Archive for January 2015

The green arrow is missional

I believe that John Wesley’s vision for the Methodist movement can be boiled down to two foci, or what I like to call vectors. When he sent his preachers out, he said, “You have nothing to do but to save souls.” This is the New People Vector that I dealt with in last week’s blog. It’s an exclusive priority. You can’t say, “use all your energy to save souls,” and say “this other thing is just as important.” But, there was another fervent side to early Methodism. They also formed small groups to nurture individuals to become effective disciples. Wesley taught his group leaders to ask, “How fares your soul?” This represented another vector, running perpendicular to the all-in for evangelism vector. The idea is that you, as a church leader, have nothing to do but to save souls, and you must nurture the people in your charge so that they become transformed individuals, capable of changing the world for good.

 

Both of vectors, new people and effective disciples, face outward. They share an opposition to the church’s default position. Left to our own devices, we would focus on making our own people happy and we would channel all of our resources inward, satisfying the whims of a selfish few. The problem with the New People Vector, is that it forces our shy and self-satisfied members to witness to their neighbors. The problem with the Effective Disciples Vector is that it asks the Holy Spirit to fundamentally change us. When the day of Pentecost came, the first church members were forced out of the safe upper room and onto main street. There they had to sharpen the spiritual gifts that God was providing and set to work transforming the world. Nurture shouldn’t lead us to cloister with those we know and sing Kum By Yah. Witness can’t be a matter of standing with other believers and saying the Apostle’s Creed.

 

The Effective Disciples Vector is missional. It asks:

  1. How are we taking scripture to heart every day and letting it guide us in our interactions with others?
  2. Are we praying with the expectation that our prayers will change real things in the real world?
  3. Are we becoming Christ-like in our compassion for the plight of others?
  4. How can the good that we do be measured, so that we set greater and greater goals for ourselves?
  5. Is the joy that we experience in our small groups leading us to be more effective witnesses for Christ throughout the week?
  6. Is our worship inspiring enough to overcome our natural timidity about religion?
  7. Is our gathering together and our organizational work being done for the glory of God? 

 

Balance in church life is the enemy of Spiritual Passion. We must be totally committed to reaching new people for Christ and be serious about becoming the best disciples that we can be. The Spiral Rule* teaches us that Churches that face outward go upward, congregations that focus inward, shrink downward until they become a selfish singularity. Often, those who call for moderate and balanced policies, really want to take the church inward and downward. Every budget line item should be evaluated on how it helps the church move outward into the community. A item on the church council agenda should only be given consideration if the proponents can state how this action strengthens one of the two Vectors.

 

Further, the four lift points for Spiritual Passion need to be kept always before us:

  1. Prayer with expectation
  2. Scripture with relevance
  3. Witness with joy
  4. Worship that is inspiring

 

* More about the Spiral Rule can be found in Reality Check 101, chapter 6. Spiritual Passion is the subject of my Ezekiel’s Bones book, available through www.notperfectyet.com 

UMC
Mark 1:21-28

Jesus is teaching scripture. Why? Jesus knew something that we have forgotten, that scripture can be life changing. He read the same words that had been heard in that location, every year for many years, but people heard them afresh. Geezers moved up front to hear Jesus better. Teenagers sat up. Suddenly, one of the trustees was on the floor, rolling, spitting, and shouting out, “We know who you are!” There is power in these dusty, old Torah rolls when Jesus handles them.

 

Melvin the Scribe returns from vacation the next week asking how the sub did. Week after week, Melvin carefully prepares his little homily at the Capernaum Synagogue so that it includes three cute stories; one about kittens, one about football, and one a rambling remembrance of his days at seminary. He hopes that these stories will make the lesson relevant, though they only bear passing resemblance to the week’s scriptures. They are like muppets pretending to be men. Then he gives a brief moral, like, treat people better, or, consider raising your weekly offering a few shekels. The real problem, however, is that Melvin no longer finds scripture to be relevant to his own life.

 

What gives the reading of scripture punch? Obviously, our belief that these very words are inspired by God, literally God-breathed. Those who follow Jesus’ example must wake up each morning and read their Bibles with a fervent hope that the words will prove themselves to be useful, and perhaps even transformative, in the hours ahead. Those who preach the word must believe in its inherent relevance. Only by application of scripture to our own lives, do we avoid the common practice of reading God’s words for two minutes, and then, grinding our own ax for fifteen. Stop looking for good illustrations. Preach the word.

Epiphany 4
Sunday, February 1, 2015
The Word, teaching the word of God
Our Vision must move us to include new people

“You say that we should always lead our people outward, that our vision has to be to constantly bringing new people into the congregation. Shouldn’t we balance this with our inward need to grow spiritually?” It was a good question. A woman on the staff of a large church asked me this after I had presented the Spiral Rule: Churches that face outward go upward, congregations that focus inward, shrink downward until they become a selfish singularity.

