Anti Rights?

One of the hot political topics over the last several years has been the issue of marriage as it relates to the LGBT or homosexual community. With the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision today and 2012 being a major election year, we’re certainly going to be hearing a lot of rhetoric surrounding this topic once again.

This has become a major rallying point for many in the conservative community, especially the [incredibly] influential evangelical movement in America. The standard position among Evangelical Christians has been one against the redefining of marriage. Thus many conservatives have funded campaigns to legally define marriage as being between a man and a women. At the outset I want to make it very clear that I believe and agree with the conservative position on this issue.

This is a theological issue. God ordained marriage as being between a man and a woman. Every culture has a basic framework for this family relationship because every culture grew out of God’s initial creation as described in the book of Genesis. The question I seek to tackle here is how we, the church, ought to engage in this discussion as we move forward into the 21st century.

This is a divisive issue. As a result of its divisiveness, it is used (like abortion and immigration) as a political weapon in campaigns to pit groups against one another and influence votes. Other than division, very little ever results from the political campaign rhetoric.

Losing the war of words

This debate has shifted, and although some “battles” have been won on the conservative side, the momentum has begun to slide to the other side, because the phraseology of the debate has changed. Such as in the debate over abortion, where we, conservatives, are now deemed “anti-abortion”, whereas they are “pro-choice”. Likewise, an ever so slight wording change has shifted the discussion over marriage. The discourse has moved from that of marriage to civil rights. We are now the “anti-rights” camp, and they, “pro-rights.” As a result, the generation called “Millennials” (those born between 1980 and 2000) are now moving into voting age and are largely pro gay marriage. Millennials will be the largest voting demographic for the next generation, therefore, as it stands now, within the next 20 years we will see the legalization of homosexual marriage in America (as well as the likely legalization of marijuana). This presents us, the church, with an incredibly difficult situation. Or is it actually an opportunity?

Changing the debate

I do believe that there is a better way wherein we can turn this discussion around, while maintaining a footing from which the church can speak into our culture in the years to come.

I do not know a single American Christian who does not love his/her civil liberties. That being the case, we should agree with the LGBT community that they should not in any way be denied civil liberties. This is not a religious issue, it’s constitutional. We are quick to cry foul when we think our rights are being infringed upon but not so quick to do so when the rights of others are endangered. We must be consistent in our position, therefore we ought to be pro rights in this area also. The question is, how can we be pro rights while maintaining a biblical position?

Yes, we believe that homosexual behavior is sin. We do not think that the institution of marriage can be redefined, for it was ordained and defined by God. Therefore, since marriage is a religious institution, and the public sector of our nation desires to maintain a separation of church and state, we the church, ought to petition our government to remove themselves from the discussion of marriage, by having them refuse to continue in providing marriage licenses. In the place of marriage licenses the government should grant civil unions only. They would determine who receives such unions and the rights associated with them. (As a side note, the government needs to clearly define who should receive such rights, as we are quickly moving in a direction wherein we have no ability to draw a line between who receives rights and who does not. In such a case we would have no ground from which to say that polygamist, pedophile or incestuous unions could not be valid).

If the church would spearhead this move, we would carry the discussion in a whole new direction. Marriage would maintain its religious definition as being a God ordained union between a man and a woman. Churches would continue to preform marriages under God’s ordered institution, while requiring those being married to also receive a legal civil union through the state, and then, we would no longer be portrayed as those taking rights from those seeking them.  Additionally, I think such a move by the church would bring to light that many within the LGBT community have a deeper motivation than the legal redefinition of marriage.

This is, by the way, not a new or original idea; Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz wrote on the subject in an LA Times op-ed in December of 2003, and many others have weighed in since that time.  There may be a number of issues I am overlooking as I open this discussion, but at the very least I think it is a discussion we need to have.

Thoughts?

Paradigm Shift

[dropcap style=”dropcap3″ color=”black”]L[/dropcap] ast week myself and two of our assistant pastors attended a seminar on “storying” the Bible. For 5 days we we considered both the process and the purpose of such an approach. The interest in such a course is the result of much reading and a growing conviction (especially as a result of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course) that, because of high rates of illiteracy, the unreached and unengaged of the world require alternate methods, or means whereby they can discover and harness the truths of scripture. In the process of walking this path, I’ve discovered several things that are potentially paradigm shifting.

Stepping out-of-the-box is difficult.

