Saturday, August 30, 2014

Missional 2: Purpose

In the first part of this series, Pastor Mike from the Main & Plain pointed out that being missional is a lifestyle, not just another church program. That's a relief for most of us.

We don't want to be part of a church program. We do want to be missional as a lifestyle. It sounds less performance-oriented and more relational.

But if there's anything we have become good at, it's our tendency towards allowing ourselves to be satisfied with "being" and never getting around to "doing". (The pendulum swung too far the other way, yet again, dangit!)

But I'll let Mike speak for himself on this one:

I have a friend who likes to start his day by acknowledging God's presence with the words, "Good morning, Lord, this is Your servant, reporting for duty." He doesn't want to cruise through his day on auto-pilot, spiritually speaking.

We have to be careful, as we try to avoid the tyranny of the Ministry Treadmill, that we don't forget that being missional is not just a nebulous state of simply "being". We have a purpose.

I love that Mike reminds us that being missional is a function of the Kingdom of God. We are participants with Christ and His Kingdom in all aspects of our lives. 
Being missional is much larger than serving the poor or doing projects to bless our community (parish).
The Kingdom of God includes these things -- and to be honest, serving the poor and being a presence in our communities has been the missing piece for many Christians and their churches -- but it is not limited to what's "outside the four walls".

Saying that we are "on mission with Jesus" is a good way of putting it. And Jesus, lest we forget, was very purposeful in how He proclaimed and demonstrated the Kingdom of God. 

The same Jesus who claimed He was the only way to the Father (John 14:6), who told Nicodemus that He had come to save the world (John 3:16-21), and commissioned His disciples to carry that message to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20), is the same Jesus who described His ministry with the words: "...the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor..." (Matthew 11:5) and gave stern warning to His followers about Kingdom ministry in the Parable of the Sheep & the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

It's all Kingdom. It's all Missional. It all has a purpose.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Missional 1: Lifestyle

"Missional" is one of those elusive terms whose definition is often found in the eye of the beholder.

Or words to that effect.

And it's definitely true that what people mean by the term can run quite a gamut of options & opinions.

But I wonder if it might be possible to agree on some basic parameters of what 'missional' could look like. Specific enough to be helpful, but open-ended enough to allow for individuals, groups, and churches to customize the concepts to fit their own unique and diverse situations. (I touched on this in an earlier post as well.)

In other words, when it comes to methodology and implementation, one size does not fit all. But the framework of the idea could.

I recently came across some great introductory videos from Pastor Mike @ The Main & Plain. They are short (under 2 minutes), get right to the point, and serve as a great way to introduce five basic elements of what constitutes 'missional'.

I really appreciate Mike's emphasis on lifestyle as opposed to program. Some churches have created remarkable initiatives into their communities, but not all churches have the resources to do this as a church. Individuals, perhaps, but not the entire kit 'n' kaboodle.

The emphasis on lifestyle suggests a few things:
  1. As individuals and small groups within any given church embrace the idea of being missional, they don't have to wait for the church to create a program before they can do anything about it.
  2. The church's leaders don't have to invest extra time, energy, and money into creating, staffing, and maintaining new programs in order for their people to get started. ("What a relief", said all the over-worked pastors.)
  3. Ideally, as we all mature spiritually, the lifestyle aspect means that we are not dependent on church programs.
  4. Yes, this does not preclude churches from creating some level of program as an entry point, but it places the responsibility of being missional back where it belongs: on us.
I also liked Pastor Mike's comment about it not being "just for professionals". Most of the pastors that I know, who are pursuing a missional focus, are chomping at the bit to just "get out there and do it". It's not "just for professionals", to be sure, but it's encouraging to see the "pro's" so enthusiastic about leading by example.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

the First Steps of a Prophet

So, you want to pursue the gift of prophecy...

Biblically, this is a very good thing. In fact, the apostle Paul encourages people to "eagerly desire" this gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 14:1).  To seek the gift of prophecy, to strengthen, encourage and comfort people (1 Cor. 14:3), is very commendable.

Ultimately, we all know that it's the Holy Spirit who decides who gets what spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:7-11), but Paul also encourages us to seek God for the gift of prophecy.

But suppose we're past the point of asking. We feel like we've maybe received the gift of prophecy. Perhaps God imparted a spiritual gift during a prayer time (without or without somebody laying hands on us for that purpose). However it happened, the gift of prophecy appears to be part of our spiritual tool kit.

So, now what? What's a newbie prophetic person to do? What are our first steps?
Go to a Bible school.
Preferably a non-charismatic one.
Yes, yes, I know -- I've heard the joke about cemetery seminary, and also all the horrified warnings about getting "filled with man's wisdom". (sigh...) Frankly, that kind of thinking is a steaming pile of bovine by-products, if you catch my meaning.

