Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: The Wisdom of Wimber

It has been my privilege to read Mary Boller's The Wisdom of Wimber over the past few weeks. Marty (can I call you Marty?) has done an excellent job of collecting a variety of the late John Wimber's pithy insights and pastoral wisdom, and sharing them in a readable, encouraging, and challenging manner.

Almost a quarter century ago, John Wimber catalogued ten items that he considered to be "Vineyard essentials" in ministry. Using these ten markers as a starting point, Marty takes us through a devotional reflection on Wimber's writings.

One of the greatest strengths of Marty's approach is that this is NOT a re-hash of Wimber's earlier books, Power Evangelism and Power Healing, as much as these books are definitely worth (re)reading.

What makes Marty's book such a treasure trove is that the various Wimber quotes that begin each chapter are gleaned from less-accessible sources such as old Vineyard newsletters, pastoral updates, and conferences. These less-available sources round out a great deal of Wimber's very practical approach to ministry.

The Wisdom of Wimber is written as a series of short devotional readings, rather than something that you would try and conquer in an evening or two of reading. This approach is another of the book's great strengths. Marty's desire is to encourage people to slow down and thoughtfully reflect on the practical and personal implications of the book's content.

In fact, I would strongly recommend that anyone who gets this book read it in the same way: devotionally, ideally with a good cup o' coffee and enough time to ponder and pray about what each chapter presents. Marty's book functions as a challenging mental & spiritual check-up in many ways -- not something you should pound your way through. Serious reflection, aided by the questions and prayers with which Marty ends each chapter, is the most fruitful approach to take.

Marty's method of unpacking Wimber's list of ten "DNA markers of a Vineyard" means -- aside from providing a well-rounded snapshot of what a Vineyard church should aspire to -- that there is something for everybody here. Worship, small groups, evangelism, preaching/teaching, missional… this collection of Wimber's insights, coupled with Marty's "As I See It" perspective, has some thoughtful input for everyone.

As a seasoned worship band member (mostly playing bass for other worship leaders, although I do lead worship every now and then myself), it's not surprising that I am drawn to quotes like:
"And if we'd ever stop long enough to think about it, coming in the presence of God is a holy thing. And since it's a holy thing, pastors and worship leaders might want to consider how we, as God's people, might want to choose more carefully the way we are entering into His presence." (55)
And this one, which I recognized as a very familiar dynamic in the churches in my area (including but certainly not limited to the Vineyard):
"Most church services across North America today tend to treat our worship times as one-way communication tools, where we dump our worship at the feet of God, but often leave the room before giving him an equal opportunity to respond." (66)
I've watched this dynamic at work, and it actually plays out like this: people come (fashionably late) for the worship, and leave before (or during) the sermon.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the strengths of Marty's book is the inclusion of classic Wimberisms that are not found in his published works. These gems are valuable in and of themselves. For example, Wimber speaks quite prophetically into early 21st century church culture when he says:
"Paul warns Timothy about one of the most distressing realities of being a Christian leader. No matter how faithful and true one is to preaching and ministering the gospel, there are times when some people will turn their ears and hearts away from the truth and will follow teachers and prophets not sent by God. In order to suit their own desires, they would rather hear fables than facts. They are unwilling to listen to a message of repentance from sin. Therefore, they seek a clever new message." (38)
Another gem that reminds us poignantly of the "dialed down" (non-hype) approach to ministry that Wimber sought to install into the Vineyard as a movement:
"When we started (early days of the Vineyard), we did not jump on the bandwagon of "God's new thing". Instead, we set out to do an ancient thing in a contemporary way: train people to continue the kingdom ministry of Jesus. Tired of my ministry, I was desperate to see His." (173)
Marty Boller's The Wisdom of Wimber: As I See It has been an encouraging read for me: insightful, reflective, challenging, pastoral, and inspiring. There is so much we can continue to learn from the life and ministry of John Wimber, and Marty has done the Body of Christ a great service in creating this devotional and highly practical resource.

Highly recommended!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Institutional Church [a word to the 'dones'] (Girard 6)

Source: Wikicommons
Re-reading a classic like Brethren, Hang Loose has been much more than a trip down memory lane. Revisiting your roots is always a good habit. You never know what the Spirit might impress upon you, all over again.

Let me say, right up front: I sympathize greatly with those who self-identify as "done with church".

