Tag Archives: great commission

The Church vs The Body

Ok, I know, I’m probably taking this all way too seriously.

I started with an almost random thought in “What is the Church?” and perhaps should have let it go but continued in “Consumer Spirituality” I’m just trying to sort out how this whole “one body with one head” works in light of what seems to be an accelerated rate of division in the church.

To be fair I’m not trying to blame anybody here. I’m just pointing out what I feel is a disturbing observation, made even more disturbing for the fact that it seems to mirror the rapidly decomposing and increasing adversarial political landscape.

If I were to try to roll up all the comments I’ve had on the last two posts the theme that seems to emerge looks something like this:

“Yes, the global church should be more unified and it is something we need to work on but were all just broken, wounded people so it is good that we’re at least able to worship together in small groups or in local bodies.”

Wow. “Sorry Jesus, we know you’re the head and we’re supposed to be one body but we’re all broke up just now so we’ll get back to you.”

I wonder though…not to let us off the hook but, is it perhaps more of maturity issue?

Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Is Paul saying here that spiritual gifts were given with the intent in mind that they’d be used to bring the WHOLE Body to maturity and unity? Is it an end state or goal rather than an ongoing operating model? If so shouldn’t we be working towards that end?

In light of all of the “church advertising” that seems to want to say, “we’re more relevant than your old church” or “we do church different” or “we’re different that your parents church” or “we’re protestant not catholic” I wonder when we start to cross the line from being one Body unified in Christ and become a house divided against itself?

If this state of unity of the Body is a mature end state or goal what can we do today to help individuals and churches move in that direction?

Consumer Spirituality

Warning: Thinking out loud to follow…

On Monday I asked the question, “What is the Church?”

The answers some of you provided were all pretty solid. But they left me wanting.

Most of them took the tack of either describing the “real” church vs. something else, or the “localized” body vs. the larger all inclusive body. What I’m struggling with is the fact that almost everyone I know immediately takes the global body of believers and breaks it down into something more manageable.

I think we do it because we don’t see the global body functioning like one.

The trouble with that is that we go to a denominational distinction, or a theological distinction that separates, divides, sorts out rather than including and fostering unity. But should we be fostering unity? Yes, yes I know the New testament calls believers to unity in the faith but as soon as you start talking ecumenical-ism people get all fired up and start worrying about the One World Church of the Anti-Christ!!

In order to avoid THAT entanglement people start to talk about individual faith. Which leads to comments about individual faith experience, which leads to existentialism, which leads to Nietzsche, which is NEVER fun.

And while we’d like to think we don’t go THAT far…what about comments like these:

  • “We’re church shopping at the moment”
  • “The Bible calls us to give financially and you really ought to give where you’re being fed.”
  • “We really enjoy more of a contemporary service.”
  • “We’re looking for deeper teaching on Sunday.”

Nothing necessarily wrong with those right? Except that they sound an awful lot like someone trying to select a great restaurant: Right for the occasion, value for your food dollar, ambiance, interesting menu…

Is it possible that we’ve become so good at consuming that we’ve fit church into our shopping basket mentality too?

Before you go condemning the consumer wholly, (I REALLY wanted to typo there and go with Holy), you have to ask if the church models through which we browse doesn’t in some ways facilitate such thinking.

Churches can’t exist without offerings and we’ve all known church leadership folk who have bemoaned a congregation that isn’t giving and we’ve all heard THOSE conversations start to talk about the services the church provides and what might need to be cut if giving doesn’t come up…which sounds a lot like restaurant management conversation.

Please don’t hear me casting blame in ANYONE’S direction here. I’m just trying to sort it all out in my own head, but it seems to me we’ve gone off track somewhere along the line. If we’re all a part of the body, one body, with one head, what does that look like?

Maybe I asked the wrong question the first time. Maybe the question isn’t What is the Church. Maybe the question is:

Are “The Church” and “The Body” the same thing? If they are, why so many bodies?

 

 

 

 

What is the Church?

What was your first thought when you read that question?

Is it possible that your fist inclination there was influenced by your denominational background?

Do you even have a denominational background?

