Archive for June, 2008

From Beirut

Sunday, June 29th, 2008


Patty and I are in Beirut. We just finished helping lead a 2-day workshop for leaders based on Hugh Halter and Matt Smay’s excellent volume, The Tangible Kingdom. Hugh was with us and was the primary presenter.

Serving the Church in this region to move toward a more missional, incarnational posture is a significant challenge. It has been a sobering time. As we have been here, some of the comments we have heard include:

“Throughout the past 50 years, the church in the Middle East has imported models from the West, particularly the U.S., and we’re coming to the realization that these models have failed.”

“I left the church I am a part of here in Beirut because I came to be convinced that God wouldn’t give his Son for this.”

“Christians are supposed to only have close relationships with other Christians. If we relate to others, it is only to preach repentance and faith in Christ to them.”

“I don’t think we should relate to others outside of the church because we may loose our faith …it is dangerous and risky.”

“If I have an problem with God, I can always go to him and work it out. But heaven help me if I have a problem with a pastor. I am just expected to salute and obey.”

Of course, there are bright spots in this setting and these statements don’t reflect the totality of the context. But overall, the Christian movement, particularly that portion of the movement that is represented by the traditional, institutional church, oozes pathology. This is particularly discouraging because of the strategic nature of the region. The stakes are high.

Apostolic Gifting

Thursday, June 19th, 2008


I just received a newsletter from some CRM folks who have been faithfully working in an obscure, difficult setting in Southeast Asia for the past 14 years. They have made a phenomenal contribution to God’s Kingdom purposes in their context. Who they are and what they have done is truly extraordinary. These are apostolic, pioneering types who genuinely get their thrills by going where most normal people would dare to tread.

In the newsletter, there was one paragraph which was a stellar description of what apostolic gifting is all about. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They wrote:

“When we arrived in this country, it was a good time and place for pioneering type people. Our personality, skills and gifting are very useful when things are broken down and not yet built. We are the ‘MacGyver’ types who live with a Leatherman Multi-Tool on our belt, a roll of wire and duct tape, and a Mag-Lite close at hand for when things break or go bad.

We travel with our two favorite books in double layer ziplock bags; a Thinline Bible and a Field Medical “What to do when it all goes wrong” Manual. We don’t need traffic laws, and can drive anything from bicycles to tractors and have fun. Beds are fine, and hammocks are better (no bedbugs) and all we need is enough water to scrub the crud off once a day. We like good food, but are fine eating other interesting stuff. Life is good in the the ambiguity zone.”

That is apostolic gifting! God give us more.

Making it Hard to Lead

Monday, June 16th, 2008


Most of the evidence points to the fact that the more formal education that is required for those who lead God’s people, the more detrimental it is to the vitality and the growth of the movements they serve.

Yet it is amazing to see the criteria that institutional, traditional churches continue to require of potential leaders. Of course the most common justification for all the educational and evaluative hoops “clergy” have to jump through before being credentialed is that such a system maintains quality, which is in reality an absurd argument. What actually happens is that such requirements exclude entrepreneurial, visionary men and women and only attracts leaders who can endure such stifling pathways to eventual responsibility. He or she who plods wins.

Such ecclesiastical pathways have been built around the untenable assumption that academic ability = spiritual leadership.

These systems –regardless of the confession or the tradition – are mostly about control and conformity. If existing leaders had to jump through such hoops and pay their dues as they were moving up in the system, better be sure that any young, aspiring leaders have to do the same. What a waste.

Anti-organizational Bias

Saturday, June 14th, 2008
whitefield1.jpg wesley.jpg
It seems fashionable today in missional circles to exhibit an anti-organizational bias. “Organization” and “structure” have become dirty words and smack of institutionalization, bureaucracy, hierarchy and modernity.

Even around CRM, we’ve been striving to purge “corporate” language and replace it with nomenclature that resonates with words and concepts that are non-business like, non-controlling and egalitarian. But I wonder, at times, if all of this neo-organic trendiness is inadvertently throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It is an innate part of the human condition to organize. As every student in sociology 101 knows, human beings always bring structure to their relationships. There is not a movement throughout the 2000 years of the history of Christianity, no matter how spiritually vibrant or well-intended, that did not organize itself in one way or the other if it was to be fruitful and sustainable.