One of the (dis)advantages of being middle-aged is that you've been around long enough to see some of the rot that has infected many churches.

From carnal attitudes of pride and self-righteousness, to ego-driven mansion-building, to hype-n-hysteria theatrics, to the worship-tainment industry, and right on down to the small church traditions of gossip, rigidity and small-mindedness... yeah, it can look a little bleak at times.

But it's still Christ's Body, His Bride. You know, the one He's coming back for.

Bob Girard's words regarding the institutional church (a term he utilized even back in the 1970s) are timely for us in 2015. You could almost call this "a word for the 'dones'."

There is not much need, really, for me to offer "commentary for 2015" on this one, so I'll just let Bob Girard speak for himself:
"They may seem to be almost mummified in the grave dressings of unbiblical church tradition. They may be opposed to anything that would disturb the status quo. But that doesn't alter the fact that if they have thrown themselves on Christ for salvation and He lives in them, they are a part of the Body of Christ. 
"They cannot just be 'written off'.
"We must not fit their mold, or pamper them in their immaturity, or back down in the face of their carnal outbursts. We must not stop seeking to bring renewal and revival to the church just because they don't like it.
"But neither can we just write them off. They are brothers and sisters. Jesus said, if we do not have love for them, the world has a right to come to the conclusion that we are really not Christians at all.
"For these reasons, those who want to see church renewal cannot just 'forget' the institutional church. The people of God are there. The Spirit is there, in the people. I need those brothers and sisters very much. And they need me." (pages 182-183)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Intentional Discipleship (Girard 5)

No look back at Bob Girard's Brethren, Hang Loose would be complete without revisiting  the topic of house groups.

"The 'great revivals' of American history were nearly always preceded and followed by small groups meeting for prayer and personal renewal." (page 131)

Some churches call them "cell groups", others call them "small groups". For what it's worth, the Vineyard used to call them "kinships". Regardless of the name, the point of these groups was for spiritual growth and deeper relationships.

The "church gathered" in a corporate sense is an important touchstone in the spiritual rhythm of the Body. It can be a time of instruction, encouragement, and worship. Small groups, on the other hand, are where we can share our lives on a much more personal level than a larger meeting can facilitate.
"They [small groups] seem to us to be the nearest thing we had seen to the kind of natural setting where the life of the church could become 'the Shared Life'. They seemed the kind of church structure which would allow the Holy Spirit the most freedom to do what He wanted to do in and through the Body." (page 131)
It would be very easy, at this point, to point out the many positive opportunities that small groups provide for mutual prayer, the use of spiritual gifts, learning together through Bible study, and so on.

But as Girard points out, what sets these groups apart from simple social gatherings is their intentional focus on discipleship. There is nothing wrong with gathering socially per se (that's why God gave us BBQ's), but let's not confuse that with discipleship.

For those small groups which lose their sense of intentionality, Girard offers this sobering observation:
"Whenever a group finds its oneness in the flesh (they meet together not for the primary purpose of knowing Christ better, but because they are friends) you can count on it -- that group will sooner or later expire. The flesh can maintain it for a while, but ultimately, the group build around the flesh will dissolve." (page 150)
By all means, let's celebrate and enjoy our friendships. Let's set aside time to simply "hang out" together.

But let's also be aware that gathering as a group of disciples is a different thing, and while there may be overlap, there must be a degree of intentionality in our purpose if growing as disciples is important to us.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pre-Missional Missional (Girard 4)

Bob Girard's Brethren, Hang Loose is almost a half century old. Not exactly what you'd call a current title in the whole missional community emphasis of today.

And yet Girard speaks into our present day, almost prophetically, calling us to think deeply about the difference between the church gathered and the church scattered.
"One of the more ingenious tricks the devil has played on us... has been to get us to confuse what we should be doing when we come together with what we should be doing when we go out into the world." (page 80)
It is fascinating to read that part of the "glorious evangelical status quo" which Girard was reacting to included the idea that church gatherings were for evangelism. In the 1960s church culture where Sunday morning was seen as the prime "soul-winning" meeting, Girard dared to suggest:
"Consequently, nearly every time he goes to church, the average evangelical Christian hears an evangelistic sermon designed to 'convert the sinner' (who isn't there). While, 'out in the world', he doesn't have three friends who are not Christians (a separated people)." (page 80)
A significant change that Girard and the other leaders in his church made was to view "the church gathered" as discipleship, and "the church scattered" as evangelistic. Simply put, they met to be discipled, and evangelism was the overflow of discipled people sharing their lives with their friends, co-workers and neighbours.

