Weddings and the Imago Dei

April 11th, 2008

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There is something in our makeup, reflecting the image of God, which needs and even craves celebratory experience.

I have increasingly grown to appreciate such ceremonies and the surrounding celebrations as part of the innate rhythms of communal life that give meaning, shape and form to what it means to be fully human. Every culture has such anthropological realities.

And we see God not only honoring such events but also instituting them throughout time and history. I can’t help but believe they are reflective of the Imago Dei and tell us much more about the nature of the triune God than we realize on the surface.

“… a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.” John 2

Confessions of a FOTB

April 10th, 2008

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My only daughter, Christine, is getting married this Saturday and I’m the “father of the bride.” So how does this once-in-a-lifetime experience feel thus far?

• It is really different than when a son gets married. More responsibility, more details and more expense.
• It hit me a couple weeks ago…her name is changing! No longer Metcalf, which I have used for 25 years.
• Like most dads, I’ve always been protective of my daughter from predatory males, and now I’ve giving her over to one. It’s an emotional switch.
• Home is no longer our house, but wherever she is with him.
• There is deep satisfaction knowing the man she is marrying is a wonderful match for her. We have grown to love him dearly
• Seeing one’s child make a wise and godly choice in choosing a mate has got to be one of life’s most fulfilling gratifications.
• Her room will no longer be just “hers.” She’ll have a guy in there with her whenever she’s here.
• This event is another one of those milestones, which highlights my mortality, and the fact I’m getting older.
• The gambit of emotion, so far, runs from deep joy, anticipation of the celebration, moments of frenetic activity to make sure details are worked out, and occasional sadness because relationships will never be the same again.
• I have a growing admiration and sense of bonding with Steve Martin.
• It is great to have another man in the family from the next generation who can eventually change my Depends and will probably someday help lay me to rest.

Megachurches

April 3rd, 2008

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I want to fend off some of the potential critics and those who think I am bashing megachurches. I’m not.

In fact, there is an excellent recently published study that helps replace lots of myths about the megachurch in North America with some solid research. Beyond Megachurch Myths is a good book. Before anyone hurls critical missiles at the mega-church, I would recommend they absorb this volume.

I believe the megachurch is a fixture solidly established in the diverse mosaic of the American religious landscape. While it may struggle and slowly morph to adapt to a rapidly changing culture around it, the form itself is not going to disappear in my lifetime or for several generations to come. While there are hoards of people who are disillusioned and fleeing the traditional structures, there are still plenty of sons and daughters of the boomers who are stepping into their parent’s shoes to inherit the religious institutions they have created and/or embellished.

Whether it is Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral which appealed to my grandparent’s and parent’s generation, Saddleback and Willow Creek which are boomer focused, or Mosaic, Rock Harbor and Hillsong whose demographic is gen-x and millennials, the mega-structure is an enduring phenomena on the North American scene. As Peter Druker commented in 1998,

“Consider the pastoral megachurches that have been growing so very fast in the U.S. since 1980 and are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last 30 years.”

Megachurches have great strengths. They can do things that are simply out of reach for a house church or a group of 100, and megachurches exert leverage that can shape the entire Christian movement in their locale and beyond, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. The influence they and their leadership exert is far out of proportion to the numbers of attendees, particularly as megachurches are held up as the model for other local church expressions to emulate.

Best estimates are that there are 1250 megachurches in the U.S. (out of approximately 320,000 Christian congregations) with 4.5 million attendees on a weekly basis. These churches account for one-half of 1 percent of all the religious congregations in the nation and yet the largest 1% of American churches contain at least 15% of the total worshipers.

Be we also have to be honest about megachurch limitations. I would agree with Alan Hirsch’s observation that only about 30% of the North American population is within reach of the institutional/traditional/attractional church and an even smaller percentage of that would ever meaningfully connect with a megachurch. While megachurches may represent a significant slice of the religious population, their influence on the general culture may not be much to crow about. Bigger may be by some criteria better, but it may not be always best.

The bottom line is that the American religious mosaic is incredibly diverse and complex. In the Protestant realm, it is distinguished by ethnic and socio-economic diversity, urban vs. suburban, the emerging church (which mainline evangelicals are going after like a mother eating her young …a whole other topic), organic/simple church, the missional/incarnational models, third-place groups, neo-monatistic movements, liturgical models, old-school evangelicals, mainliners, megachurches, etc ….

