Friday, August 01, 2014

Being a Church May Be Simpler Than You Think

By Robin G. Jordan
Being a church isn't dependent on a particular type of building.

It doesn't depend on having an ordained minister in every town necessarily.

All it requires is God's people gathering around God's word and seeking to be a blessing to the community of which they're a part.

I’m not anxious about the future of the God's church in Bathurst or anywhere else because it is in his hands - not in our hands, not in the hands of the bankers.

I'm absolutely confident that as we partner together, even in difficult times, that we'll see some new and exciting ways of the people of God emerge.
This statement appeared in the July 23, 2014 edition of the Australian Broadcasting Company’s News. Mark Short who made it is referring to the court suit that Commonwealth Bank has filed against the Diocese of Bathhurst. Commonwealth Bank is seeking to recoup 25 million dollars from the Diocese of Bathurst and its parishes. The Anglican Development Fund defaulted on a loan from Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Bank is seeking the liquidation of the property of the diocese and its parishes. Short is the National Director of the Bush Church Aid Society of Australia.

As someone who has been involved in various roles in church planting in a number of denominations since the mid-1980s, I agree wholeheartedly with what Short said. Short makes five important points. Let us take a look at each point and weigh its implications.

1. Being a church is not dependent on a particular type of building.

Being the church does not require a particular type of building or even a building at all. The Journey, the church in which I have been involved for the past 7 years, gathers around God’s Word on Sunday mornings in the banquet room of a university student center or the center’s theater, depending upon the availability of the banquet room. This is intentional: our gatherings are in close proximity to the residence halls where most of the university’s students live. Students and other young adults are one of our primary ministry target groups.

We actually have four large gatherings at different times on Sundays. We have separate gatherings for Ignite—our middle school group, and Drive–our high school group, as well as the two main gatherings—one at 9:30 AM and the other at 11:00 AM. The principal difference between these gatherings is the content of the message which unpacks the Bible for each particular age echelon and relates its principles and truths to their concerns and needs. We also have smaller gatherings for our pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary school groups and a nursery for infants.

Since the mid-1980s I have gathered with fellow Christians around God’s Word in a variety of settings—a tennis club’s club house, an office, a storefront, a school gymnasium, houses,  a maritime museum’s conference room, a fire station’s garage, a café, and a campus ministry’s meeting room. The church that gathered in these settings was no less the Body of Christ than the church that gathers its own worship center.

2. It doesn't depend on having an ordained minister in every town necessarily.

Just as having a particular type of building is not something that is necessary to being a church so is having an ordained minister in every town. What every congregation does need is qualified individuals who can teach the gospel and the Scriptures. Every congregation also needs qualified individuals who can plan and lead worship. These individuals do not need to be ordained—only “called and appointed.” Licensed readers and pastoral assistants in an Anglican jurisdiction can perform both functions.

The members of the congregation themselves can be taught to provide pastoral care to each other and to individuals and families outside the congregation.

Advances in digital information technology make possible not only distance learning but also internet conferencing.  Sermon preparation groups that once were required to meet face to face can now meet online. A district pastor supervising the licensed readers and pastoral assistants of a network of congregations can maintain contact with his fellow gospel workers by Skype.

Being a church does not require Sunday or weekly celebrations of the Holy Communion. It does require Sunday or weekly gatherings around God’s Word. At such gatherings God is praised and worshiped, God’s Word is proclaimed and expounded, and prayer and thanksgiving is offered. The Anglican Church of Australia, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Diocese of Sydney, and the Scottish Episcopal Church have produced liturgical material for such gatherings.

A district pastor can officiate at celebrations of the Holy Communion on his regular visits to each congregation in the network of congregations in his care. Should the Anglican Church overcome its hesitation with regard to the propriety of licensing readers and pastoral assistants to officiate at such celebrations, these congregations may enjoy more frequent celebrations of the sacrament. Even Anglo-Catholics should have no scruples about licensing readers and pastoral assistants to baptize.

With their emphasis upon a Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Communion a number of the more recent Anglican service books, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer among them, have inferred that a church, if it is not centered on the sacramental ministry of a priest, is not a real church.

This view of the church, however, is neither Scriptural nor practical. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find anything that suggests that a Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Communion is essential to the existence of the church. We find several accounts of the institution of the Lord’s Supper but nothing that ties the church’s existence to its observance.

What we do find infers that the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a part of the fullness of the church but not its essence. Jesus did not establish his Church to celebrate the Holy Communion. He established the Church to go and proclaim the good news to all humankind and to make disciples of all people groups.

Observing the Lord’s Supper may be one of his commands but it is not the central task that Jesus gave to his Church. Jesus does not insist that his followers should make it their number one priority.

The New Testament does not specify who should officiate or preside at a celebration of the Holy Communion, who should give thanks over the bread and the cup, and who should distribute the elements. We may conclude from its silence that these matters were not matters of importance in the New Testament Church.

Paul in the instructions that he give the church at Corinth with regard to the observance of the Lord’s Supper is addressing not the elders of that church but the whole church. Nothing in the Scriptures prohibits a lay person from officiating or presiding at a celebration of the Holy Communion, giving thanks over the bread and cup, and distributing the elements.

What Anglicans believe about who should be the president of the Eucharist is based upon human tradition, not God’s Word. Even Anglicans who agree that the Eucharist’s president should be a presbyter do not agree on why.

Anglo-Catholics and those who have come to similar views by a different path do the Anglican Church a disservice in emphasizing the importance of the sacraments and the role of the priest as a mediator between God and his people. Their emphasis upon the sacraments’ importance and the priest’s mediatory role hobbles any Anglican jurisdiction in which this view is prevalent and places unnecessary limitations on its church planting activities and its growth in general.

The only mediator between God and humankind the Scriptures recognize is Jesus. The Scriptures emphasize that we have no need of any other mediator. An inconvenient truth is that what Anglo-Catholics and those of similar mind are emphasizing is not Scriptural. It is not compatible with what the Scriptures plainly teach.

The Thirty-Nine Articles recognize the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper “with due order and discipline as ordained by Christ” as mark of the visible church. The Articles say nothing about how frequently the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should be ministered.

The Articles state that those who exercise the office of ministration of the sacraments should be called and appointed to fulfill this office. They make no mention of the need for ordination as a pre-condition for the exercise of this office.

While frequent celebrations of the Holy Communion may be desirable, they are not absolutely necessary to the church being the church. The rubrics of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer require the celebration of the Holy Communion only on four Sundays of the church year, one of which is Easter Sunday.

