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The Fight

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fight“So you got into a fight with several boys on the bus….What happened?” the principal asked. The student responded, “When they were making fun of me and my clothes, that was fine. But then they started making fun of my sister and I couldn’t help myself anymore.”

The outburst earned the young man a couple days of in-school suspension as well as the attention and compassion of the middle school principal. And based on previous history with the principal, our family would soon get involved.

For some time now my wife and I have wanted to change the focus of the Christmas season from getting a whole bunch of stuff that we don’t need to serving others that are truly in need. Instead of seeing our children turn glassy-eyed thinking about presents they may receive, we feel compelled to teach them to serve others. So a few weeks ago I began a conversation with my extended family about changing the family tradition. Though I can’t say there weren’t any bumps along the way, I have been so encouraged to see how we are, as a family, now focusing our energies on blessing others that are in need. Great need.

Just to paint the picture a little, the dad recently lost his job as a garbage collector. The mom spends most of her time in bed on strong medication with a chronic disease. The two kids who are still living in the home have learning disabilities and are picked on at school for any reason including clothing that is out of style. From preliminary conversations with the family, we learned that food was also a need.

This past week we were able to go with my parents and my immediate family to take a Thanksgiving meal and a bunch of groceries to the family along with some job applications where we have family history. While we were standing there talking, the kids were unloading the bags. Immediately, the boy washed an apple and started eating it while his sister began to peel an orange. Both commented about how good it was to have fruit. These were the very apples and oranges that our kids had picked out at the store just a couple hours prior.

After Thanksgiving, we met as an extended family to plan what we would do for this other family for Christmas, for job, and more. We really were seeking to answer the question how can we be the image of Christ to them. After that we went to different stores and shopped for various things for the family. With my wife and kids, we immediately started shopping for the young girl in the family. My children were delighted to pick gifts to give to this girl that they had already met. They wanted to pick clothes that would help her be warm…that she would really like…that would reduce some of the peer scrutiny for the future.

I think we are all going to learn more about the sacrifice of Jesus this Christmas than so many in the past. I am not certain today of all of the thoughts my daughters are having about building this relationship and being a blessing to others. They are enthusiastically working on a play that will tell the Christmas story as we share a meal together around Christmas. They are learning so much more through this hands-on approach than I could ever teach them in a countless number of lectures. This is obedience for us. It is pragmatic discipleship for them. It is a blessing for us all.

After a short time shopping we met back as an extended family at Chik-fil-A. While we were sharing ideas and showing what we had purchased, one of the employees came up and greeted my brother. We learned that their children went to school together. Upon hearing of the family’s need, he brought us an application and gift cards for the whole family to be the store’s guest for a chicken sandwich meal (woohoo for the #1 combo!). We were traveling back home when my parents called to share that the family was really appreciative. The dad was excited to be able to eat at Chik-fil-A for the first time in his life. My girls could not believe that there was a grown man in the U.S. that had never eaten at their favorite restaurant.

The discipleship continues….

Categories : discipleship
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Rethinking Discipleship

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What resonates? Algebra lessons or Bunsen burners? Learning new vocabulary words or field trips? A history lesson or playing kickball in physical education? Achievement tests or recess?

Going out on a limb, I am going to assume that the latter of each comparison above is usually more appealing. While you may have had a wonderful teacher in some of these topics such as algebra or history, people generally respond better to participatory learning than a passive model. Movement is more desirable for a young person than being stationary.


Neo-scholasticism in action

Neo-scholasticism – Learning facts through the steady hand of a mental disciplinarian, the student will be able to share data and regurgitate large amounts of information. While it had its day as the prevalent philosophy of education, today neo-scholasticism—heavily influenced by Aristotle and Aquinas—lacks strong support in western education circles. But wait just a minute…it’s not out of favor in all realms of western life.

The chosen philosophy of education for adults in many churches is neo-scholastic in content and delivery. The students sit in some formation while the one with superior knowledge stands or sits in a prominent position. Going through a pre-determined curriculum or some systematic plan conceived months or more ago, the teacher trains the intellect of the pupils. During this scholastic exercise, listening is good, though taking notes is better. To maximize the learning experience study notes, books, and CDs can be available for further review at home or in some quiet place. At times the teacher may ask students to raise their hands to foster learning participation. Questions, often rhetorical in nature, may be interspersed to further stimulate thinking, ensure consciousness, or as a segue to the teacher’s next point.

