Monday, February 25, 2008

Born Agains on the Band Wagon

According to Barna, for the first time in at least 16 years, the majority of self described "born again" voters are planning to vote for the Democrat presidential nominee. Despite the fact that we are in the middle of WWIII, only one Supreme Court Justice away from overturning Roe v. Wade and teetering on a economic downturn, many Christians apparently want to jump on the Barack Band Wagon. They, like the press and most lemming college students, are following Obama around like puppy-eyed teenagers with a crush despite his vow to withdraw from Iraq (which would leave the country in shambles), appoint pro-Abortion judges and raise taxes (because that always helps the economy! Hey Barack, go ask Jimmy Carter how that worked out for him!). It just goes to show that the cult of personality is alive and well.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Kimball Finally Throws Down

Dan Kimball has often been put forth as the Emergent Village's token Evangelical. Kimball may have trendy hair and pastor a church filled with kids who look like they only shop at Hot Topic and have so many piercings that they appear to have rolled around in a tackle box, but Kimball's theology has always been thoroughly orthodox even if Dan himself is a bit vanilla in his attempt to keep everybody happy. Yet, Kimball has finally gotten at least a little irked by his fellow Emergents and the spark is the ever growing consensus among the leftish leadership that Hell either doesn't exist or, at the most, is a metaphor for the quick, painless annhilation of the soul. In a recent article in Leadership Kimball pleads for the church to return to the proclamation of the traditional view of Hell. As someone who has preached on Hell and taken heat for it (oh, come had to be done) let me say, "welcome to the party, Dan!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Brief Break from My Vision for a Church to a Dialogue with Luther

I'm way too swamped to continue my posts about my vision for planting or re-building a church, so, instead, here is a copy of an article I published while studying at Cornell in the Journal for Case Teaching. The point of the article is not to take pot shots at my man Luther (he's was a righteous dude!) or the protestant Reformation (I'm for it) but to learn about how the style of reforms and lack of foresight by even the bravest and most intelligent can produce unintended consequences. I've removed all of the footnotes for your reading enjoyment.

Have fun!

A Dialogue with Luther

Matthew Rawlings
Cornell University

The winter of 1521-1522 saw Sultan Suleiman I devour Belgrade and begin his march to Rhodes. It witnessed St. Ignatius of Loyola begin to formulate his Exercitiae. Across the world, Juan Sebastiano del Cano attempted to bring his men home in the wake of the death of his captain, Ferdinand Magellan.

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.

Luther shouted to his driver, “Stop!” He threw open the door to the carriage and began barraging the demon with a string of profanity.

Satan slipped into the vehicle paying little attention to the roaring theologian. Once comfortable in the seat across from Luther, the Devil grinned and stated matter-of-factly, “We need to talk.”
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.

“Ah-ha!” the Devil interrupted, “now we are getting somewhere.” He rubbed his hands together greedily and leaned close to the red face of Luther. “Authority is the crux of the matter. ‘It is the issue implicit within all other issues.’If it were settled then all the others would be resolved! If there is no final authority then anyone may posit whatever he or she likes. You have benefitted greatly from such a structure. The condemnation of Pelagias was accomplished through Rome, my friend, and your beloved Augustine stated that he would not believe the gospel “except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” He believed that those who rejected the authority of the church were not entitled to its truth. He lived among the whirlwind of competing opinions and saw that there had to be a final judge. Your little band of troublemakers seems to love the creed but reject the article “one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

Luther exploded, “I do not deny the necessity of the teaching office of the church! I only seek to rip it from the tentacles of philosophy and place it under scripture.”

The Devil’s smile widened. “Scripture did you say? But wasn’t it the church which decided between authentic and inauthentic scripture? Where does the canon come from, my friend? Didn’t the church grant scripture the authority it has today? Or do you believe that the Bible has an intrinsic, self-authenticating force within it? If so, then where do heretical interpretations come from, dear doctor?”

