Sunday, October 23, 2005

Purpose-Driven Areogapus. Coffee, Anyone?

The emerging church and its critics have finally found common ground where they can all agree: none of them are fans of Rick Warren or Purpose-Driven™ anything.

Emergents facepalm over “shallow mega-church sell-outs,” while anti-emergents foam at the mouth at Rick Warren’s obvious, 100% confirmed status as the propagator of a False Gospel (and if you don’t agree, they’ll lump you into the same category).

Starbucks has recently printed a series of “As I See It” quotes on their grande- and venti-sized cups. No one seemed concerned at first, until an internet sleuth leaked the news that the series would include a quote from Rick Warren.

Here’s what Rick wrote:

“You are not an accident. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. He wanted you alive and created you for a purpose.

“Focusing on yourself will never reveal your real purpose. You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense.

“Only in God do we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance and our destiny.”

Anti-emergents immediately applied the logical fallacy known as “false equivalence” to link Rick’s quote with all things emerging/missional, and worked themselves into an apoplectic frenzy because the gospel wasn’t “clear enough.” Which, in their minds, reconfirms Rick’s status as a heretic.

I can’t help but have a few thoughts on that (smiles to self while typing).

Real-world Logistics

The printable area on a grande or venti cup is deceptively restrictive. Squeezing a coherent gospel message into the available space would be daunting, if not impossible. “Turn or burn” might fit, but says zilch about Jesus. Favorite proof-texts (e.g., Romans 6:23), without context, are incomplete.

St. Paul at the Areopagus

Skeptical Epicurean and Stoic philosophers offered the Apostle Paul a similar opportunity in Athens (Acts 17:16–34). Paul accepted their invitation, and referenced the Athenians’ “To An Unknown God” altar in his introduction. In other words, he found a cultural touchstone they’d recognize, and used it as a springboard to his gospel message. Some of his listeners wanted to hear more; others sneered.

I can anticipate the “yeah-buts.” Critics will point out that Paul may have begun with the Unknown God analogy, but went on to preach a “clear gospel message.” The quote from Rick Warren, of course, does not.

I couldn’t agree more, which leads me to a burning question …

Are we lazy, small-minded, or both?

Starbucks sells coffee. To that end, they’re also promoters of “third space” café culture: neither workplace nor home, but miniature public squares where people gather and conversations abound.

The gospel of Jesus can’t be reduced to a sound bite, bumper sticker, or venti coffee cup. But instead of shrugging our shoulders or getting all nit-picky critical, we need to open our eyes. Think outside the box.

Like Paul’s “To An Unknown God” reference, Rick Warren’s “As I See It” is a door-opening opportunity.

 But only if we get off our sofas and take advantage of it.

I challenge everyone – emerging, anti-emerging, or undecided – to drop by your local Starbucks with a few of your not-yet-Jesus-following friends, relatives, or coworkers. “As I See It” is the opener.

You get to fill in the rest.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Think Again (and again)

Dann Spader, the brains behind Sonlife Youth Strategies, has this to say about building a youth ministry foundation:

“Jesus spent the first year of His ministry teaching His followers who He was. They had a wrong concept of the coming Messiah. They thought He’d come as a conquering King – instead Jesus came as a suffering servant. Jesus knew that only as people understood who He was and why He came, only then would they begin to have the right motivation for following Him. Christ’s disciples slowly began to see that He was different than their perception of the coming Messiah.

“Those we minister to are no different. People have wrong concepts of who Christ is, what He has done for us, and what He asks of us. It is very difficult to yield your life to someone you do not know properly. Proper motivation to serve and minister stems from a proper understanding of Jesus Christ.”

When I first read that, years ago, I immediately thought of the most common problem – based on an inaccurate view of God – that I saw affecting 1980s youth. And, just like the “safe place to take risks,” the same problem is equally rampant among 21st century adults:

Neurotic performance orientation, based on an erroneous (and usually unconscious) assumption that God’s perpetually disappointed with us.

For example, in several different churches over the years, I’ve led the following group discussion:

  1. If you could ask God any ONE question, what would it be? Answers varied to a degree, but roughly 90% were some form of, “If God is good, why is there so much evil and injustice in the world?”
  2. If God could ask YOU any one question, what do you it would be? Answers varied, but not much. “Why aren’t you doing more?” or “Why don’t you trust Me?” or “Will you ever get serious about your faith?”

Their guiding perception was that whenever God looked at them, His gut reaction was disappointment (if not impatience).

That’s heart-breaking. It wasn’t uncommon to see tears welling or hastily wiped away during the discussion.

We need to clearly communicate – over and over, as often as it takes – both sides of the discipleship coin:

Nothing I say or do will make Jesus love me more.
Nothing I say or do will make Jesus love me less.

In other words, despite our Romans 7:15–24 struggles, Romans 8:1 is still the final answer: “There is no condemnation.”

We love because He first loved us. We serve because He served us. We give our lives to Him because He gave His life for us. A key Scripture to emphasize is Hebrew 10:14: “For by one sacrifice, He has made (past tense) perfect forever those who are being (present tense) made holy.”

Generation to generation ... there will always be a need to revisit and re-emphasize even our most basic foundation: “Jesus loves me.”

Friday, September 30, 2005

Walk the Plank

“Avast, ye scurvy dogs! The crushing oblivion of Davey Jones’ locker awaits! Walk the plank, or feel the steely kiss o’ me blade!”

I can’t emphasize enough that youth ministry and piracy are in no way connected. But when it comes to pioneering a new ministry – whether a youth group or a church plant – there comes a moment when you’ve got to walk the plank and dive in. “Leap of faith” also applies, but as a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean, I like the pirate imagery.

