Monday, March 16, 2009

Exponential Change and Luther's Catechism

Attached below is what I think is the latest edition of the “Did You Know 3.0” video. I say I think it is the latest edition because it deals with exponential change, and by the time it is published it is out of date.

The video ends with the question, ”What does this mean?” Keep it in mind as you watch the video. You will enjoy it. If nothing else, it will give you some sermon illustrations or interesting facts to share with your friends.

What does this mean? The answer to that is a complex one. For some it means the world is going crazy. For others, it means we live in an exciting time of change and cultural revolution. I lean towards the latter, though sometimes fear the former. Leadership Network recently published a chart of how people adopt change.

In a time of exponential change, the wave of change moves faster. Perhaps most of us –even the early adapters – never catch up. By the time the smartest people have figured out what is happening in the economy, the culture, the church, it has already happened and something new is on its way. Long range planning as we used to know it, must take on a different face. More time is spent in preparing than planning--preparing through establishing our core values, our mission, our giftedness that will enable us to serve, witness and re-form ourselves as God’s people in the steady stream of change.

Beyond that, “What does this mean?” strikes my Lutheran mind as a typical Lutheran catechetical question that is always answered within the gracious will and work of God in Jesus Christ. And so, facing the future of change, one says with Luther …

Thy will be done.
What does this mean?: The good and gracious will of God is done, indeed, without our prayers, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
What does this mean? The kingdom of God comes, indeed, without our prayers, but we pray in this petition that it may come among us also.

Oh, yes … “This is most certainly true.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reggie McNeal: Missional Renaissance -- A Review

Reggie McNeal’s latest book is certain to become a primary resource for those who want to learn and to teach others about the missional church movement. It is a “must read” for anyone interested in the direction of ministry in the twenty-first century.

If you know Reggie or have heard him speak, you know that he is a gifted communicator, able not only to convey complex ideas in a “down-home” style, but also capable of anticipating the audience’s questions and objections, even the ones they are sometimes afraid to ask.

McNeal had three goals in writing the book. CLICK HERE or on the picture below to hear them in his own words.

McNeal’s first goal was to set forth the language and definition of the missional church. Those not familiar with the missional church movement will find in this book a clear, practical, Biblical, understandable statement of what it means to be “missional”. They will also find someone who understands their fear of change, anticipates their questions, and gives practical guidance for taking a step at a time. Those who are already well read in the subject will find not a lot of new concepts. McNeal builds on the work of people like Bosch, Guder, Newbigin, Hunsberger, Frost and Hirsch and others, but he does it with a style that is his own and that brings new clarity to what may be already familiar ideas. He recognizes that the “missional renaissance” has as much to do with ecclesiology as it does missiology, and he addresses both with integrity.
His second goal was to set forth a clear path and compass settings for the missional journey. This he does by outlining three missional shifts:

Missional Shift 1: From an Internal to an External Focus
  • Shifting from a "member culture" to a "missionary culture."
  • Refocusing and reallocating resources (prayer, people, calendar/time, finances, facilities, and technology) for missional impact. This is really about stewardship, although he doesn’t use the word.
Missional Shift 2: From Program Development to People Development
  • “Are people better off for being part of this church, or are they just tireder and poorer?”
  • Seeing the world as the shaping ground for spiritual formation, not the inside of the church.
  • Moving from mass standardization of programs to mass customization of discipleship.
  • "The missional church assumes that service to others is the first step, not some latter expression of spirituality."
Missional Shift 3: From Church-Based to Kingdom-Based Leadership
The leader must deal with…
  • Paradigm issues (How the leader sees the world)
  • Microskill development (Competencies the leader needs)
  • Resource management (What the leader has to work with)
  • Personal Growth (The leader as a person.)

His final goal was to establish a score card for measuring progress on the missional journey. His inclusion of suggested metrics to assess missional faithfulness and vitality is something that s missing in most other books on the missional church. Those metrics make a unique contribution to the literature. For years we have measured our faithfulness and vitality in terms of growth of attendance, budget, programs, What happens if we measure vitality in terms of the growth of people, service, prayer, outreach? McNeal would have us move from measuring how we are doing church to how we are blessing our communities.

