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Archive for disorientation


Say what?

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iStock_000008889668XSmallFrom time to time I will be posting some things I have heard or read from U.S. church that may be worth a rethink. What are your thoughts?

Billboard ad for a church:
“Times are changing…we are not.”

Sunday morning sermon:
“People don’t come to church on Sunday night because they are lazy.”

Tweet from pastor on Sunday morning:
“It’s showtime!”

Paraphrase from a sermon:
Maybe suffering in our context is being willing to teach a Bible study in the church and facing possible ridicule for not doing a good job.

Mega-church pastor interview:
“My greatest value to the organization is not what I do 9:00 to 5:00, Tuesday through Thursday…there’s value, but it’s not my greatest value. If I’m not ready on Sunday morning, regardless of what I’ve done the rest of the week, it doesn’t matter…. It took me a while to give myself permission to do that, but once I did, it’s just better. And every leader has to get there. The younger you are, the less flexibility you have to do that. You’ve just got to do some things you don’t want to do, there are just some things you have to do. But the quicker you can get into a pace of how God wired you–it’s just better.”

Tagline of church ad played on Christian radio station:
“(church name), a church you can believe in.”

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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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Persecution or Bluegrass?

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ticketWhere there is persecution for following Christ, the church thrives. This is evident from the first diaspora until today in nations that are the remnant of Communist ideology. In an interview Ed Stetzer conducted yesterday on Upstream Collective’s JetSet Vision Trip in Taipei, Pastor Chen states that in 1966 there were 600,000 Christians in mainland China. Mao Tse Tung expected this number to disappear with the Cultural Revolution. Instead, the number of believers on the mainland has and is growing at an astronomical rate–this has been projected at 30,000 per day just a few years ago–and numbers in the millions of believers today (for a better understanding of the movement here, I heartily recommend The Heavenly Man).

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, the church today counts 5% as Christian if the Catholic church is included. Statistics in my last post point to numbers even lower than this. With a much greater openness to all things western and freedom to worship, the church has had only incremental growth. Seeking to reach out to their community, the church in Taipei is seeking to meet needs and engaging their community through creative ways such as a bluegrass concert.

Counterintuitively, persecution causes the church to rise up. Freedom and lack of oppression lead to a lack of explosive, viral growth and moves toward incremental movement up (or down). When lacking in effective external factors (e.g. persecution), then the church would do well to be on a mission greater than itself–consistent with the Commission of Christ. This mission can and does include living with our “eyes wide open” according to McManus. Of course social ministry and cross-cultural missions fit the bill here. One great expression of this zest for life and desire to impact the lives of others can be found in bluegrass music. This has effectively gathered crowds of people in countries from Spain to Russia. It is emblematic, I believe, of how a non-Christian society can be engaged by a people that love life. As followers of Christ, our lives have been changed. The joy that He brings to our life should translate to every aspect of our lives so that we are contagious people.

BTW – I am still planning to move forward with the case study in upcoming posts, just wanted to share these thoughts today.

Categories : case study, 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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Spiritual Raisins?

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From time to time I will be posting original writings of guests from around the world. In this second guest post, Bob Royce, a missionary / church planter in Ontario shares a story that contrasts African and Western discipleship. For the past six years, Bob and his family have been missionaries in the Toronto area–one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Their heart is for awakening and revival at McMaster University and beyond. They have also been involved internationally in SE Asia, Pakistan, Kenya and other places as well. Thanks Bob!


Our family has enjoyed being involved in Kingdom work both in the States, around the world in places like Russia, SE Asia, Pakistan and Kenya, and have lived for the past 6 years in one of the most cosmopoitan cities in the world…Toronto. People from all over the world are here.

Our heart is for awakening and revival beginning with university students and then spreading out from there. At one of our home meetings this summer, we enjoyed getting to know a girl from Zimbabwe who just finished her first year in university.

iStock_000006899550XSmallShe shared part of her story with us that night and that she was a follower of Christ when she arrived here. I asked her, “So would you say you have grown spiritually or shriveled some since you arrived here?” She admitted/confessed that her walk with the Lord had suffered. She said back home that they use to have all night prayers, and fasting was a regular part of their walk. Since coming to North America, it has been hard for her to grow because not many Christians are hungry and everything here is easy….

