Thursday, March 31, 2011

Loving Your Neighbor

I read a great blog post from Ben Stevens writing at the Gospel Coalition. His post, To Love Your Neighbor, You Must Know Your Neighbor talks about the way he and his wife got to know the neighbors in his new apartment complex. I liked the name of the post right out of the gate and apppreciated what he has to say. What I really liked was that nowhere in the article does it sound like this is strictly a ploy designed to get people to come to your church. Here is a snippet:

You cannot love your neighbor if you do not know that neighbor. Time spent with neighbors that does not result in conversions, does not result in spiritual conversation, or does not result in any greater appreciation of the work of Christ, is not a net loss. Let us be resolved to undertake this kind of work confident that it is a legitimate end unto itself, that our culture deserves our attention, and that God will call us to account for the time spent serving neighbors.

You should check it out, this is a great topic and one the church should embrace.

It’s Opening Day!

Does anyone care?

Ah baseball. The national pastime. A slowly dying sport.

I became a fan of baseball in my late twenties. Growing up I didn’t care at all about baseball. I didn’t watch the games, I didn’t play Little League, I was completely disinterested in the players. I started watching when the Cleveland Indians were actually decent, back when Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Robbie Alomar, Omar Vizquel, etc. were playing. Now as an adult I love to go to games, follow the season and participate in the occasional fantasy baseball league. I would also say I am a dying breed.

By any measure, baseball is rapidly fading in the sports world. That doesn’t mean it is irrelevant because people will still come to the ballpark and players and owners alike will rake in big bucks. That is true today. The future doesn’t look nearly as bright. Kids aren’t playing it like they used to and baseball is being replaced by faster, more active sports like soccer and basketball. The question is why? Why are kids not playing, why are other sports pulling away in popularity? Some of it may have to do with the relative complexity of playing baseball. You need a bunch of kids to play even if you aren’t playing with full teams. A couple of kids can play catch but to play baseball you need probably at least ten kids or you will spend your whole time chasing the ball. Trying to find ten kids in a neighborhood who a) want to play something other than a video game, b) are interested in baseball and c) aren’t already at one of the other activities today’s overcommitted kids are involved in is nearly impossible. You can shoot baskets by yourself but you really need a team to play baseball and that is getting harder to come by in our superbusy neighborhoods and shrinking families.

There are a lot of theories: inflated salaries, steroids, etc. I don’t think the drop in popularity has a thing to do with player salaries. I also don’t think it has anything to do with steroids. Players in the NFL make tons of money and certainly use performance enhancing drugs but the NFL is wildly popular. The fact that only a few times are really competitive each year is also pretty irrelevant, NFL teams sell out routinely even for really bad teams. So what is the proble?

It all has to do with a culture that is used to immediate gratification, splash and excitement.

When you look at the sports world, football is supreme. The games are events with tailgating, huge scoreboards, packed stadiums. The play on the field is explosive and violent. Because of the play clock, something is always happening unless a player is hurt or there is an instant replay being reviewed. There tends to be a lot of action. The same is true to a lesser extent with basketball, someone is always at least taking a shot. Baseball is more like a chess game: intentional walks, pitching changes, batter match-ups, throws to first base to hold the runner. This is also why soccer is not and never will be terrible popular. There is a lot of action but the field is so huge that shots on goal can be few and far between without even the hope of a brutal check or fight like hockey.

Baseball is a game that takes time, time between plays, time to switch pitchers, pinch hitters, throws to first base, all without a clock. It moves at a somewhat languid pace. It is a perfect game for a leisurely afternoon but today there are a million other things going on. It used to be that baseball was the only game in town during summer but now we have a virtually unlimited supply of other entertainment options. When I was young, there was nothing on TV during the day in the summer except soap operas. We didn’t have video games. Playing baseball was a great way to fill an afternoon. I didn’t play baseball but I would shoot baskets for hours on end in the summer (when I wasn’t reading). Kids today simply have more exciting, more immediately gratifying ways to spend their free time than watching a four hour baseball game or trying to find 9 other kids who want to play baseball.

The only real hope for baseball is the increasing Latino population in the U.S. Baseball has by far the largest percentage of players from Central and South America. How many NFL players are from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela? With some 50 million Latinos in America, they are the best future market for baseball to attract but soccer is a major competitor. For most American kids, baseball is quickly going the way of the horse drawn carriage.

Luckily for me, I still have many, many days of enjoying baseball ahead of me. With a local minor league team that sits a block away from my office, I should be able to get to a number of games this year and will pay modest attention to the major leagues as it crawls through the 162 game season from now until October.

Besides, if I get bored at a game I can always play Angry Birds on my phone!

Planned Parenthood: They are not in the women’s health business, they are in the abortion business

Representative Mike Pence wrote a great essay for National Review titled Battling Big Abortion and he lays out the case for defunding Planned Parenthood. It is a compelling case.

Lots of people on the left decry corporate welfare but are outraged when cuts to Planned Parenthood are suggested. The truth of the matter is that Planned Parenthood, a single organization, is the recipient of a substantial amount of tax payer funds that make up around a third of Planned Parenthood’s total revenue. It is high time we eliminate funding for an organization that is primarily involved in aborting children.

We often hear that Planned Parenthood is focused on women’s “reproductive health” and that attempts to defund the abortionists at Planned Parenthood are an attack on women’s health. Set aside the awful fact that half of the children murdered in their clinics are little girls if you can. The facts are plain when you get past the flowery rhetoric about “reproductive health care” and “a woman’s right to choose”. From Representative Pence’s article:

In 2009, the group (Planned Parenthood) made only 977 adoption referrals and cared for only 7,021 prenatal clients, but performed a record 332,278 abortions. In other words, a pregnant woman entering a Planned Parenthood clinic was 42 times more likely to have an abortion than to either receive prenatal care or be referred for adoption. Planned Parenthood recently made plain the centrality of abortion to its mission by mandating that every one of its affiliates have at least one clinic that performs abortions within the next two years.

Planned Parenthood is not a women’s health provider that offers abortions. It is an abortion driven business that also offers additional services.

An organization with over a billion dollars in annual revenue (1/3 of which comes from taxpayers) and is performing hundreds of thousands of abortions each year is not an organization that the tax-payers of the United States should be forced to subsidize. Every time you get a paycheck, a portion of your pay is withheld for Federal taxes and part of that money is going to operate abortion clinics. It is high time that we get out of the abortion business as a nation. Our ultimate goal is no secret and that is to eliminate abortion entirely but until that day not a single tax payer dollar should go to prop up the abortionists at Planned Parenthood.

Defund Planned Parenthood now!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interesting post on parenting

I read an interesting post on the need for balance in parenting as Christians that I would recommend to you. Check out Parenting on the Pendulum and give it a read. Interesting thoughts!

Speaking of haranguing the institutional church

So while I was looking up the statistics on the Southern Baptist Convention, I was reading this report from Lifeway. It was instructive to see that in 2009, based on survey results, the total value of congregational property in Southern Baptist Churches was….


That is a pretty big number. Even more so when you look at it per church and subtract out the churches that weren’t surveyed (Illinois: 1100; Georgia: 3600; California: 1800; Kentucky 2400). That leaves 36,110 Southern Baptist congregations and when you divide the total value of congregational property by 36,100 it comes to an average of $1,129,176.87 per church. Now again there are lots of churches that don’t have anywhere near that number but there are also lots of churches with a lot more than that. Lots of SBC churches are older and are sitting on pretty nice real estate on a large lot. If we were to sell our possessions, starting with Southern Baptist congregational property and distribute it to our brothers and sisters as any have need (Acts 2:45 ), can you imagine what an impact that would have on the church?

Another interesting number. Total mission expenditures in 2009 was $1,334,157,703.00. That is a huge number! When you compare it to total receipts of $11,912,179,313.00 (a number that doesn’t include California), it comes out to about 11% of total receipts. So almost 90% of all receipts in the Southern Baptist Convention go to pay expenses other than missions (no definition of that was provided). Of the money that goes to missions, much of it is run through the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board or other state/national denominational organizations which takes a cut as well. I think it is fair to say that less than one of every ten dollars in giving goes to missions work. That is pretty poor for a denomination that centers around cooperative work for evangelism.

