Great Article From Sojourners

To start, a story.

A few years ago a female student wanted to visit with me about some difficulties she was having, mainly with her family life. As is my practice, we walked around campus as we talked.

After talking for some time about her family situation we turned to other areas of her life. When she reached spiritual matters we had the following exchange:

“I need to spend more time working on my relationship with God.”

I responded, “Why would you want to do that?”

Startled she says, “What do you mean?”

“Well, why would you want to spend any time at all on working on your relationship with God?”

“Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”

“Let me answer by asking you a question. Can you think of anyone, right now, to whom you need to apologize? Anyone you’ve wronged?”

She thinks and answers, “Yes.”

“Well, why don’t you give them a call today and ask for their forgiveness. That might be a better use of your time than working on your relationship with God.”

Obviously, I was being a bit provocative with the student. And I did go on to clarify. But I was trying to push back on a strain of Christianity I see in both my students and the larger Christian culture. Specifically, when the student said “I need to work on my relationship with God” I knew exactly what she meant. It meant praying more, getting up early to study the bible, to start going back to church. Things along those lines. The goal of these activities is to get “closer” to God. To “waste time with Jesus.” Of course, please hear me on this point, nothing is wrong with those activities. Personal acts of piety and devotion are vital to a vibrant spiritual life and continued spiritual formation. But all too often “working on my relationship with God” has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being.

The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. “Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:

•Going to church
•Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
•Bible study
•Voting Republican
•Going on spiritual retreats
•Reading religious books
•Arguing with evolutionists
•Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
•Using religious language
•Avoiding R-rated movies
•Not reading Harry Potter.
The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories.

Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.

I exaggerate of course. But I hope you see my point. Rather than pouring our efforts into two hours of worship, bible study and Christian fellowship on Sunday why don’t we just take a moment and a few extra bucks to act like a decent human being when we go to lunch afterwards? Just think about it. What if the entire restaurant industry actually began to look forward to working Sunday lunch? If they said amongst themselves, “I love the church crowd. They are kind, patient and very generous. It’s my favorite part of the week waiting on Christians.” How might such a change affect the way the world sees us? Think about it. Just being a decent human being for one hour each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way.

But it’s not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn’t considered to be “working on your relationship with God.” Behavior at lunch isn’t spiritual. Going to church, well, that is working on your relationship with God. But, as we all know, any jerk can sit in a pew. But you can’t be a jerk if you take the time to treat your waitress as if she were your friend, daughter or mother.

My point in all this is that contemporary Christianity has lost its way. Christians don’t wake up every morning thinking about how to become a more decent human being. Instead, they wake up trying to “work on their relationship with God” which very often has nothing to do with treating people better. How could such a confusion have occurred? How did we end up going so wrong? I’m sure there are lots of answers, but at the end of the day we need to face up to our collective failure. I’m not saying we need to do anything dramatic. A baby step would do to start. Waking up trying to be a little more kind, more generous, more interruptible, more forgiving, more humble, more civil, more tolerant. Do these things and prayer and worship will come alongside to support us.

I truly want people to spend time working on their relationship with God. I just want them to do it by taking the time to care about the person standing right in front of them.

Richard Beck is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality. Richard’s area of interest — be it research, writing, or blogging — is on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice. Richard’s published research covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. He blogs at Experimental Theology, where this post originally appeared.


Local Church Leadership

I often ‘fantasize’ about going back…you know back to good old fashion church pastoring. A good mate, Hamo – the Backyard Missionary – he did it. Went back that is. He is heading back to Quinns Baptist Church in the next few weeks to be their main man 🙂

In my fantasy I ponder the kind of pastor I would be in a local church nowadays. So much has changed in side my head as well as in my day to day practice and lifestyle. I commit so much more time to staying around home than I did when I worked for a local church.

Someone once shared with me about a church they are involved with and how their pastor had been doing a series of messages compelling the church to ‘follow the vision’ and ‘get with the program folks’. On one particular week he shared all about leadership and how with him at the helm he expects everyone to follow. God has given him the towel, the mandate, the baton, the anointing, the apointment to lead this church so you should follow, if not bugger off. (my interpretation of the message I was told about!) The illustration was used about a bus. The senior pastor told the congregation that he is the driver and expects all on board to want to go the direction he is going. When the bus stops at the bus stop and you say “i want to go to Hillarys” the driver says ‘you will need to catch a taxi as this bus does not go there”. The pastor told the congregation (so I am told) that taxi wil COST you dearly. NEVER go it alone, this will cost, it is expensive.

