12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

The American Church Grieving the “Loss” of American Culture

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I’ve been an engaged observer of the church in America and it’s interaction with the culture in which it is immersed for some years now.  Last week, I watched through news articles and social media as Christians in America convulsed, reacting with deep emotion, ranging from anger, to sorrow, to bitterness, some even to satisfaction all in response to the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Prop 8.

On the other side, as the previously linked article noted, there was jubilation.  One quote I read in the social media wash of commentary was from an advocate of these laws being struck down, and it read something like this: “And now, in respect for our opponents, a moment of silence, as they have lost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!”

The sentiment struck me as extremely myopic, though I can’t fault the person for being so.  After all, Christians in America have not been overly sympathetic to those with whom we’ve disagreed, nor have we communicated our values or motivations in a way that was easy for others to understand, even if we do differ dramatically.

So, to those outside of our tribe, let me clarify the motivation for the strongly negative reaction of some in the Christian community.  They have lost an American culture that more accurately reflects their deeply held religious beliefs.  This had become an expectation for many. An inheritance that they believed they had a right to pass on to their children.  It feels to them that people have stolen their lives, or at least their lifestyles, and that of their children. And that of their grandchildren.  They grieve the knowledge that their line of descendants will look more like their “opponents” than like them, at least in what they value and accept as “normal.”  They know they’ve lost something significant.

That begs the question, “Do these people have the right to such an expectation?” and of course, different worldviews collide in the answering.  Hopefully in a respectful way, but if history is any indicator, probably not.

So let me now speak to the Christians of our nation, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Why do you expect that the world not be worldly?  Is it wise or in any way Biblical to expect that those who do not hold your values to act as though they do?

Let me share with you when this American culture you value so greatly was lost.  It wasn’t last week.  Though I can not point to a single event or even a string of events, I can easily say that the American culture was lost to the American church when the church began to rest on the expectation that the culture would look like it instead of working to ensure that the culture would actually be transformed by the power of the Gospel.

You see, by and large, we’ve become quite a secluded lot. Not all of us, to be sure, but undeniably most of us.  We prefer the holy huddle of the frozen chosen in our Sunday gatherings.  A smaller bunch than years before, meeting in aging buildings that are far larger than are necessary and falling apart because we can’t keep them up as well as we once did.  After all, we are older, on fixed incomes, and our children have left our buildings.

And those large buildings where some of our children attend are flooded with just that: attenders.  Loads of people who show up, sing, drink lattes and frappuccinos, listen to whatever is being served up this week, and then go home and go about their business.

Again, not all of us are in that situation.  Not every church looks this way.  But to say that the majority of American Christianity doesn’t fit one picture or the other is, to put it not so gently, not really in touch with reality.

Still, I want to offer a word of encouragement to us all.  We believe in something miraculous and transformational.  We don’t have to be the people who simply shout dismay at those who value different things and see the world contrastingly.  We can be the people who offer the Gospel to people who need to know that God does not hate them because they are pushing back against Him, but loves them in spite of it.

The power to change the world, is in the Gospel.  That is not a word commanding conformity to an outward morality.  It is a word of redemption.  That healing can come to the wounded.  That fulfillment can come to the empty.  That those who are in prison in this world can be set free.

If we are failing to speak that to our world, and many of us are, then it is no wonder that our culture thinks we have no stake in this conversation.  They don’t know that they are the stake for whom we are to live and die, because we’ve not told them nor have we showed them.

Fall Block Party 2011

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“This is our gift to our community,” I said as our neighbors looked around at all that our church was offering.  The list of possibilities was long:

Free food that included hot dogs, brats, grilled corn on a stick, BBQ sandwiches, popcorn, cotton candy, lemonade, mini-muffins in ice cream cones and, to top it all off, funnel cake.

Along with the food outside, there were a row of inflatables that ranged from obstacle courses, jousting, basketball long shots and a giant slide in the shape of the shoe home in the nursery rhyme.

Inside there were games all over the gym and two more inflatables, including one that was two stories, stretching toward the roof.  All of these games paid off with candy, whether you win or lose.

And all of it was free to our guests.

A few years ago, we charged money for the food (which was much smaller) and the Fall Family Fun Festival (as it had come to be known) was a big event for us.  It became the biggest single emphasis in our church when we decided to expand the food and make it all free.  After that, the inflatables, games and everything else grew as well.

Attendance blew up with all that we were offering, coupled with our relationship with the community through our partnership with Skelly Elementary nearby.