Put that all in a blender and add the presence of the supernatural and what swirls around is a remarkable cacophony that reflects the creativity, diversity and the accommodating graciousness of the triune God.

Is Bigger Best?

April 1st, 2008

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I was sharing lunch with a businessman and friend who chaired the board of elders at one of Southern California’s booming (at that time) megachurches.

They were launching into what would be over a 30 million dollar expansion which was to give them a building that would seat at least 5,000 for worship. The idea was to double the present size of the attendees from 5,000 to 10,000 and the 30 mil would allow them to do this.

He also admitted they were going this direction because they wanted to provide a bigger, broader platform for the senior pastor who was drawing more people than they could accommodate because of his charisma.

So I asked what seemed to be an obvious question:

“Have you or the church leadership considered the alternative of investing those millions into starting perhaps ten new churches of 1,000 each rather than expanding the present physical plant?”

His stare was blank. He admitted such a concept was not on the table. No one had even considered the idea of planting and multiplying, only of growing the present set-up larger.

The result: they built the building at great sacrifice and effort. The Sr. guy is no longer there. And the faithful in that part of Southern California continue to just circulate around to whichever megachurch meets their needs as consumers while the net number of unchurched people continues to rise.

While some may have considered bigger to be better, it is hard to believe it was best.

So What Should a Local Church Do?

March 31st, 2008

What is a local church to do?In my 3-28-08 post I vented. My frustration with the ineptness demonstrated by folks in megachurches who sometimes control the purse strings and make decisions that damage lives and retard God’s kingdom purposes simply boiled over.

It was triggered by a very real situation where three families serving very competently and effectively with CRM in diverse areas of the globe were stung by a church last week, which made such hurtful, ill-conceived decisions and then used the l0-40 window as justification.

But on a more constructive note, what should a church do when faced with decisions on the allocation of resources for those committed to serving in a missions posture? How do you realistically juggle priorities? What is a church to do? Several years back, I wrote the attached article to address just that issue. It lays out a practical formula and process where such financial decisions can become a “win-win” for all involved.

The 10-40 Excuse

March 26th, 2008

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It’s bogus.

I just learned of another mega-church which is laying waste to people they support who are not directly focused on the 10-40 window. Under the guise of reallocating resources, they are cutting people off who don’t fit their criteria of being on the ground in 10-40 venues.

So what’s wrong with such “prioritization?” Plenty.

1. Such decisions rarely have to be “either-or” type choices. They should be “both-and.” I’ve seen too many situations where a church’s financial support for incredibly effective people around the world and in North America, gets cut and the reason given is that the church wants to reallocate resources where the needs are greatest. However, the real reasons are all too often budgets that are stretched because of elaborate building programs, dwindling attendance, or turnover in a missions committee where control of the purse strings has shifted to people who have a personal agenda.

The church I heard about today which just cut some superb missionaries serving in North America has been engrossed in a 30 million dollar building extravaganza and felt compelled to begin eliminating missionaries. The justification was the 10-40 window.

2. Most such decisions are made by misguided and myopic amateurs who have created policies that may sound high-minded and strategic on the surface but are missiologically naive and are an indication of leadership that doesn’t know what they are doing rather than leadership that knows how to focus on the most unreached of the global population. If they really wanted to be more strategic, they could do it without the human carnage.

3. Such ill-informed decisions often demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of “leverage.” Such decision makers would probably have given Jesus the ax because he never got outside of his own culture.

Patty and I have personally gotten several such “dear John” letters. The most disappointing was from a church that had helped originally send us into a life of vocational ministry, the place where we were married and a congregation that had an incredible reputation for supporting the global Christian movement. In a form letter from someone we had never met, we were told they had “re-evaluated” their priorities and if we ever decided “to live overseas,” we should come back and talk to them and they would reconsider us for support.

4. In my experience, I have never seen a local church cut its pastoral staff or their compensation commensurate with cuts they deem necessary in those to whom they have committed who serve in a missions capacity. People you don’t have to see every week don’t raise as big a stink.

5. When a local church makes such draconian moves which can devastate people already living on the edge, I have never had one pastor or person responsible contact us and be willing to enter into a conversation about the decision. I have never seen a willingness to have these misapplied 10-40 window assumptions challenged.

