Who Do We Owe Our Allegiance???

Today I want to look at some words from Brian D. McLaren in his book A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith

Our faith is vain and self-centered if it only brings blessing for us or to us. It also must result in blessing that flows through us to the world…..

If we locate Jesus primarily in light of the story that has unfolded since his time on earth, we will understand him in one way. But if we see him emerging from within a story that had been unfolding through his ancestors, and if we primarily locate him in that story, we might understand him in a very different way. Once I had acknowledged (albeit roughly and crudely) these two very different ways of understanding Jesus, and once I acknowledged that nobody in the Hebrew Scriptures ever talked about original sin, total depravity, “the Fall,” or eternal conscious torment in hell, a suspicion began to grow in me about where the six-lined narrative might possibly have come from. I was able to articulate it a few months later in a conversation with a friend, as I recounted my little exercise in setting up the backward and frontward lines of sight to see Jesus: “What we call the biblical story line isn’t the shape of the story of Adam, Abraham, and their Jewish descendants. It’s the shape of the Greek philosophical narrative that Plato taught! That’s the descent into Plato’s cave of illusion and the ascent into philosophical enlightenment.” 

More and more people are coming to realize that the person of Jesus who we thought we knew was actually made up by others who came many years after him. I have not yet studied much about the thoughts of Plato but I do know that they had a profound affect on Augustine and that Augustine had a profound affect on shaping the fourth century church.  As pointed above when we look at  Hebrew Scripture which was the foundations for our Old Testament we don’t find many of the things that some now consider to be foundational to Christianity. That fact and knowing that Jesus didn’t actually say anything about them causes me to come to one conclusion and that is they are actually derived from human thoughts after the fact.

Yes, I do think that God continues to give us personal revelation even today so why can’t I just believe that all the things that man invented after Jesus was given to them by revelation?  The main reason I can’t is because much of it has nothing to do with the messages Jesus gave us while he was on the earth and they have little or nothing to do with the messages he did give us. I am totally convinced that much of the history of the church was definitely not from Jesus. This includes the Constantine era when the church leaders were corrupted by worldly power. It includes the pre-Reformation period when grace was being sold to build bigger and bigger cathedrals.  It also includes periods like the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the burning of heretics. These action were certainly a result of the lust of power by the people of the times. They were not from Christ.

As Mr. McLaren points out in the book above the emergent church movement is attempting to go back to those things that Jesus did teach and to discard much of the past baggage loaded on the church by succeeding generations. We do not owe allegiance to our ancestors but instead only to Jesus himself. It is time to come to realize the difference between the two.

Finally it is also time to heed the first sentence in the quote above. Our faith should not result in vain and self-centered thoughts focused on self. Our faith must result in blessings that flow through us to the world…


Church Hoppers?

Keeping with the theme of the last post about going to church, it has been found that 45% of Christians who go to church do not go to the same denomination that they went to as children. Is this a good thing or a troubling aspect of Christianity? Some say troubling and some say not. For me personally it is a good thing in that it shows that, at least for some of us, that we are taking our faith seriously and considering other options when our spirituality is at stake. I am one of those 45%. I had no choice in the matter as to what church my parents went to or whether they even went to church at all. But as an adult I consciously made a decision based how my perceptions of biblical knowledge aligned. I must admit that I don’t agree with everything about my current church’s doctrine but that is ok. 

Politically people tend to stay with the same affiliation as their parents. It is almost as if national party is a generic trait 🙂 . The same generally holds for religious affiliation. It is also a general belief that the large mega churches are sapping off members from smaller churches. While some of that is probably true I think church hopping for theological reasons is generally a good thing. At least it shows that some of us study Christ’s words and try to base our lives, of at least our worship, on them.