Should we be planting or revitalizing?

I read an interesting interview of Dr. Aubrey Malphurs that Ed Stetzer posted: The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting. The topic, as if often the case with Ed’s blog, is church planting and Dr. Malphurs’ new book on that subject. I found something Dr. Malphurs said to be very interesting…

Why have you written a book on church planting?

Because of the state of the church in North America. What does that mean? The North American churches are in decline perhaps like never before. Eighty to eighty-five percent are plateaued or in decline. It's not uncommon to hear people use the term Post-Christian in describing North America. There is a growing number of unchurched people -- especially young people. At the same time there are a number of cults and religious groups that are growing. I've also observed that fewer young people going into ministry. At the seminary level my experience has been that not many who are going into ministry are thinking about church planting. All this to say that the solution is twofold -- church planting and church re-envisioning. And as Peter Wagner once said, "I'd rather have babies than to raise the dead!" While my ministry (the Malphurs Group) works more with re-envisioning churches, I believe that church planting is what God will use to turn the state of the church around in North America. And It's my prayer that this book will encourage this.

Those are pretty sober numbers in the fourth sentence and I think just from what I have seen, it is certainly plausible that 80-85% of local churches are plateaued or in decline. Show up at many mid- or small-sized local churches and not only will there be lots of empty pews, there will be lots of older people. In many of these churches, the focus is on survival, on maintaining the church and that leaves little left over for the mission of the church. If you think that is not true, look at the typical budget and see how much of the offering stays within the walls of that church building.

Here is what I wonder. With the vast majority of local churches plateauing or declining, which I assume is based on attendance numbers, how does it make sense to prioritize planting more of the same? In a town full of declining churches, why plant another one?

I kind of think that it would be more valuable to train men to become stronger leaders in their own church groups to lead those churches to start reaching the community. Bring men from local churches, regular guys who might not be official “church planters”. Maybe call them “church renewers” if you need to have a snappy title. Provide training to these men to help equip them to lead and serve and in turn equip others. The Southern Baptist Convention has a lot of resources, wouldn’t it make more sense to train a bunch of guys in regional conferences several times a year than to invest a ton of money to support planting yet another church? Why not strengthen and revitalize the churches that we already have? It makes sense rather than recreating the wheel yet again.

So why don’t we do this?

I am afraid it is likely because doing so runs counter to the current paradigm. Church planting is very chic right now. There are tons of books all over the spectrum talking about church planting. How to do it, the theology behind it, ways to be successful at it. Some people talk about planting “missional” churches, some about planting “confessionally Reformed” churches. It seems as if we assume that the reason the church is not reaching the lost is that we don’t have enough churches. Yet the vast majority of the churches we already have, and there are tons of them in virtually every town, are doing very little other than surviving and grinding out the basic functions of a traditional church week after week. I don’t think that tweaking the process or using a name that doesn’t drive people away (how many Baptist church plants have “Baptist” in their name?) or rearranging the superfluous details is going to make any difference for the long term, which means more than 3-5 years down the road.

What I think we need is a radical reshaping of our entire thinking about church planting and the mission of the local church in general...

- Revitalizing existing churches instead of planting new ones

- Equipping the entire body instead of performing for them

- Replicating the church instead of sustaining institutions

- Lots of small, local groups instead of ever-larger churches that draw for miles around

While I think that small gatherings in the house church type model are by far the best and most Biblical model to meet in, the reality is that most of my fellow Christians are not convinced of that. Simply wagging our fingers at them is not going to have much impact other than making us feel superior to them because we have it all figured out while they wallow in their ignorance.

I am pretty convinced that the future of the visible church in the West, especially in America, is a bifurcated church with a relatively small number of megachurches with name-brand pastors and high production values, kind of a regional hub that draws people in from great distances, on the one end and on the other end of the spectrum very small church groups, meeting in homes or rented space or small, modest buildings. As fewer churches are able (or willing) to financially support clergy, I think that the small, simple churches will have to rely on non-professional ministers, men with jobs outside of the church because they simply will not have the financial resources to pay a minister. Because of this, men who desire to work in vocational ministry will be concentrated in the megachurches that have a budget to support a paid clergy team.

I also think the future looks grim for denominations. As of 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention which is by far the largest denomination, had some 45,000 local churches affiliated with the SBC. Those churches reported “Primary Worship Attendance” of 6,207,488. That works out to around 138 people on a given Sunday. Now those are not exact figures because many, many SBC churches have far less than that and a few outliers on the other hand have thousands on a Sunday. Second Baptist Church in Houston boasts some 24,000 average attendees on a given Sunday and First Baptist Church in Jacksonville claims 28,000. Rick Warren speaks to crowds of nearly 20,000 and impacts many, many more. A number of other churches pastured by well known men have attendance figures in the thousands while hundreds of tiny congregations are fortunate to have 50 people on hand. At 138 (which includes adults as well as visitors and children) is dangerously close to the breaking point for a church to continue to meet its budget requirements and the future clearly is one of fewer and fewer church attenders.

The reality that is facing the church demands that we prepare for the future by doing what we should have been doing all along. Reduce the overhead costs of our congregations and free up that capital for missions work and mercy ministries. Eliminate the pyramid structure with a select group of professionals at the top. Revitalize existing church groups and refocus their mission to be equipping, outreach and replication instead of sustaining and surviving.

I don’t think these changes are going to happen overnight. I also don’t think these changes will happen by constantly haranguing the institutional church. I do think that these changes are coming and not only is there nothing to stop them, they will ultimately be healthier for the church and for the mission of God’s people. There is an old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Our church planting paradigm fits that definition of insanity and we need to start to effect real change if we are going to see the church in America have a real impact on those around us who are perishing every day without Christ.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is this the culture we want for our daughters?

I read an article Voddie Baucham linked to regarding the dating experience of young women prior to getting married: Your Prince Is 22 Frogs Away. I don’t think this is a scientific poll and the sample is pretty small but the results are kind of what you would expect to see. These are some of the key finding:

The average woman will kiss 22 men, have four long-term relationships and get her heart broken five times before meeting “the one”, a study claims.

The path to true love will also see her endure six bad dates, have six one-night stands and be cheated on four times before finding her perfect match.

The typical woman will have met at least one partner online, been taken on holiday by three different men and had three long- distance relationships.

One-in-five even say they have a child with someone else before finding their soulmate – and most have lived with two men before they meet Mr Right.

Huh, why is Western culture such a mess? Even if this is half-right it paints a grotesque picture. The result? The typical young woman has endured years and years of heart break and sexual promiscuity before finally finding “the one”. Likely their spouse has experienced a similar series of dates, one night stands, live in relationships and multiple break-ups.

It is sadly true that many Christians follow a similar method. Sure there is the added touch of sending your kid to youth groups and making them go to church every Sunday but the end result is pushing your daughters out the door at 18 to go find themselves and eventually stumble across a spouse. How many of our daughters go through the same horrifying process of heartbreak after heartbreak before settling down?

As Voddie Baucham said in his link, there must be a better way! A better way than throwing our daughters into a world full of men fully willing to use and discard them, a world where women finally enter marriage with their hearts calloused by the scars of our dating culture. A hard, cynical heart familiar with disappointments is hardly a heart conducive to a happy marriage. Some may say this is all part of “growing up” but I say it is one of the leading reasons marriage is so discounted and divorce is so prevalent.

The same holds true for our sons and often we have a double standard here. We must be teaching them that women are not merely objects be chased for gratification but image bearers of God to be respected, cherished and loved. If your image of women is formed by years of serial dating, pornography and the constant barrage of women in the popular culture, why would we expect our sons to be husband who love their wives as Christ loved the church?