As in the case of a prevailing emphasis upon the importance of the sacraments and the priest’s mediatory role, the normalization of frequent celebrations of Holy Communion in an Anglican jurisdiction unnecessarily hampers its church planting activities and its growth in general. Churches that have less than a Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Communion are made to feel like they are less than real churches.

These beliefs—the importance of the sacraments, the priest as a mediator between God and his people, and frequent celebration of the Holy Communion as a norm—have a particular cultus associated with them. This cultus includes beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, ornaments, and even a requisite type of building. It is an expensive cultus to maintain as is the priest whose sacramental ministry it insists must be at the center of a church’s common life and ministry. The increasingly prohibitive costs of maintaining this cultus and its priests has greatly slowed the progress of church planting in Anglican jurisdictions in which it is prevalent.

In many parts of North America this cultus has not proven attractive to large segments of the population. The churches of the Anglican jurisdictions in which this cultus is prevalent have a very small population base. They have not had any success in expanding this population base. The cultus itself for a substantial part of the general population carries with it negative associations. It is too reminiscent of the cultus of the Roman Catholic Church.

In some North American Anglican jurisdictions church leaders have sought to make their churches more attractive to a larger segment of the general population by blending this cultus with a more spontaneous and free-flowing style of worship, borrowed from charismatic and Pentecostal churches. This, however, has not mitigated the cost of maintaining the cultus and its priests. What they are essentially trying to do is put new wine in old wine skins. Catholic sacramental theology ties the work of the Holy Spirit to human actions; charismatic and Pentecostal theology recognizes the freedom of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in ways of his own choosing and not ours.

In recognizing that every local manifestation of the Body of Christ does not require a priest nor does it need to celebrate the Holy Communion every Sunday or week, an Anglican jurisdiction would be untying its own hands as well as well as freeing its churches from unnecessary burden. It could refocus its energies on training and equipping cadres of licensed readers and pastoral assistants for gospel ministry. These readers and pastoral assistants would minister in the community where they live and work or in an adjoining community. They would largely be non-stipendiary but would receive some remuneration for travel expenses, educational materials, and the like.

Rather than viewing the use of licensed readers and pastoral assistants as a stopgap measure necessitated by a shortage of clergy and funds for clergy stipends, we should see their use as an additional way of mobilizing more gospel workers and an integral part of a strategy to expand the Anglican Church’s population base in a particular country or region. In taking this important step a Anglican jurisdiction would enable even small communities in North America to have an Anglican church.

3. All it requires is God's people gathering around God's word and seeking to be a blessing to the community of which they're a part.

If anything can be inferred from the New Testament, it is the importance of coming together around God’s Word and doing all we can to be a blessing to others. For Christians the Bible is our rule of faith and life. God’s word is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path (Psalm 119:105). The Bible tells us that we are to love even our enemies and those who persecute us. The kindness we show to others, in particular to the last and the least, is kindness shown to Jesus himself. We are urged to do as much good as we can at every opportunity that comes our way.

A friend of mine tells a story of how after a struggle with his conscience he stopped to help another motorist push his stalled vehicle off the road. He recalls how the young Episcopal priest who serves the Episcopal church in the community and with whom he has some business dealings drove past them without even stopping to see if he could be of assistance. My friend likens this incident to what happened to the poor traveler who was beaten by robbers and left for dead in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite, when they saw the traveler’s body in the road, crossed to the other side of the road and walked hurriedly past the body. The person who stopped to help the traveler was the one who Jesus’ audience least expected—a hated Samaritan. Before he became a Christian, my friend was something of a Samaritan himself. He knows what it is like to be an object of scorn and disapproval. He hit rock bottom before turning to Jesus.

His story not only illustrates how one Christian responded to an opportunity to do good but also how God through his Word reshapes our hearts and transforms our lives. As the apostle Paul tells us, faith comes from hearing and hearing from the preaching of the Word. Through his Word God not only arouses faith in him but also confirms and strengthens that faith. Through his Word God renews our minds. God works invisibly in each of us to will and do his good pleasure. The Scriptures show us what is pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit prompts us to do what pleases God and enables us to respond to his prompting.

In C. S.Lewis’ Narnia story, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspin, Lucy, and their companions reach the island of the farthermost west where dwells a fallen star and his daughter. Every morning a bird brings a fire berry from the sun and places it in the mouth of the retired star. Each fire berry burns away his old age bit by bit until he is as young as the day he was born. Then he will be able to return to his place in the heavens. Catholics may see in this story an analogy between the fire berry and the Holy Communion. Each time they receive the bread and wine, Christ present in these elements burns away a part of their sin nature and infuses into them in its place part of his own nature.  I, however, believe that the affects of the fire berry on the fallen star are more analogous with the affects of Scripture on us. Each time we go to God’s Word, it brings about a change in us. It may not be a perceptible change. We may not feel or experience it right away but it does occur.

God’s people can gather around God’s Word in a number of ways. They can come together as a Bible study group in a house, apartment, office, dorm room, community center, classroom, shop, café, or pub. They can also gather outdoors under a shady tree or park shelter. They can contribute their presence, their talents, and their spiritual gifts to a Service of the Word in which the Scriptures are read and explained. They can meet as a small group to review the main points of the sermon and to decide how they are individually and as a group going to apply them to their lives and ministry.

Just a reminder, all God’s people are ministers. Some have discerned the ministry that God has given them. Others are in the various stages of discovering what that ministry is. All God’s people, however, have a ministry. It may change over time but they have a ministry none the less.

God’s people can be a blessing to their community in innumerable ways. My present church purchases nonperishable food and pack it in bags for distribution to needy children to take home and eat during the weekend or over longer breaks when they cannot eat breakfast and lunch at school. We also collect and donate food to the local food bank. We purchase school supplies for needy children at the beginning of the school year and warm jackets for the colder months.

 On one Sunday the pastor gave every person at the church’s two main gatherings $50 with the instructions that if we saw a need, we should use the money to meet the need. The thrust of the message on that Sunday was—“see a need, meet a need,” in other words, doing as much good as we could whenever we saw an opportunity. I do not remember the exact amount of the money that given out but it was a sizable amount. The money enabled us to impact the community in numerous ways. In a number of cases congregants would pool the money to meet a particular need.

My small group has done yard work for seniors who cannot do it for themselves. We have planted a community garden and given the vegetables from the garden to the residents of the local public housing project. We have passed out cold bottled water at Freedom Fest, painted children’s faces, and given away helium balloons. Other small groups have served free ice cream at the Ice Cream Festival, taken photographs of children in Halloween costumes at Trail for Treats, picked up trash off the side of the highway, and taken on various community service projects.

