Tag Archives: evangelism

The ask: The background music of multiplication

Garden at the end of a tunnel of decay

One time a striking circle of ten got together for a late-night brainstorm about the future development of Circle of Hope Broad and Washington. It was stimulating. While we were discussing great things, there was a little emotional tune playing in the background. It was almost like a minor-keyed theme in a mystery movie that lets you know something scary is going to happen, a note of fear [or 30 minutes of it!]. Growing a church to hiving size means making new relationships, which most of us like, but making new relationships includes something most of us don’t like: the ask. The tune kept building to the point when all the ideas would come down to the ask. Then it got loud.

The tragedy of NO

My mother liked taking me shopping for groceries as child. For one thing, my mother was so extroverted she didn’t like to do anything alone and I was available. But I think the main reason I got to go was that I was rather entertaining as I interacted with the various people we would meet in the aisles. I would ask people about themselves, ask about their clothes, ask about their groceries. And if they wouldn’t talk to me, I would ask my mother about them. My mother found this boundary-breaking amusing. The downside for her was that I would also ask for every single thing on the shelves that looked mildly interesting or tasty. So very early on, I had a lot of experience with the word NO. I could see my self not long after when I was buying snacks for the Sunday Meeting. A young boy was lying in the candy aisle screaming under the watch of his bemused dad because Skittles were not on their list —  the tragedy of being told NO is still very real for the under-six set.

I was relatively oblivious to being told NO as a child. I just kept on expressing my hope for Skittles until I got a YES. If I got one YES out of a hundred NOs, that kept me going. But as I got older and understood that NO often has more meaning than whether I am going to get a piece of candy, I got a LOT more reticent. I began to feel rejected by NO. One hundred NOs of rejection were not balanced with a single YES. I began to feel generally rejected and didn’t want to ask at all, lest I get rejected some more. The scary tune of the ask became background music in my brain.

Having intimates who lived a general YES to me did not necessarily make up for the times they dared to say NO to me. Even having a God who Paul could say this about didn’t solve all my problems:

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.”  For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:19-20

Even God did not consistently convince me that being rejected, being an “imposition,” or being “unwanted” was less important than being free to be myself, being confident that I am safe no matter what, and living in a state of grace that is “YES” to me. I still was nervous about asking.

Image result for fear of the ask

Fear of the ask throttles church planting

This nervousness about asking makes church planting hard (I know this personally!).  Some of us are loathe to ask someone to come to an event (like our cell or the Sunday Meeting) because it seems so aggressive and could easily incite rejection. But our fear can be even more fundamental. Even when some people get a turn to tell their story, they are still reticent to ask someone to listen. If Jesus is included in their story, then they often feel like they are being too aggressive!

Meanwhile, church planting is all about the asking. It never really gets that easy for most of us. Because we usually experience many forms of NO before we get to a YES. Should we therefor learn to avoid asking so we avoid suffering? Should we just pass by the Skittles without a peep of desire? Should we just pass by people who might like to know Jesus because we have learned never to risk loving someone who might reject us?

I told the circle of hive-interested people that night about when I was an evangelistic wildman in college. I had days when I vowed to ask everyone I met to come to our new Bible study in our side-by-side apartments. That meant I would be asking all sorts of people I was sure would say NO, unless a miracle happened. Many did say NO. But a surprising number didn’t and an even more surprising number became new disciples of Jesus.

Its been more than a few years since I was in college. Since then advertisers have become so oppressive (i.e., AT&T Station is still travesty!) that anyone with love in their heart feels like they should not add to the asking. That’s just a general, devilish thing that has happened to us to make us keep quiet. No one even gets to hear the YES we have for them because we are all too busy telling AT&T NO for the millionth time, like some five-year-old in the store who never learns. It is tiring. We don’t want to add to the asking, even if we are asking in the name of Jesus! Someone might think we are merely marketing!

Authentic Google Jr. Highers

NO is even harder to bear in the love zone

Even more so, it is hard to ask because we don’t like getting rejected. Asking in the name of Jesus is more like asking, “Do you want to make love?” than it is asking, “Do you want to buy a box of Girl Scout cookies?” (Samoas are still the best. A man came up to me in Fresh Grocer a few weeks ago and asked me to buy some from his daughter. I did). Works of faith are intrinsically intimate. They are in the love zone.  If we ever hive off another congregation, it will be because a substantial number of people trust the YES in Jesus enough to bear the NOs of people who aren’t ready yet or, for whatever reason, don’t want them and Jesus right now.

Nevertheless, like perpetual askers at a middle school dance, we’ll get up and cross over to a person who has a lot of power over our emotions and ask them to dance. There’s no hiding it; we’re asking because we like them. In Christ we love the about-to-be-asked, already, even before we find out what their response will be. We aren’t selling a mere product; we can get hurt if they reject us! Our love for Jesus and them is built in to the  “product” if we are “selling” at all. And it is a hurtable love, just like Jesus is a hurtable God. So asking is no small thing. The music of the fear of NO could drown out the dance music!

It is no wonder that we sometimes hate to ask. But if we don’t ask, it could hurt even more. It will certainly hurt our chances of multiplying if we won’t do it. I am going to keep meditating on that YES I can count on from God so I don’t pass by too many more seekers fearing they might reject Jesus in me.

We need evangelized: 3 things that show it

evangelized rodents

Every day, I need evangelized. Like Paul said of Abraham, the faithful friend of God:

“He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).

I am also not wavering. But I need to be strengthened. I need to be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promises. This strengthening and persuasion happens every day.

