Category: Missional life

The Promising Future of Small Churches Powerpoint

I have posted the PowerPoint presentation titled, “The Promising Future of Small Churches.” I gave this presentation at the BGAV’s most recent Small Church conference at Grace Hills Baptist Church in Appomattox, Virginia on August 25, 2018. I’ll be posting additional info on this in the future.

In addition, I have also created a new page on this blog titled, “Engaged Church Info.” I posted the slideshow on this page as well, and I’ll add other resources about churches engaging their communities in the future.

I really believe that the most promising future for small church vitality is community engagement. I’ll be describing, resourcing, and encouraging small churches to engage their communities in a variety of ways. A future conference on “engaged churches” is in the preliminary planning stages. I’ll keep you posted as that develops!

A New Subtitle: Churches as Communities of Reconciliation

The new subtitle of this blog is Churches as Communities of Reconciliation. Let me unpack this phrase one element at a time.

Let’s start with churches. This blog began with a focus on small congregations, but over the past seven years’ of writing, I have come to the conclusion that size is the least significant factor in church vitality. Rather, a church’s sense of mission — missional consciousness, to use the jargon — is a better gauge of church vitality than size. Churches with a clear sense of purpose, whether large or small, thrive and are vibrant members of their communities. And, just to be clear, my confidence is in churches, not other organizations, to embody and exhibit the Kingdom of God as a contrast society in contemporary culture. Those churches can be traditional, seeker-sensitive, neo-monastic, denominational, or any of the other flavors that churches come in today. The form is less important than the way in which local congregations live out their calling to be salt and light to their communities and the world.

Secondly, I’m interested in churches which are practicing reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). I’m convinced that the Bible is the story of God’s reconciling love beginning in the Garden of Eden and concluding with the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21-22. The reconciling love of God finds its highest expression in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul continues the theme of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Down through the ages, Christian churches, evangelical churches in particular, have emphasized reconciliation between God and humankind. However, there exists also the unmistakable idea that we cannot be reconciled to God — we cannot say we love God — without being reconciled to one another. Theologians have called these the cruciform (meaning “cross-shaped”) aspects of reconciliation. We are “vertically” reconciled to God, while being “horizontally” reconciled to those around us, even our enemies. If God has given us the ministry of reconciliation — and I believe along with Paul that God has — then reconciliation should be the signature ministry of churches.

I wrote my DMin dissertation at Fuller on the subject of The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry. In my research and writing, I explored not only the theological and theoretical aspects of reconciliation, but the practical, applied aspects as well. Of course, I wasn’t the first to come to this awareness, and I discovered that scores of churches in the US (and, other places), are actively practicing reconciliation in their communities.

Finally, to put it all together, I am focusing on the result that churches practicing reconciliation are building peace communities. In reconciliation studies, much of the literature is theoretical. Authors focus on the theology of reconciliation, the multi-disciplinary nature of reconciliation, and stories of reconciliation in places like South Africa and Rwanda. However, I found very few resources that could describe what a ministry of reconciliation looked like on the ground in real life. To that end, I synthesized the best of the theoretical research to develop a list of criteria for what reconciliation looks like. I’ll list those in a later post, but my point is that for churches to be able to engage in a ministry of reconciliation, we have to know what one looks like, and what result we seek as agents of reconciliation.

The goal of churches which practice reconciliation is, in my opinion, to build peace communities. I don’t mean peaceful communities, although they certainly would be. Peace communities are those neighborhoods and areas included in a local church’s ministry influence, that have been transformed in measurable ways by the practice of reconciliation.

When Jesus sent out the 70 (or 72) disciples, among other things he instructed them in the practice of peace: “ “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6 NIV). We have neglected this idea of speaking peace, finding the person of peace, and “staying in one place” to bring about transformation of an entire community. That’s what peace communities are — communities that have been transformed by the shalom of God into places where Kingdom ethics are lived out, hurts are healed, relationships are restored, and God’s children live in harmony. If that sounds like an improbably fantasy we must remind ourselves that Jesus said some pretty improbable things.

In future blog posts, I’ll tell the stories of churches that are practicing reconciliation and building peace communities in their own neighborhoods. I’ll also present resources, books, seminars, and organizations that can be helpful in your church’s quest to become a reconciling community. I’m convinced this is the church of the future — engaged, vital, and transformative — and I hope you’ll continue the journey with me.