God’s people can offer wise counsel and encouragement to members of the community facing life’s challenges. They can form support groups for community members struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction. Alcoholism and drug addiction are major problems in small communities as they are in large cities. A psychiatric nurse who was a member of my previous church led support groups for survivors of child sexual abuse.  

God’s people can visit the chronically-ill, the invalid, and the shut-in, prepare meals for them, and do housework for them. Small communities often do not have home help services that enable seniors to remain independent and stay in their homes as long as possible. Church volunteers can fill in this gap in community services. The youth group and men’s fellowship of my previous church repainted the interior of the house of an elderly woman who could not afford house painter.

God’s people can tutor school children. They conduct supervised after school study groups to work on homework assignments and complete out-of-classroom projects. They can teach illiterate adults to read. They can also help non-English speakers to learn English.

God’s people can support other community groups. They can undertake community projects with them. This is a good way for Christians to meet non-Christians. A common interest serves as a point of contact. It helps a church to build bridges to the community and to form relationships with other community members. The list goes on.

Even a micro-church can have a tremendous impact upon its community.

The most important way that God’s people can be blessing to the community of which they are part is to take time to become acquainted with the people that they do not know, establish and build relationships with them, and have spiritual conversations with them. Even if these spiritual conversations do not bear fruit, they should maintain the relationships that they have established and built.

God’s people should always bear in mind that they are Jesus’ ambassadors.  They represent their Lord. They should also be mindful of the character of their Lord. The Jesus that other people encounter in them may be the only Jesus these people may ever know. Jesus grieved over the rich young man who was not willing to pay the cost of discipleship but he did not turn his back on that young man. The New Testament does not tell us but the Holy Spirit may have worked in the young man’s heart, causing him to change his mind.

God’s people can meet with non-Christians to read the Bible together. They can meet with a group of non-Christians and tell them stories from the Bible. They can purchase and give away digital audio Bibles to people who cannot read as well as printed Bibles to those who can. They can conduct backyard Bible studies. Here again, the list goes on. These are just a few of the ways that God’s people can be salt and light in their community.

What matters to God is not whether we are successful. What matters to him is that we are faithful.  We are constant and true to God and trust in his Word. Adam and Eve’s sin was that they did not take God at his word. We follow in their footsteps whenever we do not accept what God says on trust.

4.  I’m not anxious about the future of the God's church…because it is in his hands - not in our hands….

Jesus drew to his disciple’s attention the pointlessness of being anxious. Worry does not change anything. God’s care for us is providential. He will supply our needs as he provides for the needs of all living creatures. Jesus also told his disciples that they could expect to be persecuted as he was persecuted. At the same time Jesus also promised that the powers of hell would not prevail against his Church. He would be with his disciples and his Church until the end of time.

The future of God’s Church is in his hands. Local churches may come and go. Christians may suffer terrible persecution in various parts of the world. Churches may disappear because their members were lukewarm or cold in their faith. Churches may vanish or never even get off the ground because they were part of our plans for a community but not God’s. Jesus, however, has won the victory and his Church will be triumphant. We may not see it in our lifetime but we will see it on the day of his return.

5. I'm absolutely confident that as we partner together, even in difficult times, that we'll see some new and exciting ways of the people of God emerge.

As Christians partner together, they indeed can expect to see the emergence of new and exciting ways of being God’s people. Whether or not times are difficult does not matter. What does matter is responding to Jesus’ invitation to join him on mission.

In the United Kingdom and elsewhere we are seeing the emergence of fresh expressions of the Church. They are not old ways of being the church masquerading as new ways as is so often the case in the Anglican Church in North America. They represent a sincere effort to come to grips with the twenty-first century and the major paradigm shifts that have occurred in Western societies.

Partnering means taking part in an undertaking with others. It involves sharing in its risks as well as its benefits. It requires collaboration and cooperation.

An example of a partnering of churches is the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program. Participating churches pool their resources to support an array of ministries and missions, including church planting and evangelism efforts in North America and missionary work outside of North America.

Churches in and outside of Australia partner with Short’s own organization, the Bush Church Aid Society, which also partners with other organizations. By partnering together networks of churches can achieve collectively what they cannot achieve individually.

Denominations are basically church partnerships, as are the judicatories that form them. The voluntary nature of these organizations is frequently overlooked. Unsuccessful partnerships can be dissolved and new ones formed to take their place.

A church partnership may be viewed as unsuccessful when some members of the partnership seek to impose their own agenda upon the other partnership members instead sticking to carrying out the original purposes for which the partnership was formed. The options are to dissolve the partnership by common agreement or to withdraw unilaterally from the partnership. As we have seen in the case of the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and most recently the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia churches are exercising this second option.

Churches can partner with other churches and para-church organizations like the Bush Church Aid Society outside the formal structures of denomination and judicatory. It is these partnerships that I believe will produce the new and exciting ways of being God’s people to which Short refers. New wine cannot be stored in old wine skins. The wine skins will swell and burst and the wine lost. I share Short’s confidence that despite difficult times we will indeed see new and exciting ways of being a church.

8 Signs Your Vision Isn't Going to Catch On

So you have a vision for the future. Virtually every leader does.

But how do you know whether your vision is going to catch on—whether it will capture the imagination of people and actually move them forward into a different future?

I mean that’s a tall order.

And any leader who’s even spent a few minutes up front casting vision has asked themselves whether their vision will catch on or not.

Sometimes even after you unveil the vision, you live for months waiting and wondering whether it is resonating widely or whether it’s simply going to fizzle and die. Is there a way to know whether your vision will catch on, or whether it will sputter on before it dies out?

I think there is. Read more

What Does it Mean to Fear God?

We need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. These distinctions can be helpful, but they can also be a little dangerous. When Luther struggled with that, he made this distinction, which has since become somewhat famous: He distinguished between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear. Read more

Groups and Group Studies Matter

In my most recent book Transformational Groups, which I co-wrote with Ed Stetzer, we share that research strongly indicates the people in your church who are in a group are more likely to serve more sacrificially, share the gospel more frequently, give more generously, and repent more regularly than those not in a group. For this reason, we say boldly that “your groups matter.” They matter a lot to the spiritual health of your church.

