Monday, September 24, 2012

Genesis Collective

I am so excited!

Today a number of us go away as we continue to explore the nature of apostolic christianity - especially in the way God has called us to express it.

Seeking to define a legitimately American apo story, we will scrum down around Gal 1 + 2 as well as 2 Cor 10 + 11.

Your prayers will be appreciated

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Celebrities

All of us, I am sure, have looked back on a saying our folks had, that irritated the lights out of us. It was a mantra that was repeated, that stirred up the thought: "Why don't you just shut up?". Then one day, a situation arises when it all makes sense. Sheesh, dad was right after all. Now I understand.

My mentor, Dudley Daniel, drilled a value into our hearts and minds: "Avoid fame like the plague!" That was so irritating to a young ambitious church planter. Why would I want to do that? Surely I should use very opportunity 'for the Lord', 'share the love of Christ', 'advance the kingdom'? But Dudley would say it to us repeatedly - annoyingly so.

But he was right. My ambitious heart would have been sucked down the road of celebrity-ism, and stumbled and fallen like so many before.

The American culture is very vulnerable to the celebrity [and so are most cultures]. In fact the disciples were so too. When Jesus was 'the flavor of the month', they wanted him to work the angles, piggy back off the popularity [and they would benefit of course]. But he saw through it. He sent them ahead to Jerusalem but he quietly drifted into town unnoticed. He knew the hearts of men and was not going to submit to that.

Even when Saul was made king, God, through the prophet, tried to warn Israel that that was not his wish, will or ways. But they persisted. They wanted a king. They wanted a celebrity.

Many years ago I read a very sobering article written by Jamie Buckingham. He told of a poor inner city church in Detroit I believe. In their desire to have a king / queen, they took up an offering to buy the pastor's wife a fur coat. Buckingham said there were two tragedies in this story. Firstly in their poverty they bought the fur coat. Secondly, she accepted the gift. I know some may argue this was their effort to honor. There is such a subtle line between these two. This plumb line is only found in our hearts.

The big story in the church is the priesthood of all believers. The small story is the eunuch's that Jesus uses to prepare his bride for marriage. Paul undermines any notion of the big celebrity when he speaks of himself as being: "servants of apostles as last of all... spectacle of the world...fools for Christ...scum of the earth... refuse of all things." 1 Cor 4

John Stott says that at the cross we shrink to our true size. 

Dear friend, we must avoid fame like the plague. Honor, recognize and appreciate, sure. The text loves honor. But when the line gets crossed, especially in our hearts, the church comes out of the street fight bloodied and bruised. We were not "made again" to step into the spotlight of celebrity-ism.

Avoid fame like the plague! Especially now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Corporate

I am loving Tim Keller's new book called "Center Church". Buying it for my iPad was a delight as we sat on the Dallas runway, delayed by several hours for a maintenance matter. The reading, especially on movements, was very helpful.

"Church" is such a rich word with such a remarkable history. Has there ever been such a brutal assault against any other system, movement or organization in human history? She has held herself in the everlasting arms and found the courage to continue. It is a remarkable story, where she has had to deal from enemies from without and from within - and she lives to shine so bright.

Many years ago I read from one commentator that there were 93 pictures of the church in the scriptures. Now I have tried to find them and have failed. I have found some beautiful pictures however - great kodak moments that include the church being called a bride, an army, a building, a temple, a family, a household. Amazingly, the one picture that I have never found her to be called is a business. Of course that does not mean that business is bad. Quite the opposite, the bible inspires the entrepreneurial ideas of the marketplace. It is just that of all these metaphors, the Holy Spirit just does not see business as a great metaphor that describes the church.

The corporate world is simply not an acceptable frame to architect the church around. This does far more harm than good. Now we do understand that the church must abide by the law of the land in her financial practices and systems. However, many churches in this remarkable nation have defaulted to business being the primary model that shapes the church. Let us look at a few:

*   elders are chosen who are successful businessmen but may not be shepherds, pastors and bible lovers, chosen to be decision makers but do not have to be in the trenches of the community,
*   boards are established as pillars in the modus operandi, yet there is no board ever mentioned in the text,
*   scripted meetings hold a higher value than being Spirit-led - this requires spontaneous obedience,
*   church leadership has moved from pastor / shepherds to CEO's who run the church like one does a business,
*   annual reviews have replaced the value of personal accountability and discipleship,
*   'hiring in' has been a surrogate for effective intentional recognizing of, raising up and releasing "sons to become fathers, daughters to become mothers,
*   Coaches, mentors and consultants have replaced apostles and prophets,
*   If the church is to be a family, then surely the community is to be led by 'fathers and mothers' in relational authority and not by the positional authority that a role or title gives the man,
*  And then of course the family do things around the dining room table more than on glossy campuses.

