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On Autumn Sluggishness

October 31, 2005

I haven’t been blogging much lately, but hope to get back into it this week. It’s not that I’ve been particularly busy, but I’ve felt a bit uninspired when it comes to formulating blog material.  I’ve felt a bit tired and run down…which really really disappoints me, because this is my favorite time of year. I love October, November, and December…these three months hold a special place in my heart for some reason.  I love the shrinking of daylight hours, the crisp air, the smell of decaying leaves, the coming of snow.  I love Christmas.  Not because I love presents or flashiness.  Not even because I get to spend time with family.  I love the somber mystery of Christmas…the Christmas hymns, the candlelight, the simple decorations.  I love the twinkly night sky.  That same part of me that loves the Lord of the Rings loves Christmas. 

I think I’ve been eating too much crap since seminary started up this year…I’ve been eating less healthfully and sleeping strange hours.  Last week I changed my diet drastically and have been trying to sleep better.  Hopefully that will set things straight. 

Upcoming Pub Gathering: Speak of the Devil

October 25, 2005

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Mixing Religion and Politics

October 24, 2005

Check out this great post from William Willimon.  Here’s a sample:

Politics is a risky business for religious people, particular Christian
people, who are the only religious people I know much about. Nobody
goes to church primarily for politics. Nobody chooses a church simply
because that church is politically to the right or to the left. People
go to church to meet God, to have their lives exposed to the glare of
God?s judgments and grace. It is the nature of religious faith that
whenever it is used for any other purpose, other than worship of and
service to God, then that religion is being used and therefore abused.
(This is a prejudiced Christian comment, the only kind you would expect
me to make, but I find it sort of sad when religious people allow their
religious convictions and their religious communities, to be degraded
by being simply used for certain political ends.)

Read the rest here.

From Outcomes to Marks

October 20, 2005

Yesterday during lunch, my friend Joel and I started discussing church "success." What would success look like for Missio Dei? As much as I reject church-growth principles, I found it very difficult to articulate success in non-quantitative ways. The American way of doing church has been thoroughly infused with pragmatism.  Most of you who read this blog would agree with this assessment, and would agree that we need to move away from quantitative methods for determining "success" to something more qualitative.  One problem with quantitative methods is that is doesn’t take context into consideration (any urban teacher who must raise standardized testing scores in order to keep his/her job will resonate with this reality).  Every context has unique challenges.  A Somali church should be evaluated differently than a suburban white church. 

What method should we employ?  Why evaluate the health of a church at all?  Well, it is good to know what is healthy within a church system and what is not, so that it may move to health.  I suggest we take a page out of church history and return to the language of "marks"–what are the "marks" of a successful church?

I’d like to hear some of your suggestions…but let me get the list started:

  • Characterized by generosity and self sacrifice.
  • Practices hospitality.
  • Moving beyond homogeneity to diversity in age, class, race, gender, ethnicity, etc. in a way that reflects context.
  • Proclaims the Gospel.

Any more suggestions?  Let’s banter about what should–or should not–be included in evaluating the health and success of a church. 

Rebellion from Within

October 11, 2005

I recently picked up Nation of Rebels a book arguing that the American counter-culture is dead.  Our counter cultures have been embraced by the consumer culture.

So much of my generation’s re-envisioning of church is wrapped up in embracing the counter-cultural nature of the Gospel.  That’s cool.  Unfortunately, many churches do counter cultural things in the conventional sense–they embrace an edgier style and challenge the status quo with no clear reason for doing so.  This is a sort of rebellion of externals. "We reject the status quo because it doesn’t seem to fit.  So we’ll do things that seem counter-cultural–like get tatoos and play edgy music, and hang out at bars." I’ve known many Christians who revel in drinking beer because it is against the evangelical culture.   I’ve known Christians who tatoo themselves or get pierced because they perceive it to be an act of liberty.  These sort of things are counter-cultural in a sense…but they aren’t counter cultural in the Christian sense.  Most of what Christians consider to be counter cultural are no longer counter culutral.

Let me be clear–it isn’t that drinking or tatooing are wrong.  They just aren’t exactly world shaking.  But the Gospel is.  And sometimes we let externals shape our sense of being a counter culture, rather than embracing what it means to be a Gospel community.  Truly embracing the Gospel is counter cultural and will always be so–for the Gospel runs counter to human nature.  The kingdom cannot be seen naturally.  When we embrace the Kingdom, it will always be a counter cultural act.  And when we do this, our sense of being counter cultural will flow from within.  When we understand that, then we can quibble over elements of style.

Conference Registration Now Open

October 6, 2005

FYI, registration is now open for the Conference on Christianity in a Consumer Culture. Help us get the word out!                              
                        
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Right versus Left: One Neo-Anabaptist’s Perspective

October 5, 2005

My wife and I have been officially a one-car couple for about a week now.  Amy usually gets the short end of the stick, but today I was the one without the car.  At 1pm, I had to walk about 2 miles up to 2nd Moon on Franklin to meet with someone.  On the way back home, I decided to stop at my friend Chris’ house.  Chris decided to walk with me the rest of the way home (we stopped at McDonald’s on the way).  Along the way, we got into a discussion about politically conservative Christians and politically liberal Christians.  We basically agree with Hauerwas–that though both groups have different concerns, they have very similiar methodologies. 