It makes marriage harder when one or both partners bring baggage to the marriage from previous relationships. There are plenty of memories that linger in the mind for a lifetime. I remember lots of stuff that I wish I didn’t but once that gets in your memory it is impossible to get it back out. I am speaking as someone who started dating my wife when I was 15 and I can only imagine what it must be like to be in today’s casual sexuality and hooking-up culture for my teens and twenties.

I can’t recommend enough What He Must Be If He Wants To Marry My Daughter by Voddie Baucham. I review it here and I think I might read it again!

Deciding on the person they will marry is the most important decision your child will make and parents simply must encourage their kids to seek their guidance in this process. There isn’t a foolproof “method” for ensuring marital bliss but having parents help guide their young adult children to be marriage minded instead of dating minded is a good first start. We need to instill in our daughters that a guy who is not interested in marriage, no matter how swell, is not someone they should waste their time on.

The choice of a spouse is more important than where our children will go to college or where they will live or what job they will have. Such an important decision requires as much loving guidance as possible.

A great modern parable

Deconstructing Neverland: Possession with intent to distribute

Check out this thought provoking post from Bobby Auner. Once you get hooked, you can never go back!

Pastor Search Committees

I just got an email from someone posting to a mailing list, sent on behalf of the pastor search committee at a local church. It was pretty standard stuff but those job postings always make me ask a few questions…

Shouldn’t they be looking to their own men to recognize as elders?

If they don’t have any men who are ready to be elders, doesn’t that suggest that the last few pastors didn’t fulfill the role they are actually called to in Scripture (Eph 4: 11-16), i.e. equipping the entire body for the work of ministry? If so, doesn’t that bring into question the model they are using?

A man who has ties to the community he lives in is, not invariably but likely, more attuned to the ministry needs of that community and also that local church. A man with ties to the community and a job in that community already is more likely to stay in that community for the long term than a man who is hired from somewhere else and moves his family to a new town. Especially the church that sent the email this morning. It is a church of 130 people in a small city (around 100,000 in the region) where almost a quarter of the population is below the poverty line and the median household income is $26,000. Those sorts of demographics for a church scream “stepping stone church”. Churches smaller than this one in even less well populated areas are often either revolving doors for pastors or home to bi-vocational pastors.

It would be a remarkable change if local churches got serious about equipping men in their own gatherings for the work of ministry. If you have the typical pattern of one “senior” pastor and he leaves, it leaves the church in turmoil and adrift until a new guy moves to the area for however long he stays or until “God calls him” to a different, presumably bigger church. If however you have a strong team of servant leaders that have self-supporting jobs and one of them moves, the rest keep on ministering and equipping future elders and leaders. No need for pastor search committees and men surreptitiously interviewing with another church while their current employer is clueless. That wouldn’t solve every problem but it should alleviate the problem of organizing a new pastoral search committee every 4-6 years.

Elders should be recognized/appointed from within their local body (Titus 1:5). Everything that Paul lists as desirable qualities in an elder requires knowing a man, who he is, how he lives, his family, etc. and none of those can be truly gleaned other than through years of knowing him. The best interviews and sample sermon mix tapes don’t tell you about the man himself and whether he is a mature believer who lives a life worthy of emulation. Recognize the men God has placed in your local assembly as elders and if you don’t have men that are ready for that leadership role, get them equipped. Hiring a man to ride into town with a white hat to be your “senior pastor” is a cop-out and almost certainly a temporary solution. Do the hard work, invest the time in one another and make it the mission of every local church that every man is either ready to be an elder or on his way to being an elder.

Eternal damnation is real and because of that truth there is no room in the church for spectators. Every single Christian needs to be equipped and active in ministry. No exceptions. No subcontractors. No hired professionals.

(I wrote about this a few years ago in a post Home Cookin’)

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Reading Authors You Don’t Agree With

Check out this great post from Henry Neufeld from Energion Publications: On Publishing A Calvinist Book. Henry sees a great deal of value in reading books on or about different perspectives. He was musing about a book that Energion is publishing that looks at the missiology of John Piper, God’s Desire for the Nations: The Missionary Theology of John Piper. It looks like a fascinating look at a topic near and dear to Piper and since Piper is perhaps the most influential voice among the Reformed (at least the non-Westminster Seminary California Reformed), the way his teaching on this topic impacts missions is vital.

Henry is not a Calvinist, in fact I believe he is an unabashed Methodist. Nevertheless he found a great deal of value in reading a book about a Calvinist. Here is what he said:

Now my regular readers and those who know me will realize that I’m not a Calvinist, and that I’m likely to disagree with John Piper on many, many issues. Let me just say here in passing that the range of ideas that fall within the publishing mission of my company, Energion Publications, does indeed include both Calvinism and Arminianism. One of the problems I see in the church is that we tend to look largely at ideas we find agreeable, and to the extent that we look at other ideas, we look to variations within our own tradition streams.

There is value in listening to those who agree with us on many things, and disagree on minor points, but there is greater value, I believe, in taking a close look at ideas that are more radically opposed. I can find many variations in soteriology amongst people who claim the label “Arminian,” yet they do not challenge me to the extent that reading Reformed theology does.

I have started to find that as well. I can read Reformed books all day long and except where it touches the church or infant baptism I will find little to disagree with. A book on the five points of Calvinism is not going to stretch the way I think and in some ways I have found that at one time I fell into the common trap I see lots of other Reformed guys falling into, i.e. looking at every doctrine, practice, speaker, book, etc and asking “but is it Reformed?”. This mindset actually retards spiritual growth by ignoring the enormous universe of books written by people who are, just being honest, dead wrong on major aspects of soteriology but still have an important voice that is neglected.

I think we would find less caricaturizing of one another if we tried reading what voices we disagree with have to say within the Body (and read them without predetermining that they were wrong). That notion scares many people, afraid that followers of their theological flavor will be led astray but I am suspicious of any position that fears intense scrutiny and opposing voices. One of these days I plan on reading a book or two from John Howard Yoder and I know I am going to disagree with a lot he says but that doesn’t mean that I won’t learn something. Reading should be edifying and you can be edified just as much by those you disagree with as though who repeat what you already believe.

Great essay on homeschooling

Saw this essay this morning (thanks Russell Moore!) at First Things. The essay is by David Mills and looks at the curious response parents get when telling someone they homeschool their kids for the first time.

The response varies to the news that you do something still considered, even by some conservative Christians, odd, eccentric, and possibly subversive. Some suddenly furrow their brows and purse their lips and declare their concerns about homeschooling, less often about the quality of the education as about the children’s (meaning, in context, our children’s, which is, you know, really rude) “socialization.” I sometimes feel I must surrounded by fascists, such is their apparent concern for making sure our children fit in to the society as it is.

I am not sure that anything you say about your children short of “We chain them to a tree outside and feed them raw beets” elicits the same, immediate questioning of your parenting skills like “Our kids are homeschooled”. We get this all the time when we meet new people and they invariably ask where our kids go to school and we respond “we homeschool our kids”. We have gotten lots of variations on “What about socialization?” or “But we have really good schools in our community”. For some reason educating your children outside of the societal norm gives non-homeschoolers warrant to drill you about this choice. When someone says “My kids go to Millard Fillmore Middle School”, I never respond with “What about all of the sexual predators in public schools that keep making the headlines” or “Aren’t you concerned with your child becoming an unthinking drone fit only for service industry work?”. Even if I am thinking this, it would be presumptuous and rude for me to say so. Not so with homeschooling! I don’t really expect anything different from unbelieving friends and family.

What is troubling, as Mr. Mills points out, is that we have the same conversations with many professing Christians. The idea that perhaps sending your kids to be educated by strangers who likely do not share your beliefs, or at least are not permitted to teach as if they do, is not the best solution for Christians parents comes across as a dangerous notion.

Perhaps the paradigm we have grown up with is not a healthy one. Get married later in life once you have had your fun and travelled, have a couple of kids and no more because both parents work, go to church on Sunday mornings so your kids get a moral education, send your kids to a school system based on where you live (or move somewhere with “better” schools)to be taught by someone chosen by administrators and with no idea what their expertise and worldview are, make sure your kids are plenty busy with activities and extra-curriculars so they can get into a “good” secular college and graduate with a degree and a bunch of debt so they can repeat the same cycle for generations to come.