 

I answered that it is not a matter of balance. Jesus always led his disciples outward. He refused to let them become a spiritual club. In the book of Acts, particularly chapter 8, the Holy Spirit forces the church outward. The disciples tried to organize a nice little chapel in Jerusalem, and the Spirit allowed persecution and the outward vision of the Apostle Paul to send them to the farthest reaches of the globe, seeking for new people. On the other hand, Jesus was always sneaking off to the mountain to pray. Paul had three years as a hermit in Arabia. I wouldn’t call this balance. Instead, I see two vectors at play in the church, both of them are outward in direction.

 

The first vector is towards bringing new people into the fellowship. We have to ask:

  1. What kinds of people in our town are currently underserved or under-evangelized by the current religious institutions?
  2. What causes people to drive by other churches and come to ours?
  3. Who is God calling us to reach?

 

The second vector deals with the spiritual formation and the nurture of our people to become effective disciples of Jesus Christ. Its focus is missional and transformative. Serious followers of Jesus do real and measurable good in this world. 

 

These two vectors aren’t balanced in the life of a congregations. Effective church leadership requires an outward spiral that oscillates between the two foci. Further, Jesus seems to set before us the example of being responsible for our own spiritual formation. We must each guard our sabbath time. We must nurture the inward heart that fellowships with God. But, we dare not damper the church’s outward focus by fostering navel gazing. That way leads to congregational death, conflict, and/or persecution.

 

More on the Nurturing-Missional Vector next week.

Mark 1:14-20

There is a difference between our current culture, and the people described in Mark  Chapter 1. People today do not expect God to intervene in their personal lives, nor do they expect God or Jesus to suddenly appear in the sky and kick their oppressors to hell and bring his faithful into a new kingdom of peace and justice. We have become un-apocalyptic as a culture, in spite of social media’s trending of fake stories about zombies, ebola, and the muslims in burkas.  The hope that underlays Jesus (and John the Baptist’s) message is that God’s kingdom is near.

 

It is good news, however, to know that God is at hand, literally as close as our fingers. He refuses to allow our apathy, or our secret sins, to chase him away. The good news is this loving presence that is simply there. I spent the past few days in Big Bend National Park — a place of impressive silence. When the sun sets behind the mountains, and another day ends in peace, having been spent distant from cell phone reception, TV, and traffic, it is hard to ignore the quiet one at my side. The conversation on the lodge porch is in whispers. Everyone seems mindful of an ineffable spiritual presence.

 

It is also good news that when God eventually sweeps our current hurry-hurry culture away, we will have an eternity to do what is important, worship. When God sends Jesus again, the many injustices of our politically divided minefield of  a planet, will be righted. Multitudes will weep for joy. We will be ashamed at how many of these wrongs we simply accepted or promoted. But, God, and those we have wronged, will forgive. So, it will be good news.

Epiphany 3
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Sometimes we need to be awestruck
Churches that go outward go upward, inward facing churches decline to a selfish singularity

Science Fiction teaches us that when a space ship approaches a black hole, gravity becomes infinite, things spiral down and get worse until the luckless crew passes the inescapable event horizon. Many churches are captured in a similar death spiral and I am convinced that elevating Spiritual Passion is the only answer. 

 

 Seven marks of low spiritual passion are: 

  1. A reluctance to witness or share faith with others 
  2. A lack of genuine expectation of prayer to change things 
  3. A loss of interest in studying the Bible or expecting it to have truth that can be applied to daily life
  4. The inability to show any joy when talking about faith
  5. A lifeless feel to worship, even though the worship performance may be of excellent quality
  6. A disconnect between the work of the church’s committees and the faith that the church professes  (what we believe doesn’t affect what we do)
  7. A loss of hope for the future coupled with a reluctance to try new things

 

The four ways to lift Spiritual Passion in a church are:

    1. Cultivate a sense of  Expectation when the church Prays - encourage people to share how God is answering their prayers. Turn every church committee into a prayerful small group.
    2. Always link Scripture with its Relevance to today’s world - have those who read scripture also say how it links with something they experienced this past week
    3. Witness with Joy - Nothing goes without saying. Teach people how to speak transparently about their love for Jesus
    4. Worship with Passion - Make sure that in every component of worship, the emotional feel of the act relates to the emotional meaning of the content. If the subject is serious, then make the emotional feel of the act, reflective. If the content is about heaven, be joyful. Bring passion back into the practice of our faith.

