June 29, 2006

105 Years Old and Still Going

This man is 105 years old, and is still an active bowler. He says he is just dissapointed that more people in his age range are not still bowling. Umm....Someone needs to tell him there are no people in his age range.

I just hope I am able to be as active when I am his age. Only, I hope I find another sport, because I stink at bowling.

SI.com - More Sports - Centenarian can't see pins but bowls his age - Wednesday June 28, 2006 9:19PM: "Bowling isn't the only thing that gets Hargrove out of the house. Almost every Sunday, he makes the nearly 1 1/2-hour trip to Atlanta, where he lived for nearly 70 years, to attend Grace United Methodist Church. Until he was about 100, he made the drive on his own, but now gets a ride from his daughter or a friend. He is the church's oldest active member and is in charge of the ushers and greeters.

'Our present minister isn't going to see it any other way,' Hargrove said. 'I've had that job all these years, and he isn't going to relieve me of it, not while he's still there anyway.'"

June 28, 2006

Preaching 2-Preach Positively

"Nearly 50% of all marriages in America fail! Today we are going to look..."

"God's plan is that your marriage succeed. Today we are going to look..."

Which opening line do you think is best? Which do you think will be the most inspiring?

Too often we want to scare people into a decision, or we think we are warning them about somthing. We think by using negative or "scary" tactics that people are going to hear us. Unfortunately, we use the negative far too much. We think we are really "giving it" to our hearers, when we are really pushing them away from our essential message.

Here is an experiment for you. Go to Sermoncentral.com and take a look at a random sampling of the different sermons. How many offer a positive view of things? How many start with or emphasize the negative?

There is a time and place for people to be "scared" or sense the depth of the negative, but preaching should not reflect the alarmist nature of the 6 o'clock news. As pastors, we are to bring the Gospel which means "good news." We should look to put a positive spin on things as much as possible. By positive I do not mean preaching that is shiny, happy, and avoids the tough things in life.

I am convinced that many people avoid church because they are tired of feeling beat up all the time. Take a few moments to re-think how to present things in a positive way. When I first made the discovery of how negative preaching had become, I went back and evaluated my sermons. 95%, or more, of the time my preaching focused on the negative.

Remember, we are in the business of sharing God's Good News that He loves them, wants a relationship with them, and did everything possible to provide salvation for us! Now that is good news!

This Is Weird!

Beside the fact that this whole gay bishop thing is sad for the church, pay attention to the photograph of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Is it just me or does his head seem to be levitating in midair? Also, could they find a more menacing picture?

Creepy!

Anglican leader sees church split over gay bishops | Reuters.com

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

Last night I got into a short discussion with a woman at my new church. Both of us have come from different denominational backgrounds. When I told her the name of my previous denomination, she said, "They preach that you can lose your salvation, right? Because I believe that once a person is saved they are always saved! What do you believe?"

Well...A short discussion followed, and I tried to leave it at, "Well, whether you believe one or the other, we both affirm that a person should be whole-heartedly seeking after God."

Though I have been part of an Arminian (freedom of choice which means you can turn around and reject God's offer of forgiveness), I think that it misses the mark.

BUT...

I also think that Calvinism (God sovereignly chooses who is in and who is out and those who are saved are eternally secure) is wrong.

I know my short explanation does not take into account all the intricacies of the theological teaching, but these are the basics to which it boils down. I think there are several false assumptions that distract people from the real problems. Arminianism almost forces people to "ride" the altar into heaven because sin separates them from God and Calvinism allows a person "sin all they want" and still make it into heaven.

I think one primary place that both miss the mark is in the definition of salvation. Both seem to assume that salvation is a contract of sorts. Once the contract is signed it can be destroyed (Arminianism) or is non-negotiable for either party (Calvinism). Once the signature is on the paper, both parties are done.

But salvation is more like a relationship or a journey. You begin a relationship, troubles come and go, offenses happen in the context of a relationship, but both parties are commited to the relationship. But the relationship can be rejected and dissolved. Here is the thing, God is never going to quite pursueing the relationship. You may dissolve your part of it, but God is committed to bringing you back into the relationship.

However, He is not going to force you to love him. If you don't want to spend time with Him here on earth why would you want to do so after death?

I don't think Arminianism takes seriously the grace, forgiveness, and Fatherhood of God. But I don't think Calvinism takes seriously holiness, accountability, and freedom. There is a false belief that you are either one or the other; like these are opposite sides of the same coin. I don't think there is a coin.

I think we are looking at the wrong thing. The goal is not to get into heaven or keep from going to hell. Which is the focus of the Arminianism and Calvinism debate. The focus is a life lived obediently to the Father. It is about kingdom living.

I think as long as a person is seeking to be in fellowship with God, they are secure in their salvation. Should a person decide to stop seeking a relationship, God is not going to stop them, but He is going to continue seeking a relationship with Him.

I saw a quote the other day that said, "We are saved by grace, but we are judged according to our works." That challeneged me to study the Bible with that quote in mind, and I think it is right. Every instance of judgement is based upon the person doing or not doing something they should or should not have done.

To use Brian McLaren's language, I am looking for something "above the line." I looking to hold the sovereignty/keeping power of Calvinism in tension with the grace/freedom of choice of Arminianism. I want the best of both, and I think that is what the Bible teaches. I think holding strictly to one or the other is the easy way out; we must hold them in tension. Besides, I do believe that point of this is that a person truly follows after God, not whether or not they are going to "lose" their salvation or be held "eternally secure" in it.

June 27, 2006

Air Conditioning Made Me Fat!

Maybe I can sue Trane?

ABC News: Can Air Conditioning Make You Fat?: "Having your air conditioner running during those hot summer days helps keep you cool and comfortable, but did you ever think that it could make you fat?"

15 People Who Make America Great

Rick Warren made the list!

I find it funny, though, that there are people in church who have been doing this longer, and when Rick starts talking about it...everyone practically thinks it's his idea. He can't be blamed for the way people view him, though. He at least, from all indications, seems to be handling the success very well and with great integrity.

15 People Who Make America Great - The Giving Back Awards - MSNBC.com: "THE INNOVATOR
Rick Warren
Saddleback Church

Mobilizing Christians worldwide to heal the sick and feed the hungry It starts as an ordinary success story. "

Great Quote

.: the journey :.: Christ is risen to convert us from something less than life: "'Christ is risen to convert us, not from life to something more than life, but from something less than life to the possibility of full life itself. As it is written, the glory of God is a human being fully alive.'"