To be honest, we, as a church, need to keep the spark of evangelism stoked among us and through us or we might “waver through unbelief” like Paul fears the Romans might waver (or why bring up Abraham, right?). If Paul looked over our church, he might be writing a letter to our leaders and to all of us when he saw the kinds of things we do rather than persuading people that God has the power to do what he promises through Jesus Christ.

Here are three things we tend to do these days that show we need evangelized — no judgment, just things to think and talk about.

We manage lovelessness

This week, all sorts of people are going to bring out the four horsemen in their relationships at home, in your cell and with the leaders. We are going to be tempted to manage the symptoms of their lovelessness rather than teach a better way. Rather than reconcile after our teaching causes conflict, we will be tempted to keep things calm by not confronting the life-sucking lack of love and keeping our mouths shut. We try to manage the lovelessness. This managing rarely succeeds and the territory of the loveless expands rather than stays in the boundaries we set. Basically, we spawn a dysfunctional family like that from which many of us came.

Continue reading We need evangelized: 3 things that show it

Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

Our last day in Zambia was full of constrasts — and Lusaka’s traffic jams! We shopped at the mall with the rest of the 1% and looked over an unpaved alley full of vendors. We had our last baked beans for breakfast, lunch on a posh balcony, and had a farewell dinner at The Retreat — a poolside eatery inside a walled suburban tract.

Levison Soko, Lusaka area overseer for the BIC
Levison Soko, Lusaka area overseer for the BIC

While sitting in traffic we had a lot of time to check out the sites. One of the surprises was to see three large mosques in the downtown area. During lunch, I asked our guest, the district overseer for the BIC in Lusaka, if he felt the impact of Muslims in Lusaka. He immediately became more animated. He told us that big spenders were coming in (reportedly from the Middle East and Indonesia, we heard) to put up big new meeting places. To go with them, they attach free schools and often free clinics. Poor people, mostly Christians at some level, are taking advantage of the free gifts, since they have nothing else. Soon their children are followers of Islam. This is the strategy: convert the children of Zambia, village by village.

We told him that some people in the U.S. doubt the evangelistic value of MCC, which supplies our compassionate mission, complete with schools and health care components. They think the ministry of the word is enough. He was flabbergasted. He could not understand how the spoken and enacted word could ever be separated, and reinforced that the BIC in Zambia consider MCC and the BIC to be one movement. Then he quoted the word to us as a final admonition: “If you have done it to the least of these you have done it to me” (Matthew 25). Works of compassion are the first steps of evangelism; isn’t that why the Lord’s teaching often follows an act of healing or dispossession?

I received his admonition. But as a church planter, I have to admit, my competitive juices also began to flow. Will we actually concede Southern Africa, where we have been supporting successful church planting for over 100 years, to the Muslims? Have we conformed to the world so completely that we would follow liberal irreligiousity or conservative protectionism instead of following Jesus, who is waiting for us to unite his resources in the cause of redemption? We have capable partners already in Zimbabwe and Zambia, I have learned. But they certainly don’t have our resources — or those of the local imam’s apparently!

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.

ZIMBABWE

April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers

ZAMBIA

April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

Going around doing good

In Acts, Jesus is described as “one who went around doing good.” And yet I regularly hear some suspicion about MCC because their main gift to the church is leading us to go around and do good — in a professional, creative , personal, inclusive way! They are accused of being unevangelistic, even though they stamp everything they distribute “in the name of Christ.”

Rather than being unevangelistic, I would say that MCC and other ways the church expresses God’s love in practical ways are the MOST evangelistic things we do in an age that is suspicious about words in general and particularly Christian ones. I don’t know how much personal evangelism you do, but when I get an opportunity I often hear about how uncompassionate the church is. Many people think we hate gay people and immigrants and anyone who does not agree with us. They think we are fierce competitors for government power to enforce the morality we don’t completely agree on among ourselves. We lament the shrinking church in the U.S. — I still think the antidote is intercession and compassion.

When I was connecting with the BIC about 30 years ago one of the main reasons I did it was because they were part of MCC. My friends had been to Kenya to study.  One of the things they described were these great missionaries who went about doing good, were close to the people, and had a better reputation than other missionaries who seemed more concerned with building their organization than serving –they were called MCC, whatever that means. So I am glad we are hanging in there with MCC in a rather selfish age. I want to show people Jesus, especially the neediest.

I guess that’s what people say while on an MCC learning tour. We see a lot of good being done in our name. Today we visited the Zimbabwean bishop, were taken by his wife to visit the needy, visited with a peacemaker trying to undo the trauma visited on Matabeleland (having been in prison for his passion) — and that was just part of the day. The church is making a lot with the little they have. Jesus saves.

Here are two other special moments.


Sibo Ncube has been leading the BICC Compassionate Development Services for three years. My poor picture does not reveal what an articulate, passionate, intelligent leader she is. She is combining the elements of the hospitals, MCC projects and other efforts in a coherent framework. It is part of a new commitment to compassion by the church. She laments the lost generation who have grown up without integrity in a sea of corruption. She sees them enslaved by an atmosphere of fear and despair. She plans to lead the church to restore their historic character as a peace church and so restore the country. I pray she succeeds.


The National Parents of Disabled Children Organization has a big name for their struggling but blessed ministry. MCC had been funding a larger organization of parents with severely disabled children. The director stole the organization’s money and sold the van!  A segment of the betrayed parents reorganized, found a man to build them a house and donate a van! In a country with completely inadequate and unaffordable health care, this is what you do. I am moved by them. They radiated joy. As we said our goodbyes several workers sang a song of love and danced in praise. That was worth the whole trip.

