Five Contextual Agreements for 2018

Beginning the year is always an interesting time in the blogging world. Christian leaders make their predictions on the church, changes, and challenges for the coming year. Three of the best lists I have seen thus far are Carey Nieuwhof’s, Thom Ranier’s and Chuck Lawless’s. Rather than create my own, I have decided to list five which directly connect to my context and what I am wrestling with as a church planter. Here they go in no particular order:

One: Carey’s number one disruptive trend is “A move beyond church in the box.” Chuck Lawless predicts, “Life-on-life, genuine community will ground people in a church.”

I combine these two together because I believe they go hand in hand. Especially in the Portland area, people crave authenticity and accessibility. As Nieuwhof articulates, gone are days when “you sat down Thursday night at 8 to watch your favorite show, because you didn’t want to miss it.” Yet, churches still function on a set time and schedule which is not on-demand. I will address this later, but the on-demand culture does not mean the physical space will cease to exist; instead, the culture enhances it.

“Bottom line? Churches who only think Sunday and who only think building will continue to shrink. In 2018, if coming to Christ means coming to your church in a set location and a set hour, you need a new strategy” says Carey.

How will people engage with the local church? A life-on-life genuine community will attract and connect people to a local church. These life-on-life relationships are on demand and can be engaged with a quick text, Facetime, Facebook message, etc. Conversation can happen in an instant, followed by a genuine embodiment of the characteristics of Christ. Hence, spiritual formation and discipleship will become essential for the local church to thrive moving forward.

In fact, one of my current projects is a series of conversation points followed by basic resources for anyone to employ in an on-the-go world.

Two: The Team is Eclipsing the Solo Leader. I am a church planter and my greatest desire is to have 1-2 other spiritually mature couples to move to Vancouver and co-lead with me and my wife. While The Village Church is not the first to function with three lead pastors, they are the church which has the most viable track record and visible presence. These other lead pastors would help oversee and champion mobilization and spiritual formation. These pastors would help expand the good already in the community. These other pastors would help free me up for what I do well, and I, in turn, will enable them to lead out of their strengths. “The leader who can do everything well is being eclipsed by the team that can do everything well.” To reach, teach, equip and send a diverse group of people will require a diverse and well-rounded team.

Three: Thom Ranier notes, “The e-book has not proved to be nearly as popular as we thought it would be. Many blog writers are reporting declines in readership. But audio books are rising in popularity. Listeners are moving to podcasts so they can learn while they jog, drive, and exercise. Outside of preaching podcasts, churches have many other opportunities to reach and disciple people through audio ministries.” The Village Church does this through their ‘Knowing Faith’ podcast which takes complex theological issues and makes them accessible in order to equip the everyday Christian.

In Vancouver, people are increasingly working odd hours and 50 hour-plus weeks via two jobs. Therefore, having a small group on Tuesday evenings is ceasing to be an option (think point #1). Spiritual formation will occur as they walk to work, ride their bike, or on the MAX (public transit). As Lawless notes, while this will increase, the subsequent results will be less evangelism. The life-on-life portion of discipleship is so crucial, evangelism must be modeled so that discipleship leads to evangelism. I have stated before how both are the wings of a disciple-making airplane.
download

Four: One of the options to maintain a viable presence in the community is a trend which Ranier highlights: “Churches moving into retail spaces.” Anecdotally I have seen greater success for church plants who have rented a storefront. The brick and mortar can be used throughout the week, can be multi-purpose, and don’t require extensive set-up for services on Sunday. In addition, the presence enables a return to the parish model (see point five). Where we are specifically looking to plant, there is an abundance of affordable retail space. I envision a ministry center which can double as a worship space. I envision a place that is filled with worship and ministry seven days a week. A place of resource for the needy. A place of growth for the spiritually hungry. A place which champions and models unity. A place of worship for the gathered church. A place of sending for the scattering during the week. A hub for life and ministry in the community, in the neighborhood, and in the home.

Five: “The rise of the neighborhood church.” The parish model is on a comeback. Because people like their craft or customized “fill-in-the-blank” (i.e coffee, beer) they will increasingly expect this in their church. Further, pastors will be forced to lead wellness for their whole community. They are not just the pastor of the people who attend the church on a Sunday service. They are also the pastor of a select community. A church will gain credibility in our skeptical world when it seeks the good of the whole community. This can only be done when they understand the narrative of the neighborhood and highlight how the story of God brings wellness. It will be increasingly difficult for pastors to know the narrative of multiple neighborhoods. Therefore, multiplication of churches will happen when a group of people lives in another neighborhood. In order for this to be effective, team leadership must be modeled and championed.

