Monday, July 28, 2014

Missional Blueprint

Recently, I've been reading Bob Logan's Missional Journey, which is one of those books that you really want to recommend because it makes you think. A lot. I highly recommend it!

And as good books tend to do, it provoked a blog post -- if I could share some insights on moving a church into a more missional direction, where would I start?
And this is what I came up with:

So, you want to become more intentionally missional. You’ve heard the stories of amazing missional endeavors, and the incredible fruit they’ve seen. You want to be more intentionally incarnational. You’ve read books, watched videos online, scrolled through websites and tweets, and you get it. You’re ready. You’re pumped/jazzed/motivated.

But like any leader, you want your whole group to jump onboard with you. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with the whole church, right?
Amen and amen. But without looking like you’re just pursuing a new ministry fad, how do you get the ball rolling?

1. Define your terms carefully and with pith.

In other words, make them clearly understood, and easy to remember.

Terms like “incarnational”, for example. There are some theologically-awkward nuances when using this word to describe the ministry of Joe Average or Jane Anybody. To be completely accurate, we are incapable of being incarnational in the same sense that Jesus was. We are not Deity taking on human form. We are ambassadors of Jesus (as Paul says in Romans), but we are not literally an incarnation of Him.

Some people honestly do find the use of incarnational questionable and off-putting. Don’t argue with them. Concede the point, agree that the word is theologically imprecise at best, and instead point out how the intent of the word’s usage is very biblical. In a “what would Jesus do” sense, the concept of being incarnational fits. Just as Jesus “moved into the neighborhood” (as Eugene Peterson brilliantly translates John 1:14 in The Message), we are also called to be in the marketplace. We need to fully be a part of the culture around us.

Another word that gets a lot of press, but is not always clearly defined, is the term missional. For many people, missional has become unequally yoked to the phrase: “preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words”. Like the use of incarnational, the intent behind this sentiment is a good one: we need to get outside the four walls of the church and serve our communities, particularly the “least of these my brethren”.

Unfortunately, this has often resulted in a lot of Christians doing much-needed acts of service for the poor and disadvantaged in their cities, but not a lot of actual sharing of the Gospel message of redemption. As Joe Aldrich wrote in Lifestyle Evangelism, they “have an audience but not a message”.

Missional is NOT:
  • Acts of service done for their own sake alone
  • Acts of service in order to ram the gospel down someone’s throat
  • Acts of service done as the Gospel
Missional IS:
  • Joining Jesus “on mission” -- when He performed miracles or cast out demons, Jesus preached and taught the people as well (both/and)
  • Acts of service based in compassion for others (and true Christian compassion will include issues of eternity)
  • Acts of service based in compassion, assuming that at some point, our Jesus-story can’t help but leak out
2. Take your church's current "missional pulse" before assuming anything else.

For example, do you already have people in your church whose careers are “missional” in the sense of serving the “least of these”? Social workers, crisis foster parents, or any of the “care-giving” professions, as well as people who are already volunteering somewhere outside of church (soup kitchen, homeless shelter, crisis pregnancy center, etc.).


Many churches don’t take these people into account when they assess their missionality (is that even a word?). Many of your “care-giving” professionals and volunteers have very different needs and challenges than those who aren’t in more “missional” vocations. They actually do need “to be fed and refreshed” -- it’s not just an excuse to avoid get involved in any church-based missional initiatives! If we fail to provide for these legitimate spiritual needs, we may drive away some of our most missional people (oops).

3. Does your current leadership workload (including volunteers serving as elders, deacons, youth leaders, children's ministry, etc.) allow for an added level of missional participation?

By this, I am simply asking whether or not adding yet another level of expectations is realistic. We all agree that healthy life balance is of vital importance for Christians. The concept of a Sabbath rest is not just an Old Testament rule; it’s an important rhythm of life that God has built into us. For example:

The average person works at least 40 hours per week; if they serve at church as an elder, youth leader, worship team member etc., then you can tack on an additional three hours.

If they’re involved in a home group -- and most churches recognize and rightfully recommend the importance of smaller group fellowship for spiritual growth and accountability -- then add another two or three hours. We are now at a minimum of 46-48 hours of commitment. Not counting the actual church worship service(s). Let’s round that number up to 50 hours per week.

Advocating a missional component might end up feeling like yet another level of expectations being placed on people. (And takes yet another night of the week away from their kids, who haven’t been tucked in at night by both parents for as long as they can remember).

