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Thoughts arising from Mike Breen’s “How do you make Missional Disciples?”

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/10/11

I have been following with interest the current discussion led by Mike Breen regarding disciple making and the missional church. Since both missionality and disciple-making are personal interests of mine, I have enjoyed reading the blogs and reflecting on how they will reshape my understanding of church and mission.

Today, Roger Helland, posted on the BGC Alberta Facebook Page the following statement/question in response to Mike’s latest post:

As I reflect on Christian life and leadership, I am both convinced and convicted, that disciple-making is the goal, end result, and organizing practice to which I must commit. Disciple-making is the Jesus ordained mission of the church. But, it is built more in organic relationships and imitation. I need to take some time to explore Mike Breen’s questions, which are both convicting and compelling for me personally. If you want to read his blog, have a look, and offer your reflections about the need and nature of disciple-making. How would you see disciple-making flourish in your life and leadership, in your church, and in our district and denomination? Do you, does your church, have a plan for disciple-making? Is the plan working? What are the outcomes? How do you measure them beyond simply the number of baptisms?

Bums in pews is the traditional way that we have measured disciple making. If we have more attending church on Sunday morning then we are making disciples. Our goal: “Invite your friends to church.” Once you have done that, the discipling process goes through stages such as teaching them to tithe, getting them to teach Sunday School/lead a cell-group, getting them to join the choir or the board or the deaconesses, etc. By definition a church in this model means basically a Sunday-morning worship service. Thanks to Reg Bibby we realised that we were just circulating the saints and that more bums in my pews meant less bums in my brother’s pews. And of course we forgot the mission of the church and so we looked for another solution.

So then we thought, let’s look at baptisms as a guide. Our goal: “We are having a regularly scheduled baptism on _____. If you want to be baptised just let the pastor know and we will add you to the list.” This is considerably less “missional” than the previous “Invite your friends to church” (because it is primarily insiders who are asked to participate) but it does at least try to answer the “circulating saints” issue. But then, for example, I know of one specific church that has baptised literally hundreds of people. Unfortunately, you would be hard-pressed to find many of those baptised believers involved in a church today (much less involved in mission). And the church that was planted no longer exists.

So now we are looking at disciple-making as a guide. If disciples are being made then the mission is successful.

It seems to me that we have a problem of definition. For some, a disciple is someone who attends church on Sunday and gets involved in some part of that operation. I suspect that if you asked someone on the street to define disciple of Christ they would include regular Sunday-morning church attendance as one of the key factors. Baptism would be much farther down the list – I suspect that tithing would be higher in the minds of many 😉

So in answer to your question, Roger, “Does you church have a plan for disciple-making?” My answer would be, “Yes, all churches do.” Next question: “Is the plan working?” My answer would be “Yes, insofar as they each fit our own definition of what a disciple is.”

Obviously there are problems. But perhaps because we are both too specific AND not specific enough in our definition of disciple. Disciple means “bums in pews;” disciple means “baptisms. But disciple means far more than that. Mike Breen talks about “Dinners. Parties. Work days. Grocery store trips. Mission. Worship services. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Funerals.” This I think is really at the crux of the matter. For me it’s not so much what are we doing wrong as it is how can we enhance the disciple-making that our churches are already doing to be more holistic, inclusive, universalistic, biblical, accessible, understandable?

So the question is how can I get this going in my life so I can contribute to the disciple-ness of someone else, even as they contribute to mine?

Posted in christian life, church, discipleship | 3 Comments »

What is the Good News? Certainly not this!

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/02/23

I first came across Bill’s story quite by chance doing some surfing through Wikipedia. It interested me a little but not enough to research any furhter. Then I came across this post on Anthony Bradley’s blog and got another perspective.

Reading this made me emotional. I was sad as I read Bill’s story. But when I got to his description of his parents’ religion I got angry. Let’s see what you think:

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, my parents are fundamentalist Christians who kicked me out of their house and cut me off financially when I was 19 because I refused to attend seven hours of church a week.