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?”
“You fool! Your ignorance of the scriptures is priceless! The emphasis in that verse is on the term ‘all’ ”. John was stating that although our Lord has made the truth known, we cannot fully grasp it. It will be the paraclete that guides us to the full meaning. So, you see, the Spirit brings understanding of the Word, but it cannot do so through Aristotilean heretics! Finding no one in Rome to guide, the Spirit has looked elsewhere just as it always has, for it refuses to abandon us. Now hear me, I do not seek to split church with truth. I am no schismatic! I seek only to harmonize the Word and the church again. I do indeed worry about the authority of the church, but it is not I that has damaged it but the loose morals and pagan philosophy of Rome which have done the damage. It does take a pastor who has received a proper education, who is formed by scripture and tradition, to deliver and guard the Word. But it must be an education freed from man-made philosophy and tradition that has not been formed by scripture. I am not embarking on a new enterprise, but am seeking to steer the church to its oldest vision. I am seeking to guide the Holy Church away from the Thomists and back to the Word. Luckily there are many fine scholars, such as the misguided Erasmus, who are giving us the Bible in its original language for ‘the water of a stream is purest nearest its source.’ Perhaps I should alter my cry from sola scriptura to sola valde prima, but my point is that the church must make the revelation of God contained in scripture primary! How could they not? It is the Word that has the very power to create as is evidenced in Genesis 1. It is the Bible that contains the words of Christ which Hebrews 1:2 tells us is how God speaks to us. It is the Word that Jesus quoted to you and to the Pharisees as authoritative (Mt 4:4,6,10; 19:4-5). It is only demons like you that question it as you did in Eden (Gen 3:1-6)!”

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?”
Luther’s mind raced until he blurted with excitement, “Aha! You may have tried to make me lose sight of the truth with your riddles and enigmas but you have not! You want to know what the true church looks like, Devil? I will tell you how to recognize it! It is the gathering which possesses the holy Word of God, even if all do not possess it in equal measure just as the blessed Apostle stated in 1 Corinthians 3:12-14. Some possess it purely, others do not. Yet the holy thing is the true holy thing, the true anointing that anoints with eternal life. The church may be recognized by the speaking of the eternal Word, preached by people like me. The proclaimed Word is what Christ left behind as an eternal sign by which His people are recognized. Wherever you hear or see such a Word preached, believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica must be there even if there are only a handful of them!”
The Devil shrilled with glee, “Now you show your true stripes! You are indeed a schismatic. You do not seek to reform the church but radically break from it.”
“Nein!” Luther interrupted. “I only stress the necessity of the central role of the Word of God in constituting the true church. An ordained ministry is preferred, as I have said, but is not necessary to guard the existence of the church. If the Word is preached there will be faith, and if there is faith then there will be the true church. The legitimacy of the church is based on theological, not historical, continuity with the apostolic church. How this works is not my concern. God is present and will guide those open to His direction. If this sounds radical then it is only because you are a godless creature. But understand this, if the church will not pay heed to this truth, then it will not be the few leaving the many but it will be the many who have left the few.”

The Devil shook his head in vain. “My dear Luther you have played the trump card of all trump cards. You leave the details to your hidden mysterious God. So be it. Before I go, let me give you a brief glimpse of the future you have helped to shape.” Then with a wave of his hand the two were transported to a musty hall filled with Vatican officials.

“Where are we?” Luther demanded.“We are in Trent,” Satan responded. “The date is December 4, 1563 and this is the final gathering of an assembly called nearly eighteen years ago to respond to your call for reform within. I suppose you should feel flattered that they responded, but you will not be so pleased with the results. Rome has cemented its positions. Before you began your ruckus there was some toleration for a plurality of views within the church but now that is gone. Moreover, in the face of your taunts they spend their time searching to harmonize doctrines. The result is that the pastorate has become so enthralled in polemics that cultivating faith is superseded. Tell me, did you really expect the church to capitulate in a time of such uncertainty? It is a time of transition and transition brings stress. They weren’t about to add to the instability. But this is not the end of it.” Satan waived his hand again and they were transported elsewhere.

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!”

Intermingled with the screams was the faint hymn sung between tears, “We creep for refuge under trees. They hunt us with the bloodhounds. Like lambs they take us as they please and hold us up roped and strong bound.”