6. Unfortunately, it is indicative of the fact that local churches are increasingly unreliable and unpredictable sources of financial support for those serving in mission postures. And when they take a valid, useful concept such as the need in the 10-40 window and use it to decimate and wound their existing mission force, it only reinforces the poor reputation that such church-based mission efforts all to often have earned.


I can’t help but believe such hurtful actions, like those I heard about today, grieve and sadden God. But in the larger perspective, I think it is all simply another symptom of the underlying condition of the traditional, institutional church in the western world.

Jesus has left the building

March 2nd, 2008

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While the outside of the building was massive and imposing, it gave little hint to the spectacular interior. Stain glass, a huge valeted ceiling, and stone and woodwork that were remarkable in their artistic genius.

I’ve passed this church building numerous occasions during our stays in London. So yesterday to get out of my hotel and get a break from the computer, I hiked the neighborhood and decided to explore this edifice. I found an open door and went in. It was just me and a lady doing some cleaning.

I discovered there are about 130 active members of this congregation in a building that could easily accommodate a thousand. The parish newsletter was even sadder …a ministry that sacramentalizes a dwindling and dying population. Incredibly depressing.

As I marveled at this architectural relic, the words that came were almost audible: “Jesus has left the building!”

From there, I wandered across the street and came across a totally different scene. It was a Saturday morning, open air swap meet swarming with hundreds of people from every imaginable ethnic background. The smells, textures, colors, languages, all made for an incredibly diverse and vibrant setting. The contrast could not have been more stark.

Divine Encounter at 35,000 feet

February 29th, 2008

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I am on trip that will take me to the UK, the Middle East, and South Africa.

As Patty and I were praying before I left, she prayed specifically for divine contacts. As I settled into my seat on British Airways, I discovered that the distinguished African gentleman next to me was exactly that. He was an Anglican bishop from Uganda, on his way home after speaking at a conference in the states. A few notable highlights of the conversation were:

He believes the greatest challenge to the church in East Africa is that it “does church” meaning it is captive to the traditional and institutional and has lost its sense of missionality.

The greatest need in East Africa is leaders for the Christian movement and a means of developing them that is transformational and not just the impartation of information.

He is part of a think tank in Africa that wrestles with issues relating to the sending of Africans as missionaries but for the most part, he feels the African church, with a few exceptions, is not at this juncture. Existing models don’t work, particularly regarding the marshaling the resources necessary to accomplish the sending task.

When I asked if he was part of the Ugandan Anglican body that was accepting parishes of the American Episcopal Church which were leaving the denomination, he responded “yes,” but then politely corrected me. “These individual churches in the U.S. are not leaving the Anglican communion. It is the American Episcopal Church that has left us.”


In the course of our travel, the conversation covered a spectrum of topics, everything from Obama to the shabbiness of LAX. It was a pleasure to encounter and enjoy this godly saint at 35,000 feet.

The Smart Shepherd

February 19th, 2008

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The February 18, 2008 issue of Newsweek includes a fascinating article about Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. It is worth a read.

What Tim Keller has done in New York is a superb study in good missiology applied to reach thoughtful, urban professionals with a gospel that is a combination of “orthodox Christianity, challenging preaching, with an emphasis on social justice and community service.” The article goes with the following description of Tim:

“Like so many New Yorkers Keller is a misfit. He’s a megachurch pastor who doesn’t like megachurches. He’s an orthodox Christian who believes in evolution. He emulates the puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards and loves a good restaurant. he’s an evangelist who relishes the power of doubt. New York is the perfect home for such an idiosyncratic Christian.”

Evangelicalism 101(a)

February 17th, 2008

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This quarter’s Theology News and Notes from Fuller Theological Seminary is an excellent overview of the Evangelical Movement. It is well worth the read for anyone serious about trying to get their arms around the background and contemporary status of this important historical stream in the Protestant tradition.

How to Remember

February 15th, 2008

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If memory is such a powerful tool and the human brain an untapped resource, what can we do about it. Joshua Foer goes on to say in National Geographic:

“Over the past millennium, many of us have undergone a profound shift. We’ve gradually replaced our internal memory with what psychologists refer to as external memory, a vast superstructure of technological crutches that we’ve invented so that we don’t have to store information in our brain.