They live in a black and white reality they’ve constructed for themselves. They partition the world into good and evil and survive by hating everything they fear or misunderstand and calling it love. They don’t understand that good and decent people exist all around us, “saved” or not, and that evil and cruel people occupy a large percentage of their church. They take advantage of people looking for hope by teaching them to practice the same hatred they practice.

A random example:

“I am personally convinced that if a Muslim truly believes and obeys the Koran, he will be a terrorist.” – George Zeller, August 24, 2010.

If you choose to follow a religion where, for example, devout Catholics who are trying to be good people are all going to Hell but child molestors go to Heaven (as long as they were “saved” at some point), that’s your choice, but it’s fucked up. Maybe a God who operates by those rules does exist. If so, fuck Him.

Their church was always more important than the members of their family and they happily sacrificed whatever necessary in order to satisfy their contrived beliefs about who they should be.

I grew up in a house where love was proxied through a God I could never believe in. A house where the love of music with any sort of a beat was literally beaten out of me. A house full of hatred and intolerance, run by two people who were experts at appearing kind and warm when others were around. Parents who tell an eight year old that his grandmother is going to Hell because she’s Catholic. Parents who claim not to be racist but then talk about the horrors of miscegenation. I could list hundreds of other examples, but it’s tiring.

 

What right do these people have in calling themselves followers of Jesus? Then I was reminded of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who seemed to get it really wrong even though they so badly thought they (and only they) were getting it right. How does the good news get messed up so badly?

Here is the post in full over at Anthony Bradley’s blog:

Bill Zeller’s Painful Suicide Note–Sexual Abuse & PTSD + A Conservative Christian Home = Suicide – The Institute.

It does lead me to ask myself, however: How am I getting it wrong in my presentation of the good news? What are you doing right?

Posted in Anthony Bradley, christian life, christianity, ethics, good news, legacy, truth-telling | Leave a Comment »

“Kenosis” is a theologically charged word that is loaded with hidden meaning … for me.

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/02/11

Kenosis is a theologically charged word that is loaded with hidden meaning. It appears in Philippians 2 and is used to describe the way in which Jesus humbled himself. It says he “emptied himself ….” Of course the question is always put from the perspective of Jesus: of what did he empty himself? I don’t know how many discussions that I have had related to understand this concept of “emptying.”

Today I had an insight. The context of the passage is not focused on defining for us exactly what it was that Christ emptied himself of. The context is actually a question: Of what will you empty yourself?

What is your understanding of kenosis? What needs emptying in your life?

Posted in christian life, discipleship, jesus | Leave a Comment »

Sometimes I Wish I Had A Magic Wand

Posted by functionalchurch on 2011/02/03

In the popular series of movies Harry Potter, I observed an interesting phenomenon. Every time a character wants to perform some mundane task, such as packing their clothes, closing curtains, etc., all they do is wave their magic wand and the task is instantly done. To be honest, this seems a little bit cool. I mean who wouldn’t want to be able to finish those tasks in such an easy and painless way? I would probably use it for washing dishes and washing the car.

But then I got to thinking about my own relationship with God. Why doesn’t he give me that power? Why can’t I, who have been a part of his family for my whole life, just wave a wand (or perhaps just say a prayer) and have whatever it is instantly done? Of course, some of us have experienced God’s power in this way but this experience is by no means universal.

There must be something in those little tasks that God still wants me to experience. There must be something about washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, packing my clothes, or washing my car that somehow helps me in my relationship with God.

It reminds me of a line in the Star Trek movie Insurrection where one of the characters says something like, “We believe that when you make a machine to do a man’s job, you take something away from that man.”

What do I take away from myself when I try to find the easy way out?

What times do you wish for a magic wand? How can doing that thing yourself help you relate to God in a richer way?

Posted in christian life, discipleship, movies, personal impact, service | Leave a Comment »

Cultural Dependency & Systematic Theology: At Odds in the Search for Emancipation?

