Over the past weeks I have been busy with travel, meetings, and a writing project. I am expecting news to be available on the writing project soon, but it is under wraps for now. I can share that my writing has involved a good amount of research which has turned up all kinds of interesting things as usual. One of those, I wanted to go ahead and pass along. It is a video of Caesar Kalinowski, one of the planters and elders of Soma Communities. He has spent time learning from missionaries about the process of storying with pre-literates and now is advocating use of story with post-literates.
Storying has potential application in urban centers among nationals and what some may consider an emerging people group of transnationals–people that are more at home in international cities than they would be in smaller towns or villages among people that share a language and cultural background. I have used elements of storying with post-literates among multiple cultures and feel like this deserves more trial both in the U.S. and among the nations.
There is a lot of great stuff coming out of the Verge Network right now. This video from Soma Community pastors Jeff Vanderstelt and Caesar Kalinowski is a great look at making disciples. I recommend you read the latter half of John 8 and then compare your understanding with what Caesar shares in the piece.
Attention church planters….I have a list of the top 9 cities in the US that are ready for a church plant. Looking for somewhere to make a difference….a good place to offer hope….try…
Wichita Falls, TX
Santa Barbara, CA
Carson City, NV
Now these aren’t your typical prime cities for church planting. These aren’t seminary cities, these cities don’t contain large corporations or tons of affluent people. In fact, the opposite is true. Fox Business.com lists these cities as the 9 American Cities nearly destroyed by the recession. Planting in these types of cities goes against conventional wisdom. Andy Stanley planted Buckhead among the most affluent of Atlanta and recently the team of Giglio/Tomlin also chose Atlanta, a city which has a mega-church for every Starbucks around the city. I’m not saying they chose easy locations….but it makes you wonder….what if Giglio and Tomlin had planted in Flint, MI where there is a 21% poverty rate….would they have a mega -church before they even opened the doors.
What is the purpose of planting a church? To build a name, a brand, to launch a career, to gather disgruntled sheep from smaller, more traditional flocks…..or is it more than that. I see the church as a manifestation of “His Kingdom come” here on earth. A community of authenticity, a community that offers hope, a helping hand, a message of hope to those that are hurting. These 9 cities don’t need entertaining, they don’t need self-promoting, churches with laser shows and billion dollar budgets. They need people that will love them, serve them, and help them come together for the greater good. They need pastors who would rather feed the poor than dine with the wealthy, they need pastors who would rather cater to the spiritually lost than the spiritually disgruntled, they need pastors who would rather spend times in homes than they would at conferences. They need you!
-edited 1/25 for content and clarity
This past weekend, our family made a quick trip to visit a family member that had been admitted to an extended care facility for rehabilitation from a stroke. It was great to be with extended family again and to see our loved one making great improvement. On the way into the facility, I had to pause when I saw a row of elderly lined up in front of a TV sitting lifeless. The sight wasn’t pretty or heart-warming in any way. I was touched, but troubled by the reality these people were waiting through.
Walking down the hallway, I thought of several I know that had been sent off to take the gospel to the nations by their loved ones. Sent out by their aged loved ones that would are living in places much like the one I visited. Some of these have no one to care for them except for the nurses and staff at the nursing home where they live. Yet, it was clear to a parent or loved one that having their remaining family that is in close contact with them to go and take the gospel to those that do not know Jesus Christ was of utmost importance.
I had a new, profound respect for those sending ones that treasured the lives of others more than receiving loving care in person on their last years on the earth. May they be blessed. May this encourage us to live with abandon as the sent ones to take the gospel to others.
On the TGC site today, Jonathan Dodson posted, Be Missional, Not Superficially Contextual where he generalized that many church plants today are not planting a church that fits their culture, but planting something that looks a whole lot like the church in the adjacent community, town, city, etc. Dodson wrote about two concerns with U.S. (at least I believe he is speaking about efforts inside the U.S.) church planting to “a superficial approach to culture and, second, gospel contamination that results from this approach.”
In short, I agree with Dodson. Also, I commend him for promoting contextualization as several have criticized it of late. His piece raises a couple points I want to write on quickly.
First, whether what Dodson calls syncretism is actually that or obscurantism as normally evaluated on a contextualization scale is debatable. Though I would contend the latter would be consistent with most evaluations, I see the situation he writes about as a possible combination of woes. On one side of the scale by making the gospel unclear due to forms that are held–he mentions “building, music, service, website design”–which may not fit the culture one is entering being a classic expression of obscurantism. On the other side, the consumeristic vice of “blending Christianity with another religion, in this case consumerism” could be described as syncretism. For this to be syncretism, though, church participants would be worshipping the objects which had been intended to aid in worship in addition to the One who alone is worthy of praise. This would be a very strong statement–a very strong accusation.