June 23, 2006

Small Group Project: Church #3

Church Denomination (if any) _Vineyard Community of Churches______________ Avg. AM Worship Attendance _1800____
Age of Congregation ___15 yrs__________
Number of pastors on staff _____9______


1. Approximately what percentage of your regular attendees participates in at least one small group on a regular basis? What percentage is your church's goal?
45 – 55 % goal: 75%

2. How many worship services do you have each week? Please list when, where, and how well attended. 5 – starting a 6th Sunday PM in September 2006
Saturday
4:30 PM – 330
6:00 PM -- 270
Sunday
8:15 AM – 180
9:30 AM – 560
11:00 AM -- 540

3. Who is primarily responsible for oversight of your small group ministry (e.g., layperson(s), senior pastor, staff pastor, etc.)? Is this person or people paid or volunteer?
- Full time Discipleship pastor
- Other pastors also oversee groups or teams
- And I have a team of lay coaches who work with me

4. What level of oversight does your small group ministry leadership team strive for? In other words, how consistent with your church's mission are the "official" small groups which meet?
  • Our Vision: knowing God and enjoying Him forever

  • Our Mission: building a Christians community by making fully devoted disciples of non-religious and nominally religious people

  • Our goals: Exalting: worshipping; Evangelizing: reaching; Encouraging: connecting; Equipping: serving & giving; Empowering: praying

  • we try to do everything in teams

  • Our small groups are absolutely vital to our people connecting, growing and serving Jesus

5. Are there now, or have there ever been any problems associated with your small groups? Please elaborate.
  • No. Our pastor is strong on evangelism, discipleship, our church family being a loving community, and every member being a minister (also worship, serving & giving, and prayer ministry – our 5 E’s listed in # 4)

  • He is a strong leader and sticks with our focus (the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing), so he doesn’t give his leadership away

  • People who come with their own agenda (usually churched people, not non-religious people who get saved in our midst) who try to impose their own agenda [as opposed to developing a ministry] usually end up leaving because our pastor is going to “do church” the way God has called him to do it and he doesn’t shift from that purpose

6. If yes, how are those problems typically handled?
  • Our pastor is also strong on relationships. If a key leader is at odds with what we’re doing, he’ll [the rest of our staff as well] do all within his power by God’s grace to maintain relationships – even going to an impartial counselor [for leaders only].

  • We don’t run or hide from issues if they come up. We invite people to sit down and talk and pray things through.

  • Many times things are worked out; a few times folks move on – usually with mutual blessing.

7. Do you provide initial or ongoing training for leaders of small groups? If yes, on a formal or informal basis? How often do you provide it? In what context?
  • Before people can lead they have to go through Vineyard 101 – Connecting (membership) in Vineyard Church and sign a membership commitment [people are saved at every Vin 101]

  • People can lead a video-driven group by going through a Small Group Orientation led by the Discipleship pastor (4 hour orientation) and a commitment to take Vineyard 201 – Growing in the Vineyard (6 weeks led by various staff pastors, culminating in S.H.A.P.E – a spiritual gifts evaluation – self analyzing one’s Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality and Experiences; and Vineyard 301 – Leading in the Vineyard (three weekly sessions with our Senior Pastor)

  • To do a Bible study or curriculum-driven group people have to have taken Vineyard 201, assisted another small group leader, and taken Vineyard 301

  • Since our small group ministry is on a semester basis (Fall – Sept-early Dec; Spring- Feb – April; Summer – mid-May – July), we have CONNECT WEEKENDS prior to each semester and training times; also mid-semester huddles (prayer, encouragement, skill development) with coaches

  • In all these training situations we have presentations followed by break-out times for people to share and pray together. Vin 301 is by invitation only.

  • All of 101’s, 201’s and 301’s happen quarterly, each following the other

  • I use small group coaching material for Vin 401 put out by Joel Comiskey called
How To Be A Great Cell Group Coach. All the other materials we have written ourselves or adapted from Saddleback or Vineyard churches.
- We also encourage as many of our leaders as possible to attend the Leadership Summit sponsored by Willow Creek and held by satellite at Pleasant Valley Baptist

8. What kinds of requirements do you have for potential leaders before they are recognized as such? If you have "rogue" leaders who are not trained, how does your leadership team handle an issue like that?
  • I think I explained that above. I also keep in touch with small group leaders via e-mail twice a month for communication, encouragement, spiritual inspiration and team building.

  • We have had hardly any rogue groups. People are free to meet or gather any grouping they desire. We don’t list or advertise rogue groups in any of our small group catalogues or in our information centers.

  • It seems like the more we’ve grown people want training and want to be related and part of the team. This may reflect less of a pioneer mentality and more of a settler mentality.

  • Our pastoral staff truly strives to be servant leaders, caring for our leaders and loving and praying for them. So small group leaders appreciate all the support they get from us and our partnership in the gospel.

  • We have 4 Vision Nights a year led by our Senior Pastor where we worship, hear testimonies of what the Lord is doing in various ministries, celebrate God’s goodness, and have a fellowship time in prayer and around coffee and dessert. We ask all our small group leaders to attend Vision Night.

9. What kind of small group curriculum does your church use, if any? How strictly is use of this particular curriculum is enforced? How so? How major of a concern is right theology in regards to small groups (compared to Christian fellowship and formation)?
- There is a multitude of excellent material out there. We use stuff from Zondervan, Willow Creek, LIFE TOGETHER by Brett Eastman, Navigators, Serendipity, Vineyard, Gary Smalley, book studies directly from the Bible, some self-written materials by Bible college graduates; lately a bunch of video-driven materials that people facilitate more than teach
  • We tend to trust the Holy Spirit more to lead us than the devil is capable to deceive us. Having said that we realize we’re not immune from error. We pray for our people to have a love for God’s truth. Our Sr. Pastor preaches Biblically practical messages so our people usually have a sense if someone is sharing from their New age, Mormon, Catholic, or non-religious “street theology” background. From time to time a leader may come to us with a concern and we’ll prayerfully help them deal with situations, appealing to the Word of God

  • We are developing an 18 month Vineyard Discipleship School and have a two year Vineyard Leadership Institute which is a mini video-driven seminary out of our Columbus, OH, Vineyard

  • There’s also a Vineyard Biblical Institute offering courses. This is stewarded out of South Africa

  • We believe in the fruit of the reformation – getting God’s Word into the hands of God’s people

  1. What particular types of small groups does your church body officially recognize (e.g., service groups, Bible study, support, fellowship, accountability, 12-step program, etc.)?
  • We’ve got them all. Anything Godly that is need meeting and of interest to people

  • So, besides Bibles studies, Recovery groups, Age related groups, Fellowship groups, Topical study groups and Task groups, we have Recreation groups and craft groups, etc.

  • We ask that our groups do at least two of the following things: Bible study, pray for each other, share testimonies of Jesus at work in lives, worship, acts of kindness (eg. on Christmas Eve one of our small groups handed out over 250 blankets to street people in the downtown area), or reach out to others

11. How significant is the concept of small groups as compared to other components of your church’s overall ministry (e.g., worship services, evangelism, compassion, corporate prayer, etc.)?
  • Our desire is to do some of the same stuff in larger settings and in smaller settings (Acts 2:42-47; 5:42; 20:20). Most life change or discipleship takes place in smaller settings

  • It’s all about being a believer in, a follower of and a witness to Jesus Christ

12. Do your small groups primarily function as a means of evangelism to new believers, or discipleship to existing members? Why? How do you separate and/or incorporate these two goals within the small group context?
  • We maintain open small groups unless a recovery group needs to be closed for a short period of time due to sensitive and confidential matters for a brief time frame

  • Since a lot of are people are newer believers many are still bringing unsaved friends. Some who have been Christians longer don’t have many unsaved contacts. But we’re always telling people to be “bringers and includers”

  • Again, its all a part of being a follower of Jesus

  • 99.5 % of our groups are open and new people welcomed to what God is doing in that group. We really believe Matthew 18:20, and Jesus is at work by His Spirit

13. Has your church always sponsored small groups? If not, what ministry or service (if any) was sacrificed or minimized in order to make room for small groups in the church community? How were they initiated? Were they promoted as necessary for the well being of the church, or as an "add-on" to an already full list of voluntary church activities?
  • Yes, our church has always done small groups. If fact, our pastor started the church doing evangelistic small group. People came and got saved . . . and little by little the church kept growing

  • We are now getting into offering “Sunday School groups” since we have increased our facilities . . . but not so much as Sunday School classes but as an optional time to attend a small group