While not a groundbreaking statement, it does need to be recognized that we have a certain Christian culture that we prefer, and like any cross-cultural experience, this brought a significant level of culture-shock. Within the western evangelical church, we value inductive, expositional Bible study; especially in our Calvary Chapel stream. We’re most comfortable with an open Bible, a pen and a notebook or journal. When the leader of this seminar required that we close our Bibles and put our pens and papers away, I knew I wasn’t at a Calvary event. During our hour+ drive home each of the first three days we found ourselves talking much of our [initial] dislike for this process.

Westerns can benefit too.

It’s a striking statistic, 87% of Americans are preferred oral learners. While only 14% are illiterate (which is higher than many might imagine), it’s the smallest segment of our society (13%) that are highly-literate. This means that a very small demographic of Americans are able to engage in any meaningful self-study of the Bible. I know, it’s difficult for us to believe this, but because most of our church services are geared toward the highly-literate, we have a much larger demographic of the 13% represented on the typical Sunday morning. Is it possible that we’re neglecting a large segment of our society?

Western culture places high value on literacy. In many ways it is considered the key to success. This is certainly seen in the money that developed nations give toward literacy programs, like that which UNESCO has focused on for decades. All such things are definitely good, but the fact remains “The illiterate you will have with you always.” I’m not advocating for any removal of literacy training, but I am thankful that God inspired Paul to write, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

For the last several years our church has partnered with a ministry that records and distributes audio scriptures for people-groups in highly illiterate nations. They have an ambitious goal of bringing the Word of God in recorded form to the 30 nations of the world with 50% or higher illiteracy rates. As one called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, I have found myself wondering, “How do we disciple those that are receiving our audio Bibles?” Discipleship is key; Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and apart from it many groups will fall into syncretism. I’m more and more convinced that the answer to my above question is a narrative discipleship method. The reality is, this is not exclusive to third-world developing nations.

While I think that our methods for discipleship are good and should not be discarded, another tool in the toolbox is certainly beneficial. As I mentioned several weeks ago in a previous article, our success as equippers should not only be based on having good Bible students. In considering this method and the fruit of it, I think it has great potential for enabling our congregation to discover and digest significant Biblical truth in a way that they can retain and apply it.

Narrative bible discovery is not emergent

Now I know, “Narrative Theology” and “Bible Storying” are code for Emergent. Be that as it may, Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren will not be guest bloggers on CrossConnection any time soon. Perhaps the most enlightening revelation in all of last week’s course was the recognition that, when done correctly this method is actually more textually correct than not. While it may be hard to believe, I was struck by the Biblical accuracy that was maintained in simply telling, retelling and examining the stories for the observations and applications that are found in them. Anytime that someone—in this very interactive, dialogic process—brought forth something that was even the slightest bit “off,” the moderator (i.e. storyteller) would simply say, “Can we find that in the story?” Immediately the group was brought back to the word and it was easily sorted out.

The process was [very] different than what I, as a pastor/teacher, am generally use to. But, as the week went on it became a joy to see God, by His Spirit, direct the discussion and bring forth truths that I did not initially see, although they were right on the surface. While I’m not completely sure just how we will incorporate this into the life of our church, I do know that it will be utilized in some fashion as we move forward.

Further consideration:

Simply the Story
The God Story Project
GCM Collective
National Assessment of Adult Literacy

Beyond Bible Study

For 21 years I’ve grown up in, been discipled under and now served within a movement of churches that is dedicated to verse by verse exposition of the scriptures. Prior to attending Calvary, my family attended an Episcopal church for several years and a fairly charismatic Pentecostal fellowship for a short time while living in London. Calvary has remained our home due largely to the fact that the scripture, and the teaching of them, has always been central. Expositional bible study is certainly not unique to Calvary, but “Simply teaching the word of God simply” has been something of a mission statement for the Calvary Chapel family of churches; may that never change.

Being raised up under such a model, and ordained a pastor within such a movement, I’ve always elevated bible study highly. I mean, the bible is God’s word, right? And God has exalted His word above His name; shouldn’t we therefore exalt it in bible study too? Of certain that has been the logic I’ve often employed and encountered; and not only within Calvary. The centrality of bible study within many evangelical churches is good, even great. Yet there is a downside I’ve observed, especially since becoming a senior pastor.

In my church and others, many believers find their Christian experience to be summed up by bible study. If asked to describe their Christian walk it is often boiled down to the bible studies they attend or are involved with. Planning to have a group of believers meet together in your home? It’s a home bible study. A coffee shop meeting, it’s a bible study. We have men’s bible study, women’s bible study, youth, college, young adults, mid-week, Friday night… The list could go one and on. If you say, “We’re going to start a Saturday night meeting,” the question comes, “What will you be studying.”