If you choose not to homeschool your kids, that is your call and they are your kids. Just don’t presume that someone who does is volunteering to interrogation because they dared step outside of the cultural norms of our secular society.

Meeting new brothers and sisters

I went to a nearby meeting of a small group of believers yesterday. They would certainly fall under the “house church” umbrella even though they meet in the rec center of a retirement community. I went with my two older daughters, not sure what to expect. I mean I pretty much knew what to expect but it still is a different experience. We all met in a common area, sitting in a circle. Several of the people in attendance played guitar and we ended up singing quite a few songs. The whole meeting was mostly unscripted, opening and closing in prayer and the rest of the time (around an hour and a quarter) was taken up with song requests, some Scripture reading and a few recountings of events in the last week where God was moving in their lives. The only real drawbacks? We didn’t eat and I am all about eating! Also there weren’t a lot of smaller children. I am wondering what we would do with the littlest kids. They will sit still for a while but eventually are going to get up. I think that will be a “problem” in any intimate setting where we don’t have a nursery to shuffle the kids off to. It still was a great group of people and we will definitely gather with them again. My wife and I are going to meet with one couple from this group (we had planned this before Sunday) later this week and we are looking forward to getting to know them more and find out more about their group. It never ceases to amaze me just how many people there are, people hungry for God and His Word and His Spirit, who are outside of the confining walls of “the church”. There are lots of people inside as well of course but we have missed so many of those outside because they aren’t where we expect to find them: in homes, in rented rooms and store fronts, schools and libraries. There is such a vibrant community out there! Not perfect people, not perfect groups by any means but people who are sincere and hungry for Christ. As we get to know more and more people in our community, my prayer is that along with meeting other Christians and being in genuine fellowship and community with them, we will reach the lost where they are and as the Holy Spirit regenerates them, welcome them into the community of faith. If a church group is not spending a great deal of time in a replicating and expanding mode instead of a reinforcing and sustaining mode, it will quickly atrophy and become just another institution. A church group can slide along on inertia and tradition for a very long time and there are plenty of those out there already that have virtually no impact on their community and little sense of community within the body. I say better an unpredictable, often messy group that reaches the lost than a safe and predictable group that is content with playing at church.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another interesting post on church planting and house churches

The M Blog: When do we start taking them to church?

Guy has written another excellent post dealing with the question: when do you start taking new Christians "to church"? It is an understandable question in the normal church planting paradigm but Guy works through a very straightforward look at what the church is supposed to be about and what a NT ekklesia should look like. Check it out!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Repost: Gospel Grocery Stores

This is a repost of one of my more popular posts and I think it really gets to the heart of some of the biggest reasons we have moved away from the institutional church.

An interesting story recounted in Total Church:

The Bible calls the church a family. It describes the church as a community that shares together. The church is a body whose members perfectly fit together. We belong to one another. Our friend's church was neither a family or a community. It had no vision for involvement in its immediate community. The truth is, it was not really a church according to any New Testament definition. It was a preaching center. You drove to their large parking garage for your weekly dose of religion just as you traveled to the out-of-town supermarket for your weekly groceries.

(Total Church, pg. 194)

That definition describes an awful lot of churches, big and small. We have had a similar experience in a large Baptist church in northern Kentucky. We sat in the same place every week, down to sitting in the same pew, and we sort of recognized the people around us. The people on the other side of the "sanctuary"? Not a clue. They were anonymous people in their Sunday best. We kind of knew the people in our segmented (younger married adults w/ kids) Sunday school class but virtually everybody else was just an anonymous guy in a suit or woman in a dress we jostled with in the foyer while collecting our kids from the nursery. We went there because they had a big youth and childrens program and because the preaching was consistently decent (unlike our prior smaller church where the preaching was poor at best, the fellowship was sketchy and the only kids in the church were ours and the pastors).

Why do we go to grocery supermarkets? Why is there a new Super Wal-Mart springing up daily? Because it is easy, quick and convenient. We go to a supermarket instead of raising our own food because it costs us less, it is predictable and it takes less time. Rather than work all week to grow, harvest and prepare our own food, we go to the store and get what we need in one fell swoop. I can walk into a store right now and in half an hour get enough food, in sufficient variety, to feed my entire family of ten for a week. I don’t know the other people shopping and I don’t need to because knowing them is irrelevant to what I am there for.

The church is treated much the same. We can get all of our religion in one stop and it only costs us some time and a check in the offering plate. I can go to one of dozens of local traditional churches on Sunday morning and drop my little ones off in a nursery to have a little activity but more importantly keep them out of my hair so I can “worship”. My middle school kids have classes, my high schoolers get classes with a hip youth pastor. My wife and I can go to a prepared Sunday school class and then sit in a pew for an hour, sing a few songs, listen to a prepared talk and then head out in time to be home for lunch.

Many (most?) institutional churches are grocery stores for religion. Quick, easy, in and out and plenty of different ones to choose from. This one makes you mad? Go shop somewhere else. Your only attachment is selection, price and service or in the case of a local church music style, preacher and denomination. It makes little difference to me if I go to Wal-Mart, Meijer or Krogers for my groceries. It impacts the store but only a little. There are lots of local churches I could go to that would be the same way, ranging from hip churches with cool music to somewhat more traditional, orthodox churches. No one would notice us if we were careful (although with eight kids, when we show up at a church it is like chum in shark waters and it is hard to blend in). We could show up a few Sundays at one church and then go somewhere else for a few weeks. We could maintain a great deal of anonymity beyond a smile and handshake.

The church should be more like a community garden and less like a supermarket. That might mean we need to spend a lot of time together. We might get a bit dirty in the process and there are going to be disappointments. Things might not turn out like we hope. If you have a garden and plant tomatoes, sometimes some of the tomatoes will have bugs in them or turn brown or fall off the vine before they are ripe. Sometimes it rains too much and sometimes it rains too little. If you go to the grocery store, you can pick just the best looking tomatoes and pretty much know what you are getting. It may not taste as good as a home-grown tomato and it might have been soaked in pesticides before it was shipped from California to Michigan but it is predictable. We demand too much predictability in the church, we want to know when to show up, what to expect and in what order. Deviate from the “order of worship” in the bulletin and people will be in mass confusion. Lots of people defend the institutional church by pointing it out that it is full of imperfect people but we try to make the gathering of the church as homogenous and easy as possible.

Gardening is hard work, dirty and unpredictable but the rewards are often wonderfully and immeasurably better than “store bought” produce. The church works in much the same way. Unplanned and unscripted is scary because you don’t know what you might get but I would much rather have somebody stumble over a thought or endure periods of silence than sit through another carefully scripted service designed to deliver the maximum religion for the minimum cost. The church is not something we can cram into a couple of hours a week and the goal of church should not be to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can mark a check box on our religion shopping list. Sermon? Check. Singing at least three songs? Check. Shaking the preachers hand? Check. Out at noon and lunch away from the rest of the church by 12:30? Check.

The church is not a list to be completed, it is a life to be lived with one another.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Intellectual versus practical universalism

Watch this interesting video from David Platt...

Do We Really Believe What We're Saying? from The Church at Brook Hills on Vimeo.

I think he makes an important point. We can reject the doctrine of universalism but act in our own lives in a way that implies universalism. What do you think?

A Body that looks like His Body

The Church of Isaiah 53 | Grace Ground

Thought provoking post from Jeremy Myers. Why do we try to dress up the church? Who are we trying to impress?

Dear House Church People: Grow Up or become a cult!

Oh Les, shame on you. Linking me to that post.