We shouldn’t just settle for groups. We should long for groups that are built on a solid foundation. A group is only as solid as the foundation that the group is built upon, and too many groups are built on a weak foundation. So we also say that what your groups study is absolutely critical to the health of those groups. Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17), thus a group should help people encounter and dwell in the Word. The Word of God gives your groups the solid foundation it needs. Read more

5 Steps to Provide Direction to Your Bible Study Groups

Several years ago my oldest son began his college education. The one question the academic advisor never asked him was, “So, what courses would you like to take?” She never said something like, “Here at our university, just take whatever you like and we’ll give you a degree in something at the end of your 120th hour of class.” Students don’t tell the university what they are going to study … the university has leaders and experts who determine the courses of study and they tell the students! The dog wags the tail, not the other way around.

In some churches, though, the tail wags the dog. In some churches, Bible study groups and group leaders have been permitted to self-determine what they study. I actually attended one such group while visiting churches, looking for a new church home after a job relocation. One Sunday morning, a well-meaning group leader stumbled into class late, threw open his Bible, and said the following words (no exaggeration).... Read more

See also
Find the Bible Study That's Right for Your Groups

5 Tips for Faithful Follow-up

Proactively following up with newcomers can transform an introduction into a relationship. Carmel Baptist Church in Matthews, N.C., developed a well-established system to make sure guests don’t go unnoticed. Read more
TIP #6: In western Kentucky we have found that some folks do not respond well to a volunteer showing up on their doorstep unannounced with a welcome basket of goodies and church information. We make a follow-up phone call or send them a follow-up email. We also send a thank-you note, a gift, and church information through the mail. We intentionally avoid surprises that might put off first time guests. We tell them what we're going to do if they fill out a connection card when they visit one of our Sunday gatherings. It is less invasive and threatening. 

Pope Francis Apologizes for Pentecostal Persecution, But Italy's Evangelicals Remain Wary

A 'near totality' warn U.S. evangelicals (and others) against becoming too friendly with the Catholic Church.

Despite Pope Francis's unprecedented visit to a Pentecostal church and apology for past treatment of Pentecostals by Catholics, many Italian evangelical leaders remain concerned about how evangelicals in the United States (and other nations) are cozying up to the popular pontiff. Read more

News from around the Anglican Communion

New Zealand congregation quits Anglican Church over gay marriage vote

A second New Zealand congregation and its clergy have quit the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia over the May vote by that church’s general synod to begin the process towards permitting gay marriage. Read more

West Indies applauds General Synod's vote on women bishops

Leaders of the Church of the Province of the West Indies have applauded General Synod’s vote last week to permit the consecration of women bishops, saying the Caribbean churches will follow England’s lead. Read more
The West Indies and other provinces were waiting to see what the Church of England would do. They did not want to be the first to take that step but were ready to fall in behind the Church of England if it took the first step. I do not think what we are seeing is a domino effect. These provinces had already made up their minds. Folks in the Anglican Church in North America who are surprised by these developments simply were not paying attention to what has been happening elsewhere. While they may aspire to lead the global Anglican Church, ACNA leaders have a tendency to be fairly provincial. The ACNA clergy and laity also tend to be fairly provincial. Its provincialism is one of the ACNA's major drawbacks.
Slaughter of Nigerian Christians rises sharply

Boko Haram extremists and others have killed nearly as many Nigerian Christians in the first seven months of this year as were killed in all of 2013, the advocacy group Jubilee Campaign reported Tuesday (July 29). Read more

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alliance Defending Freedom: Three Acres Is the Space You'll Need

Three-acre minimum – that was what New Generation Christian Church in Rockdale County, Georgia was told it must buy if it wanted access to property for its worship services.

Yes. Three acres…Minimum.

Apparently officials in Rockdale County haven’t read Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Odd … Jesus didn’t say anything about a minimum amount of land. I mean, could you imagine three people needing three acres of land to worship the Lord? That may be a little too much.

So you can imagine the dilemma for New Generation Christian Church, a small, startup church that could not afford three acres of land. After being denied permission to use several different properties for its worship services, the church was forced to meet in the inadequate basement of a jewelry store. Keep reading

Ron Edmondson: 21 Ways to Keep a Church from Growing

I was once asked to help a church process how to get younger people to attend. After we discussed some change recommendations a man pulled me aside and said, “Son, we don’t need no fancy ideas around here. We like being a small church.

I soon learned he represented the feelings of the church as a whole. They thought they wanted to reach younger people, but the truth was — when faced with change — they were really satisfied with the church as it had been for many years.

There’s nothing wrong with being a small church. Let me say that again — There is nothing wrong with being a small church. In fact, in some communities, what is considered small is actually large by comparison to churches in larger cities. I’m not opposed to small churches, but I do have a problem with some small church mentalities.

I think there is a difference.

As long as there are lost people nearby, I believe the church has much work to do. And, any organization, Christian or secular, that refuses to accept some changes will stop growing and eventually die.

The fact is that growing a church is hard work. It’s relatively easy to keep things small or stop growth.

In fact, I can come up with lots of ways I’ve seen that keep a church from growing. Keep reading

Karl Vaters: The 3 Best Seasons for Bringing Change to a Church

It’s not always easy to fix long-term problems and implement needed changes in a church – especially when old, dysfunctional ways have taken root.

Sometimes we make our job harder than it needs to be, not by doing the wrong things, but by doing the right things at the wrong time.

Solomon said it best, in what may be the greatest change passage in the bible, when he told us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: … a time to plant and a time to uproot … a time to tear down and a time to build … a time to keep and a time to throw away … a time to tear and a time to mend…” - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For every needed change, there is a right season. So how do we know when that season is?

Over the years, I’ve discovered three simple principles that have helped me and my church. They’re found in the following old fable. Keep reading

Ray Stigile: 3 Questions To Ask Before You Copy Another Church

Recently, I helped a church staff evaluate the early blueprints for a new building project. I noticed a coffee bar was located in a very tight spot in the far corner of the lobby. When I asked the purpose of the coffee bar, know one on the team was entirely sure about it. They had seen one in a few other churches and figured it must be worth having. From there, we discussed how coffee bars are generally intended to foster community. The tight location of theirs would not allow for that. The team had come very close to falling into a trap that every church leader risks when they adopt someone else’s idea.

Replicating proven methods from other churches is not inherently wrong. In fact, it is nearly essential to innovation and relevance. However, when we transfer a method after only a surface-level observation, we fail to understand the strategic purpose behind the idea. Like puzzle pieces that don’t fit, these mismatched approaches can quickly limit the ministry they were meant to empower.