This was all the more evident to me more than a year ago when we put our men’s and women’s bible studies on hold for the fall, while we focused our attention on the Perspectives On The World Christian Movement class. I received more than a few notes and emails from people saying things like, “You’re taking away our bible study.” Some of them very dramatically said things like, “This is going to be catastrophic for many people in our church.” It wasn’t. Then again several weeks ago when we announced to our fellowship that we would no longer be having a mid-week bible study in the new year. Several people approached me with real concern. “What will I do with out the Wednesday night bible study?”

Please don’t miss understand. Bible study and a knowledge of the scripture is certainly important. But I’ve realized in the last year that I’ve often weighed my success as a pastor by whether or not the people under my oversight are good students of the bible and not by the exercise of spiritual discipline or bearing of spiritual fruit in their lives. I think, in part that this arises from the fact that we tend to make little to no distinction between the pastor-teacher role we find in Ephesians 4:11.

Many pastors, myself included, look to Ephesians 4:11-12 as those verses that describe their very calling. I have taught them and heard them taught many times.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-12

These verses unfold for us what has been oft referred to as the “fivefold ministry” within the church. Here we are presented with five roles or offices (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) that many evangelicals believe to be – in some way – still active within the church today. There are certainly different ways in which these roles are defined (especially apostles and prophets), but I think few would say they’ve completely disappeared. However, some question, whether it should be a fivefold ministry or four, as there is some reason to connect the roles of “pastors and teachers” into one office of “pastor-teacher.” The wording in the Greek makes it possible to connect pastor-teacher while separating apostles, prophets and evangelists. Yet, I believe the roles should be separate, albeit overlapping.

I could get real technical and delve into Granville Sharp’s rule, in which I’m convinced I could make the case for separate, but overlapping offices; for the sake of this article, I will not. Needless to say, I think it’s important to recognize that not all pastors are called to teach, and not all Christian ministry should be wholly bible study oriented. There is a real need in our day for pastoral leadership that aids in the development and encouragement of spiritual disciplines and fruitfulness in every area of the Christian’s life (i.e. church, home, work, school, recreation, etc…). Our Christianity must needs extend beyond bible study.

These realities are incredibly important for modernistic western Christianity to grapple with as our own culture continues to move beyond postmodern and Christianity persists in it’s push through the global south. Perhaps we would do well to consider how Christianity grows and flourishes in these settings. In such environments discipleship is more relational than informational. Narrative based discovery of the biblical texts take precedent over expositional exegesis. The applications of the biblical narrative overflow in intentional missional outreach; and churches are planted through spontaneous multiplication and not demographical manipulation.

 

Recommended Reading – “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Reader

Senior Boomers, Meet the Millennials

For many years I’ve been a student of culture. I blame Jeff Jackson. As a 15 year-old I found myself a pupil in a missions class he taught for Calvary Escondido; I’d like to think I’ve never been the same since. Full disclosure (or confession), I remember very little from the class (extend some grace, it’s been 16 years). But one thing I’ve never lost, remains as profound to me now as it did then; “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” Many times in the years that have followed I have found myself consciously aware of my cultural toes being stepped on and have become far more cognizant of the culture in which I live.

There has been quite a bit written recently about the cultural shift taking place in our nation as Baby Boomers head into retirement (or so they thought) and their Millennial children step into adulthood. I, as an interested observer of culture, am fascinated by this shift and am very much intrigued its implications for our nation, and especially the church.

I was born November 28, 1979, at the very beginning of this “Millennial” generation. Nearly 4 years ago, the church I grew up in experienced a leadership transition from a Boomer, Pat kenney, to a Millennial… me. Such transitions (not only within churches) are going to become commonplace over the next several years. Officially 2011 is the first year the “silver tsunami” has come ashore, as boomers are now reaching the magic retirement age of 65. But the economic downturn has brought a major wrinkle.

In June of this year National Journal published an article by Ron Brownstein entitled “Upside Down: Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs.” Brownstein highlighted this new strain within our society…

It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.

Students now finishing their schooling—the class of 2011—are confronting a youth unemployment rate above 17 percent. The problem is compounding itself as those collecting high school or college degrees jostle for jobs with recent graduates still lacking steady work. “The biggest problem they face is, they are still competing with the class of 2010, 2009, and 2008,” says Matthew Segal, cofounder of Our Time, an advocacy group for young people.

At the other end, millions of graying baby boomers—the class of 1967—are working longer than they intended because the financial meltdown vaporized the value of their homes and 401(k) plans. For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one.