Second, and, in my opinion, the most important is that it is normal to be dealing with beginning contextualization issues in U.S. church planting. Issues such as whether or not a denomination needs to be on a sign or what style of music a people should sing, or whether or not to multi-site, or fill in the blank. In a number of contexts overseas, however, the reverse is of great importance. A much more common concern when on mission to other nations is what denotes over-contextualization. Cross-cultural planters must be careful to seek to express the gospel and the church in ways that are able to be understood and fit within the rhythms and moires of life in that context while seeking to keep the gospel of Christ as the point of transformation, the point of tension.
The contextualization issues that planters address today are important, but they are basic compared with some deeper questions that need to be addressed. As planters and church leaders, we would do well to be seeking to contextualize at deeper levels.
It was a beat down. Michael O’Leary had 15 minutes to present ideas on innovation from Ryanair–the Southwest Airlines equivalent of Europe–to the Innovation Convention at the EU. Within the first 30 seconds, he was skewering the EU. For the next 15 minutes, he continued in the same way. To say that it was a blistering presentation would be an understatement.
So, while this is not a political forum, I thought it interesting to point out this video because it was interesting to me to watch the uncomfortable chuckles that came from the session moderator who was miked up and the audience as the camera pans out to capture the grimaces on a regular basis.
This is illustrative of a natural response to criticism. The presenter gave an in your face effort to force some level of disorientation for the audience, but the response of the moderator at the end of the video shows the resistance to really considering Mr. O’Leary’s point. It was an effort to defend the present based on actions taken some time prior. Mr. O’Leary quickly addresses the point and seems to make a mockery of the whole thing.
As it is easy to see the awkwardness that comes with a hollow self-defense, it is an opportunity for us to see the strange responses we are apt to give to criticism. The Pharisees did it when they were skewered by the rabbi claiming to be the Son of God. We do it in defense of church as is. What if we really were to evaluate criticism that comes our way to see if there was any truth to what the speaker was communicating?
Happy New Year!
I have enjoyed a sabbatical from email, blogs and the like for the most part over the past weeks, but am slowly getting back into it. For 2012, I have been doing some reflecting, goal setting and prioritization. As a result of this, I am planning to write more. A LOT more. While that doesn’t necessarily mean more frequent blog posts, it does mean more candid. It also means that some other projects are receiving more attention. More on these in the future.
If you find these or future writings here helpful, feel free to add this to your RSS feed and/or recommend it to others. We don’t do a lot of self promotion around here. That’s probably not going to change a whole lot in this new year.
To help me ease back into the blogging thing, I thought it easy enough to put down my coffee long enough to post a look back at the top 10 posts here over the past 12 months. Please note that I promised this as easy, whether or not helpful is up to you. Some of these are mine and some are from my old friend, but new cohort here–Grady Bauer. I hope to see him around these parts over the next months a lot more. I’m sure he will be candid too.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for interacting. Thanks most of all for seeking to live life for His glory and the furtherance of His Kingdom! That’s what matters.
- launch this – a challenge that church planters face
- then and now – an amazing pic w/ history rhyming
- i collect bad wines – go Grady!
- response to Long’s piece – ideas on Southern Baptists, mission strategy, UUPGs & swarm theory
- who will speak into their narrative – call for missions to influence the church – go Grady!
- brewing conversation – umm, I’m not exactly sure
- humility and shame – another story
- simply UK – helpful for those interested in understanding the UK
- a glimpse of the missio Dei – several have and continue to ask for this image
- the story of a man and his country – this was a story that fascinated me
And again, a heart-felt Happy New Year!
What if the angels came to the shepherds and announced that they brought good news of great joy–Jesus has moved from one side of heaven to the other? What if the good news was simply to state that God is still on his throne with an encouragement for those below to press on? No intervention promised…. No hope for something better….
If that was the Christmas story, then it would be, I am convinced, a pretty pathetic tale. Maybe this story would elicit frustration or even a shaking, clenched fist as the helpless stood begging for His intervention. With arms raised the shepherds and wise men could have cried out, “where are you?” Ultimately, plodding along or suffering silently would be the best anyone could have hoped. But, thankfully, that is not the Christmas story.
We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. The king of kings took the form of a helpless baby. His parents would wrap him in a blanket to keep him warm, feed him, and follow The Father’s direction to keep him away from murderous soldiers. Leaving heaven, he was born into humility. His need as a child for others to intervene on his behalf is apparent. Yet to a much greater extent at that time and still today, we need him–desperately. Still, we celebrate Emmanuel. We have hope and direction because he is God with us.
