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G2g: Industrialization

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Key principle #7 for moving discipleship from great to good: Organize, systematize, industrialize through a process to serve the needy.

The industrial revolution changed our world forever. Factories produced more product out the back end of the assembly line than several individual shops had been able to manufacture collectively. This changed so much. Levels of income were impacted, work hours, education for a white collar group of people, urban shift began, etc. Industrialization also changed the church. Caring for the needy (among other things) became a process that mirrored the assembly line schematics. Roles were given and systems put in place to facilitate the church’s ability to meet the needs of the poor. And it was good.

Through collection of tithes and offerings, some of the budget is allocated to caring for the poor. With funds collected, some staff or lay people go with huge hearts to buy food to stock a food closet for the poor. When hungry families come to get food, they have a form to fill in, a meeting with a pastor to hear the gospel, and a bag of food. Then, their names are recorded to start the clock for them to be able to return for food in 1, 3, or 6 months time. Through this good, there is a way for the hungry to be fed and an opportunity for one or a select few to be about sharing the gospel.

It seems that so much less could be so much more at this point. Jesus speaks to His disciples about a day when He will separate the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. The distinction between the two that He gives in Matthew 25 is that some fed the hungry and clothed the naked while others did not. He speaks of a personal accounting here, not of the churched and the unchurched. The expectation is clear. It is a daily outworking of the Lordship of Christ that causes a person to see with His eyes of compassion. The ramifications are enormous. It is the difference between being blessed or cursed by God.

If instead of the needy waiting in an office to meet with someone to learn about God to then have their physical need met, what would it look like if a family seeking to follow Christ showed up with a hot meal at the home of the needy? Instead of a meal delivered it could be a meal served up personally or a meal shared. While obeying Christ’s command to feed the hungry, the disciple is also obeying the command to make disciples. What if the homeless was invited to dine in a restaurant with a disciple-maker and a disciple or two. Then after dinner, more food is given to the needy. And the family or group of disciples that began to bless continued the relationship and blessed further and helped and served. Further help may come about in the areas of helping the needy find work, manage finances, care for children, and in the process learn about the One who sends others to bless. In the realm of great discipleship, the church is released into the community to serve and bless others and carry the hope of Christ into families that desperately need it.

a little on money
Serving the poor in this way does not mean that church funds do not need to go to serving the poor anymore. There still will be issues far beyond what a family or two or three can meet. This could be assisted through funds from a larger church budget. The discipleship process could start with a stock of food that the pastoral staff gives to the disciples going to bless and form relationship and a time for them to pray together for wisdom and multiplication of the resources. However, when a family gets involved, things are different–especially when children participate. It has been my experience that the children will want to give some of their own food and money to meet the needs of those that they are serving. Discipleship is inevitable at this point. It is great…it cannot be easily stopped.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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Velocity Quotes

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Here are a few quotes from presenters today at the churchplanters.com Velocity conference.

  1. “We have to assume now that all mission is cross-cultural.”  ~ Alan H
  2. “It’s not that the church has a mission, but the mission has a church.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
  3. (Speaking about planting churches,) “I’m not even sure what we are trying to do the world wants.”  ~ Shawn Lovejoy
  4. “If you do church to reach church, then you’ll reach somebody else’s Christians.”  ~ Hugh Halter
  5. “The [Christian story] is a peasant’s movement.”  ~ Hugh Halter
  6. “…community has to be the witness now.”  ~ Hugh Halter
  7. “You cannot sell a Christendom approach to a post-Christian world. They are anti-Christian.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
  8. “Go among the people. Don’t assume you know what church looks like.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
  9. “You plant the gospel. You don’t plant churches.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
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Pragmatic Discipleship

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iStock_000003215913XSmallWhen discipling, Jesus uses a pragmatic philosophy of education. Evident throughout the gospels, it is clear in his interaction with followers after his resurrection. One key example follows (quotes from The Message):

Ten guys: (many voices) We saw the Master.
Thomas: Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my fingers in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.
(8 days later)
Jesus: (to all 11 disciples) Peace to you.
Jesus: (to Thomas) Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.
Thomas: My Master! My God!
Jesus: So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.

Thomas needed to see it. His worldview was in disarray and conflict having received new information about the resurrection of Christ while lacking a personal experience of seeing and touching the risen Jesus. When graciously confronted by the Savior, he realized that touching was no longer an issue for him. Seeing him and hearing his voice was sufficient experience.