We’ve gone, you might say, from remembering everything to remembering awfully little. We have photographs to record our experiences, calendars to keep track of our schedules, books (and not eh Internet) to store our collective knowledge, and Post-it-notes for our scribbles. What have the implications of this outsourcing of memory been for ourselves and for our society? Has something been lost?


So is there anything practical that we could do to better tap into this remarkable resource that sits on top of our necks?
“If you can convert whatever it is you’re trying to remember into vivid mental images and then arrange them in some sort of imagined architectural space, known as a memory palace memories can be made virtually indelible.

Peter of Ravenna, a noted Italian jurist and author of a renowned memory textbook of the 15th century, was said to have used this loci method to memorize the Bible, the entire legal canon, 200 of Cicero’s speeches, and 1,000 verses of Ovid. For leisure, he would reread books cached away in his memory palaces. ‘When I left my country to visit a a pilgrim the cities of Italy, I can truly say I carry everything I own with me,’ he wrote.”

Memory and Oral Tradition

February 14th, 2008

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I’ve always been under the assumption that written tradition is more reliable than oral until I came across a fascinating article in November 2007 issue of National Geographic on the topic of “Memory.” It states:

“A memory is a stored pattern of connections between neurons in the brain. There are about a hundred billion of those neurons, each of which can make perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 synaptic connections with other neurons, which makes a total of about five hundred trillion to a thousand trillion synapses in the average adult brain. By comparison there are only about 32 trillion bytes of information int the entire Library of Congress.”

The article goes on to give examples of people and times where extraordinary memory was the norm:
“Ancient and medieval people reserved their awe for memory. Their greatest geniuses they describe as people of superior memories.

Thomas Aquinas, for example, was celebrated for composing his Summa Theologica entirely in his head and dictating it from memory with no more than a few notes. Roman philosopher Seneca the Elder could repeat 2,000 names in the order they’d been given him. Another Roman names Simplicius could recite Virgil by heart – backward.

A strong memory was seen as the greatest of virtues since it represented the internalization of a universe of external knowledge. Indeed, a common theme in the lives of the saints was that they had extraordinary memories.

In fact, there are long traditions of memory training in many cultures. The Jewish Talmud, embedded with mnemonics—techniques for preserving memories—was passed down orally for centuries. Koranic memorization is still considered a supreme achievement among devout Muslims. Traditional West African groits and South Slavic bards recount colossal epics entirely from memory.”

How to Pick a President

February 5th, 2008

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Seeing that this is the largest primary election day in this presidential selection year, I was intrigued at the commentary this morning on NPR from cowboy poet, philosopher, and former large animal vet, Baxter Black who supined the following on how to pick a president:

“There are always politically incorrect insinuations that women would vote for a woman candidate for the primary reason they’re both women or that blacks would vote for a black candidate simply because they’re black. Well of course they would, or at least give it serious consideration. .

The same with cowboys, vegetarians and paroled felons. It’s natural to want to have someone in office who understands you. What percentage of the Mormon vote do you think candidate Romney is going to receive? 99% And how many brush-clearing cedar-whacks went for George W.? Given the opportunity to poll candidates there are several questions that I would proffer, i.e.,

Do you consider miracle whip and jalapeños essential nutrients in the food pyramid?
Do you prefer Copenhagen or Skoll?
Do you have any nieces, nephews, cousins or children named after coon-dogs: Blue, Jake, Badger or Whoop?
Do you head or heel when team roping?
How long before you have to renew you’re Farm Bureau membership, your subscription to Sports Afield, and the warranty on your four-wheeled drive pick-up?”

Backlash to the Emerging Church

January 30th, 2008

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Recently I received a letter with a rather withering criticism of CRM for being “sympathetic” to the emerging church movement. I think portions of my response are worth posting here so there is no misunderstanding as to our perspective on this movement.

Regarding the “emerging church” and CRM’s relationship to this renewal movement, I believe it is important to understand that this movement is not monolithic. It is very diverse. It should also not be confused with “Emergent” which is a specific organization here in the U.S. but which does not, however, represent the totality of “emerging churches” by any means.

The emerging church movement as a whole reflects a variety of theological perspectives, some of which I would agree with and some that would give me pause. But overall, I personally believe this is a movement of God which stands squarely in the flow of the great, historical renewal movements of the past 2000 years.

