If the church was a factory what would it be producing?

I know the chuch is described as a “body” in Scripture, but allow me to use the metaphor of the church as a factory for a moment.

factory 1If the church was a factory what would it be producing? We can agree that the biblical goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20). What if our factory was not properly set up to make disciples? What if the assembly line was rigged to make a different product?

Is it possible for a church to be organized in such a way that they are producing people who know how to attend services, pray, tithe, fellowship, sing, yet they are not investing in relationships to make disciples? The answer is yes.

I believe we should gather corporately for worship, preaching and communion; but somewhere along the way the relational aspect of life on life disciple making has been left behind.

I think we have to do the hard work of teaching, modeling and encouraging the church to return to the ways of Jesus. Investing in the few so that we can make an impact on the many.

Politics and Misplaced Hope

There were a few Jews in the 1st century who were waiting for a Messiah to deliver them from their sins (Matthew 1:21); but the vast majority were longing for a Messiah to come in political power and to end Roman domination.

That is why when Jesus was incarnated as a homeless baby so many Jews failed to grasp that the kingdom of God had arrived. Come on, how could this guy lead an organized rebellion against the forces of Rome?

politics.jpgI’m thinking we are not much different today from the majority of Jews in the 1st century. I listen to so many of my brothers and sisters who are outraged by what is going on in our world and shake their fist at D.C. It would seem, just like in the days of Jesus, Christians today are expecting the kingdom of God to advance through political means. As I reflect on all this anger it leaves me with this simple thought, many Christians today have misplaced their hope.

I firmly believe that Christians should be engaged in every arena of life, including politics. But the hope of the nations is the same today as it was in the 1st century, Jesus Christ. Lest we forget, we the church are the body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).

So maybe all this angry rhetoric and hand-wringing we do about politics is a big, colossal waste of time. Perhaps it reveals something even more insidious, we don’t truly understand the gospel.

“If you are devastated or irate over the outcome of a presidential election, relax. Things will be okay. We only need, and already have, one Messiah. And he did not lose this election. If you are ecstatic about an election outcome, relax. Take inventory. We only need, and already have, one Messiah. And he did not win this election.” -Scott Sauls

In the gospel we see Jesus humble himself through the incarnation, live as a blue-collar worker, become a friend of sinners, extend grace and mercy, enter into the brokenness of society to bring healing. How do we look at the life of Jesus then come to the conclusion that we should spend our time fighting a culture war? If we truly understood the gospel we would spend less time blaming Washington and more time walking in the ways of Jesus.

Above pic taken from DNews

Valentine’s Day and the Gospel

I’m thinking that many of us, myself included, are putting too much pressure on our marriages by seeking ultimate satisfaction and happiness in our spouse. Instead of finding contentment in Jesus Christ we have this culturally romantic notion that we will be made complete when we find our true soul mate (or if we work really hard to shape our spouse into our one true soul mate). Of course we are setting ourselves, and our spouse, up for massive disappointment because the hole we feel in our soul can not be filled up by our husband or wife. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that romance is unimportant. Truth be told, I think it is something that we all deeply crave. On top of that, Song of Solomon clearly reveals that romance and affection for our spouse is a precious gift from God. The problem is when we can not be joyful or content without it. Seeking our deepest fulfillment in another person is a guaranteed way to destroy our relationships and our spiritual life. The apostle Paul never mentions being married and yet he experienced deep joy and contentment as a single man (Philippians 4:10-13). As I have learned from 20 years of marriage there will be ups and downs. There will be seasons where we do not feel all the emotions that we want to feel. So, what do we do in those moments? Look for romance in someone else? Or, do we realize that there is a good chance that we have made romance a god in our life?

This video from Alanis does a good job of revealing how we can be looking for something in our human relationships that is simply unattainable.

You’ll rescue me right?
In the exact same way they never did,
I’ll be happy right?
When your healing powers kick in

You’ll complete me right?
Then my life can finally begin
I’ll be worthy right?
Only when you realize the gem I am?