14. What would you consider the primary reason that your church encourages and supports small groups?
  • UP (worship & prayer); IN (connecting people with friends, fellowship); OUT (reaching out in evangelism and acts of kindness)

  • We believe in three major commitments: to the person of Jesus; to the people of Jesus; and to the purposes of Jesus (as expressed in UP, IN, OUT)

15. What would you consider your most pressing concern in regards to small groups?
  • Training and developing enough coaches to encourage and serve our leaders (hopefully a 1 to 3 ration – 1 coach for every 3 leaders and groups)

  • We’d like our coaches to meet with the leaders they are serving at least 2 times a semester and also visit their small group at least once a semester, affirming the small group leader before their group and praying for them and encouraging the group members to share the ministry load with their small group leader

16. How do you handle difficult situations that arise that might be too complex for lay leaders (e.g., personalities that attempt to sway new believers, dysfunctional relationships, stalking, etc.)? Do you require leaders and/or participants to sign a "covenant of confidentiality"?
  • We encourage small group leaders to go “up-line” to their coach first of all. If the coach is stymied or desires confirmation regarding the course of action, he or she would go “up-line” to their small group pastor.

  • Our small group covenants are more “group agreements” and focus on faithfulness in attendance, creating a safe environment, respecting differences, shared ownership of the group, confidentiality, welcoming newcomers, and the schedule of which homes meetings will be at

17. Does your church currently host Sunday School classes for adults? Why or why not? In what ways does that potentially impact your small group ministry?
  • Please see # 13 above.

  • Any Saturday or Sunday adult classes are also seen as part of our small group ministry

  • Many of our people are newer Christians; 1/3 come from Catholic backgrounds where they did not have Sunday School

  • Weekend groups (classes) are another option for groups for people’s busy life-styles and schedules; we want these groups to do the same things our others groups are doing (end of # 10 above)

18. How are small groups defined in your church? What size do you consider to be a small group? When a "small group" becomes a "large group" is it divided, or allowed to continue to grow? If divided, how is that handled in a way that satisfies all parties and encourages positive growth?
  • We define small groups as intentional face-to-face gatherings of 3 to 12 people coming together on a regular basis with a common purpose of growing in Christ and giving His love away to others

  • We encourage our groups to keep developing leadership within them. One of the ways we do this is by rotating leadership responsibilities in the group under the direction of the Small Group Leader and his/her Coach

  • We respect a leader’s sense of the Holy Spirit leading them when it’s time to multiply a group and when the time is not right. So, some of our groups may have 18 + people in them . . . but to have them multiply at the wrong time may injure the dynamics of the group

  • Group leaders will also talk things through with group members so they are part of the communication process and also part of the process of seeking the Lord’s direction and timing

19. In what ways does your church continue to promote and support the concept of small groups (e.g., website, newsletter, foyer advertising, announcements, etc.)?
  • All the above

  • Plus our pastor will mention the place of relationships (small groups) for growing in Christ at least once a month in messages or sometimes twice a month

  • Then our semester “kick off” plan three times a year brings small groups into clear focus

20. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to a church body that is contemplating adding small groups into its mix of community activities?
  • Have the Senior Pastor champion small groups, not someone else; he/she doesn’t have to oversee them, but clearly believe in them and be the positive spark behind them

  • Have a clear Biblical understanding of small groups

  • Have a clear vision of where you’re going with them – how you’re going to do them

  • Don’t be afraid to do them and grow and make adjustments along the way

June 22, 2006

Thoughts on Preaching/Speaking

I thought I would post, over the next week or so, a few thoughts on preaching. I have been preaching regularly for the past 14 years. Only in my recent assignment have I not preached (3 months since my last sermon). Before that I took part in speech contests and speaking opportunities. There has been very little that I like doing more than speaking in public. So it has become my passion to do it well.

Actually, communication has become my passion. I get excited at the opportunity to speak in public or at the possibilities a blank sheet of paper offers. Like Bono says, "I like the sound of my own voice/I didn't give anyone else a choice."

I have also read a number of blogs by obviously young pastors/preachers, and have to shake my head at some of the things they write in regards to preaching. I am by no means the master preacher. In fact, I stray too far from much of the advise I could give. But someone has to say that 40+ minute sermons are worthless.

Who cares that a person SHOULD sit and listen! Sermons must be interesting, apply to the person's life, and not waste their time with repitition. If you want people to listen and live out what is said, they first have to listen. Gone are the days when people would listen for two hours to a sermon.

Here is a thought that changed the way I preached:

"If you can't say it in 20 minutes, you can't say it in 40."

Usually a message should last no more than 30 minutes, and if it does, the speaker should be very aware of his/her audience. If a sermon last more than 30 minutes, whether the speaker realizes it or not, there is a great amount of repitition. When a preacher preaches longer than 30 minutes the audience gets bored; usually.

This is not a set-in-concrete rule, but for most of us it is good advice. Re-read your manuscript for usless repitition. That's right, I said manuscript. This doesn't mean you need to preach from a manuscript, but I have become, with a lot of fighting, a firm believer in a manuscript. Why? Because the words and your audience deserve it. (I will go into this more in a later post.)

The point is you would rather have your audience say, "I wish you would have said a little more about..." than have them say, "You should have stopped about (insert number) minutes ago!" It is like eating a satisfying meal without overstuffing yourself to the point of sickness or to the point where you could touch that particular food for a month. Don't worry, most people will never say that you speak too long or that you are boring. In fact, they are very polite when they compliment you, but they still long for the day when you will "develop" into a good preacher.

Don't let that last sentece make you paranoid...just work at becoming a better preacher.

June 21, 2006

Heresy Hunters 2

Heresy hunters would do well to remember the quote below in regards to those they attack. I think they believe those they attack to be ignorant, immature little children that they must enlighten. When, in fact, they are reasonable adults who are able to make their own decisions and, in turn, live with the consequences.

"A child becomes an adult when he realizes that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong."
- Thomas Szasz

OHIO

This is more than the state I live in (which is usually "confusion").

A few years ago I was "diagnosed" with Adult ADD. Mine is probably a pretty mild case compared to some. Simply knowing I had it helped me overcome a good portion of it. I guess that happens quite often because the person realizes that it can be fixed, handled, and, more importantly, that they are not crazy or doomed to live that way forever.

One of the principles that has helped is the OHIO principle.

O nly
H andle
I t
O nce

Anything that comes your way, if it can be handled immediately, do it. This way the "little" things are not left floating around. If you cannot handle it immediately, designate a time during which you can.

June 20, 2006

Brian McLaren's Observations

Here is an article I have been holding on to for a little while. From my earliest days in theological study I have advocated a "tension" in theological reflection. It always seems that problems happen at the "extremes" of theological statement or in the "anti" positions that are often held.

Brian does an excellent job addressing some of the "problems" he sees. They may not be problems yet, but if left unaddressed they will soon become problems.

I think this article goes a long way in stating some "positions" for Brian. For most of his detractors, though, it will not be enough, or may even be ammunition for another attack. The article is long, but well worth the read.

Here's to living above the line (or as I like to say, holding things in tension)!

Brian McLaren: Emergent Reactions, Spring 2006: "All of these proposals can be put in terms of finding “above the line” solutions to reactions that tend to polarize people into binary positions “on the line.” (Many people will be familiar with this “above the line” concept from my book A New Kind of Christian.) Instead of mapping out a position at either end of us/them or either/or conflicts, or even choosing some moderate point in between poles, I propose that we seek higher ground in several specific areas."

