Bread of Life Radical Nourishment

Jesus is the bread of life.

Even though it doesn’t sound like it — this is a radical statement.

How can something seemly so mundane as bread be radical?

Let’s explore this together!

bread of life

cheeseslave [photo credit]

Bread of Life in John 6

As we’ve already seen, John 6 is an exciting and challenging passage!  Jesus revealed himself as a provider, as divine, and as a chaos calmer.  How awesome!

So how can we move from such grandiose topics to bread, a banal notion if there ever was one!?

Well, this is the jump that Jesus himself makes in John 6.

Jesus provides for 5000+ in a miraculous fashion.  Then Jesus retreats, only to return to his disciples as they are in trouble on the Sea of Galilee.  And Jesus reveals his divinity on that body of water by walking on the water and saying that he is the “I am.”

And when Jesus and his team finally make it back to their ministry “headquarters,” the city of Capernaum, they are discovered by the great crowd which Jesus had fed the day before.

Instead of reacting like so many of us might have, Jesus interacted with these folks.  And he does it in a truly rabbinical way, answering and asking questions.

And in the turning moment of the dialogue with the crowd Jesus says these words in John 6.35:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What’s so radical about this statement?

Well, for Jesus’ original audience it was revolutionary.  God had used Moses to provide bread (manna) for the Israelites in the desert as they escaped slavery in Egypt.  And that image was sacrosanct!  Infringing on it or claiming it as one’s own more or less amounted to blasphemy.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not Moses.

But the radical-ness goes deeper.  For John’s original readers this statement was radical too.  It was Rome who provided them bread (literally and figuratively as general provision and protection).  More specifically, it was the Emperor who was their provider and to say something otherwise was counter-cultural and even politically dangerous.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not the Emperor.

And all throughout time since Jesus spoke these words, they have remained radical.

Competitors for the Title of Bread of Life Today

Let’s think about this in our day and time.  Who provides our bread?  (I’ll speak from my context, namely the American Church.)  Two ideas instantly pop into my head:

  1. America claims to be our bread of life.  Think about it.  How many times have you heard people say, in one way or another, that out nation is our ultimate provider?  Here are a few ways I’ve heard it: We’re protected by our military, we are educated thanks to our government, many of us receive benefits from our state and federal governments (whether food stamps, health care, retirement benefits, etc.), and we’re given a system (capitalism) in which people can “make it.”  And don’t even get me started on the so-called “American Dream”!!  If any of us make claims otherwise we’re labeled as ungrateful, unpatriotic, and ultimately un-American.  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not America.
  2. We claim to be our own bread of life.  On a more personal and intimate level, we hold tight to the idea that we provide for ourselves and our families.  Many of us have fought and clawed our ways to where we are through all kinds of difficulties, like systemic inequalities, racism, poverty, and just life and all of its complications.  So we feel entitled to the idea that we’ve got this.  We can take care of ourselves.  And anyone who claims otherwise is telling us that our efforts weren’t enough.  They are undermining what we’ve accomplished.  And they are hamstringing our attempts to be self-reliant!  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not us.

Letting Jesus Be Our Bread of Life

So if Jesus’ radical statement that he is the bread of life is true (and it is!), then how can we allow him to be just that in our lives?  Here are a few ideas to get us started:

