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religious politicking

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With the political campaign season well under way already and only one very long year of adverts and debates to come, evangelicals are starting to make their voices be heard with recent forays into the national scene by Jeffers’ with his comments on Mormonism and Mohler’s piece about whether or not evangelicals are dangerous on CNN’s site. We can do litmus tests on these comments, wordsmith them for future conversations, or adopt them wholeheartedly. Or maybe we can take another tack.

Some time ago when reading Covey Jr.’s Speed of Trust, I came across what was almost a throw-away sentence in his book: In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll misinterpret you.

True that!

When speaking through national, secular news agencies, evangelical leaders are speaking to a majority of people that do not have a high-trust relationship with the speaker or his worldview. If in fact there is a low-trust relationship with the majority that will listen to or read these comments about what is almost always a controversial issue, then miscommunication or misunderstanding is inevitable.

For controversial issues, perhaps we can save these for situations with a little less fanfare when speaking to those that are like-minded. If drawing any national attention, we would do well to focus on a  message that communicates without so much controversy but is even more profound. We follow the One who sought to bring about justice and restore relationships. These are the things that we are to be living out and speak about. This is the message that will help to create high-trust relationships on a small scale. We should be prepared to speak about this often as long as it is in keeping with our actions. Other topics may be better reserved for kitchen table conversations.

Categories : communication
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launch this

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Recently in a conversation with a friend that is in the process of planting a church in the least-reached region of a Bible-belt city in the U.S., we were talking about the upcoming first public gatherings. I have been cheering for them as well honored and blessed to be a small part of helping them to put mission in their DNA from the beginning. As we were discussing this upcoming first, the only common language we had for the event was a “launch.” While the term conveyed an idea we were both familiar with, it troubled us both.

Of course launch refers to all things rocket related. It is the goal. The desired action in rocketry–much of which is explained in Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion–is about getting the vehicle off the ground. Newton’s third law is often summarized as: “for every action, there is [always] an equal and opposite reaction.” Ignite thrust downward in order to achieve lift. Rockets are conceived, engineered and built to leap off the ground. This is the goal for which people build them. Whether for recreation, science or weaponry, the goal is the same. Get the thing up in the air to a desired altitude and then you can add to it any functionality that one may desire.

So if launch is the goal in and of itself, then I would offer that it sucks for use in church planting. As this is not the realm of the laws of motion, launching a church does not hold to the confines and realities of physics. I have seen a lot of energy expended in church launches that proved unsuccessful and vice versa. So, because church planting and physics are not bound by the same physical laws, for this reason alone the term is less than adequate. In fact, it is wrong. But it is wrong for an even greater reason….

If launching is the goal, then it is possible that simply holding a religious service is the objective for which we strive. Some may say that it is a little more developed than that. Perhaps the goal is a recurring service which leads to transformation and development of disciples. I will pass on spending a lot of time on that here as I think this has been candidly dismissed by Willow Creek’s reveal. A public meeting, worship gathering, or church service–regardless of what you call it–is not the goal of church. Nor does a recurring service constitute a church.

If the church is conceived and functioning before any public declaration or launch, then what is it that we are kicking off? And with that what would be ideal for this launch thingy to be named? In the particular plant in question–(whether planting a church or planting the gospel is the goal is another topic for another day as well)–disciples are being made. Broken relationships are being restored. Justice is being pursued in the community. What this community of believers is about to do is let it be known to their neighborhood that there is a group seeking to live as the body of Christ, love God and love others so that those not already in community with them may find them more easily.

Now, I say this is not a launch. The pastor participating in this says it is not a launch. But we don’t have an acceptable “what is it?” yet. Wordsmiths / thinkers, what say you? What is about to happen in this community?

PLEASE help us with some input on this topic!

Categories : church, trends, Uncategorized
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disturbing statistic

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Last week a friend of mine met with the president of one of the state SB conventions. According to him, the number of SB churches in the state that are dead or in decline was 85%. This number is troubling for a whole lot of reasons. While I am aware that there are significant changes in the U.S. church scene at present, no growth or realignment comes close to addressing an 85% decrease in the number of existing, functional churches in one denomination.

As this state is in the Bible belt, it doesn’t really matter where this interview happened. It seems that this statistic could very well be true for any of the Bible belt states–take your pick.

To turn it around and look at the positive side of the statistic, 15% of the churches are vibrant. A meager 15% are in a situation where they can be more concerned about loving the lost around them rather than being focused on self-preservation. This positive side for me is a bit depressing. Clearly, things as they have been are not working.

Categories : church, trends
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Following “my name is ____,” the very next sentence he shared was: “I am also a Christian on the edge.” Others shared, “I am on the fringe.” Still others did not even know how to describe their situation. I heard this repeatedly during our recent Upstream JetSet in Prague and Budapest. There was even concern that none of the “leaders” were at one of the Frost One Day events. What these on the edge were saying was that the leaders of the long-standing church were missing. We were gathered as the planters, the rebels, perhaps the misfits according to some.

