Thinking Out Loud

December 6, 2016

Where We Left Off Yesterday

post-truth


Post Truth: Part Two

post-truth-bannerSo as you remember from yesterday, I was starting to write a piece for C201 — it was really going to be more of a scripture medley — on the concept of truth which is timely right now since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed post-truth as their “Word of the Year.” Previous year Oxford winners, going back from 2016 include: emoji, vape, selfie, omnishambles, GIF and at Global Language Monitor (some randomly selected words): microaggression, fail, hashtag, Olympiad, drone, meme… You can find more words in this Wikipedia article.

So I got to the point where I was ready to post some scriptures from TopVerses.com; verses like:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6

…and that’s when I start to notice that most of the verses posted — I had a few more yesterday — are all sourcing from the writings of the Apostle John in his gospel and his three epistles.  At that point I felt I should acknowledge this detail:

This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.

Seriously, I was indeed leading the charge for Christian publishers to rethink the convention of making John’s gospel the only gospel sold separately as an individual scripture portion. (The exception being the American Bible Society and its worldwide associates.) If we’re going to reach the Millennials, it would seem that Mark, Matthew or Luke would be the better choices.

Now I’m not so sure.

Which of course led me to yet a second postscript in yesterday’s article at C201, namely the whole similarity between the post-modern mindset and the post-truth mindset. I don’t want to sound like that old preacher who shows up at the end of the summer while the pastor is taking a week off, but it does all sound like ‘the same old lies being recycled over and over again.’ (Maybe you actually have to be an old preacher to have witnessed a sort of life cycle of worldviews.) The lies that truth is subjective; that there is no objective truth to be found.

So I wrote:

I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

But today, just for you, I’ll save you the need to click:

One of my all-time favorite songs is by 80’s UK mainstream band After The Fire (ATF) which also happens to be a Christian band.  Since we changed the rules here to allow video embeds, I realized it’s never been posted on the blog.  This song basically expresses the frustration that many of us feel when trying to give testimony to what Christ has done for us around people who grew up in a postmodern mindset.

“That’s good for you, and I’ll have to find something that works for me.”

But truth, if it is truth, has to be truth for all people. There cannot be a “truth for you” and a “truth for me.” The postmodern condition is, if anything, a quest to deny the existence of absolute truth. But if you’re flying from New York to London, you want a pilot who believes that 2+2=4, not one that believes that 2+2=5, or that there are many different answers.

That’s what this song is all about.

What kind of line is that when you say you don’t understand a single word
I tell you all these things, you turn around and make as if you never heard

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

Too many people try to tell me that I shouldn’t say the things I do
I know that you would only do the same if it meant as much too you

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

written by Peter Banks & Andy Piercy

 

October 28, 2016

The Four Gospels; Not the Four You Think

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

king-jesus-gospelFor years I’ve enjoyed reading Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog online, but only recently did I consider the possibility that I’ve been depriving myself by not reading more of his works in print, at least the less academic ones. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited is a book that recently underwent what the industry terms a “trade paper conversion” as did another title we’ll consider later in the season, A Fellowship of Differents. (Both titles Zondervan.)

McKnight begins with the thesis that when ask, “Have you heard the gospel?” we could be basically referencing up to four things:

  1. The Method of Persuasion
  2. The Plan of Salvation
  3. The Story of Jesus
  4. The Story of Israel / Story Arc of the Bible

He would say that the first two tend to overshadow the second two. He then launches into an extended consideration of the gospel

  1. as preached by Paul (there are reasons he begins there)
  2. as recorded or emphasized by the gospel writers (the synoptics plus John)
  3. as taught by Jesus
  4. as preached by Peter (representing the book of Acts, overlapping with Paul)

Throughout the book, McKnight uses the verb gospeling to describe the process of proclamation as well as the idea of gospeling the gospel.  You also encounter the word soterians, people who equate the gospel to a means of salvation. (Not the aliens in a Star Trek episode, as some of you were thinking.) 

With so many different emphases reflecting so many different doctrinal patterns, the book leaves some unanswered questions — this is, after all, a condensation of much longer scholarly writing — but Chapter 9 – Gospeling Today, is particularly helpful in our present context and builds toward the conclusion in Chapter 10 – Creating a Gospel Culture, where in five pages, McKnight presents his own summary statement of the gospel. The whole book is really a stacking of premise upon premise leading to this encapsulation.

