Friday, October 24, 2008


BlockquoteIf you could find a better way, Jesus would be the first one to tell you to take it. And if you don't believe that about him, you don't have faith in him, because what you're really saying is that he would encourage you to believe something that is false.

--Dallas Willard

A Prayer for My Life

Dallas Willard, one my mentors from a distance, and who wrote the three finest books I know on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, wrote this prayer for me (okay, it was on his website for everyone who visits it).

The wording isn't necessarily flowery, but like the man, is full of substance and depth. I will be listening to his prayer and praying it for myself and the people around me.

BlockquoteMy prayer for each of you.
That you would have a rich life of Joy and Power, abundant in Supernatural results, with a constant, clear vision of never-ending life in God's World before you, and of the everlasting significance of your work day by day. A radiant life and death.

You can join the Facebook group in his honor ('Dallas Willard is my homeboy') here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Planting Churches

Bob Roberts jump starts me. Like any great thinker/leader, his perspective is always about 6 degrees from what you'd expect--jarring enough to make you think twice, not so jarring that you dismiss what he has to say.

Church Planting is part of what it means to be missional. Here's Bob's take on why we do it. It needs to be as normal a part of the life of a congregation as having a worship service (maybe not that regular...yet). Generous churches give money, time, and people. That's just what it means to be generous.
Bob's full post is here.

For the past 25 years, over and over again, the reason given for starting churches is because it is the best known method of evangelism. Sooooo . . . we start churches to do evangelism. Acts didn’t do that. Jerusalem saw a church emerge out of evangelism, and it wasn’t just “pray the prayer”. Antioch was the same. It was disciples living in the society first and then a church emerged. I write about this in my book The Multiplying Church.

Let me give you some other reasons, that I think are huge. First, it has to be the context of the Kingdom. If we focus on the Gospel of salvation, we get converts and a Sunday event. If we focus on the Gospel of the Kingdom, we still get people who follow Jesus, BUT we also focus on the “reconciliation of all things” in the world and in the community. This means that “church” becomes a force for good and transformation, not just a Sunday event. I could talk and write on this all day. We have so narrowed the Great Commission to baptisms that we have unintentionally marginalized the church in society.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yoda and the Suburbs

For a long time, Christians in America haven't been all that concerned about what goes on around them. We've been guilty of dualism--separating matter and spirit into "bad" and "good" categories. In a way, we want to make sure people have the right software (My mind goes to the cheesy Intel knock-off t-shirt: "Jesus inside!"), but don't care all that much about their hardware (their bodies and environments). We don't think that's our "job" as followers of Jesus. (one of my first posts was about this dualism).

As a result, we've lost out on the most shaping conversations in our towns and cities. As Christians, we wouldn't dare miss out on the very important national issues (which tend to be "software" kinds of issues--abortion, definition of marriage, etc.), that affect the moral fiber of our nation (and they do), but we tend to leave local issues (which are usually "hardware" kinds of issues--zoning, etc.) well enough alone. We think they don't matter, that is, unless the zoning laws affect our desire to build a new building!

We think Yoda is right when he pokes Luke Skywalker and calls Luke's body "crude matter" in The Empire Strikes Back (I know, a geek reference, but I use the example because I've watched it about 30 times in the last month after introducing my son to it a couple months ago). The thing is, Yoda is espousing a Greek and Eastern Mystical idea, not a biblical one! A very cursory reading of Genesis 1-3 shows that God cares about the physical creation and calls it "good", not "crude matter."

Our dualism is probably most on display in the suburbs. Much of the suburbs is sprawl--without much thought about how space is defined and used and with little thought to zoning. It's purely functional "drive-in" space. As a result, no one wants to hang out there. I mean, who lingers in the parking lot of Wal-Mart?

Is it any surprise then that in the suburbs the Mall is the place people go to hang out? And then should we be surprised that we are nation of consumers with personal debt kicking the snot out of people's futures? Having a nation of people whose souls have been shaped to simply want more stuff, who's vision of 'the good' is a house, nice car and great clothes creates a certain moral climate too, does it not? We've found out too late that hardware really does affect software.

Can we do something about this? We know that people flourish in and want to be around beauty; and aren't we interested in people flourishing? We know that for people to really flourish we have to give careful attention to software and hardware; and isn't this what shalom means? So listening to Jeremiah 29:1-14 means being very interested in how our towns are created, maintained and changed (hardware) and helping them live with well-ordered hearts (software).

If suburban churches led the way, would their buildings and grounds have great public green space and architecture that drew people in to their environs? Would half their facilities (or more) be community centers used by the surrounding neighborhood? Would they encourage and lobby for mixed use development around them that included neighborhoods with trails, parks with trails and grocery stores within walking distance? As a result, wouldn't their parking lots be full every day??

This talk from the TED conference hammers the "hardware" point home. His language is rough in places, so be forewarned. He holds nothing back.