These people are going around doing good with Jesus in a needy, traumatized, and abused place. I am delighted MCC is in league with the BIC in Zimbabwe and so allows me to go around (and dance) with them as they do it.

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.

ZIMBABWE

April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers

ZAMBIA

April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

April 30
Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

Are we visible enough?

visible as the mike brown vigilWe are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us.

But are we “visible” enough? Are we a “contrast society” like we aspire to be? Perhaps the most visible we were last year was during our Mike Brown vigil outside the future police headquarters.  It made some of us feel like, “Finally! We made ourselves known in some way.” Others are still talking about the relational damage they experienced when we appeared to be anti-police and declared some extreme versions of a political stance.  Some of us are eager to be visible. Others seem opposed to it or experience being visible as being exposed, even shameful.

Visible as radicals

These are thoughts we considered when we did some theology last week around the question, “What is radical?” We had John Wesley for our example of someone who fits the criteria for being such a person. Part of what made him so radical was his willingness to be visible, and often in striking contrast to both church and society. For instance, Curtis Book quoted him saying, “Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way to my heart.” That certainly contrasts with common sense in the U.S.!

Not visible like JustinWesley’s sincere convictions made him notorious. But there is a much more common form of being visible that we want to avoid. A contrast society is not visible in the way the world vies to be more notorious than someone else.  Take Justin Bieber and Adele for example. They  have been competing for #1 on the charts with songs about being forgiven, of all things! We are all for forgiveness to get on someone’s screen, right? But we hardly want to make the forgiveness of Jesus visible like a pop artist gets famous, do we? There are certain kinds of visible we just don’t want to practice: publicity-seeking, or political theatrics, or “show,” in general

Matt 6:3-4: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We think seeking notoriety or fame is a temptation, not an aspiration. A contrast society built by Jesus needs to rely on its radicality becoming visible, not rely on visibility to make it seem radical.

The little way

We agreed that the “little way” is better. It is the way of not trying to be visible. If you are trying to be visible, you probably have nothing from Jesus to show. The kind of contrast that makes us visible is: our palpable authenticity — you know it, you see it, there are no deceptive frills, it is frank. Our radicality says, “Do you want to? I do!” It is sincere. We need to let that smallness become visible, something like the widow’s worship became visible to one with eyes to see it.

Mark 12 :41-44:  “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

We build the visible people of God. That's our lead.When we tried to figure out what, if any, balance there was in all of this, we decided that being visible is a matter of what we lead with. We could lead with techniques that make us visible. Or we could rely on the revelation to push us to make it known. Our lead is very rooted, practical and, by nature, visible. We build the people of God – that’s the lead. Other things might follow or coincide, but being “the together,” the anti-polarization – that’s contrast. This thought matches 1 Peter 4 10-11 in that it shows how the outward (people who yearn to be visible) and the inward (people who fear the attention is contaminating) connect:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks [an outwardly visible act], they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves [a small way to be called], they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Some people will be, by nature and gifting, more “visible” (like Gandalf) and others will be, by nature and gifting, “smaller” (like Frodo).  We are all both, in that we share in one body and seek one end.

Visible and small together

Leading by building the church is always going to be radical, and so prone to temptation and danger. When it comes to building the church with new disciples, the “visible” people may be prone to wanting instant results in response to a speech, or an ad, or an action. The “small” people are more likely to be content with the more common reality that conversion is, more times than not, about “Chinese water torture” evangelism – drip by drip. We do not change quickly. We may have to drag many people along the way until they can walk. When it comes to keeping the church built, the “visible” people may want to show the sword and induce a miracle to solve problems. Sometimes they should. The  “smaller” might try to diminish our polarized environment, in which every problem becomes a me-centered social justice issue. Sometimes conflict should be avoided, too.

We did not come to every conclusion needed. But we were glad for our ability to do some theology. We are embodying something beautiful. It is sensible – one can sense us. So we were glad that we could conclude where Wesley did, even when he was content to work among the smallest and yet became so notorious. He was fond of quoting Paul in the middle of temptation and danger: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

 

Top ten posts of 2015 and before

You may have missed some of the posts others found interesting in 2015!

1. Obama runs over Jesus in victory lap

Even though I give the speech a high rating (which I am sure Barack is waiting to hear), and even though I can whip up some admiration for the president’s audacity, competitiveness and attention to some of my greatest irritations, the speech made me glad, as usual, that Jesus introduced me to an alternative way of life and glad that Circle of Hope keeps giving me a chance to practice it.

2. If I tell you not to watch Kingsman will it make you want to see it?

Continue reading Top ten posts of 2015 and before

Our evangelism nightmare: Hypermodern voices take over the airwaves

I heard Dwight Schrute, I mean, Rainn Wilson, on NPR as I was driving around somewhere. What he said is stuck in my head. He is known for being an outspoken follower of the Ba’hai faith — it is the “outspoken” part that is stuck. At one point he said that people “threw up in their mouth a little” when he started talking about his life with God at parties. So it is not easy for him to talk about what he believes. He does it, but it is not easy.

Wilson’s claim to fame, The Office, began in 2005, about when we moved into our South Broad location. It makes me wonder if that TV show was riding the zeitgeist of dodging people who make you “throw up in your mouth a little” — like White Goodman (above) and Dwight Schrute. Christians (and I guess the followers of the Bab) started getting on the list of people who make you vurp — at least the ones who talk about their faith as if they actually believe it.