The Devil leaned close to Luther shouting, “This is the product of your indifference to structure! Your friend Carlstadt got off easy. He was only exiled for his pacifism. Regardless of how you feel about him personally, is that how he deserves to end up for simply disagreeing with you and your compatriots? Is this the mercy the ‘Spirit of Truth’ brings? Can you picture Christ setting a torch to one of these men, women, or children? They believed they were separating from the “carnal church,” but then the carnal church came looking for them!”
Yet another wave of the Devil’s hand brought them to a setting totally alien to Luther. It was a modern street corner lined with different churches. Satan spread his arms and in the voice of a sideshow master roared, “Welcome to the product of your labors—the religious marketplace. The only authority the body of Christ recognizes is their own. They decide where and how they worship. They decide who proclaims the Word. There is a church to meet every need or desire. There is a seminary to support any belief. They are mostly Protestants who claim sola scriptura, yet few agree on an interpretation of scripture. After the wars and atrocities following your ‘re-formation’ helped to drive the intelligentsia away from religion, there ensued a number of epochs of interpretive change. For example there came a man named Schleirermacher who insisted that a text is understood when the interpreter recovers the author’s consciousness. The words provide the access to the psyche. Later came the structuralists seeking the deep forms that lay behind all human constructs including texts. Now, nearly five hundred years after you committed yourself to the study of scripture, there has been the ‘reader’s revolt’ in which many believe that the text has no meaning until it is constructed by the individual reader. The vacuum of authority created by your movement has been filled by the autonomous voice.”
The Devil pointed to a nondescript building with the words ‘Community Church’ etched in its foundation’s red bricks. “That church has just fired its pastor for not pandering to each person’s own ‘Spirit of Truth.’ It is packed with Christians this very moment arguing over whose ‘Spirit of Truth’ is more truthful. Now, my friend, you were not the only one contributing to this mess, but you were certainly a major catalyst. You see, a generation after you depart this life, those who will follow you will not remember what it was like to have grown up in the Catholic Church and, as such, they will not miss it. They will not long to reform it but only to reshape the faith into their chosen image. What do you say now, dear friend?”Luther stood speechless. Finally the Devil waved his hand again and they returned to the carriage slowly winding its way towards Wittenberg.
The demon slapped the monk’s knee in a friendly, almost sympathetic manner. “Do you know what to do, dear Luther?” Satan inquired. Meeting silence he continued, “Your concerns are well founded. Rome has certainly stretched the facts in order to make some of their claims such as infallibility. A true pastor arises from within a community, not from above it as the priests arrogantly attempt. A true pastor draws his or her authority from their witness to God’s revelation, which does, of course, necessitate a strong theological foundation and a pure life. Indeed God’s revelation has not been taken as seriously as it should. Yet are you arrogant enough to believe that none within Rome long for a humble interaction with the Word? Did you ever consider joining these voices in encouraging a dialogue between scripture and tradition then emending the latter to conform more with the implicit vision of the former? You have rushed like a bull into a china shop demanding quick change. But to call for any change takes great wisdom and patience.

“If you are to be a wise problem solver and/or change manager, then you must realize that every ‘solution’ creates a ripple that must be considered. Every problem is unique and arises out of community. This means that you and all priests must come down from the ivory towers you have constructed and get to know the people. This then means that you must always be thinking about how best to communicate your message. You must work hard to make sure that what you are saying is simple and understood. You must know the sheep to be a good shepherd! Leadership does not take place until a person has taken his or her place within the community to influence and be influenced. Once this is done then you can move within, shaping the church to care for each other. This takes years which means you must have patience! In order to do this effectively, you must understand both your mission and the culture. You have not even attempted to do the latter, my friend. Don’t get me wrong, structure and hierarchy are fine. God created the nation of Israel and Christ collected His twelve who formed the Council at Jerusalem. The priest may claim authority just as Paul did, but why did he have it? Was it not in part because he was a member of every community that he led?“The Apostle lived among the people and got to know them and all the factors that effected their lives. It is painfully obvious that you have only considered what you perceive to be the problem and not the factors surrounding it or the long-term ramifications of your attempts. Would it truly be too much to ask a man who writes so voluminously to pen a statement of your purpose, vision, and core values after ministering to the people and reflecting on their lives. Isn’t this what Paul did? It would provide depth and clarity to your writings, which are notoriously unsystematic and confusing. You should all the while remember, my portly friend, that problem solving requires patience and is as much a mindset as it is a technique. Speaking of mindset, do you realize what your demeanor and tone have already done? You say you want peaceful reconciliation and reform yet you poison the wells all along the way. Have you seen the woodcuts depicting the pope as antichrist? Creating an ‘us-them’ mindset is not conducive to generating the atmosphere you claim to crave, my friend. Is this what Christ would have done? If you claim to be a servant of the Kingdom, then tell me what this Kingdom stands for? It seems you may be separating your vision of the Kingdom from the King and this is dangerous! If all life is to be lived under the banner of the Kingdom of God then theology should be your starting point, not just for academic disputes, but for ministry, politics, and life! They cannot be separated. Perhaps the continuity that you need to assert is not ‘right doctrine.’ It is important and should be sought after, but what if the true continuity of the faith is the desire to follow Christ and wrestle with the revealed Word of God. You are right that the Word came first. But is it always so easy to understand? Perhaps instead of Word over community or community over Word, it is both in dialogue. The community seeks, the Word speaks, the community asks what it means and through love and the guidance of the Spirit by way of a humble, expectant interpreter, meaning arises and becomes authoritative. Are you willing to do this? Will you return to Wittenberg and seek to lead from within, teaching them to be servants of the Kingdom first and ‘correct’ later? What do you say, my friend?”