This event among others impacted all of the disciples. To make a gross understatement, their time with Christ changed their lives. But it did. It changed everything including how they made disciples. This became evident as they wrote down the gospels to tell the stories of the Savior. His divinity was made clear in contrast with their humanity in each account.

Keeping with the pragmatic model in the letters in the New Testament, it is fascinating to read John’s first letter where he repeatedly writes about what the disciples had seen, heard, and touched. He seeks to make clear that these are not simply facts that they learned. Being a follower of Christ is not, according to John, simply a creed to be memorized by others. It is a story about how their lives transformed because of their experience with the Savior. It is a story about his goodness and the desperate need of the disciples and others. The letter is a challenge to walk as Jesus did.

It is essential that we evaluate our discipleship methodology. We must move from a neo-scholastic to a pragmatic approach….

Categories : discipleship, missiology
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A New, Old Form of Proclamation

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iStock_000000934342XSmallSure I enjoy a 3-point alliterative sermon almost as much as the next guy. What’s not to love in an extensive Greek word study message or the 16 ways to look at John 3:16 series? A month ago I posted an entry that was to be continued–“Seeking Context.” Here is some of that continuation.

Seemingly, there is universal belief in the power of story. This is evident in the use of stories for the purpose of amplification in virtually all forms and practices of preaching or teaching. However, telling the whole story is rarely done outside of the Jesus Film or other similar works. This is true even though some of the greatest preachers in history have utilized a contextual or comprehensive story message to great effect.

For example, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” What was the result? As they reflected back they shared, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Peter uses a similar style in Acts 2 with a reasonably good effect. Stephen also used a comprehensive story message in Acts 7. While his personal end did not turn out very positive by some standards, he did get to see the glory of God just before leaving his life here on earth. The persecution and resulting diaspora that came on the day of this story-telling did serve to greatly advance the name of Christ and his church.

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Nones, Economics, and a Meetup

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Coins Spilling from a JarThere have been a number of interesting studies and articles lately that I think are helpful for the church to be aware of–and possibly a little bit more. A little bit more what?, you may ask. That, my friend, is a very good question. I’m glad you asked. I am even more interested in your thoughts. Here we go….

One piece of great interest deals with the increase of the “Nones.” Many interesting things here. One is that, “in terms of Belonging (self-identification) 1 in 6 Americans is presently of No Religion, while in terms of Belief and Behavior the ratio is higher around 1 in 4.” If I am reading this correctly, more people belong to some religious group than believe and behave differently. Experientially, this does not surprise me. That people recognize and communicate this fact IS surprising for me. A second point of interest for me on this report in a quick overview is that, “most Nones are 1st generation – only 32% of “current” Nones report they were None at age 12.” This seems to indicate a generational shift in belief and practice in the U.S. This is not surprising, but corroborates the ever-increasing post-Christian U.S. reality. It is both coming and it is here. This piece was twittered about a good deal and blogged on several sites including Ed Stetzer’s.

Another piece that is important for discussion but did not receive the same amount of attention is an article entitled: “Religious life won’t be the same after downturn.” The future will impact the outcome on this point. Though I am not a prophet nor am I making a prediction, I do feel that serious inflationary pressures in the future have the strong possibility to combine with very high unemployment at present (pushing 10% nationally and much higher in some states / counties), unseen foreclosure rates that still have upward pressure, and historically high credit card defaults, etc. to make things more difficult in the U.S. in general and for the church in particular. Notes payable on buildings have had serious consequences for some churches already and will bring about greater pressure for others. Even for churches that are not struggling with paying off a building, strains could be felt if economic and inflationary pressures continue to cause job losses and utility costs rise. It is possible that churches without debt could struggle just to pay the electric bill and payroll.

When the two issues above are combined, the challenges for the church increase, especially if inflation and employment concerns bear out. If so, the ramifications for U.S. church may require a shift(s) in paradigm and praxis.

One other note is that I will be at Catalyst this next week. Wednesday night I am looking forward to participating in a meetup for bloggers organized by Brad Ruggles. If you are around, I’d be happy to meet you. Drop me a note.

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“How Should We Then Live?”

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Happening again and again, the outcome is almost unavoidable. Individuals going on short-term international mission trips experience a significant level of disorientation due to the unfamiliarity of the location, language, food, culture, etc. Additional factors that often disorient include differences in worldview of the nationals; strategies of engagement and evangelism of on-the-field missionaries or ministers; previously unseen or unconsidered ecclessiology; as well as unbridled immorality and/or abject poverty, etc. Whether in a pre-Christian or post-Christian culture, the experience does not fall into line neatly with pre-meditated expectations or life in the place one calls “home.”

