Category Archives: Church

Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 1

I’ve written more than a few posts on the church (local) and Church (universal) but there’s always something that draws me back into this topic. This time it’s metaphors, specifically the metaphors we use to describe the church. Metaphors are helpful in the way that they help us understand one thing but relating it to another thing. However for metaphors to be helpful the relationship has to make sense and one has to use the best metaphor available. For example, it makes more sense and it is a better metaphor to say that someone’s kindness is like the smell of a rose in early morning rather than saying that someone’s kindness is like a tsunami that sweeps away anything in it’s path.

In the next three posts, I’m going to share three metaphors for the church that I’ve heard and share why they are misguided, though well intentioned, and share three better metaphors that will help Jesus followers as we interact with our culture.

A few weeks ago I was flipping through the Christian radio stations pre-programed in my car (I normally don’t listen to Christian radio but I was probably channel surfing during the commercial break of ESPN radio) and I heard a sound bite from a pastor/evangelists who was using the metaphor that the church is like a gas station.

To be fair, this was only a 15-30 second piece of a talk that was edited for an “encouraging word” but the church is a gas station, really? His point was that just like when your car is out of gas, you have to stop in at the gas station, fill up, then leave. Then he said that church was the same way; you run out of spiritual gas during the week, go to church to refuel, then go out again until the next time you need a fill-up.

I get what he was trying to say. But this metaphor breaks down quickly and reveals much of what is wrong with modern Western Christianity. This metaphor perpetuates the idea that church stands as a place for consumption. When I’m empty, I come and consume. When I need to refuel, I come to consume. If I’m not empty, then I don’t consume. I take what’s given to me and I use it until I’m in need of a refuel. The church gives, I take. The church produces, I consume. Church become all about me and fulfilling my needs. If this church (gas station) doesn’t have what I want, I just go to the one on the next corner.

If a gas station is not the best metaphor, what is a better metaphor?

The church is a family. Not only is this a metaphor found in the Bible, it turns a metaphor based on consumerism into a metaphor grounded in identity. I am no longer a consumer, I am a participant, I am a member, I am a needed to help fulfill the needs of others, I have a role to play that influences the whole. I’m part of the family, I’m always part of the family.

What I appreciate about the gas station metaphor is that it shows how there is a going, a sending aspect to following Jesus. However the gas station metaphor supports the other major fault of Western Christianity: individualism. Can you see how egocentric this metaphor is? There’s no community, no relationship, no interaction. I go to church to fill up my spiritual tank. Then I go into my world and do my thing until run low again and stop in for another fill up. I don’t have to care about you and your spiritual life, just my own.

In a family, every member is supposed to work for the good of the other members of the family. Family is community, relationship, interaction and caring about the needs of the other members- even above your own.

Is the church like a gas station or is the church like a family?

 

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Millennials, We Need to Help Close the Gap

This month I’ve written two posts on the church and it’s relationship with Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000). In the previous posts, we talked about how the church is failing to make an enticing sales pitch to Millennials and how the church can engage Millennials in a way that anchors them in the rich history of the Christian faith while embracing the future. Both of those posts were about things the church needs to go to close the gap to Millennials. In this post, I want to change audiences and speak to some things Millennials, specifically Christian Millennials, need to do to close the gap to the church. As much as non-religious Millennials feel a gap between themselves and faith and church, Christian Millennials often feel that the church is missing them too.

“Help me help you.” I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before. Often it’s used when someone asks for help or assistance but then does something to undermine the help they are asking for. My generation needs to help the church help us. We cannot expect the church alone to close the gap, there has to be intentional movement on our part to close the gap as well.

I want to suggest three things that Millennials can do to help close the gap to the church.

Read a simple book on theology. I don’t think is necessary to read a multi-volume set on systematic theology but every Christian should read a basic theology book. At the same time I’m not talking about Christian Living books, as helpful as they might be. I’m talking about books that help us define and better understand the richness of God and the gospel. Here are a few suggestions by authors who are alive and writing theology for our context:
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Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. This book is a theological-biography (theography) of Jesus. If you want an in-depth look at the life of Jesus but without all the academic jargon, this is a great book. At 310 pages, it’s long but manageable.