As in almost all renewal movements throughout the history of Christianity, it’s messy. That’s to be expected. There are always excesses,muddy thinking, and some level of deconstructionism that takes place when such change occurs. That was even true of the Protestant Reformation. I saw it myself in the Jesus Movement of the sixties and seventies in the U.S. and astute observers see many interesting similarities to today’s situation. Regardless, CRM is committed to serve the emerging church and to help in any way possible to develop and empower the leadership of this movement.

What God is undoubtedly doing is raising up, on the cultural fringes, a new generation of people who are faithfully and wholeheartedly followers of Jesus and true to the bible, but they are committed to living that faith out in an increasingly secular, postmodern world. From my experience, what I believe is most unsettling to the traditional Christian establishment is not primarily the theological nuances and questions that emanate from emerging churches, but forms and ecclesiological expressions that are outside the acceptable box. While some would attack the emerging church on theological grounds, my suspicion is the real backlash is primarily cultural. In many respects, the emerging church movement is profoundly biblical.

Bodies of Water and Relevant

January 22nd, 2008

My kids think I matured in a cave and missed all the pop culture of the 60s and 70s. Probably so.

But hey, they’re making up for it. David (our son) and his wife, Meredith, and their band, Bodies of Water, were reviewed and interviewed today in Relevant magazine to coincide with the release of their latest album. They were also recently featured on Rolling Stone’s blog for new music.

I thought the interview in Relevant was fascinating and would that I could be as articulate as David. His commentary on food, music, God, their latest tour, etc., are all enlightening. I particularly liked his answer about fashion since there are lots of folks out there who wish I would take such advice from my son. But hey, the last time I did that, he told me rather clearly, “Dad, that’s a pathetic attempt to be trendy.” So I have to act my age.

Their CD just hit the stores. Buy it! It will help put my grandkids through college, that is if David an Meredith get around to having them in between music tours.

High Level Complaining

January 20th, 2008

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Richard Farson, author of Management of the Absurd and The Innovation Paradox writes the following about how to evaluate complaints and whining within an organization:

“The paradox is that improvement in human affairs leads not to satisfaction but to discontent, albeit a higher-order discontent than might have existed before. This is what historians have labeled the theory of rising expectations. It fuels the fires of revolution and change because it creates a discrepancy between what people have and what they now see is possible to have. That discrepancy is the source of discontent and the engine for change.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow had an interesting way of describing this phenomenon as it applied to the health of organizations. He advised managers to listen not for the presence or absence of complaints, but rather to what people were complaining about—that is, the quality or level of the complaint. He called them “grumbles.” In the least healthy organizations, Maslow said, you can expect to hear low-order grumbles – complaints about working conditions, about what he called “deficiency needs.” For example: “It’s too hot in here.” Or, “I don’t get paid enough.”

In a healthier organization, Maslow said, there would be high-order grumbles – complaints that extend beyond the self to more altruistic concerns for self or society.

There is the absurdity. Only in an organization where people are in on things and where their talents are being utilized would it occur to someone to complain about those higher-order issues. What this means to the manager is that improvement does not bring contentment but its opposite.

Absurd as it seems, the way to judge your effectiveness is to assess the quality of the discontent you engender, the ability to produce movement from low-order discontent to high-order discontent. Easing the dress codes raises expectations for further change, and they now want more informal days, looser codes, clearer policies. Pity the poor manager who can’t imagine how a well-intended action led to such grousing. The paradox of rising expectations helps us better understand why it is on the best campuses that there is the most restlessness and demand for change.”

Tough Times

January 16th, 2008

I had coffee this past week with a close friend whose mortgage company is going through deep waters. As the whole industry in the U.S. is being roiled by the sub-prime crisis and the resulting credit crunch, his company is in a vice that he has never experienced in his several decades of business.

Inside the cover of his diary, he had pasted the following quote from Thomas Merton which is poignant considering the circumstances:

“Tribulation detaches us from the things of nothingness in which we spend ourselves and die. Therefore, tribulation gives us life and we love it not out of love for death, but out of love for life.

Let me then withdraw all my love from scattered, vain things—the desire to be read and praised as a writer, to be a successful teacher praised by my students, or to live at east in some beautiful place—and let me place everything in Thee, where it will take root and live, instead of being spent in barrenness.”

Kenya

January 14th, 2008

I talked today with the folks serving with CRM in Nairobi, Kenya.

