Archive for July, 2007

Final thoughts on the final section of The Shaping of Things to  Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

Part four of their text focuses on leadership.

Chapter Ten:  The authors make the argument for what they call APEPT (based out of Ephesians 4.1-16).  An acronymn standing for apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, the authors make the case that the Christendom church has relegated these tasks to those who are trained for ministry and – moreover – has focused almost solely on the role of pastors and teachers.  They argue that the APEPT model should not only be mirrored in the church’s leadership teams but throughout the entire body.  Everyone in the church is gifted as either an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher.

Chapter Eleven:  Within this chapter, the authors focus on the need for imaginative leadership in the church.  They outline several characteristics of imaginative leadership.  They are:  (1) encouraging holy dissatisfaction, embracing subversive questioning, becoming a beginner, taking risks, and creating a climate of change.

Chapter Twelve:  The authors finish the book by focusing on the “shape” of the church in the missional revolution.  Integral to this closing chapter is a discussion on centered and bounded sets.  Bounded sets are those organizations that are soft at the center, but hard at the edges.  Centered sets are those that are soft at the core and soft at the edges.  The authors argue that the church must be hard at the center (with the center being Jesus Christ) and soft at the edges.  They offer some key words to describe the shape of the missional church.  These words are:  organic, reproducible, sustainable, and bi-vocational leadership.

Some of my thoughts on this closing section . . .

1.  Leadership will remain the one indespensible factor for the church in the decades to come.  Much is written in Frost and Hirsch’s book about egalitarian leadership and a more organic organizational structure and they are right on both of these points, but as they arrive at the end of their book they cannot escape that the work of any church’s leadership team is incredibly important and has much to do with whether or not Christendom Churches (and church planters trained in the Christendom model) will be able to make the paradigm shift to a missional mindset and lead their churches in that direction.

2.  I need to give more thought to APEPT.  They argument is laid out quite well in the text, but I am not certain what implications this might have for a church or how to put this idea into practice.  It sounds much like the “discover your spiritual gifts and talents” movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s (which was not necessarily a bad thing).  I like the idea that is encourages each member of the church to hone in on a specific gift or calling and to view themselves as important to the body as the pastor/teacher.  A note to those who are charismatic:  the authors do not give a classic charismatic definition to the role of apostles and prophets.  In sum, they use the terms to apply to what we would typically understand as the role of visionaries and futurists in today’s business world.

3.  I love the closing chapter on paradigm shifting.  There is nothing more exciting than working with a team to work through paradigm shifts and ask the tough questions!  No, really, I mean that.  Our best GCF staff meetings have been some of our recent meetings where we’ve asked tough questions about things that are going on.  Many of the principles in this chapter reminded of the principles outlined in Jim Collins Good to Great.

That’s all for The Shaping of Things to Come.

VACATION COUNTDOWN:  1 DAY.  We leave tomorrow afternoon for two weeks.  I will return to blogging on Wednesday, July 24 most likely with a wrap-up of our two weeks away.  See you around the blogosphere in two weeks !!!!!!


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Part Three in my review and critique of The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsche and Michael Frost . . .

Part Three of the book focuses on Messianic Spirituality

 Chapter Seven:  In this chapter, Frost and Hirsch make the case for more a Hebraic approach to the Christian faith; arguing that the Christendom era has had an over-focus (and sometimes a singular focus) on a Hellenistic approach to the Christian faith.  The authors remind us that Jesus was also a Jew.  They rely heavily upon the writings of Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel in forming their views in this chapter.  Key components of a messianic spirituality are its focus on Jesus as fully human (not just as fully divine; a fault the authors ascribe to Hellenistic, Christiendom-era thinking), practical monotheism or a focus on exclusively living life in Deuteronomy 6.4 terms, releasing the glory of God into the world, understanding the heart (and not the head) as the center point of spirituality and faith, the sacredness of daily living, and the rejoining of faith and faithfulness (uniting doctrine with daily living).