Old evangelism stories are out of date

I was telling old stories to Aaron the other day about talking to people as if you actually believe that Jesus will raise you from the dead, and such things of faith. At one point he looked a little uncomfortable. I don’t think he was vurping, but he reminded me that things have changed a bit since I was his age. Some of my stories seem out of date when I start talking about the Jesus movement, which might as well be the French Revolution as far as twentysomethings remember it. We are experiencing more of an evangelistic nightmare than easygoing chats about Jesus.

Twentysomethings were born into a profound philosophical discussion. Their churches, for the most part, were holding on to a Christianity that was conformed to philosophical paradigms from modernity like rationality and hierarchy. In the late twentieth century, postmodern thinkers came to the fore and staged a short-lived rebellion. They taught everyone to consider their “values” and argued that values have the meaning we assign them, but no meanings that last; we cannot discern truth but we can play with the nonsense. They wanted to emerge from modernity with its faith in progress and empowering the individual. We had “emerging churches” for a hot minute to match that movement.

The dialogue out there is all hypermodern

You can Google all this, of course. But you might not bother because you have become what many call “hypermodern.” Modernity and postmodernity are both the the past for you. They are, essentially, irrelevant because you believe that what took place in the past took place under “lesser” circumstances than now, and is irretrievably different. You think artifacts from the past (like the Bible or “faiths”) that clutter the cultural landscape are to be reused to generate something better.

Wikipedia quote: Hypermodernity has even more commitment to reason and to an ability to improve individual choice and freedom. Modernity merely held out the hope of reasonable change while continuing to deal with a historical set of issues and concerns; hypermodernity posits that things are changing so quickly that history is not a reliable guide. The positive changes of hypermodernity are supposedly witnessed through rapidly expanding wealth, better living standards, medical advances, and so forth. Individuals and cultures that benefit directly from these things can feel that they are pulling away from natural limits that have always constrained life on Earth. But the negative effects also can be seen as leading to a soulless homogeneity as well as to accelerated discrepancies between different classes and groups.

So if you feel like people will consider you a Dwight Schrute at a party if you talk about Jesus, you might be right. You are acting like an historical artifact (Jesus) has meaning. You seem to be fighting the inevitability of change. You are saying that life on Earth has meaning and we don’t have to fight its constraints as if we should have power over it. You are standing out against the backdrop of gigantic institutions enforcing soulless homogeneity on us in the name of progress. And so much more.

parisisaboutlife

It is an evangelism nightmare. Hypermodernity assumes everyone is an idiot if they are not hypermodern, like the cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo who responded to people praying for Paris after the recent attacks (above). For him, religion is modern, the past. Paris is freedom and joy, the future. Religion (a modern umbrella under which all “faiths” belong) is the seedbed of terrorism = faithful people are in bed with terrorists = You make me sick you Christians!

Jesus does not need to make people vurp

What to do? I’d hate to terrorize a party! I hardly want to stand in the way of progress. I don’t even understand all this philosophy.

Four suggestions, for now.

  1. Talk this over. Things ARE changing fast. We need to keep talking about what is happening, like I am talking right now about how Aaron was schooling me.
  2. Remember that Jesus is present, even if people try to make him an historical artifact. Even if people have repeatedly subjected him to the latest philosophy, the Lord rises in each era and has been incarnate in them all. You don’t have to argue the Lord into existence.
  3. Have a story and tell it. Jesus is going to be found in a loving relationship of trust in which God can be spoken of as the lover God is rather than a mere philosophical argument, a value, or political statement.
  4. Pray. Like right now. Jesus will be revealed and you will be inspired to live a life of creativity, free of shame and free to share.

The Great Commission: Facing threats to fulfilling it

My last seminar at the Mennonite World Conference was one my friend told me I needed to attend, since it was by Wes Furlong, pastor of an unusually large Mennonite Church in Florida. I was eager to see how the Anabaptists were trying to come to the megachurch picnic.

final tent meeting in the Farm Show Complex
final tent meeting in the Farm Show Complex

I was disappointed because Furlong did not show up. The replacement said he was still with his family after his vacation and felt it was better to stay with them. This was ironic, since part of his material included  asking a good-hearted skeptic to tell you what your church is like after they attend a meeting for the first time. I was the good-hearted skeptic at his meeting this time. Not showing up made a big impression. Come to find out Furlong has gone to quarter time at the church and started hiring himself out as a consultant and as one of the architects of the new splinter-group Evana. When I googled him, the first thing that came up was Wes Frulong.com. He’s his own brand.

There is a lot I learned from my seminar experience, but let’s give the material his substitute offered some respect. He wanted to explore how Anabaptist assets can serve the cause of fulfilling the Great Commission.  This is always a good topic of discussion. We do well to think about it because, I think, Circle of Hope and BIC assets are deep, but they are often poorly delivered in service to the cause. In the case of the BIC, I think the assets are well described, but the organization has been talking about itself for a decade or so instead of mobilizing for action. The BIC has hired a lot of Wes Furlong types to get ourselves going, but the denominational culture has become even less about our historic or actual assets, it seems to me.

The teacher talked about three things that are special threats to Anabaptist types if they want to fulfill the Great Commission. These are threats to most other churches, as well.

1) The original vision of a founding pastor/formation team or of a denomination tends to move toward institutionalization. The goal line might be clear and the way to get there might even be clear, but the requirements of the institution are too distracting to make enough good plays to get the ball over the line. To get anywhere, the homeostasis needs to be disrupted, but the system is designed to preserve itself.

