Month: August 2008

A must read: ‘The New Conspirators’ by Tom Sine

Tom Sine’s latest book, The New Conspirators, celebrates the increasing diversity in the church. Sine’s book continues the theme of his classic book, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, published in 1981. Sine was a ‘red-letter Christian’ before the official group existed, and in this hopeful volume he gives us examples across the spectrum of the 21st century church.

Divided into five “conversations” Sine takes his readers on a tour of real places where real people are living out the gospel as they understand it in communities and congregations around the world. In Conversation One, Sine introduces the unfamiliar to the four streams of the postmodern church — emerging, missional, mosaic, and monastic. Sine celebrates the gifts each brings to the body of Christ, giving an even-handed, generous perspective on each.

In Conversation Two, we are reminded of our global culture from massive consumerism to militant terrorism. This is the world in which we all live, and Sine reminds us that there are those who covet our American materialism, and those who despise it. But, despite the negatives of globalization, Sine sees positive things in our shrinking planet, such as the connection young people around the world are making with each other, transcending local cultures.

In Conversation Three, we are encouraged to take the future of God seriously. Sine isn’t talking about “going to heaven when you die” either. After several illustrations of kingdom thinking and acting, Sine weaves a lyrical scene, his take on Isaiah 25 and Revelation 21, where “God’s presence is palpable and we sense his generous welcome.”

Conversation Four reminds readers to take “turbulent times seriously.” Sine pulls takes us below decks in his version of humanity’s “Ship of Fools” examining the stark contrasts between the fabulously rich, the increasingly shrinking middle-class, and the world’s abject poor.

In Conversation Five, we are encouraged to “take our imaginations seriously.” Sine paints new pictures of “whole-life” stewardship, community, and mission celebrating those on the entrepreneurial edge. He states, “we need musicians, poets and artists to create new forms of worship, in which we celebrate coming home as a great resurrected community to a world where the broken are made whole, justice comes for the poor and shalom to the nations.”

If you want a tour of where church is headed in the 21st century, read ‘The New Conspirators.’ If you despair of the future of the church, let Tom Sine fill you with the same joy he shares over the growth of these mustard seeds of the kingdom. If you’re looking for something to give fresh direction to your own life, and form it in new ways, grab a copy of Sine’s book and join ‘The New Conspirators’ yourself. As Shane Claiborne says, “This book is a gift to the church, and to the world.”

Why cows are not Baptist

I am not making this up.  According to Reuters, scientists have discovered that cows line up with the North-South magnetic axis of the earth when grazing.  Here’s how they figured this out:

The researchers studied 8,510 satellite images of cattle and deer herds derived from Google Earth from around the globe, including 308 pastures and plains.

Before Google Earth, who knew?  This information brings lots of important uses to mind:

  1. Large hairy compass. If you are ever lost, find a cow and you’ll know which way north is.  Unless of course, it’s pointed south.
  2. Okay, actually I can’t think of any more uses for this information, but I’m sure there must be some.

But, wouldn’t it also be interesting to know which way most church buildings face?  Or, better yet, if left to their own devices, how deacons would organize themselves.  I would be amazed if they were all pointing in the same direction!

Of course, research like this would never work with Baptists.  Before Google Earth could snap a photo of a herd of Baptists, we would split to form another group moving in the opposite direction.  Which is proof positive that cows are not Baptist.  Thank you.

Church membership reimagined

Some in my Southern Baptist denomination are calling for more stringent church discipline. That’s mostly because we can’t find about half of our 16-million members. Obviously, some of our folks don’t take church membership very seriously. The logical thing to do to solve that problem is tighten up — enforce church discipline — make members tow the line. But, that’s the wrong approach.

My solution? Do away with church membership all together. There is no biblical basis for “membership” in a church, and it’s largely ineffective today. The alternative is to create “participants” — one church calls them “partners” — people who connect to a church by participating in some or all of the things a church does.

For instance, some will be interested in worship. Others will take a course in parenting. Others will help in the food pantry, or whatever your community ministry is. Others will want to bring their children to an afterschool program like AWANA or Pioneer Clubs. Some will volunteer to help in the community garden. Some will be involved in more than one aspect of church life, others will not.