Chapter Eight:  Again relying heavily on the writings of Buber, Heschel and throwing in some Kierkegaard, the authors make the case that a messianic spirituality is focused on the sacramental nature of our actions.  The authors are careful to point out that they are no referring to “works righteousness”, but that they are speaking of the New Testament and Old Testament emphasis upon acts of justice and mercy.

Chapter Nine:  In this chapter, Hirsch and Frost deal with the addage, “the medium really is the message.”  They speak here of the importance of viewing our lives and our homes and our cars and all that we are as speaking more loudly of and for Jesus than anything we could really ever say.  They also address the importance of moving beyond the “either/or” church.  They make the point that the church has usually seen itself as a mediary between the world and God.  They picture this using interlocking circles; the church interlocking with God and the church interlocking with the world, but with no interlocking between God and the world.  They make the point that the incarnational/missional church does not see itself as the mediary between God and the world, but sees itself in terms of its interconnectedness with both God and the world.  Again, this is represented with interlocking circles.  The church, in this illustration, interlocks with the world and God at the center point.  In other words, God is already interlocked with the world in grace-filled action.  The church is invited to join God in this interlocking connection with the world.

A few thoughts . . .

1.  As I mentioned in the first post in this series, Hirsch and Frost offer a valid and helpful critique of the Christendom era, but at times they seem a bit willing to do away with all things “hellenistic” or anything that developed during the Christendom era.  While they do say that they want to preserve the creeds (primarily Apostle’s Creed and Nicene) as vital parts of orthodox Christian faith, their willingness to make them far less important than Christendom has typically made them will be uncomfortable to many (including me).  In an age where we must contextualize with our western culture (which is becoming increasingly pluralistic), the creeds – used appropriately – will likely regain a place of importance that they have actually lost in the last 50 to 125 years of Christendom.  There is a growing sense of desire for the creeds and their role – particularly in worship – among many GenX and Millenial Jesus-followers.

2.  Throughout this section, the authors rely heavily on the writings of Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel.  Their study is fruitful and it does give us a terrific eye into the Jewish-spiritual roots of the Christian faith.  I learned a lot and it is quite appealing to me.  I do wonder, however, if the writings of Buber and Heschel; both of whom lived as Jews during the 20th century, are the most reliable sources for viewing how Jewish spirituality was in practice for a first-century Jewish peasant named Jesus.

3.  Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture comes to mind as I process back through the last chapter in this part of Frost and Hirsch’s text.  They give a compelling argument and make some very clear statements but this issue of how the church interacts in the world will remain a difficult issue when it is worked out in practical, day to day life.  A more Jewish understanding of how Jesus did this is instructive for us as individuals and also as the church, but the issue is not resolved.

 Vacation Countdown:  2 days

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And now for review and critique of Part Two of The Shaping of Things to Come

Chapter 3 discusses what the writers mean when they refer to an incarnational approach to ministry.  They establish Jesus as the model for incarnational ministry and then explore their designation of the church as either extractional or incarnational.  They write that the Christendom era church has been primarily established around a bounded-set approach to ministry while the incarnational/missional church is being established around a centered-set approach.  There are some tenets of this “centered-set” approach that may be upsetting to most pastors.  For example, in the centered-set, each person is an expert in his her own life.  People are viewed as seekers rather than lost or saved.  The goal is the process of discovering Christ and for the search for truth to be futhered in the person.  Finally, the centered-set sees conversion as a process that continues through repentance for a lifetime.

Chapter 4:  This chapter begins with the metaphorical use of the film Chocolat; comparing the Christendom Church and the Missional Church to characters in the film.  The authors discuss the shape of the missional church in this chapter.  The main thrust of this chapter is that the missional church is focused on multiplication of faith communities as opposed to addition to an existing faith community.  The chapter closes with another chart comparing the extractional church with the incarnational church.  There is not time to address this entire chart here, but I am certain that many church leaders will have difficulty with the author’s insistence that the new, missional church will be lead by a team as opposed to being lead by a lone-ranger pastor.  Additionally, the missional church will focus on building leaders rather than building programs and buildings.

