Tag: missional

Construction progress

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L to R: Me in the future great hall; Debbie in front of the art room off the great hall; exterior from across the street; exterior with Debbie standing beside the entrance to give some idea of the size of the building.

Our community center construction moves forward daily. The roof is completely on now, and the glass in the celestory windows in the great hall is in. Some translucent panels are installed in the gym. Once the building is dried-in, then the real fun begins! The construction folks at Quality Construction say they anticipate “substantial” completion by April 10. We’ll see. At least we’ll be in by May sometime, just in time for summer activities. I’ll keep you posted.

My posts on McChurch removed

I took down my two posts on the McChurch franchise discussion re North Point and Cumberland Church.  These were poorly thought-out, gut reactions to Eddie Johnson’s post at his blog using franchise as a church model.  For a more helpful post, with a more positive tone, try 5 Ways Church Models Can Be Helpful, and Eddie Johnson left a nice comment on that post, I might add.

I try to be helpful here, and my posts on that issue weren’t.  I even tried fixing them with extensive editing, but it still didn’t work.  So, here’s my pledge to you.  I’ll keep it positive, and helpful, and leave the critiques to others.  Thanks.

5 Ways Church Models Can Be Helpful

a_church_model.jpg A “church model.” Not the kind I’m talking about.

Mea culpa. That’s Latin for “I pulled the trigger on my mouth before it cleared my holster, and I shot myself in the foot.” Or something like that. Now that I have calmed down over the McChurch post at Out of Ur, let me do some backpedaling. I now understand —

  1. Eddie Johnson described his church using the analogy of a franchise to point out the very positive aspects of the North Point strategic partnerships.
  2. The franchise description was Eddie’s, not Andy’s, according to Eddie himself.
  3. Eddie is a really nice guy who responds with grace and good humor. Unlike some folks who have called him the ‘anti-christ.’ (And I thought I was over the top!)

Which brings me to a reasoned discussion of the whole business of “church models.” Eddie’s right — we all use church models to describe the approach we are taking in our particular ministry situation. Reference to church models has become a kind of ecclesial short-hand, helping others know who we are and what we do. Church models include purpose-driven (Saddleback), seeker (Willow Creek), video (North Point, Life Church), externally-focused, servant evangelistic, missional, emerging, denominational, and so on.

With that in mind, here are 5 ways church models can be helpful:

  1. Identity. Denominations served the purpose of identifying a church in the 20th century. In the 21st century, affiliations are more in vogue. Many churches advertise that they are Purpose-driven, or seeker-friendly, or video-oriented to identify themselves to their communities.
  2. Processes. Eddie calls this systems, but however you say it, it’s how you do things. Churches that affiliate with a particular model do things consistent with that model. The use of proven methodologies helps jump start many church planting or church revitalization efforts.
  3. Focus. As Eddie said, they don’t offer the church program buffet. They know what they do, and they don’t get distracted by other “good”– but off-message — opportunities.
  4. Support. Most church models originated because someone had done it at least once. I like the Celtic Christian abbey model, and that was done over 1,000 years ago. Others are more current and provide literature, promotional materials, training events, and programs with support on-line or on the phone.
  5. Metrics. Church models usually have measurements that are important to that model such as baptisms, new members, attendance, or participation in small groups. Many have benchmarks that incorporate several measures of mission success. Each model is looking either for growth, development, progress, maturity (Willow’s study), or some other attribute that is measurable.

Church models are helpful in all the ways I’ve mentioned and more. But, church models are just that — models. Our daughter and her husband own a franchise restaurant, and the reality and the model can be vastly different. Models provide a good framework for us to shape ministry around, but I have to constantly remind myself that “God gives the increase.” However you measure it. What do you think?

Finding the rhythm of God’s grace

My post, Is Feb 3 Really Super Bowl Sunday?, rhythm-by-mondrian.jpghas been viewed 1,263 times since I posted it on January 22.  We’re obviously interested in the Super Bowl and how our churches can be effective on that day.  My point was that for followers of Christ, Sunday does not belong to the NFL, it belongs to Christ and His church.  On Sunday morning in Chatham, we’re celebrating Transfiguration Sunday, not Super Bowl Sunday. 

Helping others find the rhythm of God’s grace in their lives is the mission of the church, in my opinion.  If we can lead others to pattern their lives with a consciousness of God’s work in God’s world, we go a long way toward helping people grow in their relationship to God.  Several years ago, I heard a preacher say, “You can tell what priorities people have by looking at two things — their calendars and their checkbooks.”  I think he was right, and the way we not only plan our time, but understand the meaning of time is important for followers of Christ.