Of course we need some organization - the larger the church the more complex the administration. However, the prevailing culture must not be the systems and programs  but the people as I am sure Jesus did to the 1000's who followed him. The lenses must surely be the biblical matrix for church and not the self-imposed images that do not aid the God life.

In the last of the last days when all nations will hate us, the church that will stand strong then will not be the raging corporation captivated by their facilities and charismatic celebrities, but the humble one's who are known by the love they have for each other, living in kingdom accountability, intentional discipleship and missional engagement - whether the communities are large or small.

Simply put, the corporate must go and the community loving, Spirit-led leadership return. We have no option.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Hiring

I love a thinking man's faith. My mentor when I was a young, new believer, Carl introduced me to the world of knowledge, biblical knowledge. I suppose it is true to say he empowered me to doubt - believing nothing till it was worth believing.

There is therefore a legitimate role that seminaries have in the evolution of leaders. Of course it is not biblically obligatory to study in this capacity, but to have sometime in an environment of learning does have value. Too many planters and pastors are preaching very lightweight theology, often really only devotional talks that really don't cut it in a world that demands a more profound response to life's questions.

The limp that these schools and the culture surrounding them produces, is that the graduates leave their studies for  a world of church hiring - get your resume out there, apply for jobs, get into the ministering marketplace. Oh dear - how culture has dominated the church landscape!

Why is this problematic? Simply put - "Hiring produces hirelings!".Jesus warned against hirelings - those who are committed to their careers more than the church, they love their promotion more than they love the sheep. Changing churches to "greater" ministry opportunities is a curse to the church. We preach the church as a family - that means dads and moms who have kids. These kids are loved and raised up to become adults themselves. But the practice of hiring undermines the very fiber of this family message. The church is a family not a business.

In the same way, the approach the text seems to take us into, is the journey of salvation, discipleship, through faithfulness, to leadership. Families who raise up their own leaders - those who love Jesus, love this bride, love this story and lay down their lives to that end.

Hiring bows at the altar of selfish individualism - I want the best job, at the best church  for the best salary, to give me the best stepping stone for the best future. This dear reader is a tragedy. It is one of the main reasons why the church in this great country is stumbling.

Can we pause and be honest? This system has not worked. The turn around of staff has not produced family of community. The local church cannot be called to live 'family' if they are not truly led 'family'. This disastrous way has to change. From hirelings, we need to go back to raising up "sons who become fathers", from hirelings to shepherds who know the sheep, call them by name, lead them with love, laying down their lives for them. Can we be courageous and bold and revisit the bible best? I hope so.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Pragmatism

Earlier in the year I was invited to attend a gathering of "Network Leaders", facilitated by a church we would all be familiar with. The 3 day event was wonderfully and generously hosted with attention to detail and extravagant in their new facility.

As the sessions rolled by, I became increasingly intrigued by the fact that the bible was not opened nor used. Besides the scripture being referenced for devotions, we were never taken to the sacred texts to wrestle with what they say about the great conversation. In fact, to be quite honest, I left after the second day feeling so saddened by the fact that these leaders were being instructed by business consultants and sociologists [and some of it was very interesting for sure, and we certainly can learn from them] but not by apostles or prophets who take us to the scriptures.

I am seriously alerted to the notion that the American church is governed by the "if it works use it" mantra. When Playboy caught the attention of the world with their highly appealing "if it feels good do it", it was serving a palatable diet to an emerging postmodern world. Has the church gotten on that gravy train with a little more elegance?

Now I do know that there is a debate about whether the New Testament is "prescriptive" or "descriptive" in the way church is suppose to be run. This eternal debate must not distract us from the need to make our first pitstop in the word no matter what the conversation must be about. To simply head down the road of "best practices" before we scrutinize "bible practices", is to really reflect the charge against Israel where "everyone did as they saw fit".

