Archive for the ‘ministry’ Category

There’s no need for me to add my voice to cacophony out there telling the world why Harold Camping has been before and is currently wrong about the Rapture and coming apocalypse. For Christian insiders like me, it began as a joke; another nut with extraordinarily poor textual criticism skills shouting from the rooftops about the end of the world. Then it turned slightly more maddening as we realized that some naive believers were following Camping, but worse, his crazed misconceptions about Scripture and Jesus were becoming a obstacle to faith for those  searching for faith and another obstruction for those already opposed to it.

But in these last hours, I’ve become more understanding of both Camping and some of his followers, not of their eschatology, mind you, but their emotions; their longing. What if today were the rapture (which many Christians don’t believe in and haven’t historically)? What would it mean for you? Let me tell you what it’d mean for me.

If Harold were right, my mother would be reunited with her best friend, her mother. My mother might also know more or see more about her two sisters who died at the moment of childbirth.

My wife would be reunited with her father who died far too early. And my two daughters would get to meet their grandfather, a great man who loved them before he knew them.

And all the other people in our family, deceased grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins; the whole lot would come together once again, because death has been conquered by Jesus. That’s a little bit of what it would mean for me.

But it’s not only about death and resurrection, is it?

The Kingdom of God (which is not someplace you go after you die, by the way) is the place where everything is done as the King would have it done. That means, if Harold were right, my daughters, would no longer live in a world consumed with the threat of terrorism, war, or nuclear disasters and/or holocaust, or famine, nakedness, and disease. They wouldn’t even have to negotiate the terrorizing social structure of Junior High School. I wouldn’t see marriages fail and children abused. None of us would be witness to slavery, the mistreatment of women and minority groups around the world. If Harold were right, I’d never again sit next to a hospital bed with a dying parishioner. I performed the funeral for a 7-month old once, watched his mother weep uncontrollably for days, if Harold were right, I’d never have to do that again.

If Harold were right, at 6pm tonight there would be renewal breaking out across the globe, complete with a New Heavens and a New Earth. There would be singing on Zion’s glorious summit and the lion would lay down with the lamb. If Harold were right, we’d have a reconciliation celebration. If Harold were right, the Jesus I now see dimly, I would then see face-to-face.

Wouldn’t that be good?  Doesn’t part of you wish Harold were right? I do!

With all the talk about hell recently, we may have looked past the simply fact that the return of Jesus is not, in fact, Doomsday; it’s Joyday, Renewalday, Lifeday, Perfectionday. And we belong to that day!

Maranatha! Come, Oh, Lord!

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Once you see how an Anabaptist approaches baptism, it becomes easier to understand why and how s/he makes determinations about other issues. At the heart of much of anabaptism is choice, more accurately, at the heart of anabaptism is the lack of coercion.  For many Anabaptists, Jesus is the one who humbled Himself unto death. He forced no one to embrace Him, to follow Him, to worship Him. This is more than a type of libertarian freedom, but a commitment that Jesus does not force His very self on anyone, even knowing that the curtailing of such freedom is in the individual’s best interest.

One of the places this is evident is in Anabaptists’ approaches to church/state issues. Since both the Catholic and Protestant churches continued to baptize infants, which made citizens of the baptized, when Anabaptists refused baptism to children they were also making a statement about empire, kingdom and state. The early Anabaptists (and I’m compiling three separate groups in the 16th Century Radical Reformation) saw the state as antithetical to the kingdom of God. In response, the church was to remain distinct from the state (we’ll talk about The Schleitheim Confession next time). The early Anabaptists witnessed how devastating the entanglements of church and state had become and they wanted no parts of it. At all!

Clearly, some Anabaptist groups have taken this impulse to separation to an extreme; the Amish for instance. Behind the Amish itch to create a separate world is a deeply held belief that intermingling with “the world” would corrupt the church. History, including the Reformation itself, has given us much evidence that they were and are right. However, the limitations of separatist movements is nearly self-evident.

The way this instinct in Anabaptism gets played out among mainstream Anabaptist like myself is predominately in the political realm. Caricatures of evangelicals are what they are, but I have never been a congregant of a church where American Flags adorned the walls; though you would see flags from  countries where the church supported missionaries. In Anabaptist churches you will be hard pressed to find church leaders advocating a particular political agenda, or suggesting to congregants who they should vote for. As a matter of fact, in most of the churches I have been a part of, if someone were to do so, many people would be offended, even if they agreed with the politics themselves. In Anabaptists churches You will not typically find big to-dos on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the 4th of July. We find ways to both honor the service of our members who have sacrificed for America and acknowledges that all humankind are our brothers and sisters. 

