Monday, November 30, 2009

Missional Renaissance: Introduction

I’ll catch up later on all the books I’ve read over the last few months, but failed to blog. I want to start working through the most recent book I’ve completed, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church by Reggie McNeal. It is a very practical, challenging book. I’ll sketch the intro during this post and lay out the rest of the book over the next couple weeks.

Missional is a buzzword, but it is even more. McNeal believes it is the largest shift in the church since the Reformation. It is difficult to define, but McNeal italicizes: “Missional is a way of living, not an affiliation or activity” (p. xiv). The missional church looks differently at the way the church engages the world. The shifts that we’ll flesh out are a shift from internal to external ministry focus, program development to people development, and church-based to kingdom-based leadership. These are “not destinations; they are compass settings” (p. xvi).

And how we know whether we’re headed the right direction will change how we “keep score” to know if we’re being successful. For instance, right now churches determine success by the number of attendees, the offering, and how many people are serving in the church (or something like these). The missional church has a different scorecard. It will focus on how people are growing, how many hungry children are being fed, or how many inmates are mentored to mainstream back into life. Sometimes this is more difficult to track, but McNeal believes this is the new way.

These three shifts (and how we track success) means church is going to look really different in many cases. There are some key elements that contribute to these changes. First is “The Emergence of the Altruism Economy” – think Bono, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, or TOMS shoes (see picture). People are moved by giving to others and the church needs to move from being a recipient of generosity to a vehicle of generosity. The world is not impressed with “successful” churches. They want organizations that make a positive difference in the world. The church needs to focus externally.

Next, “The Search for Personal Growth.” Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life sold millions because people want their lives to matter. Churches need to take life-change into consideration rather than program development. If going through the programs don’t actually affect life change, so much for the programs. People want to grow themselves and they want to see those less fortunate grow as well. I’m trying to do this in one of my mentoring relationships right now. Asking, “Where do you want to be in six months?” And then we’ll try to figure out how to get him there.

Finally, “The Hunger for Spirituality” is where religion is not clergy-dominated and expressed in sacred time and space, but in all aspects of one’s life. The idea is that the church should be present everywhere (that’s Kingdom-based thinking) rather than the church just being a place. We know this, we say it, but a missional mindset has no substitute for it.

Just reviewing my notes in the margins, I’m re-challenged by this book. I’m looking forward to getting into it again.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Go See The Blind Side

Suzanne and I went to see The Blind Side last night. Wonderful film. Almost as good as the book. I posted on the book a few years ago. Here's what I thought then. It was a late afternoon showing and the theater was pretty full. I imagine it will be around a little while, but don't let it get away.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sailing the Wine Dark Sea and St. Augustine

Awhile back a friend was telling me how much he loved City of God by St. Augustine. History judges it to be great, but 1/3 of the way through, it isn’t making my short list. Much of it is my own shortcomings. I don’t know Roman history well enough to get some of his references and I’m not interested enough in Platonic thought to unravel his arguments where I currently find myself. My fault, not the saint's. Apparently I'm not as smart as my friend. I didn't need Augustine to know that fact.

City of God is a defense against those who blamed Christians for the crumbling of the Roman Empire. His defense of Christianity starts with dismantling the religious and philosophical climate of the day. I may get into Augustine’s work at another time; maybe I won’t. But he spends a good bit of time highlighting the debased morals of the Roman gods. “What does this have to do with Sailing the Wine Dark Sea?,” you ask.

Thomas Cahill has written a series of books he calls the “Hinges of History.” I loved the first, How the Irish Saved Civilization. I wasn’t as fond of The Gifts of the Jews – more liberal outlook on the OT than I’m comfortable with. His third is Desire of the Everlasting Hills, which is about the life of Jesus. I haven’t read that one. This summer I finished Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter. I linked it to Augustine and moral decline because, whether it is a fair picture or not, Cahill paints the ancient Greeks as a bawdy, promiscuous culture. I’m not speaking of nude statues, but the crude poetry he highlights, including men seducing young boys. While much of the high art was a celebration of the human form (specifically male, women were almost always clothed as virginity and chastity were highly honored for women), private art had its share of lewdness. And, perhaps as Augustine laid it out, Cahill denotes the degradation of art as correlating with the fall of Athens from prominence.

But there’s more to this book worth noting – and some of it very good. Cahill talks about Greek warriors and how their style of warfare are honored by influential military strategists and historians of our day. He shares how stories like the Odyssey were hundreds of years ahead of their time in identifying the emotions of one drawn to their home – something possibly dismissed at its time. Ancient Greeks identify the petulant Achilles as more a hero than the honorable Odysseus. He also talks about governance. He opens each chapter with a description of pertinent literature, highlighting key texts. Since I recently read the Oresteia, which he refers to in the book, I’ll save political comments for the post on the Oresteia.

When I think of Ancient Greece, I can’t help but think of philosophers above all else. Cahill surveys Greek philosophy in 50 pages. It is a nice, brief survey that spends a bulk of the time, after a brief discussion on pre-Socratic philosophy, on Socrates and Plato before moving on to Aristotle and some others. Cahill talks about the groundbreaking thinking, but also notes the arrogance, assuming Plato would be, either explicitly or hypothetically, be dismissive of democracy and women adding any value to society. For all the lofty thoughts, there are some pragmatic issues that mar their intellectual heroics.

After reading Sailing the Wine Dark Sea, it made its way to my give away/sell back stack in my office. I’ve now moved it back to my Bible Backgrounds section on my bookshelf. Do I recommend it? Not heartily. There are better books, but it isn’t a total loss, either. Quite a help, aren’t I?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be sure to give thanks for the many blessings in your life today.

Enjoy Psalm 111

Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance
of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;
8 they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abigail Adams

Let’s see if I can get this blogging thing rolling again. Forgive the false promises form my last mini-spurt of posts. No promises this time, but I’ll give it another try. OK, to the content.

I love this quote:

“When men know not what do, they ought not to do, they know not what.”

Just started watching John Adams, the HBO mini-series, that my brother-in-law loaned me a few months ago. I don’t know if this is a real quote of Abigail Adams, but, if I understand it correctly, it’s fantastic. My translation: “If you’re too dumb to know what to do, you’re too dumb to know what can't be done, too. And you just may do the impossible.”

I don’t know if this happens to others, but I often feel paralyzed when I’m not sure what to do in a given situation. Sometimes there’s wisdom to waiting, to be sure. But sometimes not knowing what to do doesn’t bind you to boiler plate solutions. Perhaps the lack of pre-established answers (not knowing what to do) opens the door to new possibilities that nobody has ever imagined.

Not knowing, all of a sudden, seems like something to be envied rather than feared. What new horizons might God be opening up in your life. Might it be the very area where you don’t know what to do?