I grew up in an incredibly solid Bible teaching, but not thumping, church. I spent more than a decade working in vocational ministry. I’ve taken classes at several different seminaries. My answer would have been:

The Church is the Body of Christ alive and active in the world today.

And while that is probably theologically accurate it is almost useless from any practical day to day perspective. Or is it? I’m not sure at the moment, hence this post.

Suddenly the question starts to get a little cloudy so we illuminate it with qualifiers: Do you mean the Church universal? Do you mean the local body of believers? Do you mean a group as defined by a denominational affiliation?

Sure.

But which ever definition we land on will carry with it a set of expectations. Expectations that will be met or, in the failing of their being met cause significant grief. We EXPECT “church people” to act a certain way and if they don’t they hypocritical.

I remember our high school winter retreat my senior year. I was one of the “leader kids” in our church youth group. We probably had somewhere between 100-200 kids at our bigger meetings. On the retreat we may have had 40 or 50.

We were having that sharing and prayer time that anyone who has been on one of these retreats knows oh so well. That time when people actually open up and share stuff that is sometimes deeply buried.

So it came as a bit of a shock to a lot of the kids when I, the leader kid, the guy the younger guys looked up to, they popular kid, said, “You know a lot of times I feel a whole lot more accepted by my non-christian friends at school than I do here.” Let’s just say it opened a bit of a can of worms which I am sure the youth pastor was glad to be finished with at the end of the night.

Now, I’m not saying the kids in our youth group were hypocrites, they were great. But there was SOME set of expectations alive and at play there that night that differentiated church people and non church people and the church folks were coming up short.

I have a worrying feeling that “The Church” today is not being what it ought to be. I have a worrying feeling that we’re redefining what we mean when we say “The Church” so that we don’t have to stare that shortfall in the face. I have a worrying feeling we’re trying to get over failed expectations by redefining how we answer that question.

So I’ll ask again…

What is The Church? And…what expectations are engendered by your answer?

 

Marketing the Church

Image courtesy of linder6580 at sxc.huNow that’s a loaded statement isn’t it? What do I mean by “marketing” and what do I mean by “church”? What constitutes a church “customer” and how do you know if they’re satisfied?

Way back in the day, when I was employed full time as a pastor, I often said that there was an incredibly fine line between marketing and ministry.

As youth guys we toed that line all the time…creating events that would have mass appeal to a teen target market in order to get them to attend:

  • All night scavenger hunts
  • Beach trips
  • Ice Cream Wars
  • Sanctuary baseball
  • Terminator laser tag
  • Disneyland trips

…just to name a few. We did all in the name of ministry and growth.

Having spend much of the last couple decades in marketing and watching the church from this side I’m afraid I can’t tell where the line is any longer.

It seems to me we’ve moved from trying to differentiate the church from the world into trying to differentiate one denomination from another, one local body from another, one style from another and of course the easiest way to differentiate is to show why “yours” is better than “theirs”.

Funny thing is that on top of that you hear a LOT of complaints about a consumer mentality that has “crept into” the church.

By way of contrast consider this little biblical nugget:

Acts 5: 12-16 (The Message)

Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter’s shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.

Seems like the objective of growth was accomplished without marketing.

Now I’m not saying we ought not be creative. I’m not saying we ought not create programs that appeal to our community. I just wonder what happened to the line.

How do you think marketing and ministry ought to play together? What does “customer loyalty” look like in the church?

 

Church Movements, Evangelism, and ol’ Jacques

In the center of town around High Street and Main
five churches were started in 2010.
Two bought out old chapels, one met in a bar
one met at the Bijou and one in the park.

Each sought for a word to distinguish their flock
from the other four gatherings there on the block.
Community, Village and Friendly all worked
some called it a Meeting, still others a Kirk.

But when names weren’t enough to set each one apart
each sought to distinguish the core or the heart
of their groups unique style of spiritual improvement
by coining a term to inspire a movement.

One said, “We’re Emergent and by that we mean
something new coming out from the old Christian scene.”
Another said, “Close but that’s not quite the thing
instead of emergent we are Emerging

One tied to their heritage lit on Resurgent.
While the ones on the narrow path, they chose Divergent.
The fifth and last church sadly took a long time
Before choosing “Mosturgent” because they liked the rhyme.