So anyhoo, like a moth to a flame I read a link posted on these hallowed pages and came across what can only be described as an arrogant, condescending cheap shot at house churches (or more correctly anyone who rejects the institutional church, however that ends up looking). Me being me I left a brief comment that expressed what can only be described as slight irritation at the presumption of the writer. Here on my turf though, I feel perfectly at ease in dismantling the entire post. This is a repost from the webpage of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by Pastor Christian M. McShaffrey of Grace Reformed Church in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. I wonder if Pastor McShaffrey has read anything written by people in the "house church movement" or if he is basing his critique on Why We Love The Church? He offers no citations so I can't really tell.

Here is what gets me even more riled up. I just yesterday posted about my sincere hopes that there might be some signs of hope in the institutional church. Then I read this and it reminds me that many, many people in the church are more concerned with propping up institutions and perpetuating the traditional framework than they are with engaging in honest reflection of the traditions that we read the Scriptures through. Let's begin...

As the modern “home church” movement continues to gain momentum and threaten the peace and unity of congregations in every denomination, it behooves all who love Christ’s church to speak the truth in love to home church advocates.

“Truth in love” is code for "I am about to blast you but I want it to sound pious", which in this case means telling house church folks how grievously in error and how divisive they are and accuse them of being weak in the faith or rebellious. I would note as a caution here that if your advocacy of house churches or if your rejection of the institutional church is divisive, that is not OK and it is easy to slip into that mode. Onward...

If by “home churching” a person simply means that his congregation meets in someone’s house, then we must regard this as a perfectly acceptable practice and perhaps even preferable if the congregation is small and struggling financially.

However, if by “home churching” that person means that he has abandoned the “institutional church” and has begun to assume the prerogatives or exercise the functions of the special officers of the church (pastor, elder, or deacon), then he is in serious error.

This is instructive. The so-called officers of the church hold special privileges that not only are exclusive but privileges that are forbidden to the “laity”. In other words, the special functions of the church (which are unnamed here) must be restricted to those who have particular titles. I would assume this includes preaching the Gospel (i.e. sermons) which is never restricted to "officers", “administering the Lord’s Supper” which of course likewise is never restricted to “special officers" or even mentioned in conjunction with church officers and baptism, again never linked or restricted to elders, deacons or pastors. Of course I reject the notion of pastors and elders being separate but I digress.

Before you judge a home church advocate, you need to examine yourself and your own local congregation to make sure that you are not guilty of the same shortcomings and sins that have led so many to leave the institutional church in recent years (see Matt. 7:1-5).

Does your local congregation at all resemble the church described in Acts 2:40-47? Do you at all resemble those early Christians who loved each other, shared their possessions, and enjoyed daily fellowship with gladness and simplicity of heart? If not, then you can probably learn as much from the home church advocate as he can learn from you.

In all your discussions, be careful not to pronounce on the matter before you understand the home church advocate’s reasons for leaving the institutional church (see Prov. 18:13; John 7:24)

Well that sounds nice. At least ask before you start condemning those who reject or question the institutional church! It would be nicer if it wasn’t followed by this:

It is only by careful listening that you will know whether you should (1) warn him about the dangers of his ecclesiastical rebellion, (2) comfort him as one who has lost heart, or (3) uphold him as one who is simply weak in the faith. In any case, be patient with all (1 Thess. 5:14).

Oh. So the only real reason to listen to someone is not to learn anything other than which of the three errors they are guilty of, because of course option 4 (they might be right!) is unthinkable. So to summarize, if you question or leave the institutional church you are one of three things: a) a rebel, b) someone who has lost heart or c) weak in the faith. No chance whatsoever that you might actually have earnestly studied the Scriptures, held the institutional church up to the light of the Word and found our cherished institutional traditions to be in error.

Most home church advocates honestly love the Bible and earnestly desire to do what it says. All you need to do is help them realize what it actually does say.

Again, your average home church advocate loves the picture of the infant church that is found in Acts 2, and this is both natural and good.

What you need to do is to show him how that newborn church eventually grew up into the presbyterian-looking institution that is pictured later in Acts 15 and in the Pastoral Epistles.

I straight up lol'd at that. Silly us, reading Acts 15 and not seeing the clear picture of a Presbyterian church government! No way you read Acts 15 and see a major doctrinal council being held on a key issue of the Gospel ministry, a meeting where Paul, James and Peter were in attendance and making a ruling with the leadership of three of the main leaders of the church, not just then but for all time. It is clearly just like a meeting of a Presbytery in Peoria. Maybe….maybe the church we see in Acts 2 and the church we see in Acts 15 are…THE SAME CHURCH! Maybe the church we see in 1 Corinthians 14 and Acts 20:7-12 are THE SAME CHURCH as the church we see in Acts 2 and Acts 15!

Don’t worry though, Pastor McShaffrey is confident that all house churches will eventually end up in one of two ways:

If you are unable to convince your home-churching friend to come back into Christ’s earthly and institutional kingdom, then just be patient, for one of two things will inevitably happen:

The home church will eventually evolve into a “real church,” which is biblically ordered and governed. In this case, you can praise God that the church has been propagated in fulfillment of Christ’s promise.

The home church will eventually devolve into a cultish group of arrogant and disgruntled people, whom you would not want in your congregation anyway. In this case, you can praise God that the church has been protected in fulfillment of Christ’s promise.

That is quite an either-or you have there Pastor! Either you grow up and become a “real” church (which I assume is a Presbyterian church) or you devolve into a cult. Ironic that in an essay dripping with condescension and arrogance he castigates persistent house church folks as devolving into an arrogant and disgruntled cult. Good thing God is gonna protect the church from people who question religious traditions! I don’t suppose anyone can point to an example of house churches that a) didn’t grow up and become “real churches” or b) devolve into a cult?

Posts like this and books like Why We Love The Church are marked by an overt condescension but underlying that condescension is fear. Fear of change, fear of abandoning our cherished traditions, fear that maybe the system we have supported for our entire life might not only not be healthy but actually have hampered the growth of disciple making for centuries. Fear of the unknown is very unsettling. Embracing the status quo is comfortable. I would hope that Pastor McShaffery can actually meet some folks who meet outside of the confines of the institutional church and find that they are Bible loving, Christ loving, doctrinal sound people who are trying earnestly to live as Christ would have us, not because we are anti-authority rebels or disgruntled cultist, but because we love Him and we love one another. Love like that is nothing to be afraid of and believers like that are not people to be feared or slandered.

By the way, stop over the post The Home Church Movement and engage in the soon to be spirited conversation.

Must elders be married?

Interesting question Al Mohler tackles. He says yes. Of course looks at the question through the eyes of the traditional church, i.e. the “Pastoral” epistles speak of elders but that really means professional, seminary trained ministers, but the question is a fascinating and fun one. It also helps to frame our thinking of what an elder looks like

Being a husband, a father and managing your household well are important traits to be desired in an elder. Can a single guy who lives a spartan life in an apartment with no wife and no kids fit the bill? Can he lead others by the example of his life without a wife and children?

It is an interesting question. What do you think?

What are my Reformed brothers going to do?

What happens when Rob Bell fades away into obscurity as he invariably will or the emerging church movement completely dies off? Who is going to be the target of our wrath, the bogeyman that every problem in society and especially every problem in the church can be blamed on? What will we do?

Perhaps one day, when those windmills have been thoroughly tilted, my Reformed brothers and I can turn our discerning gaze upon our own house and see the problems we have inherited, created and embraced for five hundred years: institutionalism, hierarchicalism, clericalism, ritualism. The generally unloving manner in which we treat and even refer to brothers in Christ. Our determination to win theological battles on the internet instead of feeding the poor. Our drive to win Christians to Reformed theology instead of winning lost people to Christ.

If that day came, we could clean our own house, cast out our own idols and remove every barrier that we have erected that impedes us from following Christ.


Don't worry, we can always find a new target to keep our attention away from the problems in our own house. We'll always have the Anabaptists to kick around!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is Radical Together the catalyst for change in the institutional church?

