Posts filed under Church

I Need to Be Reminded Often

Every once in a while, I need to pick up Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission and reread the first chapter to remind myself what is true about our context.

Let me confess: I am prone to think about effective ministry in all the wrong categories. I tend to forget an important truth: that “the Christian gospel has moved from the center of our culture to the margins” (p.13). As I look around, I still see churches using familiar methods, and it seems to "work." I forget that those methods are reaching a declining number of people. “People can be attracted to a church by what it offers,” says Jim Petersen, “but . .  . increase of this sort isn’t church growth at all. It’s just a reshuffling of the same fifty-two cards” (p.18). I agree with the thesis of the authors:

We want to suggest that most of our current dominant models of church and evangelism are Christendom models. This needs to change as we move to a post-Christendom and post-Christian context. (p.23)

So here are some quotes I need to read that give you a taste of why I need to read this chapter regularly to remind myself of what is now true. If they’re right, and I think they are, then the implications are profound.

We have the opportunity to become communities focused on Jesus and his mission…What is fast disappearing is the opportunity to reach notionally religious people through church activities.  (p.13)

Merely opening our doors each Sunday is no longer sufficient. Offering a good product is not enough. (p.15)

What is clear is that great swathes of America will not be reached through Sunday morning services. (p.15)

Seventy percent of the United Kingdom population have no intention of ever attending a church service. That means new styles of worship will not reach them. That means fresh expressions of church will not reach them. That means Alpha and Christianity Explored evangelistic courses will not reach them. That means guest services will not reach them. That means churches meeting in pubs will not reach them. That means toddler churches meeting at the end of the school day will not reach them. The vast majority of unchurched and de-churched people would not turn to the church even if faced with difficult personal circumstances or in the event of national tragedies. It is not a question of “improving the product” of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events. (p.17)

We cannot claim to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the lost through our Sunday preaching when most of the lost do not attend church. (p.27)

We cannot rely on business as usual. It cannot mean more of the same. It must involve a qualitative change rather than simply a quantitative change. (p.27)

I know these things. I just forget them as I default to old mental models. It's why I find this chapter helpful every time I read it.

Posted on May 27, 2014 and filed under Books, Church, Church Planting.

BiVo

We’re planting a church in downtown Toronto, but we’re trying to do a little more than that. We are trying to discover how to plant churches in the condo communities in downtown Toronto in a way that is reproducible.

And there’s the rub: how do you plant churches in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, and in one of the hardest places to plant a church, and make it reproducible? One of the major barriers is money. And one of the most expensive parts of church planting is salary.

That’s why I’m interested in Hugh Halter’s book BiVo: A Modern-Day Guide for Bi-Vocational Saints.

In my opinion, the old church planting paradigm of three years to a self-funded church plant is in the process of dying. That isn’t to say that it’s died, but it’s on borrowed time. If a church is to grow evangelistically in a post-Christendom context, three years will often not be enough.

Halter argues that this isn’t just the case with church plants; it applies increasingly to established churches too. Economics, mobility, and cultural trends, and the decline in the effectiveness of the consumer-church model spell trouble for pastors who were looking for a steady paycheck. “Gone are the days when a young man or woman can graduate from Bible school or seminary and find a great church to go work for,” which may be an overstatement. “We were sold a bill of goods that if we could preach well, organize staff, and run weekend programs, we would be honored, respected, followed, and provided for. But none of that is true.”

Halter isn’t alarmed by this trend. In fact, believes “the currents of change are helping to drift back toward His design for our lives and the church.” Halter helps us understand that going bi-vocational is not a second choice. The gospel isn’t hindered by economics, and we can live as the church at a much lower cost than we think. “Making disciples is easier and cheaper than keeping consumer Christians happy,” he argues. And it may lead pastors to greater freedom at a personal and financial level.

Halter tells his own story. He then moves to Scripture, reminding us that we can’t serve God and money, and arguing that cheap church is biblical. He weaves his own story into the text and his own convictions about ministry. He provides very practical advice on how to thrive doing bi-vocational ministry. “If you’re going to try to do this,” he says, “you shouldn’t do it unless you plan to live both lives well.” It takes a lot of intentionality, and it’s not for everyone.

I really appreciate that Halter doesn’t judge those who are in full-time vocational ministry. He also emphasizes that bi-vocational ministry isn’t the goal; it’s a means to the goal. By the end of the book, I was convinced that he’s on to something. We need to consider this as a model of ministry.

Hugh Halter may be too radical for some of you. So may David Fitch, who wrote a good post a few years back called STOP FUNDING CHURCH PLANTS and Start Funding Missionaries: A Plea to Denominations. But perhaps we need to start paying attention. As J.D. Payne says, “We must shift from church planting methods that are difficult to reproduce to methods that are highly reproducible…With over four billion people in the world without Jesus, it is not wise to use methods that are counter-productive to healthy, rapid multiplication.”

Is bi-vocational ministry the way forward? Not for everyone. But if we are to come up with reproducible models of ministry to reach the billions who have never heard, it’s an option that is worth some serious thought.

You can pick up a copy of the book at the Missio Publishing website.

Posted on May 13, 2014 and filed under Church Planting, Church, Book Reviews.

In Praise of Less Grandiose Mission Statements

I spoke to a church planter whose vision was lofty: to transform a city for the glory of God, or something like that. He admitted that the reality was a little humbler. Some days it's enough to hang in there another week, to disciple another young believer, to love your wife, and to preach the gospel. Then, one day, we can die and be forgotten (to quote Count Zinzendorf).

As with most things, there is a tension. There is a place for humble ambition. But we can go too far the other way and craft statements that induce nothing more than rolling eyeballs.