Chapter 5:  Here the authors discuss contextualization.  They begin by pointing out that for a church to truly exist, there must be the following components:  communion (worship), community (discipleship and fellowship) and commission (outreach, evangelism and service to the world).  They go on to discuss the process of contextualizing the church and the Christian faith to various host cultures and they draw a distinction between the church at Antioch – which was based upon a more Hebraic understanding of the Christian faith – and the church at Athens – which was based on a more Hellenistic understanding of the Christian faith.

Chapter 6:  The final chapter is this section focuses on Whispering to the Soul.  The authors begin again with an illustration from a movie; this time using The Horse Whisperer.  They discuss some of the qualities and changes that they believe must take place for the church to communicate to contemporary western culture.  They outline the following as ways to “whisper” (communicate) with western culture:  (1) Excite curiosity through storytelling, (2) provoke a sense of wonder and awe, (3) be extraordinarily loving, (4) explore how God is working, (5) focus on Jesus.  The authors point out several times that while the church is incredibly unpopular in western culture, Jesus remains incredibly popular.  As is theologically the case, Jesus remains the church’s only hope.

A few thoughts . . .

1.  Jesus is THE way, THE truth and THE life.  Making the transition from a church that has demanded the profession of faith to a church that focuses on a journey that leads to the truth is quite the change and may pose some problems.  Within in a culture that values seeking the truth in this way, the church will need to be extremely cautious about upholding the classic claims of the faith AND making sure that we do not lapse into a sort of universalism that allows any pursuit of truth to be the equivalent of a pursuit of Jesus.  Indeed, as the writers point out, the pursuit of truth might well be the work of God’s prevenient grace, but at some point we are called to move into God’s justifying, sanctifying and glorifying grace.  The call of the gospel remains “repent and confess Jesus Christ as Lord”.  Perhaps we need to view this as both turning point and process???? 

2.  I do not want to belabor any ideas about chapter 4, but suffice it to say, where you find an organization that is fulfilling its mission, you will find a good leader and where you find an organization that is fulfilling its mission, you will also find a good team.  Leaders need teams and teams need leaders.  The two do not exist apart from one another. 

3.  My comments under # 1 are also applicable to the discussion about contextualization.  The authors offer some good starting points for contextualizing without losing the vital orthodoxy or shape of the faith or the church.

4.  The discussion of “whispering” – since I preach about 40 Sundays out of every year – seems particularly relevant to preaching.  I have witnessed the power of all of the author’s suggestions for “whispering” in my own teaching.  I’m learning how to apply them in my conversations with the bigger world around me 🙂

Two more postings to finish up “Nascar Church”.  I apologize for the length of these posts.  Admittedly, I am indulging my own need to process this material 🙂

Vacation Countdown:  4 days !!!!!!

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I was sitting at Panera this morning reading the sports page of USA Today.  The story was about the attempts of Nascar officials to bring some sense of order to the sport.  Breaking the rules in Nascar has typically been ignored as a way of quietly encouraging Nascar teams to do whatever they deemed necessary to attain more speed.  But growing corporate sponsorship and bigger-television deals are now leading Nascar officials to actually enforce the new rules.  And  drivers are having a hard time adjusting.  From improperly mounted spoilers to aerodynamics changes that take MIT degrees to create, Nascar teams are facing suspensions and Winston-Cup points deductions.  The teams are having a hard time adjusting to Nascar’s new culture.

Perhaps my analogy has become painfully obvious already:  Much like the Nascar teams, churches in the Western World have never quite come to terms with the changing face of western culture.  While the Nascar analogy is mine, the failure of the western church to make the leap into contemporary culture is the basic tenet and topic of focus in Michael Frost’s and Alan Hirsch’s book The Shaping of Things to Come:  Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church.