June 18, 2006

Reflections of a Fatherless Father

It has been difficult traversing the terrain of fatherhood without an appropriate example. Fatherhood, for me, has been one big learning experience. Basically, I began my philosophy of fatherhood with a decision. I decided that everything I saw in my family growing up, I would do the exact opposite.

So far, it has worked.

Father's Day has always been tough for me. I guess it might be a similar feeling to that of a barren woman gets on Mother's Day...there is just something missing from your life. It gets tougher when other men extole the influence and love of their fathers, and I am left wishing for that hole to be filled.

That "hole" is something common among men reared without fathers. A few months ago, I was teaching a few workshops in Montreal. My translator, a man about my age, began talking about growing up with no father. When I told him that I too had grown up without a father, he got this look on his face. The look was that of a man who had finally found someone who shared his pain. "Do you have the hole?" he said. "Yes," I said, "I have the hole. I don't think it ever goes away."

Father's Day got easier to handle when I had a daughter of my own; though it is still difficult. I often just find a way to not think about it. To be honest, I don't want to think about what is missing. I recognize that some of the quirks in my personality and some of my insecurities are a direct result of not having a father, but I worked hard to become who I am and to NOT be like most of the men paraded in front of me during childhood.

Having a child gives me the opportunity to stop the cycle. I also, in some unexplainable way, get to right a wrong. I can't explain why it feels that way, but it does. I get to make sure that another child does not have to grow up without a father.

There is also a need to be a father-figure to those without fathers. there are many who don't have fathers, and, while a man cannot replace the absentee father, they can fill a need. They can be godly representation of manhood.

Whatever your childhood situation was...Happy Father's Day.

June 17, 2006

On Writing


Most people, in my career-neck of the woods, never think twice about Stephen King. His tales, while dark and morbid, are very well written. His book, On Writing, has got to be one of the best books I have ever read (twice actually). And, now, I am listening to it while driving back and forth to work. I saw it in the library and checked it out. It is my first foray into books on CD, but I like it. It is interesting to hear the work as read by the author with their intonation and emphasis. If you are a writer and want some good insight into the craft, you could do little better than this book.

My Neighbor

Last night was an interesting night.

A few nights ago, I took my daughter to the apartment complex swimming pool. While there, I met a woman and her daughter. They are originally from India, and have been in the United States for five years.

There are very few children in our apartment complex, and even fewer in the younger age ranges. So this lady's daughter was happy to meet my daughter, and to have the possibility of a playmate. I told them that any time they wanted they could come and play.

Last night, the lady came to the pool area again; this time my wife and daughter were with me and she brought her husband. I silently prayed to myself, "Lord, give me an opportunity to get to know these people. Give me an opportunity be a witness for You."

A little while later, I got out of the pool and sat down near the husband. We began talking and exchanging the standard pleasantries and questions. I have learned to approach the question, "What do you do?" with caution. Most people don't know what to do when they discover themselves unexpectedly talking to a pastor. I told him I worked for a church, and then told him some of the stuff we did. He asked whether they had children's activities. When I responded, "yes," He immediately asked, "What time and day?" I told him, and he said, "Sunday is good for us. We will be there at 9."

To be honest, I was shocked. It was too easy. I just came from a six year adventure in church planting where I couldn't drag people into church. I haven't been here six weeks, and I have someone who just told me, without any work on my part, that they were going to church.

It is amazing to me what God can do. I am still praying for the opportunity to continue reaching into this family's life. Not just to introduce them to Jesus, but also develop a true friendship.

June 15, 2006

Christian Rock

Here is a good review of Andrew Beaujon's new book at Christianity today: The Kingdom of Rock Is at Hand - Christianity Today Magazine

The author quotes Beaujon as saying, in regards to the constituency of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, "Advertising executives would slide naked down a splintery board to reach these people." Now that is imaginative prose. Talk about putting a word picture in your head!

Later in the article, the author again quotes Beaujon. "As impressed as he is with Crowder's performance, Beaujon doesn't appreciate what works about worship music until a moment in the concert when he notices—after initially not noticing—that Crowder has left the stage. The crowd still worships even after Crowder steps out of the spotlight. 'There was only one star at that evening's show,' writes Beaujon, 'and he hadn't been onstage at all.'"

Good article. And, the book looks like a good, honest attempt by an "outsider" to understand what makes Christian music "Christian."

June 14, 2006

Small Group Project: Church #2

Sarah at Cedar Ridge Community Church was very gracious in letting me use her information. She recognizes that there is little information concerning small groups on the internet.


Church Denomination (if any) _N/A_____________
Avg. AM Worship Attendance 500-600
Age of Congregation 24 years

Number of pastors on staff One senior pastor, 2 part-time


1. Approximately what percentage of your regular attendees participates in at least one small group on a regular basis? What percentage is your church's goal?
We have about 24 or more groups, averaging at least 10 in each-so probably about 40% participation

2. How many worship services do you have each week? Please list when, where, and how well attended. 2; 9 & 11 AM; at least 200-300 people in each service.

3. Who is primarily responsible for oversight of your small group ministry (e.g., layperson(s), senior pastor, staff pastor, etc.)? Is this person or people paid or volunteer?
Director of Community Life; with supervision of senior pastor

4. What level of oversight does your small group ministry leadership team strive for? In other words, how consistent with your church's mission are the "official" small groups which meet?

5. Are there now, or have there ever been any problems associated with your small groups? Please elaborate.

6. If yes, how are those problems typically handled?

7. Do you provide initial or ongoing training for leaders of small groups? If yes, on a formal or informal basis? How often do you provide it? In what context?Currently, we do upfront orientation-style training and then on-the-job training quarterly which is more informal. We are working towards increasing intentionality towards leadership development

8. What kinds of requirements do you have for potential leaders before they are recognized as such? If you have "rogue" leaders who are not trained, how does your leadership team handle an issue like that? We try to get everyone to participate in the orientation at some point; otherwise, cultivate one-on-one relationships with those leading groups who have not been formally trained….currently working on determining what kinds of “expectations” to set for people leading small groups

9. What kind of small group curriculum does your church use, if any? How strictly is use of this particular curriculum is enforced? How so? How major of a concern is right theology in regards to small groups (compared to Christian fellowship and formation)? Sermon-based discussions; not mandatory; looking to see small groups as “application” over information so that the teaching comes from the church (Sunday message) in order to foster community throughout the church whereby small groups are focused more on thinking through the teaching and not responsible for doing the teaching…it’s a work in progress

10. What particular types of small groups does your church body officially recognize (e.g., service groups, Bible study, support, fellowship, accountability, 12-step program, etc.)? We’re aiming for groups that have a holistic focus---Love, grow, serve, spending time in each of these areas at some point in the group’s life…

11. How significant is the concept of small groups as compared to other components of your church’s overall ministry (e.g., worship services, evangelism, compassion, corporate prayer, etc.)?Growing support and importance of small groups as a major means to discipleship….not totally there yet…but it’s clear that the greatest number of people are involved in small groups over any other ministry.

