Recontextualizing Church

Many churches do a good job of making converts, but if you were to listen to Gen Xers and Millennials you would hear the voice of those crying out for discipleship and authenticity in community.  People want relationship, and disciples are made through long term relationship.

The problem I see in many attractional-event and program-driven churches in the West is their system does a good job of producing converts, but not necessarily of producing disciples who are equipped to make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Many churches in our country seem to have drifted from the biblical concept of “church” and have redefined it as the place, a building, where ministry happens. Hence, many evangelicals have built large centralized institutions using what seems like marketing as a formula for success: utilize attractional events to draw a crowd, and then develop programs and depend on professional clergy to keep people coming back. While this may have worked to build large communities of worship in the mid-to-late twentieth century, it has also consumed many of the smaller churches like a Wal-Mart monopoly putting out of business the mom-and-pop shops. And often when the pastor of a program-driven church leaves the ministry, that church tends to lose sight of the vision as it struggles to pull together in unity, and the congregation shrinks as people transfer to the new, next, and better program-driven church that meets their family’s needs. I would argue this doesn’t build biblical community; this fractures community among local churches as the competitive mindset takes over and as church leadership begins to use marketing techniques to promote their brand to attract church shoppers, and thus congregants shuffle from church to church.

This book explores the challenges church leaders and congregants face in shepherding a program-driven church to begin to reach out to the community outside of the four walls of a church building. Take this journey with me as I evaluate Jesus’ and the Apostles’ method of outreach and discipleship and seek to find ways to apply their methodology in today’s context. We will explore various small group models throughout history and in today’s contemporary Western context. We will look at the necessity of corporate worship and small groups to stimulate spiritual growth. I have interviewed Jeff Vanderstelt, Steve Timmis, Joel Comiskey, and Dan Braga to glean wisdom from these leaders in how to successfully shepherded churches through this kind of recontexualization of the local church. In the end I have mapped out a strategy for how church leaders can lead their churches through this transition from attractional events and programs to the missional home community and cell-driven model, which resonates with this generation disenfranchised with church.

I believe there are many methods of ministry that can work to make converts, but in order to make disciples that multiply requires an authentic faith community. This is what an unbelieving world is longing to see, a church that has closed the gap between their rhetoric and reality.

For a large print copy, order here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1521385904/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

For a smaller handheld version, order here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/152138293X/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_.eZmzb4A2CRW7

This book is a result of a Thesis Project for Gordon-Conwell Seminary Doctorate Program in Outreach and Discipleship.

GODSPEED

A Call to Return to Church:

 

I recently was at a graduation and the speaker, Senator Benjamin Sasse, talked about the uniqueness of congregational worship.  He explained that throughout human history, people have experienced neighborliness.  This is true of hunters and gatherers, farmers, and the transition to cities during the industrial age.  But we are experiencing, now, the displacement of the post-industrial (and what he calls the) post-neighborly age.

What Sasse means is this, people have always had communities.  The great fear of people in the late 19th and early 20th century was that community would be disrupted when people would move from rural to urban areas.  During this time people started going back to church because they needed community.

With the dawning of technology, computers, smart phones and the like, people spend an exorbitant amount of time on-line.  We Tweet, Facebook, post pictures on Instagram, and try to engage relationships through a screen and yet people feel lonelier than ever. Benjamin Sasse said the average person had about 5 friends 100 years ago, now days the average person has about 1 or 2 people they would call true friends.  It used to be that a person would change jobs every 20 years or so (and experience the disruption that goes along with change).  Now people experience this kind change every 3.8 years.

What does all this lead to?

The need for community and neighborliness.  The world may not provide community like what people are longing for, but the church does.

Think of a worship service for example.  It is one thing to listen to a sermon and worship music on-line.  It is quite another thing to experience live preaching together with a community of people, and to experience congregational worship in which we participate.  A.W. Tozer said it best,

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” ― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tozer is saying what Benjamin Sasse was saying at the beginning and end of his commencement speech.  Congregational worship is unique.  When else do people get together and sing in unity a song of praise to God.  This is not possible by doing internet church.