These five create a perfect storm for a revival of old models and methods blended with the technological advancement of the twenty-first century. Regardless of theory and prediction, would you join me in praying for the advancement of God’s kingdom during 2018?

The Alabama Election & Christian Witness

Mark Galli of Christianity Today wrote a solid commentary about Christian witness in light of today’s special election in Alabama. Albert Mohler also addresses the crisis of conscience. The biggest loser in the Alabama election is not Democrats or Republicans; it’s the Christian witness. Our Christian witness can be revived if we learn to suffer patiently in the public square. We would rather fight than suffer.

We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. The problem of our consumption of stories is that stories shape us and disciple us. They give us a worldview, a way of seeing the world around us. In our context, there are predominant false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit. The Alabama Election brings one to the forefront.

The fight for the culture’s heart through political means has undermined the integrity of the explicit Christian witness. We choose to do what is right in our own eyes, “which results in moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history.” We fight for moral purity without the basic expectation of moral purity in our candidates.

One of the false narratives which pervade our culture is nationalism. If you do a quick Google search the initial results come back as 1) patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts, and 2) an extreme form of this, especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.

I would also add that nationalism is further oriented towards developing and maintaining a national identity based on shared characteristics such as culture, language, race, religion, political goals or a belief in a common ancestry. Who are we as a country? The answer isn’t quite so clear-cut as one would hope.

On the surface level, loving one’s country is not a bad thing. God has ordained nations. However, whenever a good thing becomes a God thing the result is idolatry. While some would disagree that nationalism is a false narrative, and would even directly challenge my ensuing conclusion, the fight for the heart of American culture resides in one’s own view of morality. Moreover, if the only way to display the gospel is through political means, then one has bought into the lie of the false narrative. Further, if one’s perspective of the nation is elevated above the implications of the gospel, then lie is present there as well. Because of the United States history, trying to separate politics from faith is like trying to unravel Christmas lights. It’s time consuming, meticulous, and if only it had been done right initially. Knowing what should have been done does not alleviate the current situation of knotted Christmas lights–or better messy politics.

Like many of us choose to do, we would rather buy a new set of lights than deal with the mess. We attempt to do the same with politics. We would rather purchase a new nation through political aims than take the time to unravel and use what we have. It is an indictment against us all because we believe a lie shapes us all.

Whether you are on the right or left, chances are the purity of nation will make the world a better place. Here is the lie. One’s definition of pure usually involves thinking and acting exactly as you would. Self is at the center of pure. If only people would do this, we say, then the problem would be solved. In the end, the clamor is for uniformity in action and perspective.

The political right views purity of nation through one lens, while the political left views purity of nation through another. Regardless, the expectation is the same: a uniform identity. The identity proposed is usually divorced from any real conversation about real differences. The very plea for purity undermines the shared national identity of our history.

As Galli notes in his article, “The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.”

I would not limit the problem to Christian conservatives. The problem with many Christian liberals is this: They believe they can help the country improve by electing people whose moral superiority is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.

Because the United States has always been a melting pot of culture, language, race, religion, political goals, and common ancestry, one of our greatest values is love for the story others bring to the table. In order to do this, our conversation and our politics must be steeped in humility and moral accountability. As a Christian, fear cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. As a Christian, cultural congruency cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. The Christian faith has never been about fighting for something but serving and suffering the Savior the who modeled it for us. The Christian witness will be revived when love neighbor testifies to the love of God.

How To Stay In The Conversation (Part 3)

images.jpegI stumbled across this show on CBS called Bull. I probably have binged a little too hard on it, but the show has been fascinating. The lead actor plays a psychologist who is an expert in trial science. The premise of the show is how every case has facts and every jury (every day people) hear these facts differently. So, Dr. Bull and his team weave the objective facts of the case with a creative narrative together to win legal cases. In most episodes, Dr. Bull chooses to work for the innocent party. The defendant will likely be found guilty aside from his help because the jury has already subconsciously found the defendant guilty prior to any case being heard. Sometimes this subconscious verdict is based on the media, sometimes on how the defendant is dressed or appears, or even the jury’s own self-projection from their life experiences. Dr. Bull and his team choose to present a case and narrative together which highlights the facts the jurors will actually hear.

Throughout the episodes, the narratives usually get quite creative. However, what has never been argued: 1) the objective and verifiable facts, 2) our experiences color how we see and interpret these facts, and 3) there are always more facts to be discovered.

