Sunday, June 8, 2008

Book Review: The Ministry of the Missional Church

A while back I had mentioned a book I read called "The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led By the Spirit" by Craig Van Gelder. This has by far been one of the more influential books for me this year and also just one of the better books on the missional church that I have read.

With so many books on the missional church out, I really have to see something in a book that would bring me to my "blogging knees" to discuss it with you. This book assumes that the reader has a bit of knowledge on the missional church as it goes directly into connecting missiology with ecclesiology with little-to-no explanation. It is asking how the missional church functions without grasping onto and bleeding to death some sort of program to make them "missional." For Van Gelder, the answer is simply the presence and participation in and of the Holy Spirit. He says that "...a missional ecclesiology understands congregations as being creations of the Spirit." (107) However, he goes on to discuss that each church has its own identity within the Spirit which it must be in constant discernment about. And though Van Gelder offers structures and suggestions on what missional church looks like within the context of following the Holy Spirit, he says that too needs to be capable of being thrown out in light of following the Spirit's lead.

This is a great book for people who are wondering if the missional church is just another program or structure that will turn into some trend after a decade or so. Van Gelder shows that with the Holy Spirit, the missional church simply lives out what it is set to do. I actually find myself understanding the Church and the Holy Spirit better through Van Gelder's explanations and have a difficult time seeing the Church move in any other direction with much success of bringing forth the Kingdom of God without some acknowledgment of Van Gelder's message.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Book Review: Will Our Children Have Faith

The Christian Church, Protestant and Catholic alike are failing in their attempts to conduct proper Christian education. This statement is what John H. Westerhoff III would say in his book Will Our Children Have Faith? In observing the Church’s movement towards a brand of Christian education that begins and ends with a small Sunday morning class outside of worship, Westerhoff notes that this form of Christian education is weak and outdated. The author tries to move people into an understanding of Christian education as something that does not educate on the basis of facts and definitions. He wants the Church to leave its current paradigm in which he calls the schooling-instructional model. Westerhoff sees God calling people into a community that acts as a transforming agent to bring forth the community of Jesus Christ. He wants to see the Church as the body that helps people to live out their lives above and beyond the institutions and societal barriers that they face in the world. This is done through communal participation and discipleship that form faith.

Personally I find the book accurate in its depiction of the current trends of Christian education. It speaks to a vital component of the Church that must be constantly evaluated while seeking contextual relevance. Where I think he lacks in his book as often many theoretical books do, is in offering practical examples to springboard from for those moved by his argument. It is however a very good read and I would definitely recommend it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Christian Shame

The past weekend I arrived with my wife at one of our favorite retail stores of which we have started somewhat of a casual relationship with the owner. She is in her mid-40's and very funny and sometimes even a bit inappropriate. (That day she cursed at us for making her get to work then casually laughed it off.) But I must confess that I enjoy how comfortable and real she is around us. She knew that my wife and I are both grad students in Pasadena, however; she did not know that we were working on Master's of Divinity degrees to go into some capacity of ministry. She of course asked us this past weekend to explain what we were studying and then after we responded she looked slightly confused and began a barrage of questions about our chosen path of life. THIS WAS SO AWKWARD. I and my wife afterwards discussed how difficult it was to convey to her that we are not only Christians but those pursuing professional ministry.

So where does this fear come from? It comes from the worry of losing that which we already had; a good open relationship. We enjoyed her comfort and knew that her demeanor was at risk with our being exposed as moral Christian folk.

I have had a bit of time to reflect on this and I was recently met with a reflection from a reading by Greg Ogden. He uses Eph. 4:11-12 to explain the role of a pastor. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...." (NIV) He then quotes Elton Trueblood in saying: "...the pastorate is for those who possess the peculiar gift of being able to help other men and women to practice any ministry to which they are called."

In both of these passages there is a great sense of call. In other words, I am not in charge, God is. My fear is in spite of trusting the work of God. In reflection, having her ask about what I study is the easiest way to state that I am a person who knows God. If it changes her behavior around us, have I lost much? No, because I do not change around her. This is a part of being in our world but not of our world.

In the end, we made a purchase and "talked shop" a bit more and were reassured that we will be given a hard time for making her work in any subsequent Sundays we decide to stop in. She knows we will be back, and I know she will probably welcome us with an equal and akward warming demeanor as usual. However, just as I trust God with my call, I will trust Him with our next conversation.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Are We There Yet?

