When Anne Patel Grey Blew My Mind

Part 2

As I noted prior, I was taking Dr Kip Elolia’s class on Liberation Theology and didn’t want the experience to end when the final exam was complete. I knew that God had vital lessons for me that I needed to keep learning, so after class ended, I kept reading liberation theology and was shocked to discover that our tiny seminary’s library had a robust collection of Aboriginal Theology.

How, you might ask, does a small seminary in upper east Tennessee* happen to have a selection of works from Aboriginal Australians? I have no idea, but I checked out, and subsequently own Anne Pattel-Grey’s “Through Aboriginal Eyes: The Cry From The Wilderness.”

For you liberation theology nerds out there, Pattel-Grey would be considered a Womanist Theologian, but her emphasis here is on general racism and white blindness to the gospel.  Continue reading “When Anne Patel Grey Blew My Mind”

The War on Christmas

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Just a brief historical reminder from your friendly local pastor….

The war on Christmas is real. Here’s what happened:

In the days of Caesar Augustus, when Herod was King of the Jews, a baby was born to the most unlikely parents you could imagine: a teenage single mother and her confused, but incredibly honorable fiancé. No one knew about it and no one cared.

Except.

A few regional shepherds got wind of it by means of an angel choir. They paid a visit and were astonished. Then again, no one really cared what shepherds thought back then except for their mothers. Even then it was up for grabs…

A couple of years later some pretty cool eastern mystics stopped by for a visit to this boy. They knew he was the true King and treated him as such. The irony that they were of the wrong religious background is lost on most of us.

But it wasn’t lost on Herod. He heard about the Magi visit and promptly lost his mind, ordering the slaughter of the innocents and accidentally revisiting Jeremiah’s haunting words that Rachel is weeping and won’t be comforted for her children are no more.

I am a father to 3 children. I cannot begin to fathom it.

This little boy king grew up strong in stature, confounding the religious elders all his life, showing that the true way of God is service and love for all: love for neighbor, love for enemy. Self sacrificial love. He taught it. He lived it. He died it. He rose it.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years and Herod is a blip in the history books and a footnote in the DSM IV. Caesar Augustus is a multiple choice answer on a middle school quiz. Jesus is the single most history changing person to ever live. A good deal of humanity in some way or other have discovered the incredible news that Jesus is King and that living under the sovereignty of this King is the true way of human freedom and flourishing. Shalom is how the old timers used to say it.

Herod and Caesar held cultural power and wielded it with extreme prejudice against their subjects. Jesus held no cultural power, but immense divine power and offered it sacrificially for his subjects, for their sake. For my sake.

History would agree it was really no contest: Jesus won the war on Christmas. He reigns today, but in the same way he always reigned: subversive, serving, sacrificing, forgiving, inviting. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

But Jesus is not at war with a retail establishment and nor should his followers be. The job of a retail establishment is not to proclaim the peace of Christ, the good news that brings great joy.

That’s our job, Christians. We really shouldn’t be outsourcing the bidding of peace to retail. If history is our guide, anytime the church outsources the gospel, the message gets confused. Do we really want our retail establishments proclaiming the message?

Please. Please. Christians. Stop outsourcing the gospel and stop expecting your retail neighbors to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Instead, learn to love your retail neighbors. Not by boycotts and letters and web rants, or worse yet, by accosting some local barista who is just trying to make 40 cups per hour, hit the store metrics and pay her bills. But by simple courtesy, gratitude and kindness. More listening, less speaking. More care, less heat.

If you do in fact choose to wish your barista a merry Christmas which may be an excellent thing to do, here’s a threat from your friendly local pastor: take a moment to check your heart first. Because if you are wielding “Merry Christmas” as a weapon, then you’re on the wrong side of Christmas. You’re representing Herod and Caesar, not the true King.

May the good news of Jesus and his love revolution infect all our hearts, bursting out of our corpuscles so that a hurting, cynical, exhausted world can know: there is a God. God is for you. God can be with you. Immanuel.

Merry Christmas.

Josh Packard on “The Dones”