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.”

Luther stuck his head out the window and shouted for the driver to stop. He kicked open the door and strung a string of profanities together as he motioned for the Devil to leave. Satan calmly exited, hearing the door slam behind him. He turned and watched the carriage pull away as a fellow demon joined him on the road.

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

I'm Back...

Just returned from a few days in the mountains above Flagstaff, Arizona and then helping with the opening of the new national headquarters for my employer, the Alliance Defense Fund (or ADF) in Scottsdale.
Had a great time with the rest of the development team at ADF. Stayed at a beautiful (and huge) winter cabin while 6-8 inches of snow fell. Watched elk and coyote wander about and hiked through the mountains (with snowshoes...which no longer look like tennis rackets!) while listening to a couple of fellow team members tell stories about their days in major league baseball (no kidding). A truly awesome time but really glad to be home with the fam. Will be posting again soon my friends. God bless you all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

See Ya' Next Week...

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:

Cedarville un-invited Shane Claibone. See more here (I think they made a mistake even if Shane is a wing nut):

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:

A Vision of a Simple Church--Bridge to Brotherhood

My vision is of a church solely committed to making disciples to the point that the chuch does not do ANYTHING unless the proponent of the event, program, etc. can clearly demonstrate how it fits into the steps of connection--community--contribution (or bridge-brotherhood--battle). Every church event or program must be a sensible chronological step in the discipleship process. The process must be clearly stated, movement is key and every step must demand a higher level of committment.

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 membes classes are vital.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Vision for a Simple Church--the Barbarian Bridge

Before I get too into the details I need to return to the overall blueprint. My vision for a simple church is one that produces "barbarian Christians" ready to storm the gates of hell via the bridge (worship) then brotherhood (new member training and small groups) and then battle (more training followed by sending out as missional followers of our king, Jesus).
Worship will be no more than 1 hour. Begin with a song, then prayer, then another song and then a 30 minute sermon and end with a song or music video. If God blesses the church then the first service will be an early Sunday morning service with softer music (keyboard and acoustic guitar) to connect to older seekers. The second Sunday morning service will be more K-Love upbeat to build a bridge to the boomers. The afternoon and evening service will be alt./indie rock flavored with the first afternoon service generally situated between ballgames (I'll defend on this later) and then an evening service for singles with no childcare. The praise band may be the same and do the same re-worked hymns just in different styles. The sermon will also be the same. The staff will come together during breaks, talk about the services, eat together, pray together, etc.
No other activities will take place on Sunday so that everyone can focus on worship. The staff will celebrate their role as instruments of God on Monday afternoons when they come back together to discuss the weekend.
Children's services for the first 3 services will mirror the sermon so that families can discuss it if they so wish. Hymns will also tie into the sermon. All sermons will be podcasted with additional readings listed on-line for some small groups (more on this later).
Generally, this is the bridge. According to Richard L. Reising, if it is done right then attendees will be excited and will invite others on their own without encouragement and the congregation will grow at a rate of at least 15% until it hits its saturation mark. Next comes the brotherhood phase.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Posts...A Vision for a Church

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

A Note From Our Sponsor...

More on my vision for a Simple Church plant later, but for now a note from our kind sponsor, the folks at Christ's Community Church--I'll be preaching this weekend on the work of the Holy Spirit.
The sermon is part of the ongoing series on The Tabernacle. This week we focus on the Golden Lampstand which has long been associated with the Holy Spirit (see Revelation 4).
Should be a lot of fun...and really, really loud. Let's face it, I generally have 2 emotions: anger and sleep.
So, stop on by Saturday at 5:00 and Sunday at 10:30 for the Tim Rolfe Experience followed by a lot of yelling about the work of the Spirit.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Vision of a Simple Church Part 3--Barbarian Christians

A "simple church" plant or a "simple" congregational overhaul must start with a blueprint.