Posted by functionalchurch on 2010/11/14

A lot of my work involves finding solutions for economic problems. Quite often I am that solution (at least on a short-term basis). But we haven’t found a long-term solution yet. We do teach on Capacity Building at SEATS but some things I have been reading lately have made me wonder if we are on the wrong track. Recently I have been thinking about the following questions and ideas:

If cultural & economic dependency are linked (as per Ali Mazrui), what does that say for teaching systematic theology cross-culturally? Since theology defines church culture, must it then be developed by those within the culture so as to not contribute to cultural dependency? Is it just adding to the problem? Is developing Asian Theology then the key to eliminating economic dependency in Asian churches?

These questions came as a result of reading my Dad’s Master of Education thesis from 1990. Kind of makes me wish I had read it earlier. Referencing Mazrui, Dad makes the statement “that cultural autonomy can be achieved through a strategy of domestication, diversification, and counter-penetration.”

Examples of this strategy (with comments) as applied to my cultural setting might include:

1. Use local language. SEATS training is conducted in a blending of English and Tagalog so perhaps we are going in the right direction here.

2. Connect to other Asian churches/cultures. SEATS itself is cross0-cultural but we haven’t been able to really link up Filipinos with other Asian church groups at this level. This will allow Asians to have more voices in the conversation than simply westerners.

3. Diffuse Filipino values into the mission. This, as pointed out in the thesis, is already on the way to being accomplished since there are a large number of Filipinos in Canada and Filipino churches working with the BGC Canada. Early in our career we even had a Filipino director of Global Ministries. His influence was definitely felt in our movement, even though he later moved on to other things. SEATS itself has a completely Filipino board. One idea would be to allow other Asian board members to help fill out the conversation and bring balance.

In your opinion, what is the best answer to this problem?

Posted in capacity building, christian life, cross-cultural, leadership training, missional, missions, pastoral training, philippines, theology, transformation | Leave a Comment »

Questions Regarding Milk vs Meat

Posted by functionalchurch on 2010/09/24

Sometimes the Bible talks about spirituality in terms of food. The idea is this: new Christians, like babies, need milk. Eventually, however, as they mature, they need meat. Take, for example, the following verses:

  • I Corinthians 3:2: I gave you milk to drink. I didn’t give you solid food because you weren’t ready for it. Even now you aren’t ready for it
  • Hebrews 5:12-14 By now you should be teachers. Instead, you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food. All those who live on milk lack the experience to talk about what is right. They are still babies. However, solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to know the difference between good and evil.
  • I Peter 2:2: Desire God’s pure word as newborn babies desire milk. Then you will grow in your salvation.

Here is my question: When do we start feeding ourselves?

When a baby grows old enough to start eating meat, they put it into their mouths themselves. Is it the same with disciples? Do we eventually start feeding ourselves?

A few more questions: Is is proper to say “I’m not being fed by Sunday-morning sermons”? Is that what sermons are for? Erwin McManus made the statement: “My job isn’t to feed the Christians, so they can feed the sheep. My job is to make them hungry so they can feed themselves.” Does McManus accurately reflect the truths of milk vs meat?

So what if I am not being fed? Does that mean I need to feed myself — that I have graduated to the next level of maturity where I find my own food and feed others?

Does anyone have any answers for me?

Posted in christian life, christianity, church, church impact, discipleship, Erwin McManus, personal impact | Leave a Comment »

Pondering Matthew 5:42. Is Jesus serious?

Posted by functionalchurch on 2010/07/26

Pondering Matthew 5:42. Is Jesus serious about this? Do you have any thoughts?

I mean it’s not like I disagree with Jesus or anything but this verse tells me something that I not only don’t really want to do but even conventional wisdom tells me is wrong. Here is the verse according the the God’s Word translation:

“Give to everyone who asks you for something. Don’t turn anyone away who wants to borrow something from you.”