The disorientation process is naturally enhanced by experiencing so much that is “new” as a group on mission. Highly committed to the Commission of Christ for this period of time, group members that identify with each other bond and make fast friendships. The ethnocentric team member that is struggling with personal discomfort instead of fixing his eyes on the prize is oftentimes removed from the center of attention by the group. Through the process of identifying with each other and connecting because of the commitment to something so much higher and greater than ourselves, communitas is formed. This is deeper than community by far. The mission unites. Taking the gospel to the lost of the world is what drives the group. In this setting, friendship comes through living out a shared purpose, rather than a group of friends trying to find a purpose that they can share to become passionate about.

After a week or so, a person is preparing to return home or perhaps just returned. So many thoughts and questions may excite or may trouble a participant. Individuals and groups don’t want to let go of the feeling…of the mission. Whether the experience serves as the sole stimulant or a part of many influencing factors, individuals often realize there are questions to address. Well into the current Upstream Collective JetSet vision trip, Ed Stetzer tweeted: “Really need to go to bed since it is 3am, but ideas are racing through my head. I’m feeling prompted to risk something big for God. G’nite.”

How Should We Then Live? To have been on mission in a sea of lostness, how do I return with enthusiasm to an environment where I have few if any relationships with people that do not already claim to follow Christ? If front line work in this cross-cultural environment is fulfilling the Great Commission, is inviting people to church the equivalent in my home setting?  Do I do annual mission trips to scratch the itch that living on mission requires and then devote the rest of my time to saving and preparing for an annual week of communitas?

“How Should We Then Live?” is a question not only for the individual, but also for the sending church. How should we then do church? How should we then live as a sending and sent church?

Categories : church, missiology
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Seeking Context

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  1. “Days went by, and I couldn’t seem to get over it. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t cry. I was all empty inside, but hurting. Hurting worse than I’d ever hurt in my life. Hurting with a sickness there didn’t seem to be any cure for.”
  2. “This is Saint Peter. The rock on which Jesus built His Church.”
  3. “We learn best in community. Our minds are sharpened and our consciences are deepened through conversation.”

iStock_000002303606XSmallBefore you read further in this blog post, let me challenge you to take time to consider each of the three quotes above. Each is from a different, well-known book that you very possibly have read. Answer these two questions: 1) What book is it from? and 2) What is the story that surrounds this excerpt?

The answers are coming, but what if we didn’t have the answers? What if this is all there was for us to read from these three works? These famous books would have been nothing but a Tweet. Our effort in seeking to understand them would have boiled down to seconds instead of the hours we invested in learning these writings.

A holistic approach to presenting / studying Scripture is more than helpful when discipling pre-believers or young believers (while the same is true for mature believers, this is another discussion for another day). Examination of a single verse or passage, word studies, and topical teachings all have a time and place. Deserving, in my opinion, of an even loftier and more constant place in the discipleship process is Bible study that is in its full context.

To understand that Jesus could die on the cross, it is helpful to have examined Jesus’ humanity in John 1 and Philippians 2. All gospel accounts of the birth of Christ as the Son of God are helpful when considering the resurrection. Understanding the need for the Savior is greatly facilitated by studying Genesis through Deuteronomy as well as the history chronicles of the Jewish people and the books of prophecy. The Old Testament books combined with Hebrews, etc. prove helpful again when seeking to gain insight on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ as outlined in the gospels. And so on and so forth.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.                           John 3:16

As a stand-alone, John 3:16 is powerful. In context with verse 17, the love of God becomes clearer still for the reader as we learn why Jesus did and did not come into the world. Put into the context of the story of Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John, we understand better the heart of Christ. When adding John 19:38-42 for consideration, the reader sees yet a fuller understanding of the transformational power of the gospel and the deity of Christ. Placed into context of the whole of the gospel of John, the disciple gains tremendous insight into the unity and constancy of purpose of the triune God. Still greater understanding comes when John 3:16 is examined as a part of the New Testament and then of the whole Bible.

Whether discipling, teaching or preaching, examination of context is at least important. We would all do well to examine our methods and effectiveness as accountability for those that teach the Word of God requires us to do it well. The Great Commission Jesus entrusted to us holds disciple-making as the measuring line for efficacy.

