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Archive for February, 2007

I came back into pastoral ministry after a six year hiatus.  During that time I lived my life in “the real world.”  I was the Director of a private preschool with 160 children, comprising about 120 families, and employing about 40 employees.  During that time something called the Emergent Church became a bit of a phenomenon.  I have spent the last eight months learning more about it and studying its leaders, writers and pastors; people like Brian McClaren, Rob Bell, Erwin McManus and Mark Driscoll.  I had to do this because when I was studying Christian Ministry as an undergrad and working toward my M.Div., we were still studying the seeker driven model of ministry pioneered by Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.  I have discovered that the emergent church is quite different than the seeker driven model (especially in its approach to theology), but not as different as it probably thinks it is from the seeker movement, especially in regards to the practical way that the movement “does” church.  For example, I have found that most emergent church websites offer the same kind of catchy ministry titles and the same kind of contemporary styles of worship – as do seeker driven churches – with only a few variations (but a comparison and critique of these models may or may not be a topic for a later post.  I have found that too many pastors, whose churches are not growing, spend too much time critiquing pastors whose churches are growing.)  I pastor in a seminary town, so I remain constantly aware of just how much we folks who are trained for ministry love to critique what others who are trained for ministry are doing.

All of this has lead me to re-examine what it means to do and to be church today.  I want to suggest that doing church in today’s world is not much different than doing church in the first few centuries of the Christian movement.   The early church, as I have studied scripture and extant resources, seemed to involve primarily three activities:

1.  Celebration.  Unless under persecution, the believers gathered together, primarily on Sundays, to worship Jesus and eat together.

2.  Cells.  The believers met in their homes.  In fact, these meetings, I believe, were the heart and soul of the early Christian movement.  In these groups and small communities, the believers ate together, shared together, prayed for one another, worshipped and, perhaps most importantly, held one another accountable to following in the ways and teachings of Jesus and to the local Christian community.

3.  Community Outreach and Evangelism.  These early churches did ministry with the communities around them.  In this way, they honored the Biblical commands to love one another and to work for both justice and rigtheousness in our personal and corporate lives.  Of course, Stephen is the earliest example of the church’s efforts along these lines.

My sense is that a church that dives into this kind of community is a church that will not be so subject to the ebb and flow of trends, fads, and gimmicks and will – at the same time – manage to always speak with relevance to the culture.  I might add that many of the larger megachurches and emergent churches build themselves around this early model for church and it probably explains their success in their communities and in the world.

Of course, all of this is fraught with uselessness unless those involved in a local church build their lives around two simple principles.

1.  A life changing experience with Jesus Christ that forever turns the non-believer into a radical, committed follower of Jesus

2.  A belief that – as a radical, committed follower of Jesus – the church is the place from which God has chosen to reveal his power to the world and that the church is a “whole-enough” representation of what life will be like following the eschaton of Jesus Christ when the whole world is completely reconciled to Wounded and Risen One.  Until that happens, the church of Jesus Christ is the place from which the transformational, reconciling power of Jesus emanates to the world.

That’s my two cents today!

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Wilber

A couple of Sundays ago I got my tongue tied and referred to the great British social reformer William Wilberforce as Wilber Wilberforce.  When I saw the movie Amazing Grace this past Sunday, I was pleased to find out that many of Wilberforce’s close friends called him “Wilber” for short.

 The movie is worth seeing and, it is my guess, that Wilberforce will become a bit of a poster child for the postmodern church (as well he should be).  For those who aren’t familiar, Wilberforce, a British MP (Member of Parliament not military policeman) in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s was intrumental in bringing the British slave trade to an end.  Wilberforce’s motivation came from two sources.  The first was the influence of the Wesleyan Revival of the 1700’s in Britain which focused much attention on the social ills of British culture in that era.  The second was the influence of John Newton, a former slave trader, whose life was transformed by Jesus Christ.  Newton has been immortalized along with his hymn Amazing Grace.

Had not John Wesley and John Newton’s lives been so radically and personally transformed by Jesus Christ then the time table on ending the slave trade would have been, well, who know’s how long? 

 Wilberforce ties together two themes that are often in too much tension with one another.  Those two themes would be (1) the personal encounter with Jesus that results in the transformation of the inner being and (2) the outworking of that encounter for the benefit of society.

A few days ago I suggested that Jesus, in response to the situation in Iraq, would probably carry a cross through the streets of Baghdad and die a criminal’s death.  I also wrote about the importance of other Jesus-followers going into Baghdad to personally bear the image of Jesus Christ as missionaries.  The military, despite the many fanatical claims that have been made by many Americans, has at least, made it possible for the same kind of scenario to take place in Iraq.  A missionary, personally bearing the image of Jesus Christ, as did John Newton to William Wilberforce, could prompt the only kind of transformation that will stabilize Iraqi society.  The task is for the church of Jesus Christ to pray for, support and send out those who will bear that image in Iraq.

American forces cannot win peace and freedom in Iraq, but Jesus can!