So, that’s why I like the Christian Year as a framework for church worship and planning.  And, that’s why I preach from the revised common lectionary.  And, that’s why Debbie and I follow the practice of “keeping the hours” by praying the daily office each day.  Those rhythms govern our lives and remind us that we do indeed live in sacred time. 

The Old Testament examples of yearly festivals (Feast of Tabernacles, Passover, Pentecost, etc), and the 3-times daily prayer of people like Daniel are biblical examples of what I’m talking about.  These practices were long ago reinvented for the Christian church in the form of the Christian Year, the daily office, and recommended scripture readings.  Churches of all sizes — ours is small with about 80-100 each Sunday — can do the very things I am suggesting and bring a new awareness to their members.  We’re doing it here in Chatham in a 151-year old congregation that has embraced positively the Christian Year, the lectionary, and my references to the daily office. 

What’s your experience?  How is your church shaping the lives of your members each week, month, and year?  Others are interested in this issue, and I look forward to your comments and stories about how you find the rhythm of God’s grace in your life and your church. 

Ten marks of the church-as-abbey

celtic-abbey.jpg Models for how we should do church are not in short supply.  Seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven, emerging, missional, traditional, liturgical, ancient-future, and the like all have their merits.  I am really interested in the church-as-abbey concept myself.  I have read extensively about the early Celtic Christian church and find it intriguing and encouraging.  In that research I identified 10 characteristics of the church-as-abbey, as I call it, or abbey church, for short.  Here are the essential characteristics, or marks, of what I mean when I use the church-as-abbey model:

  1. Worship.  The church-as-abbey has at its heart the practice of worship.  But worship that is public, powerful, and brings one into the presence of God through some type of intentional liturgy, whether formal or not.  But not every parishioner of the abbey will attend every service.  The idea is not to get everyone to one service, but to provide opportunities for worship that abbey adherents can participate in regularly, if not weekly.
  2. Arts.  The church-as-abbey celebrates creativity as a gift from a creative God.  The arts reflect our connection to creation and God’s creative power.  The arts are expression, statement, witness, and beauty for a world that needs all of those things.
  3. Hospitality.  The Celtic abbey was open to all who needed its hospitality and help.  Monks, even those fasting, would interrupt their discipline to greet and welcome those who came into the abbey’s confines.  Welcoming the stranger is a vital part of the abbey’s ministry.
  4. Economics.  The abbeys were self-supporting, engaged in cultivating fields, raising livestock, operating public markets, and giving employment opportunities to the community.  I read about a church the other day that also operates a farmers’ market, and has been doing so for years.  I am exploring the agrarian movement, particularly as it attracts followers of Christ.  More on that later.
  5. Learning and scholarship.  The Celtic monasteries became the centers of learning, preservation of sacred and literary manuscripts, and schools of instruction. The amazing Book of Kells is the prime example.  See How the Irish Saved Civilization for other examples.
  6. Catechesis and spiritual direction.  For new converts, the abbey provided initial instruction.  For more mature converts, the abbott or abbess provided spiritual direction and aided in spiritual formation.
  7. Rule of life in community.  The Rule of St. Benedict is the most famous of these “rules of life” but there were many others that defined the monastic community’s social and spiritual interaction.
  8. Ministry to the marginalized.  The poor, hungry, disenfranchised, sick, old, and disabled found help of various kinds within the abbey’s compound.
  9. Peace and justice.  St. Patrick was the first person in recorded history to speak out against the Irish slave trade.  Patrick’s appeals eventually resulted in the end of the Irish slave trade, of which Patrick himself had been a victim.  Patrick also prevailed upon the Irish kings and warlords to live in peace with one another, as much as they were able.  The abbey bears that same responsibility today.
  10. External missions.  Celtic priests, including some of the well-known figures such as Columba, went on extended “missions” to areas removed from the abbey.  In a reimagination of this practice, the missional church-as-abbey establishes external groups but groups with ties to the abbey church.  This is the area with which I am struggling now, but I believe it is a core part of the abbey concept.  These groups are not “missions” in the sense of international missions, but rather are groups that are “distant” from the abbey either in travel, culture, or status, but that have a connection to the abbey as “mother church.”

But, you say, “Where is evangelism, ministry, and education — those staples of the church as we know it today?”  The 10 marks of the abbey church above contain evangelism, ministry, and education, but from a new perspective.  George Hunter, in his intriguing book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, says that in the Celtic Christian abbey “belonging” came before “believing.”   Prospective converts were incorporated into the community before they became believers in Christ.  Not a bad model for us today, which is one of the main reasons I like the abbey approach.  What do you think?