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Josh Packard graciously came to speak to our staff today.  Josh is a PhD in Sociology of Religion and teaches at University of Northern Colorado Philosophy Department.  He recently authored Church Refugees, a sociological study of the “Dones.”  The book and Josh’s thoughts are well worth your time.  You can also keep with Josh over at www.dechurched.net.  This post is long because Josh had so much great content for us.
Josh’s thoughts are in normal type, my reaction is in italics.
First a definition of the “dones” – people who are “done” with the institutional church, but not done with Jesus. They honestly believe that the institutional church is an obstacle for their faith in Jesus.
Despite the alarm bells some articles are sounding, belief in God is generally unchanged over time.  People still believe in God, still believe religion is important, and yet “unaffiliated” is increasing. If 92% of believe in God, but 20% are unaffiliated, in that space is the “dones.”  The story is not ‘decline of belief’ the story is ‘decline of commitment to institutional church.’ People don’t trust organizations, but out of those organizations, people trust religious organizations the least.
Who Are The Dones? 
– Disproportionately highly involved in ministry.  They are driven by serving, engaging in meaningful service.  When I first heard this, I was surprised.  My assumption was the opposite – that they were on the fringe, uninvolved.  
– Forward thinking entrenpeneurs.
– Consider your core of your dedicated volunteers, core of leadership. These have much commonality with dones.  When church plants started closing, I noticed it generating a lot of “dones.”  People who have poured tremendous resource into a church, only to choose to walk away.  
– Highly educated – better educated than the average Christian.  1/3 of dones have grad school degree or hours.
– We’re talking generally stable, highly intelligent, highly committed people.
– Generally speaking: white, but this will change soon.
– Ave age: mid 40s. Because it takes a few rounds of serving in a church to finally be done.  (ouch!) We surveyed 18-84 yr olds.  One lady, “I’m 84 and I’m tired of getting lectured at!”  LOL
– They have accumulated a series of bad experiences at more than one church and found the same systemic issues wherever they went.
Switchers and Nones
– Switchers change church because of style or preference.
– Dones can be switchers, but often switchers become dones after seeing the same systemic issues each place they go.
– Nones walk away from church AND faith.  Dones walk away from church with faith in tact.

Continue reading “Josh Packard on “The Dones””

Boxing Match or Beauty Contest?

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For the Discovery Church family, this blog post is a very brief excerpt of Sunday’s sermon.

A couple of years ago, my friend Brian Mavis was preaching at Discovery and he posed the question, “Is the church’s relationship to culture a boxing match or a beauty contest?”  He had participated in a think tank of Christian leaders in DC and heard the question originally posed by Eric Teetsel of The Manhattan Declaration.  The question has festered inside me ever since.

The boxing match side of the equation isn’t difficult to understand.  The “culture wars” have been raging for over a generation now, but it surely begs the question of why followers of the Prince of Peace are so comfortable waging a war.

I think some of the reason for this “war” is because too many Christians have made a fundamental mistake: expecting a non-Christian to act like a Christian. When did we forget that the Bible is God’s Word written to God’s people? It has absolute truth in it, specific right and wrongs and the whole package is a path of life, a vision for how to be human. But it only makes sense through the transformation of the Holy Spirit.  It only works when a human heart has been captivated by the love of Jesus, yet far too many Christians lace up the gloves and attempt to inflict the way of Jesus without sharing with people the love of Jesus.  

Other followers aren’t lacing up for a fight, they are simply grieving the current reality.  Understandably so, for in many cases the values of the country they grew up in are no longer the values of the country they live in. They never changed countries, they feel that their country drastically changed on them. Particularly for white suburban people, the values of their country used to run parallel, or in loose agreement with the values of scripture. However I’m not sure that many african american or native american followers harken back to the good old days. Perhaps this is yet another lesson white believers can learn from their brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups?

The church is no longer the home team, we are now the away team. 

And the great news is the gospel THRIVES when the church is the away team.  The bible records approximately 1700 years of history from Abraham to John the revelator.  Out of that 1700 years, God’s people had political and cultural power for about 60 years.  The rest of the time, the people of God were the away team and of many years during that time the gospel absolutely thrived.  This is good news for followers of Christ because the majority of the Bible shows us examples of people living faithfully for God in a culture that was indifferent or hostile to their way of life.  Abraham, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah….Jesus, Paul and the Apostles all lived the vision of God’s Kingdom while living inside a different political reality.  Granted, things didn’t always turn out well for them, but they did for the Kingdom.

This is the beauty contest side of the equation.  Followers of God had a beautiful story, the most beautiful story of the God of grace whose vision of how to be human is stunning in its implications for all who believe.

Perhaps we need Paul’s reminder in Philippians 3 that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom.  We are not dual citizens, we are resident aliens who are ambassadors for God’s love.  This is a difficult thing to remember in the land of the free. We aren’t here to need something from culture, we are here primarily to give something to culture. Often the way we give it is opposite of the way we would want to: self sacrificing love.  This is the power of the gospel. This begs two questions I wish to ask:

Q1. What should a Christian reasonably expect from their culture?

Q2: What should culture reasonably expect from the Christians in it?

What do you think?

Ira Glass on the Craft of Story

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Ira Glass is one of the most gifted story curators today. His most known work is the radio show/podcast “This American Life” but he also has the goods on story composition. About every other year he stops by town to host a seminar which is part “This American Life” and part explanation of how he performs it.  For part one, “Exactly Human Sized Stories” click here.  Part two below are bullet point highlights of what Ira taught.