Living Into vs. Talking About

Seth Godin asks How long before you run out of talking points? His point is that those who “live into” rather than just “talk about” (my words, not Godin’s) what they espouse are the real deal.  Then he says,

Then compare these passionate leaders to a pundit, spin doctor or troll (for just about any cause du jour) being interviewed on TV. After three sentences, they run out of assertions, facts or interesting things to say.

There’s a lot to be said for being deep, scientific and informed.

There are lots of religious talking points, especially among pastors.  Several years ago I was attempting to have a conversation about the nuances of religious faith, but one of the three in our little conversation triangle kept offering up his “talking points” in response to every idea presented.  What I wanted was brain-storming and the exploration of our theological imaginations, but what he wanted to do was keep us all on the “orthodox” path by inserting his talking points.

Talking points are good, but as Godin says, if that’s all there is to our comprehension of any subject, and I think faith especially, then we might need to live into our faith more, and open our mouths less.  What do you think?

Sermon: What’s For Lunch?

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. I hope your day is a wonderful Lord’s Day!

What’s For Lunch?
1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Continue reading “Sermon: What’s For Lunch?”

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.”

A simple life

edenspathhhouse2.jpg Eden’s Path – detail of our house from a painting by Debbie.

Debbie and I created a new blog to record our journey toward a simpler life. Eden’s Path features the practical things we are doing to spend less, enjoy life more, and live in the rhythm of God’s grace.

The name, Eden’s Path, comes from an old Celtic Christian saying that life on this earth is like living with “one foot in Eden.” We believe that God’s creation is good, that we live with the earth, not just on it. We’re also trying to consume less, despite the encouragement of our government for us to spend more. Evermore growth will not solve our spiritual, social, or economic problems. Being better stewards of God’s gifts to us will, we believe.

So, if you have time, stop over. We mostly are telling the stories about what we’re doing to find the simple life of faith, hope, and dreams. I’m not sure if it will take us to Eden, but at least we’ll be on the path.

Five reasons I always offer to pray for people on-the-spot

I’ve added a new category to this blog — Pastoral Care.  In small churches, pastoral care becomes a primary and expected ministry of the pastor.  Here’s the first post.

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I ran across this definition of pastoral care recently —

pastoral care
noun
1. Help, advice and moral guidance offered by a clergyman or other spiritual advisor to a group, such as the children in a school, members of the armed forces, a church congregation, etc.

If you’re a pastor, that’s the primary business you’re in — offering help, advice, or moral guidance to folks in need.  But I would like to add one more item to the definition of what pastors offer people in need, and that is prayer

I always offer to pray on-the-spot with people in need and here’s why:

  1. I represent God.  The people who have come to me may have gotten help, advice, or guidance from a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a social worker, a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or a counselor.  But I represent God to them and for them.  None of the other helping professions shows up in the name of God to help people.  I do.  And I offer to pray to that God right then on their behalf. 
  2. I can pray, but I may not be able to do anything else.  People in need are always hearing others ask “What can I do to help?” You may not be able to change the circumstances, heal their child, write them a check, or solve their problem.  But you can pray and you can do it right now in their presence. 
  3. I may not have another opportunity to pray with them.  At the moment you are standing in the hospital room, or sitting in their den, or holding their hand, or sharing their grief, you can pray for them.  Circumstances change, people die, hearts get hard, the moment passes.  Offer to pray for them while you are with them.  It may be your only opportunity.
  4. Prayer invites God into their world.  Wherever you have met these people in need — the hospital, the jail, the funeral home, or the church office — prayer invites God into their world.  No one else will do that, and you can. 
  5. Most people want you to pray for them and appreciate your offer of prayer.  In all my years in the pastorate, I have only had one person decline when I asked, “Could I have a prayer with you right now?” 

One word of caution — before you pray be aware and sensitive to the situation.  Years ago, I was standing in the ICU room of a young woman who was brain-dead from a car accident.  Her parents were standing with me as they faced the decision of turning off her respirator.  Another pastor from the community came rushing in and offered to pray.  With great enthusiasm, he prayed that God would heal their daughter, and then he turned and rushed back out of the room.  I was left to comfort parents who knew the end was near.  The last decision they would make for their daughter while she was alive would end her life.  Praying for healing at that point was an insensitive and hurtful act. 

But pastoral prayer isn’t just for crisis situations.  Recently after visiting a couple who had visited our church, I offered to pray for God’s blessing on their new home.  The couple both broke into big smiles,  and said, “Thank you.  We’ve visited a lot of churches in the area, and most of those pastors have visited us, but you’re the first to offer to pray.”   

I always offer to pray.  I represent God.  If I don’t pray, who will?