How to do church; entertainment vs. disciple making

In the recent Leadership Journal, a pastor describes a trap that many well-intended ministers and churches fall into.

It starts with great intentions and a brilliant epiphany:

. . . The only way to capture people’s attention is entertainment, I thought. If I want people to listen to my message, I’ve got to present it in a way that grabs their attention long enough for me to communicate the gospel. . .

Then “success” – packed house, land . . .

Followed the realities of this “success”:

. . . We’d put all our energies into dispensing religious goods and services. But our people weren’t touching our community. If our church, with its sheer number of people, was populated with disciples, we would be feeding the hungry, building meaningful relationships with neighbors, and transforming our community. But we were neither salt nor light.

After pouring more than 25 years of my life into this church, I knew we weren’t developing disciples who were taking up their crosses to follow Jesus. We’d produced consumers—like Pac-Man, gobbling up religious experiences, navigating a maze but going nowhere in particular.

Too many were observing the show but not meeting God. They meandered in and out of relationships but weren’t in real community. They sought their spiritual fix but didn’t give themselves fully to Christ. . .

Then God intervenes in a dramatic and painful way leading to more epiphanies:

. . . By the time we service the $12-million debt, pay the staff, and maintain the property, we’ve spent more than a million before we can spend a dime on our mission. . .

. . . “You must die as a church and be born as a mission.”. . . (from Robert Schuller of all people).

And a prayer: “God, we have to hear from you. We’re desperate.

What’s the solution? Find out at: Showtime No More! (starting on page 3)

(Hint: Painful pruning transformation that leads people into the presence of God.)

A new model meant we had to redefine what a “win” looks like.

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3 signs of a healthy church

According to Philip Yancey, here are three signs of a healthy church:

(1) Diversity. As I read accounts of the New Testament church, no characteristic stands out more sharply than this one. Beginning with Pentecost, the Christian church dismantled the barriers of gender, race, and social class that had marked Jewish congregations. Paul, who as a rabbi had given thanks daily that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile, marveled over the radical change: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

One modern Indian pastor told me, “Most of what happens in Christian churches, including even the miracles, can be duplicated in Hindu and Muslim congregations. But in my area only Christians strive, however ineptly, to mix men and women of different castes, races, and social groups. That’s the real miracle.”

Diversity complicates rather than simplifies life. Perhaps for this reason we tend to surround ourselves with people of similar age, economic class, and opinion. Church offers a place where infants and grandparents, unemployed and executives, immigrants and blue bloods can come together. Just yesterday I sat sandwiched between an elderly man hooked up to a puffing oxygen tank and a breastfeeding baby who grunted loudly and contentedly throughout the sermon. Where else can we go to find that mixture? [Ben’s answer: A hospital waiting room, but more on that a different day. There appears to be a good analogy there.;-)]

When I walk into a new church, the more its members resemble each other—and resemble me—the more uncomfortable I feel.

(2) Unity. Of course, diversity only succeeds in a group of people who share a common vision. In his great prayer in John 17, Jesus stressed one request above all others: “that they may be one.” The existence of 38,000 denominations worldwide demonstrates how poorly we have fulfilled Jesus’ request. I wonder how different the church would look to a watching world, not to mention how different history would look, if Christians were more deeply marked by love and unity. Perhaps a whiff of the fragrance of unity is what I detect when I visit a new church and sense its “aliveness.”

(3) Mission. The church, said Archbishop William Temple, is “the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Some churches, especially those located in urban areas, focus on the needs of immediate neighborhoods. Others adopt sister churches in other countries, support relief and development agencies, and send mission teams abroad. Saddest of all are those churches whose vision does not extend beyond their own facilities and parking lots.

In my visits I never found a perfect church (nor should we expect to, if the New Testament gives any indication). But when tempted to judge, I simply remind myself that disappointment with the church traces back to God’s own bold experiment: to allow ordinary people like us to embody his presence on earth.

Read the whole article: Denominational Diagnostics.

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Violence, cleansing; healing and hope in an African worldview

Last week I read a brief article in the print edition of the Nation (can’t find it on-line) that showed how Nandi elders in Western Kenya were calling for all youths who were involved in violent acts to come for purification. The consequences of not making this right could mean calamitous events for the community.

wink-the-powers-that-be.jpgOne of the many things I like about most African worldviews is their understanding of the holistic interconnectedness of the world. Whenever violence occurs, something deeply troubling disturbs the cosmic economy and needs to be made right. Violence seeks to replace the world as God intended it to be with chaos. I think Walter Wink (despite his liberal views of Jesus’ death) gets this right in his book, The Powers that Be. 

The church here is taking concrete action to address this spiritual reality.

Msafara Wheels of Hope is a church initiative that will act as a catalyst to lead the country into spiritual cleansing and bringing hope to Kenyans. A secretariat of eight pastors are coordinating logistics, mobilizing resources and team building to travel to Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret, and Kisumu.

These five (5) major urban areas were where election violence initially erupted after being targeted by spiritual forces of darkness. [Background: A “witch doctor” from Tanzania carried a python around to each of these cities and spiritually claimed them for his political clients.] With a focus on restoration, reconciliation and prayer, Msafara hopes to enable five hundred (500) pastors in each area to lead their people in healing. In each area Msafara will conduct pastors’ workshops in reconciliation while others will distribute humanitarian aid and provide counsel to traumatized internally displaced people.

Finally, there will be a cleansing, healing, prayer and jubilee service for each area. Msafara will be actively involved in spreading redemptive stories of hope through the media. It will also help resettle displaced people. In the same spirit of Ezra and Nehemiah, Msafara calls Kenyans to unite in the spirit of hope for the future.

The Plan [From their brochure]: From 7th to 17th March, the “Msafara Caravan” of 100 national pastors, and 200 local pastors in each city will gather in 5 main cities in Kenya to wage war against the demonic. Beginning in Mombasa, the “Msafara” will make it’s way to Nairobi, and then move onto Nakuru and Eldoret, and finally end up in Kisumu. A special team of 200 “Wasafiri” will also to accompany the pastors. The wasafiri’s task is to bring comfort to the internally displaced people, to give out humanitarian aid, and to pray, cry, laugh and counsel with the hurting. A special team of prayer intercessors is also being mobilized nationwide to accompany the “Msafara” with prayer.