Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Hesitantly learning

As someone who has become interested in the emergent conversation over the past year, but so far only as a listener, I must express my main gripe with many of the things I have read and heard.

Leonard Sweet refers in Postmodern Pilgrims to the television commercial popular a few years ago in which a man at the opera is talking, rather loudly, on his cell phone. A frustrated diva finally hurls her spear at the man, hitting the phone and knocking it out of his hands. He then begins texting the words: "Opera Just Got Interesting." Sweet asks, "What does it take for church to 'get interesting' to postmoderns?"

Indeed, that's a main question which this conversation seeks to address. And while I am enriched by many of the style changes and provoked by the theological dialogue overall, I can't help but feel that we're stopping just short of where God wants us to go.

House churches, small groups, social projects, prayer meetings, and many other aspects of the emerging church have been lifted, not from church tradition, but straight from Scripture in the book of Acts. Yet what made all those things interesting is unmistakable -- the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus proclaims it in chapter 1, verse 8 and it is the focal point of the next 27 chapters. More than anything else, the Holy Spirit is what gets people interested in the message.

Somehow in the whole emergent conversation, I don't hear many people talking about being intent on allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through believers. In chapter 4, after being threatened by the ruling powers, the disciples regroup and come together to do the only thing they know that works: pray. In their surprisingly short prayer, they ask God to "stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

Their prayers are heard and answered, as the author notes that "after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." Miracles, especially through healing and deliverance, abound in the story of the early church. But where are they now?

Scott Bader-Saye, while analyzing the emergent matrix, asks, "What will become of this movement at the end of the day when the fog machines and video projectors are packed away?" Candles are cool, and stained glass slides are lovely, but where's the power of the Holy Spirit? Are people being delivered from oppressive spirits and being healed of all kinds of cancer?

If we can't legitimately offer what Jesus and his disciples offered, then whatever is emerging is far less than what Jesus intended.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I've been gaining some insight from Randy Frazee's The Connecting Church, which is hailed by Dallas Willard as "the best corporate plan for spiritual formation and growth that I know of in a contemporary setting." Frazee comments that Scripture suggests that "embracing a common belief and purpose built on the teachings of Jesus and the apostles was, and still is, a requirement in order to be called a Christian community." He goes on to say:
Most churches today have not been able to seize this simple idea of rallying around a common purpose because our culture of individualism does all in its power not to let it happen.

I agree. I'm not sure that 20th and 21st century culture bear the whole blame, though. I believe church leaders over the past few decades (and centuries?) have failed to convey through teaching and preaching the same message of the kingdom of God that Jesus conveyed. By not doing so, what other choice do believers have than to believe, yet conform to many of the same values of the society in which they are already entrenched?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Slouching toward Armageddon

I'm sure this means something in the grand scheme of eschatology, but I'll leave it to you to decide exactly what.

Off we go

Yesterday I cast the vision which I believe God has given our congregation to impact our community. It included several programming changes, but requires large shifts in our mindsets.

First, we decided that our mission should be the same as the mission of Jesus Christ, as he expressed while quoting Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19. Worded succinctly, we have stated our mission as follows:

To bring the healing and hope of Jesus Christ to people in Greene County and beyond.

Our purpose is effortlessly lifted from a suggestion by Brian McLaren in The Church on the Other Side:

More disciples, better disciples.

Everything we do over the next two years (and, ultimately, as long as we are biblically minded, I believe) must be directly connected to our mission and our purpose. I'm convinced that the ministry of Jesus and of his disciples and the apostles is the ministry model for today, although in many circles it's still taboo to talk of miracles, signs and wonders. But I'm not interested in impressing religious circles (praise from men). I want the praise that comes from God.

I outlined to our congregation that there are five key components (a five-spoked wheel) we must thrive in to remain faithful to the vision. First, and foundationally, we must become people dedicated to prayer. We must also be commited to building relationships, first with one another, and then with those who do not yet believe. Further, we must commit ourselves to worship, learning, and sacrifice.

What does all this boil down to? A passionate commitment to allow the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. Is that a lot to ask of a group of 17 or 18 folks? I believe it's precisely what Scripture not only asks but expects of believers.

Of course, these changes will not happen overnight. We're beginning 2005 with 50 days of focused prayer and fasting -- including the always dreaded media fast. I believe there's no better way to let God (and the enemy) know that we're serious about impacting this community.

The immediate programming changes that we'll make as a result of this vision are challenging, to say the least. We are changing the name of our congregation from First Apostolic Church to CrossRoads. The name change is based on two primary thoughts. "Apostolic" is an unfamiliar word to most people, even believers, and, as a result, is extremely hard to pronounce correctly. In addition, for a variety of reasons, the name has connotations which distract from the vision and message which we want to portray.

We are also doing away with the age-old tradition of having a Sunday evening service. While one-service Sundays have become more common in recent years, we do it not to follow a fad, but rather to focus more on building relationships. At least two Sunday evenings each month will be devoted to spending time with unbelievers or with believers in small group settings.