Many Christians, myself included, have come to the realization that something is, for lack of a better word, drastically wrong in the institutional church. We come to this realization by different paths but generally speaking what unites us is comparing the traditional church with the church as described and commanded in Scripture and recognizing that there is a huge gap. That gap has been around in various forms for over 1500 years and we just don’t seem able or willing to bridge it. In a lot of corners of the church, it is forbidden to even speak of it. The institutional emperor has no clothes but woe unto the Christian who points it out.

Typically the response of those who come to this point of view manifests itself in a gradual disentangling from the institutional church. Often there is an attempt to see change happen within the structure of the institutional church, an attempt that is both frustrating for the person trying to get a message across and viewed as divisive and threatening by those who are committed to the institutional model. In frustration the questioner leaves the institutional church behind and sets out to find organic/simple/home church somewhere else with varying degrees of success. The only interaction many of us have with the traditional church and the vast majority of Christians who are in it are equal parts “beating head against the wall” with our friends and lengthy and impassioned critiques detailing why the institutional church is wrong. While some people are convicted and “join the cause”, many more see us as malcontents that just need to either go away or shut up and sit down in their pew.

As I continue to think about David Platt’s book Radical Together, I wonder if his is the better method when compared to voting with our feet? He seems to “get” a lot of the issues in the church: our overreliance on clergy, our love of self-sustaining programs, our tendency to confuse The Church with “the place I go on Sunday”, our love of money and our relative lack of concern for the lost except as lip-service. This recognition leads to a ministry model that looks in some ways like most traditional churches but operates in a, well, radical way.

Is Platt’s approach a way to enact real, substantive change through the backdoor rather than impacting the church by walking out of the front door?

Ultimately I don’t think that it is the answer for many of us. Just speaking for myself and my family, we have a hard time sitting through a traditional “worship service”. To be blunt, the rigidity, the rows of people sitting mutely while someone else prays or speaks, the whole performance mentality of it all makes the institutional church untenable and change like the ones David Platt is championing must come from the leaders of a given local church. This is problematic because again asking questions and seeking change from a regular layperson is going to be labeled divisive, anti-authoritarian and dangerous.

However, for those who are unwilling to completely abandon the institutional church, David’s “Radical Together” approach has a great deal of merit. It moves the focus away from the church building, church programs, church meetings and church leaders and onto the Body of Christ. Evangelism doesn’t mean inviting someone to church to hear a sermon, it means sharing your faith. Ministry opportunities are not based on the churches schedule of events, they are everywhere and all around you. You can serve others without getting permission from the pastor. It all depends, as everything really does in the institutional church, on the leaders buying into the idea and passing that on. Sadly, a lot of people in a given church are not going to like this. At all. I have no doubt that people have abandoned Brook Hills where David Platt pastors because they don’t like someone shaking up church as they know it. Many clergy leaders are going to see this as a threat to the churches finances and by proxy their own finances. Giving up control is seen as a sure path to heresy and confusion. So following the Radical Together model is not going to work in many (most?) local churches. It is perhaps going to lead to some institutional churches that actually leverage the benefits of large groups of people and full-time leaders to multiply their Kingdom impact way beyond what you normally find in a traditional church.

While I am all for making new disciples and seeing those disciples gather as the church in a simple, “organic” fashion I am not at all interested in knocking the dust off my sandals at the door of the traditional church and abandoning the vast majority of my brothers and sisters. Nor am I interested in gritting my teeth and sitting in a traditional church service. Books like Radical Together and Jim Belcher’s Deep Church are forays into the bastion of institutionalism that might start to bridge the gap between these camps, camps that are increasingly defining the church between “traditional” and “non-traditional” settings at the same time the traditional church is dividing into "For Rob Bell" and "Against Rob Bell" factions. Radical Together is hampered, necessarily, by operating within an institutional framework but it may present the best hope for the vast majority of Christians in that setting to get involved in the work of ministry directly and that can only be beneficial to the mission of the church.

I truly believe that as people are empowered and encouraged to not only minister outside of the walls of the church building but also to study the Word, they will naturally come to the conclusion many of us have reached regarding the church. But even if they don’t, I would much rather see Christians in institutional churches being equipped and empowered to do the work of ministry than I would sullenly keep pointing out the flaws of institutionalism. I think that men like David Platt and Jim Belcher can be a catalyst for that change. It isn’t as much of a change as I would like to see but all real reformations have to start somewhere.

Make disciples, the churches will plant themselves

My friend Kevin Abbott has a couple of blog posts for our local community to serve as a place for those of us in northeast Indiana to have an ongoing conversation about house church or simple church, whatever you want to call it. There is a post he just put out, How To Start A House Church, that started off with a fascinating and completely counter-cultural way to look at “church planting”

First I want to say that church planting is way overemphasized in our culture. We should be aggressive in making disciples and passive in church planting. Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19), but said that He would build His church (Matt 16:18) by being the one who “added to their number” (Acts 2:47, 5:14). So our focus in house church planting should be developing relationships as a foundation and allowing God to draw people together. It took a couple years for this to soak in to my head. Don’t just breeze over this ... ponder it.

I think this is a fascinating way to look at the concept of church planting. We often see church planting like this: we identify an area that needs a church (or at least needs “the right kind of church”), we identify someone as a church planter (normally a ministry professional who is “qualified” to plant a church), establish and market the new church plant and finally start to “do church” the way every other church does it. The concept Kevin is advocating focuses on disciple making with the understanding that disciples of Christ will naturally gather together, that more mature leaders will step up and disciple newer believers and that as believers are equipped and discipled, they will in turn make new disciples and replicate the whole process.

What do you think about this? Is the whole notion of “church planters” planting churches getting the order/priority backwards? Is this the right approach or do you see some potential pitfalls here? What is the role of church planters or apostolic workers in the task of making disciples and seeing self-replicating churches formed?

Very exciting questions to be asked and the answers ought to drive us to action.

Where Al Mohler and I agree with Brian McLaren

In a response to Al Mohler's critique of Rob Bell's Love Wins, Brian McLaren makes this statement in his essay Will "Love Wins" Win? We're early in the first inning ... :

To more and more of us these days, conservative Evangelical/fundamentalist theology looks and sounds more and more like secular conservatism - economic and political - simply dressed up in religious language. If that's the case, even if Dr. Mohler is right in every detail of his critique, he'd still be wise to apply the flip side of his warning to his own beloved community.

Dr. Mohler agreed with Brian on this point, calling it a "firm punch" and so do I (even if we both reject a lot of the other stuff he wrote). Many, many evangelicals have a hard time differentiating between political and economic conservatism and Kingdom focused theology. From calls to "make America a Christian nation again" to Christians eager to beat the drums of war alongside secular neo-conservatives, we are in danger of making the Kingdom a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican party. Keep in mind that I write this as one of the most politically conservative people I know.

Of course, making one point correctly doesn't make up for a litany of errors, many of which Dr. Mohler dismantles in his reply A Theological Conversation Worth Having: A Response to Brian McLaren. I love conversations like this because they get beyond "gotcha" blogging and talking past one another. We need to have in-depth, intelligent conversations in the church and we all need to be willing to face our own presumptions head-on and hold them up to the light of the Scriptures.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A couple of really good posts to look at

During my long car ride back from Chicago yesterday I read two interesting posts that you should check out (if you haven't already!).

The first one was from Alan Knox, Do You Know What Is Written? Alan looks at the odd way that so many people are very sure about many aspects of the church but don't seem to have studied them and are unable to defend them from the text...

Since my ecclesiological beliefs (understanding of the church) are different than many people’s beliefs, there are often disagreements when I’m talking with someone about the church. I’m not upset or disappointed when someone disagrees with me, especially when those disagreements come from different interpretations of Scripture.

But, what I’ve found is that most people don’t know what the Scriptures say about the church. Those same people usually have very (very) strong convictions about the church. But, when I ask about Scripture, they usually say something like, “Well, I haven’t studied that like you have.”

Like I said, it’s perfectly fine when someone disagrees with my interpretation of Scripture. But, I’m very confused when someone stands steadfastly on a certain belief about the church, but that person knows very little about what Scripture says about the church.