I love progress. I would venture to say that as a western thinker I view my past, present and future in terms of progress. My success is typically defined by progress as well as my failures. I enjoy music in a progessional fashion, I play video games with the sole purpose of progressing, and I go to school that I may progress in my education. Sound familiar? Westerners love progress; it is an innate part of our culture and mindset. We see it in our culture through marketing and advertising. (I think marketing and advertising is one of the most applicable arenas to observe our culture.) With messages of "be better at this", "look more like her", or "be more successful like him" we are bombarded by progress. This does not evade the Christian Church either.

In Craig Van Gelder's book The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led By the Spirit, he makes a statement that the missional church will never "arrive." (On a side note: I am at some point going to talk more about Craig's book, but this is not that post. I would recommend it though whole-heartedly.) It is a great deal easier to understand this statement when we understand what missional church means to Craig. To make things short he would say that the missional church is a church that combines missiology (the study of missions) with ecclesiology (the study of church) and then puts the results into practice within its own immediate community.

When Craig says that this church will never "arrive" he is dissuading people who are giving their lives to discipleship and following the discernment of the Holy Spirit within their communities to the facade of progress being complete. Doing church is not about progress and then arriving, it is about participating in what God is doing in one's community daily. This will never cease. Change is inevitable in God's Church. This means that we can never "arrive" and become comfortable. There is no such thing as a final vision for a Church. As people who are seeking to lead the Church we have to assume that God is always at work confirming what we are doing and also changing the direction as well. It is so easy to get caught up in a vision that we are not quick to let go when it is time, or to even listen to the Holy Spirit to see where we should be moving, be it towards or away from an original goal. To close with a statement from pg. 179 of Craig's book he says: "Planned change is typically a process that is ongoing. For a congregation that is being led by the Spirit to engage its context with meaningful ministry, the process of guiding change is usually a continuous responsibility of those who provide leadership for a congregation."
Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Who is our savior?

Now that finals are over and a new quarter has begun, I guess it is time to step back into the blogging world. Ready, set, here we go...

I had an interesting thought today while discussing Michael Budde's book The (Magical) Kingdom of God in class. When we look at culture and media who do we really put our stock into for our day-to-day salvation? In other words, does our peace of mind come from the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of entertaining myself?

Everyday we are being told that our salvation lies in the grasp of an iPod or a new car. (I say this as I write on my beautiful Mac Book Pro laptop.) Is there any room for Jesus in our need for stimulus and entertainment? We are being shown that to own a computer is to own a barrage of little programs and widgets to make sure that we never go a moment without a joyful glimpse of satisfaction to stimulate our minds. However, if this is true then do we have the patience to listen to God and focus on the Holy Spirit? I cannot remember the last time I prayed for more than 45 minutes and let alone committed a day to it. I am far too busy for something like that. If I have free time I am going to utilize it with my many assortment of tools and devices which I have invested in for my leisure.

A problem that Budde brings up is that through media we have been subjected and programed by messages that teach us how to be consumers. So as a Christian, I wonder if I am I guilty for becoming a product of my environment? This is probably the wrong question to ask in light of Budde's claims though, because it is not a question of labeling the point of fault, but of labeling the motivation of we as Christians to seek a world of faith and love beyond consumerism while still in the world which encapsulates it. Am I willing to slow down and listen? Am I willing to identify with the moments that I know I am being abducted by my materialistic upbringing? Am I ready to engage media and consumerism as a Christian who watches television and buys things, and set an ethic that show Kingdom values from within that context? Because it needs to be said that products themselves are not bad, but just like stealing, murder, lust, sloth and other sins, we can desire something so much that we try to get more than we ought. I think that is the lie that we must identify every day in the west - How much do I need and what do I do with the rest?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Jesus was human, and I am human

So I just commented on another blog about this and thought, "Hey, I'll blog about that as well." The author of the blog was basically differentiating between Jesus' first 30 years of ministry (the carpenter times) and his last three (the Messianic outpouring.) This was a small part of his blog but really resounded in my thinking. The question that arose was this: Does Jesus' first 30 years as a man have more relevance to us as humans than his last three. The answer is yes...I mean no...I mean both. We have to be honest that those last three were fairly documented and I would not want to be the one to say that the words and teachings of God incarnate are not important. However, looking at the practicality of his earthly ministry, he seems to offer some simple practices.
1. Get a job - You have to support yourself and have some kind of identifying factor in you community.
2. Know your neighbors - People knew Jesus when he came back home, for good or for worse.
3. Be a part of your community - This is a lot like the last point with the exception that it takes the point of knowing your neighbors a step further to where you create an atmosphere that they can know you.

