Archive - March, 2010

I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church

This past Tuesday morning I had breakfast with Paul Nixon. Paul is an effective and highly creative new church start pastor, consultant and coach. He is gifted in helping existing congregations embrace robust vitality for the mission of Christ. He is also the author of a number of books and works part-time as a consultant to the United Methodist Church’s Path One – new churches for new people in new places.
In an engaging, easy read and immensely practical little book entitled: I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church! Paul writes: “Though the number of young adults who distrust organized Christianity is skyrocketing to the highest levels in American history, this is one of the most spiritually-minded generations we have seen come down the pike. As Jesus would say, ‘the fields are ripe for harvesting’ (John 4:35). There are millions of nonchurch people talking about the most important things in life, if only we would choose to be a part of the conversations.” (p. 104) Those are strong words, but accurate. We have to choose to engage our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Recounting his own experiences as pastor, consultant and church growth & development executive, he outlines 6 crucial choices:
1) Choose life over death – Pray, build a working coalition of the committed, “tend primarily to what is living, not what is passing away,” and offer enough quality pastoral care to keep the complainers from successfully sabotaging transformation efforts.
2) Choose Community over isolation – “People are as starved for meaningful community today as at any other time in human history.” Get out of the office and spend time engaging the community. Internally, make a decision to intentionally move closer to Acts 2:42-46. Rediscover the power and purpose of small groups.
3) Choose fun over drudgery
4) Choose Bold over Mild – “Mr. Rogers–style worship is killing us.” “Give them Jesus and the Spirit.” Nothing is bolder than unleashing Christ! Don’t soft pedal the gospel. Boldness is expressed in a passion driven, Spirit led commitment to change the world and share the Savior. (Please note: Bold is not a synonym for stupid!)
5) Choose Frontier over Fortress – Too many church buildings look like Fort Knox rather than a mission post of the advancing kingdom of God. The “Fortress test” on pages 82-83 is itself worth the price of the book. Sell, rebuild, downsize, rent, borrow, or buy; “whatever you do beats just sitting around waiting to die in the old location.” (p. 88)
6) Choose Now rather than Later – In his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “the time is always ripe to do right.” Fight procrastination. “Rather than take your church through a self-study or visioning process, just start reading the Book of Acts together and prayerfully walking your neighborhood (both your local neighborhood and, through solid educational experiences, our virtual, global neighborhood). God will help you figure out what you need to do.” (p. 103)
Simple and straightforward, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church! Does not so much break new grounds as help us focus on practice steps to plow the ground of faithfulness and fruitfulness. It is especially adept as a study book for a church leadership team to work through together.

May your Easter be a joyous experience of the resurrected Christ!

Forgotten Ways V

Tuesday I had the joy of sharing with our Residency (clergy in the commissioned process working toward ordination as a deacon or elder) group. I spoke on the topic of Rediscovering Apostolic Witness. My thesis is a farily simple one. Lay people assume clergy know how to share their faith. Clergy by in large don’t and are often resistive to even doing so. I found the group both stimulating and exciting. They were all over the board on faith sharing; some wonderfuly active, others covertly opposed. Such witnessing is one of the crucial forgotten ways we must recover.

The hunger which Hirsch (and others) write about is a direct hunger to experiece the lving Lord. People want to do more than know about God. They want to know God! In The Forgotten Ways HIrsch reaches to the heart of Apostlic Genius with this observation: “All geniune Christian movements involve at their spiritual ground zero a living encounter with the One True God ‘through whom all things came and through whom we live’ (I Cor. 8:6). A God who in the very moment of redeeming us claims us as his own through Jesus our Savior.” (p.84)

My hunch is that the popularity of such songs as “In Christ Alone” comes from their ability to help us embrace the real presence of the living Lord. Ultimately this hunger calls us into worship and leads us to the cross and beyond. Recovering apostolic witnessing is about sharing such an experience with gracefilled (and gracefull) effusive joy. It is an Easter experience.