  • Stop allowing other things/people/entities to be our breads of life.  As we talked about above, America is not our bread of life and neither are we.  In fact, our families aren’t either.  Neither are our friends, our jobs, our investments, our passions, our pleasures, our pursuits, or our dreams.  Nothing but Jesus can serve as our bread of life.
  • Turn to Jesus first.  So that means that when we are seeking meaning and provision, the first place we should turn is to Jesus.  To be sure, this doesn’t mean that other things and people can help provide for us.  Of course they can!  But our first source of provision must be Jesus.
  • Allow others to help us. Like so many other things in life, seeking to allow Jesus to be our bread of life is hard.  In fact, it’s so hard that given enough time, all of us will fail at this miserably if we go at it alone.  So, instead, let’s do it together!  We need to find a few other Christians and ask them to hold us accountable as we seek to allow Jesus to be our bread of life!
  • Pray, pray, and pray some more.  But even community and accountability aren’t enough.  We need an infusion of divine aid!  We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as individuals and communities as we seek to make Jesus our bread of life.  So we must pray…maybe something like this: Father, help me/us turn to Jesus when I/we are in need.  By your indwelling Spirit, help me/us to quit putting my/our faith first in other things.  Amen.
  • Rest on God’s grace.  Even when we have accountability and even when we pray, we’ll still fail.  We are humans after all!  And when we mess up, when we allow other things and people to be our bread of life, let’s not beat ourselves up.  Instead, let’s remember that we’re recipients of the greatest gift of all, the grace of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  And in that grace there’s unconditional love and unending do-overs.

So that’s it!  Jesus is our bread of life!

Now the hard part — let’s live like it!

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to you that Jesus is our bread of life?  What are we tempted to put in his place?  How can we more and more turn to Jesus first?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Patience Is Suffering with Grace A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

patience

By: Oran Viriyincy

Patience is Suffering with Grace

Of all the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, not to mention the Christian life in general, patience is the one area where I need to show more evidence that my life is guided and directed by the Spirit.  And living in Los Angeles County doesn’t help this at all!

The picture above looks all too familiar to me.  I have somewhere to go and I need to be there fast.  It’s only a few miles away.  I jump in my car, confidently pull out of the garage thinking I’ll get there in no time.

But there’s construction, an accident, an event at the Rose Bowl, and a school zone.

Ugh.

I have to wait.

But it’s not just driving that tests me…

It’s texting too.  See if this sounds familiar: I send an important text to someone.  They don’t respond immediately.  Five minutes pass and nothing.  Hours pass, no reply.  Two days come and go and still nada!

I think to myself (or say to my wife!): Ugh!  This is so annoying!  Why don’t they just reply!

But the reality of the situation is that I make people wait all the time for text replies.  I’m such a hypocrite!

I could go on and on — the internet is slow, people are in my way, something doesn’t work as it was designed, etc., etc., etc.

And here’s the thing: I know I’m not alone.  A recent survey found that we’re all impatient and that we make decisions about where we do business and how we treat people based on how long we have to wait!

So when we think about patience, an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, which can be defined as suffering with grace, I think it’s fair to say that we’re in need of a bit more!

 

How do we get more patience?

So, we know we need to be more patient.  But how do we get more patient?  And can we do it right now…I mean, I don’t have time to be patient about being more patient!

Here’s the truth, almost all of us have said at one time or another that we need to be more patient.  But we haven’t made long-term, sustainable changes.  We’ve not become more patient.

If Dr. Phil was here he would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Really poorly Dr. Phil.  Really poorly.

We need more patience but we’re proving to ourselves and one another that we can’t will ourselves to be more patient.

So, what are we to do?  How can we inculcate more patience in our lives?

There’s only one way to build patience as a follower of Jesus.  And it’s by being synced with the Spirit, staying in step with him as he leads us.

That’s what Paul was getting at when he named patience as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  He was saying that, as we live lives more in line with the Spirit, we will become more and more patient.  We’ll be able to suffer the aggravations of life with more and more grace.

By staying in step with the Spirit, he will build patience in us.  He’ll do what we cannot do for ourselves or one another.

 

Examples of Spirit-led Patience

So, what does this look like?  In reality, what does it look like to have patience that comes from being deeply connected to the Spirit of God?

Truthfully, I’m not really the guy to ask!  I’m so thoroughly impatient that every example I read about or think of seems idealized or forced.  (I know, I know…I need to be more connected to the Spirit myself!)

But there was one person who had a connection with the Spirit that was always unbroken, always effective, and always produced the fruit of the Spirit.  That person, of course, was Jesus.