For him, the gospel as the account of Israel’s redemption is paramount to any other consideration. Several appendices record the Bible’s summary statements of its gospel and analysis of the sermons in the Book of Acts.

I am richer for having read this book as it helps me to clarify what it is I need to be saying — and not saying — when opportunity arises to share the good news.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada for an opportunity to read this title, now in paperback from Zondervan.


Related: 2009 review of The Blue Parakeet by the same author.

October 23, 2016

Measuring Your Spiritual Impact

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:21 pm

Over the past few days I have found myself telling so many people about this audio clip on YouTube, I decided it made more sense just to post it here. (It was part of Wednesday’s link collection.)

This runs 9 minutes. It’s worth your time. It may seem to get repetitive about two-thirds of the way in, but hang in there until the end.

May 21, 2016

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

Today we’re featuring a re-post of an article which first appeared in April at the website I Already Am. To read this at source, click this link.

img 052116

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

By Nathan Lorick

Fifteen years ago, we were living in a less technological society than we are now. Blockbuster, the video rental market leader, was booming with thousands of retail stores scattered across the nation. Millions of customers poured in week after week to rent the newest action thriller or comedy. Blockbuster was simply at the top of their game, or so they thought.

Beyond the glare of the blue and yellow lights, something was happening that went largely unnoticed. A new company had formed with a new creative form of video rental that would push the limits of the norm. This company, known today as Netflix, had the right idea at the right time. However, for various reasons, the CEO of the new company wanted to partner with Blockbuster to create a new dynasty that was sure to take the video rental world to levels not seen before.

In 2000, the CEO of Netflix approached the CEO of Blockbuster and offered to sell the newly formed Netflix for a mere $50 million. While that number sounds large to us, this is a small investment for a major retail business. It wasn’t the money that caused the CEO of Blockbuster to decline the offer; instead it was because he missed the opportunity to see beyond the present market. Hindsight is 20/20. Today, Blockbuster is out of business, and Netflix is the largest video rental company—worth more than $30 billion.

This is a modern picture of what many churches are going through. At one time they were thriving and growing at rapid rates. Their ministries were effective in every way measurable. Things were as good as they could be. However, somewhere along the way, attendance began to drift off, giving became less dependable, and the influence of their ministries became unknown to those outside of the church. Simply put, churches were so focused on the present, they stopped dreaming about the future. They essentially became a Blockbuster church in a Netflix culture.

So what can be done about this if your church is in this stage? What is the key element to moving forward into a new season of growth and vitality? While there can be many answers, I want to narrow it down to one key element: re-launching evangelism in your church’s strategy. Evangelism is the axis on which our church must turn in order to see it revitalized to life and growth. Nothing brings new life to a church more than seeing people experience new life in Christ.

So how do you bridge the desire for church revitalization and evangelism? I believe this is found in three simple answers:

  1. You must create a culture of evangelism in your church. Church members must sense the need and urgency to reach people for Christ and recognize their responsibility in God’s kingdom work to share the good news of Christ. Your church has to create strategies that are focused on reaching the lost with the gospel. When this happens, people begin to expect God to transform lives each and every week. Creating a culture of evangelism in a church will simultaneously create a culture of newfound enthusiasm in a church.
  2. You must create opportunities to train people on how to share their faith and to engage in personal evangelism. People are eager to see God use them for His purposes. They genuinely want to see people come to faith in Jesus; many just haven’t been discipled in how to do it. When your church equips people with the necessary tools to share the gospel, God uses them to expand his kingdom. Once someone leads another to Christ, they develop a new excitement because they know they have been used by God!
  3. You must consistently dream about the future and try new tools for evangelism. In our day, we have more tools and gadgets to share the gospel than ever before. Churches should always evaluate what is out there to utilize as well as continue to be innovative in how they engage those without Christ.

The tragedy of Blockbuster is that they settled for being good in the present and missed the opportunity to be great in the future. Likewise, God has given us an incredible opportunity to shine his light brighter than ever before. I encourage you as a church to be forward thinking in how to engage your community with the gospel. After all, we’re not a part of a video retail business; we are a part of a worldwide gospel revolution.

used by permission | see more at the blog I Already Am

April 16, 2016

Rethinking Church Growth Metrics

Whenever Saturday rolls around, I always check out who the guests are going to be on Canada’s sometimes controversial Drew Marshall Show, which airs 1:00 to 5:00 PM EST and can be heard at this link.

