Monday, February 25, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
A Dialogue with Luther
The world had only begun to notice the religious rumblings in Northern Europe. Martin Luther, an obese, defrocked Augustinian monk, stood at the center of a budding maelstrom. The winter found him in the back of a carriage as it slowly made its way from Wartburg Castle to the town of Wittenberg.
Luther stared intently out of the carriage window. After hearing of the actions undertaken by Carlstadt and the Zwickau Prophets, he did not deliberate long on his course of action. He had decided that his return would cause no more commotion than the near anarchy of present events. He had written a number of sermons by candlelight, had packed his bags, and had taken his life into his own hands and headed home. He had decided to ascend the pulpit and take the reigns of the reformation from the hands of those he regarded as foolish zealots.
The sermons he had penned the night before lay in his lap as the carriage bumped along. The homilies called for a moderate approach to reform. He insisted that the reformers had done the right thing at the wrong time. Luther believed them impatient and would urge them to wait for inner change before undertaking such radical steps. He believed they were attempting to force the hand of God.
The carriage bounced roughly along the road. The frozen German forest lay before him. He was awash in thought when a familiar figure emerged from the snow tipped brush. It was a creature who had visited him many times. It was the Devil himself.
The bristling monk slammed the door shut and bellowed to the driver to continue. Satan, staring directly into Luther’s eyes nearly whispered, “You’ve created quite a stir, my friend. I am almost jealous! Now please satisfy my curiosity and tell me what you believe to be the crux of the matter.” Luther began a rambling diatribe concerning salvation, sources for theology, and then authority.
Luther pounded his fist against the seat and bellowed, “You pig! First of all, you know as well as I do that the Word preceded the church. It formed the church. The church then, guided by the Spirit, decided between authentic and inauthentic scripture. The church, however, obviously has no place for the guidance of the Spirit anymore, only for the pagan Aristotle! Once the church has been cleansed and placed under the Word then it may claim authority.”
The Devil mockingly assumed the pose of “the thinker” and stated, “Assuming that the Word has accurately been recorded in the scriptures, it seems that you have still opened a Pandora’s box. By openly questioning the authority of the church you have unwittingly invited everyone to seek another authority without being prepared to offer the people a clear one in return. You have opened the door to private judgment and arbitrary subjective authority. You may never be able to close that door. Moreover, you have theological problems, my friend. Tell me what happened to the ‘Spirit of Truth’ spoken of in John 16:13? Where has it been if the church has fallen from grace?”
Satan let Luther’s words hang in the air for an awkward moment, then he lifted his arms behind his head and responded, “But how do you guard against interpretive corruption? You say you recognize the necessity of a teaching office and that you only seek to harmonize scripture and the church, but how do you do that? Can you divorce men’s prejudices from the reading of scripture? Tell me, if you have the ‘Spirit of Truth’ then place Paul next to James and tell me what the church should teach? Doesn’t it have to choose one or the other? Or shall you create a canon within a canon? What of the ‘Priesthood of all believers’? Does this include women? Tell me, my dear doctor, how 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 and Galatians 3:28 are handled in your scheme? Is it possible to separate scripture from interpretation? And if so, is it possible to elevate scripture above the teaching office without stripping it of authority? How in the world does this church you envision operate and maintain any kind of order or consensus?”
They found themselves in a strange town square. A line of headless bodies lay before them. A sour, burnt stench was in the air and they were engulfed in tortured screams. Satan shouted in Luther’s ear, “These are the descendents of Carlstadt and the Zwickau prophets. Their forefathers in chiliastic zeal sought an undogmatic church. They have attempted to live a life under sola scriptura. Their ‘Spirit of Truth’ led them to believe that there had been no true church since the conversion of Constantine. Their benevolent spirit told them that the end was near. They withdrew from society as pacifists believing they were both following in the true footsteps of Christ and that they would be rewarded with his quick return. The inevitable wars meant that no man could be spared in the eyes of the rising nation states. So in 1529 they began to be sentenced to death. Listen and you can hear some of the condemned sing to your hidden god!”
Luther had been staring at the floor for most of the Devil’s speech. Now he raised his face and stared the demon in the eyes. “I will tell you what I think,” he growled as his face turned red. “I think you are a liar! You led those in the Garden astray, but you will not lead me. You have attacked the clear authority of scripture, therefore you have attacked the divine author! You speak fancy words about the nature of authority, but I say the highest authority must be its own authority as a matter of logic.”
The Devil’s companion asked, “Why did you bother to tell him those things?” Lucifer smiled and stated, “He was wrong about the challenge in the Garden. I actually spoke the truth because I knew they would listen. I spoke the truth again because I knew he would not.”
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Taking a working vacation for a few days. Will return with more posts about my vision for a church, etc.
In the meantime, check out the following:
James Dobson has endorsed the Ben Stein documentary about intelligent design. See more here: http://www.expelledthemovie.com/
Cedarville un-invited Shane Claibone. See more here (I think they made a mistake even if Shane is a wing nut): http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/februaryweb-only/107-22.0.html
Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, has some great stuff over at Acts 29 including a compelling history and analysis of the emerging church. Check it out here:
If people understand that there is movement and each ministry within the church knows where they fit within the process then it is easier for each ministry to encourage its participants to move on to the next level. The bridge between connection (worship) and community (small groups/house churches) is a new member class.