And examples of patience in his life abound:

  • When he found out his friend Lazarus sick, he was patient.  He didn’t rush to his side.  He waited, because he knew that by doing so more glory could go to his Father.
  • Jesus’ interactions with his disciples are filled with patience.  They ask Jesus stupid questions, they tell people unhelpful things, they do the wrong things, they don’t get what Jesus is teaching and showing them, and they fight with one another for power.  Through all of that, Jesus was patient, knowing that there was a process they had to go through to become the people he needed them to be after he left.
  • And one majorly-overlooked example of Jesus’ patience dominates the majority of the time he was alive.  From the moment Jesus was conceived until he was 30 years old, we know almost nothing about him.  How could Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, simply bide his time as a poor carpenter’s son?  How could he grow into adulthood, while waiting to fulfill his purpose?  How could he withstand the ridicule that likely came with him remaining single all through his 20s?  One way: He was patient thanks to his deep and abiding connection to the divine life through the Spirit!

Like Jesus, we have a deep and abiding connection to the divine life through the Spirit too!  Yay!

Unlike Jesus, we don’t have the wherewithal to always rely on that connection the way he did.

But we know from the example of Jesus’ life, and from the countless other lives of people who are patient thanks to being synced to the Spirit, that patience is possible for those who surrender to the Spirit.

Maybe that’s the secret sauce: Surrender.  At its core, impatience is all about me wanting to get my way; while patience, at its core, is all about the Spirit having his way in us.

Let’s do more of the latter and less of the former!

 

What do you think?  Are you like me, impatient to no end?  Or have you figured this patience thing out?  Let me know in the comments below!

Cultural Assumptions

I learned something recently — it’s easy to make cultural assumptions.  The way this shows up in my life is that I assume my cultural norms are the cultural norms for everyone.

And assuming my cultural understanding is everyone else’s cultural understanding is a serious stumbling block to following Jesus actively in the real world.

Why?  What’s wrong with thinking one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

In order to answer this question, I want to tell you a story…

 

MEC Retreat

Me teaching at a college and young adult retreat.

 

A few weeks ago I had the great privilege of leading a retreat for college and young adults.  I really had a blast!  They coordinator of the retreat asked me to lead the group through a series on the seven churches from the first few chapters of the book of Revelation (the last book in the New Testament).

This was exciting for me because I had already done some work on the seven churches before, meaning that I could pull out my old notes and update them.  This is always a fun process for me.  It’s interesting to see how my thinking has changed and grown over the years.

But another reason why teaching this group was going to be exciting was the fact that everyone in the group was Egyptian or Palestinian.  I have several friends from Egypt (two of whom helped me score this opportunity!), so I felt ready to go!

I met with one of my Egyptian friends prior to the retreat and he gave me some helpful insights on the group and where they were coming from.  He reminded me that since the revolution in Egypt in 2011, many Egyptians, especially Egyptian Christians, have come to the United States.  In Southern California many of them find one another at the church that birthed this college and young adult group.  Therefore, according to my friend, their experience of the church, the gospel, and Jesus himself was very different from what I was used to.

I heard him but apparently his advice did not sink in for me…

 

Cultural Oops!

During one of the teaching sessions I was making a case I make often: Christians are perceived as judgmental and this is something that we need to make efforts to change.  Around the room I was receiving some nods of agreement and a few incredulous looks.  I shook off the latter and latched onto the former…I love affirmation after all!

Later, during the same session, I made the point again that Christians tend to be judgmental and Laura, one of the young women at the retreat, slid her hand up in the air.

“Can I respond?”

“Of course,” I answered.

“Well, in Egypt Christians are often hired to do jobs that require honesty, like a cashier.  In fact, among Muslims in Egypt, Christians are known for being honest, moral, and good people.”

“Hmm…,” was all that I could muster up to reply.

“So it may not be fair to assume that all Christians are judgmental.”