Our instinct is that church and state don’t mix. What’s more, for many Anabaptists, open political discussions in church would be considered coercive. Politics change, Jesus does not! We make our camp on Jesus, everything else is too transitory. Anabaptists see the church as a kingdom within a country, and while you are free to advocate in whatever way you like outside church life, Anabaptists are suspicious and uncomfortable with political advocacy inside it. As a matter of fact, early leaders in my tribe, like David Lipscomb, abstained from participation in civil government and, believe it or not, some of our current thought-leaders do so as well.

This approach to church and state is strange to many evangelical and Catholic believers.  But Anabaptists have never minded being thought of as strange.

More to come…

I was raised, and remain, in a somewhat Anabaptist faith community (Churches of Christ). Most people don’t know what Anabaptism is, even people who are a part of Anabaptist’s communities and hold Anabaptist’s commitments often don’t know. This has happened because true, historic Anabaptism hasn’t ever been terribly popular. What remains in the 21st-Century are vestiges and fragments of 16th-Century Anabaptism – Mennonites, Churches of Christ, Amish, Brethren, etc…. This is unfortunate, because I, for one, believe recovering that the heart of Anabaptism is crucial for communicating faith in Jesus as we lean into the future.

Therefore, I want to give some space to articulate the best parts of Anabaptism. I want to describe what Anabaptism is and how it differs from popular, American evangelicalism and the emerging and strengthening, hard-edged, mean-spiritedness NeoReformed movement in America.

Let’s begin with the most obvious commitment of Anabaptists: Believer’s Baptism. Anabaptist means “re-baptizers.”  During the Reformation, as Martin Luther was breaking with the Catholic Church, many, particularly in Switzerland, believed Luther’s Reformation wasn’t going far enough. Thus the “Radical Reformation” was birthed.

The root issue was pedobaptism (infant baptism). Anabaptists, through their reading of scripture, determined that baptism was a practice for people who choose trust in Jesus for themselves, rather than received faith as a family heritage. In days when baptism into the church was tantamount to becoming a citizen of the state/empire (we’ll talk about Anabaptist’s views of church and state later), Anabaptists  said “No,” and began to “re-baptize” one another.

At the time, the church the world over baptized infants, making them both citizens of the church and the state. Anabaptists believed this to be improper. Luther and the Reformers, for their own theological and sociological reasons, maintained the practice of infant-baptism. This simple commitment that discipleship into the way of the Lord should be volitional is what made the Radical Reformation radical.

While lots of groups now practice “believer’s baptism” this wasn’t the case in the 16th-Century. The early Anabaptists were counter cultural, bucking the established church, the emerging Lutheran church and the state all at the same time. This instinct towards anti-institutionalism remains part of me and Anabaptism. And if you think the mode of baptism isn’t or shouldn’t have been a big deal, I will only point out that many of the Radical Reformers were hunted down and killed for believing it was.

Earlier in my pastoral career I attempted, as many have, to distance my theology from the hard, sectarian stance on baptism I inherited as a youth. Fortunately I did. And fortunately, I didn’t. I maintain that God enters a relationship with a person whenever God chooses and it’s not my place to say when that is (Through the years, some Anabaptists had come to believe that baptism was somehow magical and was the only hope anyone had of knowing God). Yet at the same time, I think there is something vitally important about each person making a personal decision to take on Jesus for themselves. Faith is not something your parents can bestow.

There you have it, the beginning of what it means to be Anabaptist. What do you think?

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A Snarky Note:

Oddly, many people in my tradition have come to practice a defacto infant-baptism as we press harder and harder to baptize children younger and younger. Parent’s who won’t let their kids choose their own order off the menu at Chili’s are baptizing their children at terribly young ages out of a fear that, “They might not ask again.”

Please!

I’m very stoked, pumped, excited, and animated to be heading to Rochester College this May 16-18 for “Streaming: Biblical Conversations From the Missional Frontier”. Streaming is an in-depth exploration about the adventure of ministry. It  will focus on the book of James and will offer ministers and church leaders biblical resources to help them lead God’s people in a missional era. Mark Love – the churches of Christ missional yoda and peculiarly dedicated Bob Dylan fan, has put together, along with JoPa Productions, an awesome line-up of missional thinkers.

The featured speakers will be Scot McKnight and Miroslav Volf! Wow!!

Many of you already know Scot McKnight. He’s a Christian blogosphere rockstar (if there can be such a thing), has written a first rate book on how to read scripture and is not afraid to call John Piper’s questions of whether or not “Jesus preached Paul’s gospel” stupid, well “irritating!” His newest book is One.Life.

Perhaps less people know Miroslav Volf, but you should. Volf is as first-rate as first-rate gets when it comes to theology, and his book Exclusion and Embrace is a modern-day classic when it comes to race, identity and reconciliation. His newest release, Allah: A Christian Response is supposed to be excellent as well.