But this won’t work now the way it once did
And I won’t keep it up even though I would love to
Once I know who I’m not then I’ll know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down
When I was defenseless
And parting with them is like parting with invisible best friends

This ring will help me yet as will you knight in shining armor
This pill will help me yet as will these boys gone through like water

But this won’t work as well as the way it once did
’cause I want to decide between survival and bliss
And though I know who I’m not I still don’t know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim

These precious illusions in my head did not let me down when I was a kid
And parting with them is like parting with a childhood best friend

I’ve spent so long firmly looking outside me
I’ve spent so much time living in survival mode

“In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more fundamentally action than emotion. But in talking this way, there is a danger of falling into the opposite error that characterized many ancient and traditional societies. It is possible to see marriage as merely a social transaction, a way of doing your duty to family, tribe and society. Traditional societies made the family the ultimate value in life, and so marriage was a mere transaction that helped your family’s interest. By contrast, contemporary Western societies make the individual’s happiness the ultimate value, and so marriage becomes primarily an experience of romantic fulfillment. But the Bible sees GOD as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feelings AND duty, passion AND promise. That is because at the heart of the Biblical idea of marriage is the covenant.” -Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

The Church and the Kingdom of God

In the gospel of Matthew the word ‘kingdom’ is mentioned 52x. The word ‘church’ is mentioned 2x. At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17). Later on Jesus told his followers that they should “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

Maybe it’s just me, but this makes me wonder why we are so foggy on what the kingdom of God is all about. Is it a distrust of authority? Could it be that we are accustomed to living under a democracy not a monarchy? Whatever the reasons might be I’m thinking that our failure to understand the kingdom of God has seriously limited our understanding of the church and her redemptive purpose in this world.

We need a concise, biblical definition of the kingdom of God; “The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation.” -The Gospel Coalition

Here are a three ways I believe a robust understanding of the kingdom of God would impact the church:

  • Churches would grieve over the fact that God’s people skip from one church to another because they know that while a church grows this way the kingdom of God does not. Less competition and more cooperation among churches.
  • Churches would work harder at equipping their people to live out their faith in the context of everyday life. Jesus is Lord over area of life and therefore all of life is an opportunity for ministry just waiting to happen. We would celebrate those who serve God in the workplace. Just as we pray for Sunday School teachers and Small Group leaders we would pray for those who are faithfully living as ambassadors for king Jesus Monday to Friday in the corporate world.
  • Churches would measure their effectiveness, in part, by signs of the kingdom of God flourishing in their city or suburbs.

What are some of the ways you can think of that a proper view of the kingdom of God impacts the way we view the church?

We Need A New Measure for Spiritual Maturity

I was at a recent GCM Collective in Philly and I was inspired by something one of the pastors said. He referred to the fact that we need a new measure for what it means t0 be spiritually mature. Borrowing from some of Rob’s thoughts I came up with the following…

The old standard for spiritual maturity:

  • Knows the Bible: Have you ever met someone who knew the facts and stories of the Bible really well but they did not demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit? Reminds me of James 2:19;  it is truly bizarre. Early on in my seminary days I realized that there were scholars who spent their entire life studying the Bible and they did not believe in Jesus. Never got the logic behind that. Needless to say, spiritual maturity requires more than knowing the Bible.
  • Is a church member: I encourage people to become members of our church. The problem is not with being a member, the problem is when we live as if all membership entails is attending church events and programs.
  • Is busy doing church work: Ponder this frightening thought; it is possible to spend years in the church and never actually do the mission of the church. If you doubt this is true, keep reading.

The Biblical standard for spiritual maturity:

  • Is fluent in the gospel: A mature Christian understands that being a disciple is more than knowing truths about the Word of God, it is understanding that the gospel is the very power of God and that it must be applied to every area of life. Think of an area of life that you are currently struggling. Really, stop and think about it.  Now, ask yourself, “how does the gospel apply to this area of need or temptation?” When we can answer questions like that we know that our hearts and minds are being transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not merely what saved us it is what sustains us every moment of every day.
  • Is committed to messy community: The New Testament describes the church as the family of God. Families are not primarily meetings! Families do life together. This is easy to say, really challenging to do.
  • Is involved in the true mission of the church: What is the mission of the church? Good question. I don’t think I will get many arguments if I say it is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Right? Who are you discipling with the purpose that they will go and do likewise?

Which standard for spiritual maturity best describes you?

Lost in Paradise

We’ve constructed a safe, comfortable world for ourselves and our families yet there remains a longing unfulfilled. A cruel wanting.

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.” -CS Lewis

Song by Evanesence

Picture/art by Gregory Crewdson

3 Lessons Joseph Teaches Us About The Workplace

Joseph

As I have been preaching through the book of Genesis over the past year it dawned on me what a powerful testimony Joseph is when it comes to living out our faith in the business world. Here are three truths I see revealed from the life of Joseph regarding the workplace:

1. Joseph’s identity in the workplace was rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:1-3. Joseph knew that God had called his father, Jacob, and his family to be a blessing to the nations. No doubt this calling was confirmed to Joseph through the bizarre dreams he received. It is clear from Scripture that Joseph understood that this covenant impacted the way he viewed all of life, including his job. Genesis 12:1-3 is more than a few verses prompting God’s people to be nice to others. The Abrahamic Covenant is part of our very identity as the people of God; to be a blessing to the nations. Does Genesis 12:1-3 shape your view of the workplace?