Undoubtedly we worked with and took some fringe guys on the journey with us too. (And no, I am not trying to exclude myself from this group.) I heard multiple stories of metric discombobulation and concerns about missiology and ecclesiology and its outworkings. It is not uncommon for me to have conversations via various communication modes about this fringe issue–about us. But I’m not sure that makes it easier for those that are out there who feel alone and cut off.

Be encouraged, you are not alone. You have a leader. I don’t think it an accident that Christ’s first miracle recorded in the gospel of John was to turn water into wine using the ceremonial jars–all of them. Though His time had not yet come, He took the opportunity, while honoring His mama, to start conveying that things may not be as right as they seem in the religious realm. This was just the beginning of course. He still would be accused of being a drunkard and glutton. This accusation was believable by many as Jesus often spent time with those that were the unwashed eating and drinking in their homes. (e.g. Matthew, Zacchaeus, a band of Samaritans in John 4). Tragically ironic, it would be the religious leaders that crucified the Messiah who was so often on the edge.

Be encouraged, you are not alone. You have a tribe. There is a band across the globe of those that are seeking to walk as Jesus did whether that puts them in the mainstream or on the fringe. Partner with these around you and walk together. Continue to bless and encourage each other. Draw from each other’s passion, creativity, stories of triumph and stories of failure. Know that there are places and networks where these fringe are likely to gather. These networks are relationally based. Good luck climbing a social ladder here. This is about people walking together on mission in grace.

Being on the fringe is not about a fight to be won. There is not a position of leadership that needs to be sought and attained. Ours is to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” Ours is to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ….” Ours is to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ours is to love deeply both the washed and the unwashed as we continue to experience the “breadth and length and height and depth” of His love.

Take courage. I am so thankful that you are who you are.

I hadn’t seen this clip in years, but it kept replaying in my mind. For some reason I heard Dreyfus’ voice when I typed the word “misfits.” Almost discarded the word, but thought it even better to include the clip here.

Categories : Bible, church, missiology
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pursuing conversion (4 of 4)

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Due to financial difficulties in the U.S. at present, many people are losing jobs, realizing reduced values in home prices, experiencing reductions in investment income and retirement savings, and seeing a rise in scenarios where banks are calling in loans as a period of extend and pretend is coming to a close. These factors combined are leading to a major rise in home foreclosures. More than 95,000 homes are reverting back to the banks through repossession in August 2010–this is the largest number of homes repossessed in one month so far. For the first time in generations, large numbers of people are losing their homes. Some of those have nowhere to go….Absolutely nowhere.

One recently homeless man, Butch, shared with me this week that he thinks “we are close to being back in the Great Depression.” He continued, “people don’t see it, but there are more [homeless] on the streets everyday.” The reason these suffering are unseen is because they are sleeping in their cars, spending the last of their savings on cheap hotels, and living in tent villages or in the woods just out of sight of others. Some have taken their lives before facing eviction or their own personal financial catastrophe.

So what might the church do? There are, I believe many ways to positively address this growing plight. A couple of unacceptable options, though, would include ignoring the problem or promising our prayers and best wishes while taking no action.

What if we pursue a major conversion? If a church with property were to take some rarely used or unused property and convert it into dormitory-style living, a good number of people could have shelter and experience a daily, grace-filled blessing. Space normally reserved as educational space could be utilized with great effect in terms of size and fulfilling the objective of making disciples. Those living there and those who had previously met in those rooms would have an opportunity to experience the love of God in a whole new, profound way. Other options may include having families seek to rearrange living arrangements to free up a bedroom or living area for those that are struggling. There are a growing number of situations already in cities the hardest hit by the housing crisis where people are living in community with multiple persons or family units in a home as people seek to align their income and expenses.

Undoubtedly there are challenges to undertaking such drastic conversions dealing with logistics, how to oversee, etc. At this point, Butch’s thoughts are vital to embrace. He shares that the homeless are just seeking to maintain some of their dignity. This may be expressed in basic ways by providing some monies even if there is a chance that it may be squandered on alcohol. He suggests that this is not a time for moralizing or preaching, but showing the unconditional love of Christ.

This is the 4th in a series on ever-growing economic realities in the U.S. and some practical ways for the church to respond. In the next post and others in the future, we will continue to look at aspects of this challenge. The next post will be a guest post–Could you survive in poverty?

Categories : church, trends
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prioritization (2 of 4)

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For the person with a normal diet of steak and potatoes with a chaser of chocolate bon bons, life may be viewed as good. If there is a change in income, then something may need to change. Either cut the bon bons or downgrade the protein selection. It may still be feasible to have chopped liver and not let go of the bon bons for the chocolate afficionado. With still further reductions in monies, a minimal diet may consist of beans and rice–bye bye bon bons. Though nice while they are around, one would be hard-pressed to argue that they are essential. In times of difficulty, people will generally move toward what is most important for survival.

As many expressions of church deal with the reality of declines in giving, they will do well to determine what are the bon bons and what is the protein essential. Already, many are asking “where are we going to save money? How do we align our giving and expenses?”

