Category Archives: missional

It’s Back!!! It’s BACK!!!

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
~Jeremiah 20:9

Yup.  It’s back.  The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it.  But now it’s back.

You’re probably wondering, “What?  What’s back?”

The fire is back.  It’s in my bones.  I feel it when I wake up.  I think about it throughout the day.  It’s back.

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Church Planting: Radically Re-inventing the Church

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Recently I’ve been reading the book Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.  One of the things that they discuss quite a bit is Church Planting, and there was one section that I thought was so good I wanted to re-post it here.

Church planting is an opportunity to re-invent church along radical biblical lines.  Much of the New Testament demonstrates that this was so even within the first generation of the church.  It was the experience of planting churches among the Gentiles that led to the crucial gathering in Jerusalem (Acts 15).  It forced the church to recognize the radical implications of the death and resurrection of the Messiah for their own understanding of salvation and the people of God.

 

I know of a church planted by a large evangelical congregation that brought certain assumptions into the endeavor.  They created a staff team with a minister, assistant minister, student worker, pastoral workers, and an administrator.  They bought a church building and a home for the minister.  As a result they had an annual budget of around two hundred and fifty thousand pounds excluding start-up costs.  They are doing great work, growing and exploring new areas of ministry.  But if every church shares those assumptions, then most are not going to plant.  Such an approach is clearly beyond the reach of most congregations.  If past experience and tradition define what it means to be church, that will constrain church planting.  Or church plants may run the risk of being clones – copies of sending churches.  Unless we recognize this danger, church planting may in fact reduce missionary activity as smaller churches struggle to ape the programs of larger churches.

 

Often the main limitation to church planting is a failure of imagination.  People cannot imagine how church planting might be done or how church might be done differently.  People do not want to let go of the “success” their church has become.  This may be because some do not want the risk, effort, and discomfort that church planting involves.  But often it has more to do with their view of church.  We have a notion of what a “successful” church is, and this involves a certain level of staff, programs, and activity.  Church planting feels like it will involve letting this go, moving from success to lack of success.

 

We must not be driven by sociology or accommodate to our culture.  But we need to take into account the new missionary situation in which we find ourselves.  In the UK, broadly speaking, 10 percent of the population attend church regularly on a normal Sunday; 10 percent are fringe members, attending once every couple of months; 40 percent are “dechurched,” having lost contact with church within their lifetime; and 40 percent have never attended church apart from the occasional rite of passage.  This new missionary context requires new approaches.  Church planting cannot involve the uncritical replication of existing models.  Church planting should be at the forefront of new ecclesiological thinking…Through mission the church can break free from external conformity to culture and internal conformity to tradition to rediscover the vitality of the gospel.  Church planting is crucial to the health of the wider church.  Good church planting forces us to re-ask questions about the gospel and church, to re-invent churches that are both gospel-centered without religious tradition and relevant without worldly conformity.

 

There need be no second-generation churches if the church is constantly reconfiguring itself through church planting.  Second-generation “Christians” are those without their own living experience of the gospel.  Second-generation churches are those who have lost their gospel cutting edge.  It may be that a fiftieth church anniversary is not an occasion to celebrate the faithfulness of God but to lament the stagnation of his people.  Far from weakening a sending church, church planting is a vital opportunity to refocus the life of the church on the gospel.  The identity of the sending church should radically change.  It cannot continue as the same church or repeat the same program.  It must look again for new leaders to emerge.  It must ask all over again how it will reach its neighborhood with the gospel.

(Chester & Timmis, pgs. 94-96)

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We Don’t Need Another Manual

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18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20

Flavor the the Month:  Discipleship

If you were to survey the largest church leadership conferences in the United States from the past 12 months, odds are that the major theme of the conference had something to do with discipleship.  From Verge to Exponential, there is no doubt that discipleship is the flavor of the month.

