Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009: Year of the Missional "Reboot"?

Futurist Marian Salzman appeared on CNN this morning with some great insights into trends we can expect in 2009. One that caught my attention was the following:

It will be the year of the “reboot”. You know how when your computer just won’t respond to regular commands or nothing else seems to work, all you can do is reboot and start all over again? Well, Salzman observes that many of the segments of our society: education, economics, politics, etc. are at a point where none of the old programs seem to work and what is needed is a reboot, a totally new look at how we do things and what approach we will use for the future.

I thought the same could easily be said for the church. So much of what we have done in the past under the Christendom model just does not seem to work anymore. What’s needed is a missional reboot, a new look at how we do things and what approach we will use for the future. The direction that reboot will take is something we address in this blog all the time. The question is how stuck do some congregations need to get before they realize it is either reboot or crash?

Check the full CNN interview below, and if you want more on the practical task of "rebooting" a church for mission, check the excellent article from Alban Institute on "The Messy Work of Renewal." (Click here)

Embedded video from CNN Video

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jumping the Missional Sigmoid Curve

Way back in 1994, Peter Drucker wrote a piece for the old Net Fax network on “Jumping the Sigmoid Curve.” (Click here for download It seems things last forever in cyberspace!)

Drucker pointed out that one of the more useful tools in understanding the natural life cycle of a product, an organization, a church or even a relationship is the sigmoid or S curve. The secret to constant growth is to start a new S curve before the first one ends and the right place to start the second curve is at point A when there is the time, energy and resources to get the new curve through its initial stages before the first curve plateaus and declines.

Most organizations, of course, do not begin a new cycle until point B. The reason is that at point A everything seems to be going fine, so why change things. Another reason is that change may initially produce a drop during a time of learning and acceptance, as shown in the shaded area, and so change is filled with anxiety.

As I speak to congregations about becoming missional churches, I often point out that churches go through this same life cycle of mission. I’ve made up a little chart using a fishing analogy.

When a congregation first starts out, it is focused around being “fishers of people,” and built upon the Great Commission. As time goes on, however, attention shifts from fishing to maintaining the shed. The congregation still knows where the fishing tackle is and still pulls it out for regular “evangelism” activities, but the energy of the congregation is on keeping the shed in good repair and those within it comfortable. Finally, a congregation may reach a stage where most of its energy is focused on maintenance and finance and structure and serving the needs of those within the shed. The bones of mission are dragged out a couple of times a year for a sermon or two, but they are not part of the fabric of the congregation.

Another illustration I use is this one. When a congregation starts out, it has mission and vision in the driver’s seat, but as time goes on, finance and structure move to the front and mission and vision take a back seat.

How long does the cycle take? For some congregations it takes only ten years, for others much longer. An expert in mission planting once said that the best place to plant a new church is not necessarily a new community or a growing community, but a community where all the churches are at least 35 years old. By that time most congregations have reached the peak of the sigmoid curve.

Where is your congregation on the sigmoid curve? Where are you in your own ministry? I found that every seven or eight years I had to do something significant to jump start my ministry like starting my doctoral program or taking a sabbatical. And every year I need to commit to regular reading and workshops and continuing education. Congregations need to do the same thing. How will you jump the missional sigmoid curve in 2009? Where will you begin? (Hint: Start with theology, not programs. What you need to do is change the culture of your congregation from an establishment culture to a missional culture. Your “culture” is like the default setting on your computer. A particular program may change the default while that program is being used, but unless the default (culture) is changed, you go right back to the default when the program is ended. Culture change starts by examining your theology and ecclesiology.) Who will help you change? Gather a group of like minded people and seek out a mentor for yourself.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Afterthoughts: The Wait is Over

One of the changes that comes from moving from parish ministry to judicatory or consulting ministry is that one gets to listen to other people preach on a regular basis. During this Christmas week I’ve been blessed to hear some fine sermons. One was by Pastor Tom Clocker, guest proclaimer at Holy Nativity Lutheran Church in Arbutus, Maryland, on Christmas Eve. (Click here for Holy Nativity) Pastor Clocker skillfully painted the word picture of a waiting room in the labor and delivery section of an old hospital where friends and relatives had gathered to welcome the birth of a long awaited child. All of the emotions were there: hope, anxiety, dreams. But this waiting room was filled with Old Testament personalities: Adam and Eve, Abraham, David, Moses, and others. And each of them shared the same longings, anxieties, hopes, and shortcomings as those of us who had gathered at Holy Nativity on this Christmas Eve. And then the Good News was proclaimed to all of us: The wait is over! The Child is born! All the longings, anxieties, hopes, and shortcomings have been addressed for them, for us, and for those to come.

It brought to mind a poem I also read this week. The poem is by Todd Hiestand and entitled “The Wait is Over”. (Click here for a slideshow presentation of Hiestand’s poem.)

God is with us.
Listen again…
God is with us.
God. Is. With. Us.
God is with you.
But God is with me?
You don’t need to come to Jesus.
He’s has come to you.
He has pursued you.
Loves you.
Yes, you.
The wait is over.