Get a copy of this book and read it. It is a good one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Internet Evangelism

God has given his church a wonderful gift in the internet, and slowly we are beginning to learn to use it. But change comes hard for the church, and often our use of the internet follows the same rules we have been using with print media for several years, and our audience continues to be confined to an exclusive audience of those within the church, or even our own congregation.

I look at a lot of church web sites and a growing number of Facebook groups, and I continue to observe how many say things like “This group is designed to provide information and discussion for members and friends of St. John’s-by-the-gas-station Church.” The web site or Facebook group is full of announcements, inside chatter, and pictures of the latest Youth Group car wash,

Increasingly, however, some are using the internet as a means of outreach to their community. Their websites are inclusive, rather than exclusive. They meet people where they are, rather than fitting them into the program and schedule of the church. They invite people to share their needs, their prayer requests, their questions. And they reach out to help these people in word and deed with the love and mercy of Christ.

A web site called “Internet Evangelism Day” has assembled a broad array of resources for congregations looking to use the internet in outreach and is setting April 26 as “Internet Evangelism Day,” Watch the video below, and then check out the web site (CLICK HERE)

A good place for any congregation to start is with an assessment of its web site. The movement to a blog or to Facebook or Twitter shifts the approach from a standardized message on a fixed platform to a more customized approach to individuals. Another avenue being explored by some, including my own denomination, is outreach through Second Life, the virtual world community. Second Life enables one to actually plant a congregation and hold worship services in this virtual world. See the video below for an example. As it stands now, Second Life has (in my opinion) a rather demanding learning curve and an aura of mystery that limits it from really taking off. As the developers work to make it more user-friendly, it will become a fertile field for outreach.

Preach the Gospel!

A talented young Evangelical preacher recently posted an entry on his blog with some good points for preaching to today’s audience, but his basic model also caused me some concern. He says…
"Here is the model: Make people feel like they need an answer to a question. Then take them to God's Word to answer the question. And tell them why it is important to do what we just talked about. And then you close by saying, "Wouldn't it be great if everybody did that?" And that's it. It is a journey. You take people from somewhere to somewhere."

Here’s what I like about the model:

+ It starts with people, not with a text. Fredrich Buechner was right when he said that the truth of a sermon is already there before the preacher opens his lips. It is there in the hearts and the lives of those who have come to hear the preacher speak. It is there in the couple who had an argument on the way to church. It is there in the old man who has a spot of egg on his tie and does not know it. It is there in the single parent who wonders if she will always be alone. …. The truth is there in the people. Find a need and speak to it. (The need, of course, may be found in a text. I’m not opposed to lectionary preaching.)
+ It looks to the Word for guidance. It is not just the stating of pious opinion, but a declaration of God’s Word.
+ It ends with a celebration of what might be in the power of Christ. It has a goal. It expects something to happen.

What concerns me is that one could easily follow this model and never preach the gospel, the Good News of God’s action in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that is the power and the motivation for a renewed life. The model above seems to be saying tell them…

+ Here’s the problem
+ Here’s the answer to the problem
+ Here’s what you need to do about it
+ Wouldn’t it be great if everybody did it

The gospel message is “Here’s what God has done about your basic problem and what that means for you as you address the issues of life.” The gospel is the means and the motivation that brings people “from somewhere to somewhere,” and it begins not with a journey, but with an action of God carried out by His grace in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now perhaps the good brother meant all that, but I have heard too many sermons through the years that would fit his model and yet preach nothing but the Law, giving us the “Five Biblical Keys to Marital Happiness,” or What the Bible says about Money.” Telling me why it is important to follow certain principles, and then pointing to how good my life will be if I follow them, doesn’t always work – as any parent will tell you. Lasting motivation comes from the knowledge of a loving God who can pick me up, turn me around, and walk with me every step of the way. Preach the gospel!!