“You’re right Laura.  That was a mistake on my part.  I’m sorry…”

 

The First Moral of the Story

Why is it a problem to assume that one’s cultural norms are the cultural norms?

Because in so doing we can unintentionally and easily belittle and insult other people.  And, trust me, it is truly difficult to share and embody the good news of Jesus and his kingdom while being belittling and insulting!

What can we do to prevent committing a cultural faux-pas like I did?

Well, there are many things we can do:

  1. Learn about the cultural diversity around us.  Even if we live somewhere that seems to be more or less mono-cultural, every family has its own culture and the same sort of mistakes can happen at that level as well!  However, by educating ourselves about the people with whom we regularly come into contact, we may be little less likely to flub it up too bad from a cultural perspective.
  2. Beef up our filters.  If you’re like me and you talk as part of your daily and weekly routines, then it is likely that your filter needs to be changed!  Here’s what I mean: I can just talk and talk and talk without thinking much.  It’s in times like these that I find myself making the most cultural mistakes.
  3. Spend some time learning our cultural quotient and then to do something with this knowledge we gained.  We need to know our CQ — our cultural quotient.  There are some “official” ways of looking into this, but  an unofficial way would be to ask a trusted group of friends who you feel are more culturally savvy than you to give you an honest assessment of where you are.  Then the question is this: What will you do with this information?  What will I?

 

The Second Moral of the Story

Think about what Laura said to correct me — Christians in Egypt have a reputation for being honest and trustworthy.  But Christians in America, by and large, have a reputation for being judgmental.  What’s up with this?

The first way to think about it may be that people in America are giving us a bad rap and that we really aren’t all that judgmental.  But I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we know this isn’t true.  We make snide comments about the behaviors of our friends, family, and coworkers who are far from God, as if we do everything right.  We go on the warpath sometimes looking for ways to judge our national, state, and local political leaders.  And we give social media updates bemoaning the ungodly behavior of those crazy people in Hollywood.

We Christians are judgmental in America, by and large.

So a second way of thinking about it may be that Christians in Egypt are simply less judgmental than we are or that they are simply better known for things that they do well.  Either way, something must be different about them.  What is it?

Well, they worship the same Jesus American Christians do, they read the same Bible, they have similar community times, they pray in similar ways, etc., etc.  So what’s different?

Their context, that’s what’s different.  Here in America we believe (erroneously) that we live in a Christian nation and that everyone should abide by our rules, expectations, and assumptions.  But we don’t live in a Christian nation and many millions of Americans don’t even have a clue what our rules, expectations, and assumptions are!  The truth is that America is not a Christian nation and pretending like it is has done deep, deep damage to our credibility among those who are far from God.

Egypt is different, however.  Upwards of 90% of Egyptians are Muslim.  Egypt is clearly marked by an abiding presence of Islam.  And it is in that context (and an uncomfortable and scary context at times) that Christians in Egypt stand out.  Their kindness, generosity, joy, and honesty are obvious to many people.

 

So Laura was right — and the lessons we should learn from her are to do our best to be culturally aware and that those of us who follow Jesus in America need to work hard to become known for good things about us instead of bad things.

 

What do you think?  What can we learn from Laura’s insight?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

The Ghost of Church Future: Part Three (On Mission)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), present (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), and future (Part One and Part Two) might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  This week we’ll look at what the future holds.

On Mission

on mission

By: gwire

What would the future of the Church look like if we were a people on mission?  What does it even mean to be on mission?  And, most importantly, what kind of fruit would be born in the American mission field from the Church being on mission together?

What I’d like to do in this post is to present the six parts of the missional DNA, as proposed by Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways, and to dream briefly about how they might be lived out in the future.

 Jesus is Lord

For the Church to be on mission together we must put at our center the faith claim that Jesus is Lord.  Doing this would mean that other things that attempt to be the authorities of our lives would be explicitly set aside.  Thus, individualism, materialism, and consumerism would not be chief characteristics of the Church who lives out the basic assertion that Jesus is Lord!  We would be centered on and focused upon Jesus and nothing else!