Over the past several days I have been approached on a couple of occasions by people with tear-soaked eyes. Desperate. Deep concerns visible in their faces, the weight of the world pressing on them, they cried out for help.
During this same period, we have experienced a number of physical ailments in our immediate and extended family ranging from minor to life-threatening. I have been to the doctor more in the last 7 days than in the past several years.
We have family and friends that have recently lost jobs and are trying to figure out how to pay the bills. Another relative continues in a job with a company that has just declared bankruptcy.
A broken people, we live in a broken world. But, we celebrate the Truth of Christmas–the Christ. We press on because of his presence among us. At times we carry on with our hearts filled with hope. At other times we struggle to take one more step while anxious or even desperate to see the smallest glimpse of his salvation for us. All the time we are sent to follow in the steps of Emmanuel. We celebrate God with us.
If you are easily offended, skip this post. You can come back soon for the next one.
This week I learned of Tim Minchin, a highly-talented British-Australian who is either a comedian that sings or a singer that does comedy–both descriptions seem accurate. In listening to some of his stuff, I found almost all of his songs and comedy to be laced with profanity, except for one song that consists of profanity sprinkled with conjunctions and a name. One theme that seems to run throughout his stuff is a disdain for all things religious as well as anything God-related.
Minchin could easily be a key narrator for a western, post-Christian world. With a recent trending on Twitter and his concerts taking place in some of the largest venues in the western world, his message clearly resonates with a large percent of audiences in Australia, the UK and the US. Having examined various aspects of religion including a number of key points from the Bible, he rejects it all. But, he is not rejecting all that is good. In what is becoming a Christmas standard, White Wine in the Sun, he sings of the deep trust and safety he has in his family. His holiday celebrations with them represent a place and time that he treasures. Something that he wants to convey and extend to his baby daughter. He values the deep community made up of people that he loves, a people that love him well.
In this song, Minchin celebrates the sentimental aspect of Christmas. His celebration is of a Christ-less Christmas. For him, I pray a wonderful celebration with those he loves and that one day he will experience the transformational love of Jesus. For me and others that read here, I pray that we can learn from Tim about how to better represent Christ to those that have wholly embraced a post-Christian non-belief.
When I think of Christmas I think of comfort….traditional songs, warm food, candles, fireside chats, thick sweaters…to me Christmas is all about comfort.
When I look at the first Christmas I don’t really see much comfort. Jesus left the right hand of the throne of God for a dirty, smelly manger. He left behind the worship of the saints for the sounds of sheep and camels. He left a place of prominence for a place of obscurity. He was born to an unwed mother and went from being the Creator to the created. He went from being all-powerful to needing diaper changes and meals. He learned a new language, found a new role, learned a new craft and subjected himself to everything human….sore feet, acne, being hot/cold, temptation….everything human. And he did this…for us. He was the ultimate incarnational, cross-cultural missionary. He took on a life of being uncomfortable to please God and rescue us.
In our ministries we get to choose who is uncomfortable….us or them. Our traditional, attractional models are comfortable for us. We invite someone to our church or our small group or our event. We invite them into our world….and they are the ones made uncomfortable. They have to learn our rules, our “Jesus” language, our way of dress and our rules of behavior.
This is the primary way the US church does ministry….we like it on our terms, in our context…it’s safe for us. But if we look at the way Jesus did life and ministry we see a different approach. Not only did he become the uncomfortable one in his birth, but he maintained this approach throughout his ministry. He taught in the synagogues but he also dined with sinners. He spoke with religious leaders but also met a samaritan woman at a well. He was viewed with suspicion by religious leaders because he chose to hang out with tax collectors, whores, the sick and the crippled. He never lost his faith or became like the sinners he was with but he constantly chose to learn their language, enter their world, minister in their context and in doing so took the gospel to places it had never been before.
So it’s not about giving up our comfortable Christmas with our rich traditions, favorite foods and family. It’s about looking at the amazing life of Jesus and learning from Him. We have a hurting world all around us….most of which will never come in contact with our church campuses and dynamic worship services. They already gather and find community in clubs, pubs, coffee shops and other activities. What if we became uncomfortable and went to where they are….entered into their world. What if we stopped inviting and started going and serving. What if we went to church less and became the church more?
I want to learn to accept being uncomfortable as a way of life. The best way I can honor Jesus and his birth is to learn from his example and allow myself to be made uncomfortable for the sake of King and Kingdom. Merry Christmas!