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Any number of books by N.T. Wright. My top three include: How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

All three of these book are in the low to mid 200 page rage in length, making them very accessible to those who know a lot or a little about theology. Plus, they are written by one of the most well respected New Testament theologians-ever.   Each of these books will help you see what Jesus and Jesus’ message meant in his first century context, why it was revolutionary and how it still impacts us today.

imagesCenter Church by Timothy Keller. This is a fantastic book if you are interested in how theology and the church (ecclesiology) intersect. If you want to get a feel for the book, check out my favorite quotes from Center Church, part 1 and part 2.

 

Reading theology books like these are going to help you and I better understand the full scope of Jesus, Jesus’ message and what Jesus’ message means (in his time and in our time) that we simply cannot get through sermons or small groups. This isn’t the fault of pastors or small group leaders but those settings typically aren’t the right place for the kinds of conversations that these authors engage in. If you want to invest in your faith, beyond sermons and small groups, then dig in and read some theology books- and these are a great place to start.

Know the full story of Scripture. As Millennials, we need to be better at our understanding to Scripture. Specifically we need to understand the two major narrative arches in Scripture. First, the historical arch. We need to know and understand the historical timeline that provides the framework for the Old and New Testaments. We need to know the historical markers from Creation to Exodus to Exile to Jesus. Second, the theological arch. We need to understand the overall story that Scripture tells. Everything from the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles tell one overarching story of God moving to bring salvation to the world. We need to understand how each of those parts fit into the larger story. It’s by understanding the historical arch and the theological arch that we can know how our lives, churches and point in history fit into what God is doing to redeem the world.

Go talk to your pastors/ ministers. The role of a pastor or a minister is to equip those under their care to minister and serve. The truth of the matter is that pastors and ministers don’t always know the best way to do that.- especially if there is a generational gap. That’s where you and I come in. Go talk to your pastors/ ministers. Get to know them and they will get to know you in return. Let them know what issues you and your peers are encountering. Let them know the “times” and “seasons” of your culture. For example, in your culture maybe Thursday nights during the spring would be a bad time to plan an event because of kid’s sports practice. Perhaps a service project at an outdoor concert during the summer would provide families who don’t attend church with great exposure to the love of Jesus. Nobody knows how to impact those around you with the message and love of Jesus better than you- where ministers can be involved is in helping you do that. But if they are trying to equip you in ways you don’t need to be equipped or if they are not equipping you in the ways you need to be equipped, go and tell them or neither side will reach it’s full potential to reach those in your community with the message and love of Jesus.

There’s a gap between the church and the Millennial generation (my generation). There are things the church needs to do the begin closing that gap but there are also some things we can do to help. These three suggestions aren’t hard but I believe they will prove beneficial to help us, as Millennials, close the gap between us and the church.

The Past vs Future Debate in the Church

One of the great debates within sports is what would a historically great team or a historically great player do in competition with a modern day great team or modern day great player? How would teams or players of different eras compete against each other? How would the Pittsburg Steelers of the 1970s or the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s do agains the New England Patriots of the 2000s? How would the 1996 Chicago Bulls do in a seven game series against this year’s Golden State Warriors? How would Sandy Koufax pitch against the best of today’s MLB hitters?

Most of these debates are just what sports fans do to argue with one another but some of them go to a deeper level of how should the advancements of modern technology and training relate to the history of each sport. Much of the time, it is the historical team or player who feels they could win against their modern counterparts.

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Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tony Martin (Germany / Team Etixx - Quick Step) - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) - Robert Wagner (Germany / Team LottoNL - Jumbo) pictured during Paris - Roubaix 2016 World Tour Cycling race - photo Marketa/Navratilova/Cor Vos © 2015

Top: Paris-Roubaix from the 1970s; Botton: Paris-Roubaix, 2016.

On Sunday one of the oldest cycling races was held: Paris-Roubaix. First organized in 1896, there have been 114 runnings of the race- stopping only during World War I and World War II. What makes Paris-Roubaix so unique is that during the race, riders must traverse 27 sections of cobbled-stone roads. These roads date back to the time of Napoleon. The first editions of the race rode exclusively on the cobbled roads (because that’s all there were) and left competitors muddy from the roads and bloody from crashes.

While the cyclists have gotten faster and technology has many times eclipsed the technology of the bikes of 1896, each rider feels a connection to the riders who have gone before as they battle and race over some of the same roads that have been used for 120 years. For me, the beauty of the race is the way the organizers and riders of Paris-Roubaix have effectively meshed the history of the race with the pinnacle of modern technology.