 

For more, see Ezekiel’s Bones by Bill Kemp available at www.notperfectyet.com

Psalm 139:1-18

Life is, in its simplest telling, a journey story. This is why our hearts are drawn to stories like the Hobbit, the Exodus, and Homer’s Odyssey. Psalm 139 tells us that the journey has purpose. It assures me that [God has] searched out my path and my lying down, and is acquainted with all my ways. Such knowledge is overwhelming. Whatever you say about this Psalm, don’t water down the intense and poetic way it expresses God’s love for us as individuals. 

 

Our faith provides our life with meaning, by stating that God has established both our beginning and our end, within his great loving plan. We as individuals have dignity. Spirituality is an unfolding process of discovering that the journey in between has both beauty and purpose. It all happens for a reason.

 

Epiphany 2
Sunday, January 18, 2015
For more, see Ezekiel's Bones by Bill Kemp

Spiritual passion is the fuel that keeps a congregation active and excited about the faith it has to share with the world. Without spiritual passion, a church, no matter what its size, will either crash and burn or become a hollow shell of its former glory. Just as the body is fueled by a nutritious diet, so a church is fueled by a healthy, passionate, spirituality. 

Three Questions - One answer

Q1) What makes a church different from a social club? A: Spiritual Passion

Churches often focus on being nice, growing membership, and having relevant programing. We are just like the YMCA, except, we have a deep passion for Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives.

Q2) What guarantees diversity in a church? A: Spiritual Passion

In this world, community is usually formed around shared interests (hence Facebook). The churches that form their community around a shared passion for God, make themselves available to the Holy Spirit’s emphasis on diversity.

Q3) What determines the lifespan of a church? A: Spiritual Passion

It isn’t loss of membership or poor management that kills churches, its loss of meaning. Unless the congregation’s rank and file understands prayer to be effective, scripture to be relevant, witnessing to be the sharing of the thing they are most passionate about, and look forward to each week’s worship because it inspires them deeply, they will flake off to other activities.  

In Screwtape Letters, CS. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons veiw congregations with low spiritual passion:

“A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.” 

 

“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we [the demons] see her, spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”

 

 

Mark 1:4-11

Meditation consists of intentionally eliminating the things that are so familiar that we have allowed them access to our souls. Spirituality begins with naming our inner idols and the material albatrosses hanging around our necks. So, Jesus comes to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Then, he immediately goes further into the wilderness for forty days. These two events lack noise. They lack clutter. What specifically is missing from these two events?

 

Hierarchy - John says I need to be baptized by you. What would happen if, for today, the preacher comes into the congregation and says, “I need to be taught by you?” Jesus sets the example. Hierarchal structures are constructed to promote specific outcomes; in business, having a boss enables a group of employees to be more profitable. In times of war, having a general increases the chances of winning a battle.Over the course of our spiritual development, the things that hierarchal structures aid become our most pernicious idols. Jesus here, and elsewhere, reverses the master-servant structure in order to dispel its hold on our lives.  

 

Friends and Family - Both Jesus and John come into the wilderness alone. Jesus will exit to build the fellowship of disciples that becomes the church. Times of transition are often very lonely. It is in the baptism of solitude that we learn new ways to be in relationship with other people.

 

Money - This, and many other parts of the Bible, have absolutely nothing to do with money. Yet, almost every aspects of our personal lives relates in some way to the acquisition, spending, or saving of money.

 

Buildings and Institutions - Much of what Jesus did was outdoors. Paul did most of his evangelism out doors. John Wesley’s was thrust into his role as founder of the Methodist movement by his experience of outdoor preaching. We tend to assume that the lack of buildings in the Church’s formative story is because these things happened where the weather was nice. It often snows in Israel, Macedonia can be brutal, and England is infamous for its damp. Our baptism stories should awake us to the fact that institutional concerns can become idolatrous. Church buildings are unnecessary.

Epiphany 1
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Baptism involves letting go
Reality Check 101 has a three step process for healthy ministry

A certain young pastor came to Jesus and said, “Lord, I already know how to be saved. What I need to know is how to move on from this parish and find the situation that I really deserve.” And Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord? I am not your bishop. Have you filed your statistical reports? Does your church pay all of its denominational askings, and have you organized every committee according to the rules you have received? Have you gone to all the workshops, visited all of the shut-ins, and said the invocation at the rotary each month? “All these I have done,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, love your family. Take the time that you need to establish your own spiritual disciplines. Guard your health, both emotional and physical, and set reasonable boundaries for your workload. Give up on your ambition to meet everyone’s expectations for you will never satisfy them. Forget multi-tasking and time management, instead, simply follow me each moment each day, for tomorrow will take care of itself.” The young pastor walked away dismayed and sad for he was very ambitious and addicted to mastering his job.

Parable from Peter's Boat by Bill Kemp page 73 - book available from www.notperfectyet.com