Pragmatism in process

Pragmatism in process

Pragmatism – Educators today use a more pragmatic philosophy of education where the students and teacher are both seen as fellow travelers, though one has more experience in many areas (though probably not all—consider gaming, foreign languages, unique field of interest, etc.). The curriculum is relevant to the needs of the student at the current time. As a result, desire for learning increases. Learning is a hands-on experience. Today, educators employ a couple of popular methodologies–understanding by design and differentiated instruction. Both of these fit soundly in the pragmatic camp as commitments to doing whatever it takes to help each and every student learn the content. Some hallmarks of these methodologies include a high level of commitment to utilizing hands-on, interactive education and modifying the classroom experience for each child to facilitate learning through their preferred learning style. As a result, classroom environments are being set up with different stations and areas for learning through creative means, field trips are being planned as part of the learning process, etc.

Though much of the western church has kicked the flannel board aside, there is still a high level of commitment to hands-on learning for children. For adults, however, teaching is as neo-scholastic as ever. Attempts to increase interaction today consist of use of a Power Point display, video, or notes to be passed out. This is the methodology and these are the tools the church is using to “make disciples.” I contend that we must do better in the disciple-making process. Much, much better.

I will be posting several entries following up on this in the weeks and months to come. Along with missio dei and mission, this will be a major theme for discussion—though in fact these topics are practically impossible to extricate from one another. This post is intended to lay out a framework for beginning the discussion. In conclusion, it is important to note that learners remember only 10% of what they read and only 20% of what they hear. But if a learner says and does something himself, then the retention goes up to 90%. This leads me to believe that a re-think is in order if we are going to make disciples that obey.

Categories : church, discipleship
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Lessons from Communist Countries

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Chinese FistAglow from time spent recently in Cuba, a dear friend shared with me about some of the exciting things continuing to happen there in the midst of hunger, oppression, and persecution. Having just returned from his latest trip to the island, he shared about the abandon with which the believers are living their lives for the glory of the Most High. He had just concluded teaching a series of theological training modules in a Cuban city. He shared that 75 pastors and lay leaders from this city completed the extended course. These 75 pastors and lay leaders completed the theological training to continue providing leadership and to continue fulfilling their responsibilities. The work that had already begun in and through each one was to carry on to final completion some day in the future. My friend contrasted this with the completion of his theological training in the U.S. some years prior, where a large percentage of the graduates were hoping to find a place to serve, a position from which to lead. These were works that were to be started on some day in the future to then begin working toward a day of completion. I think there are lessons to be had here, but I am going to leave this fruit hanging on the tree for the reader to pick and sort.

Years ago I read a book that I referred to as the 29th chapter of Acts–that was before I was aware of the Acts 29 network. A friend of mine reviewed The Heavenly Man recently. I gladly recommend the review and heartily recommend the book. So much in the book is unbelievable that I have asked some that I know who have lived and are networked in China about the book’s veracity. I have been told that not only is the book credible, but it is only a partial story of the innumerable things that God has done and is doing there today. There are so many things to learn here. One thing that I am reminded of connected with the theological education aspect (as referenced above) is a distinct curriculum. Mornings were spent memorizing the book of Matthew. The afternoons were spent learning how to escape including jumping out of 2 and 3-story windows.

Food for thought….

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A Missional Conversation Continued

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Yesterday’s post had part 1 of this conversation. It is really good video. Part 2 here is worthwhile, but part 3 is essential. For 3 to make sense, best to do 2 first. After the second portion, it appears that Stetzer & Fitch agreed (even requested) to have the camera turned back on in order to communicate some things very important to both of them. Very worthwhile.

Ed Stetzer & Dave Fitch – a missional conversation Part II from Bill Kinnon on Vimeo.

Above Ed and Dave provide their perspectives on whether mega churches can be missional. A lively and fun discussion.

Stetzer & Fitch – a missional conversation – Part III from Bill Kinnon on Vimeo.

After a few minute break whilst shooting the conversation (see end of Part II “…you’re wearing us out” then laughter), Dave and Ed came back with some final thoughts on the importance of the church telling a new missional story.