Just those two guys make Streaming worth the mere $189 for the registration. Plus, other incredible folks you’ll want to be around will be there. People like me, Jack Reese, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt.

I hope you’ll join me this May in Michigan.

Recently I’ve found myself, once again, thinking about what brings people to faith. This has been prompted by two things: (1) I’m walking a church group through Tim Keller‘s best-selling book, “The Reason For God”, and (2) multiple conversations with Atheist and Agnostic friends. I love these conversations. They force me to refine my thinking, listen to new people and perspectives and process what I actually believe.

Though I’m having conversations with both Christians and non-Christians regarding faith, our language – in some cases – is strikingly similar. One linguistic construct we share is the notion of “a leap of faith.” What is commonly meant by a “a leap of faith” is acting as if something is true regardless of the evidence present. Both Christians and non-Christians mean the same things by this phrase. What I want to suggest is that taking “a leap of faith” is not a Biblical understanding of what it means to “come to faith.” More to the point, the Bible does not ask anyone to make  “leap of faith,” but the scriptures do call all of us to make a “leap at faith.” Here’s why:

Christianity Isn’t for Stupid People. To the dismay of many, Christianity requires thinking.  Taking “a leap of faith” connotes that evidence doesn’t matter. Another way we call faith stupid is by calling it “blind faith.” The truth is, no one does anything on “blind faith.” We all do what we do out of some calculation. The calculation may be ill-informed, misguided, or poorly constructed, but we don’t do anything that matters “blind.” No one takes a “leap of faith,” we negotiate the knowns and unknowns and select. That’s not a leap, it’s arriving at a decision point and taking a step, not a leap.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but my faith is neither blind nor stupid. Yes, it is the product of participation in a particular community over the course of a lifetime, but I have also read, studied, and questioned. My questions about the Bible, the nature of God, and the nature of the world are tougher and more accurate than the passing machinations of a freshman philosophy major somewhere because I bothered to seriously investigate. I investigated Christianity, Atheism, Buddhism, and Mormonism in particular. My list isn’t exhaustive, but I’ve studied the world’s major worldviews enough to know what I’m talking about, and I’ve tried to take all claims seriously.

Taking a “leap at faith” means those both inside and outside orthodox faith owe it to themselves to investigate earnestly what is at the heart of the world and ask the toughest questions they can imagine. Christians should not fear what the hard sciences discover or what historians unearth. If we believe all truth is God’s truth, then what is there to unnerve us? Real faith is not a leap, it’s the intentional examination of the available evidence and then carefully formulating something that is philosophically coherent and realistically useable. The Apostle John even instructs us to do so in 1 John 4. Our job is to “test the spirits.”

Christianity Isn’t Mental Assent. Far too many folks think “a leap of faith” means “a change of mind.” Of course, in many ways, this is accurate (just think about the literal meaning of “repent”). Though coming to a place where you believe that God exist does mean that you’ve made a philosophical shift – that’s just the beginning, and can oftentimes mean very little. As James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us, “even the demons believe…” (James 2.19). One of the great problems in the world is that Christianity has become nominal (Christian in name only) and notional (people like the ideas of Christianity).

Taking a “leap at faith” means looking at the life and teachings of Jesus and trying them on, taking them out for a stroll, not just agreeing with a few principles. Faith is a lived-experience, not a thought-experience. If interaction with Jesus doesn’t result in kinder words, radical generosity and justice, engagement with the poor and self-denial, it just ain’t faith. There’s only way to know if God is truly the Provider or if His Spirit will be with you in times of disappointment and brokenness; you have to try it. It’s not theoretical, it has to mean something. That’s why the people you know who have a mental assent to faith, but who haven’t experienced what the Apostle Paul would call “circumcision of the heart” are some of the worst people you know. Jesus’ instructions to those living in His time was simple: “Go and do likewise.” It was about trying it out and seeing if Jesus was right.

Ultimately I’m advocating that faith isn’t a stumble in the dark. Those inside the church who believe so, do God, themselves and their fellow-believers a great disservice. And those outside the church who would suggest that faith is “blind” simply haven’t done their homework. But worse still, Christians have made their homework harder by not reflecting the real thing.

Last Thursday evening I participated in the Common Ground Speaker Series which my daughter’s school supports. The evening’s speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell. Harvard and Tulane educated, Dr. Hallowell specializes in  advice on how to survive in an ultra-competitive, ultra fast, attention deficit society while remaining sane, how to raise happy children, the art of forgiveness and how to manage worry. His topic for the night found it’s genesis in his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!

Hallowell covered some much already traveled territory discussing the affects of the Internet, social media, cell phones and all other things technology. While this terrain is well-trodden, I think, he’s dead-on concerning the negative effects of “labor-saving” devices. What’s more, Hallowell points out that our time interfacing with screens isn’t only sucking our time and energy, it is also rewiring our brains. This could be good or bad. Who knows? At best, we are entering new territory.