2) Fear of authority. The baby boomers are in charge and they have taught their children to be even more suspicious of anyone in charge than they are. Unless you are an especially skillful or charismatic person, a leader in the church spends a lot of time figuring out who is in charge at a given moment and making all their many bosses happy. They never succeed in making everyone happy so they are on a hamster wheel of failure until they burn out. Nothing can be mobilized.

3) The lack of clarity between modality and sodality. This is about being a people and being a mission. Obviously we should be both: a missional community. But often the modality (the church as a means to the end) is more important than the sodality (that singular cause for which the church exists). Churches get on the bus and then decide where to go rather than being invited onto a bus that is already scheduled for a destination. We end up with a covenant to confab rather than convert.

In the face of these threats to meeting the Lord’s goal, what must be done?

1) Trust the Holy Spirit to start a movement. You can’t do anything right enough to make the plant grow, but you can prepare the soil, sow, and till.

2) Understand that a lot of it depends on the hearts of the leaders. If they don’t want to go where Jesus is going and they can’t bear the rejection they will bear when they go with him, there is not going to be enough passion to sustain mission (like enough of THE Passion).

3) Our perception of ourselves in Christ will probably need to change. The teacher gave a metaphor of the Mennonites (and I think the BIC have this disease a bit) as being the quiet people of the land because they have the tongue-screw still applied from their days of being quieted by persecution. It is hard to get the assets on the road if you can’t talk about them. People are worried about how the gospel is communicated but that can’t be the main concern; we should know who we are and let the communication be contextual and variable.

4) The organization will need to change to facilitate the goal, not vice versa. The Cape Christian church went to local officials and other neighbors and asked what big need in their area was going unmet. They found out that it had to do with families, especially foster children. They took on the task. They built a new building that included a splash park. Soon families were coming to their church after going to the splash park. What’s more, they got committed to fostering and ended up responsible for 50-60% of the foster family placements in their city of 175,000 people. Their goal changed everything.

What does it take to help people know Jesus and become fully-functioning members of the body of Christ — not abstractly, but in our location? Serious answers to that question could arrive at serious goals that are worth our lives – the lives Jesus gave us to live, not to waste while we aspire to live in some more-perfect future – like the future when some renowned presenter shows up to encourage you to show up.

Looking for a church in downtown Amsterdam? (Probably not)

I appreciated hearing from the inventive pastor of a downtown Amsterdam church today named Henk Leegte. He was helping us Mennonite World Conference attenders figure out how to be the church in a postmodern and postChristian context, like the Netherlands (and probably like the U.S. if we don’t pray up the alternative).

henk

He named some reasons the Dutch have overwhelmingly deserted the church in all its forms.

  1. The scandals in the catholic Church
  2. Hypocrisy among church leaders and members
  3. Fear mongering preaching by Dutch Calvinists, especially
  4. The charitable aspects of society used to be funneled through the church. But the government took that over after WW2 and that function of the church is now part of the state.
  5. They just don’t care. The people are not bad, unethical or uncompassionate; they just don’t care about the church. 60-70% don’t even know what Christmas and Easter are all about, anymore; they still are holidays, but they don’t mean anything Christian. Strangely enough, the Dutch all do one religious thing every year. At some time they go listen to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. Go figure.

What does this church do to connect?

Continue reading Looking for a church in downtown Amsterdam? (Probably not)

Participation: invitation or imposition?

So why am I writing my weekly blog post on December 29? For one thing, I should be out jogging off the extra five pounds I put on during the holiday. But for another thing, who in the world is going to sit down and read this post? It is December 29!

This is the bane of the info age, isn’t it? People are pumping out info from all the programs they use and then using their increasingly high-tech analytics to see if anyone is listening. The whole info machine is designed for people who want to participate. But does anyone want to participate?

Avoidance as a survival skill

I am not so sure people have the participation time or interest necessary for all the participatory things being pumped out. If I am any indication, a lot of us are not that interested in being wired up and analyzed all day. (That would make me “apathetic” on the analyst’s chart, I think). I think a lot of us are already on to the game and resist most of what is trying to get us to stop resisting and participate!

Pretty soon, I suppose we will all be required to participate just to get paid. And I don’t mean just do a job and get paid, I mean serve the ends of the product like you LOVE it. For instance, the newest business technique is to get all the corporation’s employees to be boosters online so advertising is organic and culture-creating. For instance, a consultant says: “a highly engaged workforce is also your most potent marketing tool to help build, promote, and evangelize your brand.” Tweet the product, pin it, post it, Instagram it. Capitalism meets social media. You”ll wake up in the morning and type up some cute thing your boss at Halliburton said so people will see the human side of Deepwater Horizon.

When a lot of us get wind of all that requirement our response already is, “Whoever, meet my blank screen. I’m out.” One of my friends says that the major psychological trait of the present generation (unlike the narcissism of the Boomers) is avoidance. Is the main communication skill required these days managing to avoid all that communication?

info overload

Can Jesus hope for participation?

I am especially interested in this because I am a communicator (I am typing this on Dec. 29, after all), and we, as Circle of Hope, have come up with a very participatory kind of church and a map for 2015 that requires a lot of participation which will mean a lot of communicating. Did we just get organized for a generation that is not interested in listening for more than 140 characters? — or, even more, who don’t listen at all, just consume images?

I think we might be that weird.

The corporations are actually going to try to steal our word “evangelism” and apply it to consumer offerings, as if what they produce will save people. So that’s one thing. But the other thing is that everyone with a smartphone (almost 60% of the population and escalating) already has skills in blocking out unwanted material, which is most of what’s coming at them. Yet here we are asking inundated people to believe we are not just branding Jesus and believe they should participate in his mission like the valued people they are.