In my last post, I mentioned that one thing Millennials desire from the church is to be connected to the past, as well as, the future. When the church holds the past vs. future debate, many times it sounds like the debate between the 1970s Steelers and the 2000 Patriots. In a 2015 interview, “Mean” Joe Greene from the 1970s Steelers said that what today’s players do is “wrestling” while in his era they brought “toughness and mayhem.” Therefore, he said he would have a hard time playing in today’s NFL. In these debates there stands an irreconcilable conflict between the past and the future. We all know that, on a whole, football players are bigger, stronger and faster now then in 1970s but historically great players believe that their era was better.

When the church looks at the past vs. future debate in the way mentioned above it creates a division between those who identify with one era versus those who identify with another. This division emerges from a limited perspective from one side and ultimately to frustration on the other side, because it is impossible to return to a previous era. To go back to our football analogy, fans of the 2000 Patriots never saw the 1970s Steelers play and there is never going to be a way to see the 1970s Steelers, in their prime, play against a team from the modern era in their prime.

So what is the solution?

The church needs to embrace past and future in a similar way to the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race. There must be a way to keep the connection to the past while recognizing and embracing the good things of modern church culture. When it comes to the Christian faith, Millennials have a desire to know and understand that they represent a continuation of a tradition that spans over two-thousand years (the Jewish roots of Christianity go back farther than that) and crosses over many cultural boundaries- even if they are a part of a church with cutting edge media, music and technology. I’m not the first to make this case for an ancient-modern version of Christianity for the church today but I want to quickly suggest three easy things churches and church leaders can do to move toward this ancient-modern vision.

  1. For every modern example, use an ancient example. This suggestion is for pastors and teachers. Instead of having all your quotes from modern authors, theologians or pastors, use quotes and examples from ancient theologians and pastors. Also use quotes from theologians, authors and pastors from different cultures- from Africa, Asia or Latin America.
  2. Explain things. Take time during worship gatherings to briefly explain why aspects of worship are done the way they are done. Why sing songs? Why kneel at a certain time? Why do you do Communion a certain way in your tradition? Why do you do baptism  a certain way in your tradition? In most cases there are historical reasons for these traditions and if your church is going to keep using the traditions then they need to explained.
  3. Use the calendar. For centuries the church has used the calendar to guide it’s worship. It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes. There is something special about having Christians from across the globe and across traditions reflecting on the same thing that generations of Christians have also reflected upon.

The past vs. future debate within the church shouldn’t be like a theoretical game between sports teams of different eras. It could be that embracing an ancient-modern approach could re-engage a generation to the church.

Shoes, a Sales-Pitch and the Church

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat them in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Stephen Curry is already being called the greatest shooter of all time but I still hope the Spurs will beat him in the Playoffs. Photo from USA Today.

Nike lost Stephen Curry; the church is losing a generation.

Last week the sports site ESPN ran an article by Ethan Strauss on the events that led current NBA MVP Stephen Curry to leave the shoe and athletic apparel company Nike. I was first made aware of the article through a summery written for Bleacher Report by Kyle Newport.

Strauss’ tells the story of Curry’s shoes. In the NBA shoe endorsements are a HUGE deal. Companies pay athletes millions of dollars (sometimes even more than what they make playing basketball) to wear (and therefore entice the public to buy) a certain brand of shoe and clothing apparel. Since Michael Jordan the pinnacle of the shoe brand has been Nike.

Back in 2013, Stephen Curry was an up-and-coming NBA star. His stardom hadn’t yet exploded but he was a player that was definitely on the way up. He was a Nike athlete and when the time came to re-up his contract, it seemed that Nike had the deal all but done- but then they blew it.

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Under Armour shoe ad with Stephen Curry

Strauss tells that, according to Stephen’s father who was present, the Nike executives made several huge errors that caused Stephen to ultimately leave Nike and sign an endorsement deal with Under Armour. The first was they mispronounced Stephen’s name- and no one corrected it. Second, they used a Powerpoint presentation (which was out of date even in 2013) that was prepared for the sales pitch to another NBA star. Stephen’s father said the presentation still had the other player’s name on it along with material specific to that particular player. Third, Stephen wanted to participate in the Nike basketball camp program, since he went to them often as a kid, however the prospect of a camp wasn’t on the table as far as Nike was concerned. So Stephen Curry left Nike and went to Under Armour.

