Last week, I had a long chat with someone I hadn't spoken to in years. He's a well known leader in the wider church world - one who has become tired of consumer church, sounding almost post-evangelical. He reminded me of the above statement - one he remembers a seminary professor sharing with him almost four decades ago. It's no less true today.
Last night, the iMonk shared this video on the Boar's Head Tavern, The Christian Side Hug. This is what masquerades as discipleship in youth ministry. A steaming pile of gangsta-style from middle-class white kids singing suspect purity theology. And we wonder why the 18-30 segment are leaving the church in droves.
Yet, we will use the same nonsense in an attempt to win new "converts." Brad Boydston points to this good post from Dan Whitmarsh, Anything to Make a Sale:
... the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell 'em about Jesus.
Let's be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.
But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this 'wow 'em and tell 'em about Jesus' strategy doesn't do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we're doing something wrong. That we're not growing Followers, that we're not raising Disciples. Instead, we're creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We're not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they 'said the prayer' following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they're 'in.'
And here's today's problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they're using the exact same strategies in the larger church.
A case in point, this painful video at Out of Ur. I have no doubt this young man basically has good motives. But he's not interested in hearing any critique. Entertainment is good because it gets butts in seats - "cuz, it's all about the numbers, baby!" And this young man's church has the numbers to show - so the rest of us just need to shut our festering gobs.
But, in line with Whitmarsh above, do those numbers reflect the raising up of people who are disciples of Christ - whose lives exhibit "sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy."
Tony Robbins attracts huge crowds. He has loyal followers who hang on his every word and buy his every product. Actually, Tony has loyal consumers. And that is what much of the the entertained pew fodder are in North American megachurches and megachurch wannabees - loyal consumers. If we can keep them entertained, providing them with the "tools" to be better whatevers (husbands, fathers, mothers, wives, children, students, employees, employers - you name it) then we can guarantee growth.
What we win them with, is what we win them to. Win them with entertainment, and you've created customers - who expect to be continually entertained.
Picking up our crosses and following Jesus is not particularly attractive. Buying into a worldview where the last are first, and the first are last doesn't win us any earthly popularity awards - and seems antithetical to the North American Dream.
Please allow me to suggest.
If you insist on bragging about your church, don't tell us about the numbers. Tell us about how the Kingdom has come to your community. Tell us of the lame who walk, the blind who see, the debts that have been forgiven, the reconciliation that has taken place at personal, generational & racial levels, how the poor and the outcast are loved and taken care of, how widows and orphans are grafted into the church family, how your community is experiencing the Year of Jubilee - because of what the Spirit is doing in and through your church.
But if all you can talk about are your numbers, then, please...
...just shut up. It's long past old.
[NOTE: If you click on the image at the top, it will take you to a larger version, which you are more than welcome to use. It was created in Adobe Illustrator & After Effects CS4.]
After having given several posts to the consideration of bi-vocational ministry, its relationship to missional ecclesiology, defending it as a spiritually formative leadership model, and then commenting on its relationship to theological education, I have been thinking more and more about how we are equipping leaders to lead truly missional communities. Though it’s in no way a brand new topic of interest to me, I want to unpack, in a more focused manner, some of the shortcomings of our current system of theological education and begin sketching what I find to be a more faithful way forward. [Note this quote is full of great links @ JR's blog.]
I'm married to a recent seminary grad and have great affection for seminaries. But. I believe their model has to change if they have any hope of surviving the next 20 years - let alone having the kind of impact they should be capable of as we engage in this missional adventure.
In an interview I shot with Eddie Gibbs a couple of years ago (no longer available online, I'm afraid), Eddie talked about the present seminary model that leads to students incurring huge debts in pursuit of their Masters Degrees. He commented that his banker, financial advisor and a real estate agent he knew were all M.Div's who couldn't afford to work full time at a church - they wouldn't be able to service their seminary education debt.
Eddie was bold enough to suggest that seminaries needed to learn how to give their education away for free - like MIT and Stanford are doing. (Not that I expect to see that any time soon.) He also suggested that churches needed to be the ones sending folk to seminaries, paying for that education and expecting the seminarians to return to their sending community to work there or to be sent out from that community to plant new churches.
However, seminary output cannot begin to provide the necessary leadership to see the church missionally engage with society in hopes of having any kind of kingdom impact. And the present church reality is that most seminary grads are going to need to be bi-vocational, unless they can find a megachurch gig that feeds their debt monster whilst stealing their soul. See Dave Fitch here on Bi-Vocational - or - Go on Staff at a Big Church. (Also make a point of reading Dave's latest, Can Missional Be Multi-site?)
Insight from an English Missional Practitioner
I've talked about Pete and Kath Atkins a number of times on this blog. I've had the pleasure of being with them twice in the past three years. The second time was with Imbi where she and I shot hours of footage for her upcoming documentary release.