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.
But the first step is to determine what kind of disciples you want your Church to produce. Me? I want barbarians.
Erwin McManus' book "The Barbarian Way" describes a Christianity that is untamed and rough around the edges. A faith that unshackles itself from the polite, 18th and 19th century cultural moorings that have produced churches largely designed for women and children, play to girlish emotions and produce a Stepford-like effect where everyone wheres khaki and drives an SUV or minivan.
Think about what healthy churches really look like and I define healthy churches as those who make Leonard Sweet's 1% club (i.e., the 1% of churches that are actively reaching the unchurched rather than just stealing disgrunted members from other churches). Look at Mars Hill in Seattle where they have a 40% conversion rate or The Village in Dallas where the average attendee is a single twentysomething. Both ministries focus on worship and evangelical expository but charismatic preaching that is unafraid to touch subjects like sex, gender roles, etc. and speak the language of Gen-X & Gen-Y, which is the language of pop culture.
These are churches that actively train new converts to become missionaries in their own contexts. In other words, the goth kid who looks like he or she only shops at Hot Topic and fell into a tackle box still looks like the same and re-enters his or her goth world to evangelize his or her friends. They may still smoke, drink beer, listen to real radio stations, not K-Love, watch good movies (not Facing the Giants) but they will also worship and love God with all their heart and NO these two are not in any way in tension with the other.
Barbarian Christians are rough around the edges so that they do not appear like uptight, judgmental jerks to non-Christians and they are unafraid to go places where khaki wearing Christians fear to tread. I don't want a church that produces outlet mall/K-love/"purpose driven" converts, I want a church that produces soldiers ready to storm the gates of hell. How? More later.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Vision of a Church Part Two--Radically Simple

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

The Rock is Ours!

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

A Vision of a Church

I have a vision for a church. A simple church that is program light but discipleship heavy. A church built around steps toward spiritual growth not programs for "felt needs." A church where the lessons and sermons are steeped in orthodox Reformed doctrine but the style is anything but traditional. A church where the preacher can yell about God's holiness, our sinfulness, the necessity of atonement and the certainty of judgment without coming off like a big haired, hypocritical jerk with a bug up his you know what. A church community made up of goth kids, skater punks, yuppies, frat boys, ex-Jesus freak hippies, rednecks, immigrants, middle aged divorced women who wear so much make-up they look like they lost a paint ball war, twitchy addicts longing for help, raw fooders who smell like feet, homeless people who argue with parking meters, momma's boys struggling with their sexual identity and even Methodists who listen to K-Love (that last one's tough for even me to swallow). A church where people are loved and taken care of but challenged constantly to open themselves up to the sanctifying work of the Spirit (preaching on that this weekend as a matter of fact) so that they can storm the gates of hell as hardened soldiers following King Jesus.
In sum, a church that is a battleship not a cruiseship. Too many of the latter around as it is.
Where? When? How? More on that later.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Matt Chandler Story

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:

God bless!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mark Driscoll Interview

Mike Corley recently interviewed Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. You can find the interview over at (see link over to the left and below). Many of you know by now that I'm a Driscoll fan. He, along with Matt Chandler at The Village in Dallas, have been God's instrument to inspire me to either plant my own church or take a small church and help lead it to become a battleship for the Kingdom.
The interview covers the usual topics: why does he use strong, course language when he teaches & preaches? how does he respond to the criticism by folks like John MacArthur who praise his theology but condemn his style and use of pop culture? does he regret his bold criticism of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and Doug Pagitt at the Convergent Conference?
As an aside, Driscoll states that John MacArthur recently wrote him a five page letter but didn't state what was in the epistle. Driscoll has great respect for MacArthur, as well as C.J. Mahaney, Tim Keller, John Piper, Wayne Grudem and other members of the Reformed honor guard but I hope he tells even his best critics to you know what you know where. While those fine gents are scratching their heads wondering how to reach 20-something, single perverts, Driscoll is reaching them and in droves! Some estimate that Mars Hill's conversion rate is 40% (if you don't know, that's high!). Let us not forget that Driscoll has been God's tool to build a church of 6000 in the most unchurched area of the country. So, I hope he doesn't fall into the trap of becoming a member of the dry, quick tempered, humorless, khaki wearing Calvinists who just need to lighten up!
and a great Christianity Today article on Driscoll here:
and Driscoll's church is right here--

Why Do Pagans Make All The Good Music?

I am an evangelical Reformed Christian and Fox News kind of guy but I love music made liberal pagans. Now, most of you know that I am largely a metalhead but I also confess a love for singer-songwriters, alt. country, neo-folk, etc. and they are almost exclusively non-Christian, conspiracy theorist socialists.

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

Emerging Anabaptists?

The great Tim Keller posted a comment on Andrew Jones' Tall Skinny Kiwi blog that the emerging/emergent church should just embrace the Anabaptist tradition as the stated beliefs of the more liberal stream of emergents cohere nicely with that tradition (i.e., pietism, pacifism, simple living, community, etc.).

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."