I had a sinking feeling that was going to be her answer. Friends, our brothers and sisters from around the world are anchored in a Kingdom reality that we know very little about. What if we discovered that we also need to be on the receiving end of missionary work…not just sending folks out? Something to prayerfully ponder….

Categories : discipleship
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An Experiential Outlier (part 1)

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iStock_000006875088XSmallIn Outliers, Gladwell writes that “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” That is 10,000 hours of practice to get at some mastery level of proficiency. The author continues to share that this roughly breaks down to 10 years of experience. Some of his examples as well as simple calculations demonstrate that the experiential quota is viable in 5 to 6 years.

When considering missions, the 10,000 hour rule makes a lot of sense. Working in a cross-cultural context begins slow most of the time. The first year or years are usually spent in language and cultural acquisition. Being a student of language and culture is not over at that time, but it is well-advanced. Then more mission learning and experience are logged through a series of trials that are often associated with failure. Throughout all of this process relationships are being formed, history and trust are being built. Disciples are being made. Then after some period of time, those that have stuck it out will often begin to see some ways to advance their efforts have a foundation of key, healthy relationships, and have built requisite levels of trust to see healthy results.

In thinking through a number of relationships with M’s throughout Europe and beyond, I see that the 10,000 hour rule has a strong correlation with impact. With a range of paradigms and approaches, missionaries that have some 10 years of experience that is relevant to their culture and context are generally seeing greater results than those that do not have this level of experience.

Investing 10,000 hours in anything is not a guarantee for success, however. Some limiting factors seem to include:

  1. Moral (spiritual) failure;
  2. Living out or seeking to promote an ethnocentric worldview;
  3. Not investing in nationals;
  4. Not pursuing relationships with either non-believers or with nationals that are heavily involved in the lives of non-believers; and
  5. Placing emphasis on supervisory responsibilities.

There is more to come on this in some future posts, but I wanted to go ahead and throw the idea out there for stimulation and discussion.

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Exilic Living

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It was my privilege to participate in an international church planting conference in 2007 where Michael Frost was the keynote speaker. Unfortunately his first talk is not recorded here. However, it is important to know that he began the conference with a talk on the post-Christian reality that: had already come about in Australia; was a functioning reality in Europe; and was in the process of becoming reality in North America. (Note: these talks were delivered almost two years ago. During that time, trends have not, in my estimation, slowed or reversed course.)

In this follow-up talk he covers material from a book he coauthored with Hirsch–Exiles. Frost borrows some ideas from Brueggemann about the Hebrews living in Babylon and the resulting exilic literature. This may serve as a roadmap for how we can live a radical faith in our postmodern, post-Christian context.

The content shared here may disturb and disorient some. For others, it may begin or advance a process of reorientation that leads to meaningful change. I would encourage you to invite your spouse, your friend(s), and/or the team with whom you are seeking to share your journey of faith to watch the hour-long video with you. Grab some pastries, doughnuts, bagels, ramen, and/or something else to fit your palate and budget, fix enough coffee or tea to let them know you are serious about this activity as you have prepared in advance in order to honor them. Then view the video and set aside at least another hour to discuss it. Below the video are some possible discussion questions.

BTW – If given serious consideration, this is not easy material. Also, parts of the presentation are NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

Some questions for discussion. (Don’t wimp out and do these solo!)

  1. In what ways does our context merge with post-Christendom?
  2. If we were to view ourselves as exiles, how would that change our praxis? How might it change our living out the Great Commission?
  3. What aspects that Frost shares do we consider implementing now? What does that look like?
  4. What do we need to revisit in the future? When do we plan to come back to this?
  5. Would the lost community around us agree with our discussion / conclusions to the above questions? How could we verify this? Is that a conversation we are willing to begin?
  6. What other questions should we be asking right now?
  7. How serious about this are we? Honestly?

Confidently Un-oriented (part 3)

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Disorientation -> Reorientation -> Meaningful change


The intensity of a disorientating experience may vary significantly. Some may be confronted with a near-death encounter, others may be captured anew by a sunset. The intensity of the disorientation is not the determining factor to dictate the extent or lack of the change. Reorientation is the process that will determine change.

