Thursday, June 28, 2007

Authentic Worship

I thought this excerpt on worship from Leadership Journal was worth passing on...

Authenticity and integrity in worship means expressing both lament and praise. Each element completes the other. Without lament, praise is little more than shallow sentimentality and a denial of life's struggles and sin. Without praise, lament is a denial of hope and grace, both of which are central to our life of faith and to God's promises.

To value one over the other is like suggesting that breathing in is more important than breathing out.

This is not only an issue of authenticity and integrity. It cuts to the heart of hospitality and pastoral sensitivity. For those coming to a worship service immersed in pain, celebratory praise takes on a mocking tone that excludes them. They are unable to join honestly in these choruses.

By incorporating expressions of sorrow, pain, and grief into our worship, as the psalms do, the hurting are ushered into God's presence with honesty. At the same time, the rest of the congregation is reminded of the suffering community gathered in their midst. They are invited to weep with those who are weeping. By honoring their pain, we acknowledge those who are suffering and affirm them in their grief.

Yet worship is not complete without turning to praise. When pain has been acknowledged, those who suffer are invited beyond their pain to consider God's faithfulness in the midst of suffering and even to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I Got Mine - There's Not Enough For You...

An article in the Morning News this week described the plight of two recent college graduates who are unable to legally work in the U.S. because their parents brought them across the border as infants without going through the legal immigration process. The families have been hard-working, productive members of their respective communities for twenty years. This is the only home these two girls have ever known. They have excelled in the classroom and been model student/citizens all the way from kindergarten through graduation from college. Both have teaching degrees in subject areas that are in high demand, but neither are eligible to be hired by any public school system.

Since the article ran, there have been numerous letters to the editor, almost all with a similar theme - let them go back to their own country and teach. There is a profound scarcity mentality reflected in most comments; that there is not enough America to share, and that as more immigrants come there less there is for us. The prevailing sentiment seems to be 'we got here first, we get to make the rules.'

I don't begin to claim to be able to understand, much less propose a solution for all of the issues involved with immigration and protecting our borders, but most of what I read in these letters has very little to do with those real issues and very much to do with not wanting to provide a fair opportunity to those who are different. I don't see anything that resembles these words, found at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Learning to Partner

One of the adaptive challenges we are recognizing in the PMC project is getting to know and serve our community. This excerpt from a Leadership Journal article offers some insight into some of the learnings of a small historic church in Virginia...

As people outside our church realized we were really interested in the community, they opened up to us, and viewed us in a different light. An elementary school teacher has visited our church several times. She is involved in the music program and told me recently, "You know, attending your church isn't as bad as I thought it would be."

We laughed at her comment, but both of us understood what she meant: folks were seeing our church with new eyes. We were building bridges.

Fourth, we learned that when you partner with others, you give up some control. You collaborate. We collaborated with teachers, local politicians, business leaders, and artists as equal partners.

A media representative said to me one day, "It's good to see a church involved with real life." An African-American pastor expressed it this way: "Before," she said, "there were us things and them things. This is the first time we have worked together on our thing."

Finally, we had to drop our hidden agendas. We weren't doing good in our community only to get people to join our church. True, our worship attendance is up about 20 percent. New members have joined, and we have first-time visitors almost every Sunday. Not all are a result of our partnerships, but some come because they have seen what we are doing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wright and Newton

"The early Christians, like their Jewish contemporaries, saw heaven and earth as the overlapping and interlocking spheres of God’s good creation, with the point being that heaven is the control room from which earth is run. To say that Jesus is now in heaven is to say three things. First, that he is present with his people everywhere, no longer confined to one space-time location within earth, but certainly not absent. Second, that he is now the managing director of this strange show called ‘earth’, though like many incoming chief executives he has quite a lot to do to sort it out and turn it around. Third, that he will one day bring heaven and earth together as one, becoming therefore personally present to us once more within God’s new creation. The Bible doesn’t say much about our going to heaven. It says a lot about heaven, and particularly heaven’s chief inhabitant, coming back to earth." -- N.T. Wright

I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am. ... John Newton

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Barclay on the Gospels...

The Gospels are not primarily historical documents. They are not intended to be regarded as biographies of Jesus. They are in fact the preaching material of the early church . . . They are attempts to show the mind and heart and the character of Jesus, and they make this attempt, not simply as a matter of interest, and not simply as a contribution to history, but so that those who read may see the mind of God in Jesus. The Gospels are not simply descriptions of Jesus -- they are invitations to believe in him as the Son of God.
WILLIAM BARCLAY: Introducing the Bible

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Random Thoughts and Quotes

The loving service which God sends His people into the world to render includes both evangelism and social action, for each is in itself an authentic expression of love, and neither needs the other to justify it. ... John R. W. Stott
There are three types of drivers out there - the idiots, the maniacs, and me. The ones who drive slowly along, "deliberately" hindering me on my important journey - those are the idiots; The ones who speed by me, disregarding my superb judgement about what is safe and my proper respect to 10 miles per hour above the speed limit - those are the maniacs; and then there is me. Unfortunately, I often view fellow travelers on the road of life the same way...

50% of all teachers leave the profession within the first three years. - Opening screen from the terrific movie Chalk, a mockumentary following 3 teachers and a first-year assistant principal through the course of a school year. I will be recommending that this be required viewing for all of our alternative certification candidates...

We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving Grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. ... Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Missional: Possible

The winter edition of Leadership Journal had a series of articles under the heading Going Missional. One of those, Missional Possible: Steps to Transform from a Consumer Church into a Missional Church, was distributed to the elders from each congregation at last week's PMC cluster meeting to take home, read, and discuss as a group. We haven't met to discuss it yet, but I look forward to the conversation.