12. Do your small groups primarily function as a means of evangelism to new believers, or discipleship to existing members? Why? How do you separate and/or incorporate these two goals within the small group context? Discipleship----however, part of the hope to get our groups all doing the sermon-based discussions is to create a point of conversation at which a mature believer and even a new or non-believer can discuss issues of faith coming from a similar point of reference, having just heard the same sermon. We’re encouraging groups to be inclusive and inviting…less of the “closed” small groups models…

13. Has your church always sponsored small groups? If not, what ministry or service (if any) was sacrificed or minimized in order to make room for small groups in the church community? How were they initiated? Were they promoted as necessary for the well being of the church, or as an "add-on" to an already full list of voluntary church activities? Small groups have always existed with varying degrees of staff leadership focused on them; they have been more of an add-on up until recently—they seem to be growing as a main emphasis….not sure what the implications on different ministries will be...I imagine there will be some downsizing in niche ministries in order to pull everyone together, capitalizing on our common-ground rather than what our differences are (men’s, women’s, young adults ministries, etc…) Really not sure what will happen.

14. What would you consider the primary reason that your church encourages and supports small groups? Small groups are where the church gets to be the church…it’s about living faith as a way of life…and small groups are a means to discipleship, care, love and empowering our community to serve the world . . .

15. What would you consider your most pressing concern in regards to small groups?
Identifying new leaders, training them up and nurturing them along the way…not a task for the faint-hearted.

16. How do you handle difficult situations that arise that might be too complex for lay leaders (e.g., personalities that attempt to sway new believers, dysfunctional relationships, stalking, etc.)? Do you require leaders and/or participants to sign a "covenant of confidentiality"? We don’t have them sign on the dotted line, but we encourage groups to uphold confidentiality; etc. We encourage leaders to refer troubled people to pastoral staff for counsel/direction. Generally, though, I’ve found that small groups books and materials make it seem like there are so many troubled people that are going to disrupt the groups and cause them to stray…I’m a believer in the power of God and in my people…and I have not witnessed this to be a recurring problem but, rather, quite isolated. Church leaders need to believe in their people---and stay in touch with their leaders.

17. Does your church currently host Sunday School classes for adults? Why or why not? In what ways does that potentially impact your small group ministry? Some classes on Sunday; we’re very limited on space, so this has not been a major emphasis. We are trying to emphasize living faith outside the doors of our church building, so classes have not been a major emphasis.

18. How are small groups defined in your church? What size do you consider to be a small group? When a "small group" becomes a "large group" is it divided, or allowed to continue to grow? If divided, how is that handled in a way that satisfies all parties and encourages positive growth? Our “small groups” are called Life Groups. They currently range in size from 8-15. Some groups manage to divide up, while many have existed for a long time…this is an ongoing discussion to which we don’t have a perfect approach.

19. In what ways does your church continue to promote and support the concept of small groups (e.g., website, newsletter, foyer advertising, announcements, etc.)? I try to make it an ongoing stream of information….lunches for groups, leaders, a newsletter about groups/community available to everyone in the church…story-sharing on Sundays…introducing new groups that are starting on Sunday mornings; visiting the groups and video-taping to put a “face on life groups” on Sunday morning….information available on the website, bulletin board with a map and information/resources in the lobby…

20. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to a church body that is contemplating adding small groups into its mix of community activities?
Be clear on the purpose for the groups. What level of senior pastoral support is given to groups? Does the senior pastor fully support and participate in a small group? Will it be promoted on Sunday mornings by the Senior Pastor?

Decide if it will be the main thing or an add-on thing and communicate this to the staff person or ministry leader in charge in order to minimize frustration. Will this person be working to get everyone in a group? Set realistic expectations based on the purpose of the groups and the level of senior leadership in support of them. Without senior pastoral leadership in full support of this ministry, it will always remain a mere menu item and not the central means to discipleship at a church.


What kind of resources, time, etc. do you have to train and develop leaders? Determine how you will do this in the most relational way possible because this is a highly relational ministry.


Determine what kind of person will implement the ministry; If it is the responsibility of one main individual, this person will need to be a balance of leadership and pastoral skills.

Left Behind

A few words come to mind: opportunistic, greed, un-Christian...

This is an instance of where our systematic theology overlaps and adds to the Bible rather than taking the Bible for what it is and what it says. It is important that our understanding of eschatology (doctrine of last things) does not make us less Christian.

God forgive us for not loving our neighbor as we should.

Navigate apocalyptic New York - The Boston Globe: "``Left Behind: Eternal Forces' (www.leftbehindgames.com) is a war game in which you become one of the characters from the end-times novels. Permission granted to stop turning the other cheek, and to start kicking butt."

What Theologian Are You?

Very interesting! Being Wesleyan/Arminian, I figured Calvin would be lower on the list. I haven't read much Tillich. Now, I guess I am going to have to read something. "Alienation from the ground of our being..." Maybe, if the ground of our being is considered to be God.

You scored as Paul Tillich. Paul Tillich sought to express Christian truth in an existentialist way. Our primary problem is alienation from the ground of our being, so that our life is meaningless. Great for psychotherapy, but no longer very influential.

Paul Tillich


67%

J�rgen Moltmann


60%

Karl Barth


53%

Augustine


53%

Martin Luther


47%

Friedrich Schleiermacher


47%

Anselm


47%

Charles Finney


47%

John Calvin


40%

Jonathan Edwards


33%

Which theologian are you?

June 12, 2006

Fundamentalists in History

How is this for a thought? Not much different from what we see today?

When Evangelicals Ruled - Christianity Today Magazine: "'Fundamentalists often went into battle for beliefs which they perceived to be part of the ancient deposit of faith but which in reality went back less than a hundred years.'"

Some People Shouldn't Go To Church

Here is a great, short, pithy post by Steve Sjogren.

Growing Edge Buzz: Some people shouldn't go to church, pt. 1: Crabby is not a fruit of the Spirit: "After following Jesus for over 30 years now, I have come to the conclusion that there are some people who do great damage to the cause of Christ because they continue to come to church week after week. I have no idea what they are hearing in their various churches, but their behavior, based on what is on display in the restaurants they frequent immediately after their church experience, is exactly the opposite of the attitude of Jesus as described in the Gospels.

...In our day, as in his day, we have placed so much emphasis on correct beliefs, that correct living has been nearly completely overlooked. Yet Jesus made it very clear that true spirituality isn’t just belief, but lifestyle. “When I was thirsty you gave me drink, when I was hungry you gave me to eat, when I was lonely you visited me…” Seeing a need and meeting it. No smugness. No “better than” attittitude. "Crabby" is not a Fruit of the Spirit."

Small Group Project Church #1

The name of the particular church has not and will not be revealed. This is done out of respect for the church's willingness to let me reveal their answers. Their answers are very informative either way.


Church Denomination (if any) _Vineyard USA__
Age of Congregation _22 years old__ Number of pastors on staff __approx 20_


1. Approximately what percentage of your regular attendees participates in at least one small group on a regular basis? What percentage is your church's goal?
Approximately 36% of our regular attendees participate regularly. Our goal is 100%, as small groups are by far our most effective discipleship mechanism. More realistically we’d love to see 75%, since everyone isn’t ready for the small group experience.

2. How many worship services do you have each week? 4 Average AM attendance: 6,000

3. Who is primarily responsible for oversight of your small group ministry (e.g., layperson(s), senior pastor, staff pastor, etc.)? Is this person or people paid or volunteer?
We have a senior director of Small Groups. He is paid and a pastor, with advanced degrees in counseling and missions.


4. What level of oversight does your small group ministry leadership team strive for? In other words, how consistent with your church's mission are the "official" small groups which meet?
Our leadership team strives for consistent contact with the small group coaches and leaders, enough to ensure that they are given the support they need and that their groups are healthy, but enough freedom to allow them to grow their leadership gifts and build strong, healthy relationships with the group members. Our groups are consistent with the church’s mission in that our goal for them is to be accepting, Christ-centered, loving and outward focused.