Disciple Making

The engine that would move the Church on mission forward would be disciple making.  This activity is the basic call from Jesus (Matthew 28.19-20) and without it the Church stagnates and, eventually declines (in every way!).  Thus, the Church on mission in the future will be involved in making disciples.  In fact, everything that the Church on mission does will be seen in light of making disciples.  So, if something isn’t encouraging disciple making, then it will be abandoned or revisioned.  Nothing is sacrosanct, baring holding true to the gospel.

Missional-Incarnational Impulse

The Church on mission will be all about, well, being on mission!  What will this look like?  Small groups of followers of Jesus will band together in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a particular community.  They will do so for the sake of the gospel and for the benefit of those for whom they are on mission.  Then, these smaller groups will be networked together into larger entities through whom they will find support and inspiration.

Apostolic Environment

The Church, for a long, long time, has focused its ministries in such a way that those who are gifted as pastors and/or teachers could thrive.  The future Church on mission, however, will find a place for all of the Ephesians 4 categories of ministries, including the apostolic (pushing into new territories), the prophetic (telling the truth), and the evangelistic (relentless focus on making new disciples).  This will be difficult but, in the end, it will be much more biblical and effective!

Organic Systems

The Church on mission in the future will not find its organizational inspiration from machines, business models, or any other inorganic system.  Instead it will organize itself around principles found in nature, principles about which Jesus himself taught.  This will mean that top-down leadership models will be things of the past.  Instead leadership models that emphasize leading from among the people will be stressed, resulting in greater involvement and buy-in among everyone.

Communitas

Being on mission as the Church will mean that we will not be an inward-focused group.  Instead we will be a group of people who are always interested in living on the edges, pushing into the chaos of our world, taking risk when needed, and being the culture changers that we are called to become.  Church won’t be about getting fed, it will be about feeding the world the tasty gospel of Jesus Christ!

 

What do you think?  What will the church on mission look like in the future?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Ghost of Church Future: Part Two (Consumerism)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), present (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), and future (Part One) might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  This week we’ll look at what the future holds.

Consumerism

So, as we’ve seen in previous posts in this series, those who live lives authentically marked by faith in Jesus are a declining species.  One response could be to go all in with regard to American culture.  We, as the Church, could attempt to absolutely immerse ourselves into the consumerism around us, attempting to redeem it and use it for the kingdom of God.

I first encountered this idea in Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways.  Here’s how he introduced it:

We try to redeem the rhythms and structures of consumerism as Pete Ward suggests in his excellent book on missional ecclesiology.  He advises that, rather than reject or denounce consumerism, we should see it as an oppportunity for the church to rediscover her missional and redemptive nature.  He maintains that in consumerism there is a massive search going on, and that the church cannot miss out on meaningfully communicating from within this context.  He suggests, therefore that the church must radically reorganize around consumerist principles but maintain its missional edge. (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 111-112).

The book from Pete Ward that Hirsch is referring to is called Liquid Church.  While there is much to like about Ward’s ideas in this book, such as the church being a flexible network instead of a rigid structure, the idea of trying to redeem consumerism seems entirely too risky.  I love the way that Hirsch responds to Ward’s idea: “However, my warning is that if we are going to sup with the devil, we had better have a very long spoon, because we are dealing with a deeply entrenched alternative religious system to which Jesus’s disciples need to model an alternative reality” (The Forgotten Ways, 112).

In fact, some of the missional writers, thinkers, and practitioners argue that being a consumer runs counter to what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the first place.  For instance, Hugh Halter, in And: The Gathered and Scattered Church, says this: “A disciple is not a consumer and a consumer is not a disciple!” (emphasis original, 75).  Halter’s argument is that at its base consumerism is just selfishness in a different package; and Jesus explicitly calls people away from only looking out for number one.