Sermon for Sunday, Jan 27 — “Bless The World”

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, January 27, 2008. The lectionary reading comes from Matthew 4:12-23, where Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John, to follow him and he will make them “fishers of men.” Have a great day tomorrow!

Bless The World
Matthew 4:12-23
12When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:15“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”[a]
17From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

Our Theme for 2008

Today we’re on the third part of our three-part theme for 2008 —

  • Tell the story.
  • Invite others.
  • Bless the world.

We took the first two Sundays in this month to say we need to “tell the story.” And, here’s what we said about “telling the story:”

  1. The story we tell is the story of God.
  2. The story we tell is found in the Bible.
  3. The story we tell is accepted by some and rejected by others.
  4. The story we tell is our story, too.

Last week we talked about inviting others. Remember the key point last week? Let me remind you —

  • Andrew invited Peter after Andrew himself had met Jesus and spent the day with him.

So, here we are at the final third of our three-part theme — bless the world.

Jesus Tells the Story

Matthew tells us the story of how Jesus begins his ministry. Matthew’s perspective is a little different from Luke and from John, and includes more detail than Mark. That’s to be expected because if any four of us were asked to tell the story of a person we all knew, we would each have different memories and stories to tell.

Matthew begins by reminding us again that Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the Old Testament. This was important for Matthew’s readers, and Matthew is establishing the legitimacy of Jesus to do what he does next. And what is that?

Jesus begins to preach, or better to “tell out,”  God’s story. When we hear the word “preach” now we almost always conjure up something slightly unpleasant. Like the experience you’re having now for instance. But, back to my point. We think of someone in a pulpit talking to us in a one-way monologue that we hope ends before noon, or the Methodists get to Pino’s. (A restaurant here in our town) Or, even worse, we think of someone who is fussing at us, or correcting us, or speaking down to us. Years ago, Madonna recorded, Papa Don’t Preach, to express that exact sentiment. We don’t usually like for someone to “preach at us.” I am aware of that, by the way, and appreciate your showing up here most Sundays.

But, back to my point, again. Jesus begins to proclaim, to tell out, to make sure those he encounters hear what he has to say. And, what does he preach about? The kingdom of God.

Mark makes this very clear very early in his account when he says,

“…the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” Mark 1:15

Jesus does what we have chosen to do this year, tell the story. But, here is how Jesus does it: Jesus tells a story his hearers aren’t ready for. Jesus tells a story too good to be true. Jesus tells a story that few believe, even though they hope it is true. Jesus tells God’s story about God’s creation.

“But, wait,” I can hear you thinking, “didn’t you just tell us that Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God? Now you’re saying Jesus was preaching about creation. Which is it?”

Well, it’s both because creation is tied up in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is, broadly speaking, God’s will for God’s creation. That’s why Jesus teaches the disciples, and us, to pray,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

The coming of the Kingdom and the doing of God’s will in His creation (on earth) are virtually one and the same. That explains why Jesus preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The accomplishment of God’s will in God’s creation is quickly coming about.

Jesus Invites Others

Which brings us to what Jesus does next — he invites others. Matthew records the account a little differently than Luke’s Gospel, which we read last week. But, again, Matthew remembers different details than Luke does, so we don’t need to worry about that. The point is that Jesus sees Andrew and Peter casting their fishing nets and says to them,

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

Jesus also invites James and John, sons of Zebedee to come and follow him also. Are you beginning to see where I got our theme for 2008? Jesus tells the story, Jesus invites others, guess what’s next? Jesus blesses the world by

healing every disease and sickness among the people.”

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, again. Let’s back up and look at Jesus’ invitation. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What does that mean?

Of course, it’s obvious that Peter and Andrew were fishers of fish. They were casting fishing nets into the Sea of Galilee when Jesus sees them and calls them. They were fishermen who made their living in the world of fishing. They fed their families from their fishing. They bought new nets and boats, and possibly clothes, with the proceeds from their fishing. The houses they lived in, the sandals they wore, the offerings they gave in synagogue or at the Temple all were the result of their fishing for fish.

So, it is not small thing that Peter and Andrew leave their livelihood to follow Jesus, who promises to make them “fishers of men.” James and John also leave their father in the boat while they are mending nets to follow Jesus. If James and John were called the Sons of Thunder, do you think Zebedee was happy with their leaving him to repair nets and fish by himself? Maybe Zebedee was the Thunder that James and John were the sons of!