5. Are there now, or have there ever been any problems associated with your small groups? Please elaborate.
Any time you’re dealing with people you’re going to have problems – it’s the nature of ministry. There are group leaders who aren’t healthy enough to lead a group, and have issues of their own to deal with, there are members who are dealing with issues too large for a lay person small group leader to handle, there’s the issue of finding enough leaders and coaches to grow the ministry, and not overworking the volunteer leaders that we do have. There are also leaders who refuse to be connected to the larger structure and be accountable.

6. If yes, how are those problems typically handled?
Problems are handled relationally – the small group coach or pastor, or director if need be, will talk through the problem with the leader. Our small group pastors have had extensive training and experience handling difficult situations. As far as finding enough leaders, we continue to network and are on the lookout for qualified leaders or eager but not yet qualified leaders, who may not be serving presently or may be serving in other ministries and looking for a change.

7. Do you provide initial or ongoing training for leaders of small groups? If yes, on a formal or informal basis? How often do you provide it? In what context?
We do provide basic classroom 101 training for small group leaders formally, quarterly for new leaders. Also, our prayer ministry and Growth & Healing ministry provides church-wide trainings that we encourage our leaders to attend. We also encourage them to attend deeper Bible study classes offered during the week. The coach and/or small group pastor, in talking with the leader, can pinpoint areas where more training is needed, and direct the leader appropriately.

8. What kinds of requirements do you have for potential leaders before they are recognized as such? If you have "rogue" leaders who are not trained, how does your leadership team handle an issue like that?
Our requirements are that they have attended our church for at least 6 months, and through a personal interview with a small group pastor, are seen to be teachable and have integrity. We then have them go through 101 training and follow up with them again.

9. What kind of small group curriculum does your church use, if any? How strictly is use of this particular curriculum is enforced? How so? How major of a concern is right theology in regards to small groups (compared to Christian fellowship and formation)?
We don’t use a specific curriculum. For a while our church produced its own curriculum and groups were encouraged to use that, but they’ve always had the freedom to use what appeals to them. We also have a list of recommended curriculum that our team put together. Right theology in regards to small groups is very important, along with Christian fellowship and formation – that’s another reason for the relationship between small group leaders and coaches or pastors.

10. What particular types of small groups does your church body officially recognize (e.g., service groups, Bible study, support, fellowship, accountability, 12-step program, etc.)?
We have a Growth & Healing ministry, and that’s where the groups that are more geared toward recovery and dealing with specific issues fall. Our small groups are primarily discipleship groups, not service groups. They are mainly Bible study and fellowship groups; most groups include support because of the relationship and groups are encouraged to be outward focused and serve others, in their community and in general.

11. How significant is the concept of small groups as compared to other components of your church’s overall ministry (e.g., worship services, evangelism, compassion, corporate prayer, etc.)? It is very significant. Small groups are our main discipleship strategy.

12. Do your small groups primarily function as a means of evangelism to new believers, or discipleship to existing members? Why? How do you separate and/or incorporate these two goals within the small group context?
Primarily they are a means of discipleship, although we do have some people interested in starting “seeker” groups, that are less about discipleship and all about asking questions. People are encouraged to invite their non-Christian friends and neighbors to their small group as well, so in that context they’re a means of evangelism.

13. Has your church always sponsored small groups? If not, what ministry or service (if any) was sacrificed or minimized in order to make room for small groups in the church community? How were they initiated? Were they promoted as necessary for the well being of the church, or as an "add-on" to an already full list of voluntary church activities?
The church started out of small groups, about 2 years before we ever had weekend celebrations. Although the amount of promotional emphasis on small groups has varied over the years we have always seen them as essential. They have always been seen as the place to really grow as a believer in the context of real relationships as well as the front lines of extending care.

14. What would you consider the primary reason that your church encourages and supports small groups?
We believe that people grow best in relationships, and become more like Jesus when they have a chance to use what they learn in the sermon practically with other people. It’s one thing to learn about resolving conflict in a Biblical way – it’s another thing to resolve conflict with your small group leader or member in a Biblical way. Small groups are the practice field for the skills and insights people learn in the church setting. Also people weren’t created to live life alone. We need other people.

15. What would you consider your most pressing concern in regards to small groups?
Right now it would be finding enough qualified leaders and coaches, so as to allow the small group pastors ample time to mentor and disciple their present coaches.

16. How do you handle difficult situations that arise that might be too complex for lay leaders (e.g., personalities that attempt to sway new believers, dysfunctional relationships, stalking, etc.)? Do you require leaders and/or participants to sign a "covenant of confidentiality"?
Part of the small group covenant is confidentiality. The small group coach and pastor are a phone call away, so anything that’s too much for a lay leader to handle can be referred to the coach or pastor.

17. Does your church currently host Sunday School classes for adults? Why or why not? In what ways does that potentially impact your small group ministry?
We do not host Sunday school classes, but we do have a Wednesday night “Digging Deeper” series – we urge people to get involved in a small group, and the experiences are similar. That’s probably a good thing for small groups, since people don’t have to choose, or add one more thing to their schedule.

18. How are small groups defined in your church? What size do you consider to be a small group? When a "small group" becomes a "large group" is it divided, or allowed to continue to grow? If divided, how is that handled in a way that satisfies all parties and encourages positive growth?
The very loose definition is that the main purpose of a small group is discipleship, and is usually made up of 8 to 12 people who meet regularly for fellowship, and some kind of Biblically-based learning. They are also encouraged to do outreach in some form or another. Our groups normally divide when they become too large to be effective. The coach or pastor will assist the leader in determining the best way to divide. Hopefully there is an apprentice leader who can take half of the group.

19. In what ways does your church continue to promote and support the concept of small groups (e.g., website, newsletter, foyer advertising, announcements, etc.)?
We have weekly space in the program – continual small group listings on display, events throughout the year that are advertised during the service, and frequent mentions from our senior pastor about the importance of small groups, and of his small group. We also have a monthly e-newsletter.

20. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to a church body that is contemplating adding small groups into its mix of community activities?
It’s life changing, but it takes a good deal of prayer and work to have a healthy system. There need to be enough people able and willing to lead, to coach and to oversee the coaches. Be aware that wherever you have people, you’ll have problems – personalities, quirks, needs, etc.; it’s never a perfect system and it’s never dull. Allow leaders the freedom to use their leadership gifts – don’t suffocate them with too much strictness. It’s a strange paradox that people need and want to belong and be loved, but most people are afraid to open up and get involved. Overcome this by making sure your leaders are well trained and your groups are safe and welcoming. Also make it a priority that your leaders return calls and e-mails as soon as possible, if someone is asking about the group. Few things turn people off of small groups faster than being ignored. Everyone wants to matter – that’s just basic customer service.

June 9, 2006

Small Group Project

A friend of mine, Jeff, is finishing up his Master of Divinity degree in Kansas City. Jeff and I worked together for a couple of years and became very good friends. He used to make the medicinal afternoon French Press Coffee that helped us end the day on a good note. Besides writing and editing, Jeff is also on staff at a church.

Shortly before I left KC, Jeff started a project on small groups. Over the next few weeks, I want to give you the results of Jeff's work, as I think it gives us insight into the working of small groups in the local church.

Each person's answers will be given as they gave them. I don't want to misrepresent them in any way, but feel they have a lot to offer us in looking at small groups. They all seem to be doing somethings different and some things in a similar way.