I love the entrepreneurial nature of American society. The entrepreneur makes "from nothing, something". This 'can do' attitude is contagious and so empowering to a church that can so easily get stuck in "old practices". However, this strong cultural component can perpetuate a biblical illiteracy that already pervades the width of this nation's churches.

Surely, we can be courageous enough to ask questions like:

Is this conversation,
biblical - is it clearly in the text and must therefore be replicated, or
a-biblical - the text neither endorses nor rejects this, so it is scaffolding useful to get the job done, or
unbiblical - it is clearly against the teaching of scripture and must therefore be rejected at all costs?

Although I will look at this separately, allow me to add here that one of the great sacrifices at the altar of pragmatism is the role of Ephesians 4 gifts to the church. Replaced with coaches, mentors, consultants, these Christ ascension gifts have been sidelined to irrelevancies. Surely a tragic mistake. To ignore that part of Jesus that he left of himself in the lives of men and women through his gifts, to replace it with a very poor surrogate is surely a serious tragedy.

My suggestion is that we get back to the posture of humility that once again sees us getting to the text first with grace and faith. This is not a call to bland legalism. It is a joyous appeal to see what the bible says in this regard. Where the word is spacious and expansive let us step into those places with courage and boldness [like multi-media and lighting -  reflecting the fun and power of an exotic thunderstorm] but where the word speaks clearly, let us forge our architecture with similar intentionality [like raising up sons rather than producing hirelings].

There is a road back from this most unhelpful of lenses. What will we pass on to the next generation - a passion for the doctrine and practice of the scriptures or an abandoned irresponsible quest for success that reflects our consideration and not that of scripture?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Success

In the first blog initiating this conversation I quoted a megachurch pastor who said the "the American church wants the shortest possible route to success".

I have loved being in my third decade of walking with Jesus and "watching the tide rolling away" [With all due apologies to the songwriter]. Over this time there has been an ever evolving description of what this "success" may look like. From the Jesus People movement, salvation was the true measure of success as1000's rolled into the kingdom. The Charismatic Renewal captured us with the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Success was the priesthood operating and the gifts flowing.

Well I could trace the history of the last 30 years and show how each major divine visitation took that moment as the "true" measure of success - at times it was prayer, then healings, then again it was church planting and so the list goes on.

For the American church beyond any doubt, the most consistent yardstick of success is statistical growth. The more 'butts in chairs' in gatherings over the weekend, the greater was the 'success' of the leader and his church. That dear friend is the tragedy of this unfolding story.

As I have sat with planters and replanters aground the USA, many have wanted to give up. Between the tears and heartache, the ultimate reason often is simply given "Chris we are not growing". This is extraordinary. When one looks over their shoulders, one sees community doing life together. The word is preached, they have over 60% of their congregation in prayer, they are loving and serving their community in true missional love... yet their growth is negligible, so they are slowly getting crushed by this great cultural demise.

Dear reader this is not a lightweight matter. The Damocles sword hangs over them day and night fearing that the dreaded call will come when someone will leave the community and they will again be faced with the raw reality that they are not successful because they are not growing.

Conferences are shadowed by the "successful" pastor who has gathered large groups of people. Their loud inaudible whisper is that you have to grow like me to get to speak at this event, write your book, sell your DVD.

Applause at feedback times swiftly jump to 'so-n-so' who has grown by 20% this last year - raucous and loud. Yet the genius who plods with diligence and obedience, feels the embarrassing silence of being forgotten and neglected.

I do believe in the role and value of large churches -  M and I labor with many of them. However it is not the size of them that measures their true biblical "success". It includes these textual plumb lines:

1.   Is there a clear gospel focus and hub in all that is done?
2.   Are they Trinitarian in theology and practice,
3.   Is their mission clearly communicated and embraced by the largest part of the body?
4.   Is there true community, doing life together in real, honest and transparent relationships?
5.   Is there true sacrificial devotion to worship, prayer, fasting and the scriptures - personally & corporately?
6.   Is there a culture of generosity that includes tithing but outstrips it as a revelation of God's giving nature?
7.   Is there a conviction and intentionality to recognize, raise up and release leaders for the church, the city, the country, both marketplace as well as for the church community?
8.   Within the theology of multiplication, is there a passion to see churches / campuses planted that advance the kingdom more than they replicate the brand?
9.   Is there an urgency to 'eager desire the greater gifts', a priesthood desperate for a greater collaboration with the Holy Spirit,
10.  Is there a passion to see this gospel "go to all nations". to disciple all nations, so that the end will come?