Here are a few thoughts:

1. If I did this I would have a lineup outside my door (literally).

2. What about the money I need for my own needs or even better for my family’s needs? Is Jesus telling me to give my money away when asked and then to ask others when I need money?

3. How inclusive is the list? Is it just money or does it apply to other things like my car, my house, my office, my tools, etc.? Is there a line that needs to be drawn or is it always “all in”?

4. What about the whole “give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime” thing? Is that just a cute way of getting out of my responsibility?

I guess I can take the typical discipleship talk of denying myself and taking up my cross and following him daily but that is still pretty abstract. When it comes to my wallet, that is pretty real.

What has this verse meant for you? Do you even include it as part of your becoming more like Christ?

Posted in christian life, discipleship, jesus, truth-telling | 2 Comments »

Building the Kingdom: Essentials vs Non-Essentials (Part 2)

Posted by functionalchurch on 2010/07/24

A few months ago I wrote about the concept of Essentials vs Non-Essentials. At the end I expressed frustration about not having enough time in class for closure on the issues raised. Yesterday we had that closure in class.

The issues related to Essentials and Non-Essentials are quite often fought out in the issues on the periphery of our belief. That is, the battles waged in this area in our churches are primarily fought over non-essential practices as opposed to essential beliefs. The class did  an assignment  that called on them to list their core beliefs as disciples of Christ — that is the things that are absolutely essential to their life as Christians, the kinds of things that if they were not there would cause them to walk away from the group. I was mildly amused to see that the issues they considered to be core were almost exclusively theological in nature: Who is Jesus? What is the Church? Ordinances. etc. There was very little practice listed.

Which led us to the discussion of core beliefs and core practices. Of course, we all need to have core beliefs. But I just can’t survive on core beliefs. At some point those core beliefs need to come out — I need to show them in my actions.

For example, I remember watching a show called Venture on Canadian TV about 20 years ago. One episode hightlighted a new company that had developed a machine for turning garbage into potable water. The scene has stuck in my mind forever of the inventor of the machine holding a glass of water that had come from his machine. He proudly declared the water to be safe to drink. However, when asked by those present to prove his beliefs with action — in other words to drink the water — he refused saying, “I prefer wine.” Guess what? I have never heard of that machine again. Why? Because even though the inventor’s core belief was that the water was pure, his core practices did not include actually drinking the water himself!

Of course, I am not saying that everybody’s practices needs to be the same but that we find unity in the beliefs we share together. One issue that has come up in our faith community lately is how the practices that older Christians have relate to the practices that young Christians have. If we focus on the practices themselves, we will be divided. But if we focus on the core beliefs we can be unified and support a variety of legitimate core practices.

As a Theology teacher this truth strikes home for me. I must reexamine not my beliefs, but my practices so that my beliefs will be proved true in the things that I do.

How about you? Do your practices align with your beliefs?

Posted in christian life, christianity, church, church impact, conflict resolution, cross-cultural, ecclesiology, leadership, leadership training, transformation | Leave a Comment »

The Smallest Functional Church in the World

Posted by functionalchurch on 2010/07/08

Interesting link came up in my Google Alerts today. I have a standing search going for articles including the words “functional church.” It is an effort to see how churches view the concept of being functional. It is also a search to see if the word “functional” adequately describes the church as God’s mission to the world.

This article describes the “smallest functional church in the world.” It consists of a structure built in an American cemetery that has room for one pastor and two congregants. It is in the typical white-picket-fence-with-a-cross-on-the-peak style. Interestingly enough, the “church” under discussion does not appear to have even the marks of the church, much less act in a functional way – at least function as this blog defines it.

The article does not say, however, if there are actually people who are involved in this church. I guess the questions that remain to be answered are: Is God’s kingdom truly represented here? Is the church a part of God’s mission to the world? Is the Good News of Jesus proclaimed? Have people there truly experienced God? Is the community served?