Another fine sermon I heard was by Pastor Martin Schultheis at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Catonsville, MD, (click here) on the Sunday before Christmas. Pastor Schultheis preached on the OT lesson for Advent 4, Year B, 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, a portion of which is as follows:

7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." 3 Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you." 4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: … the LORD will make you a house. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Pastor Schultheis connected with the busyness of our culture getting ready for Christmas. All the emphasis is on what WE are doing as we shop, bake, visit, prepare. Even in the church, we may think of our Christmas celebration as something we do for God. The truth is that Christmas is about what God does for us, not what we do for Him. When David wanted to build a house for God, God said, “Have I ever asked, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Instead, He tells Nathan to tell David that God will make a house for David – not a house of cedar, but a house and a kingdom that shall be sure forever. At Christmas God still is the giver, the doer, the servant. Christmas is not what we make it, but what He has made it. It is a gift from God, and a gift that shall last into eternity.

The following video gives a similar message:

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Gospel in a "Peanut" Shell

Charles Schulz,raised in the Lutheran Church and later active in the Church of God (Anderson), often had his "Peanuts" characters speak a gospel witness. This Linus monologue needs no comment.
Blessed Christmas to all!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Luke 2 as a "Wordle"

"Wordle"s are word cloud pictures computer generated from any text according to a formula weighted by the number of times a word is used in a text. You can create your own Wordle at http://www.wordle.net (click here).
Just for fun I ran the Christmas story,Luke 2:1-12 (KJV), through the Wordle generator and got the "word cloud" you see in this post. What impressed me about it was how non-theological the whole thing appeared. No big words like redemption, reconciliation, expiation, justification, or even incarnation. Yet the whole message is the mystery of the incarnation--God coming down into a real world filled with place names, people's names, fear, joy, taxation, government, poverty, childbirth.
Kelly Fryer, in her book, Reclaiming the "L" Word, ("L" for Lutheran) tells a story in which a professor goes to the chalkboard, draws a big arrow pointing straight down, and says, "If you want to know what it is to be a Christian, and especially to be Lutheran, you better remember this: God comes down! God always comes down. He comes down whether we are rich or poor, white or Black, healthy or ill. God comes down because we cannot come up to Him." That' s what happened at Christmas. God came down into this Wordle -- or World-- because we could not come up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Consumerism, Credit (credo) Crisis, and the Church

I ran across this picture a couple of days ago. A collage of prosperity and poverty created in the 1940’s and upon which someone has superimposed “2008”. It says much about race and class and economic theory and a host of other issues that are foundational, cyclical, yet seldom in the forefront of our consciousness. But an economic downturn and a credit crisis can bring some of those issues to the forefront of our thought and make them cry out for examination.

One of those issues is that of “consumerism.” Consumerism is the theory that a progressively greater consumption of goods is economically beneficial. On a personal level, consumerism is the equation of personal happiness with consumption and the purchase of material possessions.

Many critics reduce consumerism to the individual pursuit of material comfort that inevitably leads to spiritual bankruptcy. In this time of economic recession, especially as it coincides with the Christmas shopping season, the Christian media and many sermons are full of moralistic pronouncements that denounce a society for its wickedness, and prophesy its downfall. A few, however, go beyond condemnation to help us understand how the church might respond to a society whose faith in consumerism has been shaken.

The reality is that consumeris
m is not simply about individual greed, but has played a foundational role in a culture that values liberty and democracy and has made it a part of “The American Way of Life”. Gary Cross, in his book, An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercial-
ism Won in Modern America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, points out that consumerism gave concrete shape to liberty by providing various means for personal expression. It fostered democracy by enabling diverse groups to share in the ownership and use of goods. What is consumed is not only material goods, but personal identity independent of the old world social and class constraints on what persons could enter the cultural mainstream. But Cross also notes that it has done this at the cost of other values. The satisfaction of immediate needs may replace the desire to search for higher goals. Immediate satisfaction takes the place of constraint. The need to fulfill my need makes the need of community secondary and undermines long-lasting commitments. We risk losing key virtues that stabilize and promote social life: care for others, compromise, friendship, responsibility to the past, and a felt obligation for the future.

America’s faith in consumerism has been shaken by the twofold developments of environmentalism and recession. The god of Mammon has not only failed many, but it has corrupted our environment and shown its evil head in new ways never envisioned by even the strongest proponents of consumerism and unfettered capitalism. Adam Hamilton, in an article, “Faith, Hope, and the Credit Crisis,” (click here for full article) points out that “credit” is a word that is a p
art of the language of faith. It comes from the Latin credere—to believe or to trust. The present active form of this word—credo, “I believe”—opens the Apostle’s Creed. In the case of credit, belief or trust is placed in the borrower and his or her willingness and ability to repay. Our current economic crisis is in part about misplaced trust or faith between debtors and lenders.

Hamilton observes that neither the $700 billion bailout package, nor a Federal Reserve interest rate cut, nor presidential calls for calm seem to adequately speak to the underlying issues that precipitated this crisis of faith. This is a moment when the Bible and people of faith have both the timely word that can calm fears, the most accurate assessment of what fundamentally led to the current economic debacle, and the demonstration of hope and concern from a reconciling community.