And it all happens because we determined to give and not trade.  We give to Skelly Elementary, and now to Skelly Primary.  After several years, we have begun to receive trust and dependence.  When they have a need, they call us and we have the honor of helping the families of our community at our local school.

We give to the neighborhood, free food, games and a safe place for a family.  In return, we get trust, appreciation and an open door to share the Gospel.

This year our follow up will be a packet of information about our church sent to everyone that registered followed by a phone call from one of our church members making sure they got the information and welcoming any questions.

What do you do?

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A reputation means… ?

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When working last week in the DFW Metroplex with Mission Arlington, I had the unexpected opportunity to observe the reputation of MA among the larger Metroplex community.

Before I tell the story of my observation, I should tell you that the leaders of MA went out of their way to coach volunteers on the handling of their reputation.  Matt Hart, one of the leaders, frequently helped us to understand the attitude with which we should engage the world around us when we performed our assigned task.  At one point, our group was asked to execute a “Free Garage Sale” at an apartment complex that was known for its residents not having many possessions – or even any furniture at all.  Matt coached us that our instinct may be to regulate how much anyone takes, trying to ensure that there may be some equity in the taking or even that some may be hoarding for reasons that we might suspect to be vaguely inappropriate.  Matt encouraged us to be generous.  No matter what anyone took, we should help them carry it to their homes and bless them on the way.

As MA would be continuing to work with these people long after we were gone, they were hoping for the reputation left by all of us to be one of gracious concern for the community, no matter who they were.

Seeing that their reputation was so carefully cultivated (and I mean that in the most positive way), it should not have surprised me, then, to find it working in our favor not long after we arrived.

On our trip down, I noticed the engine sounding as though there were a leak in the exhaust system.  By the time we got to Dallas, the leak had become problematic – meaning that the exhaust had come completely apart just after it left the engine which caused the van to run very rough under acceleration.  It sounded like a redneck pickup, and as a recent owner of a pickup, I say that with all due respect. ;)

I talked the situation over with Matt, and he handed me off to a mechanic not far from the MA facility.  This is where my observation of the MA reputation began.  The mechanic said that he did not deal with exhaust issues much, but would look into it.  He later would tell me that the exhaust was indeed in two parts and that he wouldn’t be the man for the job, but he had noticed the low mileage on the van and called a local dealer to see if the problem might be under warranty.  They thought it could be, but would have to see it before they could commit.  When I offered the first mechanic some money for diagnosing the problem, he wouldn’t take any.

Upon arriving at the dealer, I told him what was going on, that we were down from Tulsa working with Mission Arlington and needed to get the van back into action as soon as possible.  I then asked him to check if we were under warranty.  It turns out that, while we were well under on mileage, the time on our warranty had run out.  The dealer service rep then gave me directions to a muffler shop that would do a good job.  When was the last time a dealer rep helped you find his competition?  It’s never happened for me.

I took the directions to the muffler shop and told him our story thus far, including our need for the van in use with our Mission Arlington responsibilities.  He walked over to the van, listened, looked and then said, “No problem.”  He was going to fix it while I waited, but we were due at our ministry spot, so I left the van with him.

When we pulled up to the ministry responsibility less than an hour later, he called and gave me the run down:  Someone in Tulsa had tried to steal our catalytic converter, but had not gotten all the way through cutting the pipe.  Under pressure of driving, the pipe ruptured the rest of the way and was in two pieces.  He had welded it together and was charging us $20, a bare minimum for time and labor.

Each of these men was encouraging and deferential.  All of them wished us well in our efforts with Mission Arlington.

Later in the week, we went to a local Cici’s Pizza for the buffet.  It was the only time we went out for supper during the week.  When they found out that we were from MA, they knocked the price of the buffet and a drink down to a flat $5 from the $8 and change range that it normally was.  It saved us about $50.  They told us how happy they were to help us as we helped their community.

Proverbs 22:1 says: “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold.”

Matthew 5:16 says: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

As I reflect on my unexpected observation of the reputation for helping the community that Mission Arlington has earned over the last 25 years, I am torn.

On the one hand I am astounded and inspired by how powerful that reputation is among so many in the Metroplex and how it elicits aid from people, some of whom were not a part of the Kingdom of God.

On the other hand, I am grieved by how non-existent that reputation is around the world where other parts of the people of God gather to worship and work.  Especially those in the part of the world where I live, work and worship.

Making a difference among the impoverished

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A few thoughts:

This is not about immigration, but poverty.  Immigration is just an example of one thing we do poorly and say we are making a difference.