I think I would like to dig up some scripture on this when I have time, but till then, I have to confess to being rather convicted. Jesus says love your neighbor like it is so easy. I think it is because he knew his neighbor first. I have so much room to grow.

Friday, February 29, 2008

What is the Church?

What is the Church? I ponder this question at least once a week and sometimes more. I will probably speak to this many times to come, but for today's blogging purposes I want to use a hymn that has been going through my head a lot lately. It is long but completely worth your reading of every word.

The Church’s One Foundation
©1996 Parson John Publishing (ASCAP). Words: Samuel Stone. Music: Brian Moss.
1. The church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
2. Elect from every nation,
Yet one over all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
3. Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.
4. The church shall never perish,
Her dear Lord to defend
To guide, sustain and cherish,
Is with her to the end
Though there be those that hate her,
And false sons in her pale
Against a foe or traitor,
She ever shall prevail
5. Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
’Til, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blessed,
And the great church victorious
Shall be the church at rest.
6. Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee.

foundation, her Lord, He came and sought her, for her life He died, One holy Name she blesses, And to one hope she presses, The church shall never perish, Her dear Lord to defend, To guide, sustain and cherish, Her longing eyes are blessed, mystic sweet communion, O happy ones and holy!

This entire hymn is amazing, however; these are just a few key portions that really resonate with things that Christians today could appreciate hearing. I hope this blesses you and begins to shape your view of the Church.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Making Justice "Hip"

The more I continue to follow Jesus Christ the more I find that I am constantly faced with opportunities or decisions of social justice. This is a good thing. I have found that when I am advocating for people and hopefully doing my best to love them and be loved by them that my faith grows in tangible means by great distances. As a matter of fact, if we look at Jesus and when he teaches to any large crowds we see that he is doing this normally right after meeting peoples needs and performing miracles. What a great model, huh?

So what does this mean in light of advocating social justice from our churches. Not just the social justice that gives out food or hands people money, but goes into the level of penetrating justice. This is the kind that costs more of our persons and less of our pockets. We are forced to engage and love people, and likewise let them become part of our lives. It is the kind of justice that says "I love you" and you look someone in the eye and not their hand.

Any suggestions? I wonder what it means to make social justice part of our spiritual disciplines that we practice commonly in our pursuit of knowing and conforming to Christ. How do we do this as a congregation? How do get people excited about it in spite of the fact that it will probably make them uncomfortable?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Church vs. Parachurch

Here we go, this one will definitely stir up some controversy as far as a fist post goes. I have been processing the difference between church and parachurch, to only come to the conclusion that they must be one in the same for different people, or not valid.
I want to propose this by taking the view that they are the same in purpose despite what our view of "Church" is exactly. Do I think there should be sacraments served in parachurches or baptisms performed? Good questions, wrong conversation. The point is that our current model of church is not very desirable for a great deal of people and is not going to act as a place to encounter community and the Holy. So should a parachurch be able to act as a form of church for the un-churched spiritual seeking person? Yes. This is simply to say that we do not keep God in a building, but our very selves through the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. However, with this you better believe challenges arise. What is the purpose of denominational structure. One of the bigger ones is accountability. As a person who is a member of the Presbyterian Church, trust me, the organization and accountability there are amazing and holy. If a group were to start a parachurch ministry reaching out to people of various hobbies and/or lifestyles then I would say up front, how are you going to be accountable to yourselves and the Gospel? In other words, what is going to keep you in check with making sure that what you do as a Christ embodying individual keeps solid with that of the Bible? I have so many fun answers to what that could be, but for another time perhaps. In the meantime, I want to leave with a quick summary statement. God travels throughout the world via the Church (as a body). He embodies us as a capable reproducing agents of the Gospel that can disciple anyone, on the spot. We have an amazing capacity as Christians to do this and we need the growth of each other (the Church) and God. However, a building and a denomination are perks to a long line of perseverance and structure from certain individuals that does not always seem to fit other people who are foreign and/or uncomfortable with these structures.