These are the true measures of success - then we can let God take care of the growth factor, as that is His part of the deal.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Intro

I love America. The first time I travelled through was 1985. The church we planted in South Africa had just completed a 3 week fast [soup and fruit juice], when the leaders felt it would be good for us to come to the USA to get some new and fresh lenses for the next chapter in the community's evolution.

It was a very fun trip - from eating the biggest burgers I have ever seen, to tripping down the LA freeways in an old Cadillac, to doing the Disney thing, to meeting some of the most humble, sincere, Jesus loving people I have ever met. We simply never thought we would end up here.

I love America. She has enlarged me and my family. Her natural entrepreneurial juices keeps the economic energy pumping [even in these times of economic uncertainty]. There is a belief that we will ride out this downturn and emerge afresh from this wave.

I love America. She has served the nations of the world. She is often amongst the first to send in help to  tsunami ravaged areas, earthquake torn nations and the poorest of the poor. [OK and been in wars she probably should not have been...]

But I am saying this because I do want to focus in on some of the weaknesses of the American church. There is much to applaud and it does come easy, but we cannot look in the mirror, see the zits and shadows then walk away and ignore.

I am aware that the word "curse" is a strong one. Can I use it in the broadest possible sense? I would like us to reflect on those things that is ensnaring the American church - putting her in bondage, limiting her true Spirit led power to advance the kingdom.

If there is a question I ask most often when I work with leaders and churches it is this: "How biblical do you want to be?" I know you are probably reading this saying "Chris are you serious, that is such an obvious question, why is it even asked?".

The answer lies in the fact that the limp of the church is that the leaders want "the shortest route to success" [as a pastor of a megachurch told me]. That is the primary value and priority.

We want to explore what these "curses" may be and the way back from this wilderness. My objective is not to be critical but to be empowering, to rescript a way back to a greater biblical American church, loaded with grace, freedom and passionate mobility.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Teaching Schedule for September

I love the fall here in LA. The edge of the overwhelming heat lifts as the city regroups after the long summer. Schools start up again, colleges stumble into the energy of freshmen arriving and the older students seeking to refocus after the break. The roads are busy again. The 'new year' has begun.

For M and I, we too refuel after the summer on the road. We had a remarkable trip to South Africa in June - our role there includes strategically working with some of the large base churches who are becoming movements in their own right. There is also the joy of helping friends who are developing their own apostolic spheres. This is simply a massive privilege.

July saw us back here in the LA area working with the local churches before we headed off to Australia. It has been 22 years of traveling in and out of Oz. We have learnt to love the nation, her people and the challenges of ministering in "the land down under". As the Father has been teaching us that the Ephesians 4 gifts are their to empower the churches on their journey - the churches are not there to empower the E4 gifts on their journey - so we can easily apply that in Oz. August was truly a most wonderful trip where we invested into a church that is replanting after 18 years, one that is a new plant of 1 year, and a large church that is becoming a very weighty, influential community in her city and beyond. Very strategic stuff.

For September, here is our ministry schedule:

Labor Day weekend off - simply enjoying the ministry of others, Although...
Sunday night 2nd we are hosting a dinner for potential church planters at our home,
Thursday, 6th - Exploration, our monthly gathering of planters and pastors picks up again - we will interview Darren Rouanzoin, planter and leader of The Garden in Long Beach...
Sunday, 9th - Houston, at the opening of One Life's new building, love this community and the story they are unfolding,
Sat 15th / Sunday, 16th - Rock Harbor here in OC, doing the 6, 9, 11 gatherings,
Sunday night 16th - the Genesis prayer crew will meet at our home for some friendship and prayer,
Sunday 23rd - Redemption Church in Costa Mesa - church plant of Phil and Jen Wood,
Mon 24th - Wed 26th - gathering of Lead Couples who journey with us here in North America for 2 days of fun, friendship, theology, prayers, ministry, worship,
Thurs 27th - Sat 29th Urban Renewal hosted by Southlands Church,
Sat 29th / Sunday 30th - Rock Harbor at the 6, 9, 11 gatherings.

Thanks for all the love and friendship.