there are just too many couch potato Christians who say “that is the Holy Spirit’s job to make people Christians; I don’t have any part of that”. Yes, once the person stubbornly comes to the realization that Jesus is Lord and Savior the Word and Sacrament are all that is needed. But, I can personally tell you that just hearing the word or even taking communion does not a good Christian make.¬† I did both for a number of years and it meant absolutely nothing to me.¬† It took many weeks debating with a pastor and yes, that born-again moment to make the Word and sacrament actually mean anything to me. Yes, I could actually feel the Holy Spirit enter my life at that instant. Without that I would not be where I am today. ¬†We cannot shun our responsibility in the conversion process of the unchristian that I am totally convinced God intended us to have. ¬†We shouldn’t sit around and wait for the parade of people to appear at our door but many times that is what churches seem to do. After all, that is the Holy Spirits job (their words not mine). Are they country clubs or churches?

This is the last post of the review of Reggie McNeal’s book the “Present Future”. This time we will look at the last reality. The Rise of Apostolic Leadership. This last area obviously has to do with how we go about the paradigm shift in church leadership to accomplish making disciples rather than doing “church”. Again Mr. McNeal is rather blunt in his assessment. Let’s start out with another quote from the book:

¬†Many church leadership groups apparently have not grasped the insight that each new generation now is a distinct culture and requires different leadership approaches. Most have never understood that the call to be missionaries means a shift from the member, business as usual approach to church life. The shift from “doing” church at he clubhouse to “being” church in the world is a paradigm shift that has apparently eluded many church leaders. Many people in existing churches are willing to learn these new paradigms. Some of them already know them intuitively but have not been able to give language to their thoughts. Part of the reason I wrote this book ws to help create conversations around these key issues. Until we do, our churches will continue to mire down in methodological debates and trivial pursuits.

¬†As you have seen from my review Reggie McNeal is not one to mince words. I repeat that while I have some difficulties with parts of the book the purpose is right on target. We no longer get down and dirty to make disciples for the Lord. As a result we are losing more and more of each generation that comes along. If they are not willing to do church our way then we ignore them. I don’t think Jesus is pleased about that.

One important final quote from the book follows.

I did not say that we need a postmodern church, nor did I say we need for the church to pursue its understanding of the culture in order to mimic it. The last thing we need is a post modern church. We need a church for post modern people. The reason to get in touch with the culture is not to adopt it but to engage it for the same reasons a missionary does — in order to gain hearing of the gospel.

There is a whole section in the book about “things he did not say”. To the present church leadership this is a must read part of the book. I highly recommend the book if you are willing to see some of the modern churches failure to taking the gospel to the people the way Jesus did.

¬†Continuing on with my review of Reggie McNeal’s book “The Present Future” we will now look at his 2nd reality. The shift from church growth to kingdom growth. In this section Mr. McNeal is trying to tell us that we are more interested in doing “church” than we are of making disciples. Here is a meaningful quote:

The North American church culture is not spiritual enough to reach our culture. In our self-absorption we don’t even see the people we are supposed to be on mission to reach.

¬†¬†In my words this means we are too busy preaching to the choir rather than getting dirty with the sinner out there. He likens our current environment to that of the Pharisees’ evangelism strategy of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees said come and get it. If you jump through our hoops and follow our rules you are welcome to join us. If not then stay away.

Do people need to be like us in order to hear the Gospel from us? The author’s argument is that taking the gospel to the streets means we need a church where people already hang out. Not in our cozy and comfortable neighborhoods. He asks the question “What are we so afraid of out there?” The Pharisees were afraid of being contaminated and losing their righteousness. Are we any better than them?

¬†Mr. McNeal’s last paragraph in this setting is indeed striking:

Bottom line: we’ve got to take the gospel to the streets. This is the only appropriate missional response to the collapse of the church culture. I am not talking about short forays into port off the cruise ship. I am speaking of in intentional 24/7 church presence in the community, not tied to church real estate: office buildings, homes, apartment buildings, malls, school campuses, and community centers.