This cultural tremor is interesting. The governments of the world are doing everything within their power to jumpstart economies, tackle unemployment and reinvigorate industry. The markets yo-yo through peaks and valleys that make even the most ardent adrenaline junkies beg for a reprieve. All these things were bouncing around in my head a couple of months ago as my wife and I took a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

While wandering around State St. one evening we stepped into a touristy T-shirt shop. The shopkeeper’s radio was tuned to some AM talk show, on which a caller was recounting her story. Her family was struggling to make ends meet; work had slowed for her husband, which caused her to consider going back to work. Her Boomer parents were experiencing similar difficulties as they had lost their home and much of their savings. The answer was clear, “Mom and dad will move in with us, help take care of our kids, I’ll go back to work and we’ll pool our resources to take care of one another.” The talk-show host chimed in, “You know, that’s really what America was like 60-80 years ago.”

When you consider the history of man it’s very easy to see that man is oriented toward community; God created us that way. But for a number of years our modern American culture has opted for a rogue individualism. As a result we are constantly trying to “create a sense of community” because there is a recognition that something has been missing. I believe that we have been experiencing an abnormality, and thankfully mutated anomalies don’t survive. All of a sudden we are being forced to live in community. Although this feels uncomfortable (as abnormal has become normal), it’s a good thing.

As we move forward I think it is important that those who have influence (i.e. pastors) need to help people see that this new reality is a good thing. We need to encourage people to live in community this way. At the moment it is counterculture. We’ve been bred to see such community as an anti-American socialism or a failure of our success, but our culture has lied to us.

For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching through the book of Jeremiah at a local bible college. As Judah faced the Babylonian captivity the prophet Jeremiah called to the people to submit to the Babylonian rule. If Judah would surrender, they’d survive. If they would resist, they’d die. Essentially, whoever would lose his life would save it, and he that would seek to save his life would lose it. We’re living under a similar situation. Business as usual is untenable. It’s time for a change… and yes, we can. 😉

Switching Fish Bowls

For all but one year of my ministry life I’ve served in an area [North San Diego County, CA] that is blessed with an abundance of solid, biblically sound, evangelical churches. Southern California truly is a “Christian Disneyland.” At present the website for our ‘denomination’ lists 329 affiliate churches in California. Our administrative pastor at CCEsco has often joked, “You can’t swing a dead cat in San Diego without hitting a Calvary.”

All kidding aside, I think it is a good thing we have so many [good] churches in this area. Would to God that we had twice as many (or more) bible believing/teaching churches in California, and an exponential increase nationwide. In Escondido there are three Calvary’s (one of them Spanish speaking), which have a combined weekly adult attendance of about 1,000, in a city of 140,000+. There is certainly no lack of opportunity and no room for territorialism. The push for church planting and church revitalization is [to me] greatly encouraging. But I’m bothered by an observation I’m sure many pastors could identify with.

Week after week we have new faces in our fellowship. Rarely does a service go by where no one raises their hand to identify there self as a guest, or does not drop a visitor card in our offering or agape box for more information about the fellowship. The irritation comes when you interact with the newcomer and find that they’re attending your church, having left another solidly biblical church to do so. So, church growth does not always mean CHURCH growth, especially when Barna has, in recent years shown a > 90% increase of unchurched adults in America (approaching 100 million in 2007). (1) (2)

The landscape is filled with a multiplicity of varying sized fishbowls, in which the Christian [fish] swim. They were once caught in the sea of humanity by fishers of men, but now much of the [apparent] growth comes through fishbowl switching and not drawing in the net. Furthermore, much of church growth initiatives I see come across my desk are aimed at casting the net in other fishbowls. When a mailer goes out from a church with words like “rapture,” “sanctification,” or an advertisement for Phil Wickham leading worship, it’s not exactly aimed at non-believers. The fact is, spiritual inbreeding is twisted.

“Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church” said Outreach Magazine in 2006. There’s an awfully big sea of people out there needing to be caught. Jesus’ word’s to (the fisherman who never caught a fish apart from Jesus’ help) Peter, are appropriate…

“Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”

Luke 5:4

The simplicity of Jesus’ command is striking; it surely went against everything that Peter’s expertise as a fishermen would have said. With all the writing out there on church growth, we sure seem to have a lot of expertise in our day too. Perhaps it’s time to seek the Lord for direction from the shore as to where to go for fish. His ways always seem to yield a draught.

The importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship

Last month Tim wrote a great article on worship entitled “Toddler Worship.” His observations are, I believe, truly important for maturing believers. It is certain that we should not aim at the lowest common denominator when leading our churches, therefore it is foolish to craft a worship service to meet the immature in their immaturity and cater to it in such a way that they never grow.