2. Joseph knew who his Boss was. The nation of Egypt actually believed that Pharaoh was god-incarnate. Imagine working for a guy with that kind of ego! Most of us, upon learning this wacked doctrine, would have bailed. We never hear Joseph say, “I can’t work for this pagan boss.” Why? Joseph knew who his true Boss was. He knew that God had strategically positioned him in the workplace as an agent of love and blessing. Are your consciously aware throughout the week that you are doing your job for king Jesus?

3. Joseph served God with all his heart in the good and bad times. Joseph is, at this moment, my favorite Old Testament guy. He reminds me alot of the apostle Paul. Paul wrote this in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul was faithful regardless of the circumstances of life. Allow me to make this personal. If I were sitting in a prison, like Joseph, because I was obedient to God there is an (ever so slight) chance that I would not be a shining picture of contentment and trust. Joseph knew that when his station and status in life was low that God was still good and wanted to use him for his redemptive purposes. Likewise, when Joseph was promoted to a prestigious job with big money he was still faithful to God in all that he did. I simply can not think of a another person in Scripture that teaches us so much about the life we should live in the workplace as Joseph. Are you faithfully serving God and others even if you feel undervalued in the workplace? If things are going well and you are experiencing more obvious success, are you using your position for your own gain or to be a blessing to others?

Interview With Alan Roxburgh

This is an interview I did with Alan Roxburgh about year ago while blogging for Missional in Suburbia…

alan roxburghAlan Roxburgh is a pastor, teacher, writer and consultant with more than 30 years experience in church leadership, consulting and seminary education.  Alan has pastored congregations in a small town, the suburbs, the re-development of a downtown urban church and the planting of other congregations.  He has directed an urban training center and served as a seminary professor and the director of a center for mission and evangelism.  Alan teaches as an adjunct professor in seminaries in the USA, Australia and Europe.  His books include: Reaching a New Generation, Leadership, Liminality and the Missionary Congregation, Crossing the Bridge: Leadership in a Time of Change, The Sky is Falling – Leaders Lost in Transition, The Missional Leader (co-authored with Fred Romanuk), Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, Nov 09) and Missional Map Making (Jossey-Bass, Jan 2010).  He was also a member of the writing team that authored Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.

Through the Roxburgh Missional Network, Alan leads conferences, seminars and consultations with denominations, congregations and seminaries across North America, Asia, Europe, Australia and the UK.  Alan consults with these groups in the areas of leadership for missional transformation and innovating missional change across denominational systems.  Along with the team at RMN, he provides practical tools and resources for leaders of church systems and local congregations.

Through Allelon Alan co-directs the Mission in Globalizing Culture(s) Project.  This is a multi-year project addressing questions of mission in Western culture(s) from the perspective of the local church and its context, and the implications for leadership development.

When not traveling or writing, Alan enjoys mountain biking, hiking, cooking and hanging out with Jane and their five grandchildren as well as drinking great coffee in the Pacific North West.

Question: In chapter one of your new book (Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood) you write this, “In this book I propose that what I call “church questions,” with a primary focus on the church, only misdirect us. At this point in our history, we need to be asking radically different questions: What is God up to in our neighborhoods and communities? How do we join what God is doing in these places? Church questions are a subset of these far more important questions.” Explain for those who have not yet had the opportunity to read the book what you mean by the idea that we have been asking the wrong questions.

Alan Roxburgh: Almost all the books I read right now in terms of ‘missional’ are, in one form or another, proposals for fixing and/or making the church more effective. I am certainly not against this. My point is quite different. Its the focus of these books and the conversations they generate. The energy resourcing them is about the church. The focus of the conversation is the church. This is where I talk about the church being, either implicitly or explicitly, the subject and object of these conversations. This is what I mean by our asking the wrong questions. Not only are these the wrong questions but, theologically, they are the most uninteresting kinds of questions. Really, they are a continued expression of our North American preoccupation with ourselves. Church questions are the religious side of life coaches helping people to self-actualize. I know this sounds totally counter-intuitive to most people, especially clergy whose whole life is invested in church and shaped by church questions. My contention is that church questions are not the questions that preoccupied the early Christians. We need a reorientation of our imaginations to engage the world opening up before us. The good news is that the Spirit is breaking the boundaries and containers into where we have put the Gospel.

Question: Some people might misunderstand and think you are minimizing the role of the church in the world today. From the reading I have done of your book  I get the sense that you believe the church is incredibly important and relevant today. How would you explain the role of the church when it comes to the mission of God?

