We talked to Greg Ford, board chairman, about our latest board meeting this weekend.
Shiloh in Sealey’s Bay. A vital ministry in the community.
A Church that is peace on earth in a neighbourhood that could really use it.
Rodney talks to us about some of the great things that are going on at Centennial these days.
We talked to Greg Pulham about the meeting of the Foundational Course Instructors at the Ministry Centre.
Free Methodist Church in Canada, The Christian Life / No Comments
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Stuart Murray Williams, via a webinar broadcast from Winnipeg, talk about creating a Multi-Voiced Church. Stuart shared a lot of great incites on deepening body life.
Something that wasn’t exactly the main point of his talk has stuck with me over the past few weeks. Stuart suggested that there is a problem in our current practice of weekly preaching; especially if we as preachers want our people to respond in a life altering way to our preaching. The challenge for most hearers of our sermons is that the things that we want them to consider, change, or rethink usually take longer than 7 days to consider, change, or rethink. And yet, like clock work, we are up there 7 days later offering other new things to consider, change, or rethink. Just as our congregation starts to respond we are moving on to something else. The problem is further compounded by good preaching which is even more compelling and suggests even deeper changes. Stuart suggests that we consider only preaching once a month to compensate. The other 3 weeks of the month would be spent allowing the congregation time and space to publicly reflect, respond, and flesh out what was suggested during the sermon.
A radical suggestion? Perhaps. It would certainly do a lot to free pastors of the hours they invest each week putting together a sermon. I know pastors that feel compelled to spend 15 to 20 hours per week preparing a sermon. What other pastoral capacities could be unleashed if we spent less time on preparing and preaching? But would that option be attractive to pastors? Would some of us want the job if our weekly sermon were reduced to monthly? Would congregations even want us to do this?
What are some less radical options? Well, I suppose you could preach on the same passage for a month or more so that people have time to soak in it. Alternatively, you could spend more time planning out your preaching theme so that your sermons formed one larger thought rather lots of new thoughts
All of this was interesting of course but this wasn’t the stuff that has really stuck with me.
As I mentioned in my last post I have been trying to address some gaps in my development as a pastor. Given my tendency to live from the mind I frequently find myself needing to push back against the spectre of Christianity as information.
Christianity certainly contains and requires information. What I think about Jesus matters. How I view the Bible matters. My beliefs and doctrines matter. And yet the reality is these aren’t the only things that matter. If Stuart is right, and I think he is, then what he is describing is a disciple-making system that reduces Christianity to information. In this system the response I am really looking for from my preaching isn’t really life change. If it were I would create enough space for people to actually respond. I would check in with people to see how it was going. I would watch for signs that changes were taking place and then and only then would I move on to something else. But that isn’t the norm is it? In the current system the only REAL responses people have time for are: agree, disagree, or some form of performance evaluation (ie – “Good job preacher, I really liked your sermon”). David Fitch has a great post about his desire to have people respond to his preaching with something more along the lines of “God used you to destroy my world today“. I would love to hear that sometime myself but I’m not sure a weekly diet of world destroying sermons would improve the current situation much. The current system promotes what we in the industry call “functional atheism”. Functional Atheism is when a person would identify with the idea of Jesus – would call themselves a Christian – and yet live as if God did not exist. They would give intellectual assent to the idea that Jesus matters but nothing about their lives would indicate that they believed that to be true. They would say with their mouth that Jesus was Lord – but their bank account, calendar, relationships, life decisions, and value system would largely remain untouched by that truth.
I’m not sure what to do with all of this quite yet. Something tells me preaching harder isn’t the solution. I’m not even sure preaching a sermon on this phenomenon would help either. But the wheels are turning…
What do you think? Is Stuart way off on this one? Any ideas what we could do differently?
Vern Frudd talks to us about his experience at this week’s Culture and Missional Church course taught in Harrison Hot Springs BC. Vern suggests that this course has a lot of valuable things to offer long tenured pastors. We may need to change the way we advertise for the course to reflect that!