It appears that “functional church” for the builder means that you can get a couple of people inside and feel good because it looks like a church. Unfortunately, that is how a lot of us think of church. As long as there are people in the pews and it looks like a church everything is ok. What is missing, however, is the whole idea of making disciples of all nations. The story would be better perhaps if the hook was, Hey-look-at-this-tiny-church-building-that-houses-a-true-community-of-faith-that-is-able-to-engage-society-in-a-meaningful-way, or something like that.

What do you think? Does this article describe a church that is truly functional?

Posted in christian life, christianity, church | 1 Comment »

Why Anonymous Letters Don’t Work Among Jesus’ Followers

Posted by functionalchurch on 2009/10/19

I thought about beginning this blog with a scenario where a person might be led to write an anonymous letter complaining about their church but to be honest I just couldn’t figure out what the motivations might be. Regardless of that, it is a topic that we do need to discuss from time to time. Anonymous letters are part and parcel of a life in ministry. I don’t know anyone in ministry who hasn’t sometime received anonymous advice or an anonymous letter. So how do we deal with them?

All throughout my life I have heard from people in all walks of life – Pastors, District Ministers, Seminary Presidents, and even missionaries – what I should do if I receive an anonymous letter. The answers are all surprisingly unanimous: “Throw all anonymous letters in the garbage and forget about them!” This is very easy to say but very hard to do. There is something that keeps drawing us back to the words on the page over and over again to the point where we are carried off in despair or self-pity.

I was pondering this advice the past week and began to wonder why anonymous letters do not work in the church. Here is my list (not sure I’ll get to 10 so I can’t really call it a Top-10 List):

1. The Church is Community. I know the people I worship and minister with personally. I may see them everyday or even every week. We attend worship services, cell groups, seminars, and classes together. We interact. We play. We love. We share. We know each other. There is that mutual give and take that goes with any good relationship.

Enter the “Anonymous Letter.” All of a sudden that relationship is broken. There is no more trust. Instead there is shame. Someone is too ashamed of the situation to make himself/herself known. Someone is too ashamed of what they are saying that they don’t want to take ownership of their words. Someone doesn’t care about community enough to keep it intact and loving.

2. The Bible tells us to confront in a personal way. Of course, in many cases your culture will determine how you confront or approach someone, but it is still in a personal way. In Galatians, Paul tells us, “Brothers, if someone is caught in sin you who are spiritual need to restore him gently …” The term brothers (or sisters) denotes relationship that leads to restoration. I approach my brother or sister (in a culturally relevant way) and work with him/her to improve. We work through our struggles together.

Enter the “Anonymous Letter.” Now all of a sudden there is no personality to the relationship. “Who is the one who is correcting me? Who knows because it’s anonymous. I guess if no one cares about me enough to help me move through my struggles then I don’t need to change.”

3. Legitimate Questions Deserve Answers (Perhaps even illegitimate questions do as well). If you want an answer for a question you ask, it is vital that the person answering knows who is asking. How can I answer you unless I know who you are? What if I give the answer to someone who isn’t asking. I have wasted my time and you still don’t have your answer! Not all questions need to be answered in a public forum.

Anonymous letters don’t allow us to give the answers to those who are asking them. The writer assumes everyone has the same question and therefore needs to know the answer and so their should be a public declaration of the answer. A public declaration of the answer could even lead to embarrassment for the writer (see #4 below).

4. Anonymous letter writers don’t necessarily have enough info to ask the questions. Their questions may arise because of misinformation, incomplete information, or erroneous information. There may be significant misunderstanding on the part of the writer to the facts of the matter. Just because a letter is anonymous doesn’t mean that it is based upon fact.

The best option is to follow the biblical pattern for resolving conflict and asking questions – namely, the two parties need to communicate in an open and honest way with each other. Not only will this allow the right issues to be addressed but will also foster true community and unity.

Posted in christian life, church, conflict resolution, ecclesiology, leadership, personal impact, sin, transformation, truth-telling | 3 Comments »