*   *   * 

“A safe place to take risks.”

When asked what I would consider to be a foundational building block in youth ministry, that’s what came to mind. Upon further reflection, I can confidently strike out the word “youth,” and apply it to any age level.

The deeper questions revolved around defining what makes it a “safe place,” and – crucially – who’s responsible to create and maintain it. The answer to both questions is “leaders.” Our example, not our words, will establish the group ethos, the default setting.

Old teaching adage: “More is caught than taught.” Transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity are intangibles. As leaders, we take the first step – like walking the plank – to demonstrate them.

  1. We don’t have all the answers, so we won’t act as if we do. If anything, our group ethos should welcome – and even provoke – open dialogue about doubts and questions. Theirs and ours.
  2. If we need prayer, we’ll ask for it. No prayer or pray-er is too small.
  3. We’re all on the same faith journey. No superstars need apply – you’ll fall off your pedestal eventually.
  4. Know the difference between “manipulation” and “influence.” Avoid the first like the plague, and be wise about the second.

“Everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”

~ Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 6:40)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Theology Pub Alert

Breaking News

Brother Maynard and I hereby issue an open invitation to anyone within driving distance of downtown Winnipeg to join us Friday, August 12th, at the King’s Head for our inaugural Theology Pub.

Reasons you don’t want to miss this:

  1. Enjoy the finest brews (Guinness) at one of Winnipeg’s premiere pubs.
  2. Enjoy theological musings and general ecclesiastical mayhem with Brother Maynard, Robbymac, and others whom Brother Maynard knows and Im about to meet.
  3. Discover Brother Maynards secret identity!! Of course, you must then be sworn to secrecy. Consider it an initiation rite.

Hope to see all y’all there, beginning at 8:00 pm – that’s 20:00 for anyone on the 24-hour clock. We’ll be the theological nerd freaks. Easy to spot, apparently.

This Just In

For all who have set their hearts on pilgrimmage and plan to join us at the Kings Head:

We’ve moved our starting time a half-hour earlier, from 8:00 to 7:30. As fate would have it, Brother Maynard apparently turns into a pumpkin or squash or some kind of vegetable after 10:00 pm (22:00).

While I'm as curious as the next person to see exactly what vegetative life-form Brother Maynard may morph into, he is a husband and father, after all. So, in deference to his lovely wife and adorable children – who probably prefer his continued non-vegetative presence – we’ll gather a wee bit earlier.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Pay's the Same

Wendy and I had an opportunity to visit our friends, Kevin and Louise, at the church theyd recently planted. We’d known Kev & Lou since our days as their youth leaders in the late 1980s. Kevin and I have a lot of shared history – we met for breakfast weekly throughout his high school years.

Midway through his sermon that morning, Kevin pointed me out to the congregation, telling them, “I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it weren’t for Rob.” Wow – gracious words can be encouraging and humbling all at the same time.

He then addressed me directly. “Man, I don’t remember a thing you taught me, but I’ll never forget your friendship.”

There’s an ironic punch line just ahead. See if you can spot it.

Kevin then proceeded to quote me in his sermon, almost verbatim. Twice. So, something I’d said had stuck with him, after all. Unless he thought it was his original idea …

That reminded me of a billboard I’d seen in Winnipeg: “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.”

The pay’s the same in Kingdom. “Well done, good and faithful servant … Come and share your Master’s happiness (Matthe2 25:21).” That’s enough for me.

Besides, there’s something subversively cool about having an uncredited role in the Kingdom.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Forging a Good Critique

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).”

When iron is sharpened, sparks fly. But just because we see sparks, we can’t assume the iron is sharper than before. It could just as easily suffer damage from an inexperienced hand. It takes a skilled craftsman to sharpen iron without destroying it.

Same goes for critiques. I know I’m only scratching the surface on the topic, I'd like to offer a few suggestions on how to tell a good critique from a poor one.

A good critique starts with a thorough understanding of the subject matter. If were going to critique something, it should be assumed that weve done our homework before setting pen to digital paper. There’s nothing to be gained from a critique based on sloppy, slanted, or inadequate research. Plus, who wants the reputation of being a hack?

A good critique will be conversant with primary sources, not relying on other critiques as their basis.

There are two kinds of questions people ask when confronted with something that they arent sure about:

Questions looking for informationseeking to understand. 

Questions looking for ammunition – seeking rant-fodder.

Just so it’s been said: A good critique asks questions to gain understanding. 

The false dichotomy is a sign of a bad critique. A false dichotomy is an exaggerated either/or scenario, where people are given only two diametrically opposed options to choose between. As a technique, the false dichotomy is manipulative – dirty pool, as it were – and should be avoided.

That means (a) don’t use false dichotomies, and (b) if you’re debating with someone who uses the technique to misrepresent you, walk away.  

A good critique follows the spirit of Matthew 18:15–17. The broader theme of Jesus teaching is that we're dealing with family members, not enemies (cf. Galatians 6:1). A good critique reads like a letter from an old friend who’s concerned about us. Its the attitude of a trusted friend sitting across the table in a coffeeshop or pub, loving us enough to ask the hard questions, and listening to whats on our hearts. 

A good critique is capable of seeing the good as well as sounding the alarm about potential problems. Wounds from a friend can be trusted (Proverbs 27:6). 

A good critique may sting at timeswe see through a glass darkly, after allbut if the underlying attitude is one of redemptive friendship, a good critique will sharpen and strengthen us. 

We’ll thank you, and – in a perfect world – pay for your coffee/beer.