The next time you consider copying a method from another organization, ask yourself the following the three questions.... Keep reading

David Murray: 10 Steps To Help Seekers Find the Lord

Having considered 14 different kinds of seeker and then offered some reminders and questions when dealing with seekers, today I’d like to offer some guidelines for helping seekers find the Lord. Keep reading

See also
14 Kinds of Seekers
Reminders and Questions For Dealing With Seekers

Ben Simpson: It's a Team Harvest

As laborers for Jesus, we are all working to reap a harvest through the Gospel. We plant, we water and we harvest. However, we don't always get to do all three things with the same person.

Sometimes we're the one who plants the Gospel in a person's life. At other times we're the one who waters that Gospel so that it might take root, grow, bloom and bear fruit. Still other times we are the one who gets to harvest that soul by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ.

Of course, it's God who brings the growth and the harvest, but He uses human agents to bring it about (Matthew 9:37-38). Keep reading

Ebola: Will it spread and where will it end?

Patrick Sawyer took a flight from Liberia on July 20 feeling fine, but by the time he arrived in the Nigerian capital Lagos, he had diarrhoea and vomiting and collapsed. Five days later he was dead.

More than 670 people have died and more than 1,200 people have been infected in the latest outbreak which started in south-eastern Guinea in February and has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The idea that Ebola could spread further afield, including to the US or Europe, has put fear in the hearts of border controls around the world.

Liberian border crossings have been shut down and immigration controls have stepped up screening. But with symptoms taking days to appear, how can the spread of this epidemic be prevented? Keep reading

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Midweek Special Edition: July 30, 2014

In this midweek special edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer—the Most Widely Used Prayer Book in the Anglican Church in North America

The Challenges of a Common Liturgy—Part 4

By Robin G. Jordan

A number of developments have influenced the evolution of Anglican service books in the past 100 years.  They include the Anglo-Catholic movement, the ecumenical movement, the liturgical movement, the indigenization movement, the charismatic renewal movement, feminism and the gender equality movement, the gay-rights movement, the Ancient Future worship renewal movement, the secularization of Western societies, the waning of Christianity and the decline in church attendance in Western countries, the expansion of Christianity in non-Western countries, and the rapid growth of digital information technology. The last 100 years has been a significant period in Prayer Book revision. While the influence of these developments has not impacted all provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Church equally, all have felt their impact in one way or another.

The decade after World War I would witness a spate of Prayer Book revision. This Prayer Book revision would produce the 1918 Canadian Prayer Book, the 1926 Irish Prayer Book, the 1928 American Prayer Book, the 1928 Proposed English Prayer Book, and the 1929 South African Prayer Book.  The 1918 Canadian Prayer Book and the 1926 Irish Prayer Book were conservative revisions of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The 1928 American Prayer Book, the 1928 Proposed English Prayer Book, and 1929 South African Prayer Book, on the other hand, introduced radical changes in the Prayer Book. The 1928 Proposed English Prayer Book would prove too radical for Parliament, which twice rejected the revision.

1958 would mark a major watershed in twentieth century Prayer Book revision. The 1958 Lambeth Conference adopted four resolutions on Prayer Book revision and a fifth resolution on the Holy Communion service. 

In Resolution 73 the 1958 Lambeth Conference would commend to the study of all sections of the Anglican Communion the Report of the Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer on the subject of “the contemporary movement towards unanimity in doctrinal and liturgical matters by those of differing traditions in the Anglican Communion as a result of new knowledge gained from biblical and liturgical studies.”  In the second part of Resolution 74 the conference urged that “a chief aim of Prayer Book revision should be to further that recovery of the worship of the primitive Church which was the aim of the compilers of the first Prayer Books of the Church of England.” In Resolution 75 the conference commended to the study of the whole Anglican Communion “the counsel on Prayer Book revision given in the Report of the Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer.” 

Resolution 76 stated:
The Book of Common Prayer - The Holy Communion Service

The Conference requests the Archbishop of Canterbury, in co-operation with the Consultative Body, to appoint an advisory committee to prepare recommendations for the structure of the Holy Communion service which could be taken into consideration by any Church or Province revising its eucharistic rite, and which would both conserve the doctrinal balance of the Anglican tradition and take account of present liturgical knowledge.    
These resolutions would open a floodgate of theological and liturgical diversity. Among the recommendations the Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer was that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer should no longer be considered “the norm of doctrine and worship and uniting factor in the Anglican Communion” as it had been before that time. The next 50 odd years would see a proliferation of liturgies that bore no resemblance to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in language, doctrine, and liturgical usages.

It deserves special mention that the second part of 1958 Lambeth Conference’s Resolution 74 was based upon an argument used by the Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer. In a Churchman article, “Lambeth 1958 and the ‘Liturgy for Africa’” Roger Beckwith examines this argument:
The final argument used by the committee is that Cranmer's aim was a recovery of the worship of the primitive church : in this he achieved notable success, but was hampered by having less knowledge about early Christian worship than we have today. This definition of Cranmer's aim is less than a half truth, as the prefaces "Concerning the Service of the Church " and " Of Ceremonies " in the Prayer Book sufficiently show. Cranmer's great concern was to restore worship to conformity with the Christian Gospel, as set forth in Holy Scripture, and to construct orderly and edifying services based on the principles and instructions which Scripture contains. Anything which had never subserved this end or had ceased to do so, however ancient, he discarded. He undoubtedly retained what was old in preference to substituting something new when the new would have been no better, and restored what was old when it was better than what was in use and better than anything he could devise himself. But it is clear that he would not have restored what was old just because it was old, though no better than what was in use : this would have been contrary to his principle of avoiding needless changes in existing customs (see the preface ·~Of Ceremonies", and cf. Article 34). Had Cranmer known all that is known today about early Christian worship, he might well have made more use of it at points where changes were then needed. But he would not have made use of this knowledge at points where changes were not then needed, and he would not have expected us to make use of it at points where, because of his work, changes are not needed today. His work may not always have been " primitive ", but, in whole or in part, it has held its ground in all branches of the Anglican Communion since their inception, and therefore, on the basis of his principles, it has now the same claim to be left standing as the harmless medievalisms which he left standing himself.
Beckwith goes on to point out:
In any case, if Cranmer "achieved notable success" in restoring the worship of the primitive church, as the committee says, why need his Prayer Book be wholly set aside by those who wish to carry the restoration further? It must always be remembered that a complete restoration of the worship of the primitive church would be impossible for, as A. Couratin remarks, when criticizing the committee's report at this point, the evidence from the first three centuries is still scanty, the ecclesiastical and social situation was then completely different, and theology was in an immature state (Lambeth and Liturgy, 1959, pp. Sf.).
The 2008 Jerusalem Declaration is in part a rejection of the doctrinal and liturgical recommendations of the Report of the Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer. With the declaration the first GAFCON Conference sought to undo the damage that the 1958 Lambeth Conference would cause with its endorsement of the sub-committee’s Report. It calls the Anglican Church back to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as the Anglican standards for doctrine and worship.