4. Not everyone will be at the same place -- in a spiritual maturity sense -- at the same time (another blazing insight into the obvious, eh?).

The beauty of church-based missional initiatives is that there is an in-house opportunity that any interested people can join whenever they catch the vision for it. These initiatives can also result in deeper friendships as people discover the joys, trials and triumphs of serving together.

The (potential) down-side of church-based missional initiatives is two-fold:
(A) The missional project could easily become just anther layer of attractional ministry, except that instead of being invited to a church service, newcomers are invited to a service that the church provides (a great example would be a coffee-shop run by the church -- perhaps even in the church building). An additional concern would be the potential of such a coffee-shop so dominating the church’s vision (budgets, staffing, financial feasibility, etc.) that other “traditional” church functions (teaching, discipleship, fellowship, worship) are neglected.
(B) Being incarnational (in the functional sense, not the theological), means getting outside the four walls of the church and engaging the local community/culture. A church-run coffee-shop, especially if housed in the church building, could potentially function as another Christian enclave. (There are numerous instances where such coffee-shops were typically filled with a majority of Christian patrons, as well as the staff.)
The benefit of church-sponsored initiatives is that they can provide a perpetual entry point for missional ministry. And as long as the leaders keep revisiting what being incarnational and missional actually mean, these church-based initiatives can function as a great introduction to -- but not the ultimate expression of -- community engagement.

5. The ultimate goal is incarnational missional engagement; incarnational being defined as “coming alongside”, and missional being defined as “on mission with/of Jesus”.

Sometimes, that will be best served by teams of people from church joining together with a common ministry interest. Sometimes, that can mean church-based initiatives that impact the local parish community. And at other times, that could also mean coming alongside an existing opportunity (ie. a homeless shelter), and serving both the clients of the shelter and the staff who work there 24/7.

The most organic and natural way to increase missional engagement in a church is through small groups. Small groups require less organizational structure in becoming missional -- especially if they are coming alongside to support existing opportunities. And even within these small groups, it should be “normal” for individuals and smaller groups (2 0r 3) to have a similar interest/burden, and for these micro-groups to pursue their own missional outlets.

Conclusion

Can you imagine? A church coffee-shop as a missional entry point for your parishioners. Multiple existing “secular” outreach opportunities in need of volunteers that your incarnational-missional-minded people can come alongside. Small groups seeking God for (and finding) their own unique missional expression. People from your church, whose vocations are missional, mentoring volunteers from your church.

One thing is for certain: in order to have maximum and sustainable participation in a missional church, leaders will have to embrace a multi-faceted and constantly-shifting vision of what that could look like.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Enablers of the Exodus

Part One: Loyal Liar?
In any dysfunctional relationship, there are several roles that are enacted: the Perp, the Victim(s), and the Enabler(s).

Since ministry is a relational theatre, it should come as no surprise that for every dysfunctional situation that can be encountered, there are inevitably enablers supporting the dysfunctional system.

In linking the "Loyal Liar" syndrome to worship leaders and worship bands, we would be remiss not to ask ourselves where and how enablers are rewarding and supporting a system where Loyal Liars can flourish.

On one hand, some of these worship leaders and band members have gradually seen their own personal faith eroded over the years, and they just haven't yet come to the place where they feel the need for full disclosure. And once they decide to "de-cloak", like a Klingon Bird of Prey off the starboard bow in Star Trek, they are often relieved to step down from worship leading. Cognitive dissonance 'n' all.

On the other hand (and the point of this post), there are the Loyal Liars who continue on, despite leaving (or never really having) a deep faith in Christ Jesus. These are the ones who require enablers in order to happily lead worship week-in and week-out, even if they don't believe a word they're singing.
(Although it's rare, I have listened to some of these musicians and leaders sitting around laughing at the same congregation they've just led in worship.)
But this post is about the enablers, not those who have been enabled.

Yes, I'm looking at you, church leadership and pastoral team.

I know, I know -- you want your churches to be relevant. You want to see the younger generation remain connected to your churches. You want to be seen as a viable, winsome and welcoming place for the skeptical 21st century person-on-the-street. You want your churches to grow, hopefully by people coming to faith through your ministry.

There's nothing wrong with those desires. I love the intent behind them.