What does all that have to do with the church losing a generation?

The mistakes that Nike made in their sales-pitch to Stephen Curry are the same mistakes that churches are making today when it comes to the largest yet most religiously apathetic generation ever- the Millennial generation.

Courtesy of the Barna Group

Courtesy of the Barna Group

First, far too often the church is speaking to the wrong audience. This is like the Nike executives mispronouncing Stephen Curry’s name. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where someone calls you by the wrong name. Maybe you understand the first time but if you correct it and it continues to happen you know that the other person just isn’t listening to what you’re saying and you, in turn, tune them out. The same thing is occurring in our churches today. Millennials see the church speaking to audiences other than them. Or if the church does attempt to speak to them, many times it’s mispronouncing who they are, what they value and what they are seeking out of life.

Second, the church can’t simply repackage what its done before. Just like it’s inexcusable for Nike to repackage a presentation obviously created for another athlete, the church cannot repackage it’s old “presentations” and hope that Millennials don’t notice. Details matter. One of the main points in Strauss’ piece is that Nike failed to play to Stephen’s ego; they failed to show that he was going to be a major piece in their company and not a second tier athlete. This generation doesn’t need it’s ego stroked but it does need to know that it deserves something new, distinct, creative and to know that they are not second tier.

Third, the church isn’t providing for the deepest desires. For Stephen Curry, his desire was to give back to aspiring basketball players through Nike camps and when it appeared that Nike wasn’t sharing that desire, he went to a company that did. What are the desires of Millennials? Being a Millennial I can speak to some of our desires. We desire relationship and community with each other and across generational lines. We value being involved in something bigger than ourselves, especially if that “something” is trying to make a real difference in the world. We want to be connected to the past, as well as, to the future. We desire to be challenged to do big things. Most of all we desire to be loved and accepted.

I’ve written this post about how the church is making a sales pitch to the Millennial generation but the church isn’t trying to reach only them. The church is making a sales pitch to Baby Boomers, African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. The church is making a sales pitch to people with graduate degrees and those with no education. The church is making a sales pitch to the highly spiritual and the atheist. No matter where your church is located or who you and your church are in position to reach, the truth is if you haven’t thought about the ways and the message you are communicating, then you’re probably driving people away, not from Nike, but from God.


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Walk in Discipleship

walkFor the last three weeks, we have been exploring the idea of walking, or how we live our lives. We have looked at the call to walk in unity, the call to walk as a prisoner of Jesus and how we can walk in a way that helps us remember who we are and who God is. As we close out this little series, I want to look at another “walk” passage: Colossians 2:6-7. These two little verses, written by the Apostle Paul, help us see the stepping stones of walking in discipleship.

About two years ago, I wrote a short e-book on how this passage can be used as a template in the process of discipleship. If you lead others in discipleship in some way, I think it might be useful to you.

Download the PDF- Benchmarks.

 

The Next Step For Us and a Call To You

imagesI kind of always believed that when God called me (or anyone) to something it would happen like a lighting strike. One day the calling wouldn’t be there, then- BAM- all of a sudden I would know exactly what to do and how to go about doing it.

I have come to believe that, at least in my life, that isn’t how God works. I am at a point in my life where I have never been more sure of God’s call in my life but it didn’t happen like a lighting strike. Instead, it’s developed and grown through the joys, growth and challenges of the last several years. As I’ll describe later, there was a defining moment but it came after a long period of preparation.

So, what am I talking about? If you have been following this blog, you’ll see that it’s the logical progression, the next step, from what I’ve been wrestling with, thinking about and writing on.

We, my wife Leslie and I, are pursuing the call the start a church. Yes, you read that correctly. This is vary much outside of our comfort zone and yet those that we have shared the vision with have been encouraging.

How did we get to this point?

One Saturday my family walked around the downtown farmer’s market. We saw people from a wide range of ages, ethnicities and social classes but what struck me was the number of Millennials that were enjoying the farmer’s market that Saturday morning.

We know from Pew research that 6 of out 10 Millennials are not affiliated with any Christian denomination- including Protestant, Catholic and Mainline. At the same time, Millennials make up the largest generation in American history. Millennials are the largest and most un-churched generation in American history.