A contrast in disorientation intensity may be found when considering Lydia and the Philippian jailer. Lydia believes while hearing Paul the first time. We read that “the Lord opened her heart.” On the other side of the spectrum, the jailer is ready to take his own life thinking that the prisoners had escaped following the earthquake. Upon learning that all are still present he runs in and falls to the ground shaking. His next response is then the same as Lydia’s. He believes. (Acts 16)

For both characters mentioned above, their reorientation was a complete paradigm shift. A radical worldview adjustment. They would never see things the same again. Not long after that we see Paul writing one of his most encouraging letters to the church that had been planted in the city of Philippi by most likely Lydia and/or the jailer. Here the reorientation was radical, the change was substantive and lasting, but the disorientation experiences could not have been more different.

When Paul addresses the sages in Athens, the responses are multiple. There is change for all: some sneer; some believe; some want to hear more. Paul offers a message that is completely unfamiliar to them. The disorientation is equal for all in the story, but the reorientation and the resulting change has eternity as the variance. (Acts 17)

These three posts on disorientation have strong correlations to someone’s understanding of  and response to the gospel. And church. And mission. And missiology. And life. And…?

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Confidently Un-oriented (part 2)

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Lost and Confused SignpostIronically, shortly after I posted part 1 to this piece, a person in my Facebook network posted: “Today during language I realized how much I don’t know a little bit more than I usually do. It freaked me out.” This is disorientation. It can be a little scary, but it can also be very rewarding. The question for people, like Timothy, when they enter this state, is “how will I respond?” “Now that my wrong assumption has been obliterated, what do I do with my newfound insight?”

Jesus spoke of both the man who became disoriented and the man who remained confidently un-oriented. The Teacher tells a story of two sons. The younger crashes and burns and then says to himself, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” He was desperate for change because things had not turned out half as well as he had first envisioned. This was the beginning of his disorientation. Phase two kicked in when he gets close to his childhood home and is greeted and embraced by his father. Dad drives the point home for him: “Quick! Bring the best….he was lost and is found.” Then the party began. (As an aside, I think it is great that Jesus was in favor of a good party at the right times.) The older brother does not seem to rethink things. He is confident in his own goodness: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” He continues to be resolute in the shortcomings or the lack of wisdom of the father: “Yet you never gave me….” (Lk 15:11-32)

A profound example of disorientation is in the story of Habakkuk. In the first part of the story Habakkuk tells God that he, Habakkuk, is getting tired of waiting for God to fix things so that the Israelites would not continue in severe persecution. He says: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save.” Once again, here is a man starting a discourse while confident in his ignorant wisdom. God responds in a way Habakkuk never would have guessed: “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians…to seize dwelling places not their own.” Habakkuk replies with a highfalutin version of ‘God are you crazy?’ He says: “O Lord, are you not from everlasting? …Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” But then Habakkuk gets smart. He seems to prepare himself for disorientation. He says, “I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” God then lays out a plan of destruction because of the sin of Israel. Through all of this, God reveals the truth of the gospel: “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous will live by faith….You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.” Disoriented and changed, Habakkuk replies: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy….Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” At this point Habakkuk understands the sinful behavior of his people. This now makes sense to him through the span of history as he has a new, deeper understanding of the holiness and majesty of God. (Hab 1-3)

The rich young ruler, a final example for this post, came to Jesus seeking affirmation of his own goodness and right standing. Confidently un-oriented he replied to Jesus instruction about keeping the last 6 commandments: “All these I have kept….What do I still lack?” When told that his wealth kept him from obeying the first four commandments, the man was profoundly disoriented. This was not at all the way he expected this encounter to unfold. He left sad with his riches having a little less luster than before, but eternal life not being opulent enough to pursue change. (Mt 19:16-30)

Disorientation does not automatically equal meaningful change. It is a prerequisite, but not a guarantee. The wayward son and Habakkuk changed through their disorientation process. The older brother and rich young ruler did not.

Confidently Un-oriented (part 3)

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