Early in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I sought to set the bar high for the 50 or so Jr. High students I ministered to. The level of teaching they received during my 4 year tenure, was likely over their heads. Or at least the adults visiting my services told me so. I was actually not surprised that many of them grasped far more of what was taught than most adults gave them credit for. I set this purely as a qualifier for what I am about to say, especially since I do not really disagree with that Tim wrote. I’m not one to water things down for the sake of attracting people.

Several years ago, while preaching and teaching 8 to 10 hours a week for an extended period, I came down with a virus, which resulted in the loss of my voice. After healing from the illness I found that my ability to speak had drastically been affected. For several months I preached with what felt like an incredibly weak voice. By the end of Sunday services I’d be very near losing my voice. I also found that I was completely unable to engage in musical worship prior to preaching; in some ways this was a bit of an existential crises.

I’m almost sorry to admit it [now]; to that point worship to me had been inextricably linked to music. Not being able to sing caused me to rethink the paradigm of worship I’d come to know within modern evangelicalism. In my rethinking process I’ve come to recognize a number of important truths.

1. Music is not worship, but God created music to be the fastest onramp to genuine worship in spirit and truth.

2. God created music to stir our emotions, which informs us that worship should be emotional.

Genuine worship does not need music, but is greatly aided by it. One can just as easily enter into emotionally engaging worship by meditating upon God and His word while standing before the Grand Canyon, Bridalveil Falls, or merely considering His greatness.

* The affect of music upon our emotions can be for good or for bad. God did not dictate that music would only affect us in a positive or happy way. Music played at a faster tempo with major chords generally stirs happy emotions, whereas music played at a slower tempo with minors evokes sad emotions. Dissonance in music stirs negative anxiety and fear (maybe Fusco can produce some dissonant fear conjuring worship for us). 

3. Worship music that only engages the emotions is severely lacking and creates worshipers of worship as a means to emotional euphoria (ie emotionalism).

This point has been regularly reconfirmed for me over the last 10 years in working with youth and college students.

4. The theologically correct lyrics of emotionally stirring worship songs will engage the mind with the emotions to produce “heart worship.”

The engagement of the mind is essential. The emotions conjured up by the greatness of the Grand Canyon causes one to be in wonder (or worship) of the awesomeness of the Colorado River, whereas another is brought into honorable worship by seeing the same sight, while rehearsing God’s word in their mind or setting their affections upon Him.

5. Theologically correct lyrics attached to emotionally unengaging music shortchanges genuine worship.

6. Since worship music should effect us at an emotional level, style of music is important and varies from culture to culture, and across generational lines.

This time last year we were blessed to offer The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at CCEsco. One of our instructors, Ron Binder, brought this issue of style in musical worship home for me.

Ron is a Wycliffe missionary and an expert in Ethnomusicology. during a portion of his lecture he spoke on the importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship, and explained that just as individuals have a “heart language,” they also have a “heart music.” This “heart music” is the style or musical form that will most engage their emotions and draw them into “heart worship.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we ought to honestly consider this as we are seeking to disciple our fellowships in worship, especially when we consider that the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and truth. So, I do agree with Tim that we should not cater to people’s immaturity, and that we should do our best to separate the music from the worship.  But at the same time I continue to find that I need to think through the realities of style in worship far more than I ever did before.

7. Worship in spirit and truth is responsive, thus we cannot expect a person to “experience” heart worship immediately at the open of a corporate worship service. 

8.  A musical worship service, or corporate worship time should [therefore] be progressive (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs…).  It [the worship service] should lead people into worship.

Since my introduction to Calvary Chapel at age 11, my primary experience of a musical worship has been that which is engaged in for approximately 30 minutes prior to the sermon, and/or what is practiced at many of our believers meetings, camps and retreats.  These are, in our movement, commonly call “Afterglows.”

In my (purely personal, non-scientific) observation of these meetings, there seems [at times] to be very little intentionality in our worship and something of a “storm the throne room” approach.  In the last several years I’ve heard many a worship leader and/or pastor lament the fact that their people are “not worshiping,” which is generally gauged by the lack of participation (i.e. singing) by the gathered assembly.  In considering this complaint, I’ve developed a theory that a worship service that draws the worshipers into heart worship should progress from psalms to hymns, which results in spiritual songs.

Psalms are – generally speaking – scripture put to music.  John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.  I don’t know if I’d go that far.   But, such singing of the scriptures sets our minds upon God’s word and aids us in taking God’s word into our hearts, as music is a tremendously powerful mnemonic device.

Hymns are doctrinal and theological in nature; they exalt the attributes of God’s character and nature; they give intellectual and theological expression to our faith.  Martin Luther said, “Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith.”