Lately I have been on a bit of a personal journey in the area of Discipleship. I have come to recognize that I have gaps in my pastoral formation in the area of discipleship. That is of course not say that I was never discipled. I certainly was. But there are aspects I clearly never learned.
The old saying goes that “if you’re built like a hammer the whole world looks like a nail.” I like to teach. And for so much of my pastoral journey discipleship has always meant teaching. I figured if I could expose others to the right ideas it would result in life change for them. This kind of thinking is not entirely off the mark either – there are lots of problems in Christian lives that can be traced directly to faulty thinking. But discipleship isn’t just about good curriculuum.
It turns out my personal gap has been to equate the word disciple with student. I am coming to see that a fuller definition equates disciple with apprentice.
I’ve started to see hints of this fuller definition at work in my own small group here at Lakeview Church. As the leader I have tried to create interesting content to deliver each time we have met. It’s been my role in the group. But in recent times together we have been focused more directly on practice. Specifically the practive of being other centred. That has meant, of course, that I had to convey information. But once the information was out there it wasn’t time to move on and learn something new. This has been my downfall in the past. Instead we are staying put and I’m proud to say that, for several months now, I really haven’t taught anything new.
Instead of moving things along (which is the curiculuum approach) we have been focusing on practice. Practice requires conducting personal experiments. Testing the waters. Reporting in. Watching others. Sharing our experiences. Comparing what we’ve done with what others in the group are doing. In short, it means truly becoming a learning community.
Recently I finished reading Mike Breen’s book “Creating a Disciplehsip Culture“. Vic Stonehouse recommended I read it at our last Network Leaders training day. Breen’s approach to discipleship is not curriculuum based – ie. each lesson building on the last until it all crescendos. His approach to discipleship is called “LifeShapes”. Each LifeShape is a simple way to represent some aspect of the Christian life. There are 8 in total. The idea is not to create an 8 week series on understanding the LifeShapes. The idea is to use these shapes on an as needed basis.
They’re really more like tools than lessons. You show up to the job site – you look at where to start and you pull out the tool needed for the first task. Work for a while – and when the work requires – you pull out another tool. As work progresses from there you might reuse a previous tool or move on to a new one. Whatever the context dictates.
I had already been trying this out in my small group – so it was interesting to read about a fully featured version of this concept. I’ll let you know how it’s going in the next little while.
Free Methodist Church in Canada, The Christian Life, Wesleyan Worldview / 2 Comments
I know, I know, reflecting on Scot McKnight’s book the “King Jesus Gospel ” (Zondervan 2011) is about as close to breaking news as announcing today how many gold medals Canada got at the last Summer Olympics. Sadly, being late to the party is symptomatic of an area of my life that I have been aching to rectify: the need to read more, more often, AND the need to reflect in writing what I am reading.
Today’s post is not meant to be a review of his book but an integration of his idea with some others I’m playing with.
For a few years now Dan Sheffield and I have been talking over the idea of the church as a kind of Open System. Meaning that the church, as it works to fulfill the Great Commission is not separate from it’s environment but is integrally linked with it. The church both impacts its environment and is impacted by it. Is it too extreme to go further and say that failure to meaningfully interact with the world and failure to produce disciples is a failure to be the church? Here’s a quick diagram to outline this idea.
Let’s look at few key features of this diagram.
First, the church finds itself in a context. By context I mean the systems that influence, for good or for ill, both the church and the people she is called to reach. After all, we are not called to a disembodied existence to give ourselves up for undefined people in some general way. We are called to give ourselves up for specific people in a specific place. The context each church inhabits includes both the reign of God AND the reign of the principalities and powers (those systems and forces opposed to God’s reign). These two realities express themselves context specific ways. For instance, I can tell you from personal experience, the way the principalities and powers hold sway and ruin life in Saskatoon is not entire in the same way they hold sway and ruin life in Kitchener. Neither place is more broken than the other and yet they both exhibit brokeness differently. For instance, economic disparity and poverty in Kitchener is not as influenced by the local river as it is in Saskatoon. East and West in Saskatoon mean more than just points on a compass. They represent a very real difference in economic as well as many other terms. Life in Saskatoon, on the other hand, is not as influenced by the GTA rat race as Kitchener is. Life in Kitchener can often mean 7.5 or more hours per week commuting to work. That can affect things like family dynamics, spare time, and environmental footprint. Churches have to take these realities into account as they operate.