GODSPEED

 

 

The Elder-Pastor vision for Grace

Pastors Lucas and Jerry will be speaking on Sunday May 14th about the transition from Jerry’s leadership in Children’s Education to Lucas’ leadership as Family Pastor.  During this vision cast, some basics of a plan will be shared along with an expression of needs to fulfill this vision.  I look forward to hearing this vision, and I would ask that you let everyone you know (connected with our church) about this sermon so they can come, hear, and after service ask questions of the pastors (myself included).

 

I would like to take a moment to help you understand some of the behind the scenes conversations that have been happening for years.  I would also like to make available for you a couple chapters of my Thesis-Project which speak to the need for disciple-making and the biblical method of Jesus and the Apostles.

 

The questions you might be asking about our model of ministry is: Is anyone doing it that way today? What is “cell” ministry? What is missional community? Why transition from attractional events and program-driven to missional community and cell-driven ministry? Does this mean we stop doing events? Does this mean we stop doing programs? How does this all work together in children’s and youth ministry?

 

These are all really important questions.  I know that some of you may feel like we are not providing all the events and programs that we used to, and therefore you might feel like not much is happening at Grace Church.  But oh man, there is so much happening even still.  And with freedom to do it organically, which is awesome.  I heard that a healing happened at the Women’s retreat this past weekend.  Awesome!!! Praise the LORD!  And our chosen method of ministry allows for more freedom, decentralization so that catalytic leaders can lead, Holy Spirit led.

 

Let me explain the history… Starting in Spring time of 2012, I began to hear from Pastors Jerry and Nathan, and Janis our Community Life Director, that our people were burning out because of all the activities and ministries and programs that Grace was providing.  For example, we had at the time 200 adults and 60 kids, and to run Sunday School, Children’s Church, MOPs, and AWANA required 150 different positions be filled (this did not include CR, Grief Share, Wounded Warriors, Home Communities, Stewardship, RAT, CAT, Barnabas Groups, Women’s Ministry, Men’s Ministry, etc.).  So needless to say, many of our adults were involved in 5, 6, 7 ministries a week.  Some perhaps were not involved in many, but for those what taught Sunday school, and needed to skip church to help with the nursery because someone else couldn’t make it that week, and then go to MOPs on Monday, BSF on Tuesday, and help with AWANA on Wednesday, and participate in a Home community on a Thursday……was unsustainable, especially when a Barnabas group would happen on a Tuesday evening once per month.

 

So I listened to you (those who were feeling fried).  And I tried to work with our leadership to fix the problem.  One of the things I noticed is Pastor Jerry was “filling slots” for children’s ministry 20 hours a week.  So half of Jerry’s job was making phone calls to make sure all the children’s worker positions were filled.  And then that Sunday someone would forget, and so he would have to make emergency phone calls and eventually end up downstairs himself, not partaking in worship.

 

The role of a pastor, biblically, is to equip the saints to do the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16), which means discipling people.  But because he spent half his job recruiting, he wasn’t able to put in the time to train people for what they were doing in children’s ministry.

 

In January 2015, Jerry had such severe pain in his neck and head that he ended up in the ER.  Similarly, Nathan had the stress related symptoms in November 2014.

 

We, the pastoral staff, realized we needed to make some changes.  We realized this wasn’t just what staff was facing, this is what you all were facing as well.  This was unsustainable, and not healthy.  So we had an elder-pastor meeting in May 2015, at which time we decided to simplify.

 

To make things simpler, we needed to put our eggs into one basket and slowly work to transition things so that everything worked together, and to ease the tensions of too many jobs and too few people.  We didn’t have enough children’s workers to fill all 150 positions, and so we ended Sunday school for children.  Without Sunday school for children, it was difficult to have School of Theology for adults, so that ended as well.  We vowed that if we brought back School of Theology, it needed to be more purposeful to enhance discipleship and equipping for ministry.

 

The basket of which we put our eggs was: Sunday, Wednesday, and Home Communities.  We saw these three ministries as bearing much fruit, and so we vowed that we would narrow our pastor-elder focus to these three in order to do these ministries well and with excellence.

 

We have discovered that while we simplified things a little, it was not enough.  Certain ministries were still not working together, and we still had about 140 slots for children’s ministry to fill.  People were still feeling under-the-gun with a lack of training or encouragement.  And we had too many different children’s curriculums of information that we were sending home with parents (and when you have 4 kids and three options of curriculum, it is overwhelming and you begin to pick and choose or just do your own thing).  And so we (pastors and elders) have been talking and praying and planning behind the scenes, and we believe we have a good, solid plan for Children’s, Youth, and how it all works together to help create community, a Christ-centered family here at Grace without burning anyone out.