As for the above quotes, the first comes from the last chapter in the children’s classic Old Yeller. The second is from chapter 58 of The DaVinci Code. And the last quote is from Day 39 of The Purpose Driven Life. How did you do? Does knowing the context make the quote more meaningful?


Six Keys to Save the Church in the West

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ch-decayWhile the number of themes was multiple through 12 hours of videos during TheNines event hosted by the Leadership Network and Catalyst, there is one that is, I believe, key for the church to be obedient–the church must be on mission. A number of speakers addressed the issue including Dan Kimball, Reggie McNeal, J.D. Greear, Ed Stetzer, and Rick Warren as well as multiple others. One clarion voice on the issue, Alan Hirsch quickly laid out 6 keys for the church to “advance the cause of Jesus Christ in our day.” The key points for the church are to:

  1. Recover Jesus – there must be a primary focus on who Jesus is. Failure to do this can have severely negative consequences. In addition to the key themes of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and coming return of Christ, the church should see the incarnational life as a model for disciples to live.
  2. Make disciples – this is what Jesus calls the church to do. We are to make little living images of Jesus. If we fail to make disciples, we will not be effective at anything that is relevant to the church. It is possible to have people referring to themselves as Christian, but not to look anything like Christ. This possibility and reality according to some modern day claims should make the church have a serious re-evaluation of the discipling process.
  3. Engage the world as sent people – God sent Jesus. Jesus came as one who was sent. God and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. The sending character of God says something about how we are to engage humanity. How we are to live life.
  4. An apostolic environment – to have a missional church, you must have a missional ministry that encompasses the five aspects of ministry found in Ephesians 4. Having a ministry view of only the pastor / teacher is not correct. Church leaders that operate with this myopic view need to expand their understanding and ministry expressions.
  5. Organic systems – the way the church should organize itself. Moving away from a top-down approach, the church needs to move toward development as viral or movement effect.
  6. Communitas – we must “put adventure back into the venture of the church.” Relating or fellowshipping together because we are together is not sufficient. There must be a greater cause that draws us toward the purpose of Christ and away from being safe in risk-free environments.

Hirsch concluded his talk with a note of encouragement and strong warning. He said that he is very optimistic about the potential future of the U.S. church. On the other hand he shared:

These are significant times. If we fail here in America, I don’t think it is going to matter too much for the church in the West. I think that the church in the 2/3 world and in the South will do very, very well…and in Asia…it is going very well. But the church in the west, I think, is in very bad shape…in big trouble.

Calling for a recalibration of church, Hirsch labors and hopes for the best for church in the west. While hopeful, he is straightforward in his assessment and warning.

Categories : discipleship, leadership
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Diapers and Missions

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iStock_000002517780XSmallI’ll readily confess that “Diapers and Missions” was not the original title of this post, but that title just takes the…(on to missions). This week I have had the privilege of meeting a number of church leaders in the Nashville area and beyond while working with The Upstream Collective founders. Each of these encounters have helped me get a little better understanding of the shifts that are underway at present in U.S. church and the actual or possible implications. All of the churches and leaders that we had the privilege of meeting were serious about being missional in the local and/or overseas contexts. Some things that were quite encouraging for me include:

  • The community that Michael Carpenter is cultivating along with a number of other key people at Matthew’s Table, a church in Lebanon, TN. There are so many great stories here including one couple, Dwayne and Megan, that were recently married in the coffee house which also is where the church meets on Sundays and throughout the week. Lots of challenging and exciting things are happening in their lives right now like a lost job in the former category and, in the latter category, a sweet baby girl; a new business selling cloth diapers to feed a family and, Lord-willing, to provide future overseas mission funds and flexibility; a new part-time job at Java Joe’s for Megan; and awaiting baptism in a couple weeks for Dwayne. This family is just one of the stories of how God is showing his saving grace in this missional church plant.
  • Meeting Gary Morgan and learning about Mosaic in Nashville–a church that is seeking to be sent missionally to the urbanites in the heart of the city. Like Matthew’s Table–the daughter church of Mosaic–they are living out throughout the week a level of honest discipleship that is guiding both believers and pre-believers to better understand and live what it means to follow Christ. He also shared with me about another church in the area, Christ Presbyterian Church, which is impacting the urban center through an arts school–Salama.  It is my understanding that a number of families involved with the church moved from the suburbs into the urban / inner-city areas of Nashville in order to live incarnationally. That is cross-cultural missions in such a healthy way.
  • The guys at The Journey Church are impacting lives in the Lebanon and Mt. Juliet areas while also sharing their facilities to advance the Kingdom of God for the glory of God. Running multiple sites, they are allowing Matthew’s Table to set up a coffee shop with an effort to have a church that can engage another cross-section of the population at the adjacent university. Simultaneously, they are exploring partnership opportunities in a couple different parts of the world. That’s cool. That’s missional. That’s encouraging!
  • LifePoint Church in Smyrna is stepping-up to pioneer some new ground in having the church serve as missionary. Prepping two teams of multiple families from LifePoint to go and live in Bangkok and Belgium, the church is sending from the church body to plant churches overseas. More on this in the future, but this is advancing the development or the evolution of missions significantly. Press on PatKyleTim, and so many others. Continue on course as the sending church.