Finally, we are switching classes (learning times) to Wednesday evening and making the Sunday worship gathering a family-focused, participatory affair. How will we accomplish this? That remains to be seen, but I believe it's something we must strive for to be relevant to those who would join us each week

Wish and pray us Godspeed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Wondering why

So what does reinvention mean? To me, it means heading into the future by looking into the past. While many churches are re-exploring their orthodox roots (i.e. the foundations laid by the early church fathers of Catholicism), I can’t help but feel compelled to go back even farther, to the church in its infancy during the decades following the ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his followers.
Yet I also believe that only going back that far is not sufficient. There is an unmistakable reliance of the early church upon the knowledge of the Law and the Prophets, and the whole Old Testament narrative. Many of the traditions carried down through thousands of years remained significant, at least in meaning, to the New Testament church.
This means that we must take the Bible as we have it and make all of it (even the parts we don’t like or understand) meaningful and relevant as we work to reinvent – or re-establish – our identity as a local congregation. Writing this down is easy; doing it is somewhat difficult.
Our primary means toward reinvention is a simple question: Why? Why do we do the things we do, believe the things we believe, act the way we act, and perhaps most importantly, think the way we think?
The answers to these questions aren’t clear-cut, but offer us enormous insight into the purpose and mission of our congregation, both as it is and as it should be.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Newness of (congregational) life

One year ago I embarked on a pastoral adventure in Greeneville, along with my wife and our two-month old son. Although our official first service wasn't until November 23, this evening 52 weeks ago was the final time we had to face the congregation members and their questions.
In the year since, we have realized just how naïve we were - and often still are - and also how faithful and great God is.
With a year under my belt and having gained at least some credibility with the congregation, I have prayerfully decided that the best thing for us to do is totally reinvent ourselves in 2005. The church was actually started more than 25 years ago, but between six pastors and as many locations, plus the addition and subtraction of over 100 members, we currently sit at 11 members, two teens, three children, and one attender.
We have a keyboard, drums, and an acoustic guitar, but no one to play them. We have Sunday School during Sunday morning worship service. We have a Sunday evening service and a Wednesday evening prayer and Bible study service.
I have decided to blog my thoughts, desires, ideas, beliefs, doubts, fears, worries and thrills on this website at least for the next year. If nothing else, it will serve as a sounding board for my own review. Perhaps it will come to be important to someone else in their salvation journey.
Your comments, advice, criticism, and encouragement are invited and always welcome. Thanks for your prayerful support as I endeavor to do something I feel utterly incapable of doing. Yet, somehow, I believe...

Friday, October 15, 2004

The future's different than it used to be

In his Wonder Land column, Wall Street Journal deputy editorial editor Daniel Henninger writes:

Led by Deng [Xiaoping], China changed its economic policies to make them appropriate to the world as it existed, not as China wished the world would be. China flourished. And it is not alone. India the past five years has similarly broken with its longtime statist past. Brazil is attempting a similar transformation. All three are huge countries in the process of rapidly creating a smart, globally relevant business class. This country's biggest problem isn't "Halliburton" but the realization, just sinking in, that internal U.S. labor costs are being set by a suddenly thriving, truly global marketplace. This is the real cause of the famous "middle-class squeeze," and it's a force more powerful than any one person sitting in the Oval Office.

After three presidential debates, it is clear that George Bush is asking the American people to make a similar, abrupt break with the comforts of the political past. Proposals such as Social Security
privatization or individually run health-savings accounts are not being offered as just an intriguing "policy" alternative. These ideas are an historic necessity to surviving in the world economy as it exists today...

Intellectually, the case for making the leap is compelling. Emotionally, the way forward is less obvious. Most Americans have already adjusted to the disturbing realities of Iraq and of waging--and leading--a war on global terror. But it's quite a lot to ask them in the same election to step away from 50 or more years of federally guaranteed social protection. That would have been large without Iraq and terror...

The Ownership Society is the appropriate, 21st century replacement to the New Deal. It's about making it possible for the economy to turn on a dime, not once a decade.

Henninger's words address a coming reality which will arrive sooner rather than later. Yet, as he notes, it's a reality hard for people to comprehend because of more pressing and urgent matters, especially the war on terror.

What the writer sees as true for the 21st century global economy, many have already expressed as true for the 21st century Christian church. There is an undeniable shift occuring in Christianity presently. While I can't define it or place much more light on it, I am worried that we (evangelical Christians like myself) have grown so attached to the traditions we grew up in that we will be unwilling to contribute to the conversations and decisions which will take the church into the future.

To borrow from Henninger, it's about making it possible for the church to turn on a generation (be relevant to each new generation), not once every few centuries.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Calling barbarians

In his upcoming The Barbarian Way (seventh item), Erwin McManus writes:

When Christianity becomes just another religion, it focuses on what God requires. Just to keep people in line, we build our own Christian civilization and then demand that everyone who believes in Jesus become a good citizen.
It's hard to imagine that Jesus would endure the agony of the cross just to keep us in line. Jesus began a revolution to secure our freedom. The new covenant that He established puts its trust not in the law, but in the transforming power of God's Spirit living within us. The revolution of the human heart would fuel the life and vitality of this movement.

Indeed. And yet it's hard to keep that in mind in the capitalistic, competitive society that is 21st century America. Sometimes Christians fall victim to the faulty thinking that believes that revolutionizing every else can take the place of the revolution of the human heart.

No wonder many congregations are more like businesses or clubs than life-changing places.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

On doing

Opened Brennan Manning's Abba's Child today and found this passage:

Every time the Gospels mention that Jesus was moved with deep emotion for people, they show that it led Him to do something – physical or inner healing, deliverance or exorcism, feeding the hungry crowds or intercessory prayer. Above all, it moved Him to dispel distorted images of who
He is and who God is, to lead people out of darkness into light. (pg. 111)
More importantly, Jesus didn't just do something, he always did the right thing -- in perfect obedience to the Father. Today I'm afraid many "Christians" are often moved with deep emotion, but they do the wrong thing, or even worse, do nothing.

Reminds me of a recent e-mail I received in which the subject line read "Experience Mission - Watch Videos." How many churchgoers get no further into the mission of Jesus Christ except as a spectator in a weekly worship service? How many live vicariously through the missionaries they support financially, when Jesus is calling them to engage in their own culture, heal their own people, do their own preaching?

Friday, October 01, 2004

First Post

Today I join the ranks of the blogosphere. Bear with me as I orient myself to the new surroundings.

Buckle your seatbelts, we're going for a ride!