The 1960s and 1970s in the United States would see the production of series of experimental liturgies and trial services for use in the Episcopal Church, which would culminate in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The process of Prayer Book revision would prove divisive for American Episcopalians. Some would welcome the new liturgies and services; others clung resolutely to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The movement to ordain women and other developments in the Episcopal Church would exacerbate the situation.

General Convention’s authorization of the 1979 Prayer Book and women’s ordination would cause an exodus of Episcopalians unhappy with these changes and the formation of the abortive first Anglican Church in North American. The Continuing Anglicans as they would come to be called soon fell out over doctrine and other matters. The first Anglican Church in North America would quickly fragment into a welter of rival Continuing Anglican jurisdictions.

A form of extreme Anglo-Catholicism would become the dominant theology in most of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions. While these jurisdictions would retain the 1928 Prayer Book as their official liturgy, in the jurisdictions in which this form of Anglo-Catholicism was the dominant theology, the texts and rubrics of the 1928 Prayer Book would be supplemented by those of various editions of the Anglican Missal. The Anglican Missal would become their standard of doctrine and worship.

A number of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions have disappeared since the early days of the Continuing Anglican movement. The remaining jurisdictions have seen a decline in the number of their clergy and congregations with the shrinking of their population base due to attrition from ill-health, death, and defection to the Roman Catholic Church.

During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century the Episcopal Church had developed an anti-evangelical identity that associated evangelism with evangelicalism. The Continuers who were for a larger part former Episcopalians shared this identity. They did not develop in their churches the evangelistic culture that is essential to a church’s fulfillment of the Great Commission and its subsequent growth.

The Continuing Anglican jurisdictions in starting new congregations relied heavily on building these congregations around a core of traditionalist Episcopalians unhappy with developments in the Episcopal Church. They essentially targeted a very miniscule segment of the population. They also relied on the appeal of what they touted as the traditional worship of the 1928 Prayer Book to attract additional members.

Due to their clergy’s use of various editions of the Anglican Missal, worship of their churches went well beyond that of the 1928 Prayer Book. Even where only the 1928 Prayer Book was used, the worship of Continuing Anglican churches would have limited appeal. It did not prove the draw which Continuers though that it would: It did not cause people to flock to their churches. The way they worshiped was too strongly associated in the popular mind with Roman Catholicism. Their church services were tiresomely long and the language used in the services unfamiliar. Other factors contributed to their worship’s lack of appeal.

This miscalculation has resulted in the decline of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions as their clergy and their congregations have aged and died. A new generation of Episcopalians unhappy with developments in their denomination is accustomed to the 1979 Prayer Book. This generation has preferred to form its own breakaway jurisdictions—the Anglican Mission in America and the second Anglican Church in North America.

What has happened to the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions shows how the choice of a service book can adversely affect the life and ministry of a denomination.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has been in use for more than three decades. The 1979 Prayer Book was a more substantial revision than its predecessor. Like the 1928 Prayer Book , it shows the influence of the nineteenth century Catholic Revival. It also shows the influence of the twentieth century ecumenical and liturgical movements.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the official Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church. The 1979 Prayer Book enjoys wide use in the second Anglican Church in North America and is used in a number of other denominations. It is the most popular source of liturgies for the convergence movement, a movement of evangelical and charismatic churches in the United States, which blends charismatic worship with liturgical forms of service.

While retaining a number of services in traditional or Jacobean English, the 1979 Prayer Book’s principal language is contemporary English—not quite the vernacular but what can be described as “good liturgical English.”  It introduces a number of new prayers and rites and a new liturgical Psalter.

The 1979 Prayer Book emphasizes the centrality of the Holy Eucharist to Christian worship. For celebrations of the Holy Eucharist the 1979 Prayer Book adopts the structure recommended by the 1958 Lambeth Conference’s Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer.

The doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice championed by the 1958 Lambeth Conference’s Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer is evident in the 1979 Prayer Book’s eucharistic prayers and catechism. This doctrine maintains that the church participates in Christ’s ongoing sacrificial activities through the celebration of the Eucharist. It has been critiqued by Roger Beckwith, J. I. Packer, and others and shown to be inconsistent with the Scriptures and the Thirty-Nine Articles.

The 1979 Prayer Book’s doctrine of eucharistic presence is one of moderate realism. The wording of the four eucharistic prayers and the words of administration in the Rite II Holy Eucharist and the second eucharistic prayer and the retention of the 1548 Order of Communion in the Rite I Eucharist point to a real presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements. Both rites do not entirely exclude the twin notions that the eucharistic elements undergo a change in substance and that the Eucharist itself is a reiteration or representation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

The eucharistic doctrine of the 1979 Prayer Book is far removed from that of the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is a culmination of the movement of the American Prayer Book away from the eucharistic doctrine of the classical Anglican formularies that began with the Episcopal Church’s adoption of the 1789 Prayer Book and its subsequent adoption of the 1804 revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles. The Episcopal Church would not require clerical subscription to this revision. The 1979 Prayer Book relegates the Thirty-Nine Articles to its historical documents section, reflecting a common view in the Episcopal Church (and its latest offspring, the second Anglican Church in North America) that the Thirty-Nine Articles is a relic of the past.

While the 1979 Prayer Book has been criticized for the emphasis that it gives to the baptismal covenant, the target of this criticism is in actuality the liberal interpretation and application of this covenant and not the book’s. The rubrics and wording of its baptismal rites permits two different interpretations of these rites. One interpretation is that confirmation, as understood in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, occurs with the anointing of the newly-baptized with chrism, or blessed oil. In any event the position of the 1979 Prayer Book is that baptism is complete initiation into the Christian Church. This position is consistent with the Scriptures and is one of the 1979 Prayer Book’s strong points.

Among the other strong points of the 1979 Prayer Book is that metrical versions of the Invitatory Psalms, and of the Canticles after the Readings,  may be used at Morning and Evening Prayer. In special circumstance, a hymn may be sung in place of a Canticle. These provisions in the Additional Directions for Morning and Evening Prayer are a boon to small congregations which lack the musical leadership, acoustical environment, and/or voices to sing chant, which have a large number of children in the congregation, or whose ministry target group shows no affinity for plainsong or other forms of chant.

