Thinking Out Loud

May 21, 2018

Missionals Sanctioned Doubt, Today Reaping the Consequences

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:10 am

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – Hosea 8:7 KJV
The people of Israel plant the wind, but they harvest a storm – Hosea 8:7 NOG*

Between 2003 and 2007 the movement in the church that would sometime be termed emergent, emerging, or missional was gaining traction. While the first two terms sound outdated — and the critics still abound, convinced they’re still fighting an identifiable force — the third is more about evangelism and hasn’t taken on a pejorative meaning.

Part of the character of these movements was to embrace the value of doubt. We sanctioned it. My wife says “We glorified it and played around with it.” You were authorized to wear your misgivings on your sleeve, while at the same time still adhering to Christianity’s over-arching message.

Reading the titles of books on the subject shows three options:
(a) Doubt is something to be overcome (the classical Protestant view)
(b) It’s okay to linger in doubt, or try to reconcile (hold in tension) doubt and belief
(c) Doubt can have positive effects; like the martial arts practitioners who use their enemy’s force to their own good, doubt can propel us toward faith.

Certainly doubt is to be preferred over apathy. A person who can articulate their uncertainties is in a better place than one who is simply dismissive and chooses to walk away from the faith discussion. Doubt is often the starting point of many a positive apologetic presentation.

And we are all works in process.

But recently, my wife and I have noticed a common thread. We journeyed with many people on the road to missional and find that so often it’s the case that their doubts overcame them. They are far removed from the place where we all began.

Their views on Jesus and the resurrection have morphed away from orthodoxy. Like the attendee at the convention or trade show, they have walked out to the lobby and removed their name badge. They no longer identify with Jesus.

This morning my wife said, “I’m starting to feel like the last man standing.”

This is not to say that there isn’t an overall drifting away taking place in Western culture. (Ironic, since Christianity seems to be growing everywhere else.) Belief in Christ is under attack on all fronts.

However, if our anecdotal evidence is in any way relevant, whatever that was which took place in the first decade of this century, it was insufficient to stick long-term with some of those in that movement…

…These different movements can be a tremendous blessing. I call myself post-Charismatic. I still believe in the limitless work of the Holy Spirit and am grateful for my exposure to and participation in that movement. I would call myself post-Missional. I’m grateful for what it showed me about Christ and culture, and the importance of identifying the people-groups in our own backyards, and reaching out to them. I’ll even (perhaps with some reluctance) take post-Emergent. I’m thankful for the lessons in Ancient-Future worship patterns and the opportunities to try to introduce those in various places where I led worship.

The danger is always throwing out the proverbial baby with the proverbial bath water. That’s what’s gone wrong here. Instead of Missional being a movement to funnel in a broader community, it seems also equally capable of being able to funnel out confirmed believers into the secular culture.

That’s unfortunate.

*NOG=Names of God Bible (Baker)

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April 13, 2013

Book Review: The Faith of Leap

The Faith of LeapI am a huge fan of missional church planters Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, and even though The Faith of Leap isn’t a new title, I asked our friends at Graf-Martin (a book publicity agency) if they could track one down for me

There is a particular paragraph that I wish I had marked because Michael and Alan say it so much better, but essentially the message of this book is that local church congregations can move beyond simply gathering once a week to sing songs and listen to a sermon; and can actually team together in partnership to accomplish greater things.  This life of risk they call liminality, and the result is the church moves from community to communitas.

Late in the book, they also suggest that every person in every church can follow the command to “go” because “go” might mean “go deeper” into the heart of the neighborhood where that church is located. Either way, the book is a call to adventure; a call to churches to take a leap of faith driven by possessing the faith of leap.

…I mentioned that I was reading this to a local pastor who noted that Hirsch and Frost repeat a lot of material from book to book. This is true here, they do quote previous works frequently. However, I would recommend this book for anyone who has never read their material before, it is absolutely certain to challenge pastors, church leaders, and people like you and me.

March 18, 2013

Rob Bell Returns to Mars Hill Grand Rapids

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:23 am

To kick off his book tour for What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell returned to Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids last Sunday, and this week the sermon was posted online so the rest of us could experience it. 

Rob Bell 2013To his credit, although he was given complete freedom to speak about anything, he asked the church what their current sermon series was, and was told they were doing a “Seven Deadly Sins” series and if he wanted to jump in, he would draw the sermon on sloth. Yes, sloth. Nothing Bell has ever been accused of. He brings his own trademark stamp to this topic, albeit frequently returning to additional personal updates and references to his own enigmatic character.

He began with a story about failing his first attempt at a California driver’s license; the problem being his penchant for “questioning the questions.” Why does this not surprise me? Well, at least he’s consistent.