The opportunity is there for the church to speak once again to society about those values which bring true meaning, purpose, and identity to life. But our message must not simply be one of condemnation, but of demonstration. A group called “The Advent Conspiracy” puts forth a message direct
ed primarily at Christians, but which also communicates to non-Christians. (See video)

A key message of the video is that Jesus gave himself relationally, incarnationally, with time, space, and presence. During this difficult economic time, the church has opportunity to reach out as Jesus did: relationally, incarnationally, with time, space, and presence to those who feel abandoned by the god of Mammon – the homeless, the unemployed, the hungry, and those who feel worthless because they are worth less. (Click on the post “The Year of the Grasshopper” on my “Consecrated Stewards “ blog for more thoughts.) Certainly this is done through the contributions we make to charitable groups, but even more effectively when the local church and the individual Christian reaches out not just financially, but relationally, incarnationally, with time, space, and presence to those who feel abandoned.

the witness to be given in these times is not simply one of condemnation and repentance. There is a witness of God’s redeeming grace that gives true joy and meaning to life. Fellow Lutheran, Art Simon, in his book, How Much is Enough? Hungering for God in an Affluent Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003) shows that when the church is faithful to the mission of Christ it produces personal and social well-being that far surpasses the gains of consumerism. The call away from consumerism is not a call to dour asceticism, but rather an invitation to joy, an invitation to celebrate, as Simon says, God’s extravagant grace.
Simon also points repeatedly to the social and community dimensions of Christian living, dimensions of life ignored by consumerism. Christian life is lived outward, which means that it is directed to others in acts of sharing, encouragement, and mutual upbuilding. “Power used selfishly is power corrupted. Ability wasted is power corrupted. But opportunity to do good, received as a trust from God and exercised to help others, is power ennobled” (p. 100).

The church, in these difficult times, has opportunity to do good, received as a trust from God and exercised to help others. And in that exercise, it becomes power ennobled, for it becomes an instrument of the gospel to bring the good news to the poor – who finally realize how poor they are, regardless of their bank accounts.

+++ For additional resources on stewardship and consumerism, including art, worship resources, articles, study guides, see Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics. (Click Here)

Monday, December 15, 2008

O Come, Emmanuel! Rejoice and Reach Out

A blessed Advent season to all! As you listen to the ancient hymn below, sung in contemporary style, consider the fact that God in His nature is a missional God who comes into the world to be Emmanuel, “God with us.” Once again He comes to us in this Advent season, and once again He sends us to a world waiting for the good news He still brings. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twitter: The Gospel in 140 Characters or Less

A few moths ago, a blogger named Brian Baute put forth what he claimed to be the first “Tweet the Gospel” challenge. The idea was to share the gospel message within the confines of the 140 character (That’s characters, not words!) limit of Twitter. In case you are not familiar with Twitter, here is a brief video that will tell you in plain English all you probably want to know about this mini-blog application that has been one of the hottest applications on the net. (Which may mean it is already old news.)

Brian Baute’s idea was to challenge his readers to sharpen their writing skills to set forth the gospel message within the 140 character limit. You can check out some of the responses on Brian’s blog (Click Here) or share some of your own as a comment to this post. In checking Brian’ s responses I was struck by how many different theologies of salvation can be set forth in 140 characters. (Maybe that’s the Lutheran in me. Even in an emergent theology there must be some norms.) I also came to the conclusion that the Bible itself had some pretty good “Tweets” in 140 or less including John 3:16.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (127)

I’m probably not one who will sign on to Twitter. First, I don’t even keep my cell phone on all the time, let alone feel the need to be in constant contact with my network of friends to ask “What are you doing now?”. Secondly, I really have to work hard to communicate in bites of 140 characters or less. Like a lot of new technology, Twitter may be in today and out tomorrow, but the network theory and emergence theory behind it is something that the church will have to reckon with and make use of in the days to come. Twitter is part of the “Web 2.0” phenomenon that you need to understand if you want to comprehend the emerging “Convergence Culture” that I talk about in other posts. Simply put, when computers first came on the scene, they were productivity machines, replacing other tools like typewriters, adding machines, filing cabinets, telephone directories, etc. With the popularity of the graphic interface and the World Wide Web, we entered Web 1.0, where computers became information machines using applications such as Google and Mapquest to connect us to specific web sites. Web 2.0 refers to the use of computers as the basis of a social network of wikis, blogs and social applications such as Facebook and MySpace as well as a new generation of business and information applications such as Wikipedia, Skype, Craigslist, and del.icio.us which are collaborative, social networks of information sharing and relationships. If you want a short, mindboggling introduction to all of this, check the following video entitled “The Machine is Us/ing Us”. .The implication of network theory and emergence theory for the church is a little too much to be contained in 140 characters, so that will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, ”Tweet” away. Can you communicate the gospel in 140 characters or less? Give it a try.

Missional Church Q & A

A friend in the Texas District, LCMS, Dr. Lou Jander, recently posted a Missional Q & A that is worth sharing. It is printed below. Check out his Missional Voyage blog for other good posts.

Q. What is the difference between a missional church and a church with a mission program?
A. A church with a mission program usually sees mission as one activity alongside many activities of the church – Christian education, worship, acts of service, hospitality and other programs. A missional church focuses all of its activities around its participation in God’s mission in the world. That means, it trains people for discipleship and witness; it worships and practices mutual support before the watching world. A church with a mission sends others to witness on its behalf. A missional church understands that the congregation itself is sent by God to proclaim and to be a sign of the reign of God. Just as God sent Jesus, now Jesus sends the church (Jn..20:21).

Q. Is “missional” a real word?
A. Yes. It may not be in every dictionary. But the Oxford English Dictionary says the word has been around for almost 100 years. Missional is an adjective that describes the way in which we do all of our activities, rather than identifying any one particular activity. Within the last few years, it has come into more common use. To be missional is to align all of the program, function and activities of the church around the mission of God in the world.

