Monday, September 25, 2006

Are the Popular Methods of Doing Church Working?

Whether we go to traditional church or not, we all agree that the Gospel is intended to bring life transformation. The question I wish to address in this post is whether the current popular methods of doing church are working. Here is my thesis:

The church growth method of serving up spectacular church services with great professional music and slick lean sermons has only served to produce spectator Christians whose only understanding of mission is to bring people to the spectacle.

Though no one puts it so bluntly, this method of professionalism is what most every church in America is trying to do. We try to draw people to church by having a well crafted church service. It is the craft of the service that is to create an inspirational moment for the observer and bring them back next week. There are endless reasons why this approach to church is just plain wrong. I simply ask pastors to consider, if we are nervous about whether we will preach a good sermon on Sunday morning, then we got it all wrong. If we focus on improving the “flow” of the service, then we are dead wrong. This approach produces all the wrong results no matter how big our churches are. Such practices produce many shallow results. The one fruit I wish to focus on is that this method produces spectator Christian.

Neil Cole, in his book Organic Church, questions whether in our zeal to increase our attendance we have not somehow lost the plot of the Kingdom of God.

To illustrate the need for drastic change and the ineffective results of doing church in the ways that are popular today, Cole tells a story about a missionary family that comes home to the US on furlough. They have been doing church in a more simple way and their younger children have only seen simple church. One child as he sits in the US church and observes the lights and the sound check and the rehearsals turns to his mothers and says, “Mom, are we going to see a show?”. Cole ends the story by saying, “we are often unable to see how strange our customs really are”. This current method of putting on a show for the congregation is a new and I contend ineffective, counter-productive method. Think what would happen if a pastor just kinda let the whole show stink one week and went over his allotted hour and ten minutes? Oh…God forbid!!! May it never be…What a ghastly thought!!!

My Recent Experience
I went to a Sunday AM church this last Sunday and I was left with some pressing questions. The pastor preached an absolutely wonderful and insightful message on taking risks for the mission of the Kingdom. He preached from the parable of the talents and really nailed the main point. But when he got to application, I couldn’t help but ask myself whether anyone would actually apply the teaching. We hear stories of missionaries, but the stories of lay people building ministries are really quite rare. Is it possible that the traditional church structure isn’t condusive to people having a worldview which includes them initiating and building ministries at the home and street level for evangelism and discipleship.

I am a seminary trained pastor with a strong history of evangelistic successes and teaching gifts and yet there is really nothing for me to do in the traditional church as a member other than to pray and tithe. Is it possible to mobilize the church using the “listen to the teacher” method of doing church? Is the essence of ministry bringing people to Sunday services to hear pulpit teaching and yet this is the majority of church attendees understanding of how evangelism and discipleship works. But does it work? Is it working?

I looked in the bulletin and could not find any meaningful way for me to expand the kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit. I could become a security guard at an event. I could join a small group to learn more about the bible. I could go to prayer meetings to pray that people would come to the church to hear the gospel. But what could I do to be actually be mobilized for mission. Nothing. This is a real problem. The story of the church needs to teach us differently. The home needs to be seen as the church and what we now thing of as church should really be used as the training center for disciple-makers. To do actually mobilize the masses of Christians, we have to change the story of what it means to do church. The home must become the church.

I am in favor of pulpit preaching and I am all for the sermon. I am a pulpit preacher. Pulpit preaching is my gift. But I have a problem with the church structure as it is lived out today. As leaders, we need to consider that it is possible that because of the current spectator spiritainment paradigm that the church is caught in something needs to change. I contend that the current method cannot work to actually extend the kingdom. All around the country pastors are preaching wonderful sermons but people are not finding discipleship and they are not being mobilized for mission. Overall, we are losing the discipleship of our nation and all I can say is not on my watch. If the current methods aren’t working and if the current methods of spectacular services are only serving to produce spectator Christians, then some changes need to be made. .

1. We must help every one know and every family understand that we are all missionaries!!!

a. As a family, we constantly remind our children that we are a missionary family. We as a family ask ourselves, “What would a missionary family do?”. One family in our small group asked that question and realized they needed to take their kids out of the Christian private school and enroll them in the public school. They need to meet the neighbors and the best way to accomplish this is through the public school. This is risk taking and this is change. If we are all to be mobilized the home must be the place where the mission takes place. To take risks and mobilize the masses of church, every one must see their family as a missionary family and every home as the place where evangelism and discipleship takes place. The centralized church building is where we share stories to encourage one another about the kingdom advancing in our neighbor hoods.

