Funnel or Megaphone?

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Funnels and megaphones are essentially the same shape. The difference is in application. Most church systems-even the coolest and most progressive-operate like funnels. Churches plan outreach strategies, attractional services, or events designed as entry points to gather people from the masses. Maybe they even inspire church members to “invest and invite,” but the outcome can be the same. People are “poured” into the big end of the funnel and collected into the church’s systems. This is referred to as assimilation. It’s a noble enterprise. The intention is to gather people as the church and develop them within the system to become disciples of Christ. Too often, though, the means becomes the end. [Read more…]

Shaped by Mission

Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Should the church shape the mission or should the mission shape the church? It sounds like a “chicken and egg” comparison, but if you are a Christian your answer will determine your trajectory as a disciple of Jesus.

Christopher Wright reminds us that, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission” (The Mission of God, 62).

In other words, mission should define church. Church should not define mission. In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch puts it this way: “Christology determines missiology, and missiology determines ecclesiolgy…It is Jesus who determines the church’s mission in the world, and therefore our sense of purpose and mission comes from being sent by him into the world” (142). We must start with what we believe about Christ, which determines what we believe about our mission, which in turn should determine how we form and practice church.

Consider these words of Jesus about our mission:

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Consider these words about Jesus and our mission:

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Hebrews 13:12-13).

Not only should mission define church, it should shape church. Conventional churches conform the mission to the shape of the church. This looks like hosting evangelistic events and expecting the spiritually unconvinced to come, like that trunk or treat scheduled for later this month. It looks like encouraging (or shaming) church members to bring their unconvinced friends to the building, campus, or event. It looks like a visitation program that fits evangelism into the church schedule at the convenience of the church member with little consideration for the schedules or privacy of the one visited. It looks like a calendar so filled with campus-located activities that members never have margin to be around the people that Jesus went outside the gate to die for! This is a church-shaped mission.

What if we conformed church to the shape of the mission? This would be unconventional church. What if we looked at the culture and the context of the people we are trying to reach and tailor our mission to living among them – just like the missionaries we send overseas do? What if we stopped inviting people into our buildings and started inviting them into our lives? What if we started introducing them to the truth of Jesus on their turf instead of trying to get them onto ours?

What if, once they embraced the claims of Christ, we planted the church among them? What if this new church was shaped by an ongoing mission to reach deeper into their culture instead of ripping them out of their mission field and assimilating them into our programs? What if we stopped spiritually neutering new believers by busying them in our buildings instead of equipping them to bear fruit in their own communities?

What if we, in the words of the author of Hebrews, got outside the camp? That’s where Jesus is!

What if we, in the words of Jesus, lived as if we were sent by him into the world? That’s how he told us to live!

Here’s my confession: Lately I’ve let the conventional church encroach on my mission. No more. By God’s grace, I vow to let mission shape my view of church.

What would that look like for you?

Doing Evangelism Differently

I live in a small subdivision in the suburbs. In an effort to stay informed and communicate with one another, our community has a Facebook group. Three times in the past three months there have been posts on our Facebook page about strange people going through our neighborhood. In each case words like “beware” or “heads up” were used to alert us to the danger of these people, letting us know how they were dressed and that they were carrying books that looked like Bibles, and that they were probably “religious.”

 No Soliciting
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight

In the last of these instances, earlier this week, my neighbor politely asked them to leave because our neighborhood has a sign clearly posted at the entrance that says “No Soliciting.” The visitors were, by my neighbor’s account, very rude to him. It turns out that these visitors were Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassing our neighborhood with invitations for an upcoming event. [Read more…]

Doing Church Differently: Leadership Factors


One of the challenges that must be confronted in doing church differently is leadership. The church in the United States has taken its form and identity from that Christendom worldview, yet our context is increasingly post-Christendom. This shift must cause us to examine our paradigms of leadership. The radical separation of clergy from the laity is certainly a holdover from Christendom. In his book, Unfinished Business (originally published as The New Reformation), Greg Ogden supports this idea by noting that while the Protestant Reformation reclaimed the Scriptures for the people, it did not reclaim leadership and ministry for the people. 

Follow the leader
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Daniel Kulinski via Compfight

Jesus was clear in the Great Commission that the role of every disciple, not just pastors, is to make disciples. [Read more…]

How family discipleship can make your job easier

The not-so-subtle assault on families in our time is real. This should drive us to be intentional in making disciples of our children so they can know biblical answers to the moral questions they will face. For decades Christians have looked to the church as the primary institution for instilling faith and values into our kids. Here’s a simple question: How’s that working for us? A solid family ministry strategy that is intentional can help parents and church leaders be effective at making disciples of the next generation.

Timothy Paul Jones is a major voice in creating a new culture where churches are more intentional in partnering with parents. The second part of my recent conversation with Timothy is now up at www.churchandfamilync.org. I hope you’ll take time to listen. There are take-aways for parents and church leaders that are super-practical and encouraging. Here are my top 10 (5 for parents, 5 for church leaders):

As Parents:

  1. Take your own discipleship seriously.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect. Be genuine and sincere.
  3. Start a Family Faith talk at least once a week. Keep it simple and gear it to the age of your kids.
  4. Don’t see the church staff as the main disciple-maker, but see them as partners to help you take that role.
  5. My favorite: Consistency matters more than content! Your kids will remember the time you spend with them more than the teaching itself.