March 20th Saint Cuthbert Feast Day

Forgive a brief digression from my blog series on Alan Hirsch’s wonderful book The Forgotten Ways. March 20th is Saint Cuthbert’s Feast Day. Saint Cuthbert is one of my heroes. Cuthbert was a monk and bishop in Northumbria during the 7th century. He combined a deep personal holiness and spiritual walk with Christ with a ardent commitment to justice and a vibrant passion for evangelistically sharing the love and lordship of Christ. The three — deep spirituality, justice and evangelism — went together naturally in ways most of us only vaguely speak about. David Adam in Fire of the North: The Life of Saint Cuthbert writes: “Cuthbert penetrated deep into the mountain areas, going where others had been afraid to go, into areas where poverty and ignorance made the people unattractive; Cuthbert saw them as children of God awaiting their redemption. Such ordinary people heard him gladly. He, in turn, attended carefully to instructing them. This meant he was often away from Melrose for two or three weeks at a time, and sometimes even a month. His own example, as well as his teaching, won over the hill people.” A prayer of Cuthbert’s is offered for our sharing.

“WE DWELL IN HIM
“Dear Lord our God,
Help us to see Christ
In others,
Help us to receive Christ
From others,
Help us to share Christ
With others,
Help us to be Christ
To others,
Help us to bring Christ
To others.
Help us to see that
In him we live and move
And have our being,
That we dwell in him,
And he dwells in us.”

The Forgotten Ways IV

Recently my son Nathan sent me an email link to the blog of Walter Russell Mead. Mead wrote in a March 14 blog “Sometimes mainline church leaders remind me of the Pope who showed St. Francis around the Vatican to see the many treasures of the church. “Peter can no longer say ’silver and gold have I none’,” chuckled the pontiff.

“Neither can he say ‘rise up and walk’,” snapped St. Francis.

I can only imagine [continues Mead] what Francis Asbury would say to a Methodist convention today.

The mainline churches do a lot of good, but the long inexorable decline both in numbers and in the influence of Christian ideas in modern American life show very plainly that something critical has gone wrong. In attempting to reconcile classic Christian ideas and standards with modernity, the mainline has somehow lost American Christianity’s characteristic and most vital strength: the ability to electrify generation after generation with the call to begin a transformational encounter with the person of Christ.

This ability can’t be regained by committee. There is no diocesan or denominational planning process that can knit the dry bones together.

But the mainline churches will dwindle and diminish if they don’t somehow reconnect with the enthusiasm and charisma that once made them great.” (http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2010/03/14/wanted-a-mainlinegelical-church/)

At the heart of recovering a vibrant Christianity is the rediscovery and radical reapplication of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our disputes (theological, missional and otherwise) have to be submitted to His Lordship. Our actions and ministry have to be guided by a sold out conviction that Christ rules our lives and our ministry. Hirsh writes in The Forgotten Ways “I have become absolutely convinced that it is Christology, and in particular the primitive, unencumbered Christology of the NT church, that lies at the heart of the renewal of the church atl all times and in every age.” (p. 99) So am I!

Rediscovering Forgottetn Ways III

I find that every page I read in Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways deeply stimulates my thinking. One of Hirsch’s concepts is the notion of what he calls “Apostolic Genius.” By this he means “the total phenomenon resulting from a complex of multiform and real experiences of God, types of expression, organizational structures, leadership ethos, spiritual power, mode of belief, etc.” (p. 78) Apostolic Genius is what cased the early church explode upon the Roman Empire as a new way of thinking, believing and acting. Apostolic Geniuis is what led the Chinese church to grow from 2 million to 60 million while undergoing persecution.

A review by B. Brisco shares the following summary. “So what are the key elements of Apostolic Genius? The six distinctives identified by Hirsch are:

1. Jesus is Lord
2. Disciple Making
3. Missional-incarnational Impulse
4. Apostolic Environment
5. Organic Systems
6. Communitas, Not Community”

It is both fascinating and inspiring to understand that Apostolic Genius springs out of a core theological conviction. Jesus is Lord! Hirsch writes: “This is cleray the situatino of the gospel in the early church as well as the Chinese revoltuon. The desperate, prayer soaked human clinging to Jesus, the reliance on his Spirit, and the distilliation of the gospel message into the simple, uncluttered message of Jesus as Lord and Savior is what catalyzes the missional potencies inherent in the people of God.” This is deep and heady stuff! It is also, I think, a reminder gift from a God who dares to love us.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it is the return to a focused center!