2. The small group in the home must become the primary definition of doing church, and the weekly celebration needs to become a support of the small church, home based discipleship and evangelism ministries. .

a. How many people in your church attend small groups every week. This is the actual size of the congregation. People who attend only on Sunday are not doing church. When we are baptized and enter a new family in Christ, this new socialization process will happen from house to house. It cannot and does not happen through one hour on Sunday. If the Southern Baptists defined church membership as the number of people in weekly small groups, what percentage of the church roles would be actual members. This turns the whole paradigm on its head. Is it possible that the actual size of the church is maybe 5% of the figures that we hear from the denominations?

b. If we seek to make discipleship relationships, we must make these relationships in the home. The home is where we spend time with our close friends. Any thing short of this level of relationship is not going to expand the kingdom.

c. Relationship with disciples in their homes will result in a high percentage of conversions to Christ. They may never step foot in the Sunday celebration but I would contend that these relationships are more likely to produce conversion and kingdom discipleship than trying to invite people to the Sunday Morning Show.

If the definition of how we do church changes to say we are all missionaries and we are doing mission in the home, I would bet that the actual mobilization of the congregation to apply the teachings of Jesus would follow much more “organically”.

God Bless,

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spiritainment - Youth Ministry from the I-Monk � Blog Archive � Ruin the Ski Retreat for Jesus

In all my blog travels, the internet monk is the tops of the tops. Let's read all his stuf from now on. This one on youth ministry is it. How about a road trip out to Kentucky?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Discipleship Practices from the Beatitudes

In an earlier post (posted last year), I outlined our discipleship principles. That post was called Discipleship 101. This post (taken from a letter) outlines our recent learnings of Discipleship Practices.
In this letter, I would like to propose some basic principles that can direct us as we walk together and learn the discipleship process that Jesus is teaching us.

First, we are covenanting together to learn how to be students of Jesus Christ. My life mission is to put Christ back into Christianity. For many of us our life story is “how I had to leave the traditional church to become a Christian”. The work of God in our life is not about a new way of doing church but about how to become a student of Jesus. It just so happens that in order to do this we have had to redefine how we do church in order to learn how to follow Jesus and fully commit ourselves to the Kingdom mission. So the first point is that what we are doing is learning together how to be students of Jesus. In this light, it is important to remember that none of us are leaders. The church of Jesus Christ has only one leader and that is Jesus Christ and we are all equally His students. No one can simultaneously be “the man”, the leader, and a student of Jesus. The need for rigorous honest comes in direct and constant conflict with trying to be a leader. This is actually a side application of the principle that we are all covenanting together to be students of Jesus. Another side principle to the “we are all students of Jesus” idea is that we need to learn how to take spiritual direction from each other while maintaining totally equal status. I would suggest that we learn to mutually give and take spiritual direction from one another. Again that is another side application to the foundational principle that we are first and foremost covenanting together to learn from the Spirit how to be students of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, our core text is the gospels. I have recently focused a lot on the sayings of AA and 12 steps and I think this is helpful but to some of us the big book and AA is not authoritative. Our big book is the bible. Though I think we can learn a great deal from NA, AA, SA etc., it is important that we are students of Jesus Christ in a very open and overt way. A far as practice and the “how to” of discipleship, we might want to spend some time being mentored by someone from a 12-step group but even if we were to do this it is to learn some practical application that helps us in becoming better disciples of Jesus. Keith has mentioned this approach and I am all for it as a possible season. My point here is that our foundation and probably most of our language should find its source primarily from the sayings of Jesus. Our real questions and practices should focus on the sayings of Jesus and have commentary from the rest of the bible.

Putting these two principles together I am going to suggest some practical ways to focus our learning.

I propose we focus our learning and language on the Sermon on the Mount straight through. My take on the Sermon on the Mount is that it is about cultivating a heart of perfect love of God and neighbor and learning how to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to live in love. I am going to march directly through the beatitudes with a series of practices and questions. So here goes;

1. Spiritual Poverty: We daily practice an awareness of our spiritual poverty. We know and experience that an awareness of our spiritual poverty and powerlessness is the right way to see ourselves if we are to live with Jesus Christ as our Savior.
a. What areas of your life does your spiritual poverty manifest itself? There is a
million ways to ask this question. In the past, I have become ensnared in the following sins
and therefore I am aware that I am vulnerable in the following areas of my life.