This 2-page article gives one of the clearest definitions of missional that I have read. I'll let it speak for itself...

Missio Dei stems from the Triune God: the Father sends the Son, the Father and the Son send the Spirit, and the Father and Son and the Spirit send the church into the world...

A missional church lives out the church's three-dimensional calling: to be upwardly focused on God in worship that is passionate; to be inwardly focused on community among believers that is demonstrated in relationships of love and compassion; and to be outwardly focused on a world that does not yet know God...

Two main distractions often block a congregation's missional expression. The first is Self-Preservation...the church began to exist for the sake of the church...the point is not whether we can build churches that last, but whether churches can touch the world with God's love...

The other primary distraction is Church Growth. When the emphasis is on bringing the world to the church, the church's mission of going to the world can get lost...

Attracting people to the church is not necessarily wrong. In fact, it's important not to view missional as the opposite of attractional...the problem arises when attracting people becomes the mission...

Becoming missional means redirecting resources toward the world. This means that church leaders take a hard look at how money, time, and energy are allocated. Is it for the sole benefit of those in the church, or invested in God's mission to the world?

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds

This month's book for Central Dallas Ministries' Urban Engagement Book Club was James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. I haven't quite finished it yet, but he makes a compelling argument that collectively, we are smarter than any of us individually. Like much of what I read these days, I see implications for a missional church.

He begins with a historical illustration from a 19th century county fair in England. 800 people entered a contest to guess what the weight of an ox would be when it was butchered. While some of the contestants were familiar with livestock, most were essentially ignorant. When all of the guesses were averaged together, the collective guess was that the ox would weight 1197 lbs. It's actual weight was 1198 lbs. None of the individual guesses were close.

He gives examples from a variety of fields, including the stock market, the gaming industry, google, and politics, and concludes that, given the proper conditions, the collective wisdom can generally be counted on to be better than that of individuals. Those conditions include diversity, independence, and decentralization.

The first year of the Partnership for Missional Church process is spent in learning to listen. Another way of saying that is that we have been learning to practice collective discernment. This book seems to underscore the value in the process, if the group has enough diversity and independence.

A couple of specific passages caught my attention. The first, in an illustration on the ignorance of voters (the context is that despite individual ignorance, democracy works exveptionally well)...
Polls show that Americans think that the United States spends 24% of its annual budget on foreign aid. The reality is that it spends less than 1%. (p. 266)

The second passage that caught my attention explains a little bit why diversity is critical...
If you think about intelligence as a kind of toolbox of skills, the list of skills that are the "best" is relatively small, so that people who have them tend to be alike. This is normally a good thing, but it means that as a whole the group knows less than it otherwise might. Adding a few people who know less, but have different skills, actually improves the performance of the group. (p. 30)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Missional Theology of the Blues Brothers

In the movie The Blues Brothers, Elwood proclaimed throughout the movie in his exaggerated Chicago accent, "We're on a mission from God." Jake and Elwood were on a mission to raise enough money to save the orphanage where they had grown up. Through all their escapades, as they reunited the members of their band, as they evaded police, klansmen, and women scorned, as they performed on stage, they continually came back to "We're on a mission from God."

One might not exactly agree with their methodology, and one might even question whether their sense of mission was of God (although I seem to recall James saying something about caring for widows and orphans), but one would have a hard time denying that they remained motivated by their mission.

There is a lesson there for us as we seek to become missional. If we become convinced and convicted that we are on a mission from God, we might take a few risks and we might step outside our comfort zones. That may be what a missional church is - one who says, "We're on a mission from God."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Missional Reflections

Random, possibly related thoughts on PMC and evangelism....

In 1900, 80 percent of the world's Christians lived in Europe and North America. Today, more than 60 percent of the world's Christians live outside those lands. Patrick Mead recently used a hyphothetical illustration of a Yugoslavian goatherd who came across a Bible and read it with no prior exposure to religion of any kind, and asked whether some of the issues that have historically divided us would even occur to the goatherd. As more and more people from other parts of the world, particular the southern hemisphere - Africa, India, Asia - are exposed to the Bible the illustration becomes less hypothetical and more reflective of reality. If we are willing to listen, hearing a fresh perspective can be a healthy thing....

One of the findings from the interview process of the Discovery phase was that among all the churches in our cluster fewer than 5% of the interviewees used God as the subject in a sentance with an active verb. Pat Kiefert described this as functional athieism. While I'm not convinced that description actually applies to 95% of the members of our congregations, I'm also not convinced that it doesn't apply to a sizeable number. To be a Christian means far more than merely to believe in God—as if the Christian faith were reducible to a system of beliefs—it means to be united with Jesus in and through the Holy Spirit, and to live a life that reflects his image....

Speaking of belief, Larry James recounted in a recent post an occasion while he was running with a friend and they encountered a homeless man and stopped to talk with him...

As we finished our run, Dan said, "I've noticed that you never 'hammer' people with the Jesus speech. You don't lead with 'Do you believe in Jesus?'"Reflecting on his comment as we continued our run, it hit me, in spite of my oxygen deprivation, that the most important question is not, "Does John believe in Jesus?" The real question is, "Does Larry believe in Jesus?"


Last weekend one of the ministers at a congregation in Midland was returning from a wedding in the Dallas area with his family. His 16 year old son was driving and fell asleep; their suburban rolled, their 13 year old son was killed and their 18 year old daughter was seriously injured. In addition to praying for this family, and especially for their 16 year old, read this post by Brian Mashburn.