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Lent has officially begun.  I suppose that there are Christians at work all over the world today talking about what they will be fasting from over the next 40 days.  I recall John Calvin, in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, cautioning Christians against superstitious rituals of fasting.  I have often wondered how this  might apply to our Lenten Fasting where we almost make it a trend to give up things like Starbucks or chocolate or a television program.

Dont’ get me wrong.  There probably has been a great deal of value for many people in giving up such things during Lent.  I have certainly met people for whom these fasts were indeed meaningful and quite spiritually focused.  But, most often, they teeter on the brink of superstitious behavior that mirrors a refusal to walk under a ladder or cross the path of a black cat at Halloween.  “It’s Lent, so I had better give up something . . . so . . . I’ll stop doing this or that.”

Somehow, I don’t think that gets at the real point of Lent.  Whatever I do this Lent, even if it is to give up coffee or chocolate, may it be done in the spirit and attitude of Philippians 3.10-11 (a verse that our Worship Pastor at GCF has picked as a bit of a theme for us this Lent):  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

 A few weeks ago a fellow reminded me that the Christian life is, in so many aways, about suffering.  I would like to qualify that by saying that it is about suffering for the world and so to share in the same kind of suffering that Jesus shared with us from the cross.

 It is Lent.  Fast.  Pray.  Worship.  But above all, let’s join Jesus in suffering for the sake of others.

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A Cross in Baghdad

I have been wondering exactly how Jesus would respond to the war in Iraq.  Would he be protesting outside of the White House?  Would he be on the inside of the Pentagon working policy?  Would he be a diplomat jetting in and out of Baghdad on secret missions?

I am guessing that Jesus’ response to the war in Iraq would be quite similar to his initial response to the brokenness of humankind way back in the first century.  Jesus’ response to the war in Iraq would be a cross in Baghdad.  It would probably seem to be an inconsequential event to many; just another religious fanatic laying down his life.

Perhaps – rather than debating the legitimacy of the war or extolling the virtues of “just war” or “nonviolence” the church should focus on praying for and raising up tenacious missionaries who are courageous enough to live as images of the Cross Bearer through the streets of Baghdad?

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Spears To Her!

My wife had the day off on Monday and we had a rare opportunity to watch the morning news shows together.  At the beginning of the 9.00 hour, the Today show began with a story and interview about Brittany Spears.  It seems that over the weekend, Brittany shaved off all of her hair.  Following the story, the anchor (whose name I believe is Natalie Morales) interviewed a psychologist and a reporter for US Magazine.  During that 6 minutes, the Today show played continuous clips of Brittany shaving her hair.  At one point while these three ladies were discussing Brittany’s woes, they stopped to show a clip from an interview Brittany did with Matt Lauer last summer.  During the clip, Lauer asked her about the constant media attention she receives and she literally broke down on camera as she tried to talk about how she is constantly harassed by the media. 

This morning, just before my son started watching PBS Kids, I heard the intro for The Early Show on CBS.  Apparently, on Monday Brittany appeared in public in a blonde wig.  The Early Show anchor announced that a little later they would play clips form the late night shows.  The comedians were to be discussing Brittany’s (mis) adventures.

I am amazed that the Today Show and the Early Showhave joined the tabloid magazines and tabloid news programs in the continuing quest to dagger this girl to death.  If (and perhaps when) Brittany’s life finally blows up, the media will cover the story as if they are in no way complicit for what happened to her.  When it comes to Brittany, the media’s motto seems to be “spears to her”.

In the midst of the media’s frenzy is a broken and wounded girl who seeks the media’s attention as a poor substitute for the love she has never really known.  I find myself this morning wondering why the church of Jesus has had so little impact in the lives of girls like Brittany.   There are thousands like her.  They are not all famous, but the culture is eating them up one piece at a time.  There are lots of answers to that question and chief amongst them is our culture.  It is crazier and more wounded and broken than ever before.

But the craziness of our culture should not dishearten anyone who really wants to be or is a Jesus-follower.  Today’s culture in the western world is more like the culture of the first few centuries (C.E.) than perhaps any period of cultural malaise in the history of the Western World.  This is good news for Jesus followers because the message of Jesus spread like wild-fire in the first few centuries; transforming the world, as it was known at that time and transforming culture.

If the church is to have the same radical impact on this culture as it did on culture during those first few centuries then the church is going to have to look a lot more like a movement than a series of brick buildings standing on street corners.  Following Jesus is not about perpetuating institutions.  Its about being so personally “infected” by Jesus that our lives, our homes and our institutions are driven into the world.

And that brings us back to Brittany.  Is it possible for the church to reach girls like Brittany with the infectious passion of Jesus?  The answer is “yes”, but only if the church actually goes into the world rather than waiting for the world to come to the church!

I have to go to Wal-mart today.  When I’m by the tabloid rack, I think I’ll see what kind of conversation I can strike up with the person in front of or behind me or perhaps even the cashier.  It’s as simple as saying, “Wow.  This whole Brittany Spears thing is too much for me” and waiting to see what happens . . .

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