I am posting Jeff's questions here. If you would like to answer them and send them to me, I can forward them to Jeff, and you will be helping with this on-going project. I have changed the contact information at the end to reflect the change of purpose for using this information on the blog. I look forward to receiving your responses. My e-mail is ewright.themerge@gmail.com

Here are the questions:

SMALL GROUP MINISTRY QUESTIONNAIRE

Church Denomination (if any) _______ Avg. AM Worship Attendance ______
Age of Congregation ___________ Number of pastors on staff _________

1. Approximately what percentage of your regular attendees participates in at least one small group on a regular basis? What percentage is your church's goal?

2. How many worship services do you have each week? Please list when, where, and how well attended.

3. Who is primarily responsible for oversight of your small group ministry (e.g., layperson(s), senior pastor, staff pastor, etc.)? Is this person or people paid or volunteer?

4. What level of oversight does your small group ministry leadership team strive for? In other words, how consistent with your church's mission are the 'official' small groups which meet?

5. Are there now, or have there ever been any problems associated with your small groups? Please elaborate.

6. If yes, how are those problems typically handled?

7. Do you provide initial or ongoing training for leaders of small groups? If yes, on a formal or informal basis? How often do you provide it? In what context?

8. What kinds of requirements do you have for potential leaders before they are recognized as such? If you have 'rogue' leaders who are not trained, how does your leadership team handle an issue like that?

9. What kind of small group curriculum does your church use, if any? How strictly is use of this particular curriculum is enforced? How so? How major of a concern is right theology in regards to small groups (compared to Christian fellowship and formation)?

10. What particular types of small groups does your church body officially recognize (e.g., service groups, Bible study, support, fellowship, accountability, 12-step program, etc.)?

11. How significant is the concept of small groups as compared to other components of your church’s overall ministry (e.g., worship services, evangelism, compassion, corporate prayer, etc.)?

12. Do your small groups primarily function as a means of evangelism to new believers, or discipleship to existing members? Why? How do you separate and/or incorporate these two goals within the small group context?

13. Has your church always sponsored small groups? If not, what ministry or service (if any) was sacrificed or minimized in order to make room for small groups in the church community? How were they initiated? Were they promoted as necessary for the well being of the church, or as an 'add-on' to an already full list of voluntary church activities?

14. What would you consider the primary reason that your church encourages and supports small groups?

15. What would you consider your most pressing concern in regards to small groups?

16. How do you handle difficult situations that arise that might be too complex for lay leaders (e.g., personalities that attempt to sway new believers, dysfunctional relationships, stalking, etc.)? Do you require leaders and/or participants to sign a 'covenant of confidentiality'?

17. Does your church currently host Sunday School classes for adults? Why or why not? In what ways does that potentially impact your small group ministry?

18. How are small groups defined in your church? What size do you consider to be a small group? When a 'small group' becomes a 'large group' is it divided, or allowed to continue to grow? If divided, how is that handled in a way that satisfies all parties and encourages positive growth?

19. In what ways does your church continue to promote and support the concept of small groups (e.g., website, newsletter, foyer advertising, announcements, etc.)?

20. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to a church body that is contemplating adding small groups into its mix of community activities?



Your name: ________________________

Name of your church:_____________________

Contact information:_______________________

E-mail:_______________________

May I share your responses? YES___ NO___

Decaf Jesus

I found this post on Randy Bohlender's site:

stuff i think: Decaf Jesus, no thank you.: "There is, within the present culture, a very real effort to decaffinate Jesus...to give people the ambiance of an encounter with God without actually having to encounter Him... to appeal for their desire for God, to assuage their inner cry for a walk with the Holy, without succumbing to the affect it would certainly have on their heart. Jesus in a brown thrift store mug, more as a hand warmer than an actual drink. A prop to carry around, but never to partake of."

It is a good post, but it feels like he stoped too soon in the development. Nothing against Randy; it is just that as I read the post it felt like it should go. I could sense that he was saying something very valuable.

How often we settle for something that is a cheap imitation of the real thing, or we settle for something that at one time, 20 years ago, was the real thing.

I want the real thing.

June 8, 2006

God's Children

"All God's children are not beautiful. Most of God's children are, in fact, barely presentable." Fran Lebowitz

How is that for a quote? The problem has been that church makes people think they are beautiful, and so they have often rejected the barely presentable. They have acted as though they were never unpresentable.

The reality is that Jesus went to those who were barely presentable. He went to those who needed a physician. I think there are very few churches on the planet that would ever say they don't accept people. They feel themselves open to the hurting and the broken. But, for some reason, the people on the outside see them as unwelcoming.

I think this issue, like evangelism, is one of those things that most churches accept in theory but not in practice. Just look at the reaction of most churches when a tatooed, pierced, multi-color haired person walks into their service. They may get a "friendly" welcome, but we all know what happens behind their back. That is one of the exciting things happening with many new churches and church plants.

Steve Taylor did a song called "Jesus is for losers," and I think that is right. Jesus came for the broken, the hurting, the lost, and those who are willing to say, "I am fed up with what life is giving me because it is not working! What do you have Jesus?"

June 6, 2006

Faith

My friend Dana has an interesting article on his blog about a man mauled by a lion: No_Sef's Xanga Site - 6/6/2006 11:15:12 AM

The man shouted that God would save him "if" God existed. Shows that God should "not be put to the test." A lack God's existence should not be blamed for human stupidity!

Study Culture or Study People?

Andy Stanley was just interviewed for Leadership Magazine for which he took a lot of flack from bloggers and opinioneers (Leadership Blog: Out of Ur: Is Ministry Leadership Different 2: a response to Andy Stanley).

But I found this quote:

"I don't feel like I am a student of culture...But I understand people, and I think that's more important than understanding culture. Honestly. Because pop culture is just the flowers on top of the stems. And I think for pastors, that's important, because they feel like they have to get into culture. They just have to get into people."

I think I agree with this assessment. Pop culture rises quickly and, just as quickly, fades. Two years ago I heard George Hunter III say in a conference "the church needs to keep up with traditional culture not pop culture." His point being that there is an underlying, basic culture that stays constant no matter how much pop culture changes. It is this basic culture that the church must at least keep up with.

Andy Stanley makes an excellent point about studying people. The times change, but people, essentially stay the same. Their reactions and decisions all seem to stay the same. Their basic needs seem to stay the same whether they are pre-modern, modern, or post-modern. There may be some slight changes, but people are still people. The problem is that many times those in leadership of the church simply don't understand people. Or, they try to work against people instead of using what they know to gain moments of sharing the Kingdom of God.

June 5, 2006

Am I Sure That I Am Saved?

I found this article at Open Source Theology.

Am I sure that I am saved? | open source theology: "Am I sure that I am saved? I do not think that the Bible defines 'Christianity' fundamentally or centrally as a religion of salvation, and certainly not of the highly individualized personal salvation that is characteristic of modern evangelicalism; so I do not think that the question 'Are you sure you are saved?' really gets at the heart of the matter. "

I have to strongly disagree with this position. But also agree in some. Following Jesus IS essentially an act of salvation, but not solely a personal salvation. God called Abraham and his children to be a chosen people, and the requirements of obedience was essential to their salvation. Today, I think we are called to be part of the church (ekklesia means "the called out ones"), but we must begin an apprenticeship to Jesus and live in obedience. So, in a sense, there is personal salvation because at some point we have to accept the responsibility to follow and to live obediently.

