Experimental Ministry

Test TubesAlan Roxburgh discusses Missional Imagination in his book “Introduction to the Missional Church.” In discussing Saul (later Paul) and his transformation he writes,

“Information and definitions were not the issue; what Saul needed was a radical transformation of his imagination-of the way in which he saw the world.”

So Roxburgh basically defines imagination as “how one sees the world.” One might argue that “how one sees the world” is an adequate description of one’s culture or at least one’s worldview. In his book, he calls for individuals to be transformed so they might see the world and themselves through a missional lens. This shift to a missional worldview is ultimately what I desire for those whom I pastor.

The problem is, making shifts in culture and worldview is easier talked about than accomplished. Andy Crouch address this in his book  Culture Making. He says it is much easier analyzing the culture than actually changing it. In discussing why it is difficult to change a culture (or perhaps worldview), he has a very perceptive quote:

The language of worldview tends to imply, to paraphrase the Catholic writer Richard Rohr, that we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving. But that is not the way culture works. Culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking.

It seems that I’ve been taught that if people can think in new ways, it means there will be changes in their worldview. However, that might not be the case. What if, the culture has more affect on my thinking than my thinking has on the culture? What are the implications for a church that has been living in a certain culture for decades? I’m not sure we are going to “think” our way out of it.

What Roxburgh calls for (and Crouch may too…I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the book) is for experiments in ministry. If new ways of acting cause changes in the accepted culture, then the best thing we can do to change the culture, is to introduce new desired behaviors.

Perhaps this is why some translate Matthew 28:19 as “Therefore in your going make disciples…”

Jesus Sacrificed…so You Don’t Have To

Right now I’m reading Michael Slaughter’s new book Change The World. So far it is a great book and I really admire Slaughter for changing gears when he senses that God is moving in a different direction. At one point he writes,

“It is not acceptable to make doctrine and church meetings a substitute for sacrificial service.”

When I read that I found myself reflecting on the term “sacrificial service.” I don’t find our culture interested in much sacrifice. While we celebrate those who do sacrifice for others it seems like most of our lives are about avoiding sacrifice. To sacrifice means we are giving up things that we might not want to; things we care for, things we need, things we want. To sacrifice means we give them up, usually, for greater purposes.

That is not the message I get from culture, or many times, from the church. The message I continue to hear goes something like this: Jesus sacrificed, so you don’t have to. The message basically goes: Because Jesus gave himself up for us (which he did), we can have a good life with all of our dreams and desires. In fact, I just saw a video the other day where the tag line was, “What can God do for you?” Catchy? yes. I don’t think it is good theology though.

God is not our servant. We are his however. I believe Slaughter is right. If we are serious about our faith, our relationship with God, and being faithful to the gospel, there will be sacrificial service. It means we might be driving our cars a few more years so we can give the amount we are saving from car payments to God’s purposes. It might mean we take less expensive vacations, or put less in our 401Ks. It might mean we spend less time watching tv or entertaining ourselves so we can be available to God’s purposes. Whatever the case, it will mean we are giving up (sacrificing) something that we believe is important.

Culture tells us that it is okay to give to God’s purposes what we think we can afford. For most of us after we give to God we are still able to live at a very high level. In fact, we give to God only those things we believe we can live without. That is not sacrifice.

I wonder how the world would be different if those of us in the church began sacrificing more.

[amtap book:isbn=1426702973]

My Dissertation Project

I have started my dissertation project which is a good thing. Trying to explain it though is kind of difficult. The reason I have such difficult explaining it is because the project address cultural issues and the church’s response.

I have read that there is an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you want to know about water, don’t ask a fish.” For me, that explains the problem I have with explaining my project. I’m sure if I asked a fish, it wouldn’t even know it was swimming in water. It is the same with our culture. Culture is so pervasive that we don’t even know much about it. Our culture is just “how things are.”

My project has to do with the church’s response to culture. Not just the culture we live in, but any culture. In order to respond, we must first take a look at the culture and see how and where it flows against the gospel. This is difficult to do because for most of us, culture is simply “the way things are” and we don’t think too much about it. In fact, throughout our lives we merge the gospel with culture in which we live. The result is we believe that some aspects of our culture are actually biblical even when they are not. This is a difficult thing to discover.

The most biblical response I have found is offered by Missional Ecclesiology (a fancy way to say “thoughts about the church”). A Missional approach to church basically says that we have been sent by God into the world to be an agent, instrument, sign, and foretaste of God’s kingdom. The church (or rather people making up the church) is to understand the differences between the current “kingdoms” (cultures) and God’s kingdom and work to put God’s will and way into practice.