Greg McKeown makes this point in his recent book Essentialism, reflecting on a class that reviewed the mission statements of over a hundred not-for-profit organizations:

As the class reviewed more than one hundred examples, they noticed that some of the most grandiose were actually the least inspiring. For example, one had the mission to “eliminate hunger in the world,” but given that there were just five people in the organization, the mission felt like little more than empty words. Then out of the cluttered landscape of such loose idealism came a statement we all immediately understood and were inspired by. It was from a slightly unexpected place: the actor/ social entrepreneur Brad Pitt, who, appalled by the lack of progress in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, had started an organization called “Make It Right” with the essential intent “to build 150 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward.” That statement took the air out of the room. The concreteness of the objective made it real. The realness made it inspiring. It answered the question: “How will we know when we have succeeded?”

As I said, there surely must be a place for holy ambition. But holy ambition doesn't always have to be expressed in lofty terms. To faithfully serve in a time and a place, and to make a real difference in a neighborhood, is a very ambitious goal, even if it isn't grandiose. But churches that do this are making a difference all over the world.

Posted on April 24, 2014 and filed under Church.

The Open Kitchen Ministry

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I remember the first time I saw an open kitchen in a fancy restaurant. You could reserve a table right beside the kitchen and spend your evening watching the chef cook, talking to him, and even sampling some of his work if you were lucky. An article in Time describes what's happened:

In the past, restaurant customers may have preferred food to magically appear out from behind closed doors, with no indication whatsoever about how the sausage is made—figuratively or literally. After years of hearing Big Food and fast food horror stories that’ll turn your stomach, however, the prototypical modern diner seems to want transparency rather than mystery.

For maximum transparency, restaurants ranging from fast-casual superstar Chipotle, to indie eateries favored by foodies, to massive fast-food chains like Domino’s are all turning to the open kitchen.

The open kitchen trend seems to have been born in big cities such as New York, where chefs cooked within view of diners largely due to space constraints. Getting in the habit of watching chefs do their thing on TV has obviously boosted the fascination with what goes on in restaurant kitchens. As diners grew obsessed with celebrity chefs and the creative ways fresh and exotic ingredients were being combined, consumers increasingly came to view the flames and steam and clattering in the kitchen as part of the “show” of dining out.

It's not just the casual restaurants, either. The nicest restaurant we've enjoyed in Toronto has an open kitchen.

I'm wondering if there's something to learn here for the church — not that it's part of the "show" but that it becomes the very fabric of what it means to be the church.

I remember the days when the inner workings of church would be hidden behind closed doors. How the sermons, music, programs, and vision of the church came to be was a complete mystery. The pastor was someone who emerged once a week, but then disappeared until the next meal appeared. They dished it up, and we enjoyed it.

Perhaps there's a better way. Paul writes:

So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:8-12 ESV)

Paul went beyond sharing the gospel. He shared his own life. People saw his work, the quality of his life, and his relationships. He exhorted and encouraged them as a father does his children.

There's a place in preaching to share the process of moving from text to sermon, and one's own wrestling with the text, so that people know what went on in the kitchen, and how they can do it themselves.

There's a place for opening up the leadership process of a church, so that people understand who leads, and how decisions are made.

Mostly, there's a place for opening up our lives so that people can see the quality of our lives and closest relationships, so that there's no real place to hide, and so that we can get close enough to exhort and encourage each other — not for show or faux vulnerability, but for the sake of sharing our lives as Paul did.

There's nowhere to hide in an open kitchen, and maybe that's a good thing.

Posted on April 1, 2014 and filed under Church.

Us-Centered or God-Centered?

A radical shift has taken place within the church. Pressure is put on pastors and church leaders to make church about us. The focus is no longer God and how we fit into HIs story. The focus is us, and how God meets our needs. 

One author puts it this way: 

Throughout Western societies, and most especially in North America, there has occurred a fundamental shift in the understanding and practice of the Christian story. It is no longer about God and what God is about in the world; it is about how God serves and meets human needs and desires. It is about how the individual self can find its own purposes and fulfillment. More specifically, our churches have become spiritual food courts for the personal, private, inner needs of expressive individuals. (Al Roxburgh, The Sky is Falling)

This shows up in a number of ways within the church:

  • Worship — “Contemporary worship is far more egocentric than theocentric. The aim is less to give glory to God than to satisfy the longings of the human heart. Even when we sing God's praises, the focus is on fulfilling and satisfying the human desire for wholeness and serenity,” a motivation that is not wrong but “becomes questionable when it takes priority” (Bloesch, “Whatever Happened to God?”)
  • The role of the pastor — "...the responsibility of seeking to be the Christian in the modern world is then transformed into a search for what Farley calls a “technology of practice,” for techniques with which to expand the Church and master the self that borrow mainly from business management and psychology. Thus it is that the pastor seeks to embody what modernity admires and to redefine what pastoral ministry now means in light of this culture's two most admired types, the manager and the psychologist." (David Wells, No Place for Truth)
  • The sermon — "Evangelicals in America are creating a religion that tells them how to be happy, how to be financially secure, how to be successful, fulfilled and healthy. Evangelical Christianity in America has pushed missional values to the fringes and brought 'the Good Life' so close to the center that sermons themselves are calmly titled 'How to Discover the Champion In You.' To which everyone applauds." (Michael Spencer)

What is needed? A Copernican Revolution of the Word that puts us in our place in orbit around God and His Word in our lives, our churches, and our preaching.

We don't need a series of practical steps to follow. That comes later, if ever. What is needed first is repentance: pastors repenting for catering to and even sometimes encouraging an us-centered approach to ministry, and churches for expecting church to meet our needs.

The issue is idolatry. It's not about us. One of the greatest needs of our day is for churches to make the shift to a God-centered, not an us-centered, view of ministry. 

Posted on November 12, 2013 and filed under Church.