But what price are you willing to pay, in order to achieve them? (Assuming that you've discerned correctly what the younger generations would be willing to embrace.)

There's an old expression that I think pretty much every leader I've ever met has used at one time or another: "Character before gifting."

It's an important tidbit of wisdom. Paul wrote some helpful and very specific advice to his protégés, Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-15) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9), about the kind of character that anyone leading (including leading worship) should have. (Think of the worship leaders as 'elders' and their bandmates as 'deacons'.)

While worship leaders and their bands don't hold "official" leadership roles in churches, they are just as visible -- usually more so -- than most of your leadership team, week in and week out. They are leaders in your church. Their character matters.
Source: Wikimedia

But in the rush for relevancy and to attract the younger generation, the "character before gifting" wisdom gets lost. 

The result: A lot of extremely talented singers and musicians are recruited to give any given church the "cutting edge relevancy" that is assumed will attract or retain the younger generation. The band sounds professionally awesome, your church's reputation soars, and worship experiences are carefully crafted each week. And your church (attendance) grows.

But the down-the-road fruit is seen in the younger generations who follow the example of their (worship) leaders: partying on Saturday, worship on Sunday, and not noticing any discrepancy between the two. Feeling a sort of superiority to those who "actually believe all this stuff". Looking down their noses as they dismiss Christians who take personal holiness seriously as rigid and pharisaical. Feeling a sense of embarrassment that they ever viewed worship seriously as an encounter with the Living God.



And eventually, they either become life-time members of the Loyal Liars Club, or (more often) just quit the pretense and leave the church.

Pastors and Leadership teams, please help put a stop to the exodus of the younger generations from church (and often from the faith). Stop enabling a culture of Loyal Liars In Worship, in your dogged pursuit of the hottest worship band in your city. The price tag is too high.

Character Before Gifting. Please, before it's too late.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Missional = the New Attractional?

There has been a lot of emphasis placed on the concept of being "missional" in recent years. (Yes, I think that sentence might qualify as an understatement of Godzilla-like proportions.)

And beyond the concept of simply being missional, there has been a growing emphasis on being part of a "missional community".

Now, I'm someone who has always wanted to see our faith lived out in the open where all can see, so I'm definitely a fan of the missional concept. Christianity is a marketplace faith -- Jesus was a very public figure, from His miracles, to His many teachings (ie. the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7), and even His death, burial and resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles continues in that fine tradition of faith in the marketplace.

When people try to boil down a definition for being "missional", and being "in community", most would basically sum it up much like this graphic from Faith Connection Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Yay, Chattanooga! I lived there for two years when I was a kid. Pass the grits and sassafras tea!)

It's a good summary, in picture form:


And I appreciate the kind of language that people like Bob Logan use to describe the ethos of a missional community: sacrificial service, cultural engagement, authentic relationships, spiritual transformation. Putting wheels under the concept of "being missional" is an important step towards getting outside the four walls of church and back into the marketplace.

So why am I concerned that Missional might become the New Attractional?

Several unconnected conversations started me thinking:

The first was with my friend Duane (YWAM Calgary), during the Western Canada Leadership gathering this spring. We were walking to the Farmer's Market with several other YWAM leaders from across Canada, enjoying discipleship Jesus-style -- walking and talking -- when Duane simply asked:

"Is having an entire community be missional even possible?"

Normally, my immediate response would have been, "Of course!" After all, isn't being missional really just another way of saying "be deliberately Christian -- in church and out"? (Sorry for the oversimplification -- look at the missional couch picture again if it helps.)

But another conversation I'd had just prior to that day came to mind as well:

I know a number of social workers and crisis-placement foster parents here in town who are also Christians. Their 9-to-5, Monday-t0-Friday, week-in and week-out vocations are, by definition: missional. Serving the "least of these" (Matthew 25:40) is what they do as their passion, their mission, and their vocation.


But when they come to church (or a home group), the last thing they need (or want) is another rally-the-missional-troops discussion. They both want and desperately need to have their souls refreshed. That means meaningful worship, Bible study or teaching, authentic prayer, and deep fellowship. They've been missional all week long. They need to re-charge, re-fresh, and re-boot for the next week of missional engagement.

As one social worker put it: "I'm physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted after a week of being missional at my job. If I attend a 'missional community' on top of that, I'm going to completely burn out."