Just to drive the point home, another one of the pastors in the church took to the stage mid-sermon to emphasise his blind obedience to the senior pastor and the blessing that comes from being on his bus no matter what, he was thanked by his boss and the congregation assured that no extra pay would be forth coming for this guy for his comments 🙂416FS34YYHL._SL500_AA240_

Now – all this obviously  was shared to me by someone who was present and I have used my own language, but it got me thinking about the book I once read called Renegotiating The Church Contract by Thwaites. In the book he argues that the above model of leadership is very Old Testament. Picture Moses climbing the mountain on the peoples behalf, meeting God on the peoples behalf, hearing from him on their behalf, sharing the message about God and his commandments. Never would they try to presume themselves worthy of seeing God or hearing from him themselves – ohhh no! They sent Moses to do that on their behalf. He was their man, their priest in a sense. They followed Mo and he showed them the way to go according to what God had told him. Get on the Moses bus!

In the New Testament we open to see Jesus model of ministry as he sits in the place of a servant and washes the disciples feet in order to equip them to eat and hear from God about his imminent death. We move further and see a tear form in the curtain that seperated God and man (Read Hebrews). A new way was being formed, a new path for people to gain equal access to God, no longer needing a priest to hear from God for us. We become a priesthood of all believers, then we see an outpouring of the Holy Spirit for all people to enable them to hear God, to call on him, to do his Kingdom work begun in Christ. The leaders of this movement seem to ‘antenna men’. People moving amongst the believers encouraging them hear God, tuning in their radar to be able to discern his good pleasing and perfect will for their lives, on an equal journey confessing sins together accepting that others may provide insite for their [the leaders] own walk with God. Not telling the people God’s will, but helping them hear God. In fact more like a mountain guide taking the church up the hill rather than going himself and returning and saying ‘follow me, this is where God wants us to go’. In fact It looks more like a fleet of taxis driving all over the city doing Kingdom acts, serving people, serving God, loving people, loving God than it does a bus driver calling people onto his bus and all heading off in his ‘God given direction’.

How would I do it different if I was to go back…hmmm I know I have pondered this before. I think I would get the sack inside of a year for not attending enough meetings, not caring about the money in the bank or the budget or the building or the garden or the cafe…ok, I would care about that, not preaching proper sermons, not being in the office, swearing, drinking too much, wearing shorts and thongs on stage…and a shirt 🙂 Not sure about it really. Not sure entirely that I would say no, but not sure I would say yes if the right looking ministry job came along.

I wore shorts and 2 odd socks to preach last week at Quinns, my pants were falling down as I left my belt behind and I forgot to shave…I think those guys overlooked most of that!

Emerging Missional Church…Working?

Recently at Forge we have taken a long hard look at ourselves and some of our history, our early claims and our dreams and hopes.

I think some of us hoped that ‘breaking up’ big churches and forming more relational little faith communities might just be what attracts hundreds of people and would be the answer to people’s claims that the church is irrelevant. (not nec Forge policy – to break up big churches!) Some years down the track this seems not to have been what happened. What has happened, at least in part, is many of these small communities have rescued people who may have ordinarily fallen away from fellowship with believers (Church) and maybe even with Christ. Some people on the fringes of faith may have been restored or introduced to Christ and some hard core ‘pagans’ who might never have graced the doors of a church have indeed met Christ over a beer and BBQ.  We at Forge are tweaking who we are (yes, we are big and ugly enough to see we can morph and grow as we get older!) whilst still holding to our passion for training people in missional ways individually and encouraging and fostering the growth and development of new experimental versions of ‘church’. Heck we always said it was a massive experiment founded on a passion for Christ and his Church, we want to keep experimenting! But we are also wanting to work with existing churches of all shapes and sizes and traditions in helping them re-imagine themselves as missional communities.

