Thinking Out Loud

January 21, 2013

Where Have All The Church Planters Gone?

Recently C. Michael Patton at the blog Parchment and Pen wrote about the decline of the Emerging church.

…[T]oday things have changed. No one blogs about it. No one claims the name anymore. No publisher would dare accept a book about the emerging “thing” that happened in the forgotten past. Why? because around the year 2009, the identity of the emerging church went silent and many (some, enthusiastically) put up gravestone over its assigned plot. In fact, I even paid my respects.

I want to look at something else that I believe is running parallel to the decline of the Emergents or Emergings: The decline of the church planters.

Church Plant

Church Plant

If Patton’s analysis is right, visibility of all things Emerging ran from 1994 to 2009.  That’s 15 years. One thing I really liked about this was the number of people who suddenly took an interest in ecclesiology. The number of lay people who were willing to step out and plant. The number of young(er) clergy who were willing to resign from secure positions and take church to the inner city or to new suburban housing tracts.

Patton is right to mention publishing. An explosion of new books issued forth from major evangelical publishing houses which were studied by people who had heretofore never taken an interest in how the local church functions, with the result that both clergy and laity created a host of new models many of which were customized for unique local needs and situations.

And at the same time as new churches were popping up in gymnasiums, restaurant meeting rooms and private houses, a movement for greater awareness of social justice issues was impacting the Evangelical community at large, with many of the new upstart churches leading the charge.

We had some friends over on the weekend. Remember, even though I live in the shadow of Toronto, Canada; our hometown’s population is only about 17,000. And yet, as we caught our friends up on the recent issue of alternative church movements in our location, we counted about nine different bodies which sprang up between 2000 and 2010 — including one each for both my wife and I — some of which are still going.

But lately not so much planting has been taking place.

Right now, the dominant model is to simply become a satellite campus for a much larger church. Rent a theater with a 10-foot (3 meter) dish for down-linking live sports and entertainment events. Or pop in the DVD or flash drive with the recording of last week’s sermon at the mother church.  No wonder some people — slightly tongue in cheek I suspect — suggest that in 20 years there will only be a hundred pastors in the U.S. with everyone else picking up a live or recorded feed from the host churches. (And by host church, that doesn’t mean megachurch, since technically, the messages could be recorded in a studio with no live audience.)

I miss the days of rogue church planting. Part one of the gospel is “taste and see.” Part two is “go and tell.” I miss the wild stories Michael Frost told of churches planted in west-coast shoe stores, among water-skiers on the Pine River, and over red-wine-and-pizza discussion groups hashing out religion, philosophy, politics and the latest books; groups which possessed more solid orthodoxy than you might suspect. I miss the emphasis on candle-lighting versus darkness-cursing. I miss the whole, “Hey, let’s start a church” mentality.

Patton might argue the many of the plants never fully ‘took.’

There was no runway on which to land and the emerging plane did not even have landing gear. The deconstruction happened with no plans of reconstructing. The emerging journey became an endless flight that did not have any intention on setting down anywhere. Many people jumped out, skydiving back home. The rest, I suppose, remained on the plane until it ran out of gas.

But then he concedes — and I’ll give him the last word on this — that the movement is forgotten but not gone:

But certain aspects of the ethos of the emerging church should be within all of us. We should never be satisfied with the status quo. We should always be asking questions and bringing into account our most fundamental beliefs. We need to identify with the culture at the same time as holding on to the past. I believe that Robert Webber, though never really called an emerger, was a great example of our continued need to reform. His Ancient-Future Faith was a great example of how we can hold on to, respect, learn from, and identify with our past, yet push forward into an exciting future.

October 16, 2012

The Continuing Disparity Between Clergy and Laity

When it comes to the availability of information and resources, these are interesting times. There is nothing that can’t be accessed, and as a member of the laity, it is easy to ‘pig out’ on all manner of commentaries and Bible reference materials that heretofore tended to be the exclusive property of those in vocational ministry.

Nowadays in any given denomination, it’s easy to find pastors who can’t preach their way out of a wet paper bag, and to hear as many stories about an absolutely phenomenal adult Sunday School Bible teacher with great gifting, who works the rest of the week on a automotive assembly line or is a cattle farmer, or sells restaurant supplies.

This week I was hoping to connect with a pastor friend, who mentioned that he had come down with somethingitis. I fired off an email joking, “Let me know if you need me to preach.”

Well, not so joking. I’ve actually done the Sunday morning message in his church many years prior to his arrival here, and for that matter, at six other area churches.