World poverty will be eradicated when the individual economies that are producing the radically poor are stabilized and access to opportunity is given to all.

Some of this is beyond our control.  Politics, both local and global, are not always accessible to us beyond grass roots engagement.

The improvement in economic conditions can work in America and around the world. We should do our best to affect both arenas, according to the doors open to us.

One thing left out of this video is the role of Education in economic development:  it’s vital.

For the church, specifically, the better educated and more economically stable/advantaged, the higher the receptivity to the Gospel.  It’s vital.

The question left to us is whether or not we have the responsibility to develop the economies of the poor around us locally and globally.  My answer is yes.  To the best of our ability.

Book Review: The Generous Soul

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My friend, Marty Duren, has written his second book, The Generous Soul: An Introduction to Missional Giving.

If you are not well versed in the thought processes that are huddled together under the umbrella of “Missionality,” then the title of the book may give you pause.  You might not see the need to purchase and read a book about giving money “Missionally.”

If you allow these thoughts to keep you from reading TGS, you make a grave mistake.

The Generous Soul is about stewardship.  Authentic stewardship rather than what is often passed around Christian culture, the avoidance of debt to build personal wealth.

Rather, the stewardship advanced in TGS is a holistic stewardship that more accurately squares with the full testimony of Scripture:  All things were made by God, we are responsible for the influence of some of it, “our” whole lives and all of “our” possessions are intended to be used to advance the Kingdom of God.

Throughout the book, Duren uses anecdotes, Scripture and quotes from saintly and secular to weave a compelling vision of using all that one is able in the pursuit of God’s Mission, the redemption of creation.

I am still struggling with the convictions that I suffered upon my first reading.  Though I consider myself to be committed to a missional lifestyle, I immediately recognized that the wake of my impact on the world has been greatly reduced by simple decisions common to the American Christian.

I have not been the steward of God’s creation that I could have been, and the truth of that came into sharp relief with a new inspiration.  A desire has taken root in me to make a bigger difference and to use all that I can in the effort.  I believe that I, myself, in partnership with my lovely wife, can really make a difference in the world.

Missional Giving.

Is it a “new” thought, deserving of a “new” name?  Not really.  It is as old as the Gospel itself.  However, for Christians in the West, it is a thought in need of being recaptured, internalized and lived.

This book would be helpful to every Christian, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.  It is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lifeway (local bookstores) and various other booksellers.

Crossing Cultures: Why Missional Identity Matters to a Church

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I watched a video yesterday in which John Piper described “missions” as taking the Gospel across cultural lines.

I’ll accept this definition readily and then reply by saying that the crossing of cultures is mandatory in the every day lives of almost everyone in the entire world.  We do it when we go to work or school.  We do it when we go to the store.  We do it when we visit our neighbors.

The people with which we deal in the course of our routine lives come from various places and they have different cultures.  They have divergent values and they speak in a dissimilar voice.

I admit that the differences are minute in many cases, but they are still there.  In other instances, we find dramatic disparity.

Which is why every Christian should carry the mindset of a missionary with him or her, wherever they go.  It is necessary that we seek to understand those around us:  how they communicate, what they think, what they value.  When we understand these things, we can more effectively share the Gospel with them.

The Missional Church is simply a church in which the members consider themselves missionaries in the context where they already live.  Rather than depending on the staff or a select group of “visitation” volunteers, all the members of the church take on the responsibility of living and communicating the Gospel to the various networks to which they belong.

If the church is made of people who don’t understand the separate cultures around them, the separate values systems… if it is made up of people who expect that the people around them already share their values… the spread of the Gospel is  diminished for two reasons.

  1. The church member does not recognize the need around them, assuming that their friends and acquaintances already share their values – Christian values – and is not motivated to share the Gospel to meet that unseen need.
  2. If the church member does attempt to communicate the Gospel, they will likely not attempt to communicate in a manner intended to be received easily by the hearer, but one that is easier for the teller.  It’s not unlike moving to Africa and then expecting the Kenyan to speak English so that you can communicate.  It might happen, but it’s not likely, and if they do they may not be very good at it.

If a church really expects to fulfill the mission of God to which it is assigned, the people must understand who they are:  Missionaries to their own world.

Institutional v. Missional: 12 Marks of the Missional Church

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click on logo for IVM page

I found a great article from the Acts 29 church planting network on the Missional and Institutional church.  The article is written with an overview of terms and cultural contexts from which the terms arise.  If the terms “institutional” and “missional” don’t make much sense to you when applied to the church, this article will help.  It’s well worth your time, if you choose to read it.