How do you think that is going to work out?

Does God care if our church exists?

logo 2007Every once in a while we need to ask the Lord if we should just close up the enterprise and do something else for which we are better suited! There is nothing worse than a church that doesn’t need the Holy Spirit to keep functioning, right?

So I asked a few questions of our Leadership Team the other day which I had been asking myself.  A few people got right back to me with some encouraging answers. I am sharing them with you, basically unedited (but anonymous since I didn’t ask them) to see what you think. What would you add?

I know people read this blog from all over, but I hope you won’t tune out. It would be interesting to hear what you say. We’ve been told we are full of it before, so no need to be shy. But also, what you see from far away might be helpful for us who are way into this quadrant of the Church over here. Leave a comment or send me a note.

Continue reading Does God care if our church exists?

Theorists in casual Friday dress wreck evangelism

christian theorySome of my cohort were intrigued when I was aroused from my inattention last week during our final  intensive. My professor (who I like very much) was, for some reason, veering into theology. I considered it practicing outside her expertise so I had to say, “I just don’t believe that.” She had already told us that when we consider God we need to start with a theory, “Everything starts with a theory.” That was supposedly from the Bible and not from Enlightenment rationalism. She went on to write a subject on the board, draw a line under it and have us fill in the subtopics, like we were the first scientists labeling the world. Only she was working on the concept “sin is sin,” working on the theory that anything not righteous is sin and blaming her kind of thinking on the Bible writers.

I did not really dispute her conclusions too much, although I was afraid she would soon need to put mass murderers in the same category as fibbers because that is what her theory demanded. What I objected to was ignorantly applying a theory to the Bible and calling it revelation. She pinched the evangelist in me and I said “Ouch” (rather too loudly and strongly, perhaps incoherently, as I recall it now). Several friends rushed over to inspect the theological boo boo on my scraped soul. When the Christian experts, liberal or fundamentalist (like my teacher), keep passing out Christianity in a 17th century wrapper, it is very hard to make an actual, Bible-following, Jesus loving, Spirit-filled convert.

Modern Evangelicalism has been seduced into secular rationalism and still doesn’t seem to know it.  Evangelicals surrendered the soul to intellect and began to try to play the religious game on the rationalist field. Their time and energy was spent proving that God fits right in to materialist philosophies, and documenting the factuality of the Bible as applied to every possible discipline, as if the Bible were actually considering all the myriad specialties invented by scientific rationalism. Now they are church planting as the “neo-Reformed,” delivering the “word” while softening the fundamentalist packaging with work shirts and nice production values.

For Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a kingdom not of this rationalistic world (my expansion of John 18:36). The “soul life” or “psyche” Jesus does not want us to lose feeds on the Spirit, and on revelation it does not produce. Freud and other scientists intellectually colonized the territory by proposing that dreams are neurobiological phenomena. But the Bible writers know better. They are not talking theory; they are talking about the experience of God that Jesus brings into human dialogue. We live in a kingdom suffused with the Spirit of God. We swim in a sea of revelation. It is a bit like being a receiver in an atmosphere full of radio waves.

I think people were sick of Christians fighting about their words and theories a long time ago. I know I am. Thus I confronted my teacher with my unbelief and protested the imposition of the teaching as if it were straight from God. When I was in the maelstrom of rationalism in seminary, I wrote one paper that has always stuck with me. What could Paul be talking about when he says, “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13). It surely can’t be charting out a simplistic theory of reality on a white board!

In the name of evangelism, some Christians have fed back the spirit of the world dressed up like the Bible. It did not make believers understand the words taught by the Spirit. The faith landscape is littered with the lives of former believers who just couldn’t buy the arguments. The whole church is arguing itself to death on the battlefield of 18th century thinking as we speak! I still want to do something else by responding to the great revelation I have received.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Why people might not care to be radical Christians: Part 2

Who are radical Christians? They may not look as wild as you might expect, or be famous for being “out there.” But, like I said last week, they will have some basic characteristics. For instance:

  • They are devoted to being at the heart of the kingdom and to having the kingdom at the heart of them.
  • God is not trying to get them to do things with moderate success; they are trying to get God to do things.
  • Following Jesus is not a side job, it is their vocation.
  • The church is not one of many options; it is their tribal identity.
  • Mission is not a leisure time activity; they will use their money-making work to make it happen.
  • Believing is not exhausting for them; it is exhilarating

My whole Christian life has been devoted to being a regular guy who is a radical Christian. When I became a Christian, I never thought it was about joining a club or being on the right team. I just picked up on what the Bible was saying and went with it. And I did not miss that the Bible was written by regular, flawed people who were saved, not superpeople, or people who even thought they could get it right. It seems to me that the Bible is written “in the face” of people who think they are great or who think they need to be great to make God look good. Regular people who are filled with the Holy Spirit living heart to heart with God: that’s radical. What they do may never get into the news cycle, but that’s not the point for them. The are at the heart and they do from the heart like good trees bearing good fruit, their roots sinking down into eternity.

But there are reasons people might not want to be radicals these days. Here are four more, that are a bit more personal:

5) They probably don’t have a taste for community

So many churches in the past fifty years were just political fronts for the Republican party or the new age movement — they weren’t communities gathered around Jesus. One time I had to demand that my deacon not put local Republican voting guides on the church’s info site – that in a supposedly Anabaptist-tradition congregation! More often I have had to defend why Jesus is the loving center of what we are all about and not just a figure of intolerance — and that to people in covenant with me! It is no wonder that people feel liberated when they get out from under the thumb of the church’s dialogue-stifling system– if that is Christian community, count me out, too! But as people get free of the nonsense, they often end up inoculated against true Christian community by the faux community they have experienced.