He ended up not being able to preach, as no doubt his somethingitis turned into otheritis. A mutual friend — who happens to be ordained — jumped in and filled the gap. I just chanced to hear about this yesterday afternoon on my way to the bank. After cashing a check, I walked back to my car and a strange thought hit me, “You’re not going to get those opportunities in the future because you’re not part of the clergy class, they are the ones who have the hidden secrets.

You know the hidden secrets, right? Well, actually you don’t; that’s the point. That extra bit of information that does not exist on line; the things passed on when you reach your 32nd degree ordination. They mysteries of faith that cannot be revealed to the common masses. The things not even known to that eloquent adult elective teacher.

That’s why the great chasm between the laity and clergy exists. There are some things simply too great — too lofty — to pass on to the rest of us. And that’s why the next time your church offers to help people ‘develop their gift,’ they do not include you in that gift-development if your gift happens to look terribly similar to their gift.

March 10, 2011

Evangelicals “Hate” Jesus — True or False?

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:30 am

While admitting to a rather provocative article title, The Huffington Post is either totally spinning a Pew Forum report, or we’re being told something that we may not want to hear, but need to hear:

White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Ouch!  Then follows a clarification; and at the same time the sternest rebuke:

Evangelicals don’t exactly hate Jesus — as we’ve provocatively asserted in the title of this piece. They do love him dearly. But not because of what he tried to teach humanity. Rather, Evangelicals love Jesus for what he does for them.

Read Phil Zuckerman’s report at Huffington Post.

Related: Read Daniel Jepsen’s response.

February 17, 2011

Musings on Muslims

I found it interesting that the following items arrived within a few hours of each other.

First, a friend sent me this link to veteran Christian composer, musician and author John Fischer’s blog Catch, just after the link list was already out.  He’s a great writer, who I encourage you to read regularly, but knowing the click-ratio, I’m taking the liberty of posting this so it will get read:

This morning I had the opportunity of hearing Dave Robinson speak at a Women of Vision Orange County Partnership Breakfast. Dave is the Senior Advisor for Operations for World Vision International. He has also lived most of his life as a Christian amongst Muslim people, and this is what I have to say about that: Why don’t we let this man inform our thinking and our activity towards Muslim people in this country and around the world instead of listening to a man who has lived in suburban America all his life and whose only claim to understanding Muslims is the fact that he is a popular radio talk show host? Why were 75 people listening to what the qualified man said and hundreds of thousands listening to the other? Why is fear more popular than reason?

Among a number of stories Mr. Anderson imparted was this one. In the wake of initial U.S. successes in Iraq, a moderate Muslim man said to Dave, “America is great.” To which he responded, “No. God is great,” which is actually a very common Muslim phrase of worship not unlike our Christian, “Praise the Lord.”

“Are you Muslim?” asked the man excitedly when he heard that.

After some thought, Dave replied, “I am a student of Jesus Christ.”

Notice he didn’t say, “I am a Christian,” which would have put him at odds with the Muslim man. Actually, Muslims are students of Jesus Christ too.

“Initiate open ended conversations that will eventually lead to Jesus,” Anderson said over and over. “Seek common ground even though the core of the message is missing.”

How often do we do that?

Last September, we had as global crisis on our hands because a pastor in Florida wanted to burn a copy of the Koran in retaliation for the memory of 9/11/2001.  Anderson said that had he succeeded, it would have ended World Vision’s presence in any and all Muslim countries of the world.

Seek common ground. Initiate open-ended conversations that will eventually lead to Jesus. Not a bad way to operate with everyone. Cast aside fear and get smart.

John Fischer (italics added)

Then, I received this report from my son about the Campus Church meeting they had on Sunday night at his university:

…Campus Church and the Muslim Student Association are having a joint event called “The Life of Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him)” where representatives from Islam and Christianity are going to present their views of who Jesus Christ was and what he did on Earth 2000 years ago.

In preparation, Campus Church invited a Muslim cleric to come to a Christian worship service to speak about Islam.

After a time of singing, the imam …. was introduced.  He spoke for 20 minutes and took questions for 20 minutes.  [He] claimed to be an expert on Christianity among Muslims, but he said Mary (Jesus’ mother) was a member of the Trinity, and he thought Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians.  He told us that the Bible is useless because it’s become corrupted by Hindu stories and theology.  He said that the words of Allah are meant to be obeyed and not studied, and that Bible studies amount to “pooling our ignorance.”

He left in a hurry after taking questions, during which he told us that Hell is a second test-life that, given indefinite time, we’re guaranteed to eventually pass and reach paradise.  Paradise consists of lots of good food and rivers of alcohol-free wine. (He didn’t say anything about 72 virgins.)

After [he] left, we held a debrief.  …[A] Campus Church member polled the audience and found that there was a mix of anger, resentment and compassion, because [the guest speaker] was disrespectful, but he sounded like he really did want to serve God, although he was seriously mislead as to how this should be done.