Q. Does being a missional church mean starting a lot of new activities? People in our congregation are already so busy.
A. A missional church does not necessarily do more outreach activities. In fact, a missional church may do fewer things better. To be a missional church means to discern how this particular congregation’s calling is aligned with God’s mission in the world. To be a missional church means to orient all of the life of the church around God’s mission.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blessed Thanksgiving

The song below says it well! God has given us all good things. Most of all the gift of His love in Jesus Christ His Son.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Art Scherer

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Redefining "Normal"

This week as I stood in a boarding line at the airport, a businessman from Chicago engaged me in conversation about the economic crisis and the possibility of an automakers’ bailout. After sharing our mutual concern for a few minutes, he said, “Well, I hope things get back to normal soon.” To which I replied, “I wonder if we will ever again see ‘normal’ as we used to know it. I think we are in the process of redefining what “normal” is. Nobody really knows what that will look like, and so we keep throwing old arguments at new problems and using old models to predict a new future.”

It brought to mind an oft-used quote from Peter Drucker:

"Every few hundred years in western history, there occurs a sharp transition. Within a few short decades, society re-arranges itself: its worldview, its basic values, its society and political structure, its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. And the people born then cannot imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. We are currently living in just such a transformation."

And then another, by way of warning, from Eric Hoffer:

"In the times of rapid change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

How is the church to respond in this time of change? The Missional Church Project of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is an attempt to help judicatories rethink the direction of the church. Some thoughts are set forth below. (Click here for full article)

“Out of this rapidly changing cultural context and declining church context has emerged what has come to be known as the missional church movement. The missional church movement takes seriously the need to recover the stories of our faith that we find in scripture. Rather than succumbing to the old problem of “theology divides, mission unites”, the missional church movement realizes that any healthy mission is theologically grounded. Belief and behavior cannot be separated. Theology and mission cannot be bifurcated. They are always linked, whether we can see that or not.

The missional church movement takes seriously the sociology of the massive culture shift we are undergoing. A cultural earthquake has rocked the very foundations of our society, and we find ourselves with more questions than answers. The missional church does not quickly discard the questions, or jump on easy answers. It wrestles with each question seriously, in light of scripture and prayer, looking for the new thing that God is doing in our midst.

The missional church movement realizes that we are no longer chaplains to a Christian culture. We must be a missionary people in our own land. Every congregation needs to be cross-cultural missionaries to its own community. We must move from the mindset that the church is a provider of religious services to Christian consumers to the shaper of an apostolic people on a mission to a fallen world. “

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Church and Starbucks

A friend sent me a video link that touched off some thoughts linking the church and Starbucks:

FIRST, the video link: It’s called “What if Starbucks marketed itself like the church?”
It’s an amusing, but biting, satirical look at how our efforts at “hospitality” (evangelism) may be seen by outsiders. A young couple enters “Starbucks,” simply looking for the refreshment of a “cup of coffee” and is bombarded by a medley of self-serving, corporate-centered tactics. It’s worth watching and discussing on many levels. You may see yourself or your congregation there.

SECOND, it made me pull out my copy of Leonard Sweet’s “The Gospel According to Starbuck’s” once again and read on page 15 how he thinks the word “evangelism,” which has its root in “good news,” has been sullied by its practice in our own nation and our own time. Sweet writes:

“The church has taught evangelism as a meeting of two antagonists—one righteous and right, the other dead wrong. The point of evangelism, according to this school of thought, is to win an argument. Evangelism has also been taught as a spiritual sales pitch, more nuanced perhaps than a religious argument but still relying on high pressure and ultimately committed to closing the deal. And if not an argument or a sales pitch, the gospel is neutered or reduced to an objective, nonrelational exercise in logic. The strategy is to convince others, not to appeal to them.”

Watch the video again for reinforcement of the idea.

Sweet continues:
“Somehow the church lost touch with the meaning of good news. And why wouldn’t Christians lose touch with the heart of the gospel? I’ve never met anyone who was energized by cliché one-liners and subcultural kitsch. But offer people a meaningful, earth-changing mission and then just try to hold them back! The Jesus example of meaning and passion over duty and obligation moves people. Starbucks understands his, and so should the church.”

Sweet’s own model for the church and for evangelism in a postmodern age is his “EPIC” model. It’s a model he probably spells out more fully in his book, “Postmodern Pilgrims,” but which he repeats again here:

• It is Experiential.
• It is Participatory.
• It is Image-rich.
• It is Connective.

THIRD, I remembered an old article in Christianity Today, still available (Click Here)
Entitled “Starbucks Spirituality,” that tells the story of Daniel Hill and his ministry to GenXers at Starbucks. Hill and others describe the approaches (mostly in harmony with Sweet’s “EPIC formula) they find are necessary to reach the current generation and the postmodern mindset.

FOURTH: One of the reasons Starbucks thrived is that it set out to be a lifestyle, not a coffee shop, a life house more than a coffee house. It recognized that people need “third places” in which to thrive, places which are not your office and not your home. Those third places are places where conversation, community and interaction take place. Interestingly enough, Starbucks began to run into trouble when it expanded its business so fast and in so many venues (kiosks, vending machines, airports, etc.) that it ceased to be a “third place” and just a seller of coffee. People discovered they could get their coffee cheaper at Seven-Eleven.
The church needs to be reminded of the importance of “third places” in people’s lives. Clearly the church itself can be such a “third place,” and it is for many. Time and again, when I ask people what they like about their congregation, they say “This is my Christian family. This is the place where I come for love and support and service and growth.”
But the church must recognize that there are other “third places” – like Starbucks or even the corner pub – where the church might be part of the conversation. Perhaps the current generation can show us the way.