The sizes of the above churches are different. The personalities involved are all over the map. The peoples they are working with both in the U.S. and overseas vary, but through all of this Christ is exalted. I look forward to seeing some of what God will do through His church as it is expressed in so many ways in central Tennessee and to the nations. We read the words of Christ: “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.” As His people and as His church, may we always be about His mission.

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With a strong correlation between mission results and fulfillment of the 10,000 hour rule, the reality begs the question, “Why does the correlation not hold true in all cases?”  Five reasons are given in the previous post. Unpacking each a little may prove helpful. Throughout the following, it relates to a cross-cultural mission context. Additionally, all of this also relates to missional communities in the U.S. or other settings.

Moral (spiritual) failure – moral failure is commonly understood as someone being disqualified for sexual or lifestyle behaviors that are inconsistent with a mission organization’s interpretation of Scripture. Combined with this, there are times when people are choked out by the cares of this world, the difficulties of their context, etc. An event or just a stretch of time in a different context causes some to rethink their beliefs. This area covers a vast range of issues, all of which are real. This category entombs too many making them leave a mission field literally or figuratively. The individual who has put in their 10,000 hours but is struggling in this area will be unlikely to see meaningful results.

Living out or seeking to promote an ethnocentric worldview – when the bearer of the good news views the place and/or time where they came from as intrinsically better than the place and/or time where they land there are difficulties ahead. The ideal disciples and churches for the ethnocentric M will look like the place and/or time that is utterly foreign to their new context. This will limit result potential even after passing the normal time prescribed for a level of mastery.

Not investing in nationals – this category fits in many ways with the previous item in that it stems from an ethnocentric perspective. In a foreign missionary context where there are other foreign missionaries, it can be a struggle to not place primary emphasis or more on relating to other missionaries. Chances are, however, that these missionaries are already disciples of Christ. It seems to me that there are limited returns in discipling the discipled. Another challenge in this area can be relating primarily to expats that are on assignment with an embassy, international non-profit, or work assignment. A third challenge in this area includes working with nationals that are not the peoples to which one is seeking to minister. If an individual’s goal is to impact Swedes living in Stockholm, it may not be a success to have a Bible study with a Cambodian guy and Chinese lady. The person / missional community praying and working for success as they pursue their 10,000 hour level of proficiency will be honest in their evaluations and objectives or minimize their potential level of mastery that comes with experience.

Not pursuing relationships with either non-believers or with nationals that are heavily involved in the lives of non-believers – this happens too often in supposed missional endeavors. Most readers that have been involved in the evangelical church for some time have probably been in a situation before where the informal question is asked how many non-believing friends each member has. It is too easy for us to get so involved in the church that we don’t have time for those that Christ came to plant the church in the first place. So the next jump is that if we are not going to work with lost people at least we will work with believers that are going to work with lost people. (I think there are some challenges with this line of thinking, but that’s not the purpose of today’s post.) If we are going to pursue this path, then integrity requires that we do due diligence to find that the disciples we are discipling are reaching the lost. If not, a 10,000 hour investment will not have a meaningful impact on that individual’s / missional community’s level of proficiency or mastery of being missional.

Placing emphasis on supervisory responsibilities – reaching the 10,000 hours of proficiency in supervising missional endeavors is well and fine, but it is not a guarantee that the same level of mastery has been reached at doing missional activities. Ideally supervisors will have done mission in the same context in which they are supervising. However, when this is not the case, it will be helpful for the supervisor to be an encourager that is mindful and honest about his or her limitations.

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