Though I am unconvinced the Missional Church’s worship must be unpredictable and messy (sounds like chaos?) as described in point 12, I would agree that routine within worship kills.

At the end of the article, the reader is given an opportunity to evaluate the church of which they are a part by judging 12 markers of either the Missional Church, the Evangelical Church or the Institutional Church.  Just to whet your appetite, here are the 12 marks of the Missional Church:

The Missional Church:

1. Sent by God as missionaries in their own culture (Mt. 4:19).

2. Exists to take Christ to the lost: Go to the world (Mt. 28:18-20).

3. Members are personally engaged in their communities (Acts 16:20; 17:6).

4. Submerged into its culture like Christ (Luke 7:34).

5. Main focus is training and equipping others to be missionaries (Eph. 4:11-16).

6. Dependent upon Holy Spirit to use individuals as agents for evangelizing (Acts 1:8).

7. Develops relationships with the lost on purpose (Matt. 5:13-16).

8. Relationships are the means to influence others in their journey toward Christ (John 1512-17; 1 John 4:19-21).

9. The goal is to help others find Jesus in their own way and timing (1 Cor. 9:20-23).

10. Participants are affected in every way through a calling by God to be an agent for the gospel (Acts 4:13, 31-35).

11. Faith is practiced in community – groups of people together (Acts 2:42-45; Phil. 1:27).

12. Worship is unpredictable, spontaneous, Spirit-directed and messy (John 4:23-24).

The Evangelical Church:

1. Has a program of missions alongside numerous activities of the church.

2. Exists as a place for the lost to find Christ: Come to the Church.

3. Members are supportive of mission efforts.

4. Separated from its culture as a holy quest.

5. Main focus is supporting mission works – mainly overseas.

6. Dependent upon altar call and big events as its main tool for evangelization.

7. Knows a few lost people and prays for their salvation.

8. Uses marketing techniques & business principles to draw people to a corporate gathering.

9. The goal is to produce salvation results.

10. Participants conform to man-made standards through guilt and pressure. Change is through self-will, not Spirit.

11. Faith is practiced at the church building during prescribed gathering times.

12. Worship is structured, predictable and orderly.

The Institutional Church:

1. Sends money to missionaries in foreign countries if it is convenient.

2. Exists for the members of the church: Join the Church.

3. Members expect pastors to bring in the lost and unchurched.

4. Has become a sub-culture of Christians living in a parallel universe.

5. Main focus is supporting church activities to attract new families.

6. Dependent upon pastors and staff to evangelize the lost.

7. Stays away from the lost; has very few dealings with those outside the church.

8. Uses tradition, denomination and family ties to attract and keep members.

9. The goal is to increase attendance.

10. Participants compartmentalize their religion and their lives – generally facades of religious adherence.

11. Faith is a routine activity that is private and personal.

12. Worship is ritualistic.

You can find the scoring tool at the end of the article.

Skelly Serves Fall Festival/Block Party

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Sunday, Skelly was serving our community by hosting everyone to a free Block Party.  We had inflatables, games, candy, cotton candy, popcorn, grilled corn, caramel apples, bbq sandwiches and funnel cakes.  All of it given to everyone as an opportunity to serve our neighbors.

We had over 450 register and we conservatively estimate another 50 or so enjoyed the festivities without registering.  A lot of them checked that they would like to know what is going on in the future.

Hard work by dedicated Skelly Servants.

Here are just a few of the pics.  You can see all of them here.

Church planting in 3 minutes

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Tulsa Metro Baptist Network (formerly Association) has prioritized planting churches, which has brought a number of church planters our way.  I thought this 3 minute video might be helpful to them.

If you don’t get dry wit, don’t bother.

HT:  Ed Stetzer

Leveraging your job to share the Gospel

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Love this quote from Bob Roberts:

“Sharing the gospel is the responsibility of every single believer … I learned a few years ago that the church is the missionary … it means that every believer is a missionary and that my job as pastor is to help them to figure out beyond prayer and giving how they connect with the world like the men of Cyprus and Cyrene did, using their vocations and jobs and wielding a powerful story.”
– Bob Roberts, Glocalization

When wherever you are is your mission field and you are at your job more than anywhere else, it should change the way you look at your place of employment. It moves from a place where you work to earn money to get things to the place you go to live out the Gospel in front of others.

Since jobs are rarely ideal, it means you will often be put in trying circumstances… where the difference between one being redeemed and one not should become obvious to everyone.

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