I get what Alan is saying. I think that thorough and Bible focused study of the church is sorely lacking in the church. We often spend a ton of time deeply diving into esoteric topics and even topics that are ancillary to church functioning (like baptism and the Supper) without ever really grappling with the issue of the church itself. The church is so very important to Christ and the fulfillment of His commission and calling, it certainly deserve more than a cursory study.

The other post I liked was from Eric Carpenter who makes a great post about community, i.e. if you don't know the names of people you "go to church" with, you aren't really in community with them: A Good Test of Community

Here's the simple test:

Can you name everyone in your church family? Write down their names.

That seems pretty simple, right?! Eric goes on to say:

My point in this post is not to say what a church is or isn't. Instead, my hope is to get us thinking (more) about community life in Christ. It helps to know what this looks like. Basic common denominators must be that we are Christians and that we actually know one another. This means knowing names.

If you gather with a large group, many of whom you don't know or barely know, then you really aren't part of the same local body. Instead, you may be part of a group of local bodies within a larger organization.

That is dead on and it addresses some of the issues I am working through on a post I have in the pipeline. It doesn't matter if you sit in the same building, listen to the same sermon and have your names on the same "membership" roll. Community requires knowing one another. Granted, knowing someone's name is not sufficient for real community, but it is necessary. I have been in a few churches where I didn't know the names of a lot of people who came to the same building every Sunday. We weren't part of the same local church and we weren't in any sort of real community with them. Just being in the same building at the same time is not community.

Book Review: Radical Together

David Platt penned a very popular book, Radical, (see my review here:) that has garnered a lot of attention and shaken up some corners of the church. That book looked primarily at how individuals can change their lifestyle to live more radically and intentionally for the Gospel and in doing so taking on the American dream that often interferes with the mission of the Church. In his follow-up, Radical Together, David looks at what this means for us as a community of believers. I was not sure what to expect but I think he has done an even better job of laying out what the community of Christ is called to do as a collective Body. One radical individual is can do a lot, a whole community of individuals working together to radically impact the world for the Gospel is something with even greater potential.

One of the things that I really appreciated was that David keeps coming back to the Word and to the Gospel. It is far too easy to get so caught up in doing good works that we forget the underlying reason why, i.e. to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are lost. Radical Together does a great job of combining Gospel urgency with works of mercy. Neither can truly be in a vacuum and the primacy of the Gospel must lead to the dispersion of mercy.

The chapter The Genius of Wrong was far and away the best in the book. David really seems to get the very real but counterintuitive truth that God almost invariably uses the “wrong” people to accomplish His purposes. Of course as we always find out later, what we see as the “wrong” kind of person is perfect for what God intended. Much of what David writes in this chapter flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the church and also the most written in stone traditions that we have held onto for hundreds of years. As such, the message might be seen as threatening.

I was especially struck on page 70 where he recounts some church members asking permission to minister to local families in their home instead of bringing them to church. His response was “Yes! That would be okay with me!” The very notion of people feeling the need to ask permission before ministering to others shows how skewed our idea of the church, ministry and leadership has become.

I wasn’t a huge fan of his interpretation of Matthew 24:14, the idea that whatever “the nations” is interpreted to mean that once we reach all of the nations, Christ will come back. I think this has to do my understanding of soteriology that is at odds with most of evangelicalism. I read and interpret the Scriptures such that God is not waiting until we make Gospel contact with every people group, i.e. every nation, before the end of the world and return of Christ. I don’t see a “big board” in heaven with people groups checked off. Rather the Scriptures describe an elect people that God has chosen. It seems more consistent that God will not “end the world” until He has redeemed all of His elect. That is more a theological quibble than a quibble with the book but I found that section jarring although I get what David is trying to say regarding the urgent calling of the church. It was just kind of a shaky interpretation.

Radical Together, if it reaches a large audience and gets people thinking, gives me a glimmer of hope for the institutional church. While I think the vast majority of pastors will see what David is writing as a threat to their career, I also think that if more pastors had the same vision and attitude that David does I would have far less concern and criticism of the traditional church.

It is my hope for David Platt that he continues to write about, speak about and take action about what he is finding in the Scriptures regarding the mission of the church and how to continue to move away from a blurred vision that sees the church and the American Dream inextricably linked. There are places we all could stand to continue to examine ourselves and how we see the church. I would love it if the church he leads, Brook Hills, would sell their building and start meeting in smaller, more modest location and homes in the area. Would they maintain their cohesiveness? What if David Platt stopped drawing a salary at Brook Hills and lived off the proceeds of book sales? There is so much more they can do but they are already so far ahead of the curve compared to most institutional churches.

How much more could we achieve for the Kingdom if we stopped trying to build little Kingdoms of our own? What if we refused to settle for the “good stuff” in the church and insisted that we focus on “the best”? Read Radical Together and you just might find out!

You can read an excerpt from Radical Together by clicking here

(I received this book free of charge from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers as part of the Blogging for Books program in return for an unbiased review)

God uses us because He loves us

God does not involve us in his grand, global purpose because he needs us. He involves us in his grand, global purpose because he loves us.

Radical Together, p. 135

Christianity shouldn't be comfortable

Let’s be honest. As long as church consists of normal routines, and Christianity consists of nominal devotion with little risk, little sacrifice and little abandonment, then we can do this on our own. But what happens when we give ourselves to something that is far greater than what we can accomplish on our own? What happens when we dare to believe that God desires to use every one of our lives and every one of our churches to bring about kingdom advancement to the end of the earth? We will find ourselves dependent on his power and desperate for his grace as we devote ourselves to his purpose.

Radical Together, p. 129

Leave them alone!

God has given every follower of Christ in the church natural avenues to spread the gospel and declare his glory. Which means the last thing leaders should do is to pull people away from those avenues to participate in our activities.

Radical Together, pp. 70-71

People not programs

Be careful not to let programs in the church keep you from engaging people in the world with the gospel.

Radical Together, p 73

Organizing around professionals

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to overlook God’s plan for people when we organize churches around professionals. We single out certain people who seem especially gifted and we craft the community of faith around them. Everything we do is dependent on their speaking ability, organizational aptitude, and creative skill. But the ministry of making disciples was not intended for professionals alone; it was intended for the whole people of God.

Radical Together, p 74

A calling for all of the church

The goal of the church is never for one person to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ. The goal is always for all of God’s people to be equipped to lead as many people as possible to Christ.

Radical Together
, p. 60

Radical Together

I have finished up (more or less) David Platt's new book, Radical Together, and was quite pleased with it. I am going to post a review later but I wanted to share several noteworthy quotes that are especially interesting given that David ministers in a fairly traditional church setting. I will say that I was pleased with the book and liked it even better than the first Radical book and it certainly seems that this whole line of thinking can go a long way to helping many churches start to get outside of the traditional evangelical box and start really serving Christ. I will be posting quotes throughout the day and then the review itself either tonight or tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fighting trendiness with tradition

Carl Trueman has been taking on the ills of trendiness especially among the younger, newer converts to Reformed theology. In his most recent essay on the topic, The Problem with Trendiness (Part Two), Carl argues that we embrace trendiness at our peril and the reason it is so popular is because we have lost our sesne of churchly piety and misunderstand the church in general...

In subsequent columns I will flesh the concept out, but here I lay down the basic foundation: churchly piety is rooted in the church. That would seem to be an obvious point, but it is surprising how many people miss it. The mistake derives from a failure to understand what the church is.

First, I am not even sure that “churchly” is a real word although my spell check says it is. I would certainly agree that there is a problem of understanding what the church is (and what it is not) Needless to say, I disagree quite strongly with Carl’s definition because of where the focus is. Here is where the core of the problem starts:

Most Christians would certainly agree that the church is made up of all believers, and that is a fine definition. However, it is also more than that.

The preceding sentence is the point where alarm bells should start ringing. There certainly is a corporate aspect to the church but to then say…

The church is also an institution with office-bearers (elders and deacons) who have been ordained to specific tasks. These men hold ministerial authority and have responsibility to take care of the well being of the people of God, both spiritually and physically.