Spiritual Songs are adorations, supplications, petitions, confessions, thanksgivings, etc…  They are spiritually inspired from man to God or God to man and tend to be prophetic in nature and spontaneous.  Such songs are the overflow of our heart in devotion to God.

 I believe that the lack of participation many observe in worship today is related to the fact that much of our modern worship tends to be “spiritual song” dominant.  If one does not properly, and progressively, lead the body into worship, they will likely not engage in worship as their heart has not been properly prepared to sing devotional confessions of praise or petition (e.g. “You [God] are the air I breath,” “You are all I want, you are all I need,” “Lord my one request, my only aim, Lord reign in me again.”).

I am, however, encouraged by many of the new hymns being developed by individuals like Keith Getty and groups such as  Sovereign Grace and Indelible Grace Music.

Ultimately worship is God’s idea.  He created us to worship and is seeking such who will worship Him.  John Piper is right, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God is worthy of our worship and our greatest experiences of pleasurable joy are rooted in our worship of Him.  He inhabits the praises of His people and in His presence is fullness of joy.  These truths have challenged me over the last several years to more seriously consider the theology of worship.  Perhaps it’s a good challenge for the church as a whole?

 

Join The Conversation

I’m on the road with my family this week, in fact, sitting in Daniel Fusco’s living room right now, so this is largely undeveloped… for that I repent!

This week CNN.com highlighted a group called the World Wide Web Foundation that is seeking to answer the question of how many pages are on the internet.  Their article referenced Kevin Kelly, a founder of Wired Magazine, who has written that there are at least a trillion web page.

The advent of the internet has made it possible for an exchange of ideas never before realized by man.  Or perhaps not realized since Babel.  An individual (such as myself) has a potential (vs. actual) audience that is incredibly large.  In times past the cost of reaching such a mass of people with your idea or product was well out of reach to the average person.  Today, if you’re not using the resources available (often freely) online, you’re wasting a great opportunity, and (as a Christian) I think you could make a good case that you’re not being a good steward of the potential.

The WWW Foundation estimates that only 30% of humanity currently has access to the resources of the internet.  We’re quickly reaching a point, through wireless technology, where 90% of humanity will have the ability to access the internet.  Al Gore must be proud that his baby is so revolutionizing the world.

While so many people can potentially access the web, there is still a major hurdle for many developing nations.  Much of the available online content requires the ability to read and write.  Furthermore, anyone interacting in discourse online is confronted with the reality that written discourse can be a difficult animal to tame.  An exchange I was involved in this week has [for me] brought this clearly to the forefront once again.

As I considered this this week I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several things required to play (i.e. discourse) in this sphere of open, mass exchange of ideas.  My list is still developing, perhaps you can help, so far I have four points.

1. Humility

If anything the internet has over and over proven that your/my idea ain’t the only idea on a subject.  Therefore we must come to the table recognizing that our idea is one among a billion, and could very well be invalidated in the fee [two-way]

My dad, whom of course I love and respect greatly, has told me for many years now, “Son, opinions are like %$#-Holes, everybody has one.”  Not the most refined truth, perhaps, but a truth nonetheless… and a good truth to keep in mind when discussing ideas with others.  To demagogue an argument by aggressively forcing your position as the only logical or right view is not helpful, unless you have a watertight, incontestable position.

2. Flexibility

Rigidity is not helpful in discourse.  Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken.  Flexibility in discourse is evidenced by an individual’s willingness to argue from your opponents position; to stand in their shoes and consider their position from their point of view.

This honestly takes a humble spirit and a bit of work.  We all come to a discussion with bias; we must recognize that we even have bias and then try to identify what our bias presuppositions and assumptions are.  Like a good juror, we should try to leave our bias at the door and examine the evidence and testimony with as clear a mind as possible.

3. Teachability 

If you’ve truly come to the table with humble flexibility, then you must be willing to expand or change your position if it’s shown to be weak.  A lack of teachability is an immediate check for me when raising up leaders within our church.  A disciple is a learner, they must be teachable.  Wisdom that is from above is peaceable and open to reason (James 3:17).

4. Humanity

Two quick things under this heading.

First, you’ve got to come to a discourse with at least a little humor.  One of my biggest weaknesses in online discourse is that I have a terribly dry sense of humor, which can easily come across harsh or condescendingly in written form.  Knowing this about myself I try to assume this about others when they come across harsh or condescending.  Love hopes all things, and I try to see the best in an individual.

Secondly, agreeing to disagree is sometimes a must.  We must make allowances for disagreement.

Thoughts?

