Archive for April, 2009

Understanding Context

In the News: Faith and Culture

I’m always intrigued when there are reports in the newspapers about surveys or polls on religious or spiritual life in America. Yesterday, I was given a copy of USA Today and found a very interesting commentary on the back page of the front section. We’ve all heard speakers at conferences say that our nation is becoming post-Christian. You may have even seen statistics saying that less and less Americans are believing in God. So, imagine my curiosity when I see this headline: Post Christian? Not even close. Stephen Prothero, the author of the article, is the chair of the Department of Religion at Boston University. He cites several studies. I invite you to read it with interest.

Today, imagine my curiosity when I see this headline: Loss of faith attributed to spiritual drift. This article originally appeared in the Washington Post. Here’s the opening lines of the article: “More Americans have given up their faith or changed religions because of a gradual spiritual drift than switched because of a disillusionment over their churches’ policies, according to a study released yesterday.

The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is the first large-scale study of the reasons behind Americans switching their religious faith and found that more than half of people have done so at least once during their lifetime.

It also illustrates how personal spiritual attitudes are taking precedence over denominational tradition.”

Later today, I saw that John Ortberg has written about the latter survey for Christianity Today. His article is called, Snapshots of Religious Life: What do the recent surveys tell us about the future of faith?.

To add to the above this week, Leadership Journal has a poll going this week on the topic: “Evangelicals are talking a lot more about “social justice.” How do you see this development?” As of Wednesday morning, here’s how the vote is going:
Wonderful, it’s long overdue. 62%

Happy, it’s making our message more attractive. 12%

Indifferent, it’s not relevant to my ministry. 2%

Confusing, it’s not something I understand. 3%

Disturbing, it’s a distraction from the Gospel. 21%

If you would like to add your vote to the poll, you may do so at: take poll

Any comments as to what the news is telling us about faith and culture in the U.S.? How does this impact your ministry? Is The End of Christian America here, or is coming, like Newsweek and Ryan writes about below?

Ministry Formation, Missional

More quotes from the Missional Renaissance

I have been blown away by the book Missional Renissance by Reggie McNeal and there is so much in it. So much that is so applicable to our situation as we plant Veritas in September of ’09. Here are some quotes that hit me right in the face (in a good way)

“The program-driven church has produced a brand of Christianity that is despised, not just ignored, by people outside the church. Their antipathy for what we call Christianity exists for all the wrong reasons. Basically, it comes down to our failure to demonstrate the love of Jesus, passing by people not like us on the other side of the road on our way to building greater churches.”

“There is no missional church without missional followers of Jesus.”

“The clearest sign that a conversion from ‘churchianity’ (internally focused and church centric) to missional engagement has occurred shows up in the church budget.”

“Consuming these monies for our own benefit with no community transformation to show for it, is an indictment of those who claim to follow the One who promised that he came to give abundant life to all people.”

“The program-driven systems favors a culture that creates church customers, not followers of Jesus.”

“The Missional Church assumes that service to others is the first step, not some later expression of spirituality.”

“People often grow more in intergenerational environments.”

“The Missional church ventures into the world as partners with God on his redemptive mission.”

Here is also some ideas that I got from the book in regards to concrete ways of being missional through Veritas.

1. Adopt a School
2. Bless Three people this week
3. Prayer Walking
4. Prayer Booth and Prayer Boxes
5. Reduce the number of church events on the calendar so that people are free to be in the community blessing others.
6. Create uses in your current facilities that bless the community in entrepreneurial ways- think coffee shops, art galleries for local artists, concert venues for local musicians, incubator space for young businesses.
7. Get educated on community facility needs that might intersect with your facility capacity.

Ministry Formation, Missional

The Missional Renaissance

The other day I received a book called The Missional Renaissance written by Reggie McNeal from my good friend Martin Hutchison (thanks Martin). I am only 3 chapters into it but boy is there some awesome stuff in the book. I think in the introduction and the 1st chapter alone I took 3-4 pages of notes. Here are some quotes that I resonated with.

“The missional development goes to the very heart of what the church is, not just what it does. It redefines the church’s role in the world in the way that breaks sharply with prevailing church notions. These differences are so huge as to make missional and nonmissional expressions of Christianity practically unrecognizable to each other”
(This to me begs a question….can there truly be such a thing as a nonmissional expression of Christianity that is faithful or is nonmissional Christianity an oxymoron? Your take??)

“To think and to live missionally means seeing all life as a way to be engaged with the mission of God in the world.”

“Going missional will require that you make three shifts both in your thinking and in your behavior. From internal to external in terms of ministry focus, from program development to people development in terms of core activity, from church-based to kingdom-based in terms of leadership agenda. They will move your from doing church as primarily a refuge, conservator, and institutional activity in a Post-Christendom culture to being a risky, missional, organic force in the increasingly pre-Christian world in North America.”