And FINALLY: As a Lutheran who is both missional and confessional (I think the two go hand-in-hand.), I find the Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, Connective (EPIC) formula to be stylistically valuable, but potentially weak in substance. The message one could take is that the approach should work regardless of the “product”, whether that product be coffee or the gospel of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it, or Starbucks! We need to be in dialog with the culture, but that dialog must always be a prophetic dialog and prophetic dialog ultimately moves beyond a relational formula to a prophetic certainty of “Thus says the Lord.”. At the moment I can’t find the source for the quote below, but it describes “prophetic dialog”.

“Mission must by all means be dialogical, since it is nothing else finally than the participation in the dialogical nature of the triune, missionary God. But it must be prophetic as well, since, at bottom, there can be no real dialogue when truth is not expressed and clearly articulated.”

The challenge, I suppose, is to express prophetic truth in an Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich, Connective way. Classic deconstructive, relativistic Postmodernism has had trouble linking those two strands. So has the kind of Modernism described in Sweet’s first quote above. Perhaps in the emerging constructive, collaborative, dialogical Convergence Culture described in other postings, it may be possible. There the primary role may be neither that of a polemicist, apologist, or even a relationship starter, but the role of a witness. A witness may be both “EPIC” and prophetic..

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Missional Thought on Luther's Birthday -- Nov. 10

“We live on earth only so that we should be a help to other people. Otherwise, it would be best if God would strangle us and let us die as soon as we were baptized and had begun to believe. For this reason, however, he lets us live that we may bring other people also to faith as he has done for us. ... This is part of being a priest, being God’s messenger and having his command to proclaim his Word.”
Luther (Sermons on First Peter, First edition) 1523

If You Build It, Will They Come?

Not necessarily! Just today I passed a large, local mainline church that had a sign on the lawn advertising its “Capital Renovation Program” with the subtitle “Providing a more welcoming and accessible facility,” What it said to me—and I may be misjudging-- is that the church members were getting older and thought it might be a good idea to install elevators in their three-story educational facility and expand the gathering place to replace a rather small and drafty narthex. Will this help them reach out into their community or even attract new people to their church? Who knows!

On the other hand, building programs can provide opportunity for a congregation to reexamine its missional philosophy, vision and strategy. For more on this. See the post “ Building Programs as Missional Opportunities” on my Consecrated Stewards blog. (Click Here)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Current Directions in Missional Thought

People will often ask where the current theology and practice of mission is heading. My answer always needs to be prefaced with the caveat that any description of the mission scene is of necessity a “current” description. Perhaps that is because the missional movement characterizes itself as “emerging”. Hence, the “man on a swing” remains a workable illustration after all these years.

Two of the leading threads in contemporary church thought are characterized by the words “emerging – or – emergent” and “missional.”

Dan Kimball, a leader in the emerging church conversation has recently written: “The term “emerging church” now means so many different things depending on who you are asking. So it all depends on what stream of the emerging church we are talking about. For me, the term means churches that are being missional in our emerging culture. That part of the conversation certainly seems to be gaining steam and interest from churches of all types. So I really hope the missional outward thinking is something that grows stronger and lasts. But what that looks like may be constantly changing as culture changes. But I hope we keep gaining a passion for being sent by Jesus into the world. I hope that stream of the emerging church grows and lasts.” (Click here for article.)

Mark Driscoll, a conservative Evangelical emerging church leader with a Reformed theology, helps pin down the streams of the emerging church movement in the following brief video:(Click here for video.)

In effect, he describes (from his own theological basis) four primary groups that are participating in the emerging church “conversation” (a word sometimes preferred to “movement”):

1. Relevant Traditionals – These are congregations that hold a traditional theology, including a rather traditional ecclesiology, missiology and concept of evangelism, but seek to upgrade their forms and practices to make them more appealing to the emerging culture (usually defined as the postmodern culture) or the new generation. In effect, this describes many of our congregations and judicatories that are trying to reach a new world, but may not have fully examined what that really means in terms of theology, ecclesiology and missiology. It is easy to tack the word “missional” onto what we have always been doing and think that we are doing something new because the music is different , the robes are a different color, or a new program is being used.

2. House Church Evangelicals – These are people who often hold a fairly moderate theology, but whose ecclesiology is characterized by small group “house church” gatherings which they claim to be the New Testament model of the church in the world. This is sometimes called the “Organic Church” movement (in contrast to the “institutional church.”) This group also includes a branch of a New Monastic “Community approach. What is interesting to note is that in spite of the anti-institutional stance of this stream of thought, most adherents belong to some network or association of house churches.
Click Here for New Testament Reformation Fellowship
Click Here for Organic Church
Click Here for New Monasticism

3. The “Emergent Church” – These call themselves “A node in the web of the emerging church” (Click here for "Emergent Village) but they have been a very influential node, and in spite of the similar, if not confusing, name, they are a very distinct group. The group set out to relate Jesus Christ to the emerging generation (at the time it was “Gen X”) and the emerging culture (at the time it was postmodernism). It has become the most liberal stream in the emerging conversation, sometimes questioning not only ecclesiology but atonement, original sin, the normative function of scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, etc. The problem with the emergent group – a problem they themselves are beginning to recognize – is that they may have confused actualization of the Gospel in the culture with accommodation to the culture. (Mark Sayers) The emergent movement may have tied itself too closely with postmodernism and with Gen X in the same way that Church Growth tied itself too closely with Modernism and the Boomers. (See later section.) Indeed, most of the emerging church conversation has been tied to classic postmodernism, which is characteristically deconstructive in nature and fails to recognize the constructive and collaborative worldview that is now emerging into what M. Rex Miller calls the “Convergence” worldview.