In the first part of the sermon, he discussed his recent journey; which I thought was probably considerate of people who have joined the church since his departure. If I can somewhat paraphrase his remarks, he stated that people want to talk about their brokenness, their personal struggles; but that as he was serious about treating these concerns the way Jesus would, he discovered that when we let these circumstances shape us, they become relevant to the larger question of what it means to be human. What next happens is that this type of discussion enlarges the circle of people who want to engage the topic, and you suddenly find yourself speaking to a much larger audience.

He also talked about the television project that he has under development and the live audience got to see a 90-second trailer for which we are at least treated to the audio soundtrack.

…I recognize that Bell is controversial and I don’t want to review the entire sermon — nor do I think people should do sermon reviews — so if you wish to listen, here is the link.  Just clicking the Mars Hill sermon page and hearing a Rob Bell sermon is like trying on an old pair of shoes! It runs about 43 minutes.

Also, I’m about a quarter of the way through the new book. I’m also reading another book concurrently, so this may take awhile, but I’ll have more comments next week.

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.

September 28, 2012

Giving Your Church What They Prefer Over What They Need

Matt Marino is an Episcopal Priest who spent 17 years with Young Life.  He dares to pose a question that’s being heard more and more recently,

What’s so uncool about cool churches?

[This is a teaser, you are strongly advised to click the link above and read the whole article, which has so far attracted over 100 comments.]

They ask for more and more, and we give it to them. And more and more the power of God is substituted for market-driven experience. In an effort to give people something “attractive” and “relevant” we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church. Here are the marks of being market-driven; Which are hallmarks of your ministry?

  1. Segregation. We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church. It started with youth rooms, and then we moved to “youth services.” We ghettoized our children! (After all, we are cooler than the older people in “big church”. And parents? Who wants their parents in their youth group?)
  2. Big = effective. Big is (by definition) program driven: Less personal, lower commitment; a cultural and social thing as much as a spiritual thing...
  3. More programs attended = stronger disciples. The inventors of this idea, Willow Creek, in suburban Chicago, publicly repudiated this several years ago. They discovered that there was no correlation between the number of meetings attended and people’s spiritual maturity...
  4. Christian replacementism. We developed a Christian version of everything the world offers: Christian bands, novels, schools, soccer leagues, t-shirts. We created the perfect Christian bubble.
  5. Cultural “relevance” over transformation.We imitated our culture’s most successful gathering places in an effort to be “relevant.” Reflect on the Sunday “experience” at most Big-box churches:ure.
    • Concert hall (worship)
    • Comedy club (sermon)
    • Coffee house (foyer)
  6. Professionalization. If we do know an unbeliever, we don’t need to share Christ with them, we have pastors to do that. We invite them to something… to an “inviter” event… we invite them to our “Christian” subcult
  7. “McDonald’s-ization” vs. Contextualization:  It is no longer our own vision and passion. We purchase it as a package from today’s biggest going mega-church. It is almost like a “franchise fee” from Saddleback or The Resurgence.
  8. Attractional over missional. When our greatest value is butts in pews we embrace attractional models. Rather than embrace Paul’s Ephesians 4 model in which ministry gifts are given by God to “equip the saints” we have developed a top-down hierarchy aimed at filling buildings. This leaves us with Sunday “church” an experience for the unchurched, with God-centered worship of the Almighty relegated to the periphery and leading of the body of Christ to greater spiritual power and sanctification to untrained small group leaders.

continue reading the whole article here.

As I prepared this, I thought of point number eight in light of my ‘online’ church home, North Point. There are only two worship songs, and further worship is relegated to Thursday nights every other month. But even those nights simply mirror what happens on Sunday morning, which is itself an extension of the youth ministry model.

Some youth are not happen with the state of the church, and are seeking an entirely different model, as we wrote last week.  Other teens and twenty-somethings are simply leaving, as we noted two weeks ago. So there are issues that need to be addressed as to the sustainability of the present models within student ministry; but also larger implications for an entire assembly or congregation.

Among the comments at Matt’s article:

  • Being hip isn’t the problem you’re addressing, its the lack of content which plagues both cool (too much focus on preference for entertainment) and uncool (to much focus on preference for tradition)
  • What matters isn’t what the preacher wears, whether there is coffee, whether there is a rock band or an orchestra or just a piano, is the FRUIT.
  • “Guitar Praise — Just Like Guitar Hero, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Praise Ponies — Just Like My Little Pony, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Testamints — Just like Altoids, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Christian Chirp — Just like Twitter, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “GodTube — Just like YouTube, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Seek & Find” — Just like Google Search, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
    “Johnny Hammer — Just like Justin Beiber, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”
  • Your biggest draw, which is providing a loving community where all kids can belong, is completely lost when your church preaches a bigoted message on homosexuality.
  • We assemble to worship, serve, please and praise God. It’s all about HIM! Not us. Smoke machines, guitars, pianos, lasers, and flashing lights? Why? Does this please God? Is it what he’s asked for? Or is it a ploy to bring more bodies in? Hey, I am all for trying to get more souls in the pews, but let’s do it in a way that doesn’t put make-up on God.
  • A good church cannot be determined by its “style” of worship. What is important? Shouldn’t a church be judged by things like its theology, its teaching, its mission, the fellowship and growth of its people, whether people come to God and become closer to God?