 

Here is the vision / plan:

 

We envision children having one curriculum from Sunday morning to Sunday evening (the AWANA material).

 

Since there will be one curriculum, this is simplified for parents.  The questions related to what they discussed on Sunday morning will be laid out in the bulletin weekly so that you, as a parent, will know what they learned and can discuss those questions with your children and/or in your Home Community with a break-out session for the kids.

 

We envision children having an outreach / discipleship time with Pastor Lucas on Sunday evenings called “Youth DNA” in order to have fun, celebrate in worship that is kid oriented, a short less, and kid’s small groups with a wrap-up at the end.

 

We envision the teenagers helping as apprentices to adults during this time on Sunday evenings, discipled by adults to minister to children.  This will be a skill they can use in life as they grow into adulthood and in college.

 

For the teens we will have High School DNA on Sunday evenings from 7-8:30pm.

 

In order for a teen to be involved as a leader on Sundays from 5:30-7pm, it would be required that they have an adult mentor and that they attend High School DNA on Sunday evenings from 7-8:30pm.  We encourage these teens to be involved in their parent’s Home Community as well for a multi-generational connection (and ideally their mentor would be in that group as well for cohesiveness).

 

For adults, we will begin again School of Theology, but call it Adult Discipleship Classes and they will be more purposeful.  We will have a Leader Track and a Discipleship Track.

 

The Leader Track will be for the purpose of developing leaders for Home Communities and as potential elders.  These classes will take place on Sundays at 8am, beginning in September (details to come).

 

The Discipleship Track will be on Sunday evenings from 5:30-7:00pm.  We will have such classes as Alpha, OT Survey, NT Survey, men’s or women’s classes, etc.

 

All the above is designed to guide our people to work together and do life-on-life together on mission throughout the week.  During the week we are encouraging people to join a Home Community near you.  The goal is to develop multi-generational communities of people who become like family to one another, serve each other, and see the hand of God at work through them as they seek to be Holy Spirit led.
 

Some of the Holy Spirit led activities of people connected through a few different Home Communities is women meeting each other’s’ needs, organically, through the Women of Grace Facebook page.  A lot of the older women in our church may not know what is going on, but the younger women are meeting each other’s’ needs on a weekly and daily basis.

 

For example, we had a women who was sick, she wrote on the FB page about what was going on and about 10 women stepped up totally on their own to make meals, do childcare, and help care for this woman.

 

This–happens–every–day I am told by Katy and Janis.  PRAISE HIM!!!

 

There is a lot happening that no one knows about.  PRAISE Jesus!!!

 

Also, many of the women leading MOPs, they have been doing this for a while and are realizing they can do the same thing without some of the restraints of the MOPs administrative hoops to jump through.  And so they will be doing, basically the same thing, but under a different title.  I think this is greeaaaattt!

 

I love what is happening.

 

And I love what will be happening in children’s ministry as well.  Pastor Luke is a passionate man.  He is just the type of guy you want your children to have as a mentor to look up to.  He is living it.  He really is.  And Victoria is a wonderful Administrative Assistant.  She helps complement Lucas in many ways.  Together with Pastor Jerry they will be putting together a C.A.T. team in the next month to help them with all of what children’s and youth ministry entails.  And their plan will be explained Sunday.  And we need your help. This new plan will require half of the workers that we needed before.  Praise the Lord.  This will make ministry more streamlined, and make it easier for Luke to equip the leaders to do the ministry.  With your help, this will be an effective tool to train up our children in the Lord.

 

I ask that you come this Sunday to hear what Luke and Jerry have to say. That you do what you can to help support them, even if it is just a work of encouragement.

 

 

You-are-valuable, Grace Church friends.  I value you.  And I look forward, more-and-more, to all of us being able to work together more-and-more in multi-generational community.

GODSPEED

Communitarianism

Libertarianism vs. Communitarianism:

Government or World Organizations are considered “coercive institutions.”  They exist to “…employ force or the threat of force to control the behavior of their members” according The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (p. 718).  Throughout the ages there is a plurality of opinions (Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Green, Hume, Hegel, Marx, Linen, etc.) about how this “coercive threat” from government should be applied.