Categories : church, trends
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iStock_000004312581XSmallIt follows. If the God we serve is the missionary God, then what follows? While my last post, Non Sequitor, had 5 things that did not follow the Missio Dei, here are 7 that do. While the non-sequitur list does not include examples for obvious reasons, there are a number of good examples here. Here are some positive expressions of church that reflect the “sending of God.”

  1. Just do it – Some slogans transcend time because they ring true for now and other times. In athletics, Nike’s advertisers hit a home run. Some church slogans that ring true in light of the Missio Dei include Northstar’s “Don’t go to church, be the church.” This is key for a church that is awakening to the lostness around them. Another great slogan (and book) is by author Jason Dukes. His church seeks to “Live Sent” 24/7/365.
  2. Healthy networks – Teaching the things one has learned to others is evident in a number of networks, not the least of which is some great guys that are the Reproducing Churches Network. Multiple expressions and strategies here. Humility abounds. The message of Christ is being spread through churches that are planting churches. Through disciples that are making disciples.
  3. Taking it downtown – There is a movement of churches going into the heart of inner-city areas, bars, and other places where people live. Where lostness dwells. Where an incarnational witness has previously been scarce. Some expressions of this include: Redemption Hill in Richmond,  Branch Life Church in Birmingham, and Evergreen in Portland. Another encouraging expression of this includes Christ Presbyterian Church where several families sold their suburban homes to move their families into inner-city Nashville to live among those they are loving and serving through a school of the arts.
  4. Taking it to the streets – Some have moved the church or made other radical changes. Rodney Calfee converted the children’s area of the The Downtown Church into a halfway house. Seeing people from the suburbs coming into the city for church, he realized that the population segments of downtown were not being reached with the gospel. With radical changes attendance plummeted, but God began to do amazing things in transforming lives. Matthew’s Table is an experience in community in Lebanon, TN. They meet in a coffee shop, and in homes, and wherever else along the way as they live as the church among their community.
  5. Sending Churches – Churches are sending people out in teams to the nations to be a blessing to communities and to seek to plant churches there. One church, LifePoint, is preparing to send multiple units comprising two teams to two different continents.
  6. Acoustic church – Caleb Crider with The Upstream Collective presents the “sound system rule” where a church moves toward either an attractional or missional model. Acoustic church could refer to what some call simple, organic, or house churches as well as some larger gatherings which are currently happening in other countries where Church Planting Movments (CPM) are underway. This is church with both a little more and a lot less. Some additions may include food, increased emphasis on prayer, relational discipling while also taking out lots of bells and whistles. Acoustic church is not for the glory or material enrichment of man. For some it serves as a place for the burned as well as the burned-out to have fellowship with believers. For others, however, it is a missional force. Exciting things are in the works here as a number of mega, multi-site, well-known churches are saying enough of our satellite or campus additions. Enough of us reaching a small segment of our city. Let’s go out to where the lost are and be the church among them. This is the church participating in the “sending of God.” Thanks to Neil Cole and Church Multiplication Associates for being one of the leaders in this for some time already.
  7. Ethnic awareness – Across the U.S. there are churches being planted for people groups from languages and countries including hispanics, Asians, Muslims, Europeans, etc. Additionally, church for skaters, surfers, cowboys, and others are encouraging. When this can coexist in one group of believers it is encouraging as well. Kudos to Mosaic and others that follow their lead.
Categories : church, trends
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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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Last Letter Life

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I had the privilege of helping launch Last Letter this past week at Catalyst.  LL is an effort to start a movement that combines social action with sharing the eternal hope of Christ. Perhaps you could call this missional living with an attitude. It is a call to live James 2 both with integrity and abandon. Below is one of the pieces that are on the site. It is a remake of Revolution by the Beatles. The video features Rick Heil of SonicFlood, Drew Cline, Missi Hale (Women Of Faith), Stephanie Smith, Lucas Parry and Jason Eskridge. You can learn about the movement and download a free MP3 of Revolution on the Last Letter site.

Sacrifice. Action. Justice. Jesus. This is a call to reexamine how we are living our lives. Are we making our time count?

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Spiritual SAT Scores?