As Church Leaders:

  1. Ask your leaders, are you doing this in your home?
  2. Start a family ministry team.
  3. Don’t blow up the bride of Christ. Love people to change, don’t try to force change.
  4. Re-culture the church. Create a new culture, not just a new strategy.
  5. Provide the tools. Give parents simple resources they can use to do family faith talks at home. This can simply be a take home question or two from the sermon.
Recently, I encouraged some friends to start spending time in prayer together as couple. The husband said, “When should we start? The wife said, “How about tonight?”
The same question is a good one for family discipleship. When should you start?
How about tonight?

 

What’s your excuse?

“If you’re not doing church this way, then you better have a good excuse.” This is a powerful and provocative statement from Alan Hirsch. Alan drives right to the heart of our theology and practice in the church. Here’s the bottom line: We are to embody the gospel “in the flesh” among our neighbors, truly loving them by walking as Jesus walked. So, what’s your excuse?

You can purchase the whole message at the Verge Network Store.

How to Help Families Focus

Family values always get lots of attention, especially in the church. The only thing that is clear about family ministry is that there isn’t a lot of clarity! I have spent over 20 years in ministry to families in one way or another. I wish I’d had access to a book like Family Ministry Field Guide when I started. The author, Timothy Paul Jones, recently joined me for the Church and Family Connect Podcast with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Here are five big take-aways for me:

  1. We shouldn’t focus on the family, we should help families focus on God and the gospel.
  2. Most parents know they are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most parents aren’t doing anything to fulfill that responsibility.
  3. Churches know that parents are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most churches aren’t sure how to help parents.
  4. Busyness does not mean effectiveness. Churches need a strategy for family ministry.
  5. Youth and children’s ministries CAN be structured to help train, involve, and equip parents.

Listen and share your big take-aways:

Timothy Paul Jones, Part 1

 

Do Your Church and Family Connect?

I have an intense burden to see parents grasp a vision to make disciples at home. That burden extends to helping churches do a better job of equipping families. I believe we in church world have unintentionally communicated to parents that their role in discipleship begins and ends with getting their kids to church. In their sincere efforts to minister to families, churches have created stellar programs and sophisticated curriculum offerings that seem to do a much better job at discipleship than parents could ever do. Notice that I said seem to do a better job. To depend on these church solutions alone to disciple kids is unbiblical! Scripture is clear that faith formation must begin at home (see Deuteronomy 6). The larger faith community–the church–has a role to play as a partner with parents, but parents must see themselves as the primary disciple-makers of their children.

The good news about family discipleship is that many voices are emerging that are championing this idea of connecting church and home. They share my conviction that the institutional church must resource, train, and involve parents as disciple-makers. Churches simply cannot continue just offering a litany of good programming for children and youth and call it discipleship. They must discover ways to equip and empower parents to take the lead in discipleship.

Re-envisioning family ministry in this way can be a daunting task. That’s why I am excited about the Church and Family Connect Podcast. This podcast highlights thought-leaders in the area of family discipleship, giving practical ideas to churches and parents on how we can better make disciples of the next generation. In the latest episode, pastor and author Brian Haynes offers practical advice on how churches and families can use natural family milestones as opportunities to build faith into children and teens.

It’s my prayer that you will subscribe to this podcast and use it as a resource to help you re-think the way your church and family connect. Don’t forget to tell your pastor and children’s/youth pastor about it too. New episodes from pastors, authors, and practitioners are on the way!

 

5 Sins of the Church

From time to time I come across stories that, though not out of my own experience, need to be told. Consider the case of Fellowship Bible Church in Jonesboro, AR. I don’t know much about the church, but I was impressed with a document I ran across last year regarding the church’s decision to start over in 2008. This is where the story gets interesting.

Image: Dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For several months the church leadership sought God’s direction to answer the question, “Jesus, how would you evaluate Fellowship?” This period of prayer and reflection led them to the cold reality that they were not effective at making disciples.

So, they repented. That’s right. They confessed their sin of ineffectiveness. Sounds harsh in our day. Fellowship decided the most obedient thing they could do was repent and relaunch with a focus on the Gospel, discipleship, and mission. Specifically, they confessed sin in 5 areas:

1. We planted programs before planting the gospel.

2. We taught our people great Bible content without calling them to follow Jesus on the mission of the gospel (i.e. discipleship).

3. We equipped people for our world (the “church” world) and NOT for their world (everyday life).

4. We assumed people knew more about the gospel than they really did–beginning with us as leaders.

5. We were more concerned with filling our services than filling our city with people who live and love like Jesus.

When I read their list I was brought to great conviction myself. Many churches–too many churches–are guilty of the exact same sins. Somehow we’ve taken our eye off the ball in the life of the church. We have traded Gospel goals for institutional ones.

I have a ton of respect for Fellowship. They had the courage to get to the heart of the matter. Unfortunately, I believe many churches would be more inclined to talk about a “new vision” or “new purpose” rather than confessing their lack of attention to God’s design as sin. But that kind of spiritual brokenness is the only place where real awakening can start.

So, what about your church? This post is not just for pastors, it’s for whoever is a part of the Bride of Christ. If you were intellectually honest about your church’s effectiveness at making true disciples what would you say? Do you have the courage to ask Jesus to evaluate your church’s ministry?

Read the whole story of Fellowship.

 

Missional Church: Simple

While I’m away for a few days, I’m posting some of the videos that have helped me think about what it means to be the church. Enjoy…

  1. How can we reconcile current church culture with missional church culture?
  2. What steps can you take at your church to be more on mission?