After this, [the guest] came back in and was re-introduced, but this time we learned his real name … he’s a Christian minister who goes around teaching Christians how to minister to Muslims.  He has spent years ministering to Muslims and Hindus and studying their arguments against Christianity (including their misconceptions about us).

…To communicate Christ to the Muslims in attendance, we need to be loving and compassionate towards them.  We also have been told to be quick on the Scripture quotes and know our stuff, but not to be argumentative.  The temptation to argue out of pride, just because we like to be right, is hostile to this event. [He] said that for every hour we spend studying the Qu’ran, we should spent four hours in God’s Word (which basically means nobody should try to read it through by Wednesday.)

BTW, here’s how the event went:

Tonight was the Muslim/Christian discussion about Jesus.  [The speaker from Sunday night] was our representative.  The representative for Islam …was introduced with an impressive resume of titles.  There was no violence, interruptions or raised voices…

…The details of Muslim judgment day make it difficult for them to understand the sacrifice of Jesus.  They believe that everyone has an angel dedicated to recording all their actions, words and intentions.  They don’t know until after judgment day whether or not they’re good enough to get into heaven.

The Muslims I spoke to were very respectful, and they were particularly respectful in that they anticipated us being equally respectful.

I don’t think their notions of holiness, justice and sin fit together.

And so the dialog continues.

Right now North American Evangelical churches see the “current issue” as the “gay issue.”  But we need to somehow get past this and move the “Muslim issue” –  our knowledge and understanding of their faith and how they perceive us and how they regard Jesus — off the back burner and more front and center in our church life.

The topic for this blog post is inter-faith dialog.  Please keep comments limited to that subject.


January 28, 2011

Friday Debrief

No this is isn’t a start of a supplement to the Wednesday Link List, it’s just a few things that deserved a larger space committment without creating several individual posts:

  • Darryl Dash highlighted a small section of the CT interview with Billy Graham on Tuesday; the section where Mr. Graham is asked if he would do anything different, and he replies that he would have spent more time family.  But tucked away inside that response is this revelation:
     

    I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

  • I’ve been checking blogs to see what anticipation there is for the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins, which I mentioned briefly here last Friday; and in the process read (and left a comment at) this post at the UK (Ireland?) blog Supersimbo.  The blog writer views people under 40 as
     

    “Jumping from one book to another, switching from being a fan of Bell to Driscoll and back again as often as the wind changes, treating our faith and beliefs like an app for our iPhone or iPad…..liking his ‘theology’ because of how its packaged and advertised!”

    The conclusion is that readers will miss the importance of the message of Christian universalism that it contains. To clarify this a little further, he responded to me in the comments section with a link to a Margaret Feinberg interview with Scot McKnight, where McKnight describes Christian universalism as “the biggest challenge facing American Evangelicals.”  He goes on to define it:

    Christian universalism if the belief that everyone will eventually be saved because of what Christ has done. Christian universalism differs from raw pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that no religion offers superiority in the process of redemption. With pluralism, all religions lead us to the same god and the same ends. The distinction for Christian universalists is that what God did for humans in Christ will redeem all humans, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, or atheists, all will eventually be saved.

  • Another Bible translation?  Yep!  Steve Webb is single-handedly working on a project called the Lifespring Family One Year Bible which he is releasing in sections online and in a podcast. Who is Steve Webb? That’s a long story.   Here’s a sample from Genesis 9:
     

    9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Reproduce abundantly, and be fruitful and increase in number on the earth.
    9:2 All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the air, all that move on the earth, and all the fish in the sea will fear you. I have placed them in you hand.
    9:3 Every living thing that moves will be your food. As I gave you green plants, now I give you everything.

  • Finally, a court has upheld the right of World Vision to enforce its policy of hiring Christian employees.This story is from EWTN, a Catholic news agency.
     

    In a 2-1 ruling, a panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to re-hear a case which charges that a religious charity illegally fired employees because they no longer agreed with its statement of faith……The organization said it terminated the three employees in 2007 because they “no longer agreed with World Vision U.S.’s statement of faith.” The organization discovered that the employees denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

    One employee worked in technology and facility maintenance, one was an administrative assistant, and the third coordinated shipping and facilities needs.

    They later sued, claiming their termination was an act of illegal discrimination. A federal district judge had previously ruled against the plaintiffs, prompting the appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

    World Vision praised the decision to reject the appeal and pledged vigorous defense of its right to hire employees who share its faith. “Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ,” the organization said…

    Similar organizations in Canada have faced this issue before, such as, most recently, Christian Horizons.

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.