In any event, the inner circle of disciples — Peter, Andrew, James and John — two sets of brothers leave their livelihoods to follow Jesus to a new vocation — being fishers of men.

Fishers of men, not for men

When we read Jesus invitation, “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” we hear it probably like it was first explained to us. Instead of fishing for fish, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, are now going to fish for men. I’ve even preached entire sermons on this idea of fishing for men. Here are three points –

  1. When you fish for men, you have to go where they are.
  2. When you fish for men, you have to use the right bait.
  3. When you fish for men, you’ll land some, but some will get away.

Obviously, that is not an expository outline from this passage, but all of those ideas are inferred from the idea of being a fisherman. We take the fishing analogy and extend it to the gospel. Which makes really great preaching, but really bad Biblical exegesis and interpretation, because that is not what Jesus is saying.

In New Testament Greek, which was the common language of the civilized world at the time, there is a word for “for”, but Matthew doesn’t use it here. Matthew literally writes the words of Jesus this way –

I will make you fishers belonging to men.

Which does not mean fishers for men. So, what is Jesus saying? Something like this — “You’ve been concerned with the world of fish, now you’ll be concerned with the world of mankind.” In other words, the focus of Peter, Andrew, James and John will turn from the fishing industry, to God’s purpose for creation, mankind included.

Jesus Blesses the World

Do the words you say ever come back to haunt you? Maybe preachers have that happen to them more than most, because we talk more than most folks, publicly at least. I remember saying a long time ago in an energetic discussion with someone over healing, “Well, Jesus didn’t heal everybody!”

Matthew contradicts me in verse 23 — “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” But wait, there’s more. Before you think, “Well, curing every disease and every sickness” is not curing “everybody” — which is a logical thing to think, Matthew goes on in verse 24 –

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.”

All the sick…and he cured them.

If you were deaf, don’t you think that Jesus would be good news to you ears? If you were blind, don’t you think Jesus would be good news to your eyes? If you were demon-possessed, don’t you think Jesus would be good news to you when he frees you from the chains of demonic slavery?

The word we translate as ‘gospel’ is euanggelion, literally, ‘good message’ or ‘good news.’ And the gospel has to be good news or it isn’t the gospel. It isn’t about the kingdom. It isn’t the message of Jesus. But, the good news is not what we think the good news is. That’s why we have to repent — turn around in our thinking and acting — which is what repentance means. Change our minds and our ways. Do a 180. A u-turn. An about-face.

Why? Because we often think good news would be we get to do what we want to do. We think good news would be if everyone saw the world like we do. Good news would be that I’m okay, you’re okay. But, that’s not the good news. That’s old news, and it’s neither good nor true.

Jesus came with some real good news — God’s creation is going to be what God intended all along. Thousands of years ago, it was not in the will of God, or the plan of God, that sickness would afflict humankind. So, when Jesus comes preaching good news, preaching the kingdom of God, he demonstrates that the kingdom is near by healing everyone he can. Why? Because the good news is “God keeps his promises” — Acts 13:32. Look it up, if you don’t believe me. What could be better news than that?

Because up until Jesus comes, everybody is doubting if God is even interested in them anymore. Where is God while the Roman army occupies Jerusalem? Where is God when God’s people are harassed, arrested, and killed for wanting their homeland back? Where is God when the Temple is used as a place of commerce and merchandise? Where is God when the High Priest is in the pocket of the emperor along with their own king, King Herod? Is God going to do anything? Is God going to keep His promises?

So, Matthew reminds the people that Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Then, Matthew tells the story of Jesus, who tells God’s story, then invites others into it, and then demonstrates the story by blessing the world — healing every sick person. God is keeping His promises, that’s the good news.

We bless the world, too

Last Monday, we hosted a community-wide event celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. As I greeted the group that was assembled here last Monday, I noted that, as far as I knew, this was the first time in this community that white congregations and African-American congregations had come together on Martin Luther King Day. Applause broke out when I said that, because we all realized that we had made history that day. One of the organizers of the event, Mr. Cedric Hairston, assistant principal at Dan River Middle School, and formerly at Chatham Middle School, spoke toward the close of the service.