* * * * * Post comment additions… * * * * *

Since there have been some good commented thoughts, I thought it right to add a few more points.

5. Sincerity

6. Integrity

7. Reality

We may have to develop how these things workout… but hey, they’re all “ity” words.

Cultural Shift – Part 3; Implications For Western Christianity

[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]s I’ve studied church history, I think it no stretch to conclude that local churches, over the last 2 millennia, have experienced an average attendance of about 75 adults. Enter, 20th century American Christianity. Or, as I like to call it, Consumeranity.

The average church size in America at present hovers at a little more than 180 adult members, roughly 2.5x larger than historical averages. While nearly 60% of American churches are 100 or less, and around 90% are under 400; more than half of all churchgoers in America attend a church of 400 or more adults.(1) Most congregations are small but most people are apart of large congregations. Such large [Consumeranity] congregations skew the numbers, and [unfortunately] this abnormality is normal for the majority of American Christians.

This anomaly is a relatively recent phenomena (the last 50 years or less), and I believe that the cultural shift taking place in America today will – in the next generation – bring the church back to normal in terms of congregational size and makeup. But what happens when abnormal, which has become normal, reverts back to true normal?

As a result of this shift, some will feel real pain. Many (especially the “movers and shakers” of mega-church evangelicalism) will fight against it. We tend to oppose change, as change is painful. But change is an essential part of life. Alistair Begg once said, “Where there’s life, there’s change. You want no change, live in a cemetery. [There’s no change there], accept for decay.” Therefore, if the church is to experience vitality and life, it will be faced with regular change, or it will decay.

What then does normal Christianity look like in the context of 21st century America? I think it looks like church has for 2,000 years. The gatherings of believers are smaller in size, community oriented, or people-group centered fellowships. For lack of a better word, they are tribal. This being the case, I’m not necessarily sure that multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches are the norm. That’s not to say that there are not beautiful things that take place in such settings, they’re just not the norm.

Frontline missions has sought for generations to establish self-replicating, indigenous church planting movements. But in our own backyard we constantly seek for an American (or western) multiculturalism within the local body. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating segregation, only setting forth for consideration the idea that congregations have an established cultural identity from which they worship and express Christian love and character in a way that is relevant to the cultural makeup of the gathered believers.

What then does it practically look like? In all honesty it is quite hard to say, as I have no rhyme or reason for my belief, other than a hunch. I do however think that over the next 30 years the larger congregations in America will fracture along tribal fault-lines as the charismatic executive leaders move on. The churches will become multifarious. They would therefore do well to be proactive in their planning now, if they are to have influence then. I suggest that the best thing the larger traditional church can do is not to scrap it all in favor of a “home church movement” (as one home church movement leader once exhorted me to do) or fight against the shift to prop up the establishment, but to embrace the reality of a smaller community church model by taking what I believe is an Antioch approach.

The Church of Antioch was the first thriving “uttermost parts” church mentioned in the book of Acts. It was the first Gentile church, and the first at which the followers of Christ were referred to as “Christians.” Little is said in the book of Acts about the makeup of the Antioch church, but my gut tells me that it was a fairly large fellowship with multiple meeting places throughout the region.  They were one church, composed of many congregations, superintend by a plurality of overseers (I have purposefully chosen not to use “plurality of elders,” as it means something more than what I’m saying here). The core leadership of Antioch consisted of five apostolic, teaching leaders; Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul). Antioch thrived for several centuries and was known as a charitable, missional and evangelical church.

As large western churches navigate the current cultural shift, and more and more church planters step forth to birth new works; I propose (as possible first steps) that they/we maintain established church structures to raise up a multiplicity of lay pastors to oversee small community fellowships throughout a city, county or region. Furthermore, churches ought to establish an apostolic core of leadership dedicated to discipleship, for equipping an ever increasing population of overseeing pastors and missionaries.

Ideally, for our fellowship (Calvary Escondido), I’d love to see us get to a point where we have 30+ lay pastors, overseeing small gatherings (under 75) in homes, community centers and other well-suited venues throughout our city and the surrounding region. I would expect we would maintain the structure we currently have for regular corporate worship gatherings as well as a central meeting place for equipping and training. Such a body incorporates the strengths of smaller fellowships (self-care of benevolence, discipline, counsel and other pastoral care needs) as well as the accountability and enabling resources of a larger congregation.

I am quite sure that I’ve overlooked several blind-spots in my consideration of where ecclesiology is headed in 21st century western culture, but as I’m certain it is experiencing a course correction, I want to be at least hypothesizing what that may look like. At the end of the day, I know one thing for sure… God builds his church, I tend to be just “along for the ride.”