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iStock_000005776090XSmallA few weeks ago my wife and I were visiting a weekly Bible study group for the first time. Everyone was kind and welcoming of us and the lost friends accompanying us. The teacher was both humble and prepared. The group responded to a ministry opportunity that was presented. And then it happened….

One regular in the group shared that she had brought a friend of hers to the group several weeks ago. This friend, she relayed, was someone that she had been praying would come to Christ for a long time. So excited to have her coming for the first time, the group participant conveyed that she could barely wait to find out what her friend thought. In the debrief between friends, the visitor shared that she did not feel that she could be a part of the group because she did not know enough about the Bible. She was convinced, probably accurately, that the other participants knew so much more about their Bibles. Sadly, she has not been with the group again, nor does it seem that she plans to do so.

Challenged with a charge of being too heady in the disciple-making process, the group shared their surprise and disbelief for maybe a full 60 seconds. Then it was back to trying to mine truths out of the passage being studied that day.

This seems to be in stark contrast with the gospel narratives. “Come and see” is an invitation to encounter the Savior. I can only think of one time where Jesus questions how much the disciples know–though this examination is more a challenge to their beliefs rather than their academic acumen. “Who do men say that I am…Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:13-20) Even at this point, Jesus provides grace in deficiency. Just before Jesus returns to heaven, we read that “they worshipped him; but some doubted” (Mt. 28:17). In response, Jesus commissions them to make disciples as they go. He does not mention or encourage academic emphasis or testing. Jesus’ instructions are to teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. Sounds like it could be turning academic, maybe. Perhaps this would be a good time to review how Jesus teaches, or better yet how he models, obedience to his disciples.

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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?

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Asking as a Child

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In the grocery store, a restaurant, the airplane, at church, at some time you just might have run into the deluge of questions that can comprise a young child. I have seen this used in two ways. One kid is working his “why.” His questions are used as challenges rather than as interrogative tools. Wise in his own eyes, this kid is asking mom or dad to justify the given instruction. To justify their ability to give the instruction. The second way to use the “why” is as a tool to learn. When a child comes and asks in earnest, “Why does the sun go down?” the parent would like to provide the right answer. Humility is a powerful thing to verbalize the lack of understanding of the learner and to motivate the adult to share at a level the child can understand. Yes, mom and dad and other caregivers tire of the constant barrage even when asked with humility in earnest, but….

Continuing with the Upstream Collective JetSet case study in Taiwan, it seems helpful to encourage us all, myself included, to be life-long learners in culture. (I am currently applying this stuff to my new culture in a city I have lived in years ago in the U.S.) While some of the areas have been touched on here this week in previous posts, I would like to offer some specific areas for formulating questions that will be helpful to ask yourself and often to voice to others–especially nationals in the culture. View these questions as a base of questions that are helpful as you participate in your understanding of culture and the process of narrative mapping (much of this is thanks to Thom Wolf).

Geographical distinctions? – Taking notice of bodies of water and rivers is helpful. In Taiwan, you have both the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. What role have these played in history? Religion on the island is distinct from that in mainland China. These large water boundaries have made it possible for Chinese folk beliefs to be close enough to cross over, but far enough to not be as impacted through the Cultural Revolution. What is the significance of the Keelung and Xindian Rivers in the history and culture of the city? Other geographical distinctions may include major intersections of roads or railways; boundaries; and physical landmarks.

Mosaic of the land? – Seeing urban centers as collections of groups of people should help provide understanding of a city. In Taipei, there is a breakdown of cities and townships within the city. Are these representative of different classes or ethnicities or moralities of people? Does each city or township break down into further subsets? How do these groupings of people or villages look as it relates to socioeconomic status? How do these different groupings live life? Form relationships? Celebrate holidays and special events?

Meaning?What is the religion of each people group? How did this religion come here? What is of great importance to the various people groupings? Is there anything that this people treasure so deeply that they are willing to live for it? Teach their children about it? Die for it? What churches (may include religious buildings and/or groups meeting) exist in the area?

Going into and participating in a culture as a humble learner is invaluable. Humble, as a child, the missionary will do well to ask questions while trying to understand culture and find ways to contextually share the gospel with the lost.

Categories : case study, missiology
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