Miller and others hold that at least three worldviews currently exist side-by-side in our culture:

“Modern” Worldview:
• Prevalent from 1500 to 1950 or later
• Still held by many in the “Builder” and “Silent” generations (and many others)
• Linked to print based media
• Logical, linear, reasoned
• “I think” – “Prove it.”
Doctrinal, systematic, apologetic, absolutes
• Hymns for content “truth”

“Postmodern” Worldview:
• Emerging in the 1950’s and prevalent today
• Held by many of the “Boomers” and some generations following
• Linked to visual based media
• Experiential
• “I feel”
Pluralistic, relativistic, deconstructive, individualistic – “non-traditional” “contemporary”
• Programatic -- highly crafted -- designer labels
• Songs for praise “contemporary”
• Megachurch quality and anonymity

“Convergence” Worldview:
• Present and developing
• Generation X and Generation Y (Millennials)
• Linked to digital media
• Relational
• “I choose to believe”
Constructive, collaborative, pluralistic
• Room for the ancient traditions in new contexts – Open to orthodoxy and “vintage faith”
• Seek authenticity, truth, community – may be from many sources, but will commit to a community.
• Could be virtual community
• Songs of truth and praise “real”

I think it is important to understand these three worldviews if we are to understand the direction of mission in contemporary culture. Church Growth (see below) was tied to the scientific and sociological practices of Modernism. The Emergents may have accommodated to postmodernism. The next group, the missional movement, is not tied to a particular worldview. In fact, its roots may be in the “vintage faith” of pre-modern culture, but it can clearly flourish in the constructive Convergent Culture that is emerging in our society.

4. Missional Church Movement -- The Missional Church movement is mostly a shift in thinking. Its theological basis, for Lutherans, at least, is not the command of the Great Commission, but God’s gracious action of justification in Jesus Christ. That action of God is the story of the Missio Dei, which means the mission or “sending” of God in which God is both the subject and the object of the sending. Missio Dei was popularized by Hartenstein and Vicedom in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It tapped into the trinitarian emphasis of Barth and others in the 1930's and moved the thinking beyond the ecclesiocentrism and individualism of the time. The emphasis was put on God's mission rather than ours - we participate with the Triune God in what he is doing. Bill Danker’s hymn says it well:

The sending, Lord, flows from Thy yearning heart;
Thou. Lord the Sender; Thou the Sent One art;
And of Thy mission makest us a part.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Missional Church is not simply a sending church. It is a sent church. Its focus is the world and preparing people to be the church in the world. Its ecclesiology is shaped by its missiology rather than its missiology supporting its ecclesiology. It is in practice, therefore, incarnational rather than attractional. In harmony with Luther’s concept of Christian vocation and with good stewardship principles, it takes a holistic approach to the world and God’s place in it rather than a dualistic approach of sacred and secular. Its proponents advocate an “apostolic” rather than a “hierarchical” leadership style in which the gifts of all are used. Lutherans would probably state that as a renewal of the priesthood of the baptized, while maintaining the importance of the office of the public ministry, and see the two linked in a missional understanding of the divine call.

JR Woodward gives a practical picture of what the Missional Church looks like:

* Not simply how many people come to our church services, but how many people our church serves.
* Not simply how many people attend our ministry, but how many people have we equipped for ministry.
* Not simply how many people minister inside the church, but how many minister outside the church.
* Not simply helping people become more whole themselves, but helping people bring more wholeness to their world. (i.e. justice, healing, relief)
* Not simply how many ministries we start, but how many ministries we help.
* Not simply how many unbelievers we bring into the community of faith, but how many ‘believers' we help experience healthy community.
* Not simply working through our past hurts, but working alongside the Spirit toward wholeness.
* Not simply counting the resources that God gives us to steward, but counting how many good stewards are we developing for the sake of the world.
* Not simply how we are connecting with our culture but how we are engaging our culture.
* Not simply how much peace we bring to individuals, but how much peace we bring to our world.
* Not simply how effective we are with our mission, but how faithful we are to our God.
* Not simply how unified our local church is, but how unified is "the church" in our neighborhood, city and world?
* Not simply how much we immerse ourselves in the text, but how faithfully we live in the story of God.
* Not simply being concerned about how our country is doing, but being concern for the welfare of other countries.
* Not simply how many people we bring into the kingdom, but how much of the kingdom we bring to the earth.

For more resources on the Missional Church you need to check an outstanding resource that just came out this week, JR Woodward has written “A Primer on the Missional Church” (CLICK HERE) DO NOT SKIP THIS ONE.

Many more links may be found by investigating the “Friends of Missional” site on my links listing.

If you have some time and want more depth, check this video conversation with Craig VanGelder, professor of congregational mission at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. (Click here for video)

What may need to wait for another posting is how a specifically Lutheran and confessional approach to theology might apply to missional thought and contribute to the missional conversation.