Looking at me, and in front of the whole assembly, he said, “Your church is doing good things in this community, and people notice.” We are blessing our world by uniting our community. We are blessing our world by inviting white children and children of color into our building to study and learn, to play, and to have a safe place after school. We are blessing the world when we open our doors to little children who are learning to play music and sing. We are blessing our world when we invite teenagers into our old fellowship hall to sing, and read poetry, and talk to each other, and have an event where they get to express themselves. We are blessing the world when we support the Northern Pittsylvania Food Bank, and provide emergency relief to neighbors in our community who need food and gasoline. We are blessing the world when we literally set prisoners free from the wrong thinking that has put them behind bars, to find new life in Christ, and new skills for living, like Karen Hearn does. We are blessing the world when we visit the sick, comfort those who mourn, and care for those who need our loving care.

So, we are doing all these good things, but we must remember the first thing — We are blessing the world, and will continue to bless the world, because we have found our place in God’s story. We know God is making all things new. We tell it over and over again. And we do it by crossing the old barriers of race and class that belong to a world that does not know God. And we do it by giving away what we have, rather than hoarding it to ourselves. And we do it by thinking of others first, and ourselves last. And we do it by giving of our time and our possessions because we know that Jesus did that and more for us. This is the kingdom of God, we are God’s people, we are to be a blessing to all God’s world.

Willow Creek Analysis by Wright picked up on Out of Ur

Out of Ur, Christianity Today’s blog, features Dr. Brad Wright and his analysis of the Willow Creek survey and REVEAL.  Of course, this blog had that info on my January 8 post, Willow Creek Study Flawed Says Prof.  If Out of Ur picked it up here, it’s nice to be noticed. But whether they did or not, it means that Dr. Wright’s analysis is getting noticed by the wider blogosphere, which will be helpful for all of us in the church conversation.  I encourage you to read Wright’s 11-post analysis for yourself.  Good insights.

How does your church observe Martin Luther King Day?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching Does your church have special plans to observe Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 21, 2008?  I wish I could tell you our church has observed MLK Day before, but that’s not true.  Like most white congregations, we just didn’t mention it.  We did close the office last year out of respect for our African-American neighbors, but that was all we did.

This year I am happy to say that we are hosting an MLK Day event.  We were asked to host the youngest African-American CEO of a publicly traded company in the US, Ephren Taylor.  Mr. Taylor is a 25-year old millionaire entrepreneur, and will bring a message of hope and encouragement to our community which is undergoing tremendous economic challenges.

But we were asked to host this event because we also host the Boys and Girls Club of Chatham at our church.   By our willingness to open our facilities to others, especially the children of our community, our church is becoming known as a uniter.   If you think racism is not a part of 21st century church culture, read Les Puryear’s blog posts, “Are Southern Baptists Racist?” and a follow-up here.  Les pastors a multi-ethnic, multi-racial congregation in North Carolina, and lives spiritual leadership on this issue.

This year talk about what you can do to honor the memory of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor, civil rights leader, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.  MLKDay.gov has excellent resources for observing “a day on, not a day off.”  Even the simple gesture of closing the church office will be recognized and appreciated in your community.   Small steps toward racial reconciliation will mean a great deal to those who have experienced social injustice.

Small Churches are important in The Long Tail

Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, describes the effect of more choice on consumer sales. Anderson explains it this way –

Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail. The Long Tail, pg 52

In other words, the more stuff there is to choose from, the more choices we make. Take books, for instance. The typical Borders retail store carries 100,000 titles. Amazon offers 1,000,000 titles. And, here’s the long tail — 25% of Amazon’s sales come from outside the top 100,000 titles. Again, more choice, more sales.

W hat does this have to do with church? Here it is:

longtail-copy.jpg

  • The red indicates the 10% of the churches that account for 50% of church attendance. Megachurches dominate the church world, like Top 10 hits dominate the music world.
  • But, the other 50% of church attendance (in blue) is spread throughout 90% of churches, and most of these are small by comparison.
  • The median church worship service has 90 people (the black line indicates the approximate median). In other words, half of all churches have more, half have less on a Sunday morning.

Small churches account for about 25% of all church attendance, but provide more diversity, flexibility, and sustainability than megachurches. 

Small churches are part of the long tail of the church world and are filling a niche that megachurches cannot fill.  Plus, small churches “fit” the culture of the 21st century — more choice, more diversity, and more discretion is what people are seeking.

The next time someone mentions “small churches,” just remind them that we’re part of the new economy and make up the Long Tail in the church world.

Sermon for Epiphany Sunday, Jan 6, 2008

Here is the sermon I’ll be preaching on Sunday, January 6, 2008 – Epiphany Sunday.  Have a great day Sunday!

Tell The Story, Part 1

Matthew 2:1-12 NIV

Continue reading “Sermon for Epiphany Sunday, Jan 6, 2008”