Second, as people in our context respond to God’s call they must be able to find a place in our local church. There are many factors that influence the ability of people to find their place among us. Some are in our control. Some aren’t. For instance, while my church in Saskatoon has no official policy against such things, no one who currently lives in Kitchener can be a regular part of life in our church. Location apparently really matters to people in Kitchener. So much so that they are not willing to make the 28 hour drive a few times a week to share life with us. Other factors matter too. Things like a church’s recent history can determine whether or not it is open or closed to new people. What a church values culturally, confessionally, and historically can also affect whether or not people find a place there. Some of these things we can and should change. Some of these things we shouldn’t. In any case it is important for a church to become aware of and manage their boundary filters.
Third, each local “Body” engages in practices (means of grace) in which people encounter God and are transformed. Transformed people become Jesus-followers (disciples) who in turn engage in their context. Through their engagement the whole process starts over again. It is a church’s responsibility to take stock of the quality of Jesus-followers that emerge from their way of life. Churches with a large gap between the kinds of disciples they would like to see and the kinds they actually produce must look back through the process and ask “is what we are doing actually making disciples of Jesus?”
So what does this have to do with “The King Jesus Gospel?” Well, Scot is taking stock of the kinds of disciples the church in North America produces and find us wanting. Here’s his diagram:
Here’s what he has to say,
Now to say this slightly more completely: all Christian traditions — and I’m thinking of all but especially the Catholic and Orthodox traditions — emphasize entrance into the church (The Members). For the more liturgically oriented traditions, entrance into the church begins with the baptism of the infant and continues into catechism. For some this is an all but automatic process: the baptized become the catechized become The Members. In class not long ago I asked one of my Roman Catholic students if he knew of any young adult who was denied “membership.” His response was immediate: “Never.” Making the conversion process automatic — and I’m doing my best to be dead-level honest in saying that — is disastrous for the vitality of faith and church life. This kind of gospel can deconstruct a local church, and I would finger this issue as one of the, if not the, origins of the demise of the church in European cultures. This sacramental process contrasts dramatically with what happens with many Protestants, where, especially among the evangelical types, salvation occurs only if the child/youth/adult makes a (more) personal profession of faith. So the evangelical tradition wants to take a second step. That second step is to become of The Decided. In spite of the obvious and important differences here between the liturgical and evangelical traditions, each has a similar problem. Salvation cultures have struggled, are struggling, and will continue to struggle to get The Members or The Decided into the third category: The Discipled. My contention is that we have to create a gospel culture if we want The Members to be The Discipled, and it means the following example of a pastor struggling to make sense of the gospel’s fullness is the paradigm we will have to deconstruct and reform. McKnight, Scot (2011-09-06). The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (pp. 31-32). Zondervan.
McKnight’s diagnosis is that the evangelical church often struggles with getting “the Decided” to become “the Discipled.” In other words, there is something about how we understand and live our lives together that produces the kinds of results we are getting. McKnight’s diagnosis is that we are getting what we are getting because we have a truncated understanding of the gospel. I certainly can’t disagree with that and yet I think our problems aren’t simply limited to bad theology. To bad theology – I would also add deeper spiritual issues (like North American acedia), structural issues (like vague or non-existent discipleship practices) and a frequent disintest in self-examination beyond the usual bucks, butts, and buildings. That being said, what McKnight suggests in “The King Jesus Gospel” is a really excellent place to start our self-examination.
Check out his book. You will not be sorry you did.