In the unedited clip below from Imbi Medri-Kinnon's documentary (to be released in early 2010), Mind the Gap - Church Leadership in the 21st Century, Pete talks about how we are going to need to mobilize the laity as the primary mission-shaped church leaders. We must do this if we expect to have any kind of kingdom impact on a region...or a nation. Seminary-trained church leadership will need to play a supporting and equipping role - more apostolic, rather than pastor or teacher, I would strongly suggest (in agreement with Pete, I think.)
I am the son of two WWII vets. My mother and father met on a Canadian Military Base (in South Eastern Ontario) during the Second World War. I think of them today, and the numbers of men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
May God bless our men and women in uniform - may he bless the families of those recently lost to conflicts around the world - and may He give our leaders wisdom - they are in desperate need.
In Flanders Fields
John McCrae (1872 - 1918)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Various members of the Kinnon family have seen Jason numerous times as he's popped into Toronto - the first time in a private home in Leaside. He's a very gifted player. Liam and I will be at Wednesday's event.
The performance video below was shot over a year ago by me - early in Jason's experimentation with the harp guitar. Imbi and I also shot a conversation between Jason and John Franklin. John is the Executive Director of Imago - the arts organization staging the event @ the Ignatieff Theatre.
(A links heavy post - you can just click on the 5 minute video below for the actual story.)
A week ago (on Oct 30th), Imbi and I popped back into the north end of Toronto, to participate in an event put on by Forge Canada - the joint network created by the originally Australian Forge and Western Canada's Missional Training Network - begun by Cam Roxburgh with roots in the multi-congregation Southside Community Church where Cam is team leader.(A longtime church network leader and Canadian Church Planting consultant, Cam is part of the missional Roxburgh clan, his father, Bob, being one of the conversation's elder statesmen.)
As Al rightly points out, Canada, is much further down the post-Christendom road than much of the population in Canada's Trousers (the US of A). Honourary Canadian, Dave Fitch makes this same point in the Stetzer-Fitch conversation.
Forge Canada is one part of the missional church conversation in my country.
Missional and Emerging networks like Resonate (which people like Jordon Cooper, Pernell Goodyear, Jared Seibert and Jamie Arpin-Ricci are a part of) - and the Resonate inspired Cultivate Gatherings (the next Cultivate Learning Party is Saturday, November 14th), the Epiphaneia folk, Sarnia's The Story - which has a disproportionate impact on the Canadian Missional Conversation (see Joe Manafo's One Size Fits All), Fresh Expressions Canada and numerous others are all part of what's happening in the occasionally Great White North. (In the summer, we are the great Green and Blue North - the Arrogant Worms explain.)
Since Imbi and I are producing a number of missional-focused videos, I'm thinking of creating the Kinnon Missional Network. But nah, on 2nd thought. I really don't think that would be appropriate.
I've created a Missional Channel widget that you are welcome to stick on your blog or website, if you'd like. It's automatically updated when we add a new missional video to the channel.
First, the Hanster pointed to this wonderfilled story where at Lighthouse Church of All Nations YOU COULD WIN $500 dollars if your seat number is drawn from a bag during the service. Two other lucky contestants congregants each win $250.
(Pastor) Willis concedes the cash prize is a gimmick to fill the pews. But he's unapologetic about the plan, because it's working. On a typical Sunday, his church draws about 1,600 people to its three Sunday services. But since the money giveaway started, about five weeks ago, the congregation has grown to about 2,500 each week, he said. The money for the giveaway comes from the church offering. [emphasis added]
Meanwhile, friends 'n' neighbors, in that severly underchurched area, known as Dallas/Fort Worth, First Baptist in Dallas is building "a $130 million expansion featuring a 3,000-seat worship center." [via] And one of the important things being solved by this $130 million expansion, PARKING!
Q: Will parking be improved?
A: Parking is an absolute priority in the plan.
Oh. Oh. And they've got a glowing cross, with a shallow pool, for...? I guess it's to remind them of Golgotha... or maybe not.
At the heart of the campus will be a towering stone water tower topped with a luminescent cross. The shallow pool at the bottom will be surrounded by green space, providing a common area for downtown residents and guests.
ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS. Are you people out of your frakin' minds.
Let me put this into perspective. I have a friend (from Texas no less) who builds 800 seater churches in East Africa for $60,000 US - with the local parishioners coming up with between 25 and 30% of that budget. (The church building budget when Imbi and I had our class in Kenya produce a video for them back in '02 was $50,000). They also build schools, orphanages and hospitals for the same kind of reasonable prices - using all East African labour and materials.
Which means, for one GREEN 3,000 seater church in the truly underserved Dallas market, we could build over TWO THOUSAND 800 seater churches in East Africa. First Baptist's decision makes complete sense to me - especially when you consider,
The design is filled with messages about our church. The glass, the water, the light and the spaciousness of the plan speak of openness, transparency and spiritual refreshment. In a way, the glass walls have an evangelistic effect: people walking by have a view in from the street and feel drawn in. The glass also unifies the architecture of the church by extending the aesthetic started by the Criswell Center, which was built in 2006, and thus capitalizes on our $50 million investment in that multi-purpose facility. As for long-term cost, modern technologies allow vast use of glass with surprising energy efficiency.