Rainer & Geiger found in their research that the evidence supporting a new member class is overwhelming! I can see why. A new member class outlines the faith, the system of the particular church and the discipleship process for each new attendee, which reduces anxiety, promotes clairity and obviously assists in the discipleship process.
My vision for a new member class is one based largely on 1 Corinthians 15 "What is the Gospel?" The class would explain the Gospel using 1 Cor. 15, as well as outline the discipleship process and introduce the staff responsible for each step. The class would also introduce people to one another and to mentors whose small group the newbies will be joining.
To jump ahead, the small groups will teach them how to read the Bible, the scripture's grand narrative, the vocabulary of the faith (justification, righteousness, etc.), the spiritual disciplines, etc. but more on that later.
This will frankly be easier to do with a very small church or a church plant because it would strain most corporate or megachurches even though they need it. I have ministered in 4 states and have yet to find a church, big or small, where anyone under 50 could accurately define a key term/concept like justification yet the pastors/elders/deacons of the church seem blissfully ignorant of their own flock's total ignorance!!!
In most churches, regardless of size, you would have to start from scratch with a new member's class for everyone and teach them the A-B-C's of the faith. Rainer & Geiger are right...new membes classes are vital.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Sunday, February 10, 2008
My favorite album of last year was Demon Hunter's "Storm the Gates of Hell" (Demon Hunter is an AWESOME Christian metal band) and the CD's title encapsulates the goal of my vision for a church--barbarian Christians ready to storm the gates of hell.
As I stated earlier, my vision for a church is one based on the Rainer & Geiger book "Simple Church" which lays out a blueprint for a church where everything the church does fits into a clear, sequential blueprint for making disciples. Thus, the first step is to decide what kind of disciple you want your church to produce and then work toward that goal. As I also stated earlier, the disciples I want the church I work at to produce will be rough around the edges but spirit filled, doctrinally sound soldiers ready to follow King Jesus into battle.
The blueprint of the church follows the following outline: connection--community--contribution or bridge--brotherhood--battle.
Connection or ("the bridge") obviously comes first. To build an army, the church must recruit soldiers. While many churches treat their worship services as either wholly evangelistic or wholly educational, communities like Mars Hill in Seattle and The Village in Dallas have demonstrated that this is a false dichotomy. A church can and must do both.
In order to connect or build a bridge to the outside world, the church must do many things: (1) have a good location; (2) have good security in place (esp. for children); (3) have good, clear signage throughout the building; (4) have a cool web page; (5) have a true committment to excellence; (6) have a warm, welcoming atmosphere (I know that sounds girly, but its true); and (7) cool music (I would prefer a hard rock-metal band ala Pillar or Disciple but that's me) BUT the biggest factor effecting church growth and retention (i.e., connection or bridge building) is the preaching and teaching.
Thom Rainer demonstrated in his massive research project compiled in "Breakout Churches" that preaching & teaching is key. Couples may stay at a church because of the youth & children's ministry (I hear that a lot) but they truly get excited and invite friends because of the preaching and teaching (and as the folks at Church Marketing 101 argue, if you're not growing at 15% per year then the preaching & teaching is NOT connecting enough to excite your people to invite others).
Preaching for many boomers, most Gen-Xer's and nearly all Gen-Yer's needs to be: (1) clear and simple (they don't know the Biblical narrative or even terms like Justification); (2) passionate and authentic (this is HUGE esp. for 18-35 year olds); (3) spoken in their "mother tongue" i.e., popular culture; and (4) doctrinally sound. Despite the cries of the wussy emergents, Rainer's research demonstrates clearly that only evangelical preaching & teaching truly connects in the long term.
A church can hire a great band like Skillet to do worship, they can build friggin' Disneyland for the kids, they can have Beth Moore, Rob Bell and Phillip Yancey themselves head their small groups and they can pass out free Starbucks and scones at the door but if the preaching & teaching is over their heads, dry point-by-point or doctrinally flimsy then the church will not truly connect with the unchurched and dechurched.
However, preaching is only part of the educational package. Rainer & Geiger's research also indicate the need for a new member class and Mars Hill has shown the importance of other training but more on all of that later. I've got to go preach.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Defining the ministry process is extremely important. Without it people won’t know how the church is making disciples. Whereas a clearly defined process encourages people to progress through it because they know the expectation. People cannot embrace the ambiguous.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
I have a vision of a church: a very simple church.
Most churches fail to impliment the Jim Collins "Good to Great" system of confronting "the brutal facts." The churches rely on offhand comments or the staff's own views instead of a more objective tool like a spiritual survey. Therefore, most churches fail to see that their members are not being spiritually transformed and the staff becomes content with being busy. It is a sad state of affairs that the churches truly reaching the un-churched are church plants led by young, simple church designers while stagnating churches (including those growing only by adding members from dying churches) or declining churches are led by program managers.