 

  • He earns his right to speak by being a great listener and by providing understated meaning to story, which is to say, to our lives. He has a light touch and doesn’t oversell.  Understatement is the new language of persuasion.
  • He learned story telling from his Rabbi.  Move the plot forward, then step out of it and verbally reflect on what happened, then back into the plot, reflect etc. Ira told us with chargrin, “I thought I had invented this technique. It turns out my rabbi used it, as does every preacher every Sunday. And then I found out that is how Jesus taught.”  A fine example of this was Brene Brown’s most recent talk at Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.  
  • Narrative is the back door entrance to a deep place within us. It touches us deeper than argument or debate can. Narrative can actually change someone, debate rarely does.
  •  Ira was equal part storyteller, journalist and DJ. He spoke with an iPad in his hand and he was frequently launching audio as he spoke. We heard quotes from people, fade in music to change mood etc and somehow it wasn’t remotely hokey. It made me wonder what preaching would be like if it were modeled in a similar fashion with soundtrack fades and 3rd party quotes. Ira also mentioned that he has a full-time staff of 8 people producing the show each week.  Is the preacher constraint by resource in this area?
  • “Dialogue is the “ground zero” of a good story.”
  • TAL chooses amazing music for their transitions. Ira uses soundtrack and music that ‘isn’t too interesting.’ He starts speaking on top of the music about the time you’d start singing if it had melody.
  • One of Ira’s best shows was an episode where he played interviews from his earliest days as a journalist.  They were cringeworthy and awkward. Ira says, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
  • Think the modern attention span is dead?  TAL runs for 58 minutes and the average time listeners spend with the show is 48 minutes. Ira, “once they tune in, we’ve got them until we’re done with them.”  Stunning feat for radio and evidence that Ira Glass and TAL are one of the most important story curators alive today.

Causes vs Humans

“Someone passionately interested in the cause of the leper very carefully avoids speaking to the leper in his path in order to get on with the cause.  And it occurs to me that Jesus couldn’t have cared less about the cause or rights of the leper.  Jesus stopped.  And healed.  And loved.  Not causes, but people…”  Madelene L’Engle

Many of the people hearing a sermon are in active violation or have been in violation of the teachings of Scripture.  So is the preacher and so has she or he been.  An effective preacher understands that the gospel is about people experiencing forgiveness, healing, freedom etc in the grace of God and will also err on the side of inviting the violator into the Kingdom over trumpeting a cultural cause.

If you love a conviction MORE than the people who are breaking your conviction, you are missing the heart of God.  

If you are living a lifestyle that Christians don’t approve of, the gates of the Kingdom of God are wide open to you, radically open to you, graciously open to you.  And I know they are open to you because they are open to me and if I’m invited, you are too.  After all, I am in the rare category of people who Jesus got really angry at: I’m a religious leader.

In today’s society, there are scores of Christians who have absolutely missed this.  They have constructed boundaries and walls and then taken shelter in the shadow of that wall.  God is busting through those walls and Lord have mercy on anyone who puts an unneccessary wall up to those who need God’s salvation and forgiveness.

A 5 day small step or giant leap?

This post is inspired by the always great Geoff Surratt and his blog post here

There are 5 days between Christmas Eve and Sunday 29th, which is to say that most pastors will be planning 3 different worship gatherings in an 8 day period.  Sunday Dec 22, Tues Dec 24th, Sunday Dec 29th.

What will people experience at these 3 services?  Will the gap between styles of service be “one small step” or “one giant leap?”  If people were to attend the big Christmas service and then come back the following Sunday, would they recognize that they are at the same church?

We wrestled this issue to the ground several years ago with the unexpected benefit of not having resources to “wow” people.  We were small (around 180 people), had no money, and we met in an Elementary Cafeteria.  I wish I were making this up, but when you got up to receive communion, Many Moore’s “Got Milk” poster was looming overhead.  Tony Hawk was grabbing the rails right next to the body-of-Christ-broken-for-you.  So rather than trying to wow when we had no wow, we pledged to simply offer what we had.

– The Bible, preached (hopefully) in a relevant and engaging way.

– an opportunity to worship through song and communion.

– a welcoming DNA, no matter what you’ve done and what’s been done to you.  No previous church experience necessary.

These 3 “offerings” have the great benefit of being largely recession proof AND just happen to be what people are most craving.  They also had the benefit of welcoming churched and unchurched people on equal terms.

Don’t get me wrong, the powerful special, cool video or drum line with black lighting is amazing and a treat.  They definitely inspire and excite.  But what most people want is to make sense of their lives,  meet folks who aren’t freaky, and encounter God.