So why will going all in with consumerism not work as a model moving forward?

  1. At its core, consumerism is selfish. — Consumerism has been defined as the attempt to acquire as many goods and services as possible at the lowest prices possible.  Vance Packard’s pioneering work on consumerism called Waste Makers highlights the truth that all this selfishness and consumption is ultimately harmful in many ways.  I think it’s pretty clear that we as followers of Jesus should avoid such things!  We’re already tempted to view God like a cosmic vending machine, and going all in with consumerism would make that tendency even worse!
  2. Consumerism will push the church to maintain the professionalization of ministry. — In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul says that we’re all ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation.  But if we really want to imbibe consumerism then folks are going to demand that those who have the most training and skill at ministry be the ones to do it, ignoring the fact that God has given gifts to all of the church for the common good, not just some of it (1 Corinthians 11-13)!  Again, we’re already having issues in the church with folks sitting on the sidelines; why would we want to make that problem more prominent?
  3. It will simply be too expensive. — In the end, how could the church afford to be an entity totally defined by consumerism?  We’d be competing against Bud Light, the NFL, reality TV, and Hollywood.  We don’t have the resources to compete in that market!  We barely have the resources to maintain our paltry budgets now!  The cost of competing against the big boys of consumerism is simply too high, which makes this idea for addressing America as a mission field completely untenable.

What do you think?  Is it possible for the church to redeem consumerism?  If so, why?  If not, why?  Let me know below.

The Ghost of Church Future: Part One (Continued Decline)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three), present (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three), and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  This week we’ll look at what the future holds.

decline

geralt / Pixabay

A Continued Decline

For quite some time now the church, as we know it, has been in decline.  Numerous studies and surveys support this statement (David Olson’s book The American Church in Crisis and John Dickerson’s book The Great Evangelical Recession provide a ton of evidence).

What do we do?  I think there are three primary options: 1) keep doing what we’ve always done; 2) try to baptize American individualism, consumerism, and materialism; or 3) go down the missional-incarnational path.

This post will focus on the first option — more of the same.

If we keep doing what we’ve always done, what will be the results?

Famously, it has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again but always expecting different results (attributed to Albert Einstein).  And while this may be “the most overused cliche of all time,” it does help us think about why following the same strategies in the church won’t work going forward.

So, what have we been doing that we could keep doing (even though it most likely wouldn’t work)?

  1. Follow the Attractional Model — “If you build it, he will come.”  This is probably the most-often quoted line from the movie Field of Dreams and it serves to illustrate the attractional model like no other string of words can!  The thought is that if we have slick weekend services, engaging sermons, awesome music, fun programs for kids, thought-provoking adult classes, and great small groups, then people will just show up at the campuses of our churches to partake of all these things.  The research, however, is showing that this model isn’t working.  People simply are not coming to churches anymore, at least not like they once did.  Our buildings, programs, and services just aren’t all that attractive to the wider American culture these days.  So, if we continue with this model, then we will have shrinking congregations, which will lead to church buildings being abandoned (and possibly being transformed into homes, libraries, or nightclubs).
  2.  Limit Discipleship to the Classroom — Almost always when talking to Christians about discipleship they seem to think that it is a program, a ministry, or an event that the church should host and facilitate.  In my experience this has been true of folks everywhere throughout America, from Los Angeles to Atlanta.  There are some shining examples of leaders and churches who don’t view discipleship this way, but my educated guess would be that most American Christians think of it as a cognitive-based learning experience.  The simple truth is that this method of discipleship doesn’t work.  It has helped lead to 66% of Americans being what George Barna calls “casual Christians.”  That’s an astonishing number!  And if we continue doing discipleship this way, that number isn’t going to change in the positive direction.
  3. Protect the Christian Bubble — I was thinking the other day about how many friends I have who do not know Jesus yet.  The number is really pretty low.  Why?  Because I’m pretty consistently encouraged to completely inundate myself into the Christian subculture.  When I do so all my friends are Christians, my closest family members are all Christians, and all my neighbors are Christians.  Then I start reading Christians books, listening to Christian music, going to Christian websites, and even freshening my breath with Christian mints!  This cloistering-off of American Christians into our own little bubble has created a ton of unintentional problems.  If you’ve ever tried to share your faith with someone you know what I’m talking about.  Folks say that Christians are hypocrites, that we’re judgmental, and that we’re by and large detached from reality.  Our Christian bubble helped create space for these descriptions to come to fruition.  So if we protect our bubble going forward, then we’ll continue to erode our potential impact with folks who do not yet know Jesus.

