Monday, April 21, 2008

Jesus, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Bible

I’ve read excerpts from the Gospel of Thomas before, usually the most outlandish verses from an orthodox perspective, but I’ve never read the whole thing. But I just read the whole thing the other day and I was surprised at how often there are legitimate quotes from canonical Scripture as well as some quotes that have similar ideas. Why blog on this? As much as Thomas lines up with Scripture (the aberrant stuff notwithstanding), it just doesn’t compare with Scripture. I’ve always heard this from professors and others. “Just read the Bible compared to other literature,” they’d say. “There’s no comparison.” I’m only a dabbler in noncanonical literature, but in my limited dabbling, my professors are being proven true. Thomas was a quick read with a bunch of Jesus sayings, but there’s no story. There’s no hero. There’s no conflict. It’s just sayings, but there’s so much more to the Jesus of the Bible. There’s nothing like the storyline of Scripture and God’s revelation through history in the Scriptures.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

More Chesterton goodness

Still wading through Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton with a few other guys. I’m generally a solitary reader, but I’m really grateful to Josh, Zach, and Justin as we work together to decipher Chesterton’s prose. Even though I’m dense sometimes, I love this quote and it reminds me to delight and hold God’s creation in appropriate awe and wonder.

…it may be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they especially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening. ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite for infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”

I love that. Reminds me of Jesus holding all things together (see Col. 1.17).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: Transitions to Missional Ministry (ch. 5)

Changes happens and much of it is out of control. We have to understand and adjust to the times like the Men of Issachar (1 Chron. 12.32). This chapter expresses a bunch of shifts in the church.

From Programs to Processes
There are many experts eager to transport their programs, but Stetzer has learned that things don’t work universally. Instead churches need to focus on eternal purposes, but be willing to put together organic processes that function together, much like the human body.

From Demographics to Discernment
The church is moving, and needs to move, from demographics on a spreadsheet to understanding their local communities and getting to know why people are not being reached, who haven’t responded. It is a matter of really knowing who people are, rather than what demographic studies say they should be like.

From Models to Missions
Instead of transplanting models from megachurches, the trend is becoming to approach our communities like missionaries. Some helpful diagnostic questions:
1. What style of worship/music will best help this group to worship in spirit and truth?
2. What evangelism methods should I use here to reach the most people without compromising the gospel?
3. What structure of church would best connect with this community?
4. How can this church be God’s missionary to this community?

There’s some things that won’t work in one community, but will thrive in another.

From Attractional to Incarnational
“Nonrelational evangelism” is now seen as a contradiction. This isn’t to say there is no need for attractional ministry, but the fact that it needs to be grounded in relationships. The attractional model has worked well, but now we need to go out and reach people by being incarnational. A model mentioned is small groups that are organized by area where the group would live out the gospel and transform their community.

From Uniformity to Diversity
Not all churches should be the same. There’s no need to talk other churches down, but to make sure we’re focused on the same thing: “to glorify God by being an indigenous expression of church life where they are” (p. 66).

From Professional to Passionate
Church planting and ministry used to be the realm of the seminary-trained, but not any longer. With house churches cropping up, it has become clear – and it is biblical – that “ordinary believers should be able to do the ordinary activity of planting and pastoring churches” (p. 67).

From Seating to Sending
Bigger isn’t better anymore. Now it is a matter of moving from “every member a minister to every member a missionary.” The movement is less on building big churches and more on transforming communities by planting new churches – that’s Stetzer’s passion.

From Decisions to Disciples
There shouldn’t be a disconnect between reaching people and building them up. Don’t separate from evangelism and discipleship. The Bible doesn’t. A disciple is someone committed to growth of the inner life and living missionally.

From Additional to Exponential
People like the idea of multiplication of disciples, but Stetzer notes, in North America, “there is not much addition going on, let alone multiplication” (p. 69). Stetzer beats the church planting drum again. They lose a chunk of people and try to birth churches that are “born pregnant,” eager to plant other churches. It gives God great opportunities to grow.

From Monuments to Movements
We tend to turn movements into monuments, but we need to be about God’s mission without waiting until our church is just a little bigger.

Breaking the Code
1. Identify specific areas listed in this chapter where you need to transition to a more missional approach.
2. Describe how these specific areas need to be transformed in your specific context.
3. What would your church look like if it was truly missional?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: The Missional Church Shift (ch. 4)

While many of us think there is a single way to do church (usually ours!), Stetzer marks a shift that has occurred over the last few decades in how churches are built and function. There has been a transition over the years from church growth (how can we get the most people possible in church) to church health (building healthy churches – these are today’s megachurches), and now the shift is to missional churches. There are several elements that Stetzer indicates are "positive shifts in thinking" that will be covered in the next post.