Opportunities to share the Lord’s Love in our lives

no_one_should_go_hungry_food_drive_typographyI have been volunteering at a cafeteria/soup kitchen in a Christian homeless shelter for over four years now. This was part of my progression from a hectic life to the slow lane. It was doing dishes and helping to fix the meals that I learned one of the places the Lord truly intended me to be. Over these years I have progressed to doing solo days when needed. Sandy, the full time cook at the mission had some surgery yesterday and will be off for a week or more. My prayers and many others are with her for a full recovery. If anyone should get a full portion of the Lord’s love she should. Anyway, starting today and for three days next week I will be the substitute “chef”. I, with the help of others including some who have volunteered from my church, will prepare about 500 meals during this time. Of course what we have will depend on what food comes into the mission. That seems to change on a daily basis. During these hard economic times donations for these types of places typically decrease while the need increases. It is hard for them to stay afloat under these conditions. I am hereby making a heartfelt plea to anyone who reads my blog to seek out a shelter in your community (they exist in almost all communities) and lend a hand or give them a few dollars. After all the Lord did tell us that when we help “the least of these” we are actually helping Him. Isn’t that a wonderful thought. Also say a little prayer for me to get it right during my hours there in the coming week. Thank you Lord for another opportunity to share your love in my life.

Some Personal Views on Outreach – Multipronged Outreach

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 .

 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.

Some Personal Views on Outreach – Contemporary Services

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?

The Rise of Apostolic Leadership.

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.

The Shift from Church Growth to Kindgom Growth

 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

 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.

The Coming Evangelical Collapse

At first glance this post might not seem like one on outreach but, in my mind, it really is. Like it or not our actions put a face on Christianity to the current crop of unbelievers.

 There was a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html%3E .

In it the author is described as: Michael Spencer is a writer and communicator living and working in a Christian community in Kentucky. He describes himself as “a postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality.”

He lays out multiple reasons why Christians known as evangelicals will soon be part of lost history. One of the primary reasons he says it that evangelicals are just too strongly associated with the political conservative movement in the United States and that they seem to be against much more than they seem to be for. Another is that they simply have not been able to convince their children that the evangelical movement should be a life long pursuit. Although I discount much of what is in the article I do believe there is some truth to the political realities. Given the significant Obama victory the conservative movement has taken quite a hit. And in the press the evangelicals are most often reported on what they are against rather than what they are for. Will these facts affect how successful they are in Christian outreach? Of course it will! Will this result in a shrinking evangelical population? That is very likely unless they can reverse the current trends.

I to believe that Evangelicals are just too closely linked to radical right political agenda. To many current unbelievers Christians, particularly Evangelicals, are known for Gods, Guns, and Gays. (for, for, and against).

There are just too many red letters in the Bible to even try to associate a follower of Jesus Christ to the social conservative political agenda. Jesus did not tell us to shun, blame, and scorn the least of these as the radical right seem  to do. He, instead, told us to embrace them and to treat them as our brothers with love and compassion.

No, I don’t think that the Evangelical community is on the verge of imminent collapse but I do think that it is possible that they will become much less significant in the Christian community if they insist on continuing to attach themselves so closely to a radical political movement. Jesus taught us to be in the world but not of the world. This message seems to have been lost on those Christians who espouse the radical right political agenda.

Why aren’t they here???

Who are the unchurched and why aren’t they there?

Here are some statistics about our mission field

Group Born Attend Church
Builders Born Before 1946 51%
Boomers 1946 – 1964 41%
Busters 1965 – 1976 34%
Bridgers 1977 – 1994 29%

Source: Surprising Insights from the Unchurched by Thom S. Rainer , Zondervan Press 2001 

  • The growing ranks of the unchurched are not due to problems limited to certain geographical areas
  • Over 80% of Americans say religious faith is very important to their lives and yet less than half go to church.
  • Less than 30% of the New Homesteaders are in church on Sunday  

    (1990 survey)

  • Church people are cold and unfriendly
  • Going to church is a guilt trip
  • We’re too busy; going to church is a waste of time.

    (1975 survey)

  • Churches are always asking for money, yet nothing of personal value seems to happen with the funds
  • Church services are boring and lifeless
  • Church services are predictable
  • Sermons are irrelevant to daily life in the “real world”
  • The pastor makes people feel guilty and ignorant, so people leave church feeling worse than when they arrived

    (Source: Inside the mind of unchurched harry and mary by Lee Strobel , Zondervan Press 1993) 

 As you can see none of the reasons that people who don’t attend church are due to basic theology or Christian foundation issues. Instead it is generally that they have a preconceived idea of what “church” means. We must break out of that shell before they will be ready to listen. We must not be “couch potato Christians” and wait for the Holy Spirit to bring them to us. We need to get out there and get our hands dirty. After all isn’t that exactly what Jesus did. Let’s follow his lead.