I find this shift encouraging.  Having worked in a mission-minded college ministry for so many years, it is exciting to see churches operating less like corporations and more like indigenous missions agencies.  I believe that this shift in the Western church is a helpful corrective to the insular, institution-driven models which have, for so long, quenched the fires of evangelism and mission.  Furthermore, this renewed emphasis on discipleship and mission is so widespread that it appears to be less a part of the latest fad and more a reflection of the Spirit-driven nature of church responding to the call of the Great Commission.

Consuming Discipleship

However, one of the things that I am worried about is the increasingly consumer-oriented nature of this shift.  Nowadays I can’t turn around without running into another book on discipleship.  There’s David Platt’s Follow MeMike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture, and Francis Chan’s Multiply.  There’s Jim Putnam’s Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual and Greg Ogden’s Transforming Discipleship.  The list is large and continues to grow.  Leave it to us Americans to take an awesome idea, package it, and sell it for the greater glory of God.  (And yes, I did just link all of those to Amazon.  You are now free to indulge your shopping impulse).

Now I genuinely believe that these authors have a deep desire to help men and women grow to maturity in Christ and that these books are not written for personal gain.  However, what I see when there is this explosion of books is a mad dash to buy, read, consume and regurgitate without thought to the consequences and without critical reflection on Scripture and our own contexts.  We end up going and attending conferences with these authors, spending money on airlines and hotel rooms, eating out, eating in, and buying more books, all in the name of advancing the cause of discipleship.  Finally, if any of this is actually applied, it is applied by buying more books, giving them to more people, and telling them to go and do likewise.  The result:  cookie cutter disciples being cranked out by the latest book buying craze.

Now all of that sounds rather cynical, but for the record I write this as someone who has partaken.  I am just as guilty of following this model as the next pastor and for that I must repent.  The reality is that we spend so much time reading and talking about discipleship that we miss the point:  to help people to grow into full maturity in Christ.  And the truth is that we don’t need another manual to help us do this.  Why?  Because we already have the one manual we will ever need:  Scripture.

Spending Time with The Rabbi

What I find interesting about the vast majority of these discipleship books is how they all center around one simple idea:  look at what Jesus did the in gospels and do likewise.  That’s it.  Jesus not only came and died for us, but he also modeled for us how to live.  Furthermore, when he gives the Great Commission to his disciples he is essentially telling them to do exactly what he did with them.  “Go and make disciples…baptizing…and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  Jesus makes clear that his intention was for them to follow the example that he had laid down.  So, I think the challenge for us is to set the manuals down for a while and to just spend time with our rabbi.  Jesus shows us how to make disciples in the way that he taught, and he invites us to join in him in that process.

So here is a challenge for all of us:  before picking up another discipleship book or training manual, spend some time in the gospels and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did Jesus help people grow spiritually?
  • How did he help shape and form his disciples as people?
  • What were Jesus’ rhythms of life with his followers?
  • How did he teach, both in word and deed?

I think we will be surprised by what we find.  Furthermore, this approach puts us right where we need to be:  at the feet of Jesus, watching what he does and learning from him.  My hope is that this will be the key to our discipleship; that we will be trained in the way of and formed by Christ himself, and sent to help others do the same.

QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION:  As you read the gospels, what have you learned about how to make disciples?  What has Jesus taught you be his example?

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Jesus’ Other Role

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The following post is a re-post of my latest column piece for RELEVANT.  You can view the original article HERE.

When I was in high school the most common word that I heard associated with Jesus was “Savior,” as in, “Jesus is my Savior.” It was a prominent youth group emphasis: Jesus was always shown in the “rescuer” role, as the one who pulled us all out of our sin and expresses God’s grace and love. So we sang things like, “I am a friend of God,” and, “Jesus’ blood never fails me,” and it slowly shaped our faith.

All of this, of course, is true. But in our emphasis on Jesus as Savior, I wonder if we have developed a blind spot for His other—and equally important—role. 