A powerful case study is the comparison of George Whitfield (1717-1740; above left) and John Wesley (1703-1791 above right).

Whitefield was the best-known preacher and one of the most widely known personalities in public life throughout England and America in the 18th century. He traveled through all of the colonies drawing enormous crowds and was one of the most recognized public figures in America before George Washington. Benjamin Franklin listened to him (without sharing his convictions) in Philadelphia and was astounded that his voice could be heard by tens of thousands at one time. He preached over 18,000 times and crossed the Atlantic seven times to itinerate in the colonies and was of the first to ever preach to slaves. Along with Wesley, he is credited as the co-founder of the Methodist movement.

Wesley, while also a speaker, focused on the organizational structure of the movement. He gave it shape and form through the infamous Methodist societies, classes and bands with their intense accountability and discipline. He was the organizational genius behind the movement.

It is bad history to devalue Whitefield’s contribution. His leadership was inspirational. But when it comes to the depth of social influence and sustainability of the movement, Whitefield doesn’t come close to the long-term impact of John Wesley. At the end of the day, effective organization won out.

Any movement, no matter how dynamic or how infused it may be with the power and the presence of the Triune God, is not sustainable without organization. Effective structure is essential.

What happens is that the organization that evolves to serve the movement invariably outlives the original movement, and what’s left is a shell that is powerless and impotent. But that inevitability is no excuse to write off the necessity of structure without which the immediate becomes transitory and even less is sustainable for the future.

St. Marylebone

Thursday, June 12th, 2008


After stumbling onto Charles Wesley’s grave, we dropped into the parish church to which this graveyard originally belonged.

If its walls could talk ….

The same year Wesley died, a young baby was baptized here who grew up to be the poet, Lord Byron. Elizabeth and Robert Browning were married here. Francis Bacon was a parishioner. Lord Nelson worshiped in this place. And Charles Dickens used it as a backdrop for some of his writing, particularly David Copperfield.

But it was also a sober reminder that past glories don’t necessarily impact the present. What is left is a building that is more of a museum and only a mere shadow of its enormous prominence and past influence on the social order. Long gone are the days when it was regularly filled to its 3-4000 person capacity and the Christendom that it represented reigned.

I can’t help but wonder what lessons may be here for the American mega-church, particularly that social hegomony and size are fleeting.

The Hidden Mr. Wesley

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Yesterday, Patty and I were returning from a lunch with a couple in the Marylebone area of central London.

We noticed a very small, shaded urban park on Marylebone High Street and took a detour through it, discovering it to be part of an old church graveyard. And there in one corner, we came across this monument which was over the grave of Charles Wesley.

I think I was stunned by its obscurity. And awed by the thousands who pass it daily in this major shopping area who have no earthly idea of who lies six feet under.

Along with brother, John who was the organizational genius, Charles helped bring into being the Methodist movement. He was the creator of a new epoch of religious music (sometimes called “hymns of the human school”) which, through easy melodies, words and style, made worship accessible to the unlearned masses and the illiterate.

While John provided the intellectual and theological firepower for the movement, Charles provided the emotional fuel by creating music that had an irresistible appeal through such songs as: Jesus, Lover of My Soul; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Love Divine All Loves Excelling; and Christ the Lord is Risen Today.

What a remarkable legacy and what obscurity in death.

When it’s rough …

Monday, June 9th, 2008


This morning in London, I carved out some significant time to be with God.

During an unusual time of worship, God spoke on a variety of themes, but one which was powerful came through some old, simple lyrics, Part the Waters, on a Selah album:

When I think I’m going under, part the waters Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the seas.

When I cry for help, oh hear me Lord, and hold out your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.

Make it so, Father of all creation.

Back to Camden

Monday, June 2nd, 2008


“Rush hour Camden seethes with human beings like an old rat corpse seethes with maggots. Though rush hour on the Northern Line remains the true sardine experience, the line is on the whole better than its reputation suggests. Anyway, if you get really fed up with it you can do the sensible thing (ecologically and financially) and get a bicycle.” – Stuck in London Tour Guide

We arrived in the UK —living in the London borough of Camden— and will be here through the end of July. So I did the sensible thing yesterday. I bought a bike.