The question that my dissertation attempts to answer is, How can this happen in the life of an individual? In other words, how do we get from where we are (children of our culture…or fish in water) to where we are working and living by God’s will and way?

I hope to be able to explain it better as I work on the project more, but for now, that about sums things up.

God Knows Your Name…Really!

I guess this comes from the “New for the Christian Culture” department. I guess with all the specialized bibles like the Women’s Devotional Bible, The Men’s Devotional Bible, The Spirit Filled Life Bible, The Teacher’s Bible, The Teen Bible, and others, it was just a matter of time until the most specialized version of the bible would be published. The Personal Promise Bible puts your name in over 3000 different places in their Bible. So, instead of reading that “whosoever believes” you read, “David believes”, or “John Believes” …you get the picture.

Of course this is something we use to do with youth. We would read John 3:16 and put someone’s name there. Yet, this seems like it goes a bit far. To be honest, I almost laughed at first. I figured while someone was buying the Bible they could head on over to Yahoo.com and a Jessica Simpson song personalized for a couple of bucks. After all, it is all about us isn’t it.

Has it really come to this? Is this a bible that is needed for us to understand God’s love? Do we really need the personalized Bible? A Bible “as unique as you are.”

Well…time to put on my monogrammed polo shirt and get my personalized Bible.


The High Cost of Evangelism

I find myself in a denomination that is concerned about it’s life. In North America, attendance is down, membership is down, churches are closing and it seems like it is a stretch to find things to celebrate. Statistics are watched closely. Any church that has growth is studied and, at times, used as a model. Books are written. Conference are formed. All this takes place so that churches, who aren’t having statistical success, can discover the secrets of healthy growth. After all, no one wants to die, not even a denomination.

In this type of culture, one fixated on life and survival, evangelism is seen as the key. If we would evangelize, people would come to Christ and to the church. That is the belief anyway. Of course we look past the fact that there are many Christians who do not attend weekly services at all, but that is another issue. Yet, it seems feasible that if we were able to evangelize well, then our churches (and statistics) would be healthy.

Evangelism has always seemed mysterious to me. At various times Jesus was more interested in sending people away, or saying things that caused them to leave (see John 6) than getting them to sign up for his mission. I don’t think it was that he didn’t want people to respond to his message. I think he just knew that people needed to hear what he was really saying and respond to that. He didn’t sugar coat things. If they were going to be followers, well, he wanted them to know that it was going to be hard, and require much sacrifice.

As I contemplate evangelism, I wonder if we have the same edge that Jesus had. We are wanting our churches to grow. Our evangelism usually focuses around someone’s felt needs. We are to discover those felt needs, and help them see how Jesus (or actually the church) can meet those needs. While I agree that Jesus can meet our needs I wonder if our felt needs are the ones that really need to be met.

I was in a worship service not too long ago where the Youth Pastor announced they needed quite a few Wiis, Xbox 360s, Playstations, and HD TVs. He wasn’t asking for one or two, but for many. Why? Because they wanted to evangelize the youth of their city and the felt those things were needed to accomplish that task. The thought was, if they don’t come, how can we evangelize them? We need these things so that they will want to come.

To be honest, I’m torn on this. One part of me applauds the church, but another part of me wonders if it has really come down to this? It isn’t just the kids though. We do the same thing with our special services, events, concerts, etc. Yet many churches discover that while some might respond, many turn a deaf ear.

I don’t think we have taken time to really understand why our evangelism doesn’t always work. I’m not sure we understand the deep roots of our culture that causes people to take what we give them, but never really meet Christ in a way that transforms their lives. They might have their felt needs met, they might be able to play the newest XBox game, they might even begin coming to church….but is that really what we are after? Do we really need another church member? Do we really need another tick on our statistic that one more person showed up on Sunday morning? Yes, it might make us feel good, but deep down aren’t we really after something more?

Like Jesus, we want to see disciples. We want to see people transformed, not only on the outside, but also on the inside. We want to see people so transformed that sacrifice is a lifestyle. People who don’t think twice of giving themselves in service…or of giving their money in service. People who spend time in deep prayer (i.e. prayer that changes them by aligning their wills with God’s). People who are able to turn the world upside down and join God in putting things back to rights.

Perhaps we need a new type of evangelism. An evangelism that is not about XBoxes and felt needs.One that takes into account deep cultural issues. One that understands what the church needs is not converts, but disciples.