The natural question in today’s world: Can we ever be objective about the facts?

In my optimism, I believe we can get objective facts, but what to do about those facts and how we interpret them will always be highly subjective.

The initial blog post asked: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

My answer: Resilient communication.

So far, I have shared the first two steps (saturation & care). The third step is FACT.

I define FACT as information without bias. Bull provides a colorful depiction of how difficult it is to present the facts without spin. It is inherent in our nature to filter everything we hear through our own lens.

In our culture where truth is “relevant” or “subjective,” FACT seems like an elusive word. The term Fake News has been tossed around. CNN recently ran an ad campaign about defining facts (to which some of you may find ironic). In most cases, everything has a spin. Most facts are articulated from personal perspective and experience, which come in layers and vary widely. Give the NY Post’s quiz on how Facebook defines hate speech a try to see how subjective statements can be. What is the core truth beneath these layers?

Because people are not all-knowing we must learn to ask good questions about the potential narrative being sold to us. Therefore, when staying in the conversation we should present what we think we know humbly and sincerely. Direct information with no judgment is a must. Statements without sentiment should be shared to find common ground from which a relationship can be built.

I would argue whatever facts we do present should be loosely at our fingertips, ready and willing to hear new information. When new information is discovered, we should show grace. Further, avoid leading or suggestive questions. In a conversation which you are trying to listen and learn, you must be careful not to skew the potential response. Suggesting a prepackaged answer will likely create barriers, rather than take them down. We tend to share our views of the facts or our interpretations of them to win, persuade, or achieve some hidden objective.

If the goal is to stay in the conversation, then we must learn to present information without bias. Here are some examples of FACT:

  • Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness about the police brutality against black men, women, and teenagers.
  • Marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control emotions, memory, and judgment.
  • The Bible is God’s special revelation of himself.

These three sentences could be stated very differently.

  • Colin Kaepernick is desecrating the American flag.
  • Marijuana causes negative damage to a person’s body and image.
  • It is wrong to believe in both evolution and the what the Bible says.

These are probably exaggerated and not the best examples. However, when we are in the heat of conversation, we need to be aware of which statements are facts and which sentiments are our feelings toward what has happened.

As a Christian, we need not fear Christianity in the marketplace of worldviews. I believe a Christian worldview is unparalleled to any other worldview. The narrative of God himself coming to rescue and renewal all creation through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the ultimate narrative. Any other narrative which competes for supremacy will inadequately deal with the brokenness of life.

As you talk with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and others online, do you espouse a worldview consistent with Christ, or bias and barriers?

Find the facts. Listen and learn. Stay in the conversation.

Growing Up In The Fatih

Saul’s conversion in Scripture is one of the most fascinating accounts to read. Early Christians were skeptical about the man who became known as Paul. In honesty, the early Christians had every right to be skeptical because Paul had killed Christians. Paul’s initial growth in the faith was rapid because of his foundation in Judaism. However, Paul still had to undergo a certain change so that his upbringing would not choke out the change the Gospel had caused.

Upon Paul being converted on the Damascus road, Paul now had to begin the journey of actively following Jesus and growing to be like Jesus. Paul was not alone in this journey. As driven as Paul was, he was not alone. Acts 9:17-30 chronicles the follow-up which occurred for the apostle by Ananias and others. Paul describes his own experience in Galatians 1:13-2:6, in which he references visiting the leaders in Jerusalem. The two passages carry similarities but also include some differences necessary for the context of writing. Rather than focus on these differences, the goal of this post will be to describe essentials for following-up with a new believer based on the spiritual journey of the apostle Paul.

Because I have two young children, I liken Paul’s initial spiritual development to a child’s development.  Every young child needs to learn their identity, how to walk, talk, feed, and clean themselves. Just as children have parents, new believers have spiritual parents to aid in their spiritual development. To see new believers achieve the developmental markers, mature believers must support, teach, and encourage the young believers. These five key developmental markers are essential for conducting follow-up of a new believer. When coupled with passages such as Mark 4:1-20 and Isaiah 6:8-10, the developmental markers provide a foundation and initial fruit for potential reproduction. The ability to make disciples and be Christ’s witness is the responsibility of every believer, not just a select few pastors. Every believer has the potential for reproduction, just as every child does as they mature. Therefore, the key developmental essentials provide healthy benchmarks by which the community of faith know the believer is ready to reproduce.