Walking through the farmer’s market that morning, God threw a lighted match into a pile of kindling in my soul and an idea that been in my heart for three or four years suddenly ignited into a blaze that could no longer be contained. That fire has brought forth a calling to plant a new church in Midland- Church of the Way. I have shared this vision with many in leadership at First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas and have been met with support and encouragement.

Church of the Way seeks to be a community that removes the barriers that prevent Millennials- but also those of any age and background- from hearing the gospel of Jesus and engaging in a church community. This seeks to be a place for the unchurched, the de-churched, for those that have questions and doubts and for those who want the church to act like a family again. It seeks to be a place where anyone can be invited with the simple line, “I want to invite you to check out my church, I think you’ll really like it.”

You can read the whole proposal: churchoftheway

What we need are people who see the vision and want to walk on this journey to see what God can do. Is that you? Is that your family? Will you pray about it? Do you want more information? Ask questions? If you said yes, please fill out the form with your name and email and I will be in contact with you.

I wish I could speak to each one of you and cast the vision for this church community but that’s simply impossible. This way I get to propose to 200 of you at once. But please, if there is any part of you that has your heart stirred, pass along your information.

 

 

Praying Prayers Together: Why I Don’t Sing at Church

It’s been over two years since I’ve sang at church.

It’s not because my church plays one kind of music while I prefer another. It’s not because I’m angry at God. It’s not because I’m deathly afraid to sing in public. I just don’t sing at church.

But isn’t corporate worship part of going to church? Isn’t singing a huge part of that corporate worship- at least within the modern day church?

Yes, I guess you could argue those points and on one level I would have to agree with you. My response, however, is why? Why do we sing?

Bonhoeffer said that church singing is a way for a group of people to pray the same prayer. It’s a way for people of different ages, genders, social classes, education and spiritual maturity to all say the same thing to God at the same time.

I love the picture that Bonhoeffer creates. It’s the same picture we see in Revelation when people from every nation are gathered around the throne of God and sing “worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” If that were explained in church then I might be able to sing. Instead of standing to sing because standing to sing is what we do at church, the church was lead- shepherded, pastored- to the throne of God to pray the same prayer to God that would completely change how we sing church music.

Two other things also hinder our churches from realizing Bonhoeffer’s vision.

1. We must have prayers worth praying. In our conversation this means that we must have songs worth singing. Have you ever really paid attention to the words to some of the songs we sing at church? There are many songs that have well developed theology but there are many songs that do not, they just string a line of adjectives together and apply them to God. It brings me to the question, what does it mean to praise or worship God? Is worship merely describing God- God is holy, God is loving, God is full of grace? Is worship thanking God for what God has done? I’m not an expert on worship and I honestly haven’t done much research on the topic but when I read the Psalms or the early hymns of the church I see more than just assigning adjectives to God or thanking God for what God has done. Though I see those things, beyond them I see a change in the relationship between God, who is being praised and worshiped, and the one offering that praise and worship. In the Psalms we see the psalmist moved to steadfastness and action or we see evil crumble before God. When Paul writes or quotes an early Christian hymn, it ends with every knee bowing and tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. I may be wrong and I may change my mind, but I don’t see many of our church songs causing a change in the relationship between God and the worshiper.

2. We must have community that is worth belonging to. If singing is praying prayers together, then it reasons that we need to know each other. In Romans, Paul tells us to rejoice with those rejoice and weep with those who weep; if we don’t know who is rejoicing and who is weeping, how can we rejoice and weep with them? If I don’t know what is going on in the lives of people around me, how can I pray prayers of thanksgiving with them, or prayers of comfort, or prayers of distress, or prayers of hope? What happens is that I sing or pray my little song in the context of my world in my rejoicing and my weeping and you sing your little song in the context of your little world in your rejoicing or your weeping and we are singing two individual songs instead of singing one song together. It’s only though really knowing those around us that we can truly sing and pray together.

As I said earlier, I really love Bonhoeffer’s picture of what church singing is suppose to be. Above that, I think it’s the picture we see in the Bible and in the example of the early Christian church. God hears enough of us singing our individual prayers- everyone in the world can do that- what we need more of is singing prayers as one body and that means having prayers worth praying and knowing what prayers to pray by being in true community with each other.