In recent years, evangelical thinkers from Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost to Francis Chan and David Platt have begun to focus on another name for Jesus. “Jesus is Lord,” has become the battle cry for a generation of young evangelicals who are tired of the cushy, safe, anesthetized versions of Jesus that have been far too prevalent in our American Christian subculture. We are experiencing a renewed emphasis on radical discipleship, in which we take the commands and the red letters of Lord Jesus more seriously with greater authenticity and real devotion. “Jesus is Lord,” the earliest of Christian creeds, is making a comeback.

Perhaps this renewed emphasis on the Lordship of Jesus is a helpful corrective. I’ve seen the frustration of church leaders as they have wrestled with the lack of discipleship in their communities. Why is it, they ask, that so many people call Jesus their Savior and yet continue to live self-centered, morally compromised lives? Why is it that people can praise Jesus on Sundays and then curse out their neighbors and family members on Monday? Why is it that people will give millions of dollars for bigger church buildings and louder sound systems, and not take up the causes of social justice and world missions?

Perhaps contributing to this is the fact that we’ve only glimpsed a part of the fullness of who Jesus is. We’ve emphasized “Jesus as Savior” over and against “Jesus as Lord.” But in doing so, we have told people a half-truth. We’ve told them that God loves them, but forgotten that God has also commissioned them. We’ve told them that they are forgiven, but failed to remind them that they are now temples for the Holy Spirit. We have not remembered Paul’s words: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). We’ve allowed ourselves to get comfortable with Jesus saving us while forgetting that He bought us for a purpose.

“Jesus is Lord” is a helpful counterweight to the overly comfortable, seeker-sensitive, consumer-oriented evangelicalism that has characterized too many American churches. It reminds us that there’s no room in His call for self-centered living. He came to bring us from death to life and invites us to be a part of the kingdom He is building.

But it must remain just that—a counterweight—rather than a new emphasis to swing us out of balance once again to the opposite extreme.

Because the new emphasis on radical obedience to Lord Jesus runs the risk of becoming the new legalism. Too many times I’ve seen my own generation gravitate toward a new kind of super disciples. In an effort to shake their fellow Christians out of the malaise of comfortable Christianity, they begin to heap expectation and guilt down upon their brothers and sisters. We begin to hear phrases like, “Who is really a disciple of Jesus?”

The result is that the Christian faith becomes a new list of to-do’s. When Jesus becomes Lord to the exclusion of Savior, we risk making Jesus into nothing more than an angry taskmaster: Someone who is sitting on His throne waiting for the apocalypse, all the while hurling down commands for His people to get into shape. I’ve seen too many Christians crushed by this new Pharisaism, thinking that they have somehow disappointed their Lord unless they are perfectly living out the Sermon on the Mount.

So how do we strike the right balance?

I think we begin by looking to the cross. When Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldiers nailed a sign above his head: “This is the King of the Jews.” Who is Jesus? He is the crucified King, the suffering Lord. In Jesus, we see the Lord of Time, the pre-incarnate Word, the one who holds the universe in his hands, living in our midst. We see the Lord who becomes our Savior.

What we must remember is that, yes, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. Yes, He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. He certainly lays out commands for us to follow and obey. But He is also the Lord who tells us that He is always with us, to the very end of the age. Jesus is the Lord who gets down in the dirt with us to lift us up when we fall.

The truth is that Jesus is both our Savior and our Lord. When we reduce Him to one or the other, we minimize the power of His message. And when we begin to see Jesus in the fullness of who He is, as crucified Savior and as reigning Lord, we are moved to worship Him more fully ourselves.

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A Prophet’s Life Verse

This week I have had the privilege of posting on one of my favorite blogs:  “Release the APE”.  I’ve re-posted the piece here, but I encourage you to head over to their website and check it out for yourself.