The missional church is a movement from who the church is to what the church is called to be, according to Stetzer. There’s a great chart that can help identify where your church may be. I can't figure out how to get the chart into the blog post so I'll list each phase of recent church models and you can find the corresponding issues among each option.

Church Growth: 1) Members as inviters, 2) Conversion/Baptism, 3) Strategic Planning, 4) Staff-Led, 5) Reaching Prospects, 6) Gathering, 7) Addition, 8) Uniformity, 9) Anthropocentric, 10) Great Commission.

Church Health: 1) Members as ministers, 2) Discipleship, 3) Development Programs, 4) Team Leadership, 5) Reaching Community, 6) Training, 7) Internal Group Multiplication, 8) Diversity, 9) Ecclesiocentric, 10) Great Commandment.

Missional Church: 1) Members as missionaries, 2) Missional living, 3) People Empowerment, 4) Personal Mission, 5) Transforming Community, 6) Releasing, 7) Church Planting Multiplication, 8) Mosaic, 9) Theocentric, 10) Missio Dei.

Stetzer gives a nice warning that the missional church should not tear down the previous models, but build upon them.

To be a missional we need to give up the “sin of preferences” by using the Missional Matrix that helps us keep our mission in line with God’s by taking into consideration Christology (who God is and what He does), Missiology (strategies to expand the kindgdom where we are), and Ecclesiology (how the church is expressed where God has sent us). Each of the other movements and those who Barna calls “Revolutionaries” go out of biblical bounds by emphasizing one of these three elements of Mission. The missional church strives to function in the midst of all three without an over-emphasis.

Easier said than done, I imagine, but worth striving for. Here’s his questions for discussion.

The Breaking the Code Challenge
1. Review the chart. Circle one area on each row that best describes your church.
2. Based on your evaluation, where does your church fall? How would your church fit on the Missional Matrix - an overemphasis on Christology, Ecclesiology, or Missiology?
3. What are some steps you can take to become more missional?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: Responding to the Commissions of Jesus (ch. 3)

It’s been a while, but I’m still working through Breaking the Missional Code. I’ve read several chapters ahead, but now I’m taking some time to review them and blog them as food for thought and maybe even some feedback.

This next chapter looks at Jesus’ commissions and what we can learn about being missional from them. This isn’t deep exegesis, but Stetzer pulls a facet from each of them that we need to live out. Let’s get to them…

“We are Sent”

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."
The disciples were behind closed door, but Jesus called them out and sent them. We are called to be on mission in the community where God has placed us – whether we like it our not. Our mission is to bring people to God, not cling to our preferences. This is hard. We like our preferences, that’s why they’re our preferences, but our goal is to minister to others by breaking the cultural code – whether we like it or not. This means we have to move outside our evangelical subculture and embrace the mandate to break our cultural code in mission.

“To All Kinds of People”

Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Stetzer continues along the same lines: “After announcing his authority … he did not say, ‘Make sure all of your needs are met’ or ‘Make sure all of your preferences are satisfied.’ What he said was, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’” (p. 34). All kinds of people in Matthew means we are called to go to all the people groups of the world. That’s why missions is important. We are disobedient if we ignore it … and God is worth it. He is the God of all creation. But for us missions-minded folk, we need to remember that he loves the people groups in our neighborhoods and we need to love them. If we want to break the code in our community, we need to look at people groups beyond ethnic groups and look at the following kinds of subgroups that might need reaching.
People groups. Ethno-linguistic people groups (sharing ethnicity, language, and culture).
Population segments. Subgroups within a distinct people groups (cowboy church, children of immigrants who have more in common with Anglo neighbors than they do with their parents).
Cultural environments. Those defined by geographical environments (prison, college campuses, etc…)

“With a Message”

Luke 24:46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
The message is the forgiveness of sins. There are far-reaching implications of the gospel. It is a broad and deep message. It may be more than just the forgiveness of sins, but it is certainly not less.

“Empowered by the Spirit”

Acts 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
We’re not called to dwell upon eschatology, but instead to live empowered by the Spirit to reach our community.

The Breaking the Code Challenge
Each chapter has questions to help us think through living missionally as individuals and as the church. Here they are:
1. In order to be sent what are some personal preferences you must overcome?
2. How can you help those you lead to see the divots in your community?
3. What does it mean for your church to be the missionary in your community?