Simple churches do not waste a lot of time and effort on purpose or mission statements. They simply adopt a version of the Great Commission. Moreover, according to Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, in their groundbreaking book pictured to the left, "a simple church is a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth." The key four elements of a simple church are: clarity, movement, alignment and focus. Thus, an expanded definition of a simple church is a community "designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically (movement) and is implimented in each area of the church (alignment). The church abandons everything that is not in the process (f0cus)."
To unpack this even further:
1) "Clarity is the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people."
2) "Movement is the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of committment."
3) "Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process."
4) "Focus is the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process."
This is the practical outline of the vision I have for a church ready for a makeover or one built from the ground up. More on each step later.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
So even Relevant Magazine's Podcast weighed in on the great "Indian Rock Head" feud between KY and OH.
Now let me get this straight, this 2-ton rock was lost or purposely dumped into the Ohio River sometime roughly 90 years ago and was only recently retrieved by an Ohio dive team and Kentucky is actually screaming about getting their "precious" rock back? In fact, one Kentucky legislator called the Ohio dive a "raid"! So, Kentucky loses a 2-ton rock, they lack the "advanced technology" to find it or assemble a crack dive team to get it and then complain that part of their "heritage" has been stolen? Mmmmkay. May I ask the good people of Kentucky what they plan to do with their precious rock? Are they just going to sit it in front of a Speedway so that holler creatures can "spit backi" on it and cover it with Krylon?
Good people of Kentucky, please just go back to doing what you do best--making whiskey and losing basketball games! The rock is ours!
Monday, February 4, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Matt Chandler did not want to take over the First Baptist Church of Highland Village in Dallas, Texas but when they agreed to absolutely every demand he made he had no choice but to see the hand of God in it. The struggling Baptist church of 165 still fought the reforms of the not-yet thirty, loud, charismatic, Reformed Evangelical until they finally relented and a good thing they did...the church of 165 is now a church of 4000+ and Chandler is one of the 20 most downloaded preachers in the world.
In the church it is generally assumed that one must be 40+ to man a church and that most young ones need to be seen but not heard. Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, Francis Chan and a score of others are changing that assumption. The simple fact is that there is a generation gap that has never been seen before and, as Thom Rainer has proven, the preaching is THE reason why the un-churched or de-churched choose a particular congregation. 18-35 year olds want to hear from those who "speaks their own language" without selling out to the emergent fad. The fastest growing congregations in America are doctrinally sound, making deeply committed disciples and are lead by 40 and unders. May their tribe increase.
To hear more about Matt Chandler and The Village check out this link:
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Case in point, the great Steve Earle (pic to the left). I've been a fan of Earle since he debuted in 1986 with the brilliant album "Guitar Town." Earle produced three more very good albums ("Exit O", "Copperhead Road" and "The Hard Way") before sinking into heroin addiction and a brief stint in jail. Earle made a brilliant comeback in 1995 with "Train A' Comin'" and then spawned a series of near perfect records in the mid- to late nineties including "I Feel Alright", "El Corazon" and "The Mountain", a bluegrass collaberation with the Del McCurry Band. Earle has been a little off since then but did produce a truly great album in 2002's "Jerusalem."
Earle's appeal is his uncanny ability to write compelling story songs set to catchy melodies. Earle has been called the hillbilly Bruce Springsteen but, in my opinion, with the exception of his obvious vocal limitations, Earle is Springsteen's superior in every way.
If you are a fan of roots rock, americana music and appreciate a great lyric then by all means check out Earle. For example, spend a few bucks over at iTunes and check out the songs "Copperhead Road" (the story of a family of country bootleggers turned dope runners), "The Ballad of Billy & Bonnie" (the tale of a middle aged siren and her young lover on a crime spree), "NYC" (the story of a hitchiker's hopes to make it big on the Great White Way), "The Mountain" (a coal miner's lament over the ecolological state of his hometown), "Jerusalem" (Earle's post 9-11 hope for peace in the Middle East) and "Rich Man's War" (a denunciation of "the powers" behind modern wars both foreign and domestic). Those are just a sampling but you really can't go wrong (although his new album is just so-so). I don't think Earle and I agree on anything from politics to religion but he is a truly brilliant and underappreciated songwriter.
Friday, February 1, 2008
The responses from my former emerging colleagues were swift. Some responded with the equivalent of "hey, man...we're really uniting the whole church", which is a lie. Even Tony Jones admitted that he is disturbed that 10 years into the "emerging movement" it is still overwhelmingly populated by white, upper-to-middle class lapsed evangelicals with few Pentecostals or people of color. Others who have responded have just been nasty, which is ironic to say the least.
Yet, it should be noted that Keller was not just pulling this thought out of the air but was actually responding to the suggestion by Andrew Jones and Scot McKnight that the Anabaptist denominations might make for a good home for "emergent ex-patriots." McKnight has stated several times that he worries that the "emergent movement" will fade away because, like neo-orthodoxy in the 20th century, it has no real church structure behind it to ensure its survival. Diana Butler Bass agrees with McKnight that this is real a danger. So, many emergents are attacking the ideas of their own just because it was echoed by an evangelical--a prime example of the intolerance of the "tolerant."