¬†I will leave it up to those interested to get the book and study his 3rd through 5th realities. These are more “how do we do it chapters” that are not easily summarized. Next time I will look at the 6th reality: The Rise of Apostolic Leadership.

The Present Future

April 15, 2009 — Leave a comment

 
¬†I want to close out this outreach series with a review of a book by Reggie McNeal called “The Present Future – Six Tough Questions for the Church”. Actually, the book should be entitled “Six Realities that need to be overcome”. Mr. McNeal is the director of leadership development for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. I want to up front admit that this is not a comfortable book to read if you are a North American practicing Christian. So I guess it is appropriate that my review of it comes out an uncomfortable day (Tax Day). I think Mr. McNeal’s purpose in writing the book is to try and shake to the core our being comfortable with how things are with the church. But if you are willing to sometimes see yourself in a not very Jesus like light you should read the book. While I do not agree with all the logic he uses to make his points, the book is worth reading because there are valid issues raised by his list. Here are the six realities that he presents:

  1. The Collapse of the Church Culture
  2. The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth
  3. The New Reformation: Releasing God’s People
  4. The Return to Spiritual Formation
  5. The Shift from Planning to Preparation
  6. The Rise of Apostolic Leadership

I will spend the next couple of post going through some of this list. Let’s do the first one now.

The Collapse of the Church Culture
This Chapter starts off with the following statement:

¬†“The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a pervious world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations come from people aged fifty-five and older) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both.”
¬†¬†These are indeed pretty blunt statements. But I think, if we really face it there is an agonizing ring to these words. He goes on to say that he is talking about the church culture, not the death of the church that Jesus founded. The church established by Jesus will indeed be there when he returns. What he is really talking about what he calls the unique culture in North America that has come to be called the “church”. He goes into quite a bit of statistics to show the above point. I will not cover those as some are the same as I have given in previous posts.

In solution to this diminishing attendance in church he goes on to say that the wrong question is: How do we do Church better? He basically makes the argument that when a church get larger the pastor, or pastors, have to spend so much time on non-spiritual matters that the true meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is lost in the process. Many American congregations are more fixated on growing their “church”.

Here is another striking quote from the book. “Church leaders seem unable to grasp this simple implication of the new world — people outside of the church think church is for church people, not for them. We may have saturated the market of people who want to be part of the church culture, who want church the was we do it in North America.”

The basic point I think he is trying to make is that many churches in this country have lost the reason why they are supposed to exist. The missional fix as he calls it is as follows:

The appropriate response to the emerging world is rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than self preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than about style.
¬†While I don’t agree with everything here I do believe that the “church” is too fixated on their traditions and current practices instead of the service and sacrifice that Jesus clearly show us. Jesus truly had the service mentality. We need to get back to some of the practices of the early church. That is taking stands that are not very comfortable to our current members and totally uncomfortable to the current cultural trends of¬† today’s world.

I recently received a desperate plea from the Salvation Army to contribute to them. I liked the quote from William Booth, the founder:

You cannot warm the hearts of people with God’s love if they have an empty stomach or cold feet

I find it embarrassing to admit that Christian giving trails off during hard economic times. I understand a family’s need may increase but organizations like the Salvation Army’s needs increase even more dramatically. In the financial world there is the mantra that you must keep contributing to your 401K even during market downturns and boy have we are having a downturn! Well, there should be a Christian mantra that during hard economic times you must keep contributing to help the least of these. It would be far better if we Christians drive our old cars a little longer, skip eating out once in a while, eat hamburger instead of steak, in order to not only keep up our Christian giving but to actually increase it during these times. Find a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your area and give them a few bucks. While your are at it slip a few dollars into an envelope for the Salvation Army. And remember that the money you give to support a homeless person is actually going to Jesus. For as he said “What you do for the least of these you do for Me”

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Let’s spend this post contemplating how our actions, or inactions, made it necessary for Jesus Christ to go to the cross for our sins. It wasn’t just an act for “them”. It was for us.