Well one fine summer morning ol’ Jacques came to town
to check on the doings and have a look ‘round.
He saw all the churches ensconced at the center
and tried to determine which one he should enter.

Each one’s vinyl banner puffed up by the breeze
declared why their own was far better than these.
The MOSTurgent, Emergent, Resurgent all cried
Divergent, Emerging said, “Please, come inside”

‘Ol Jacques chuckled because he had heard each ones claims
as he took the first letter from each of their names
saying, “I’ve listened to all of you now and I’ve heard
your irregular movements combined into MERDE.”

So ol’ Jacques left the town satisfied in his search
Having never once darkened the door of a church
For he thought, “Now if that is the best they can offer to me
then perhaps I’ll just watch politics on t.v.”

Fin

No hard feeling towards any particular movement, just the competitive nature they’ve all seem to have taken on. What does it say about being “in but not of” and “striving for unity”?

Relational Currency

It was one of those November nights in Denver when the rain doesn’t quite want to mature into snow, the snow wants to relive its adolescence as water and the result is a soupy, mushy mess that blankets the streets like boba tea stirred in rice pudding.

I was sitting waiting for a flight out of DIA and becoming more concerned as boarding time approached and passed without any of us moving.  It wasn’t long before the inevitable announcement sent us all scrambling in the direction of “next best options”, some to the gate of the next flight out, some to the customer service counter and me, among others, to the Red Carpet Club.

I waited patiently a line to converse with the over-stressed somewhat aloof counter agent who has just heard the same story from the previous five people. When she heard it for the sixth time and had finished typing in my name she informed me, in a tone bordering on disdain, that I was number 99 on the priority list to get on the next flight. Puzzled, I asked if my frequent flyer number was on the record. With an almost imperceptible shake of her head she informed me that it was not and collected the pertinent information. It was barely a split second after her typing in the last key stroke that her eyes widened severely and her mouth formed a perfect “o” as though she were trying her best to imitate a bowling ball. “I’m so sorry Mr. Fletcher, you’re actually number three on the list. How about if I just confirm a seat for you right now?” Suddenly…I had currency.

Relational Currency doesn’t refer to money per se but to the mechanisms by which we “keep score” in relationships. As a mere passenger I had no currency, or little currency with United. But as a Premier Executive member I had plenty. The concept of relational currency is an interesting one if only from the standpoint of how it helps us keep track of how we’re doing in relationships. To help better elucidate the concept I want to share three truths about relational currency.

Relational Currency is partially inherent

Imagine you had wanted to have lunch with Steve Jobs the former CEO of Apple (RIP Steve, you will be missed) to talk about creative design. You or I probably wouldn’t have had a chance. But if Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO, had put in that call Steve would have no doubt found the time. Because these gentlemen played at the same level they had “inherent relational currency”, a level of respect earned because of external conditions. Dog lovers have inherent currency with each other. They have less inherent currency with cat lovers but may have some as pet lovers.  Professional athletes have inherent currency above that of college athletes.  Again, it is currency based on external attributes of circumstances.

Relational Currency is partially earned

If inherent currency opens doors for lunch opportunities then earned currency keeps them open. Earned currency is based on internal attributes and how we treat and interact with people. Bill Gates would probably take a phone call from Ted Turner to discuss charitable giving. Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, probably wouldn’t take the same call. Why not? All three gentlemen are uber wealthy CEO’s. Doesn’t that indicate they should share inherent currency? Of course they do. But where Bill and Ted, pun intended, have shared excellent adventures in the realm of charitable giving Larry is not known to be equally motivated in that area and thus Ted’s earned currency is running at a slight deficit. Which leads to the third characteristic of relational currency:

Relational Currency works like money

By that I mean that it can be inherited, earned, spent, wasted, stocked up, or frittered away. Inherent currency is your starting account balance. That balance is different with different people. For example: as a former Div II college football player I have a fair amount of inherent currency with other DIV II players but significantly less with professional players and almost none with college basketball players. And none of any of that counts a lick with musicians.