The most common method of reciting the Psalms in churches used in Episcopal and Anglican churches is responsively. This is the most boring, pedestrian, and uninteresting method of reciting the Psalms. Its use accounts in part for the lackluster worship of small Episcopal and Anglican congregations for whom Morning Prayer is the principal service on most Sundays and whose circumstances prevents them from singing chant.

Morning and Evening Prayer may be used as the Liturgy of the Word at a celebration of the Eucharist.  

An Order of Worship for the Evening with the addition of psalms, readings, canticles, hymns, and prayers may be used as an evening service. This provides congregations with an alternative form of evening worship in place of the Eucharist or Evening Prayer. The format is particularly suitable for the use of house congregations and other small congregations worshiping in unconventional settings.

The 1979 Prayer Book offers a number of options for the entrance rite of the Eucharist. Among these options is that an Opening Acclamation may be said and a metrical version of a Canticle or  hymn sung, after which the service may continue with the Collect of the Day. This simplified entrance rite is musically less demanding for small congregations than singing both a hymn and a Canticle. The offertory is free from the unnecessary accretions that clutter this ancillary rite in a number of more recent Anglican service books. The Eucharist moves quickly to a close after the distribution of communion.

The first half of the Eucharist through the Prayers of the People may be used as a separate Service of the Word on Sundays and other occasions where there is no celebration of Holy Communion. A collection may be taken after the Prayers of the People and the service concluded with the the Lord’s Prayer, the General Thanksgiving, and the Grace.

This option permits congregations that are accustomed to a weekly celebration of the Eucharist to use a familiar service in the absence of a priest. The service may be led by a deacon or licensed lay reader. It also provides an alternative form of morning worship for congregations with a large number of unbaptized adults and children. It offers the advantage of familiarizing them with the worship format that they are most likely find in other churches using the 1979 Prayer Book. People are inclined to prefer the worship format with which they are most familiar. In addition, the service provides an option for congregations that simply wish to gather as God’s people around the God’s Word on Sundays and other occasions.

The 1979 Prayer Book also provides directions for informal celebrations of the Eucharist—sometimes dubbed “Rite III.” These directions include two forms which may be used to prepare eucharist prayers for use with these celebrations. The rite’s major drawback, beside the wording of these  two forms, is that it may not be used at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Eucharist. The directions for the rite may also not be used to craft an informal Service of the Word. These restrictions greatly limit its usefulness.

Among the weak points of the 1979 Prayer Book is that the services of Morning and Evening Prayer do not permit the omission of everything after the Salutation, “The Lord be with you,” if the Litany or another general intercession is used. The omission of the Suffrages and the Collects is a common feature of the more recent Anglican service books when the Litany or another general intercession is used for the Prayers. This keeps the service from becoming overly long and burdensome and eliminates redundant elements from the service. It also applies the general liturgical principle, “less is more.”

The 1979 Prayer Book contains no provisions for alternative forms of morning worship other than those already noted. While the Episcopal Church has produced a number of new rites since the adoption of the 1979 Prayer Book, it has not produced any new forms for regular services of public worship. The focus of the supplemental liturgical material in Enriching Our Worship 1 is the use of gender-inclusive language and feminine imagery of God in the Eucharist.

From a liturgical perspective the Episcopal Church has not come to terms with its declining worship attendance and increasing clergy shortage. Its worship continues to be centered on the Sunday or weekly celebration of the Eucharist. In other parts of the Anglican Communion provinces have responded to declines in attendance and shortages in clergy with new patterns of worship and greater reliance upon licensed lay readers. They are exploring new formats for gathering as God’s people around God’s Word and new ways of doing church. In upcoming articles in this series we will take a look at the lessons we can learn from the experiences of these provinces.

See also
A Prayer Book for What? The Challenges of a Common Liturgy—Part 3
A Compendium of More Recent Anglican Liturgies
A Prayer Book for Where? The Challenges of a Common Liturgy—Part 2
A Prayer Book for Whom? The Challenges of a Common Liturgy—Part 1

How Outreach Revived Our Church

Although many churches with varied backgrounds and in different settings across the country find themselves stagnating, declining or dying, some of their counterparts in the faith community are a source of hope. Several churches have compelling stories to tell about experiencing dramatic turnarounds and returning to growth and vitality.

For its special 10th anniversary issue, Outreach magazine highlighted the stories of four churches whose pastors credit a commitment to evangelistic outreach with saving their churches.

Here, from the Outreach magazine archives, you’ll find the stories of five more churches—in the words of their pastors—who found new life in large part because of a renewed focus on reaching out beyond their walls. Keep reading

Investing Outward

Q: I pastor a small church, and I feel like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day. Nothing changes. Every week, we have the same people. We’re not reaching anyone. As a pastor, it’s discouraging and frustrating. Is this normal? Is this the way it has to be?

A: Sadly, it is normal. Thankfully, it isn’t the way it has to be.

I’ve experienced the same mind-numbing and heart-wrenching circumstance described in this question, but I’ve also experienced the joy of leading the church beyond it. More importantly, God’s Word makes it clear that the church never has to stay stuck. Our reality is defined by the resurrection, not the tomb. Keep reading

Lead Your Church to Love Your City

Within a half hour of the writing of this article, I noticed some pretty graphic extremes. On one end, I heard about 15 different languages spoken, observed the building of four new high rises, saw the hustle and bustle of a more than a million plus people in downtown Miami, and even jumped on the metro mover to get to my next appointment; that’s one extreme. The other extreme led me to greeting the resident homeless guys that stay right outside our church office area, out of choice by the way, walking through the courthouse district that deals with the custody takeover of children in troubled homes, and seeing the local pimp doing … well, doing what he does. Dear Lord, how are we, as the church, going to reach all of these people? Where in the world do we start? Keep reading

Metrics for A Different Kind of Church

“How do you want your church to be different two years from now?” The typical answer is, “We want more people!” That can be expressed in different forms such as; “We want our auditorium full!” or “We want to start more small groups!” or “We want to see our attendance grow by 10%!” or “We want to start additional services so more people can attend!” Everyone wants more people and more people is good. Jesus wants more people and we should count people because people count. The problem is when the numbers become the end result. Keep reading

Who Invented the TULIP?

Chances are, if you’ve ever heard of the “five points of Calvinism,” you heard them first in the form of a flower—a tulip, to be exact. If your earliest awareness of these points was anything like mine, it began with the fallenness of humanity and ended with the security of the believer, with the most difficult doctrine planted stubbornly in the center, like this.... Keep reading
A fascinating article on the origin and history of the acrostic TULIP.

Three Views on How Long a Sermon Should Be

What is the trend? Are church members and church leaders saying sermons should be longer or shorter? The answer is “yes.”