Today I came across the name Luke Cawley who has written a new book for IVP titled The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians, and the Spiritual but not Religious and decided to check out his blog. In the process, I came across this 2014 article. His ministry context is probably different from yours: University Campuses. But there are some broader ideas contained here. You need to click the title below to read this in full:

Accountability for Evangelistic Fruit

…Lots of people feel caught in a similar dilemma. They want to hold themselves and their communities accountable for their evangelistic practice and fruitfulness. But it’s difficult to figure out quite how you do that without falling into the twin traps of either reducing evangelism to pure human effort or overlooking our role completely. It’s no wonder that senior leaders in several major Christian organizations have told me that they stall on implementing any kind of internal accountability regarding evangelism. If we don’t control the outcomes, they reason, then how can we make any meaningful judgment in this area?

Accountability and Evangelistic FruitMaybe you’ve had similar thoughts. If so, then I have some bad news for you: I’m not really going to resolve the tension for you. Assessing our individual and corporate evangelistic performance is tricky. There’s no simple way to do so. Yet we still need to try. One reason it’s so important is the consistent New Testament theme that when we regularly invite people to follow Jesus there will be some positive responses. Paul describes “the gospel” as “bearing fruit and growing throughout the world” (Colossians 1:6), and urges his readers to speak to others about Jesus in the expectation that these conversations will trigger more of the same. He asks:

“How can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them?” (Romans 10:14-17 MSG)

For Paul, the very point of telling others about Jesus is that they decide to follow him for themselves. If such individual decisions are not taking place—and if the gospel is not “bearing fruit and growing” in our local context—then we need to stop and ask why. Is there something we are doing wrong which needs to change?

He then goes on to give three possible directions:

1. Count Conversations, Not Just Conversions.

 
People trust in Jesus because they have heard about him. How many people on your campus are actually getting to hear—and talk—about him? Keep some stats on how many people stop and chat at Proxe Stations, how long they stay for, how many people attend invitational events, and how many are in GIGs. Figure out ways to increase all these numbers.
 

2. Conduct an Internal Survey.

 
Find out how frequently chapter members have an opportunity to speak about Jesus. Then, work out how you can help them develop those conversations into something more. A few years ago, I interviewed 20 students from our chapter and discovered that they each have a meaningful conversation about Jesus at least once every couple of weeks. They all felt that many of those conversations offered natural opportunities to invite their friends to read the Bible with them or join a GIG. They never offered this invitation, though, because they weren’t confident in leading GIGs themselves. This simple discovery helped me shift my focus to training the students in leading seeker small groups. As a result, a number of GiGs were launched within months.

It may be worthwhile for you to conduct a similar internal survey (face-to-face) with a sampling of students from your chapter. It could help you identify key areas for change.
 

3. Create a Story-Swapping Culture.

 
Make it a natural feature of chapter life that you tell one another when you’ve had a great conversation about Jesus. Swap stories about what happened. Then, pray for the person with whom you spoke. You could create a regular space to swap such stories during small-group meetings.

Each one of these can be equally implemented in a local church context and this subject needs to be top of agenda.

 

February 15, 2016

The Changing Face of the Global Church

“The Meeting of the Waters” in Manaus, Brazil: Two visually distinct rivers converge to form the Amazon River

I am no doubt a better person for the various books I have reviewed here over the years., but honestly, I’ve probably forgotten some of them. There is however one title that I still find myself quoting in discussions, particularly on the subject of missions, but often about the global church in general. 

Two very different missionaries are presented, one the author calls “Mission Marm,” the other is “Apple Guy.” Two vastly different mindsets having to join together not unlike the branches of the river above referenced in the book’s title. Reading that analogy alone is worth the price of admission.

This was the second half of a two part review I did  — here’s a link to  the original first part — of a 2010 book by Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church (David C. Cook, still in print). The book is based on what the author calls “The Global Church Listening Tour;” one-hour interviews with 151 church leaders in nineteen countries.



As Canadians, we often find ourselves despairing over the USA-centric approach of many popular Christian books. So one expects a book with a ‘global’ perspective to transcend any particular nation. However, in some chapters more than others, Kling would relate his findings to the church in America. In this case that’s a good thing. If the book were just theoretical it would not accomplish much. Some of the real value here — although it’s never truly spelled out in ‘macro versus micro’ terms — is the application of what’s happening globally to the local church; the church you and I attend on weekends. But then again, this is a very, very ‘macro’ kind of book.