By creating “participants” churches no longer have to press people to “join.” We can then focus on building The Kingdom, rather than our own kingdoms. The objection, of course, is that people will not take church seriously if they don’t join. But, most don’t take membership seriously now, so I’m not sure we’ll lose anything. Plus, there is a difference in “belonging” and “joining.” You’ve probably experienced people who joined, but never really belonged. They soon disappear. By contrast, participants would feel they belonged to their interest group — or else they wouldn’t come.

By identifying them as participants churches will free people to experience the ministry of church in various ways, without pushing for a premature commitment. As for leadership, cream always rises to the top. Churches will easily identify potential leaders by their enthusiasm, commitment, and involvement. Potential leaders are then invited to join the “leadership development team” to be formed as leaders in the congregation.

Finally, most churches connect professing faith in Christ and joining the church. In the South, “joining the church” is actually code for becoming a Christian. By unbundling conversion and membership, churches make clear that commitment to Christ is our first priority, with participation in a community of faith as its natural by-product.

Local church administration will undergo a significant revision in this century. Would your church give up its membership rolls for the participant concept? Or, is this a really wacky idea? I’d like to know what you think.

Sermon: Living Sacrifice, Graceful Service

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching Sunday, August 24, 2008, from Romans 12:1-8. I hope you have a wonderful day on Sunday.

Continue reading “Sermon: Living Sacrifice, Graceful Service”

Are sermons dying?

Are sermons dying? I don’t mean is your preaching killing people, but are sermons themselves going the way of the dodo bird — headed for extinction? Worship in most evangelical churches, and that includes many small churches, still resembles evangelical worship in 19th century churches — singing, prayer, offering, preaching, invitation. Charles Spurgeon would be proud. Or would he?

Read Kevin Kelly’s post about Clay Shirky’s talk on media here. Then, watch the video of Shirky’s talk in its entirety — about 8-minutes. You’ll be glad you did.

One of Shirky’s main points is that the main media in our culture — TV — has served to siphon off our collective creativity. Shirky has some fascinating stats on how many hours we watch TV, how many hours it took to do the entire Wikipedia project (which is still on-going, obviously), and how much brain power is out there. He ends with the story of the 4-year old looking for the mouse.

Which brings me back to my question — if our culture is moving toward a producer society where everybody can participate, what’s the future of the sermon? At least the sermon as we know it — one guy or gal talking without interruption for 15-20 minutes, no questions, no comments, no participation.

Or are sermons just a form of message delivery, honed to a fine edge during the 19th century? And, if sermons are just a form of delivery and not inherently indispensable, what will replace them? What message delivery forms will we see in the 21st century? Do powerpoints and film clips imbedded in sermons present us with a new message delivery platform, or are they just the old sermon dressed up in 21st century technology? What would a real 21st century “sermon” look like? Where would it be delivered? What media would carry it? Just asking….

Keep warm and well fed

She called today. Soft-spoken, courteous, hesitant. “My husband just got laid-off,” she said. “He’s applied for unemployment, but that won’t start until next week. They’re going to turn our lights off if we don’t pay the $150 we owe. I was wondering if your church could help us?” The four churches in our small town contribute to a “ministers’ fund” which coordinates emergency help for local residents.

“Where do you live?” I asked. She was honest, “We live in Danville.” Danville is twenty miles away, not in our community, and our guidelines limit our help to the Chatham area. “I’m sorry, we have limited funds and we can only help folks in our community,” I explained. A long pause. “Well, thank you,” she said. I could hear the resignation in her voice. “God bless you,” I said. “Thank you.” She hung up. Immediately James 2:16 pushed its way into my consciousness:

“If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

“We have our rules. We have limited funds. We can’t help everybody,” I argued to myself. But, I could have helped her. I could have broken the rules, made an exception, listened with my heart instead of my head. Ironically, I offer the invocation tomorrow night at the Community Action Annual Dinner where our community will celebrate another year of helping the poor. Today I missed an opportunity. Maybe I can find this soft-spoken, shy woman tomorrow. Maybe we can help after all. I’ll let you know.

UPDATE:  I called Social Services today and described the lady who called me.  The case worker I spoke with said, “We have so many people in that same situation, I have no idea who it might be.”  No luck.  Maybe some other church somewhere was able to help.  I hope so.

Sermon podcast: “Imprisoned by God’s Mercy”

Okay, I’m trying to get back into the routine of posting my sermon podcasts every week.  Here’s my sermon from Sunday, August 17, 2008, titled “Imprisoned by God’s Mercy.” The lectionary text was Romans 11:1-2, 29-32.  I hope it’s helpful.