The book takes a look at what Frost and Hirsch consider to be key-markers for a renewed life in the western church in the 21st century.  This is the first of 4 posts in which I’ll talk a bit about and critique the book, but also offer some thoughts about how our Nascar churches can make the leap into our so called postmodern culture.

The first major section of the book focuses on the current shape of the church.  In chapter 1, Frost and Hirsch discuss the move from the first apostolic movement (AD 32 to 313) to the age of Christendom, inaugruated by Constantine (313 to current) into the beginning transitions into what they term as a new missional movement (current).  Consequently, they believe that this renewed missional movement will look like the initial apostolic age as opposed to looking like Christendom.

In chapter 2, the authors draw the distinction between what they call the “attractional/extractional” model for being and doing church and the “incarnational/infiltrational” model for being and doing church. (Frost and Hirsch use the term “incarnational/messianic”.  The phrase “infiltrational” is my term).  At any rate, in this chapter the authors argue that a transition from churches that build large buildings and then attempt to attract the community to those buildings so that people can then be extracted from the predominant culture is absolutely necessary.  Instead, churches must become incarnational in their approach to ministry; focusing more on infiltrating the current cultural context and allowing the message of Christ to shape culture from within.

Frost and Hirsch lay out a few initial descriptions of missional church movements.  They argue that missional churches will focus on the following . . .

1.  Proximity Spaces:  creating or frequenting places where Christians and pre-Christians can be together and interact with one another.  The illustration the authors use is of a church that has created a coffee house where Christians and pre-Christians can hang out together.

2.  Shared Projects:  these “allow Christians to partner with unbelievers in useful, intrinsically valuable activities within the community.”  The example given here is of a church planter in San Francisco who joined a local mural cooperative and stands shoulder to shoulder with non-Christians, painting murals across the city.

3.  Commercial Enterprise.  The example given in this section provides the best description of the author’s understanding of “commercial enterprise”.  They cite the example of a church planter – again in San Francisco – who has set up a shoe store from which he is ministering to the community.  The authors argue here that most cultures do not want another church building, but they do want “cafes, internet launderettes or day care centers”.

4.  Indigenous faith communities.  At this point the authors clearly state that “while it is a noble and , indeed, godly activity for a Christian businessman to run a shoe shop and to try to be Christ to his customers, something is missing if a Christian faith community isn’t part of the equation.” They note that missional churches tend to combine the sense of community development; often associated with liberal theological movements with the desire for personal and community transformation often associated with the evangelical movement.

Some thoughts on Section One . . .

  • The authors are incredibly correct in their assertion that the age of Christendom is gone.  The days when people were glad to have churches in their neighborhoods or even cared that there was a church in the neighborhood are over.  Most churches have yet to realize that the world does not care if they exist or not.
  • The distinction between attractional/extractional and incarnational/infiltrational is perhaps the most challenging concept discussed in Part One.  This not only challenges Christendom’s tendency to build large, prominent buildings in town-centers or busy street corners, but also encapsulates much of what has been encouraged in terms of church-growth over the last 30 to 50 years.  Frost and Hirsch are offering the church a second-option for Kingdom-expansion that looks quite different from the church-growth movement.
  • The authors are wise to point out that it is one thing to create venues where Christians and pre-Christians can rub shoulders and share together in projects and quite another thing to actually create Christian communities (i.e., churches).  Much of the missional and emergent church thinking has considered any gathered group of believers to  be “church”.  As the authors will discuss in a later chapter, any gathered group of believers does not constitute a Biblical understanding of church or Christian community.  In other words, sitting at home with your wife and a cup of coffee listening to downloaded teachings from large (or small) churches and having breakfast once each week with two other believers does not constitute “church” or Christian community as we see God designing it in scripture.