Why Pastors Don't Succeed

I learned a big lesson over the last 18 months that every pastor needs to know.
I'm not responsible for people's spiritual growth. At all.

That might sound counter-intuitive or maybe even irresponsible. But if I take responsibility for people's growth, I take the responsibility out of their hands. They feel better for a bit "oh, someone's going to hold my hand for a while, I don't have to do anything. Sweet." and I start to feel overworked, overburdened and resentful. But it also feels really good to have someone dependent on me for their very life. I feel needed and valued and important. But a sick, symbiotic relationship starts to develop where neither of us takes a step forward.

Every person is responsible for their own journey. Every single one. No exceptions. And what I've realized is that many people (myself included at times) don't want to be because it's too hard.
  • They'll have to think about their destructive patterns and actually confront them.
  • They'll have to engage in disciplines that aren't a current part of their routine.
  • They think they'll have to give up what they love (the reality is that they will realize what they loved is destroying them and that what they end up loving is better by a factor of 10).
  • They'll have to look at how their relationships aren't working and examine what part they have it that.
  • In short, they have to be ruthlessly honest.
This doesn't mean there's no responsibility. As Mark Waltz puts it, we have a responsibility to each other, but not for each other.

Here's how he puts it.

BlockquoteWhen I’m responsible to people I understand they have a choice. When I’m responsible for people I think I should decide for them.
When I’m responsible to people I know they must figure out their next step. When I’m responsible for people I try to tell them what their next step is.
When I’m responsible to people I allow them to bear the brunt of the consequences for their own chosen actions. When I’m responsible for people I assume the guilt, or worse the shame, for them.
When I’m responsible to people I engage in their journey, offering encouragement and teaching. When I’m responsible for people I try to direct their journey, never allowing them to wrestle, mess up or make a wrong turn.
When I’m responsible to people I talk to God on their behalf. When I’m responsible for people I talk to people a lot on God’s behalf.”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Must Read: The Year of Living Biblically

Last year, I read The Year of Living Biblically, by Esquire magazine author AJ Jacobs. A self-described agnostic who tried for a year to follow the rules of the Bible as literally as possible.

It's hysterical on the one hand, and enlightening on the other. Especially since he says he's about as Jewish as the Olive Garden is Italian. I highly recommend it.

Here's a short clip of him talking about his experience.

Monday, October 06, 2008

3 Ways to Change the Church

What changes do we as the church have to make to be missional, that is, on God's mission for the world? To do it requires an upending of what has been in order to become what must be.
Here are three ways to look at that change.

#1 - Become an Extrinsic Set (vs an Intrinsic Set)

In an intrinsic set, it's all about orientation to the boundaries. The basic question is: Have you done the right things to get in?

On one hand, it's very clear who's in and who's out. For example, when I was growing up I knew the people who were "out" because they smoked, drank and played cards. In an intrinsic set what matters is that you are "in," not how close you are to the center.

This is de rigueur for the American church and worked great in the culture of the 1950's. Not so much anymore. Now it only serves to create an us vs. them mentality.

What's more, people learn to hide the things that would keep them from being identified as being an "outsider" and so never admit the things that are kicking the slats out of their lives. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer satirized in Life Together, when this sort of hiding takes place "people are genuinely shocked when a sinner stands up in their midst."

In an extrinsic set, it's all about orientation to the center. The basic question is: In what direction are you moving?
So you can be physically close to the center, but moving away. Conversely, you can be on the outer edges and moving in. This inevitably makes people uncomfortable because the boundaries are inevitably fuzzy. But isn't this part of what Jesus meant when he said the prostitutes and tax-collectors were getting into the Kingdom of God ahead of the teachers of the law?

#2 Infiltrate culture (vs Invite people to our culture)
Here's how Eddie Gibbs describes it:
BlockquoteChurch leaders will need to facilitate this transition by giving higher priority to working outside the institution, functioning as teams of believers located in a highly polarized and pluralistic world. From a strategy of invitation the churches must move to one of infiltration, to being the subversive and transforming presence of Jesus.
So it's not "hey, invite three friends to church this weekend." It's, "hey, serve three friends in your neighborhood this week."

#3 - Be a Force in the community (vs. a Field)
This video clip of Mark Beeson highlights the difference. He says one is a perversion of the Bible's message.

This means that we have a challenge before us. Here's how Eddie Gibbs sums it up.

BlockquoteChurches in the Western world are poorly equipped to face the current missional challenge, in that they have a truncated view of the gospel (i.e., The gospel is essentially about going to heaven and not hell) and a weak doctrine of the church (i.e., "Church" is what happens from 10-11 on Sunday morning). And their leaders are largely oblivious to the extent to which secular presuppositions have permeated their own worldview (i.e., the way to reach a target group is through marketing)."

I aim to be part of the generation that changes that.

So True

From Oswald Chambers, one of my mentors from history:

BlockquoteThe people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and "the lilies of the field"— simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us.

If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on Him, and He will make use of you every minute you live— yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of Him."