This couple, who are actually Nigerian, have lived and ministered in this East Africa nation for the past 20 years. I asked about their impressions of the violence and upheaval that has roiled Kenya after the conflicted presidential election held in December, 2007. One observation they shared was sad.

“In the midst of the social turmoil, the church has been strangely silent. And unfortunately, tribal loyalties have too often trumped kingdom loyalties. The situation is another example of the crises of leadership that grips the African church.”

In a land where the Christian veneer appears as a pervasive covering over all of society, to hear of another situation where ethnic bloodletting is tolerated or even encouraged by those who claim to be followers of Jesus is disheartening. It has the all too familiar ring of earlier events in Rwanda and Uganda. It is another example of the transformational presence and power of Jesus being compromised and being rendered impotent because cultural captivity.

Decisive Leadership

January 4th, 2008

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A quote passed on from Bobby Clinton this week stimulated some thought:

“When the church was on the move and both the Roman and Jewish leaders were opposing it, someone had to make quick, Spirit-led decisions. And we can only imagine the kinds of issues that could have splintered this frail organization when the church leaped over its cultural boundaries to include Samaritans and Gentiles. Because Peter was a leader whose ego could endure the threat of disagreement and challenge he was not afraid to act. He was not careless, but he was not afraid to move, and under his leadership the church got things done. Peter was a leader who made decisions that mattered.”—from Handbook to Leadership-Leadership in the Image of God, by Boa, Buzzell and Perkins (pg. 14)

I’ve worked and led some strong leaders over the years. Sometimes they are referred to as leaders who lead “hard.” I believe there is a desperate need for such men and women throughout the contemporary Christian movement, but all too often we seem to want to beat out of these people the very characteristics that make them effective. That’s understandable because some of us have been bruised by such people. So we live in a time where collaborative leadership, buy-in, ownership, and facilitation are the prevailing values. Peter, Paul, or Moses probably wouldn’t fare to well.

When I’ve recruited or assumed responsibility for people with strong personalities, (Enneagram #8, ENTJ, High-D, Type-A people), there are several non-negotiables that I particularly look for if I am to coach, mentor or supervise them:

1. Character – Do they have integrity? When push comes to shove, will they do the right thing?

2. Teachability – Can they follow, genuinely submitting to to the leadership of others? Do they have the posture of a learner? Can they be corrected or do they behave like the stubborn fool that Proverbs repeatedly warns us about?

3. Emotional health – How great is their need for affirmation and validation? Are their emotional needs such that they will they suck me and others dry looking for approval? Will they demand strokes which no one can ever adequately provide and in reality, only God can give?

4. Spiritual Vitality – Can they hear from God? If so, are they responsive to the Spirit and the Word and going ever deeper in dependence upon Jesus? Is there evidence that their rough edges are being refined in the process of submission to God’s sanctifying rule?

It’s naive to mistake strong, decisive leadership for authoritarian, top-down leadership. If servant leadership, thoroughly biblical in nature, can be exercised effectively through a person like Peter, there is hope for many others. We shouldn’t shy from recruiting and sponsoring strong personalities into roles of responsibility just because they can be a handful. At the same time, I’m not interested in putting myself in a relational cusinart, trying to help someone who is out of touch with who they really are and exhibits some of the disqualifiers above. They key, as we see demonstrated in how Jesus dealt with the likes of Peter, was knowing the difference.

2008 Wish List

January 1st, 2008

If I could wish for a few things in 2008, it would include:

1. An affordable hydrogen car to come on the market
2. A spam filter that really works
3. The end of TV reality show
4. The US dollar and British pound to be at parity
5. A food that includes the benefits of broccoli, carrots and bran but tastes like an In-N-Out burger.
6. All-news channels that are really that and not forums for argumentative, unintelligent wind-bags
7. A rush-hour drive on an uncrowded freeway
8. Presidential primaries and campaigning not to start until six months before an election
9. Beginning to teach children multiple languages in the 1st grade
10. At least six more inches in economy on international flights
11. Refrigerator ice-makers that don’t jam or break
12. Getting off the summons list for jury duty
13. Affordable solar heating, cooling and water systems for homes
14. A candidate who represents the diversity of Obama, the integrity of McCain, the shrewdness of Clinton, the intelligence of Biden, and the values of Huckabee.
15. A larger Trader Joe’s nearby
16. A main sewer line that won’t clog up on Christmas day when a dozen people are coming for dinner
17. A pill that you could take and eliminate jet lag
18. Grandkids