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(1) National Congregations Study – 2006-07

Cultural Shift – Part 2

[dropcap3]M[/dropcap3]inistering in a theistic environment is relatively easy. Relatively easy in the sense that the you, and the person to whom you are ministering, are playing from the same deck. When you ask, “Can I pray for you?” there’s likely a common understanding about prayer. When you speak about God you can assume that your hearer has a similar concept of God. Religious people with a similar [theistic] worldview are generally more receptive to the gospel, thus “large-scale” evangelism can be effective.

Evangelism in America for several generations had been anything but cross-cultural. For many, “cross-cultural evangelism” has been the equivalent of “foreign missions.” That is simply no longer the case, and contextualization of the gospel is now commonplace for evangelism in our own backyard. There are however some problems. “Contextualization” seems foreign to most ministers over 40. The mainline church is still [largely] relying on evangelistic tactics that are oriented toward a theistic worldview, and expecting receptiveness to the gospel like what you’d hope for among theistics (if I can make up a word).

At the close of 2008 I began teaching through the book of Acts at Calvary Escondido. Six months later, as we came to chapters 10 & 11, I was struck by how the move of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, to the “uttermost parts” – or the Hellenistic Roman world – mirrored the shift of culture the church is now facing in 21st century America. In many ways we’ve reverted to a 1st century mindset and culture in the west. How’s that for progress? This is incredibly foreign for the western church, as it has not experienced such an environment for centuries. This epic shift has given rise to the term “Post-Christian,” which strikes great fear into the hearts of masses of evangelicals.

The first week of April, 2009, Newsweek’s cover featured the headline “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.” John Meacham’s provocative article “The End of Christian America” got more than a little rise out of many in the Christian community. A year prior, in February, 2008, The Pew Forum released it’s nearly 150 page “Religious Landscape Survey.” Pew’s survey of more than 35,000 Americans explored this religious and cultural shift; it was, in many ways, the catalyst for Meacham’s article and Newsweek’s cover.

Post-Christian. This is the cultural landscape of 21st century America; and Western Europe for that matter (Europe is actually far further down the path). Christianity and the “Christian worldview” are no longer the default in America. Some staunchly hold that America is a Christian nation and consider it their call to defend [politically] “Christian America.” Every time I am confronted by this mindset, I am reminded of Jesus’ words to Pilate, “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight… My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36, emphasis mine) Perhaps we’d do well to actually read those bumper-stickers that are so trendy among evangelicals today.

Why does this reality seem to frighten us so much? Have we totally forgotten that the world in which Peter, John, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Titus and many others ministered was wholly non-Christian by the very fact that it was pre-Christian? Do we honestly [and arrogantly] believe that America is the last hope for the Christian faith? Look at the statistics, Christianity is not slowing it’s pace of growth in the least. Sure, it may be growing fastest in places other than America and Western Europe, but the Christian faith is not in decline, even in the west.

What then is in decline? To answer that we’d have to ask, “What exactly is “Christian America?”” I believe that “Christian America” has actually meant “Christian Consumerism,” or if I can make up another word, “Consumeranity.” If that is dead or dying, may it be that the DNR is signed and notarized.

Certainly the long way about it, but what exactly is the point for 21st century evangelism in America? Clearly it’s going to look different than it has, but it’s going to be more like it was, as in the days of Paul.

Large scale “crusade evangelism” may still have a place [for a time]. However, most who attend crusades are already theistically minded. They are, for lack of a better analogy, the low hanging fruit. Paul did seek such individuals in his evangelism. Always when he entered a new city he searched for the synagogue; he first desired audience with the Jews and gentile god-fearers. Ultimately he would endeavor to reach the unreached; the paganistic, polytheistic, pluralistic Roman mind.

Evangelism with Romans involved contextualization and more explanation; and uptake, or receptiveness to the gospel was on a much smaller scale. Roman’s were skeptical and suspicious. At Athens in Acts 17 there were a few who were open, but most mocked and dismissed Paul’s defense. This is what I believe awaits the evangelist of our day; skepticism, suspicion, mocking and dismissiveness. Add to this, they, the modern day lost, are not going to come to us; we must meet them in the marketplace, outside the structure of the church.

These may be changes from the norm of Christianity in America, but the reality is that what we’ve experienced in America has not been normal to Christianity. American Christianity for the last hundred years (or more) has made abnormal, normal. So much so that we’ve lost sight of the fact that every Christian is called to be an evangelist on mission. We have exalted a few key leaders as evangelists and cast on their shoulder the burden of the task. The harvest is white and the few laborers are bound to grow weary unless we reengage the body as a whole.