Friday, December 26, 2008

Community as the Hope for the Church

I think I want to chime in again... if that's OK. (I guess that is why we have the delete key.) (SEE BLOG BELOW)

I think often about the church and her future; I can get pretty worked up if the truth be known!

Let me build on a few of broad principles:

1. God, by His very nature (Trinity), is relational (community).
2. That makes you and me - created in the essential image of God - relational, too.
3. (Therefore) Church - whatever else we make of it - is and must be relational.
4. Sin, like drift, provokes in us what I might broadly term anti-relationship.
5. The future of the church lies in her ability to re-capture COMMUNITY.

Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, in his chapter on Community, says, "Another way to avoid community is to turn the church into an institution" (pg. 179).

This is true; in fact, you and I above the age of, say, 30, know very little about church that is not institutional. Therefore, as we try to come together post-Twentieth Century and post-Christian Era, we are entirely likely to build the church AS WE HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN IT. Getting out of a rut takes lots and lots of strength, courage and perseverance! Otherwise, we'll end up with just another version of the institutional church.

I do not want to harangue on about what I think we oughta do at this point. I do want to make points, if you will, what I see will characterize the church successful.

1. We need to take our lessons from … Jesus.

2. He reached the point of total surrender to His Father. He said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (Jn 4:34). Those church-ers will be successful if they look, smell, and taste like Jesus because they have become so intimate with Him and His will. That is the first endeavor.

3. Jesus had three intimate relationships (Peter, James and John), nine in His Sunday School class, and seventy that He taught. His teaching was almost exclusively life-on-life. Jesus simply said to His friends, “Follow Me.” “Come live life with me.” Jesus was intentional and strategic about His relationships. Jesus knew He was worth knowing and being with. Successful church-ers will strategize their lives similarly.

4. Jesus was not hindered by church. Church was a normal part of his weekly life, but His ministry was not hampered because He had to park camels for early worship (what the institutional church calls “service ministry”). I do think Jesus served in the nursery as needed. Servants at heart do that kind of thing!

5. Jesus taught by example. Nowadays we call it “training.” Church-ers will not enlist; they will train, and train by example. Apprenticeship comes to mind at this point.

6. We must presuppose, as Jesus did, that people are ignorant and must be shown how to do relationships. Jesus did not conduct “sign-ups.”

7. Church-ers who get clued into this be-with-Jesus thing (not that complicated, I might add) will do anything and everything possible to obtain holiness. Look no further than Jesus: Jesus disciplined Himself for godliness (Mk 1:35, et. al.). Jesus practiced disciplines the institutional church is downright hostile toward! Like stillness, rest, prayer, and solitude.

8. Church-ers who desire success for the church understand incarnation. We are little Jesuses. That makes us worth knowing. It is good for those who do not know Jesus to be with us! Church-ers will spend a lot of energy simply doing relationships.

9. One caveat: Doing relationships is not the same as having a meeting. It is not the same as what we have come to know as “fellowship,” either! It is costly and dirty; mysterious, unpredictable and protracted, the fruits of which are in God’s hands!

I am not intending to take pot shots at what we know as church. However, we are in a deep rut. May we aspire toward the charge leveled against Peter and John after being arrested for healing a lame beggar by the institutional church leadership:

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and
understood that they were uneducated and untrained men,
they were amazed, and began to
recognize them as having been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

Friday, December 05, 2008

What Ought We Be Becoming?

This is a response to a conversation the leadership of our church is in regarding the ways and means of church, particularly how to get people un-stuck.

Thanks for including me in this conversation. I perused it earlier in the week and it grabbed me; it is just now that I can sit, pray and write.

The questions we ask and continue to ask are, indeed, from the heart. No question. We all want God to be glorified in and through ourselves, our families and our church. I am convinced we all want to see God's Kingdom built in our community.

I want to challenge our ideas of what that is supposed to look like.

What is the definition of "stuck"? I am afraid the answer is often subjective beyond my comfort: Not enough people are coming to church, not enough people are in small groups, giving is down, shallow faith is rife, people are leaving the church, etc.

All the assessments below notwithstanding (all are "accurate" insofar as I can see, by the way); I think people are not stuck. I think they are right where they want to be.

I am not sure what the remedy is, either. I am not even sure we need to be asking that question, as if: When we discover that "remedy" and DO it, then God is obliged to bless us - make our church healthy, big and growing.

God is the giver of increase (1 Co 3:7). We are to be faithful, evangelize, make disciples, pray, pray for workers, pray for increase, assemble, worship, obey, raise our family "in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord," etc., etc.

I remember J. I. Packer in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God saying that the evangelist is finished evangelizing not when "he seals the deal" so-to-speak and a convert is made. Evangelism has taken place when we elicit a decision from the one to whom we have just shared.

We must learn to battle in the realm of ideas; ideas we possess and live by that may or may not be God-honoring no matter how Christian they sound!

I think the question might be changed from "What ought we do?" to "Who ought we be becoming?" This question is first and foremost and individual question long before it becomes a corporate one. We are to abide in Christ and He will, through us, bear fruit (Jn 15).

Am I guilty of being with Him? Have I submitted the hours of my day to Him? Is my lifestyle such that if the plug were pulled on Christianity, I would be the laughingstock of the neighborhood for the silly and yet large investment I have made? Read 1 Corinthians 15:19!

Do I know Jesus intimately? Do I smell like Jesus?

Am I seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? By the way, there it is again: "...And all these things will be added unto you... [by HIM!]."

Richard Rohr in his book Everything Belongs uses the phrase "Don't push the river." You and I are traveling along life's journey in the boat of God's Providence. He "works all things at the counsel of His own will" (Eph 1:11). No doubt you and I are to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Ph 2:12), choices matter! But, I think we could adjust our ideas a bit and learn - through our intimate relationship with Jesus - that our charge is to trust and leave the driving to Him.

This is the death to self that the New Testament refers to.

I blame Larry Crabb for the following indictment:

You maneuver; you do not trust. You negotiate, you do not worship. You analyze to gain control over what happens; you do not depend. You seek the Better Life of God's blessings over the Better Hope of God's Presence. (From The Pressure's Off, pg. 8)

Later in the book, Dr. Crabb introduces us to the "Papa Prayer." This is up against our traditional (what Crabb calls the "Old Way") - idea driven - prayer that goes like this:

Change that.

Whatever in my life is causing pain, I ask you to change it. Straighten out my daughter, give me a spouse, restore my health, provide an income.

Use this.

Show me what principles I'm to follow to make that happen. Direct me to the person or resources I need to help make it happen.

Satisfy me.

I long to feel alive, content, fulfilled, and happy. Do whatever it takes to make me feel satisfied with me, with life, and with You. (The Pressure's Off, pg. 209)

Here is the Papa Prayer:

Present yourselves to God as you are.
Attend to where you notice God's presence of absence.
Purge yourselves of whatever, at that moment, might be keeping you from noticing more of God.
Approach God with abandonment and confidence, dedicating yourselves anew to coming to Him to know and enjoy and reveal Him, not to using Him to make your life better. (The Pressure's Off, pg. 211. Incidentally, Crabb's next book, The Papa Prayer elaborates on this simple prayer.)

To the church I say:

Sit with Jesus. Allow Him to calm your soul. Realize when the calm comes that this is normal. Then learn to cultivate stillness, for it is in stillness that we see, hear and touch God.

Live with each other. Ask for the eyes of Jesus when dealing with friends as well as enemies.

Pray with maturity - for forgiveness, for others, for God to advance His Kingdom using you and me.

Then, move out, calmly, into faith-driven obedience. And trust Him.