How to Kill a Movement

December 8th, 2007

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1. Require education for the leadership
2. Demand conformity of methodology
3. Refuse to provide administrative help and let it suffocate under it’s own weight
4. Get spooked by supernatural phenomena outside your paradigm
5. Make no room for younger, less experienced leadership
6. Be obsessed by theological purity
7. Put the safety of the people involved as a higher priority than sacrifice
8. Centralize the funding
9. Punish out-of-the box thinking
10. Manage it by goals and strategic plans
11. Reward faithfulness rather than entrepreneurial ability
12. Get tied to property and buildings
13. Let your critics define you
14. Be threatened by giftedness that’s not like you
15. Create an endowment
16. Treat creativity as heresy
17. Refuse to exercise discipline for the right things
18. Make sure you are related to existing institutions for credibility
19. Promote on the basis of seniority and longevity
20. Insist that decisions be based on policy instead of values
21. Make nurture and conservation of gains a focus
22. Don’t be intentional about leadership selection
23. Be risk adverse under the guise of stewarding your people
24. Justify your reluctance to raise money
25. Have a big need for approval and affirmation

Above all else, control it if, God forbid, he actually shows up!

Which way Anglicans?

December 6th, 2007

St Pauls Cathedral[1]

Do you jump ship on a sinking vessel or hang in there and try to save it?

That’s a perennial dilemma that many people face in denominations and churches that are on the downside of their life-cycle.

There is a part of me that genuinely longs to see a whole new wave of spiritual vitality and renewal sweep through the Anglican churches of Great Britain. I appreciate the incredible legacy of the institution and the way God has worked through it throughout history. And today there are some bright spots in the Church of England which include some gifted, godly people who feel God has led them to remain committed to what appears to be an ecclesiastical Titanic.

However, I have my doubts that this moribund institution will ever see again the type of movement of the Spirit of God that occurred during the four great awakenings and revivals that swept the Western world in the past 300 years and had profound effects at every level of British society. The ingredients, both internally and externally that would provide fertile ground for such a movement are simply not there.

What is encouraging is that God is not bound by such human limitations. His long-suffering and ongoing compassion toward a society such as contemporary England will not be thwarted by churchly forms that have lost their potency.

My guess is that the best hope for the UK is for to God multiply a new generation of Charles Simeons, inside or outside Anglican structures, through whom the transformational power of the Spirit will flow. They are the types of men and women I want to look for.

Deo planto is sic!

No one is buying what the Anglicans are selling

December 4th, 2007

Vestments

Perhaps one of the advantages of being cultural outsiders here in the UK is that we may have a little more objectivity than those immersed in their own culture. I know this happens in the States when those from outside American culture see what we don’t see because we are captives of our own surroundings.

The past couple of months, I have been overwhelmed, and sobered, by the presence and the state of the Anglican Church in Great Britain. There is virtually no place one can stand and not be in visual sight of an Anglican church building. The legacy of this institutional bastion of Christendom is astounding.

What is sobering, however, is how completely out of touch and irrelevant the overwhelming majority of the Anglican Communion seems to be to present day Britain. With less than 1-2% of the population ever attending a service in one of these historic relics called churches, you’d think the Anglican leadership would realize that what they are selling, no one is buying. If the Church of England was a business, the whole outfit would have been in bankruptcy a long time ago. (And from what I have begun to discover, it’s probably headed that way regardless. Apparently the only thing that keeps the institution afloat is selling off their properties and “redundant” churches).

It appears that the Church of England and its leaders are simply in a different universe than the culture around them. The communicative disconnect is jarring in a country where more than 1/3 of the people are admitted atheists or agnostics and more people in the UK attend mosques on Sunday than darken the door of an Anglican church.

On one hand, there is so much to admire about the Anglican heritage. The depth of the theological and liturgical tradition, and a remarkable legacy are attractive to anyone desiring a sense of rootedness and historicity. As with Orthodoxy and Catholicism, there will always be people drawn to the richness of a tradition that has evolved through the ages. Yet Anglicans hold fast to an attractionistic model of ministry that expects the secularized and increasingly postmodern populace to come to them, which simply will not happen.