Here's the thing: anybody claiming prophetic ministry these days will always tell you that "the Bible is our final authority" and that all prophetic words need to pass the Bible Test.

Fine, we get that; well said. 

Trouble is, everybody says that. And there are some bizarrely unbiblical things being 'prophesied' by people claiming to strain their prophecies through a Biblical filter.
(After all, what else could they say? "Actually, we don't give a rat's patookus about the Bible. We have The Anointing - UH.")
So, don't go to a "school of prophecy". At least, not yet. Go to a Bible school that specializes in the Bible. Get a deeper understanding of Scripture first. Learn how to study the Bible. It could be a one-year commitment (like Capernwray, for example) or you could do a whole degree in Bible. Your choice. If neither is an option, at the very least read How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth by Gordon Fee (a Pentecostal writer).

It's the foundation that will keep your prophetic gift from becoming polluted by some of the wacky "man's wisdom" out there. It will give you a grid for evaluating the teachings of prophetic instructors, and also for wisely using the gift God has given you.

For the sake of your own spiritual growth, for the honing of your prophetic gift, and for the sake of those who will be receiving prophetic words from you: go to a Bible school first. You have many years of ministry ahead of you. Prepare yourself wisely.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. (1 Thess. 5:19-22)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to Get There from Here

For the past few months, The Well has been working through the book of Philippians. It's been an amazing time together, as we've studied this short epistle. There are so many rich passages to be found here; it's no wonder so many people love reading it.

In many ways, it's the perfect counterpoint -- or antidote, if you will -- to the previous post (Ecclesiastes 2014).

At left: the entire book of Philippians in Wordle form.
There are so many profound snippets that you can memorize, use as quotes, write on a sticky-note and put it on your bathroom mirror to remind yourself of who you are in Christ, what He has done for you:
  • "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (1:21)
  • That incredible early hymn about the servant attitude of Jesus which culminates with "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (2:5-11)
  • "I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection..." (3:10-11)
  • "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal..." (3:13-14)
  • "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (4:4)
  • "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (4:6-7)
But in light of the previous post, I think that if there's anything from our church's study of Philippians over the summer that really stands out, it has to be this:
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (4:8)
If I were to take that verse seriously -- and really, the whole book of Philippians by itself would qualify as true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable -- and focus my mind on those things, I suspect I would "become the change I want to see" (to paraphrase Ghandi's most popular quote).

Negativity, outrage, and ranting may guarantee more blog traffic, re-tweets, and notoriety, but it won't get any of us where we want to go.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ecclesiastes 2014

The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

It's always been true of media: "If it bleeds, it leads." Tragedy sells even better than scandal, although the shock value of either makes for great copy, great viewership, and generates great financial rewards. A tragic sex scandal = a grand-slam home run.

"This news story has legs." (People will be talking about it for a long time.) We've even seen a newscaster commit suicide live on TV.

The same approach holds true in the 21st century, if you're discussing the church. Books, magazine articles, and various Internet formats (blogs, forums, e-zines) follow the same mantra: if it bleeds, it leads. Or when it comes to churches, leaders, and even congregants, the paraphrase might read: "If it trashes, it dashes". (In other words, if it's a negative slam, it will gain a much wider readership. It will "have legs".)

Larry Norman recorded Something New under the Son, but there's nothing new in today's publishing. Church-bashing is a sure-fire hot seller. Lists of "10 Ways Pastors Screw Everything Up" or "27 Gazillion Problems with Christianity" will take off like a heat-seeking missile have legs. 

Positive suggestions, thoughtful reflection, attempts to appeal to Scripture for proactive solutions = boring. 

Because these publishers know what sells (or generates website traffic, multiplies 'likes', or gets re-tweeted): If it bleeds, it leads. Negativity has legs. People don't want solutions. There's nothing sexy about moving positively forward. 

I'm not suggesting that a good, solid, investigative critique isn't necessary and beneficial at times. I wouldn't have written Detoxing from Church or Post-Charismatic if that were the case. But when I look at the average "likes" that any given article might receive, it's stunning to realize that negativity is way more popular than trying to find positive solutions. Negativity has legs.

There is nothing new under the sun, indeed. What has been, will be again.
Except that we follow Someone who has promised that He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). We have to look to the future to find hope for the future.
This video is based on Ecclesiastes 1, and yet resolves with the promise that Jesus made. I hope it encourages you to keep that promise in mind. (And I'm blown away that my son not only "gets it", but that he wrote such a powerful song about it.)