Alan Roxburgh: Yes, I do believe the church is incredibly important to the mission of God in the world. I am a member of a local church. I preach bi-weekly in my own parish so I’m pretty committed to the local church. But I also believe that the Spirit is out there ahead of us in the neighborhoods and communities where we live and work. It is as we Christians re-engage our neighborhoods by asking the question of what God is up to on the streets where we live that we get a picture of how the Spirit wants to shape our churches. So its not a question of whether the church is important or not. Of course it is. Rather, its a question of order an focus. I don’t primarily, discern what God is calling the church to be by huddling together in church meetings or having outsiders give us some mission/vision statement. We don’t even get there by reading books (even mine) on how others have made their church ‘successful’. Its as we learn to enter and sit at the table of the other (Luke 10: 1-12) that we get the chance of hearing what the Spirit is up to. Those encounters then change and change the shape of our churches. This is a reversal of how most churches function. Now this is not about giving away theological convictions but it is about having them shaped and reshaped by our contextual encounters with the Spirit in the communities where we live.

Question: I must confess that I enjoyed chapter five immensely! You are arguing that the way we read God’s Word may actually hinder us when it comes to us becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. You write, “Scripture isn’t a textbook of information; it isn’t a formula for making life work or a religious Dr. Phil for people who want to improve their lives, expand their bottom line, or ensure their kids get the right start in life. It is full of stories that invite us into the drama of where God is moving creation. Christians are invited to embody this drama.” Explain for us in practical terms how misreading scripture, as you have mentioned, could keep a suburban family from faithfully following Jesus into the world. Describe what that might look like.

Alan Roxburgh: One really simple way to illustrate this is our deeply embedded individualism. Everything about suburbia is about the self-actualizing individual. Go inside the homes of suburban folk and individualism is the way of life from each having their own rooms, TVs, computers etc. So, the deepest value of modernity and the Western imagination is codified in bricks and buildings, in the design of houses, the construction of roads and the TV adds that bombard us 24/7. What this means is that the typical suburban Christian reads his/her Bible from the perspective of the individual. The Bible is a guidebook for me, for my self-development, for my personal life. NO! When the typical suburbanite reads, for example, Paul’s letter and comes across the pronoun YOU it is read individualistically when in fact all this language is plural about social community. The narrative about self and identity in the Bible is the opposite of the narrative the the suburbs. And so, churches shape their ministry around meeting people’s needs or the self-development of individual Christians (often called discipleship) when these are actually the opposite of what is happening in the Scriptures.

Question: In chapter 11 you write about the danger of “decisionist evangelism”. If I understand you correctly, and please let me know if I am off base, what you mean by this is that we have reduced the gospel to simply making a decision to follow Jesus. You go on to explain that when it comes to the gospel we need to understand the depth and power of the word “peace/shalom” as mentioned in Luke 10. So here is the question, what does it mean for disciples of Jesus Christ to bring a gospel of shalom to our cul-de-sac? What does it look like?

Alan Roxburgh: You’re asking a question that really needs a lot of time and space to address. ‘Shalom’ is shorthand for the ‘reign of God’ that has come. It is far more than personal peace etc and way more than some decisionist evangelism that invites people to make ‘personal’ decisions (there is that misplaced individualism again). To be very brief, to live the shalom of God in the cul-de-sac would mean, minimally, recovering basic practices of Christian life (I write about this elsewhere). It would mean living into the rhythm of Luke 10:1-12 which means choosing to stay put and make the neighborhood ones’s priority. It would mean modeling kingdom life which, for example, would mean create extended family in the house with open doors that welcome the neighborhood into its life.  There is so much to discuss here. Let me be very clear though, I am convinced that the cul-de-sac is not something to be cursed but is the place where God’s transformative shalom is waiting to be birthed.

Question: This may be a little off track from your book, but I know that there are quite a few leaders who are attempting to transition their church from traditional to missional. What are four or five things that you believe are most critical for such a transition to occur? Since I am always looking for hope and reasons to be encouraged in these uncharted waters, have you witnessed any churches that have actually made the missional transition?

Alan Roxburgh: Hmm! Always struggle with the ‘four or five things’. But let me be foolish. Pastors trying to transition…

Stop trying to change and transition your people. That makes them a project. Start loving them for who and where they are just now. This creates safe space. You start to model what you believe the Spirit is calling your church toward. In other words, YOU move back into the neighborhood and start practicing Luke 10. Until you do that stop trying to change others.

Share the stories of what God is doing in the neighborhood and be a detective of divinity by looking at where the Spirit is stirring heart desire in others in the church. Encourage them, work with them.

Become an interpreter of the Biblical narratives so people can start to read their neighborhoods with God’s eyes.

Stay put, stop moving from church to church.