Even more, in general, “churched” or not, the population seems to be losing their capacity to connect (could this be true?). People have grown up in detached families. They are immigrants who have left their culture. They have moved to the city to get away from community and be themselves. They live virtually. The hand held computer has taken all their attention. The church comes around and wants consistent relating and it seems like it might be from another planet. But they are going to be gone for the next three months on a job anyway, so the temptation to care about that is fleeting.

church scene of the crime6) The church was the scene of a crime.

This might be the most under-reported reason why people lose their faith. Something bad happened to them while they were part of a church and they did not have the resources to get over it without leaving the church – or the church did not have the resources or opportunity (see the first point) to help them.

  • They got a divorce and only one of them got custody of the church.
  • They had a messy break-up with someone and couldn’t face sitting in a meeting with them.
  • They had a conflict and never faced it or forgave it.
  • They unwittingly got connected with a mentally ill person and didn’t want to handle it.
  • Their children did not get along with other children.
  • The leader said something that didn’t sit right and they were too afraid of him (generally) to talk about it.

If you have a relationship difficulty, it is tempting to not grow through it but to just move on. Most conflicts require confronting something in oneself, but the habit for many is to blame and cut off. People tend to be “slash and burn” relaters. We’ve all become samplers. So it does not take much to scatter us. Once we get scattered from the church, it is easy to see it as the scene of the crime we are trying to escape.

7) Perfect love does not cast out their fear.

Being a radical Christian is not a sociological phenomenon. If the society is open to Jesus or not, following Jesus is still going to be a matter of having a living relationship with God. One will have to lose their life to save it. Jesus will have to be accepted as Lord. It is a scary proposition.

  • If one lives by the detailed laws of science and relies on a few significant relationships for comfort, then the demands of Jesus are very big. Not only does Jesus insist he is the law and the most significant relationship we have, he insists from an eternal perspective.
  • If one is convinced that being an individual is the height of self-realization, if one is acclimated to the rewards of the economy, and if one believes love is all you need, then Jesus might seem like he is way too abnormal.
  • If one is mostly reacting rather than thinking and feeling things through, Jesus is way deeper than what seems possible.

Faith can be overwhelming for some people. They don’t have the heart for it. They are even defensive that I said that and then talked about saying it.

Christ’s love is the key to being other than what I just listed. Otherwise, being a Jesus follower from one’s heart is too huge to try.

8) Church people will not do evangelism.

Given all the problems enumerated above, and last week, Christians are loathe to make disciples. Just the thought of “making a disciple” seems like it must be against the law, or certainly some relic of a colonial past. They won’t even tell their story of faith, since it is up against the big alternative narratives that have taken over the airwaves. They wonder if everything that is important to them is just socially constructed anyway, so why would they infringe upon what someone else has constructed for themselves from all the bits and pieces of spirituality readily available? They won’t even give people a chance to discover the Gospel and change.

I think the main reason people might not want to be radical Christians is that they don’t really  know one. They may never have a dialogue in which the Holy Spirit gets to play an intimate part. All those spiritual experiences they are having may be left to be organized by their own imagination rather than the risen Lord. They will still be interesting, mysterious and moving experiences, but they won’t be radically Christian.

I think all Christians should speak up about what brings them life — especially the radical ones guarding the integrity of the faith for the next generation.

Thanks for all the dialogue last week about these ideas. The process of thinking together makes being a new people in Christ possible.

Overcoming the fear of getting out there

Do YOU have something to say? You could be a guest contributor, too. Here is a piece from Howard Pinder struggling with how to make connections when his Christian friends have strict rules of engagement.

I remember the first time I got thrown out of Starbucks for trying to post a “religious” flyer. I was devastated. I thought I was a bold person, but being rejected like that got to me. The employee wasn’t particularly rude but all sorts of feelings rushed to the surface as I awkwardly left, until I was practically in tears on the sidewalk. I was suddenly awash in doubts and thought I might just be too afraid to put myself out there again. I took heart though. My mentor reminded me that evangelism is about looking for people who are looking for Jesus. And they are out there. I had been out there once too.

Lately I have been working on an events team. Hosting events is another way I am trying to put myself “out there.”  Our team has had some good ideas. I loved advertising the “unorthodox art” show we had last Saturday. It’s fun. There are a lot of reasons we’re doing it, but the main reason is because we want people to find out about Circle of Hope and we want them to know Jesus. We’re not screening them at the door for receptivity, but we’re making friends and we’re friends with Jesus. It is a simple connection. At least I think it is obvious. Recently someone questioned my wisdom because I wanted to promote Jesus and Circle of Hope in our own events. They were afraid we’d offend somebody. Their questions offended ME! They’d promote any unorthodox artist in the neighborhood, but don’t let Jesus get in there because promoting him would be offensive.

I explained why I thought we should promote Circle of Hope and Jesus in all of our events in one way or another. My main argument was: “Knowing Jesus and helping others to know Him is the most important thing about life.” My friend told me that my thinking puts me in the minority. (Is that true?) Their main argument was that bringing out Jesus was not being sensitive. They said if I was really conscious of others I would see that dropping Jesus on unsuspecting people was not the best way to express my faith.

Well, I can imagine having a problem between Jesus and people. But why would I predict that? Besides, sometimes when we claim we are being sensitive we are actually being fearful – fearful of being labeled, fearful of rejection, fearful of turning someone away from faith because we are fearful we are just that bad! It’s not like I was suggesting I get on a soapbox and preach condemnation and promise people hell (I’m not even sure where one gets a soapbox, these days!). What’s the problem with being who I am?