If my answer is confusing, I understand. But the reality is there are two major trends taking place related to sermon length. I have been following these trends through anecdotal information and social media polls for three years. There are growing numbers of respondents who believe sermons should be longer. There are also growing numbers of respondents who believe sermons should be shorter. And there aren’t many people in the middle of those two divergent views.

By the way, there is a smaller, but consistent, number that feel the pastor should preach “as long or short as God leads” with no constraints at all. That view is the third of the three perspectives. Keep reading

The Church Deserves Better than Ugly Decorations

Neither Granny’s castoffs nor HGTV trends belong in church buildings.

1987 called. It wants its tissue box cover back. You know the one, made by hand in colonial blue and dusty rose calico.

Author David Murrow appears to have found the final resting place of this artifact in the churches he's visited. He excerpted a section from his book, How Women Help Men Find God, in a blog post entitled "Does Your Church Look Like A Beauty Parlor?", describing the country-folksy décor in some small and mid-sized church buildings.... Keep reading
My own beef is with the ecclesiastical kitsch that Anglicans and Episcopalians use to decorate buildings and more. It is not only used for the ornaments of the church but also for ornaments of the priest. A number of church supply houses in the United States and Canada cater to their penchant to use it. Churchgoers become so accustomed to it that they do not notice it or worse--they develop a taste for it. Urgh!!

Reaching People in Evangelism

“There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:7-9)

In John 4:7-9, Jesus crossed three barriers. The first was that which separated Samaritans from Jews. In the eighth century BC, the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and deported the Israelites who lived there. In their place, the Assyrians brought other peoples to populate the land (see 2 Kings 17:24). These Gentiles sought to worship both the gods of their homelands and the local deity, the God of the Israelites, so they mixed the religions. This was a grave offense to the Jews, and over the centuries their hatred only grew as the Samaritans developed their own brand of Judaism. Because of this resentment, most Jews traveling between Jerusalem and Galilee went the long way around Samaria and carefully avoided personal contact with Samaritan people. Rabbi Eliezer taught, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.” So the first barrier Jesus crossed was a barrier of ethnic and cultural hatred. Keep reading
This excerpt is from Richard D. Phillips’ Jesus the Evangelist. Download the ebook free through July 31, 2014.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why Defining Missional Matters

A few months ago, progressive mission-thinker Steve Knight critiqued a post I wrote here on The Exchange.

I like Steve. He's smart and engaging. And, I like the name of his blog, Missional Shift (particularly since David Hesselgrave and I edited a book called MissionShift). We obviously disagree on some things, but that is what will make a good blog discussion.

His comments were especially helpful to me as I'm in the process of writing one of the "five views" in a forthcoming book, which will include contrasting a Mainline and evangelical look at mission and missional.

Steve and I dialogued some in the comment section of his post, but I believe it could be beneficial to respond to his criticisms here. Keep reading

Big and Impersonal, Or Small and Pathetic: Are Those My Only Church Options?

Big churches have a reputation for being overly programmed and impersonal. Small Churches have a reputation for being backwards and lazy.

I’ve always fought against those characterizations, believing them to be unfair caricatures. But a recent conversation made me realize that those stereotypes have their foundations in some sad realities.

I was talking with a faithful Christian and regular church attender when he started bending my ear about how hard it was to find a church in the city where he and his family had moved to about a year ago.

“I hate to say it.” he answered me. “but I haven’t found a new church home since we moved here.”

I was surprised. He wasn’t the kind of person to let his faith or church attendance lag.

“Why?”, I asked with genuine concern.

“Well, I go to church almost every Sunday, but finding a church we want to commit to has been harder than I excpected. They’re either really big and impersonal, or small and kinda pathetic. I’m beginning to think those are my only options. I plan to try a few more that people have recommended to me, but I’m not hopeful. If we have to choose, we’ll pick one of the big, impersonal ones. It’s not what we want, but at least it won’t be pathetic.”

Since he used the word pathetic twice, I asked him what he meant by it. He then gave me a short, spine-chilling tour through the minefield of Small Churches he’d visited. Dumpy buildings, smelly facilities, stale singing, boring preaching, legalistic preaching, uneducated preaching, uninspired preaching, unbiblical preaching, out-of-context preaching… I started sensing a theme.

I gave him a couple ideas about how to broaden his search grid to find other church options, but since that conversation I haven’t been able to get him or his predicament out of my mind.

Big and impersonal.

Or small and pathetic.

He’s not a picky or judgmental person at all, so it makes me wonder how many other people are looking for a church and wondering if those are their only two options. Keep reading

See also
The Elements of a Healthy Small Church – And the Hidden Agenda that Can Kill It

Does Your Church Embrace the Vision? Two Ways to Know

There’s a crucial question every ministry leader must answer when it comes to their vision. When do you know the vision has become ingrained in the culture of your church and not just in your own dreams?

It’s not enough to have a vision, even a compelling one. It’s not enough to be able to communicate your vision well. And it definitely isn’t enough to be passionate about your vision. Of course, you’re going to be passionate about your vision. It’s your vision.

What you really want is for the vision to stick. To infiltrate and permeate every area of your church. To be so ingrained in your culture that people speak the vision and do the vision without even thinking about it.

But how do you know when that has happened?

Two indicators stick out to me. Here’s the first.... Keep reading

Our Father…

My first class at the Free University of Amsterdam shattered my academic complacency. It was cultural shock, an exercise in contrasts. It started the moment the professor, Dr. G.C. Berkouwer, entered the room. At his appearance, every student stood at attention until he mounted the podium steps, opened his notebook, and silently nodded for the students to be seated. He then began his lecture, and the students, in a holy hush, dutifully listened and wrote notes for the hour. No one ever dared to interrupt or distract the master by presuming to raise his hand. The session was dominated by a single voice—the voice we were all paying to hear.

When the lecture ended, the professor closed his notebook, stepped down from the podium, and hastily left the room, but not before the students once more rose in his honor. There was no dialogue, no student appointments, no gabfest. No student ever spoke to the professor—except during privately scheduled oral exams.

My first such exam was an exercise in terror. I went to the professor’s house expecting an ordeal. But as rigorous as the exam was, it was not an ordeal. Dr. Berkouwer was warm and kind. In avuncular fashion, he asked about my family. He showed great concern for my well-being and invited me to ask him questions. Keep reading

5 Game Changers for Small Group Sign-Ups

Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tenn., recently tripled the number of people who committed to be in a small group. The key was making it as easy as humanly possible to find and join a group. Here are the church’s five game changers....Keep reading