What is amazing to consider now, in hindsight, is that within a mere four or five years of Girard writing these words, the whole "seeker-sensitive" movement would begin to develop, essentially training thousands of churches to do exactly the opposite, by making the church gatherings all about evangelism.

Fast-forward to 2015:

Today, those advocating for the concept of the missional community would do well to consider Girard's words on the church gathered and the church scattered. Many people who are excited about getting 'outside the four walls of the church' can -- at times -- make the idea of missional community their sole raison d'être. There is no "church gathered" in the discipleship sense. For some, the church meets in order to do acts of service in the community, period. Anything else (like discipleship, small groups, etc.) is viewed as self-centred narcissism.

I don't think I'm over-stating it to note that some missional communities are structured and run as if it's their mission to "force" people (or at least guilt-trip them) into acting missional.

In contrast to this approach, Girard writes:
"As a pastor, I will wait for the Spirit to ignite the fires of such [missional] service, rather than resort to 'putting the bite on'. Because when helpful service flows from a heart saying 'Yes' to the Spirit, it's valuable, powerful, effective service." (page 160)
Girard reminds us yet again that, while we can organize and challenge and inspire and strategize until we are limp with exhaustion, it is the Holy Spirit that produces real change, real life, and real (missional) ministry.
"It is of greater eternal value to have the Spirit doing the work through the few who will let Him do it, than to have many trying to do the Spirit's work in the energy of the flesh, and then claiming God's work has been done, when in reality it has been mostly men's work." (page 167, emphasis in original)
If the church gathered is effective in discipling, people become accustomed to keeping in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25), and the fruit is missional service and spontaneous evangelism when the church scatters.

Can I get an "amen"?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Building Disciples (Girard 3)

There really is nothing new under the sun, as these quotes from Brethren, Hang Loose ably demonstrate:

"Every ministerial convention is more of the same. The pastors of the big, successful churches are there to tell you how it's done, how to organize, promote, advertise, preach and handle people so the 'you too can be a success'." (pages 64-65)
Bob Girard wrote these words 45 years ago; for the historically-curious, that's before Willow Creek, Hillsong, Saddleback or (insert your go-to example of a mega-church model here) ever existed or began holding conferences.

From this, we should take heart: the cycle of church renewal has been ongoing for many, many years. And 2015 is no exception.

If there is a growing sense of dis-ease with the current state of the church, that should encourage us: we are walking in the footsteps of fellow Christians who have gone before us.

The hunger for a deeper walk with Jesus -- even if it is initially voiced as discontent and disillusionment with "church as we've known it" -- points out the incompatibility of "success" with "discipleship".

Girard goes on to observe:
"I've never been asked to fill out a report evaluating the spiritual depth of my people. Or their prayer life. Or the effectiveness of their personal ministries with one another. Or their ability to permeate the community with the influence of Christ. Or the spontaneity of their spiritual life. Or their confidence and poise in the face of difficulty." (page 65)
When Jesus invited disciples to follow Him, "success" was measured by an entirely different grid:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:34-35)
There is nothing new under the sun. Jesus is still calling us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him. And the distraction of being "successful" (including but not limited to churches) is still lying in wait to trip us up.

It's all about what grid we're using. Or, perhaps better said: whose example we are actually following.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ministry, Actually (Girard 2)

Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Wikicommons)
As I continue to re-read Bob Girard's Brethren, Hang Loose, I find gems chock full o' wisdom like this one:
"The spiritual ministry of each individual member must be a spiritual ministry -- not just more involvement in the machinery of an organization." (page 45)

This quote really stands out because it contains a vital truth that many of us have a tendency to overlook:
People want to use their spiritual gifts in the gathered Body, not just fill empty cog-spots in the machinery.
Yes, in any gathering, there are always "things that need doing". That's inescapable. But what Girard is saying -- and I want to highlight -- is that "connecting" and "getting involved" has to be much more spiritually significant that just stacking chairs week-in and week-out.

In fact, if I were a betting man, I'd wager that more people would willingly pitch in to assist with the "things that need doing", if their spiritual gifts were recognized, valued and able to find expression.