Another picture of the Missional Church may be gained by contrasting it with the Church Growth Movement. It still surprises me at times how much energy we waste arguing about “Church Growth.” Reggie McNeal and others declared years ago that the Church Growth Movement was dead, yet when I mention that at workshops, I always find that it is still alive in the minds of its supporters or detractors. The Church Growth Movement is dead because our worldview has changed. It was born at the cusp of the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism and combines elements of each, though mostly Modernism.

Here’s how Gailynn Van Rheenen (Click here for full article) compares Church Growth with the Missional Church. The one change I would make is that I believe the Missional Church really reflects more of what I have called a “Convergence Culture” than “classic” Postmodernism. (Note the holistic and convergence attributes.) Another note that may be recognized by those who have begun to read the new books on Luther and mission is how closely Luther’s theology of mission (theocentric, Missio Dei, Trinitarian, centered on justification, focused on the Kingdom—not the church, not depended on organizational structure, not confined to a particular culture, connected to vocation, etc.) parallels much of the “Missional” column below.

For some good video clips on the contrast between Church Growth or Seeker-Church and Missional click on:

Mark Driscoll Part One : Click Here

Mark Discoll, Part Two: Click Here

Tim Keller: Click Here

In summary, the direction of contemporary missional thought is always “emerging,” but what seems to be emerging is a clear focus on missional theology and ecclesiology. The enduring stream of the “emerging church” conversation is the Missional Church stream. Kimball’s opening comments hold true: “That part of the conversation certainly seems to be gaining steam and interest from churches of all types. So I really hope the missional outward thinking is something that grows stronger and lasts. But what that looks like may be constantly changing as culture changes. But I hope we keep gaining a passion for being sent by Jesus into the world. I hope that stream of the emerging church grows and lasts.”

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Semper Reformanda, Part 2: "Deja vu all over again."

The story of the Reformation is a story that once again is becoming very current, because it was set during the collapse of one world and the birth of a new.

The Middle Ages, the Age of Belief, was drawing to a close, and the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, was born. It was a time of political and social upheaval, where the calm synthesis of one age was erupting into multiple streams of thought and practice, and a new way forward under Modernity was embraced that seemed to give stability to the world.

Now here it is -- in the words of Yogi Berra -- “Déjà vu all over again.” We seem to stand once again between the collapse of one world and the birth of a new. It is a time of social, political, economic, scientific and religious upheaval as the Age of Modernity draws to a close and, indeed, the Age of Postmodernity (which never had a clear positive identity to begin with – except that it was “post” – like my man between two swings) may also be drawing to a close. What will give stability to the new world is hard to say. Perhaps it will be the “Convergence Culture” described by M. Rex Miller that can forge a new brand of politics and economics out of old ideas and new challenges, and in the world of religion leaves room for the “vintage faith” to interact with the fluid culture that surrounds it.

One thing is clear, however. In times of such upheaval – and there have been many in the Church, the Reformation being one – the Church has always shifted from an emphasis on “religion” and its traditions to a return to the Word and to the central tenet of the Word, that we live by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And on the foundation of that formal and material principle (in the backpack of my “man on the swing”) the Church finds new life and renewal of mission in every age.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Statistics, Statistics, Statistics !!!

An excellent source of free statistical study of religious trends may be found on the web site of the Association of Religion Data Archives. (Click Here) Denominational profiles, interactive maps, census data, religious affiliation by zip code, and many other features are available.

A note to fellow Lutherans: Increasingly one finds LCMS and WELS grouped among "evangelical protestants" and ELCA grouped among "mainline protestants." This sometimes splits the Lutheran population in data charts unless specific "Lutheran" segments are given.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Semper Reformanda: "Forever Building; Always Decaying; Always being Restored"

With the celebration of another Reformation Day, I am reminded of the words of T.S. Eliot in his poem, "The Rock":

And the Church must be forever building,
And always decaying,
And always being restored.

David T. Olson, in his fine new book, The American Church in Crisis (Zondervan, 2008), comments: "Always decaying" indicates that every organic entity diminishes and decays over time. In fact, in the biological world, decay is often necessary for new life to appear. "Forever building" depicts the pattern of creative initiatives that promote life and vitality. Building may be unplanned or strategic, and that choice will usually determine the level of its influence and its longevity. "Always being restored" describes a spiritual and supernatural act of God. Restoration takes place when God acts through the power of the gospel story and the movement of the Holy Spirit, breathing new life into His church.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Admit it: "I Am Not Cool"

One of the things that happens in a time of paradigm shift and rapid change is that the older generation must often learn from the younger generation as opposed to the "traditional" learning of "Fiddler on the Roof". Earl Creps in his book Reverse Mentoring:Learning from Unexpected Sources, writes:

"Mainly, I've learned to be OK with the fact that I am not cool. Also, my young friends have taught me that Boomers trying to be cool are doomed to failure. But I've also observed that cool has the shelf life of the average ripe tomato. That means it erodes very quickly for all of us. My wife Janet and I love the moment when we get to tell an audience of Millennials that their younger brothers and sisters already see them as hopelessly obsolete, that in fact they will grow up to be us--only sooner.

In a backwards way, then, the decay of cool is what we all have in common; it's a kind of glue if we think about it the right way."

Click HERE for a feature article and interview with Creps.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shift Happens

Those interested in the missional impact of cultural change and the rate of change will want to view and perhaps download an information packed Power Point entitled "Shift Happens" from a web site named Slide Share. ( Type "Shift Happens" in the search box) Did you know, for example, that ...