Jeremiah

Since becoming a Christian I’ve heard lots of people talk about having a “life verse”.  Usually it is a passage of Scripture that they feel embodies their own journey with God.  It could be something that they received at their baptism or during confirmation, but whenever they discovered it has (hopefully) become a motto for how they live as a follower of Jesus.

For a while I was unsure whether I had a life verse or not.  There are tons of passages in the Bible that I love, but a “life verse”?  I wasn’t too sure about that.  And then I attended a staff training event with InterVarsity.  During one of our sessions together we were encouraged to pray for each other.  Eventually it was my turn to be prayed for by my team, so I sat in the middle of the group as the others gathered around and began to pray.

Suddenly, one of them said, “I’m getting the sense that I should pray a verse over you.”  And this is what she read:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.  Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.”
~Jeremiah 1:4-10

I wish I could say that it was a lighting-bolt moment, a moment when the heavens opened and I heard the voice of God.  But honestly, I walked away thinking, “Wow that was cool,” and pretty much forgot about it after that.

That is until I began to transition off of IV staff and into pastoral ministry.  I was taking a look back over my 6 years with InterVarsity and saw a theme:  everywhere I went I was uprooting and tearing down, building and planting.  With each ministry assignment I was questioning old ways of doing things, offering up new and different paradigms, and calling out systems and structures that hindered our witness and were stalling people in their walks with God.  Without realizing it, this verse had become my life verse.

For those who have the prophetic edge to their ministries, I believe that this verse contains within it some important lessons.  But the one that I want to really hone in on is verse 10:  “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  Often, the prophetic calling is described in light of the first portion of this verse:  uprooting and tearing down.  Prophets are talked about as those people who stir things up, get things moving, and critique established structures and paradigms.

As such, being a “prophet” has become pretty sexy in our postmodern, post-churched society.  Nowadays anyone who has an opinion or a bone to pick is a prophet.  In fact, I think being prophetic has started to become a code word for simply being a jerk.  The truth is, just because we have a critique does not mean we are serving in a prophetic way.  Too often would-be prophets have simply absorbed our surrounding culture’s disdain for the church and cynicism toward any kind of structure.  Such an attitude is not redemptive and ultimately does more harm than good.  I say this as someone who has fallen into this trap so many times that I’m a bit embarrassed.  My first two years with InterVarsity I was, for lack of a better word, a jerk.  There was no humility in my work.  I was constantly cutting down what others had to offer.  I was being an idiot.

The truth is, the prophetic calling does involve stirring things up, getting things moving, and critiquing established structures and paradigms.  But it involves something else too:  building and planting.  Prophets are not people who are obsessed with attacking the status quo.  Prophets are people who are captivated by a greater vision of what could be. This is where their desire for movement and change comes from.  It is a putting off of the old ways of the world in the pursuit of the new ways of the Kingdom of God.

The image of building and planting is a powerful one.  Like trees planted near sidewalks, prophets break up the concrete as new roots take hold and the tree expands.  Prophets cultivate the growing of the kingdom of God and, as such, will critique and question things that would seek to hinder that growth, whether within or outside of the church.  But such critique is not malicious or self-serving:  it is always in service to the greater glory of God.

The reality is that being a prophet is hard work.  You can’t just come into a church or organization, spout off your angry platitudes, and run.  You have to commit to the long haul.  Uprooting and planting takes time, patience, gentleness, wisdom, and insight.  It takes submitting ourselves to the timing of the God who calls us.  And it often means that we need to know when to speak and when to listen.  We do all this so that the church might grow, not so that it will be torn down.

This is a calling that will take a life-time to learn.  It will be filled with disappointments and frustrations, difficulties and challenges, hurt, anger, pain, rejection and so forth.  We will make mistakes.  We will hurt others.  We will fall on our faces more times than we can count.  But it is also a calling filled with joy, excitement, and new life as we participate in the work God is doing in making all things new.  That is the life of a prophet and it is a life worth pursuing.

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