Today, I need Christ’s power to free me from the following areas of spiritual weakness.

2. Faith in the Gospel of the Kingdom: We believe that the kingdom of heaven is within our reach on a daily and even an hour by hour basis because of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His on-going work of pouring out His Holy Spirit.
a. The Kingdom of God in my life will bring freedom in the following areas.
i. Again, there are a million ways to ask this question or express this faith. Another way is
to ask: If God did a miracle in my life today, what behavior in my life do I think He would
change to make me a better student of Jesus Christ?
b. We know and reckon it as reality that we our old nature has been crucified with Christ and that we are new creatures……
i. The entire corpus of Pauline teachings on the positional truths that we possess in Christ are affirmed and regularly contemplated in order to better understand how Christ brings His kingdom to us and grants us victory in this life and in the age to come.

3. Mourning: We confess to God our sorrow for our sins and shortcomings on a daily basis.
a. Father God, I am sorry for the following sins I have committed today (this week, this month, since my last confession before You) in deed, in word, and in thought. Father, I ……
b. We are prodigals daily…..
c. Father I am a sinner. Only say the word and I will be healed.
POINT: There are numerous passages in the teachings of Jesus on this topic that He came for sinners and not for the righteous. This principle is central to being a student of Jesus.

4. Receiving Forgiveness and Comfort from God. We daily and even hour by hour receive comfort and forgiveness from God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We do not carry the burden of our own sins but give these burdens to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
a. I am thankful that the following sins and shortcomings carry with them no condemnation. I am forgiven of all these sins.

5. Meekness: We daily and even hourly practice death to self-centeredness and self-will. We cease seeking our own honor and glory. We cease fighting for our way in all things. We accept God’s will without fighting. We pray moment by moment, “Not my will but Your will be done.”
a. I accept the following circumstance in my life and I am thankful for them as the will of my all-loving, all-powerful Father.
i. With respect to this circumstance that is beyond my control and which I cannot change today, I joyfully accept this trial as good for me and helpful for my spiritual growth. I place this situation in God’s loving and all-powerful hands. I accept what I can control and what I am responsible for and I likewise accept what I cannot control and for results that I cannot force by my will.

b. I accept the following people just as they are and am thankful for them as the will of my all-loving, all-powerful Father.
i. With respect to this person who is making my life more difficult or who I would like to change, I accept that I cannot change them and that they are like me spiritually poor and spiritually sick.

6. Commitment to the Kingdom Mission. We live for the will of Jesus Christ. We turn our lie and will over to His cause and His kingdom on a daily and even hourly basis. We are His slaves. We make it our sole ambition to expand His kingdom. We hunger and thirst for righteousness in our personal life and for the manifestation of a community filled with righteousness. We make it our life purpose to build morally beautiful community. We seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.
a. We love not the world.
i. Lust of the eyes: I am content with what I have today and I repent of any longing for material possessions that might be unnecessary to the expansion of the kingdom. What material things do I need to cease desiring?
ii. Lust of the flesh: I accept the pleasure that comes only from God’s hand. I am satisfied with the sexual pleasures which come from my spouse or will come eventually from my future spouse. If I am single, I accept my singleness. I accept the grace to be patient and wait for the pleasures which come only from the hand of God. What pleasures do you seek that are not God’s will for you to receive immediately?
iii. Boastful Pride of Life: I accept my status in all things. I accept the level of influence in life that I have today. I take responsibility for the spiritual leadership I have been given today. I seek only to fulfill the role God has given me today. What frustrations do you have as a result of a lack of status or position in any organization? What frustrations do you have because others have not granted you the spiritual authority to speak into their life?

b. Daily planning and reflection on our mission work.
i. We daily pray and prepare to be used by Jesus Christ in expanding the kingdom. “Lord, how am I going to be used to expand your kingdom today?” I present my self to do your will. Lord, what is my task today. Lord, what is my task this hour?
a. The Lord is using me to expand His kingdom in the following places? People? Organizations? Community? I am an important member of the following missionary community? My role in this community is the following? Lord how can I be an asset to this missionary community? Today, I will grow in the following skill to be a better asset to God and His people.
b. We pray the Lord’s prayer and commit to His Kingdom come and His will be done on a day by day and even hourly basis.