Well that is fine and dandy except…it is by and large not true. When you define the church by our institutional traditions and further restrict the church to require a traditional understanding of church “office-bearers”, you have gone waaaaaay beyond what Scripture teaches.

The idea that elders and deacons have been assigned specific and exclusive tasks is not found anywhere in Scripture. Deacons especially since there is nothing in the Word about what a deacon is called to do. The qualities to be desired absolutely but specific “this is deacons work” list of tasks are absent. Even though elders are called to certain “tasks” those tasks are not specific or exclusive to "office holders". Teaching is something an elder should be apt to do but not only elders are to teach. Preaching the Gospel is something all Christians are called to. Baptism and administering the supper are nowhere restricted to the supervision of elders.

Many brothers in the old school Reformed traditions are quite leery, to the point of being dismissive or outright hostile, to anything that seems new or different. Some of that is understandable in a day and age when a segment of the church is hell-bent on chucking anything that might offend or alienate the unregenerate, even to the point of altering the Gospel itself. But to respond to that by clinging ever more tightly to the traditional model of the church that is so strongly dependent on the oldest men in the darkest suits ruling and directing the church while the young whippersnappers sit in their pews and wait their turn to be heard is horribly misguided. We so need wisdom in the church and one of the best places to tap that is in the older, more mature men in the church. Some of those men have a title like “elder” associated with their name, many of them lack a title or office but function in that respect all the same.

When we let our practices define the church rather than letting the definition of the church drive our practices, we are on treacherous ground indeed. In other words, what defines ”the church” is our traditional understanding of the church based in large part on our historic practices supported by pretty shaky interpretation and application of Scripture. I am always amazed by the hold our traditions have on the church, on people who should know better. We cling to these man-made traditions with all of the pious stubbornness of a first century Jewish religious leader.

I agree with Carl that we should not be obsessed with pursuing what is hip or new or appeals to the young but likewise we shouldn’t cling stubbornly to our beloved traditions no matter how much they foster a sense of “churchly piety”. I am afraid our ideas of what church piety should look like don’t have a lot to do with Scripture. The world of weekly Sunday morning liturgical services, endless meetings where only a select few make decisions, starched shirts and hourlong sermons, self-sustaining institutions and harrumphing at the younger generations may appeal to our desire for churchly piety but it is not Scriptural and in many ways it actually hampers what the church is supposed to look and function like.

Monday, March 21, 2011

An urgent call for help

My fried James has an urgent call for help for a very young orphan with Downs Syndrome, If you were an orphan, would you want help? Help an orphan today!

Ever since this little boy has been brought to my attention, his situation has burdened my heart greatly. I suppose, due to my line of work, I have a propensity to advocate for the "little guy" or the "underdog." I believe it might be just more than the vocational essence driving me though. I believe it is because the underdog status resonates with me, in my spirit, very deeply. Andrey S., is a child with Down Syndrome. He is currently in an Ukrainian orphanage. At the age of 4 he is currently in line to be transferred to a 'mental institution' where most children (90%) do not make it through the 1st year. The conditions are poor, the social interaction is very little, and the digression of their condition is drastic. The cost to help out this child ranges from $20k to $25k on average.

Please hop over to Deliver Detroit to read more about Andrey. It takes someone of exceptional faith and strength to care for an orphan with special needs but you can help facilitate that with a donation to help him.

You might wonder, maybe we could use our resources to help a "normal" child, one who has a better chance of a fruitful and productive life instead of a special needs kid. I understand the question but I would propose that our works are not predicated on which are the most efficient or most likely to "succeed". Every orphan is a child in need, every orphan a child we are called to care for. Please take a look at what James has written and what you are willing to give or do to help this precious child

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An oldie but a goodie

This is from Alan's Scripture as we live it series and I thought it appropriate given the conversations last week (and there is more to come on this topic!) we live it #135

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens lone ranger Christians, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God members of this local church, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets church covenant, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone mentioned prominently, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, and the whole organization is growing by the latest, greatest church growth methods. (Ephesians 2:19-21 re-mix)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Going to war

Just pondering. Obama's decision to engage in warfare with Libya with a "no-fly zone" will likely be the first decision he has made that many American Christians will agree with.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A great analogy

Kevin Johnson wrote a post last year and was looking at the phenomena of “real life” in an age of online entertainment, Not Much More Than Theological Gamesmanship :

For anyone who plays computer games online (I enjoy Eve Online on occasion), the acronym “RL” is often used when some players bemoan that they must leave the game and return to Real Life. The abbreviation is an artificial distinction, to be sure, as all of life is real–even the time we spend on Facebook or just plain surfing the web.

I enjoy theological discussion as much as the next person and believe that through many of these discussions we can still find the truth of a particular matter if we walk carefully through the dialogical minefield and keep our heads about us. After all, theological discussion has been one of the chief ways the Christian Church over the ages has come to an understanding of the truth.

But, living the truth in question becomes an entirely different affair. I see precious little positive action attached to many of the discussions we often have in Reformedville or our world would be a vastly different place than it is. We must at the end of the day get back to what the Lord requires–to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God–or we are not really living as Christians.

I know exactly what Kevin is saying. Our online worlds like Facebook, World of Warcraft and EVE Online (a game I also play on occasion) can easily draw us in and when we have to return to “real life” things are different. The world of theology blogging can be the same way without the Farmville request, orcs and space pirates. I write all the time about community but we are really struggling to see it happen in our lives. I write a lot about homeschooling but my wife handles most of that and I am not as involved as I should be. Loving and serving others are frequent topics on my blog but have not been major factors in my life although I am really seeking (and have found) some opportunities for that. Talking is easier than doing and sometimes talking/writing is a way of avoiding doing entirely.

I also get what he is saying about “Reformedville”. It is so easy to get entangled in the big theological questions, slaying Arminian bogeymen and accussing one another of not being sufficiently Reformed that we find ourselves doing very little to impact the world. Sometimes we need to come out of our theology conferences into the scary and bright world where people who don’t know who Calvin was or that there was a Martin Luther who changed the world before there was a Martin Luther King Jr live. People who are hungry, hurting, in need. We are the ones God has called to serve others rather than listening to Reformed leaders talking to Reformed audiences about Reformed theology. Based on our theology, Reformed believers should be the ones most concerned about evangelism, the most humble and loving, the most driven to care for the needy and the most grieved about the lack of unity in the church. Does anyone want to argue that reality bears that out?

Kevin concludes with:

Theological discussion has to have a purpose besides the sort of gamesmanship that is all too common on the Internet today and this is most certainly true in Reformed circles. More importantly, we must live as Christians as much as we talk about the right way to be one. Whatever our convictions regarding a particular issue, we must at the end of the day remain faithful to that which our Lord has called us or all the arguments in the world aren’t going to save us from the sad fate which awaits both us and our society at large: the chaos of a world almost entirely bereft of Christian concern and practice.

There is a real problem of disconnect in the church, where we go from our theological discussions to how we live away from our copies of Calvin’s Institutes and our daily perusal of the online cage fighting world of theological blogging. I am highly encouraged to see more and more Reformed brothers and sisters who are questioning the sequestered world we have created around ourselves and are looking at taking our theology out to the streets, to the lost and the least of these all around us.

I am not, AT ALL, saying we shouldn’t blog or read books (or even play online MMORPG’s). I love blogging and reading and even the occasional conference and I find that when done properly, it really stretches our understanding and thinking in a healthy way and most importantly leads to action. Done incorrectly it leads to unnecessary divisiveness and vitriol, cold scholasticism that sees winning arguments and “being right” as more important than loving others and serving God by serving them. I have found myself staying clear of places and people online that I tend to get into the most heated arguments over (thus the paucity of posts about R. Scott Clark). I think that is a good policy. The biggest thing that is helping me is to try to get out and actually interact with people because that forces me to see theology as a “real life” issue and not as an argument to be won or a position to be defended. If we can all consistently do more of that, the church will have far greater impact in the world. The “real life” world that is!