I hear a lot of fear when I talk about revealing my faith right out there in public. We have all heard about the stereotypes of Christians causing more harm than good. Maybe we don’t want to be associated with that type of expressing. But I don’t want to live my life as a reaction to misguided Evangelicals, either. I want to live through my relationship with Jesus. My fears run deep, but I want to take heart and overcome them with Jesus, not just get run around by them. I want to act out of a deep assurance that I am safe, and out of my new security in the fact that I will spend eternal life with God. What could make us afraid after knowing that?

Let me be clear here. I’m not saying, “Let’s get out there and see how many people we can  coerce into being a Christian!” I’m talking about speaking freely about the truth of Jesus as it has been revealed to us.  How does your relationship with Jesus make a difference in your life? What, exactly, are you protecting people from by never talking about that? Do you really love the people you claim you are being sensitive to if you aren’t willing to tell them the truth?

Maybe my experiences are a big anomaly; maybe they aren’t indicative of the state of your faith. But what do you think? I think we’re too afraid to get out there. I’m afraid, too. I don’t want to condemn anyone who is digging in their heels, since I suppose there are more reasons than I could imagine for that behavior. But I do feel held back when you hold back. I feel out on the limb when you tell me I shouldn’t get out there. I think we need to confront this compulsive fear in ourselves.

Jesus does not condemn us for messing up his mission. When I came to Jesus after feeling like a failure outside Starbucks, he was tender with me. I felt like He took my hand and said, “All will be well if you keep following me.” That’s the Jesus I want to show people. I feel compelled to get out there and show them. I echo Paul when he says that he must express what he’s received and express it boldly. We are all grappling with this in our own way. When, in our grappling, we tamp down someone else’s enthusiasm, we might be acting out of fear and blocking Jesus’ mission. The only way through our fears is to get out there, with Jesus right beside us.

These older posts might interest you, too:

Getting Out There in the Face of Fear http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/getting-out-there/

Henry Tanner Lets Jesus into PAFA: http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/henry-tanner-lets-jesus-into-pafa/

Winning the Right to Be Heard: http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/winning-the-right-to-be-heard/

Billy Graham and the Unintended Consequences of Exerting Influence

The Cell Leader Coordinators were discussing a recent spate of articles last week. They were all quoting the Pew Foundation’s research on the impact of evangelicals on evangelism in the United States. Then up popped Billy Graham, the evangelical par excellence, in the Sunday paper (most likely fronting for his son, Franklin). I want to talk about the Pew study in a minute, but first I want to dispute with Rev. Graham’s exhortation, which is a good example of what the study is talking about.

For one thing, no 93-year-old should have such a beautiful head of hair. Very disturbing. I will dare attribute it to the blessing due a tireless evangelist.

But as for some other things…

1) When did the American people have their hearts turned toward God? Was it when they considered slaves 3/5 of a person? Was it when they were cleansing the continent of Indians? Was it when they dropped the bomb on Nagasaki? A lot of Americans have been Christians, but the government was not designed too well to reflect their faith, or at least it rarely has — maybe when the Marshall Plan bailed out Europe, or maybe when George Bush decided AIDS was actually a problem. There are exceptions to the godless rule, but what era are you remembering?

2) How people have sex, how families are made, and whether the government can dictate our convictions are important “issues.” But I can’t see why they make this election “critical.” For an evangelist the question should start with Jesus, not issues. Why in the world did you not mention the fact that the person whose stand on the issues your prefer happens to be a leader in a non-Christian religion? There’s an issue for you.

Unless something has changed in Barack Obama’s life since 2008, his Christian testimony is well known. You can watch him say it on YouTube. If the evangelist is going to get involved, one would think he’d vote for the evangelized. Just saying. I’m not matching your thinly-veiled endorsement of Romney with my thinly-veiled endorsement of the drone president. Just saying.

3) For a Christian to try to exert political power in the name of his “definitions” seems so worldly to me! Saying that the Bible “speaks” still seems like a strange anthropomorphism to me. The definitions are not Lord, Jesus is Lord. The Bible doesn’t save me, the resurrected Jesus saves me. Any power we, as the church, exert in the election should come through the example of our self-giving love that we can define for people who are moved by the presence of God’s grace in it.

There is so much that is disturbing here. But I will pray with you that America and the whole world turns their hearts toward God. Some of the Christians will indeed, be turning back.

But I want Pew to talk to you, too.

The October 10 issue of Newsweek is an example of what many publications are printing. The Pew Foundation found that “Nones” are on the rise. That is, for the first time, there are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are white evangelicals. Both groups make up about a fifth of the population. The number of Americans without religion is on track to surpass the “born-again” population. About a third of adults under 30 don’t associate themselves with any faith, compared with only 9 percent of those over 65. This is not, the report suggests, simply a result of a general youthful tendency toward irreligion. “[Y]oung adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives,” the report says.

Some theorists believe young people are rejecting religious labels precisely because they have become intertwined with so-called conservative social policies. The report quotes Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell’s book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which argues that as the religious right gained power, young Americans “came to view religion … as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political.”  You think?

People of the dominant strain of Evangelicals have become the anti-evangelists of the age. Perhaps the cost of full-page political ads all over the country could have been used for better ends. At the end of September the candidates had also expended a lot of money on influence: 1.3 billion dollars on the publically accountable campaign, another 65 million dollars by unaccountable PACs on Mitt Romney’s side. Do evangelists think anything about that?