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 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.