So, my honest answer to my friend Duane's question -- is having an entire community be missional even possible? -- would now be: NO.
Not if we mean that the entire community has to be involved in whatever missional endeavours that particular church/house church has identified for themselves.
Not even if the church has numerous missional endeavours to choose from, but equates "missional community" with involvement in one or more of these church projects.
If "being missional" is (unintentionally, I'm sure) reduced to projects initiated and run through the church -- and who doesn't love the sense of community that results among us as we serve together? -- then we have missed a very important part of "being" missional. 
If we hope to combine "incarnational" and "missional", then the last thing we should want is for the entire church community to work at the same projects, at the same time, in the same place(s). We need to engage the culture to be missional, but we need to spread out in order to be incarnational.
Note: I don't mean that church projects are a bad idea. I love them. But they are not the be-all and end-all of missional service. And we need to be sensitive to the spiritual needs of those in our churches who are already deeply missional outside of our church contexts.
Another Thought:

Missional is in danger of becoming the New Attractional when we invite people to come to our church because we market ourselves as a missional church. Nowadays, there's been so much positive focus on churches being more culturally engaged, incarnational, and seeing themselves as "on mission" with God, that we run the danger of missional marketing. "Come to our church: we're missional!"

In a perfect world (and yes, I've noticed that it's anything but), we wouldn't need the word "missional"; we'd just be Christians, living our lives and our faith in the marketplace, just like Jesus, the disciples, and the early church did. 

Until that perfect world comes (Amen, come, Lord Jesus. - Revelation 22:20), we need to keep "being missional" as a well-thought-out vision statement, not just a well-intentioned slogan. (Again, look to the missional couch for an encouraging reminder.) And we need to give people the freedom and encouragement to be incarnational as they pursue missional, in whatever context they find themselves. If we do this, we can avoid the trap of becoming the New Attractional.

And everybody will benefit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Journey = Nomad

jour·ney -- jərnē
noun:  an act of traveling from one place to another.
verb:  travel somewhere
Journeys are interesting creatures. Journey implies leaving one thing and moving towards another. The destination is not always clear at the outset -- just ask Abram of Ur (Genesis 12:1-5).

But for whatever compelling reason, a choice is made,  a journey is envisioned, and then embarked upon. The reasons for beginning such journeys are perhaps as widely varied as the people taking them:
  • a yearning for something beyond the next horizon
  • a dissatisfaction with the current geography, be it spiritual, political, or relational in nature
  • a sense of restlessness and a longing for exploration
  • a sense of something stirring within, that excites a willingness to risk, to dream, to dare
Because a journey that costs us nothing isn't like to be a journey worth taking. Whatever we are journeying towards had better be lofty enough that it is worth the demands of the journey. Cost-less journeys do not inspire; they do not stir up vision, nor do they sync with the words of Jesus, "take up your cross..." (Luke 9:23-24).
St. Paul seems to get this. He once wrote to his friends in Philippi in a similar vein, using phrases like "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." (Philippians 3:7), and "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" (Philippians 3:13).

Somewhere along the line of Paul's own journey, he had caught a glimpse of something that so gripped his heart, that everything else seemed like cow patties by comparison. 

All journeys cost something. Some journeys cost absolutely everything. The destination had danged well better be worth it. St. Paul seemed to think so, even as he wrote these passionate words, after being a Jesus-follower for several decades (and likely just a short while before his own execution):
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boanerges Revisited

This was an old post that never got published. Until now. 'Cuz it still fits...



Image Source: Wikipedia
King Solomon repeatedly observed throughout the book of Ecclesiastes that "there is nothing new under the sun". This has certainly been true whenever I run across (or into) "trolls" in greater blogdom.

Any other old-timers remember the firey anti-Christian rock crusades of the 1980's? There was no reasoning with these crusaders. There was no discussion. Many times, factual exaggerations or outright falsehoods were employed in order to "prove" their point.

"Christian love" was viewed as a weakness to be overcome; the goal was to crush their adversaries. Like St. Paul before his conversion, they thought they were doing God a favour. Anyone who questioned their attitude, research, or conclusions was immediately denounced as rebellious (and possibly unsaved).

The same was true with many anti-charismatic crusaders in the 1990's. Same harsh and venomous attitude. Same questionable methodology and twisting of facts. Same refusal to listen, to dialogue, to understand. (Most recent example of sameold sameold would be the Strange Fire conference.)