Later in the article he says, "So for me, as someone who was 'alienated from the commonwealth of Israel', what I have received from God by faith, as an outworking of his grace, is incorporation into a people in the midst of which the living God dwells through his Spirit and whose 'king' or 'lord' is the messiah Jesus. That 'incorporation' is my 'salvation', I guess you could say - it is what has made me whole, it has brought me into a new humanity, it has reconciled me with the living God, it has set me free from all other kingdoms - Christ is my king." "I guess you could say" this is personal salvation because you have to appropriate the work of God, live in obedience, and begin following.

I think the author is right to want to recover the depth and complexity of the biblical narrative. I also agree that "personal relationship" is often code for living within a tighly defined doctrinal stance. However, it is a broad generalization to lump every Evangelical into that camp.

A friend of mine responded to the article by saying, "Besides personal salvation, does anyone know what else was invented by 'modern evangelicals?' (I am hoping hell, servanthood, and tithe.)" In the emerging conversation, let's be sure not to blame everything on modernity. I do think that deconstruction is good, but what I am waiting for is intelligent, God-directed RECONSTRUCTION that values all time-span movements of God. We do need to remember that God was not absent from the spiritual game during modernity and just now returning because we are becoming postmodern."

Falling For It Again?

I wonder if the Religious Right is going to fall for this ploy all over again. Immediately after winning the election, the Republican Party dropped all mention of a constitutional change. Now, because they are politically in need of votes, they are resurrecting the rally cry.

Where ever you fall on this, you have got to realize that this is a political ploy meant to turn Christian voters into pawns of a political party. And you can bet that both sides are going to play this political card to their advantage!

Gay-marriage ban back on agenda: "The Senate this week will debate a measure that everybody knows is doomed - a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

A waste of time? Not to its supporters. The purpose of debating the amendment now is not constitutional change. It is climate change - of the political variety.

The Republican Party's conservative base has grown increasingly angry over immigration and federal spending, adding to other problems that make 2006 a tough election year for the GOP.

And politicians in trouble always turn to their base."

Relationship or Right

This is a challenging story. I don't know that I would have responded this way. I am not even sure I think it is the right way to handle the situation. But it might be...

"Tom Wiles served a stint as university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. A few years ago, he picked me up at the Phoenix airport in his new Ford pickup and whisked me away to keynote a leadership conference at the university. Since I was still mourning the trade-in of my Dodge truck, we immediately bonded, sharing truck stories and laughing at the bumper-sticker truism: 'Nothing is more beautiful than a man and his truck.'

As I climbed into his 2002 Ranger for the ride back to the airport a day later, I noticed two big scrapes by the passenger door. 'What happened here?' I asked.

'My neighbor's basketball post fell and left those dents and white scars,' Tom replied with a downcast voice.

'You're kidding! How awful,' I commiserated. 'This truck is so new I can smell it.'

'What's even worse is my neighbor doesn't feel responsible for the damage.'

Rising to my newfound friend's defense, I said, 'Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?'

'This has been a real spiritual journey for me,' Tom replied. 'After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor. Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than this truck, I decided that I'd rather be in a relationship than be right. Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.'"

Leonard Sweet, Out of the Question...Into the Mystery (Waterbrook Press, 2004), p. 91-92; submitted by Michael Batdorf, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

June 3, 2006

Seeds of Hope

For all intents and purposes, the world looks as though it is headed to hell in a hand-basket. The pastor friend of mine, from Friday's visit, had a very bleak outlook on the community. In fact, he said, "Show me one place that has been changed by the church serving others in a social way!" I was appalled at his ignorance for lack of a better word.

This morning, over breakfast with another friend, we were talking about the seeming hopelessness of the world. My friend sees humanity at its worst on a regular basis.

Hope is in short supply, and many ministers, my Friday visit included, should be ashamed when they fail to have or give hope to others and about our world. But often they are unable to give hope because they lack a good understanding eschatology and the role of the Messiah. Eschatology is the technical word for the study of the end of things. Apocolypse focuses on one theological viewpoint's definition of the world ending in a mass destruction.

But the Bible is clear that a "new" heaven and earth will not necessarily be a re-created world following the destruction of this one. It will be a transformed world. I think the Bible speaks of heaven and hell as points of hope. I would also put the "new heaven and new earth" in this same role.

Here is the promise: "Someday, everything will be set right!" Someday there will be true peace. Someday, there will complete forgiveness. Someday, there will be justice. A good eschatology is the basis of Christian hope. It encompasses the culmination of God's plan for humanity and the role of Jesus, our redeemer and Messiah, in that process.

If a person's view of the end times makes them think, "Someday we will escape all this!" Then their emphasis is in the wrong place. The question is "What are you doing now?"

Having a Kingdom of God mindset, a missional mindset, means that we view ourselves as God's ambassadors, his hands and feet in this world, and if the world is going to hell in a handbasket then the church is failing in its mission. We are called to change our world. We are called to discover what God is doing and join.

Too often, though, we are content to be comfortable.

Jesus tells Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not stand against it." A few years ago I preached a sermon titled "The Church Should Go to Hell!" based on this passage. My point was that if we simply define hell as fire and brimestone, then we have blinded ourselves to the pain and hurt in the world around us. For some people fire and brimestone would be a welcome relief from what they have endured here on earth. It is to these people's lives that we, as a church, are called to bring the Kingdom.

I want to continually ask myself, "What am I doing to bring the Kingdom of God to the world around me?" "How am I leading my church against the gates of hell?" "Am I leading toward hope?"

June 2, 2006

Sometimes I Just Don't Get It

Let me start by admitting that I am Wesleyan/Arminian. I believe that God, being sovereign, gives grace to human beings allowing them to either choose or reject Him. I believe that a person cannot "lose" their salvation, but through neglect and rejection can turn from God and receive the consequences. I don't, however, think that every little slip up should send the person running to the altar for fear of hell.

I believe that being a Christian means more than just saying a sinners prayer it means being a disciple or an apprentice of Jesus. I think that loving your neighbor should be lived out in practical ways. I think judgment is more than just sending a person to hell. I think all people will be judged and found wanting--those who have trusted in Christ and pursued Him will be covered by God's grace.

I think heaven is better than we can ever imagine, and I think that hell is somehow worse thanthe fire we often imagine. I don't think it is torture. I think God is loving, merciful, and just; because of that, I think He will be fair in the end. I think the end of the world as we know it is a mystery despite the number of people who think they have it all figured out.

I am involved in the emerging church "conversation" (and I seem to fall within it more than with out).

Having said all of that...

I do not think that people NOT like me in doctrine have no place in the Christian faith. The Creed is my basis for what I see as essential to the faith. There some doctrinal stances that I just can't believe personally. I understand, though, how my picture of the faith may leave some people questioning. But the standard is the Creed. I guess I have one more standard-the living out of the faith in ways that expand the Kingdom of God. I think that bad theology leads to bad practice. Orthodoxy is not orthodoxy if it isn't also orthopraxy.

Now for the point of this post because it certainly isn't about my beliefs. This afternoon I spent time with a friend from seminary. He proceeded to tell me how jaded he had become about helping those in need because of those who would take advantage of the church. I told him about Servant Evangelism, and he said, "Show me someone who has been changed by that stuff!" Despite my best attempts, I knew there was no convincing him. He then proceeded to also talk about those of a different doctrinal stance.

I know these people are out there, but I just don't get it. Christians who are supposed to be guided by love guided by something else. It is like people want to give out passes to determine who should be in and who should be out. I agree that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary, but I don't think doctrinal perfection is necessary. If doctrinal perfection is necessary, then I am in trouble and so is most everybody I have ever met.