DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: 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.

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. 

Sowing and Reaping

A new friend spoke yesterday about the significance of understanding what Jesus said in John 4:35-38:

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.
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Jesus points to the harvest, and then reminds them that they are the beneficiaries of those who have gone before them, such as John the Baptist. Some sow; some reap. Both are essential. D.A. Carson comments, “The sower labors in anticipation of what is to come; the reaper must never forget that the harvest he enjoys is the fruit of another’s toil.” Jesus wants the disciples to understand that “their fruitfulness is possible because of the work of others before them.”

The good news is that there will come a day when things will be so fertile that the sowing and the reaping take place together.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
 “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed…
 (Amos 9:13)

I’ve spent most of my life doing reaping work. I’ve benefited from the labor of others who have gone before me. That’s okay: we need people to reap. Just never forget that you’re reaping what others have sowed.

I’m doing a lot more sowing  now. My friend reminded me yesterday that sowing work looks very different. It's hard work, and you don't always see the results. Where he served, it took years to see the results of that work. Be patient, he said, and don’t expect sowing to look like reaping.

It reminds me of what I wrote last year:

I spent a lot of time watering mud last week. Nothing seemed to be happening. I felt a little foolish, actually.
That all changed on Saturday when I went outside and saw this.
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Reaping? Keep it up, and be grateful for the sowers. Sowing? Be patient. The harvest is coming, and you’ll be part of the party.

The Value of Weakness

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I’ve seen a lot of values listed by churches. Most of them sound lofty. I’ve only seen weakness listed as a value by a church once. The church is Holy Trinity Chicago, and this is what they say:

Irony of Weakness
While common wisdom places a high value on strength, our church is learning to live in weakness. Why? Because when we are weak, we are actually strong. You might call it the irony of weakness: God uses humble, reliant people. Weakness is divinely intended for us by God.  Indeed, a life of dependence on the Holy Spirit, of devotion in prayer and a willingness to suffer for Christ is a beautiful life. So we value dependence on the Spirit rather than dependence on self. We value prayer, which is the opposite of pride and self-sufficiency. And though we do not seek out suffering we know that it is a part of a gospel-centered life.  Our true strength is in Jesus Christ!

I love the three implications listed in this definition:

  • Weakness implies dependence on the Holy Spirit. Ministry is not simply a matter of best practices. It is a spiritual enterprise. As Francis Schaeffer said, “And as Christians, we too must comprehend something of our need for spiritual power. If we think we can operate on our own, if we do not comprehend the need for a power beyond our own, we will never get started" (No Little People).
  • Weakness implies devotion in prayer. When we comprehend that we are weak, we turn away from pride and self-sufficiency to our true source of power. A prayerless life is a life that fails to recognize my true condition.
  • Weakness implies a willingness to suffer. The illusion of strength and an unwillingness to suffer go together. Weak people, it seems, are less surprised by suffering. Ajith Fernando writes, “In a world where physical health, appearance, and convenience have gained almost idolatrous prominence, God may be calling Christians to demonstrate the glory of the gospel by being joyful and content while enduring pain and hardship.”

It’s been years since I noticed that Holy Trinity values weakness. I’m not sure if any other churches have included it in their list of values, but perhaps many more should.

Today's Generation Hungry for Real Christianity

I started pastoring in the early 1990s when church growth principles and the seeker-sensitive movement were big. A decade later, beginning soon after 2000, the emerging church seemed to take off. We're now beginning a new decade. What does the future hold for the Church in Canada?

According to John Neufeld, senior pastor of Willingdon Church in Burnaby, B.C., it won't be another fad. "People are hungry for a Christianity that is real, lasting, and historic," he says. Neufeld believes that many, especially younger people, have grown tired of a methodologically driven church-growth movement, and that the emerging church will not last because it doesn't offer people enough certainty. "It's the old mainline liberal movement with ripped jeans and guitars," he says. But he's noticing that younger people, as well as new immigrants to Canada, are hungry for a deep understanding of classic, orthodox Christianity. "My real hope is in the next generation," he says.

For decades, Neufeld seemed out of step with the times. A friend tells me that he first heard Neufeld preach as a guest in a seeker-sensitive church. The topic? Hell. Neufeld preached on topics that many seemed to ignore, and stressed expositional preaching when others were stressing preaching geared to seekers.

Now Neufeld finds himself popular. He teaches a theology class for people in their twenties, and so many are interested he can't fit them all. He notices them reading John Piper and Tim Keller, even centuries-old authors John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. He's never seen this before.

Neufeld is clear that seeker approaches are not completely dead. Some, especially baby boomers and some in the Bible belt, are still attracted to the movement. "The seeker movement played well with those who were bored with Christendom," he says. "But it has not made inroads into the secular mainstream." Secular communities like Burnaby are more interested in the hardcore message of Christianity rather than a watered-down version.

Neufeld finds this exciting. "We have a secular generation that is almost completely ignorant of the gospel. We live in a mission field. We can introduce them to Christ for the very first time. We're actually proclaiming something that people have never heard, and it's a message that's exciting, offensive, and world-changing."

Willingdon, the church Neufeld pastors, has started an organization called reFocus Canada, "dedicated to bringing biblical refocus to Canadian churches." It is "is a gathering of individuals and churches who agree to stand together on a common theological foundation, to strive together side by side in developing skills and tools that will extend the impact of the Gospel, and to suffer together with those engaged in a conflict that comes for the sake of Christ." Most members live in western Canada.

I asked Neufeld what advice he would offer to churches and pastors. Neufeld was clear that they should begin with committing to expositional preaching. "Learn how to exegete the text. Make it meaningful and relevant. Preach through books of the Bible. Reclaim the message that has been neglected. Lead people to the historic Christian faith rather than the latest fad."

He also believes that pastors need to focus on the biblical role of elders: to teach and disciple. "I'm not throwing rocks at methodology," he says. "We need to learn skills. But we haven't studied 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus enough. We need to return to the biblical model of leadership rather than the CEO model of business leadership."

Neufeld also believes that we need to focus on the large Canadian urban centers, which are predominantly secular. "Plant churches in them. Preach the Bible there."

He also believes that we need to recover a biblical emphasis that we've lost: suffering. "Anyone going into pastoral ministry must see suffering as part of the package. When they realize that suffering is part of ministry, they can cooperate with grace. Do not pray for suffering to be removed."

People are hungry for substantial ministry, and the church has an opportunity to return to its core. Neufeld finds this exciting, and he's glad to know that he's not alone.

Originally posted in January 2010