+ China will soon be the number one English speaking country in the world.
+ 1 of 8 couples married last year met on the internet.
+ Half of what a technical college student learns in the first year of studies may be outdated by the time of the third year.
+ A week's worth of The New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More on Generations

I just finished reading Charlie Mueller's latest "Just Watching" newsletter, available by clicking on the Wheat Ridge web site . In his own practical, down-to-earth way, Charlie points to the challenges that have always existed in communication between the generations and offers some great resources for congregations seeking to bridge the generational gaps. It's an article worth reading.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Multi-Generational Ministry

“To niche or not to niche?’ That is the question asked by many church planters and by congregations seeking to expand their mission outreach. The early days of the church growth movement tended to lean towards homogeneous ministries and niche outreach, but people like Mark Deymaz (Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, Jossey-Bass, 2007) claim that in the 21st century homogenous churches will increasingly struggle with credibility in proclaiming a message of God’s love for all people from an environment in which a love for all people cannot otherwise be observed. Deymaz points to the ability of the early church to embrace generational and cultural diversity as one of its strengths and, indeed, a Biblical mandate.

Amy Hanson offers a downloadable resource on Leadership Network ( www.leadnet.org ) “Breaking Down the Age Barriers: How Churches are becoming Intentionally Intergenerational” that can help congregations address one aspect of diversity. Many congregations today serve five generations of people. She urges congregations to give attention to…

• Creating natural ways for the generations to come together.
• Honoring older adults by asking them to tell their stories.
• Educating the congregation on the value of intergenerational ministry.
• Finding ways to make the worship service multi-generational.
• Encouraging affinity groups, rather than age groups, as a way for people to connect. This may be one of the key actions a congregation can take. Groups that are designed around a mutual interest rather than age can become a place for people of various generations to connect.
• Hosting strategic intergenerational events.
• Matching young people with older adults in mentoring relationships. This works both ways, Teenagers may help seniors with computer skills. Seniors may help young couples with plumbing and home repair issues.

Pat Springle in “Communicating with the Postmodern Generation” ( Download at www.leadnet.org ) says “The key to connecting at cross-generational ministry is humility.” Anger and arrogance turn off both the old and the young. Brad Bell (www.thewellcommunity.org ) says. “The older generation won’t listen to arrogant, young goateed pastors who are angry at the traditional church. They can’t respect us because we are attacking an institution that has meant a lot to them. When we say or imply that the traditional church is broken and irrelevant, we lose those men and women who have come to us to be built up in their faith. In our arrogance we cut off any connection with them and drive them away. But it’s not just a problem with the older people. If we’re arrogant, the younger generation writes us off as fake. So to the young, arrogance appears fake, and to the old, arrogance makes us punks.” THE KEY TO CONNECTING IN A CROSS-GENERATIONAL MINISTRY IS HUMILITY. Indeed, perhaps the key to a cross-generational ministry is the cross itself and a theology of the cross that stands at the center of our mission approach.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Reaching People under 40 while Keeping People Over 60

That’s the title of a book by Edward H. Hammett and James R. Pierce (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007) that many congregations will find helpful. Hammett is part of George Bullard’s Columbia Partnership (http://www.thecolumbiapartnership.org/ ) and Pierce works with him in seminars and workshops.

As I work with congregations, I always tell them that what is needed for effective ministry in the 21st century is not a quick fix program, but a culture shift in the way a congregation thinks of itself and the world around it. (Recommended reading: Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, John Wiley & Sons, 2005) A congregation’s culture is “The way we do things around here.” It springs from the congregation’s worldview, which is “What we believe around here.” It is the “default setting” for everything it does. A program may change the default setting for a time, but once the program is finished, the congregation goes back to the default setting of business as usual.

Changing the congregation’s culture doesn’t occur overnight or without conflict. Tom Friedman in his new best-seller, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How it Can Renew America, made an interesting comment: “There has never been a revolution where no one got hurt.” America On Line recently published a list of “Memorable Companies that have Vanished”
( http://money.aol.com/special/companies-that-have-vanished) They included companies lost in the “retail revolution” like F.W. Woolworth and Montgomery Ward; those lost in the transportation revolution like TWA, Pan Am, and Eastern. As I write, there is a financial revolution going on that is shaking the foundations of our capital system. Who thought Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG would have fallen in one week? Someone probably did, but no one listened.

Hammett and Pierce make it clear that the church, too, is going through a revolutionary time that requires examination of the church’s culture in relation to God’s mission to the world. The key question the authors ask is “ Where does a person’s need for personal comfort end and a person’s commitment to the costliness of the gospel begin?” Sometimes in a revolutionary time we may need to lose in order that the Kingdom may gain. The authors write: “I love the church, but we church people are killing many of our churches to preserve our comfort. My challenge for you: Are you trying to preserve the church for yourself and your generation, or are you trying to do church in a way that reaches out to a new generation?”

Don’t expect a comprehensive theology of mission from this book, and if you are Lutheran, as I am, you will need to look beyond the obvious Baptist illustrations and theological talk, But do expect a good overview of generational differences and a fair briefing on societal change. The focus of the book is on creating a church culture that can be a “win-win” for all generations and for the Kingdom of God. The strength of the book is that it emphasizes the need for cultural change and not simply programmatic change, yet through some marvelous stories, insightful discussion questions, and practical examples, it speaks to those who also think in programmatic terms.