What is also heartbreaking is to see the wasted resources. It’s staggering. If even a slight percentage of the buildings, parsonages, and properties that are owned by the Church of England were made available to people with spiritual passion and biblical vision—particularly in the emerging generation—the impact on this society could be profound.

An article in the magazine of the National Trust describes the future of the largest landholder in England. It laments that “…congregations and parish incomes are in a free fall” and over the next decade, “…the trickle of churches becoming redundant is predicted to become a torrent.”

It appears that theological and missiological realities have not been adequate motivational forces to generate the necessary renewal within the Church of England that could stem its slide into oblivion. Perhaps the immense practical pressure that money and property problems exert will force the desperately needed institutional change.

Regardless, God is not limited by such human institutions and will eventually bypass such forms to create new, vibrant expressions of his Kingdom presence. Such processes have happened over and over again throughout history and it’s no different today in contemporary Britain.

If only stones could talk …

November 29th, 2007

St- Mary Woolnoth 8857
It’s about 3:30 on a gray, cold, overcast London afternoon. I’m sitting in a very uncomfortable, rickety wooden pew at the back of the church of St. Mary Woolnoth.

I’m the only one in the building. Only a few lights are on in a magnificent bronze chandelier that occupies the center of the room. It’s musty, dank and has that old building smell. It’s actually a little spooky

However, St. Mary Wolnoth occupies one of the most prominent sites of any church in London. It stands at the junction of Lombard and King William streets, under the shadow of the Bank of England and a stone’s throw away from the historic site of the London Exchange.

A church building has been on this site since 1191 and the structure in which I am sitting is the fourth iteration. The second was built in 1438, the third by the famous Christopher Wren (architect of St. Paul’s cathedral) in 1674, and the last by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1727. It’s a majestic example of English baroque architecture.

But what is most gripping is to imagine what happened here in centuries past. From 1779-1807, the rector was John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace. From the pulpit that rises above me, he preached vehemently against the evils of the slave trade and encouraged others such as William Wilberforce who led the battle for the abolition of slavery in the British empire. Also, Claudius Buchanan, who launched significant missionary efforts to India was inspired by Newton in this place as was Hannah Moore, the writer, social reformer and philanthropist, and others.

Newton was buried here in 1807. On my left is a marble plaque that carries the following epitaph which Newton himself wrote:

JOHN NEWTON
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Savour
JESUS CHRIST
restored, pardoned, and
appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had
long laboured to destroy.

And now this building is a musty relic. Pretty much forgotten. Thousands of people pass by its doors every day here in the heart of London’s financial district, oblivious to what momentous, world transforming convictions had their genesis within these walls.

If only stones could talk.

Slavery Business Gallery 05 Plaq
John Newton and his memorial plaque at St. Mary’s

Business for Ministry in Romania

November 27th, 2007

little-texas.jpg

Begun 15 years ago by a restless entrepreneur and his family, the Little Texas complex in Iasi, Romania is an amazing example of what business for ministry is all about.

Now a 125 seat Tex-Mex restaurant with accompanying four star hotel and business center, in 2007 this thriving complex will provide several hundred thousand dollars from its profits for ministry throughout Romania. Funds from Little Texas go toward support of Romanian families serving as missionaries, church plants, and a nascent church planting training center in Moldova. In Romania, it provides local, indigenously generated funding for a church planting movement, sports ministry, theological education by extension, work among teen-age orphans, a medical clinic, a dental clinic, several effective ministries among the abject poor, one of the largest and most respected Christian 1-12 schools in the nation, and an array of evangelistic and discipleship initiatives led by Romanian nationals.

The array and diversity of creative, effective ministry that swirls around Little Texas is dizzying and a little hard to get one’s arms around. Besides the direct support for this broad array of kingdom work, the presence of such a business enterprise that is done with excellence and without corruption produces huge amounts of social equity and helps redefine what it means to be authentically “Christian” in this setting.

What God has led Jeri and Gloria Little to accomplish through Little Texas is nothing short of remarkable. Hopefully, the full story will be available in book form this coming year.

We’re under no illusion that Garth Brooks on the CD and the life-size poster of John Wayne that adorns the wall are not necessarily replicable around the world. But the function that Little Texas represents has profound implications for missions and how such ministry efforts are supported in the decades ahead.