So what are the seven currents? There’s a great economy of language in Fritz Kling’s writing style, so I can’t do this adequately, but here’s a few things that stood out:

  1. Mercy — Kling uses an anecdotal approach in this social justice section: a young woman who gives up a promising law career to work with oppressed people in India; a young man who is a native of India who operates a technology firm guided by Sermon-on-the-Mount principles.
  2. Mutuality — It’s hard to function in the global church if you think you or the country you come from has all the answers; and that bias leads to further believing that you (or we) should be the ones in charge. He also suggests that people in other parts of the world don’t understand our various debates about practices or behaviors or doctrines, since they simply take the Bible at literal face value.
  3. Migration — There are three issues here: Worldwide migration patterns in general; the migration taking place from rural areas to cities at a time when churches are fleeing the urban core for the suburbs; and the ministry opportunities that exist when you have displaced, and therefore lonely people all around.
  4. Monoculture — This chapter looks at the dominance of the English language as a symptom of the much larger, accelerating spread of Western culture, and in particular, Western youth culture.
  5. Machines — Kling begins with a look at technology as a tool in disaster relief. (He mentions a 2008 cyclone that hit Burma. As the book was being published a major earthquake struck Haiti.) He moves on to discuss the role of technology in evangelism, and backtracks to show how that motive led to some other technological applications now enjoyed worldwide.
  6. Mediation — Kling delineates several areas where there is a need for reconciliation and mediation. He notes this will be a challenge for Westerners to function in a world that has become, in particular, very anti-American. He speaks in detail of the conflicts that exist, “not between Muslims and Christians, but between Muslims and other [more militant] Muslims.” Kling believes Christians should be leading the way toward reconciliation on all fronts.
  7. Memory — Knowing the past can be a blessing and a curse, but in many places, Kling sees more downside than upside, with entire cultures having a depreciated view of themselves. Still, Christians need to fully enter into, understand and even embrace the history of the place where they serve, and from there aim to bring hope and wholeness.

As I originally stated, I still hope this book finds the wider audience it is deserving of. This is a book for pastors and missiologists for sure, but I think it’s also a title that business leaders, church board members and people who simply care about the future of the church should want to study.

January 19, 2016

The Good News and Bad News of Ministry Life

I posted this at C201 a few days ago, but felt I ought to share it here as well.

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from;

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

whereas today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. This weekend at church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t always know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (CJB) says,

…but where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

November 22, 2015

Door to Door Evangelism: Marginal Groups Willing to Invest the Time

Several years ago I met with a man who was a somewhat lapsed Episcopalian (or Anglican as we say here) who had been meeting on a monthly basis with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had a lot of questions about various issues, and so he invited them into his home and they returned regularly, staying about an hour each time.

There was a time when Evangelicals were very big on the concept of door-to-door outreach and visitation. Many a Saturday morning in the 1950s and 1960s might be spent in twos or threes ringing doorbells in a local neighborhood.

But as time went by, people tended to associate the “two by two” approach with only two groups: Mormons (LDS) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These two groups took ownership of this method of proselytizing, with the result that today it’s not widely used by others.

Before anyone starts dismissing these groups out of hand, I want to commend the approach for the following reasons:

  1. It’s Biblical. The disciples were sent out in this manner. I’m not sure that by concluding that certain groups had taken over this approach and the simply giving up, Evangelical Christians did the right thing. What contact do we now make with our surrounding neighbors?
  2. They deliver. If the last few years of Missional Church has taught us anything, it’s taught us the importance of being sent. So much of what the church calls “outreach” is really “in-drag.” Millions of people are falling through the cracks of printed brochure distribution or mall campaigns or e-mail invites. But it’s harder — though not impossible — for them to ignore a knock at the door.
  3. The people who this man met at his front door were willing to invest the time with him. On hearing that, I made sure that I took out as much time as he wanted. Fortunately, the phone at my workplace didn’t ring and no one else needed to see me. I would have given him all day.
  4. They knew their subject matter cold. He was impressed with both their depth and their passion as they presented answers to his questions and introduced their beliefs, and also how their various doctrines fit together. It’s important that we are able to do the same. It has been said that of all the religions on earth, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.
  5. They are optimistic about the results. I asked one Mormon missionary what would constitute the ideal “at the door” contact. He replied, “Someone who hears the message, receives the message, and commits to be baptized.” I asked if he’d ever heard of that happening all in the very first visit, and he said, “Yes, for sure.”
  6. They followed up. They returned to see him several times.