To put it simply, the future of the church is pretty bleak if we keep going like we’ve been going!

Do you agree?  Let me know in the comments below.

The Ghost of Church Present: Part Three (A Missional Response)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  Last week I looked into the revelations from the ghost of church past (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three).  And this week we’ll hear from the ghost of church present (here’s Part One and Part Two).

A Missional Response

So the ghost of Christmas present showed us that the US is a mission field in need of fresh encounters with the gospel and that many of our churches are not responding to this reality all that well.  There are some, however, who are.

Here’s one such example: Adullam in Denver, Colorado.

A missional congregation in Denver

From Adullam’s Website

Adullam’s lead pastor is Hugh Halter, the author of Tangible Kingdom.  In his book Hugh tells the story of how God helped reignite the missional fire in him and how he and his ministry partner Matt Smay, along with their families, reluctantly planted a church in Denver.  In this post I want to explore how Hugh and Matt have led Adullam to be a community with a missional impulse.  (The source for all the material below is either my memory of reading Tangible Kingdom or the “About Adullam” page on their site.)

  • Missional Vision — Here’s Adullam’s vision statement: “Adullam is a congregational network of incarnational communities that are apprenticing kingdom people” (form the “About Adullam” page).  So, their centering values all lean toward being missional and away from being attractional.
  • Discipleship is the Engine — Did you note the word “apprenticing” in Adullam’s vision statement?  This is their code word for “discipleship.”  The purpose in shying away from the word “discipleship” is, in my estimation, because it is too churchy and has come to mean something (classroom-style, cognitive learning) that it doesn’t mean in the New Testament (learning from a respected person by living life together).  Thus, Adullam is saying that apprenticeship is the engine that drives them into their mission field.  Without it, there’s no evangelism, no growth, no conversions, no leadership development, etc.
  • Focus on Being the Church — You probably also noted that Adullam’s vision statement doesn’t use the word “church.”  This had to be intentional!  Instead we find the words “congregation” and “incarnational communities” and “people.”  Their focus is clearly not to become a place for people to come and receive spiritual goods and services (which is how I define our attractional understanding of “church”) and is instead on being the church.
  • Praxis, Praxis, Praxis! — Adullam also says that their explicit goal is to make the kingdom of God tangible.  By this, as you can read in Tangible Kingdom, Hugh means living out the good news in the lives of people.  This means serving, having fun, and, yes, talking about God too.  But it means all those things, not just the last one!  Thus, the people at Adullam are trained to and expected to express their love for God and their neighbors in real-life, real-world ways.
  • Symptoms of an Apprentice — Furthermore, Adullam spells out very clearly what the life of an apprentice of the kingdom looks like: 1) They’ll be involved in inclusive community; 2) They’ll experience communion with God (together, in smaller communities, and as individuals); and 3) They’ll be on mission for God in Denver.
  • Incarnation – You may have also noticed how much Adullam uses the word “incarnation.”  Their informed belief is that “the best environment for the kingdom to appear tangible is in the context of an incarnational community” (form the “About Adullam” page).  By “incarnation” they mean being Jesus in their own communities — in essence, enfleshing the gospel of the kingdom of God where the live, work, and play.  This is a missional way of thinking that stands in direct opposition to the attractional mindset that says “If we build it, then they will come.”
  • Discouraging Consumerism — Being a consumer Christian (meaning a follower of Jesus who just wants to be fed with as little effort as possible, whether on purpose or subconsciously) would be really hard at Adullam.  They don’t always meet together.  The purpose of their times of gathering is to be a blessing to the kids and for their various missional communities to connect.  In fact, Adullam is so serious about discouraging consumerism that they provide links to other churches in the Denver area where folks might find a better fit.  That is revolutionary!