With abundant, due respect to Rick Warren, I disagree with his egalitarian approach to the 5 purposes of the church. Instead, I would suggest that there is a primary, over-riding purpose for the church. Whether expressed as “making disciples” or participating with the One who came “to seek and to save that which was lost, our calling is to mission. Both locally and globally, we are to prioritize mission. (This can be developed further at another time.) As we do mission, we will worship, teach, and fellowship. For more on this see Michael Frost on the topic.

If mission is the purpose of the church out of or because of which other things flow, any rearrangements in financial allocation should, I believe, be directed away from areas that do not directly influence mission. Further on this, we would do well to redouble our efforts at taking the gospel to our communities and the world. This is the essential, non-negotiable that will determine the future health of every group of believers.

As it relates to staffing, those who lead mission may be more indispensable than those that teach or lead worship. The ones making disciple-making disciples are the ones that are making the church be just that–the church. Putting resources to serving the community and beyond may very possibly be a better investment than improving a worship experience. Drilling wells in impoverished places in Africa or drinking coffee in post-Christian urban centers in Europe both for the purpose of taking the gospel may prove more important than cooling a building to a certain temperature.

A serious re-think of what is important and how dollars are spent will be difficult but worthwhile. In the next post in this series (see stating the obvious for the previous post), I’ll share a practical aspect of this in encouraging churches to consider undertaking a new building program….

Categories : church
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Why?, How?, or What?

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This brief talk has significant implications in both the disciple-making and the church-planting process. Thanks to Larry McCrary, a founder of The Upstream Collective, for alerting me to the video.

To move forward, it is first essential that we identify our Why?, How? and What? Though not the only options, some major options are as follows:

Why? – For glory. But a follow-on that each must wrestle with is whether it is about His glory and/or ours?

How? – Make disciples and/or plant churches. Also may include acts of justice, blogging, writing articles and books, speaking, etc. There is an interesting discussion on this going on at David Fitch’s blog today.

What? – So many options here. Perhaps a point for consideration begins with the video in yesterday’s post.

Are we starting with and maintaining focus on the Why?, the How?, or the What? What are the implications?

Categories : video
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Signs. Signs. Everywhere signs.
Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind.
Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the signs?
– Tesla

Recently I was in a small town  where the signage on the elementary school and that on the church were identical except for one word. The difference, I believe, in the one word was more than the demarcation of an area in which an activity is forbidden. The difference was much, much greater.

For one location, a provider of education for the community, liability is a great concern for the community. Understandably.

For the other, liability may have eclipsed thought of anything else. Perhaps having skateboarders around was an inconvenience. Possibly it didn’t reflect well in the community for that group of people to be hanging around the property.

I would offer that solutions to the liability and the inconvenience could have been found. If a body of believers is about His mission–to seek and to save that which was lost–then this serves as an opportunity.

One sign hangs on a building in which every native of the community will have spent thousands of hours. The other hangs on a building that may have been visited a few times by individuals wearing a scratchy, starchy shirt for a wedding, a funeral, or some seemingly interminable lecture.

According to the two signs the prohibition is the same. The messages, however, could not be more different to the community.

Categories : trends
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“Am I crazy?”

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“Am I crazy?” she asked with tears filling both eyes.

Following a breakout session this past week at the Sent Conference in Houston, Sandra shared with a friend and me that she had become discontent sitting inside her church when she saw so much lostness in her community. So many that would not come into the church. So many that were not able to find their own way to the Savior. Her disorientation was evident.

Seeking to find her purpose in taking Christ to the community, Sandra has prayed throughout her community, spoken with her pastor, and currently is meeting with a group of university students in her home. The conversation with this beautiful, gray-haired lady was the highlight of my conference experience. She is seeking to find ways that she can make her Savior known to those that need so desperately to know Him.

For her and others that can identify with her, I am thankful to share that “hope has two beautiful daughters” according to St. Augustine and Michael Frost.

Press on Sandra, I am cheering for you, praying for you, and ready to help in any way I can. To others like her, I encourage the same. May we join His purpose “to seek and to save what was lost.”

Categories : Bible, church, story
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Future Learning

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Last month I had the privilege of spending some time with Michael Frost and his lovely wife. One of the primary reasons for this time was to shoot some video for an upcoming project…more on that in the future, but it will be great! During the video shoot with all of the normal professional video gear, I plopped a little Flip Video cam up to capture some of the content and make it available sooner and to this audience. The upside is the videos will be made available in short clips over the upcoming weeks. The downside is that there were constraints on the editing that can be done which impacts the audio a bit. Also, it required some creative video editing that gives Frost a bit of an angelic appearance. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. (smile)

In this first piece he identifies some of the problems faced and insights available for those that have been about disciple-making and church-planting in cultures that are a little further down the road of secularization and appearing more and more as a post-Christian context. At this point, let me make a brief plug for readers to consider the issue of disorientation that is facilitated by being involved in international and/or cross-cultural engagement.

Categories : video
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