7. Mercy: We practice forgiveness toward all people in our past and present.
a. As needed to maintain a heart filled with love toward God and our neighbor, we regularly list all people we have any frustration or resentment toward. We list any actual or perceived wrong they nave done to us. We acknowledge how this hurt us or how we felt this hurt us. We forgive them before God and we bless them. We pray for them all the success we wish for ourselves. We seek to see how we might have had a role in bringing this harm upon ourselves. We allow this conflict or perceived conflict to be used by God to surface our own sins and shortcomings be it pride, anger, lust, greed, fear, self-centeredness, etc.
b. We realize that if we are arguing or if our mind is distracted by conflict with another that we have a spiritual problem with unforgiveness. Resentment, anger and unforgiveness is a daily source of spiritual poverty. It is anger that is the primary impedance to being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We are ruthless with even the slightest conflict in our heart with another. We daily take inventory of any possible unforgiveness and we bless everyone in our life.
c. We bless everyone.
d. When we know of a conflict, we seek reconciliation. If we know that a brother or sister has anything against us, we go to that person and attempt to make peace. We lead with confessions of our sins and weaknesses. We seek diligently to be at peace with all people and to acknowledge only where we were to blame for any conflict or misunderstanding. We do not attempt to change others. We only clean our side of the street.
We do not judge others or attempt to take the speck out of another person’s eye unless we are asked. We manage our hearts and not the hearts of others unless they ask for spiritual assistance. When they ask for help with any spiritual matter we honor this as a great privilege and seek first wisdom from God. We speak and give advise slowly and confess our sins and shortcomings relatively quickly.
f. We place this principle of the need to show mercy in all things and to emphasize forgiveness as a number one principle to on-going spiritual health.

8. Purity: We seek to be pure in heart that we may have ears to hear and eyes to see God who is our first love and our supreme passion.
a. Speech: We are aware that we all sin in what we say. We seek to have integrity in our speech. We confess that our speech is often a mix of blessing and cursing of others.
i. Lord, have I said anything that is harmful today? Lord, make my words worthy of honor. Give me Your words to speak in my day to day affairs.
ii. Lord, teach me to speak your wisdom. All people should be equipped to speak grace to others. We are all called to use our tongue for the kingdom in some respect. Lord, what are my speaking gifts?
b. Sex: We accept Jesus’ Christ’s teachings on sexual purity and the purpose and meaning of sex. Sex is an important subject in the discipleship process. All people have sexual problems just like all people have unforgiveness. You cannot live in this world without experiencing difficult people or without developing some form of sexual problem. It is part of being human.
i. We regularly ask ourselves if we have been inconsiderate in our sexual relations. Have we been selfish in our pursuit or withholding of sex?
ii. Do we accept ourselves as God made us sexually?
iii. Have we expressed in thought, word, or deed our sexuality outside the context of covenant relationship? We let the Holy Spirit guide this confession and management of our heart as we seek purity of heart.
c. Love: In our quest to be followers of Jesus Christ, we hear His perfect commandment to love our enemies, to turn the other check, to go the extra mile and to give to all who ask of us. Lord, where do you seek for me to love you and others? We allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in this prayer of surrender to the will of God.

9. Peacemaking: We build community and shalom in every sphere of life. We seek to find peace in all we do and all people we have relationship with. The kingdom of God is not about individual holiness but the holy and beautiful community of followers of Christ. We are a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.
a. Intercession: Lord, what area of life, family, work, church, can I pray for your kingdom to come? Lord, your kingdom come in the following places of community where I have influence.
b. Lord, what can I do today to build reconciliation and peace? Who can I bless today?

10. Persecution: We consider all trials as opportunities to shine forth faith in Jesus Christ and our All-loving, all-powerful Father.
a. We confess all grumbling and complaining about the difficulties we are faced with. We ask for grace to be joyful and thankful in the midst of the stress of the day. We know that it is endurance under stress that provides a great opportunity for the glory of God and witness to the deliverance and liberty we have learned by being students of Jesus Christ. It is the grace and power of the Holy Spirit and conscious contact with our all-loving and all-powerful God that produces in us peace in difficulty. In this we confess at best spiritual progress and not in any way perfection. All of us fail in this highest manifestation of love and spiritual life.
b. We than God for our trials.

So here is what I have for now. I hope that this commentary on the beatitudes can help us as student of Jesus.

God Bless,