Not necessarily in that order.

And people can come and receive that on any given Sunday.  But if you “pull out all the stops” on one Sunday, and the next Sunday have only holes where the “stops” used to be, you’re going to confuse folks.   So for our “special” sundays, we aim to “be the best version of our normal selves” and not some special production that has nothing in common with a normal Sunday.  That way, any special item we add is fun to be sure, but not the meat of what we offer.  And we can offer that every Sunday, special music or not, cool video or not.  Live camel or not.

Ok, actually, live camels are cool year round.

So what’s your approach.  Will the gap between Christmas Eve and the next Sunday be one small step or one giant leap?

2 minute Unity. 25 Minute Unity

christian-unityUnity between churches is challenging and time consuming but is also at the center of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

As a general rule of thumb, if Jesus prayed for it, we want to be part of it.  Collaboration between churches is exciting and powerful, but if you’re not there yet, here are two easy-peasy steps any pastor can take toward true unity with other churches.

2 minute unity: Take 2 minutes in your church service to pray for other churches in your city by name.  We’ve been doing this for a few years now.   Continue reading “2 minute Unity. 25 Minute Unity”

Preaching to a Churched and Unchurched at the same time

“If you don’t preach as if non Christians are there, non Christians will never be there, because they’ll never be brought.

If you preach like ‘it’s just us chickens here’ nobody will bring any ducks in. So you need to preach as if non Christians are there, you want to acknowledge that non believers are there. You speak very respectfully. If you’re doing this and everyone knows there are no non Christians there, everyone will be saying to themselves, “who is he talking to?’ But many Christians will say, “I love what this preacher is saying, but I can’t bring my non Christian sister in law because she’ll be offended or won’t understand.”

But if you preach to non Christians, respectfully, thinking through their natural objections and skepticism and speak to those matters, your Christians will feel comfortable bringing their non Christian friends, knowing they’ll be treated with respect from the pulpit.”

That’s from a Tim Keller Q&A that I found from a recent Resurgence podcast.

Keller is a master at preaching to two radically different audiences at once.  I use this same approach – teaching a message but spending time in the message speaking respectfully to those who might disagree or see it another way. So many preachers only preach to the audience they have now, but Keller teaches us to also preach to the audience they want to have. I have been attempting this for years now and every Sunday between 25 – 35% of our attendance are non Christian and almost without exception, they tell me how surprised they are at our hospitality -both in the hallways and just as importantly, in the pulpit.

Eats with Sinners…

Apparently Joel Osteen appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight and did his familiar soft shoe shuffle on hardball questions, including a question on same sex attraction. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary and man who only wears army boots, weighed in quickly. He gave Osteen a grade of “Epic Fail.”  You can read all about it Over at Ourofur.com  I’ve pasted my response below and then followed up with some further thoughts for this blog.  My response:  

I suppose it depends on if you equate going to same-sex ceremony to ‘eating with tax collectors and sinners.’ Didn’t Jesus spend a large amount of his time with people who’s actions he didn’t endorse? That’s what got him into trouble with the pharisees – not that he loved sinners, but that he liked them. Oh boy.

Following Jesus involves not just his teaching, but going to the places He goes. I understand that I’m presuming Jesus would go, but I think he would. I think he’d be the life of the party and I think a whole lot of people at that ceremony would rethink who God is because of Jesus. 

I’m nothing like Jesus and my presence isn’t electric like his, but I’m trying to follow Jesus.

Oh, and not for nothing, I’m thrilled Jesus chose to eat with sinners, otherwise I likely would never have ended up following Him if he hadn’t first reached out to me. For the record, my sin is of the hidden variety. I sin like a pharisee, not like a prostitute. My sin can even get me promoted in churches. But because Jesus invited me to eat with him, I joined his team. Best. Decision. Ever. Now I don’t have to think I’m better than anyone else. My identity is in Christ, not in self.

I’d probably go.

And some follow up thoughts for this blog:  Gay marriage, homosexuality, same sex attraction.  It is the new litmus test for churches.  Out of all the questions I answer about Discovery for people, the most common question revolves around same-sex attraction.  The tone and content of our answer determines for people if we are a Christ centered church or not.  People want to know if we are welcoming and Biblical.  And yes, we believe (and have experienced) that you can be both.

On its own, this would not be a difficult question to answer, but we’ve inherited the damage caused by an entire generation of public Christians with their radio shows and mass mailers who attempted to win “the culture wars” never realizing that Jesus did not call us to win a war, but to love.  So after 25 years or so of public Christians denouncing specific sins and giving a pass to others, the question around homosexuality is hyper charged with tension.

How would you answer the question?  Would you go to the ceremony?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.