Chris is well known for his general dislike of the "Wallis" school of thinking–which is basically the marriage of evangelical piety and liberal activism.  Chris’ contention is that a religious left is as bad as a religious right.  Part of the problem is that the Church utilizes the American government to achieve ecclesial goals. The religious left/right divide stems in large part from 19th and 20th century arguments about the nature of the Gospel–is it primarily an individual gospel or a social gospel?  The right focused on the responsibilities of the individual in making good decisions–the decision to follow Christ being the most important decision to make.  The left focused on social responsibility–that the church is responsible to foster social justice. Some could say that the religious right cares primarily about soul-winning.  Conversely, the left typically cares about the poor and marginalized. (I realize this is a gross simplification, but there is some general truth here)

In the course of our conversation, I came up with an illustration that
I thinks makes Chris’ point very well–and Chris suggested I share it
with you all.Let’s look at the following statement, which is the sort of statement that someone on the religious left could make:

"Jesus cares for the poor.  As American Christians, we must seek justice.  Therefore, we must use whatever means possible to serve the poor, including using governmental or political means."

What if we were to replace the word "poor" (the focus of liberal religious concern) with the word "lost" (the focus of conservative religious concern)?

"Jesus cares for the lost.  As American Christians, we must seek righteousness (which, biblically speaking, is the same as justice).  Therefore, we must use whatever means possible to reach the lost, including useing governmental or political means."

The first statement seems much more reasonable…right? Why? It is easy for us to conclude that serving the poor is a matter of justice, but reaching "the lost" is a matter of personal faith. But both are intensely religous endeavors.  Both are elements of the Gospel.  Yet one fits within the secular realm, and the other does not.  Why?  I think we need to bring our faith back into authentic holism.  We need to realize that both proclaiming the Gospel message to all people and serving the poor are acts of justice (or righteousness).  Both are elements of making things right–living out the Kingdom of God.  Why is it that we can so easily secularize one, yet not the other?

Is your church a grocery store or a garden?

October 4, 2005

My wife and I recently bought a house.  The yard was in pretty bad shape…and we haven’t alleviated its condition much since we moved in; landscaping has been pretty low on our priority list.  I hope to prepare the yard before winter for the coming Spring, with the intention of using a large portion of our yard space for gardening.  We want to give a portion of future vegetables away to local food shelves–so that food shelf patrons can have fresh veggies in their diets as well. 

Yesterday, I was pondering which vegetables to grow in our future-garden while Amy and I were shopping at the local grocery store (Rainbow Foods).  I was struck by the difference between growing food and shopping for food.  The way we engage in securing food in gardens is very different than the way we engage of securing food from grocery stores.  At grocery stores, we have high expectations for nearly-perfect food, on demand, without waiting, in the shape, size color and price we want.  If the tomatoes aren’t perfectly round and shiny-red or if our favorite cereal is out of stock or if we have to wait in line for too long, we get upset.  In other words, when our sovereign consumer will is thwarted, we get indignant. 

Not so with a garden.  Gardening requires care and discipline.  The act of growing the food is for many people more significant than eating it.  Mishapen vegetables are loved along with symmetrical vegetables.  We take the time to care for our gardens–longing one day to literally enjoy the fruit of our labors.

Gardengnomepipe9rI think grocery stores and gardens can be used as allegories for two different approaches to doing church. Grocery stores are for consumers who want to eat uniform goods.  Gardens are for gardeners who want to eat the fruits of their labor.  Grocery store-churches are for people who want to be fed religious goods delivered at low cost.  Garden-churches are for people who participate in the act of growing what it is they will feed upon. 

Being "fed" in a grocery store church is a passive activity.  Being "fed" in a garden church is an active one.  In a grocery store church, attendence of events and reception of religious goods and services are central.  In a garden church, discipleship and participation–a call to ministry–is central. 

Obviously, not every church can be put in one of these categories. However, I hope they are illustrative to the distinctions between churches which produce passive consumers and those that produce disciples.

Incarnational Practices on Next Wave

October 3, 2005

Hey, just thought you’d all like to take a gander at the latest issue of Next-Wave.  I converted some recent posts about "Incarnational Practices" into an article…it is the coverstory of October’s issue.

I’m including the article in it’s entirety below, because it hasn’t ever been in one place before, and because I want people who migrate over from Next-Wave to be able to comment somewhere.

INCARNATIONAL PRACTICES

You are church before you do church.
This is one of the fueling insights of the missional church movement.
This isn?t a new idea…but it is pretty provocative, especially when one
considers its implications. If we take Jesus at his word when he says
(as recorded in John 20:21) “as the Father has sent me, I am sending
you,” then we realize that our being sent is the basis of our “doing”
church. In other words, missiology precedes ecclesiology.

If this is true, then why does modern church planting amount to “service starting?”  This
is putting the cart before the horse, ecclesiology before missiology.
We decide how we are going to “do” church before we have built
missional relationships. Putting missiology first changes how we think
of ourselves as the church. (If you find this stuff confusing, I
encourage you to check out this article on Andrew “Hamo” Hamilton’s blog, Backyard Missionaries).

Just to prime the pump on how we might move forward to engage our neighborhoods missionally,
I?d like to suggest to you 6 incarnational practices. These are the
sort of things that a group of Christians can do out of their existing
church, but I think it is better for a group of Christian friends to
practice these sorts of things BEFORE a church is established. As they
engage in these practices, they’ll begin to meet people and know people
and as those people need to be discipled and grow in their faith, an
ecclesiology for that context should begin to emerge.

So, these practices are written with church planters in mind, but should be helpful for the rest of y’all as well.

Read more

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