Earned currency is where you start your funds management process growing, earning, building or burning up your inherent currency. Obviously, as with real money, the more I have in the bank to start with the easier it is to build my balance. Remember our lunch invite above? If I can’t even get the meeting I can’t build my balance. If I can get it and don’t communicate clearly or come off as an odd duck I waste the little “money”I had on the table  and in the words of Lord Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, “Had your chance, muffed it.”

Which leads to some interesting questions:

What are the audiences of people groups with whom you have the greatest inherent currency?

Are there any unique groups, near the top of some hierarchy, with which you have inherent currency?

The are interesting questions to answer because it helps you determine where you might have some of the best and most unique opportunities to build Disciples!

When does Discipleship begin?

If you’ve been following along at home you’ll know that I hold to the opinion that every Christian is responsible for making Disciples. Not converts to Christianity, not better Christians, but Disciples.

Again, the basic premise is that Disciple Making, in a spiritual sense, is the process of following God closely enough that you go out and create Disciples of you. In the same way John the baptist had Disciples of John and Gamaliel had Disciples of Gamaliel and Jesus had Disciples of Jesus. The twist is that we’re not called to point them ultimately to ourselves but to Christ.

So if that is the case when does Discipleship begin?

Most of the churches I have been associated with have some form of Discipleship class or curriculum. And, for most of those churches, the class or curriculum is designed to start AFTER someone has committed their lives to Christ. Hmmmm…I don’t think Jesus called the twelve AFTER they all we’re completely sold out to believing who He was, do you?

It seems to me there was a process of deepening relationship that happened all along the Discipleship journey.

Many scholars today recognize the commission in Matthew 28:19 to read: “As you’re going, make disciples of all nations…” seeming to indicate that this should not only be a part of your normal daily activities but something you should actively pursue. If that is the case then we shouldn’t expect to find the people we’re supposed to “make disciples of” sitting behind us in the pews at church.

This is where the Four Levels of Agreement starts to get me jazzed a bit. Remember, we’ve been looking at themas the process by which we deepen relationships. Level 1 is that mental click that happens when someone catches my attention.  Level 2 is my completed physical response to that mental moment. Level 3 is where we enter into some contractual responsibility based on expectations and promises. Level 4 is where we cross over into a committed rapport. Since we can walk through our daily routine marking out relational process with this tool we can ALSO use it to help determine which folks we ought to be actively engaging as potential Disciples.

Simplistically then I want to find people who are ready to enter into a Level 3 relationship, and who I desire to pursue that with as well, who may only be at a Level 1 in their understanding of spiritual matters! I have to finding people to Disciple in the work place, at the soccer field and at Starbucks…not in my small group! Ok, that was probably a bit hasty for those churches that invite new attenders to join a small group before they even know their names, but you get my drift.

Go back and read the Gospel account of the calling of the twelve, particularly in Mark. Everyone seems to be going about their business as relationships start to form. Where are relationships forming around YOUR daily life with folks that are not yet spiritually fully bought in?

Which of those relationships is ripe for Discipleship?

What do you think?

Is Disciple -Making really something we’re all called to do in this way? Is it really a PRE-conversion starting point?

Disciple Making (Sprirtual Version 1.1)

So by now some of you are wondering, why all this marketing talk with only one post having anything to do with the Great Commission? Well, let’s think for a minute about how Jesus chose His Disciples.

I really don’t think any of us would believe he picked 12 guys at random. Some of us might suggest he fell back on his power as fully God and used a predestined list but that would turn into a huge debate. Let’s look at an interesting little tidbit from Luke chapter 5 (from The Message):

 1-3Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

 4When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

 5-7Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

 8-10Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.

 10-11Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.

First lets view this from Simon’s perspective. It would be tough to convince me that Simon knew nothing about Jesus. Imagine you’ve just pulled the boats up on shore from a long nights work and some stray preacher steps into your boat and asks you to take him out a bit. The fact that Simon agrees tells me he had already experienced a Level 1 agreement.  Interestingly enough he’s minding his own business when the opportunity resents itself to move through Level 2 and 3. In fact a short term contract ensues when he agrees to let Jesus teach from the boat. What is really cool is that he runs through all three levels AGAIN while Jesus is teaching:

  • Level 1: He hears what Jesus is saying and realizes this guy is more that just a teacher
  • Level 2: He moves to action and asks Jesus to leave him alone after the miracle catch.
  • Level 3 : He agrees to follow Jesus.