Jump forward to the early part of the 21st century, and we find the same attitudes, same questionable methods ("six degrees of Googled separation", somebody creatively called it), same willingness to use false accusations, same twisting of words, same exaggerations, and same occasional use of outright falsehoods. There is nothing new under the sun.

And whenever you attempt to defend, explain, dialogue, or set the record straight, there is the same reaction: they only intensify their efforts. Nothing changes. 

If you try to interact with them, they simply continue to attribute positions to you that you don't really hold, exaggerate or twist your words to mislead people, use all kinds of judgmental and pejorative labels and false accusations, and totally ignore any Scriptural basis you provide for what you believe.

Nothing changes. Nothing at all. It's a waste of time and energy. Absolutely nothing changes, nor will it change. Ever.

Oh wait, there IS one very significant thing that changes:

Me.

Yes, I change. I get offended. I get defensive. I try to explain myself. I try to set the record straight on what I REALLY believe. I try to correct the falsehoods and exaggerations. And in the process, I change.

I start to resemble a "son of thunder"; the kind of person that Jesus rebuked (Luke 9:52-56). I cease to resemble someone who is called to encourage and build up the Body. I look more like John Boanerges than the "apostle of love" that John later became known as. 

I risk spending far too much time defending myself, when in reality, I don't answer to these people. Why is their opinion of me of any importance at all? Do I really "need" to defend myself?


Perhaps I need to begin to practice a new spiritual discipline: stay out of useless arguments and avoid divisive people (Titus 3:9-10). Partly because it's a waste of time, energy, and emotion, but mostly because of how it affects my own walk of faith as a follower of Jesus, a disciple and an apprentice.

I don't want to be a son of thunder. I want to learn how to live more like Jesus.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Wee Experiment


Image source Wikicommons
I recently came across a blog article that laid out a pretty convincing case for changing the way a typical blog is written.

The writer made three profound insights into typography and readability that immediately caught my attention.

And so, I thought I would try a wee experiment, and ask for reader input on the results.

The three points, and why they made sense:

  1. The real problem behind "reading fatigue" for online documents, including blogs, is NOT the usual assumed culprit of "projected light", but rather font sizes that are too small and difficult to read.
    Part of the popularity of Kindle and other such devices is that the text is larger and easier to read than the average website. Most people aren't even aware of this; it just feels easier to read than a blog or website. Larger type on a blog mimics that same easy-reading effect.
  2. The easiest fonts for reading are "serif" fonts, and most blogs and websites use sans-serif -- which is unproductive if you want people to keep reading.
    Sans-serif fonts (like Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana) are great for titles, sub-headings, etc., but are hard to follow for blocks of text. I've known for years that the font called "Georgia" was specifically designed for online readability, so I'm experimenting with it as my blogging font. And why not? -- that is what it was designed for!
  3. Just like books, there is an optimum number of words-per-line that our brains find comfortable in processing. Once you have too many words-per-line, readers find it (unconsciously) difficult to read and move on.
    Using a larger font size brings a typical blog -- like this one -- to more closely match the words-per-line of most books. In theory, this should increase the readability, and allow whatever message the writer is trying to convey, to be "heard".
So, let's try a little experiment. Following this paragraph is the opening paragraph from my previous blog post, first at the default font and size, and then repeated but using Georgia at a larger font size. You tell me (seriously, I'd like some input and feedback on this!) which is easier to read:




Default:

Years ago, a new term was introduced into church jargon: the Loyal Liar. It was first used in a fictional story about an older liberal professor mentoring a young Pentecostal pastor into giving up his faith, yet continue to be a pastor. To be a Loyal Liar was the cold & calculated decision to pretend that you still believed in Christianity, preach sermons you didn't believe, pray prayers to the ceiling, and collect your pay from the unsuspecting church. (That's cold, dude...)

New:

Years ago, a new term was introduced into church jargon: the Loyal Liar. It was first used in a fictional story about an older liberal professor mentoring a young Pentecostal pastor into giving up his faith, yet continue to be a pastor. To be a Loyal Liar was the cold & calculated decision to pretend that you still believed in Christianity, preach sermons you didn't believe, pray prayers to the ceiling, and collect your pay from the unsuspecting church. (That's cold, dude...)



Well, what say you? How did this wee experiment play out?

Which is easier to read?

Should I go with the new approach (Georgia & larger) or was the old one just fine?