“No strategy, tactic, or clever marketing campaign could ever clear away the smokescreen that surrounds Christianity in today’s culture. The perception of outsiders will change only when Christians strive to represent the heart of God in every relationship and situation.”

And one last one for today..I’ll share more later.

“Externally focused ministry leaders take their cues from the environment around them in terms of needs and opportunities. They look for ways to bless and to serve the communities where they are located.”

That should give each of us something to chew on for a while…I am thinking how might I put some of these quotes into action both as an individual and also as a community of Christ-Followers who are working on planting a missional church. Any ideas?


The End of Christian America

I was at the Dentist this morning and while waiting I happened to see the Newsweek article called “The End of Christian America“. I read it and much of what the article was talking about is things that our team is talking about regarding post-Christian America (the term used in the article and also in the books that I have been reading for some time now). There was a lot in the article that show cause for concern but also cause for hope. This is a time where, if we are adventurous enough and open to taking risks, we can re-imagine church, life, and faith in a new way. One that doesn’t decry the fact that our culture is becoming more and more like the 1st century. Look how the church exploded in the 1st century, without budgets, buildings, or bishops (Had to put all three words that started with B).

One of the quotes that I especially resonated with is:
“And they have learned that politics does not hold all the answers—a lesson that, along with a certain relief from the anxieties of the cultural upheavals of the ’60s and ’70s, has tended to curb religiously inspired political zeal. “The worst fault of evangelicals in terms of politics over the last 30 years has been an incredible naiveté about politics and politicians and parties,” says Mohler. “They invested far too much hope in a political solution to what are transpolitical issues and problems.”

Another two quotes from the article that I really resonated with are below:

The columnist Cal Thomas was an early figure in the Moral Majority who came to see the Christian American movement as fatally flawed in theological terms. “No country can be truly ‘Christian’,” Thomas says. “Only people can. God is above all nations, and, in fact, Isaiah says that ‘All nations are to him a drop in the bucket and less than nothing’.”

Experience shows that religious authorities can themselves be corrupted by proximity to political power. A quarter century ago, three scholars who are also evangelical Christians—Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch and George M. Marsden—published an important but too-little-known book, “The Search for Christian America.” In it they argued that Christianity’s claims transcend any political order. Christians, they wrote, “should not have illusions about the nature of human governments. Ultimately they belong to what Augustine calls ‘the city of the world,’ in which self-interest rules … all governments can be brutal killers.”

Their view tracks with that of the Psalmist, who said, “Put not thy trust in princes,” and there is much New Testament evidence to support a vision of faith and politics in which the church is truest to its core mission when it is the farthest from the entanglements of power. The Jesus of the Gospels resolutely refuses to use the means of this world—either the clash of arms or the passions of politics—to further his ends. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the dazzled throng thought they had found their earthly messiah. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” When one of his followers slices off the ear of one of the arresting party in Gethsemane, Jesus says, “Put up thy sword.” Later, before Pilate, he says, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.” The preponderance of lessons from the Gospels and from the rest of the New Testament suggests that earthly power is transitory and corrupting, and that the followers of Jesus should be more attentive to matters spiritual than political.

Take time to read the article yourself. Let’s begin to imagine how church in a post-Christian America can look taking into account the things found in this article.

The End of Christian America

Later today I will blog about some of the quotes that I resonated with in a book entitled “Missional Renaissance” by Reggie McNeal (thanks Martin for sending me the book). In a lot of ways I think some of the possible “answers” to the article lie in the book and becoming truly a missional church. More on that later today.

Leadership, Missional

The Present Future

Last night I decided to pull out a book that I had read a few years back called “The Present Future” by Reggie McNeal. I got through about 2 1/2 chapters. There was alot in it that stood out to me, and reminded me why we are taking this leap of faith by planting Veritas to be a missional community of authentic worshippers. Here are a few of the quotes that stood out to me.

“The North American church is suffering from severe mission amnesia. It has forgotten why it exists. The church was created to be the people of God to join him in his redemptive mission in the world. The church was never intended to exist for itself. It was and is the chosen instrument of God to expand his kingdom.”

“The correct response, then, to the collapse of the church culture is not to try to become better at doing church. This only feeds the problem and hastens the church’s decline through its disconnect from the larger culture. The need is not for a methodological fix. The need is for a missional fix. The appropriate response to the emerging world is a rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than self-preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than concern about style.”

“This is what it’s going to take to gain a hearing for the gospel in the streets of the twenty-first century- the smell of cleaning solution, dirty faces, obvious acts of servanthood.”

I probably could go on listing a bunch of other quotes, but those three I feel are enough to chew on for quite a while.