Now let’s look at is from Jesus perspective. We don’t have as much specific evidence in the text, and the chronology is a little difficult to piece together from the four Gospel narratives, but we can make some educated guesses.

Prior to the episode detailed in Luke 5 Jesus appears to have met Andrew, Simon’s brother. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist and when John had proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God Andrew knew he’d found the one he was seeking. John’s Gospel,  in chapter 1 vs 40-42, seems to indicate that Simon and Jesus had met prior to the events of Luke 5:

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John’s witness and followed Jesus. The first thing he did after finding where Jesus lived was find his own brother, Simon, telling him, “We’ve found the Messiah” (that is, “Christ”). He immediately led him to Jesus.

   Jesus took one look up and said, “You’re John’s son, Simon? From now on your name is Cephas” (or Peter, which means “Rock”).

Have you ever met someone and immediately knew you’d be friends? I’m not talking about “love at first sight” but that moment of, “I like this person.” I’ve had that happened a number of times in life and rarely been wrong. I think that was happening when Jesus met Simon. And so it began…

  • Level 1: Jesus meets Simon and gives him a new name
  • Level 2: He takes a step and asks Simon if he can “borrow the boat”
  • Level 3: He asks Simon to follow Him

While all of that may or may not be of interest let me ask you this:

If the Great Commission is really about each of us finding people to “Disciple” who are your Disciples? 

If you’re wrestling with this one let me ask:

How would you choose who to Disciple if you agreed with that interpretation?

More on this topic later in the week.

 

 

 

Disciple Making (Sprirtual Version 1.0)

picture courtesy of ba1969 at sxc.hu18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If you’re a Christian you no doubt have some familiarity with this passage from Matthew 28 – The Great Commission.  What fascinates me most about this charge that Jesus gives the 11, Judas is gone by now, is the way we interpret it today.  Researching the possible interpretations of this passage is truly amazing. You’ll find:

  • “This is really a specific command given only to the eleven remaining disciples of Jesus”
  • “This really speaks to evangelism and the importance of baptism.”
  • “There are no disciples today, as such, so this simply means to witness.”

If I look closely at how the majority of the church, and by this I mean main stream protestant denominations and non-denominational denominations, interprets the passage, and attempts to live it out, I think it looks something like this:

The term “disciples” in the New Testament refers to the followers of Jesus, most specifically the twelve very committed ones. Thus, this passage clearly means we are commanded to go make followers of Jesus, baptize them, and provide them with access to study materials that will enhance their knowledge of scripture.

I have to confess I struggle with that interpretation. First, the word “disciple” is secular word meaning “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another”. John the Baptist had disciples, Socrates had disciples, even Buddha had disciples.  Second, in the context where Jesus’ words were spoken the people he was speaking to understood that any teacher worth his salt had disciples. Third, the notion of creating disciples carried with it a level of personal responsibility on the part of the disciple maker. Fourth, I struggle with it because it seems to let ME off the hook if I can just get someone into the hands of the “professionals” by getting them to attend church.

Thus I really firmly believe that the eleven would not have heard this ‘commission’ as “go make more followers of Jesus”, rather I suggest they would have heard: “Peter, go make disciples of Peter. John, go make disciples of John. James, go make disciple of James. Not pointing them towards yourselves ultimately guys but pointing them towards your father in heaven who has given me authority. And oh, by the way, baptize them in my name AND teach them all that I have passed on to you during YOUR discipleship.”

Radical perhaps?

Stop long enough to consider what it would mean for you to have a relationship with God that was strong enough, significant enough, secure enough, and steeped enough in the truth that He would actually ask you to grab some folks and have them follow you as you followed Him. That He would ask you to live life alongside this group of folks in such a way that they were drawn to Him by your very example.

Stop a second longer to consider what a church full of disciple makers would look like.

If our purpose in life is to “make disciples” then do some of us have some studying to do? Do some of us have some house cleaning to do? Do some of us have some serious consideration that needs to be given to have we live out a faith that is based on leading others rather than on personal growth?

What do you think? Is God calling you to be a disciple maker or an assistant convert maker?