IMG_2174Every child needs to learn their name and who is in their family (2 Cor 5:17; 1 John 3:1). Paul learned his identity and the culture of his spiritual family. After being healed, Paul was baptized (Acts 9:18). Paul also spent some time with the disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:19). These disciples would later help save him because he was set apart for a specific purpose in the family of God (Acts 9:25). Paul accounts for this purpose, knowing his role and thus identity, in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 1:16-17). Specifically, in order to fulfill his purpose, some suggest this is why Paul may have traveled to Arabia. Every young believer needs to grow in the understanding of their identity in Christ and purpose in the church.

Children eventually begin to roll over, crawl, take steps, and eventually walk. Paul learned how to walk in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25). Ananias laid hands on Paul to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). The results of such filling led to the proclamation of the Gospel. Filled with the Spirit and gaining a deeper appreciation day-by-day of the marvelous fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations of Jesus, Saul’s presentation of Jesus becomes more and more powerful. Testimony of Paul’s walking with Christ spread and people noticed (Gal 1:23). Growth in walking in obedience enabled Paul to converse and debate the Hellenistic Jews (Acts 9:29). Paul’s growth also enabled him to reproduce the faith into Titus (Gal 2:1). Every young believer needs to grow in their understanding of the Holy Spirit and walking in obedience.

Many children begin to talk by making incoherent sounds, usually screaming or crying, which eventually become words because the parents foster the ability of communication. The parents talk to the baby and as they grow it turns into coaxing certain words or phrases. Paul learned how to share his story and God’s story (
e.g. Luke 11:1; Eph 4:29; Col 4:6). After some time with the disciples, Paul began sharing how Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 19:20). The verbal sharing of his story aided his acceptance into the community in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). Further, Paul displayed competency by going with the apostles in proclaiming Jesus (Acts 9:28). Later, when Paul writes his letter to the Galatians he specifically accounts for his life pre-conversion and post-conversion (Gal 1:13-14). Every young believer needs to mature in their understanding of God’s cosmic plan of redemption and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and sharing how God’s story impacts their life.

IMG_4373I remember the first time I gave my son a spoon to feed himself. He had to learn the coordination and how to use the spoon. Like my son, Paul learned how to feed himself and grow spiritually by using the tools to which he had access such as the Old Testament (Acts 9:22; 1 Peter 2:2; Jer 15:16). Paul testifies to this personal growth by venturing to Arabia (Gal 1:17). After Paul comes to understand who Jesus is, he then checks his doctrine against the Jerusalem church (Gal 1:21-2:1). Because Paul had come to understand the gospel and allowed it to shape his growth, Paul was able to identify false doctrine (Gal 2:4). Paul also persevered in holding to the truth based on his understanding of the gospel and was not swayed to abandon it (Gal 2:5). Every young believer needs to mature in their understanding of how to read and understand the Word of God.

Finally, every child needs to learn how to groom themselves and dispose of their waste properly. Paul learned how to clean himself by fleeing from sin and purifying his life (e.g. Matt 23:27; 1 John 1:9). One of the by-products of Paul’s new life in Christ was that people who knew him prior to his conversion witnessed a difference (Acts 9:21). Those in Jerusalem were still skeptical of Paul’s new life, but Barnabas was able to testify on his behalf of the change Paul experienced (Acts 9:26-27). Three years had passed and Paul had maintained his faithfulness to Christ. Further, Paul did not fall back into legalistic temptations, specifically as it pertained to the issue of circumcision (Gal 1:13-2:6). Paul’s commitment to holiness can be seen in his testimony in Acts 20:26-34 as well. Every young believer needs to grow in their understanding of their own sinfulness and how to put it to death.

When following up with a new believer they will not be able to mature alone. As they mature, the knowledge must be manifested in action. Throughout the journey, Paul had Ananias, the disciples in Damascus, Barnabas, and eventually those in Jerusalem who could account for Paul’s faith. Every development marker is interconnected with and even contingent upon the others. Just a spiritual disciplines must be practiced, the key developmental markers must being practiced and pursued. Should the “believer” be unable to articulate their conversation the seed may have fallen on the path (Mark 4:15). Should the “believer” be unable to walk in Christ or feed themselves the seed may have fallen on the rocky soil (Mark 4:17). Should the “believer” be unable to groom themselves or believe their identity the seed may have been choked out by the thorns (Mark 4:19). Being malnourished in any way results in premature death and are unable to reach an age of reproduction.