Articles like the one in Out of Ur by Dan Kimball spurs me on to make sure my focus (particularly as a worker for Forge Aust and a member of a type of Church I think Kimball is describing) is on building God’s Church, not just in having nice fellowship and good times, but really seeing the Kingdom of God impact everything it comes into contact with. I don’t feel comfortable with everything Kimball says in his article, but I think I agree with more of it than I care to admit quite frankly. I am not sure about –

“But for now, I would rather be part of a Christ-centered megachurch full of programs where people are coming to know Jesus as Savior, than part of a church of any size where they are not.”

But maybe I do…I guess I have sustainability issues, resource use issues and a whole host of other questions about that statememt personally, but if people are genuinely coming into the Kingdom, and following Christ and making a difference to the world…is any cost too great? Or does that question take me back to a place that ends in all sorts of dark corners 🙂 I guess the whole Husdon Taylor story…perservering in tough missional ground without seeing the fruit yet holding faithful to the gospel year in year out – this is the fly in my ointment. What if … what if we are just so used to “just add water” solutions in our “have it now” society, what if… Could be just my excuse… hmmmm

Here is a taster… the whole thing is here.  Al Hirsch has made some great comments regarding the article here, but I have added a teaser from them at the bottom.

Dan Kimball’s Missional Misgivings

Small, indigenous churches are getting lots of attention, but where’s the fruit?

I hope I am wrong. For the past few years, I have been observing, listening, and asking questions about the missional movement. I have a suspicion that the missional model has not yet proven itself beyond the level of theory. Again, I hope I am wrong.

We all agree with the theory of being a community of God that defines and organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God’s mission in the world. But the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the “attractional” model of church as ineffective. Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people “come to us” isn’t going to cut it anymore. But here’s my dilemma—I see no evidence to verify this claim.

Not long ago I was on a panel with other church leaders in a large city. One missional advocate in the group stated that younger people in the city will not be drawn to larger, attractional churches dominated by preaching and music. What this leader failed to recognize, however, was that young people were coming to an architecturally cool megachurch in the city—in droves. Its worship services drew thousands with pop/rock music and solid preaching. The church estimates half the young people were not Christians before attending.

Conversely, some from our staff recently visited a self-described missional church. It was 35 people. That alone is not a problem. But the church had been missional for ten years, and it hadn’t grown, multiplied, or planted any other churches in a city of several million people. That was a problem.

Read the rest here.

Al Hirsch says –

* I centainly don’t believe that attractional is not working.  What I have said is that it has appeal to a shrinking segment of the population, and that persistence  with a church growth style attractionalism, is in the long run, a counsel of despair. Are you suggesting that we simply stay with what we have got?  Surely not bro?

* If we persist with our standard measurements for mission, we will miss the point.  The issue is what idea of church is more faithful to the Scriptures. Genuine fruitfulness, surely, cannot simply be measured by  numbers but by ‘making disciples.’ How does one measure that?  By all accounts, current churches are made up largely of admirers of Jesus but few genuine disciples/followers–this is not a biblical idea of fruitfulness!

* Besides, the early church would not measure up to the current metrics!! If Rodney Stark is right, there was only 25,000 by …. (read the rest at Al Hirsch’s blog)

Willow Creek Revealed

The dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church

Greg Hawkins, Executive Pastor – Willow Creek Church.

I have just finished watching this video of Greg Hawkins talking about the results of Reveal, a research study into 31 churches including their own, Willow Creek Church.

When I watched the video, I got some goose bumps, the language he uses sounds like Jamison (A Churchless Faith) and shades of Fowlers stages of faith. There is still a strong ‘Invitational’ feel which is understandable in a church like Willow – ie, what would you do with all those buildings if people stopped coming! But there is a genuine passion to discover what do with the people Jamieson identified so clearly (6 or so years ago!) as exiting the church in droves – committed believers, leaders, staff. It is encouraging that Willow has taken on similar research that Jamieson did (it was too hard to swallow for many senior leaders back then, they just rejected his findings and called them dangerous and divisive) and that Willow, with such a strong mainline appeal, may just shake something into many people who count their success by bums on seats and money in the bank.

At Forge we are wanting to take these comments by Willow seriously and determine just how they may help to serve the Church to grow genuine missional disciples.