Adullam is just one example among many that are out there.  Now, in fact, there are even missional networks that help congregation figure out how to get on mission together.  A few of these networks are Missio Alliance, Verge, Forge America, and Acts 29.  Now is a great time to start being more missional!  What are we waiting for?!?

Do you know of some more missional responses the reality of the American mission field?  Let me know in the comments!

 

The Ghost of Church Present: Part One

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  Last week I looked into the revelations from the ghost of church past (see the links at the end of this post).  And this week we’ll hear from the ghost of church present.

A Missional Reality

danfador / Pixabay

There’s a new era dawning.  The West in the twenty-first century is a mission field, no matter how you’d like to define that term.  The power of Christendom once reigned supreme in the West, but now things are changing.  Whereas at one time the wider culture shared basic values with those who follow Jesus, today living a gospel-centered life makes a follower of Jesus really stand out.  There are more and more people who are unchurched, de-churched, and/or anti-church.

Where’s the evidence for these claims?  I need stats!

Okay, okay.  Here are a few:

  •  There are 50.5 million religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S.  —  According to the PewResearch, 16.1% of people in the U.S. identify themselves as atheists, agnostics, or not particularly religious.  There are 313.9 million people in the U.S. right now, and 16.1% of that total equals 50.5 million.  That’s a ton!
  • There are 14.75 million people in the U.S. affiliated with religions other than Christianity — Again, according to PewResearch, 4.7% of Americans are affiliated with a religious group that isn’t self-identified as Christian, such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, New Age, etc.
  • There are 7.5 millions Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. — PewResearch has found that 2.4% of Americans identify themselves as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • That means that there are 72.75 million people who explicitly need the gospel! — If you add the three categories above up this is the total you get.  And this total makes up 23.18% of our total population.  The good news, of course, is that 76.82% are part various Christian groups (Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, etc.).
  • There’s a huge number of “Casual Christians” — George Barna, in his book The Seven Faith Tribes, highlights a massive group of people he calls “Casual Christians.”  This tribe, according to an interview posted on the Barna Group’s website, “are defined by the desire to please God, family, and other people while extracting as much enjoyment and comfort from the world as possible.”  In other words, these are consumer Christians par excellence!  How many of these “Casual Christians” are there out there?  According to Barna, 66% of the American population is made up of “Casual Christians”!  That’s 207.17 million people!  I think almost any missionally-minded person would agree that these folks need to be evangelized or re-evangelized!
  • So, that brings the total number of people who need a fresh encounter of the gospel up to 279.92 million people. — Friends, that’s massive!  If that number holds true, then that means that only 10.83% of the American population is living a life, as Barna put it, “defined by their [Christian] faith.”
  • But of those 10.83% of Americans, how are involved in making disciples? — We can’t say for sure.  There are some studies that indicate that more than half of Evangelicals share their faith at least once a year, but this data is based on self-reporting.  I find it hard to believe that we have such a large percentage of people out there sharing their faith!  My guess is that very few people do this.  What’s the point?  There aren’t that many people actively engaged in reaching those who need to be reached in the U.S.

Jesus said it best in Luke 10.2: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  So that’s the bare minimum of our call, to pray for more workers for the mission field in the U.S.  But if we all could begin to adopt missional postures and incarnational lifestyles, then we could actually become those workers!  That’s my prayer, namely that God would turn you and I into missionaries right here in the U.S.!

What do you think of this picture?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

The Ghost of Church Past (Part One, Part Two, Part Three)