Hopefully through meeting with me he met someone with an equal passion for and knowledge of the true Christian faith. I encouraged him not to seek answers from the single source he has been using, and told him about a variety of resources available online. We continued meeting and while in recent years the contact has been somewhat fleeting, he always knows where to find me.

August 7, 2015

Life at the Church is Kinda Laid Back: How our Preaching Sounds to Newcomers

Two years ago we went on a farm tour. I think the purists among the farming community call this ‘agritourism’ or even ‘agritainment.’ The owner guided us around her property consisting entirely of one ‘crop’ a somewhat obscure herb that some reading this might never have had contact with.

As we stood in one place in the hot sun for nearly 30 minutes, and in the field for about 60 minutes overall, our guide was oblivious to any potential discomfort. She speaks well and clearly. She is obviously intelligent.

More important are two qualities: She has a passion for what she is doing. It constantly leaks from the overflow of her heart. And she knows her subject down the last detail. I can’t imagine a question she couldn’t answer.

In the church, we generally give high place to those two criteria among the people who act as our guides, particularly those who teach us at weekend services. The formula looks like this:

genuine passion + extensive knowledge = audience engagement

In most cases, the sermons you remember because you’d like to forget them (there’s a phrase!) either lacked passion (a dry monotonous delivery) or lacked substance (the speaker hadn’t studied or had no depth).

The problem was, the farm owner had both, yet in our little group of six, I’m not sure how engaged we were. One person out of the six asked several questions however; this would represent the 15% of people in our local churches that some estimate are really into what is going on and are committed to lifestyle Christianity.

Bible teaching and preaching(I should also add that both my wife and I picked up the parallel between what we were experiencing and its application to church life. As soon as we were out of earshot of the rest of the group, it’s the first thing we mentioned.)

Now, we knew going in what the subject matter was going to be. We just didn’t know how that would be presented. For nearly an hour in the hot sun, we were presented with answers to questions we weren’t asking, details only a solid aficionado of the subject would want to know.

Now I know how preaching sounds to an atheist. We weren’t dragged to this event against our will; in fact we paid an admission to be there. So there was some interest, but not in the type of things that were presented. My wife noted a couple of things that were absent in the presentation; I’ll let her explain.

If the medium is the message, is the storyteller the story? Our credibility is born out of who we are, and our storyteller told us a story that communicated nothing of herself, or any other people. She shared an expert stream of hows, of dos and don’ts, of whens and wheres and hows, of so many centimetres apart and deep and high, of percentages and techniques, of days and weeks and months and years – but no who. We were told that the plant was native to the Mediterranean area. So who brought it over here and why? We were told that there are 57 varieties of the plant, examples of each to be found in a separate plot of soil. Who created the variants? One little nugget that dropped was that her family had, until a few years ago, been market gardeners (implying a varied and multi-seasonal crop). She never explained how they’d made the leap from something so practical and communal to something so esoteric and exclusive. Where did this passion come from? There was no history, no personality. No identity.

So basically, all of our passion and all of our knowledge does not guarantee that our presentation will become infectious, or frankly, that anyone is listening at all.

I know that some people read blogs who are very distrustful of churches that try to make the gospel relevant. I like what someone once said on this: We need to communicate the relevance the gospel already has. I know in my own life there have been times when I was passionate and detailed about things that my hearers may have had a mild interest in, but I wasn’t addressing their felt needs.

Spiritual passion + Biblical knowledge does not necessarily result in audience receptivity, even if you’re the best orator in the world.

July 23, 2015

The Calvinist and the Altar Call

I don’t want to take a lot of time over-introducing the video segment here, lest I fall into the trap of putting some spin on it; but in this 11-minute clip there is a strange juxtaposition between the revivalism of John Piper’s description of his traveling evangelist father, and the context of the Calvinist audience to whom he is speaking. If your mind and hearts are open, there is a moment of unusual transparency here where we learn as much about the speaker as we do about the place of pleading in the salvation process.

This clip was posted (or re-posted) by Free Gift Media, a new resource I am just being made aware of. To learn more check their Twitter and their website.

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