The goal for the young believer is long-term faithfulness and obedience to Christ resulting in Christlikeness. In order to ensure such development, the disciple-maker must only focus on a few spiritual babies at a time. By knowing the five developmental markers, a disciple-maker can intentionally structure conversations and action items such as spiritual disciplines needed to improve the young believer’s deficiencies. Following-up in this way is highly customizable, relational, reproducible, and missional. Paul’s journey accurately depicts the developmental markers necessary for a new believer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Offer Better

Today, I as I concluded my reading in Acts the second half of the final chapter really stood out to me.

23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and testified about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe. 

Paul testified about the kingdom of God. I thought the phrasing sounded familiar. In Acts 1, Jesus concludes his time on earth by “speaking about the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God has been expounded upon and heavily debated theologically. However, now more than ever, I am seeing a need to return to communicating specifically about the way of Jesus. Too many churches teach and preach as if we can fix ourselves in lieu of a God who loves us from a distance, yet never take the time to know Him. Modified self-help expressions of Christianity do not work. People do not buy it. What does it look like for God’s laws and love to permeate every aspect of our lives?

I had two recent conversations with different people about the Gospel. Both openly rejected historic institutional Christianity. They wanted no part in another social club that had a poor history. However, when the conversation changed to following Jesus and allowing his model and teaching found in the Bible affect our lives, they were more open. In fact, one agnostic Jew (non-practicing, self-proclaimed agnostic, Jewish heritage by birth), made a distinct comment as I asked him to respond to my spiritual journey coupled with the Gospel. “I like the way you have articulated the personal belief and expression to following Jesus. That makes sense. No, there is no way I would consider Christianity as a religion for myself or my family.” In his mind, Christianity brings bad, but following Jesus may bring some good.

Somewhere along the line, our thinking shifted from Christianity as a movement to be advanced to an institution to be maintained. To do ministry or to organize something to care for people and connect with people that does not directly get organized by a committee, team, or minister in the church is completely foreign in most cases. To simply equip people to go live as Jesus has transformed their lives and respond to the Holy Spirit takes serious effort, instead of simple obedience. Alvin Reid comments on the need for such a reversal:

We can complain about that and mourn the loss of impact, or we can look at the early church who had no standing in the culture, had no buildings to invite people to enter, and yet so lived the gospel in the culture that they turned the world upside down…A missional church focuses as much or more outside its fellowship (and thus outside the walls of the building!) as it does on the inside. Missional believers think of themselves as being sent into the culture as ambassadors for Christ. The typical conventional church today magnifies what happens inside its fellowship and often even more inside a building (which is not the church, by the way).

The rediscovery of Christianity as a movement (the kingdom of God manifested in every believer) is paramount to the future of the church. The rediscovery can get messy and will get messy. We are dealing with real people and their real problems. We are dealing with a real world and its real brokenness. But, seeing the kingdom manifested is nothing less than joining Jesus on His mission to seek and to save the lost through making disciples. It is seeing the holistic health of God come to a city. It is a foretaste of a future heaven. It is God in action through His people.

What’s fascinating? Our world is trying to provide holistic health, transformation, and enter into the mess. In some cases, they are doing a better job than the church. Our founder, Jesus, was the best possible example of entering into the mess.

Last week, I went to a gathering of faith-based people in all professions for the city of Vancouver. The organizers always have someone present some information. The main speaker provided a brief overview of ACEs and how to have tough conversations with teenagers and families specifically around the issue of marijuana, opioids, and alcohol (see youthnow.me for some of the information provided). The main speaker had to repeatedly encourage those in attendance, “messy means it won’t look like you think it should.” She then would provide a very normal example from her experiences. One example she provided: progress may mean the parent goes from smoking weed every day and giving it to their kid to smoking weed every day and not giving it to their kid. Progress. Steps.

Her other main point: “You cannot take (fill in the blank drug) without offering something better, or when stress gets high they will always return to (fill in the blank drug to cope).”

As I heard her plea to offer something better to faith-based people who served in health services, social services, the school systems, and other community health organization, I could not help but ask a few questions.

Church, are we truly offering something better?

Christian, are you living something better?

Better is not demonizing their choices or the consequences. Better is not fixing them. Better is not making them more moral. Better is not a message of faux happiness. Better is not dismissive of “faulty” reasoning. Better is not merely waiting to talk and share information. Better is not ignoring the mess.

Better is resiliently listening to those in front of us and seeing them as people, not projects. Better is keeping curious even when we do not want to be. Better is being empathetic. Better is following through on a care path. Better is connecting the dots from the Gospel to life’s situations. Better is including them in your walk with Jesus on how you are letting the kingdom of God transform every area of your life. Better is hope and joy in the ways of Jesus.

30 Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.