Anarchists believe coercive institutions should be replaced by social and economic organizations based on voluntary contractual agreement.  According to anarchist philosopher Blanqui, people are encouraged to resort to violence to overthrow the powers that be in order to create a new system.  (But is this not simply replacing a coercive institution with another?)

John Locke

Liberalism tries to justify coercive institutions by promoting liberty (freedom).  For Locke, liberty requires a constitutional monarchy of parliamentary government.  From here, there are two interpretations of application:libertarianism and welfare-liberalism.

Libertarianism teaches there should be laws that constrain people from doing what they otherwise could do.  From this view, only a “night-watchman state” that protects against force, theft, and fraud can be justified.  (This is the ultimate freedom, because you are truly free so long as your freedom doesn’t impinge on anyone else)

Welfare-liberalism, on the other hand, puts constraints on liberty that prevent people from doing what they otherwise could do.  In other words, “failing to help people in need does restrict their liberty.” (p. 719)  Welfare-liberals maintain it is the role of the state to require a “guaranteed social minimum and equal opportunity…” (p. 719)

Both Libertarians and Welfare-liberals are committed to individualism, and believe the role ofcoercive institutions (such as the State) is to promote those rights.

Communitarianism rejects individualism.  “It maintains that the rights of individuals are not basic and that the collective can have rights that are independent of and even opposed to what liberals claim are rights of individuals.  According to communitarians, individuals are constituted by the institutions and practices of which they are a part, and their rights and obligations derive from those same institutions and practices.” (p. 719)  In plain language, conform to the standard of thecoercive institution and then you have freedom within the standards of the coercive institution to express individualism.  (But this is where freedom begins to be lost, because you have to conform to a social norm in your thoughts and deeds)

Fascism takes this to the next level.  Fascists advocate an Authoritarian State with limited rights for individuals.  An example is National Socialism of Nazi Germany, which was anti-Semitic and militarist.

Holy Spirit Filled Church

       I read an analogy of the Holy Spirit this week.  Sometimes we can try to direct the Holy Spirit where to go, but the Spirit is like the wind and will find a way around the obstacles we use to try to direct the Spirit.
       This is a good analogy.
        In 2 Peter 1:21, the Apostle speaks of the Prophets and the authors of the Bible being “carried along” (ESV) by the Holy Spirit (“moved by” in the NASB).  This phrase “carried along” in the original language alludes to wind filling the sails of a ship to carry it along on the open seas.  In other words this Scripture in 2 Peter is saying that the Prophets and authors of the Bible were filled with the Holy Spirit like a sail filled with the wind so that the Prophets and authors would speak and write what the Holy Spirit intended for them to communicate to guide and direct the people of God.
        In John 3, Jesus speaks of those born of the Spirit being directed by the wind where the wind blows.  This is a great analogy for the individual Christian, and it has a connotation for the church as well.  The Apostle Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit working in the church to give people various gifts of the Spirit so that the whole body is edified (Ephesians 4:11-16).  In other words, the gifts of the Spirit of God are not intended for only individual edification.  The gifts are intended for the whole body to benefit.
       As I was reading Tozer this week, he pointed to Paul’s teaching that a church is like a body.  And each body has its different parts (members).  And each member is a part of one body and needs the other parts of the body to work together and function as a body should.  Tozer went on to allude to the Spirit being like the nervous system connected to the Head (Jesus), which directs the different parts to work together in harmony for intended purposes of the Spirit of God.
        For example, just as your hands pick up a shovel and your feet and legs walk over to a pile of dirt, as the mind directs the body, the body obeys the mind and works together to shovel the dirt for a particular purpose.
        Now imagine if an individual part of the body had B.I.I.D. (Body Identity Integration Disorder) and communicated to the brain, “I am not a part of this body.”  What would happen? There are actual stories, for example, of people thinking their arm did not belong to them and so they sought for a doctor to amputate their arm.  Crazy, right?
        The idea of a Holy Spirit led New Testament community (i.e., a church) is to be Holy Spirit led, together.  And this requires the entire body to be plugged into Jesus and the Holy Spirit to hear what the Head of the Church, Jesus, is saying to the individual members through the Holy Spirit and to coordinate the efforts of the individual parts to work together as one.
        May this be what God creates among us, Christians worldwide, and especially in America, especially the Peugeot Sound Area.
GODSPEED