Archive for the ‘Missional Church’ Category

I recently had the opportunity to engage 33 pastors from five denominations in two events that featured intentional conversations about what I call the “dirty words” of the church: stewardship and evangelism. Martha Grace Reese, writing in Unbinding the Gospel, notes that a good many people have taken to calling evangelism the “e-word.” I heard recently that someone else had called stewardship the “f-word,” that is, finances. There is reluctance in the church to engage these topics. These conversations also revealed that there is hope, if we can address them not only from a “gathered church” perspective, but from the viewpoint of the “scattered church” as well.

To facilitate and report back on the conversations I used two similar worksheets, “Redefining Stewardship” and “Redefining Evangelism.” There were two columns on each worksheet; on the left participants were asked to define topic at hand “in institutional terms”; on the right they were asked to define each topic in “life in the world” terms. Based on one participant’s comment about the unfortunate pejorative connotation of “institutional”, and in keeping with the overall direction of my recent work, I’ve changed the left column to “in the church.” If you make it to the end of this report, you’ll find that I’ve changed it even further based on what I learned.

With each worksheet I asked participants to work alone on the left column for a few minutes to establish a baseline understanding of the topic. I told them that I expected they would write down legitimate, theologically valid definitions of stewardship/evangelism in the left column definition. I then told them they had permission to add jaded, stereotypical definitions as well. (more…)

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Enough moaning, already.

I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of doing my fare share. In various places, I have lamented the paradigm shifts that the North American church is facing. For example, in a paper I wrote when I was interviewing for the job I now hold, I wrote:

We no longer hold the privileged position we once held as America’s moral and spiritual voice. For many people, religion is simply a private matter that encompasses little more than self-esteem or the maintenance of personal values and mores. People inside the church are left wondering, What happened to the church that we once knew and loved? People outside the church have little reason to re-evaluate their judgment that the Christian faith has little or no place in the contemporary world, outside of the individual believer’s life.

crisisAnd I’m not the only one. Maybe it’s just the friends I keep and the news feeds I read, but I constantly see posts and articles about the decline of the church, the irrelevance of the church, the stubbornness of the church, and what looks like the end of the church as we have known it. The sky is falling, and we’ve been saying that to one another for more years than I care to remember. Enough already.


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It has a chance of becoming one of the defining characteristics of the present age. It even has an acronym: SBNR. And, of course, it has a web page and a Facebook page. Being “spiritual but not religious” is often an explanation, sometimes an excuse, but mostly it seems to be an attempt at self-definition meant to set a good many people apart from what I’m guessing are perceived societal norms.

Unlike a lot of what I’ve read about this trend, I suggest that 1) we can learn a lot from the SBNR trend, 2) the discussion of this topic has largely been limited by a false dichotomy, 3) there is a better way to talk about what is at stake, and 4) the church can and should respond. (more…)

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The Barna Group recently published results of a study they did on young adults and faith. One of the articles about their research was entitled, “Five Myths about Young Adult Church Dropouts.” It is a worthy and helpful read that examines young adult dropouts from several perspectives. Three comments caught my attention—riveted me, actually, to the point where I had a hard time catching my breath. In three different places the article said: (more…)

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A friend of mine in St. Louis had an unusual part-time job, staffing the Sunday morning nursery of a congregation that gathers in a massive stone church. What a building it is! Except for the clearly Protestant designation on the monumental sign out front, one could easily mistake this majestic structure as an historic cathedral, occupying an entire city block.

What made my friend’s job so unusual was that, despite her assumptions when she first walked through the grand doors of the place, my friend never had more than two or three children to care for in her nursery. Often, there were none. In fact, the huge sanctuary, with seating for more than 1000, seldom saw more than 50 or 60 people in worship.

As she described this situation to me, I couldn’t help but wonder: How does a tiny faith community continue to function in such a huge facility? (more…)

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Last year I was asked to host a book study on what it means to be pastors who sees their call principally in terms of preparing and empowering people for ministry in their everyday lives. I was amazed to find out that—as popular as the topic is—there are many books aimed at helping the laity identify their ministry, but there are few books designed to help pastors in their work of equipping people for ministry in daily life. So I scheduled a series of conversations that were designed to explore questions such as:

What does it mean to be an equipping pastor? How is that different from what most pastors were trained to be and do? What implications does this hold for program, staff, structure, and day-to-day operation of a congregation? How does one shift from being a ‘pastoral’ or ‘program’ pastor to being an equipping pastor?

I hoped that 6 to 12 pastors might respond. Before the conversations were over, I had engaged over 100 pastors on this topic. I heard some amazing, encouraging, and puzzling things from them. Among the findings were: (more…)

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I need some help. I’m having an intriguingly hard time wrapping my mind around the many themes and predictions that Phyllis Tickle unveils in The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. If you’ve read the book skim or skip the next three paragraphs, which are provided for those who have not yet read this small book of big ideas.

Tickle’s metaphor is that every 500 years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. She briefly traces this pattern in Judaism, but she is most concerned with the pattern in the Christian Church. The first Great Transformation was marked, of course, by the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, when even the calendar was reset. The next change happened with Gregory the Great in the sixth century, with the founding of monasticism. The Great Schism occurred around 1000 AD, dividing the Eastern Church from the Roman Catholic Church. The Great Reformation took place five hundred years later, and now, she concludes, we’re due for another rummage sale, which she labels the Great Emergence.

It is significant, she contends, that every 500 years “the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity…become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered (more…)

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