September 26, 2012

Wednesday Link List

We either start off with really serious issues and end with something silly, or we do it the other way around. Today leads off with the latter:

Okay, we need some serious links also, right?

Not enough links for you? The new Top 200 Church Blogs list is out.

August 25, 2012

Kent Dobson Succeeds Rob Bell at Mars Hill Grand Rapids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

First, Rob Bell was on the pastoral staff at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, working under Pastor Ed Dobson. Then he departed to start Mars Hill and as the story goes, launched the first Sunday with over 1,000 present to hear the first of a year long series on Leviticus.  Yes, Leviticus. For one year. “That’s in all the church growth books, right?” Bell has quipped.

This week, Mars Hill Bible Church announced that Ed Dobson’s son, Kent Dobson would assume the senior teaching pastor position. The Dobsons are both no strangers to Mars Hill; the elder often occupying a place in the congregation after leaving Calvary Church, the younger serving as a worship director in the church’s early years.

More details in this Christianity Today story.

Like the person he is replacing, Kent Dobson is no stranger to controversy as outlined in this 2008 local news story.

June 13, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Did you catch the weekend link list? Lots of good stuff there, and here, too.

  • First link today is long — I didn’t get through all five pages — but it’s interesting: When we think of unreached people groups, we tend to think of groups that are marginalized, but Eric Metaxas says we should also consider reaching the elites. (Hey, that’s easy for him now that he’s preached the Presidential Prayer Breakfast…)
  • Brad Lomenick Skypes with worship songwriter Tim Hughes in London. Tim serves on staff at HTB, the birthplace of The Alpha Course.
  • Really enjoying the Phil Vischer podcast with Skye Jethani.  Episode two is now available to download or stream live.
  • Shai Linne is a Christian rap artist who, “eloquently explains the trinitarian nature of salvation with poetic clarity.”  Check out the video for Triune Praise.
  • Revell Publishing will issue a biography from Patty Mallette, aka Justin Bieber’s mom. “…a teen mom who had to overcome a drug and alcohol addiction; she now believes God gives second chances. The book is titled Nowhere But Up.
  • The SCL’s keep on coming: Here’s 12 Signs You Attend a Suburban Church.
  • When Jared Wilson left Nashville for rural Vermont, he was told the move was a real career killer.  But, reminded by Tim Keller, we need to jettison the mindset that small(er) town ministry is second rate.
  • InterVarsity Press’ Andy LePeau cites a study that shows enhanced (interactive) ebooks actually yield lower comprehension.
  • Truthinator posted a “parody of Emergent Church Planting” at Xtra Normal a few years too late, but we through it in here anyway.
  • Dan Gouge points out that for some people, the final takeaway from the tsunami in Japan is that Maru the cat survived.
  • Marriage Corner: Some people feel that patriarchy is based on pragmatics: “Somebody has to make the final decision. Somebody has to break the tie.” Richard Beck thinks there are not that many tie votes. (See all submissions — pun accidental — in this synchroblog series here.)
  • Should you date a non-Christian? I think you know where this is going. “Don’t misunderstand me here. You’re not looking for a saint, but you are looking for someone with a hungry heart for Jesus. If that’s present, Jesus will take care of the rest.”  The reasons are practical.
  • Looking for a smile today? Here’s a video and some analysis of what could be the worst eschatological song ever.
  • Gotta go…time for some food:

February 15, 2012

Wednesday Link List

First, two strongly related links:

  • Author Mike Breen guests at Verge Network with Obituary for the American Church.  He notes three factors responsible for killing the church, celebrity, consumerism and competition.
  • Rachel Held Evans guests at Relevant Magazine with a particular focus on the celebrity mindset in the church, check out When Jesus Meets TMZ.

Other links this week:

December 30, 2011

Rob Bell: The Goat Has Left The Building

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:26 am

Rob Bell: The Final Word

No, we’re not calling Rob an old goat.  It’s a reference to an early sermon series on Leviticus that was also preached at Willow Creek, which is approximately where Rob appeared on our radar many years ago. A bit of an in-joke I’ll admit.

But on December 18th, Rob gave his final address to Mars Hill Bible Church in Granville, Michigan; which he titled, Dear Mars Hill and spoke about the power of a letter.  Just think, if John Piper was there he could have said, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”  But I digress.

You can catch the download from the menu of recent sermons at this page, or for all you non-downloaders who would rather see a .pdf file of the printed text — not to mention discernment ministries that might want a copy to mark up with red pen — you can catch that at this link.

To Rob and Kristen: Looking forward to the next chapter.

To everyone else: Yes, Rob Bell has left.  Really.  And someone knows this for sure.

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