The truth is that as we spend more time engaging socially – like reading blogs, etc… – we are spending less time with one another. We trust “friends” and “followers” we’ve never met with extraordinary personal information, while simultaneously not know the name of our neighbors. Worse still, we run the risk of marginalizing or ignoring the family in our midst.

Hallowell reminds us of two important and basic actions that many of us would be wise to regain:

1. Decide what matters most. Preaching a principle I learned from Andy Stanley years ago, I recently spoke on the topic of deciding what matters most and then shaping our action around them. Implicit in deciding is following up that decision with determined action so that our lives actual reflect what we say.

2. Recreate Boundaries. I am frequently shocked when I see the boundaries people have given up. This is especially true, I think, for Christians. Our willingness to be useful and used, for many, has resulted in sacrificing time and energy to our family. This is tantamount to abandoning our family.

Ultimately, I think Hallowell has much to say, but I’m not doing a book review. I’m just raising your attention to the importance of slowing down your life in order to maximize your impact with those closest to you. As a friend of mine says, “You can’t do anything well in a hurry.”

Sooner or later every leader will have to deal with someone – or a group of someone’s – who are reflexively oppositional. Most of us know what to look for, but if you don’t, here are a few profiles.

  • The person who is against every idea, sometimes even their own.
  • The person who when presented with a any idea, first tells you all the obstacles or hurdles involved.
  • The person who during the implementation phase of anything new determines, at the first glitch, that the entire program is unworkable.

I could give you more, but you get the idea. There are some folks, that no matter what, will react negatively to any and ever idea, proposal or change. In a certain way, these folks can be helpful. We all need people who can look down the road and help us avoid some of the pitfalls. But mostly, without redirection, the reflexively oppositional are a drain our emotions, progress, and morale. As a leader, you need to know that the reflexively oppositional exist; they will curtail and undercut any opportunities for growth and development and then ultimately blame the leader when things don’t get better. If one thing is true about the reflexively oppositional, it’s that nothing is ever their fault. Now that you know that, what should you do? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Teach! Believe it or not, many of the reflexively oppositional have never been taught to brainstorm and develop ideas. Find a conference or teacher that can help Negative Nellies how to brainstorm. In the short term, at your next meeting, ask your team to bring $20 in $1 bills and you bring a large bowl. During the brainstorming session, whenever someone says, “we can’t…” or “that won’t…” they have to put $1 into the bowl. After about 6-months use the money to do something fun with your staff or buy gifts.
  2. Redirect! I did this just this week. When a new idea or initiative is proposed, make sure that positive comments are shared. As my wife says, “Any dumb dog can tell you why something won’t work.” Ask your team to give you 5 positive and possibilities before they can say anything negative. When someone complains, stop them, and say, “Now tell me something positive about __________.” People aren’t wired to think this way, so we have to be constantly redirected. The people on your team that can’t ever be positive will learn that you’re not a worthwhile destination for the negative.
  3. Project. As a leader, you must focus on projecting the positive. Sit down with a journal or notebook and map out all the successes you and your team have had, then remind people of them. This past week, I sat down and listed the successes we’ve had in my brief time at Redwood Church – building renovation, incredible small group launch, Men’s Fraternity, reconnection with our mission point in Haiti, relaunched Women’s ministry, increased mid-week attendance,  etc…. These efforts required prayer, time and hard work. Don’t lose them to the archives of memory. Keep them close to inspire you and your team.
  4. Give it Over. Many of the reflexively oppositional are so because they feel they are never listened to or don’t have enough influence in the organization. Therefore, give it to them. Give them a large responsibility and the freedom to run with it. Many an oppositional worker has been humbled by the experience of having to lead and produce something from beginning to end. Handing over responsibility allows them to unleash their full potential. And you never know, they may be a lion of a leader who just needed an opportunity. For this to work, though, they have to be responsible for all aspects of a project. It’s easier to gripe when you’re only responsible for 6% of a project. Give it over.
  5. Hire Differently. The simple truth is that you don’t want to work with everyone, regardless of their competence or lack thereof. If you’re in an industry that requires innovation or if you’re a possibility thinker, you MUST surround yourself with the same kind of people. You’re looking for “What if…” people, not “We can’t people.” We can’t people have never innovated an industry, grown a market-share or otherwise changed the world. You don’t want them! During the hiring process ask outlandish questions and see what responses you get.

The Reflexively Oppositional will always be with us, it’s our challenge to manage them well. Many Debbie Downers are critical-thinkers that organizations need, but their comments and affect need to be harnesses. Hopefully, leaders can help one another out.

How do you handle the reflexively oppositional in your organization?