Finally, I am concerned with Frost and Hirsch’s seeming readiness to part ways with almost anything that has been a part of Christian tradition and history for the last 1700 years.  I will – most likely – deal with this critique more completely in the coming posts.  While it is well and good – and probably beneficial – to examine our history to learn from our mistakes, it is another thing all together to throw out 1700 years of God’s movement throughout “Christendom” for the excitement of jumping into a new era.

 More on Monday . . .

Vacation Countdown:  7 days

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My schedule is a bit off kilter this week . . .

I have my kids with me today so I won’t be posting anything riveting or especially non-riveting.  I will be back at work tomorrow.

I have just finished reading The Shaping of Things to Come and tomorrow I will begin a series of probably four posts to offer some reflections on each section of the book.  The book has made me wonder all over again about just how much we have bathed the message of Jesus in our middle-class American culture and made the two things appear to be one in the same.

Vacation Countdown:  8 days

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I am going to  be reading two books while on vacation.  The first is Serve God, Save the Planet by Dr. Matthew Sleeth.  Dr. Sleeth lives here in Wilmore, KY.  I have not yet had the chance to meet him (although he did join us for worship on Sunday), but I have thumbed through the book and I am looking forward to reading it.  I think that Dr. Sleeth is challenging we Western Christians in the right direction.  Hopefully, as we are challenged we will also make a move in that direction.

The other book – which is second on my list – so there’s no guarantee that I will for sure get to it is Last Child in the Woods:  Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.  My wife just recently finished that book and really enjoyed it.

 Let’s face a simple, brutal fact:  those of us who are following Jesus should – to the best of our ability – become excellent stewards of all that God has offered us in creation.  We don’t do this because we are afraid of global warming, but because we are radically in love with Jesus and all that is ours through him.  And that “all” includes this earth.  And if Paul is right in his epistles, it is this earth that will be made new when Jesus returns again.  The earth is not something that God has created and will soon discard.  He is invested here for the long term.  We should follow his example.

I think that Dr. Sleeth’s book and Louv’s book can help us move in that direction.

Vacation Countdown:  10 days!!!!!!!!!!

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An absolutely awesome Sunday yesterday.  Here are the highlights . . .

1.  Combined worship and prayer times for our visiting missionary families was excellent!  Everyone was praying with so much truth and honesty.  As Matt S. reminded us:  our prayers did join together with the grace of God to bring light into the lives of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people yesterday morning.

2.  Potluck lunch was great.  Enjoyed sitting on the  lawn and listening to the Garrisons, the Myers and Cindi Robinson share about their ministries in Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Vienna, respectively.

3.  Kyra said that Cindi’s sharing with our elementary kidz was awesome yesterday.  Cindi shared about her ministry, but also taught the kids how to do the Vienna Waltz.  Wish I could have been with them for that one 🙂

4.  Noticed that we tend to glamorize the lives of missionaries as adventurous and full of adrenaline rushes.  It was interesting to hear these missionaries talk about going through day to day life just like most of we American-side missionaries do.  Living our day to day lives with the infilling of God’s grace and delivering light into the dark places of our western culture is tantamount.  We must learn to think this way and to live this way!

5.  It’s great to be part of a team.  Here’s the deal.  I have the title “Lead Pastor” and there are only two of us who are full-time on staff.  I have responsibility for moving things ahead and leading GCF.  But we do this as a team.! Very few things would happen as they do were it not for the ministry of Matt Rapach, Matt Silger, Jonathan Diggs, Wes Pulley, Kyra Duncan, or Margaret Schwerin.  They are an awesome team to work with and I count myself lucky to serve with them.   I am pointing fingers at them today and saying, “look at the wonderful stuff they do!” GCF is not – nor will it ever be – about me.  It’s about teams of people, called by God, doing ministry in Jessamine County.  Never live life at GCF as a spectator.  Always live it as a participator!  Find a place to get plugged in and live your life in the world as one who is taking light into darkness.

Vacation Countdown starts today . . . 11 days to Friday, July 13!  If the condo we are staying in while at the beach has wireless, I’m hoping to keep posting while we are away . . .

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