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How different is this, practically different...

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope (Gal. 5:1-5).

What is Paul saying here? Is this merely about circumcision or is there a deeper principle in what Paul is saying? I believe there is a deeper principle, which is this. Pick your covenant. Live by the old covenant of the law, which is slavery, or live fully in the new covenant of the Spirit, which is freedom. You can’t have it both ways. To choose to take one part of the old covenant is to reject Christ and at that point you are required to obey the whole old covenant of the law.

Now that we Christians have twenty centuries under our belts I believe we need to ask that question again. Which covenant are we going to live in? Specifically, are we going to have an integrated faith which revolves around Jesus as Lord and living in a new covenant arrangement with Him or are we going to live like we are in the old covenant? If we are going to live in the new covenant then everything we do, say, believe and practice should be an integral whole. Let me state this as a question. Is your theology (what we believe about God), ecclesiology (the way we live the gathering of believers), missiology (the way we do Kingdom ministry), and praxis (the way we live life) seamlessly focused on the centrality of Jesus the Lord and His new covenant relationship with us, or does it go back to old covenant practice? If it does, it will not only reflect the theology of the Bible, it will reflect the practice of Jesus, his disciples and the early Church as reflected in Acts and the Epistles.

Before you answer that question let me contrast these issues in the old covenant and the new covenant.

...from this...

Theology: in the old covenant believers stuck to the letter of the law as it was written. In their own power they tried to follow the rules. In the new covenant our behavior is based on the law that is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (see. Heb. 8:7-13, specifically vs. 10). This will reflect God’s written word, but it is initiated by the Spirit, not human will.

Ecclesiology: in the old covenant the gathering of God’s people was focused on the temple (a building). All worship and ministry was directed by men (the Aaronic priesthood). In the new covenant no ministry in specific buildings is mentioned or prescribed because the temple of the Holy Spirit is the human body and heart. Therefore when God’s people gather (anywhere) they can allow Jesus the Lord himself to lead them. While there is human participation, leadership belongs to Jesus the Lord. There is no special building and no clergy class.

Missiology: In the old covenant all ministry was done by men and led by men. The beauty of Israel was intended to draw the nations to God who resided in the temple. It was a “bring them in” mentality. In the new covenant Jesus said go. All of us have the Holy Spirit leading us from inside of our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10 again). So Jesus the Lord leads us individually and corporately outward. Men do not coordinate this but they do cooperate through obedience.

Praxis: In the old covenant the leading of the Holy Spirit was rare (occasionally through some prophets and kings) and inconsistent. The Spirit came and left. Consequently it was up to men to follow the letter of the law in their own power, by their own will. In the new covenant the Spirit resides in our hearts and minds. Our bodies therefore become the new temple and the Christian leads a holy life by His power and direction. And this will reflect the behavior of godly people in the New Testament.

Both old covenant and new covenant life were integrated and consistent. In the old covenant godly people tried their best to follow the letter of the law in what they believed about God (theology), how they gathered in the temple (ecclesiology), how they did ministry (missiology), and how they lived. This was human led and human powered, but done to please God.

In the new covenant the Holy Spirit resides in us and leads from within. Jesus leads humans to cooperate and obey Him. If this leading is truly from Him it will never negate His written word. So our theology is first and foremost led by the Spirit but discerned by the written word (they won’t conflict). New covenant ecclesiology needs no building, it just needs Spirit filled believers to gather. It also needs no special leader because when they gather Jesus the Lord leads. Ministry is led by the Spirit of Jesus and reflects the missionary behavior we see in the Bible which was also led by the Spirit of Jesus. Our behavior (praxis) is led by the Spirit from within, not laws, rules or even Scriptural principles, as good as they are (read Rom. 7). In fact the written word of God itself says, the letter kills but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).

...or this?

So old covenant life was integrated in every way. It was human led but trying desperately to please God. It needed a written code to follow by human effort. It needed a special building where men could worship God in their own effort. It needed special human leaders who would spiritually lead others (priests) by their own effort. Ministry was based on humans, in their own effort, behaving according to the written code which would draw people in. Behavior that pleased God was strictly an act of the human will. In the same way, new covenant behavior is all about following the Spirit of Jesus the Lord who lives in our bodies and speaks to our hearts and minds. So theology, ecclesiology, missiology and praxis are all led by the Spirit of Jesus from within. That’s why “Jesus is Lord” is not just a doctrine of theology, it is a way of life. Jesus leads everything. For that reason we don’t need a special building, special rules, special leadership, great human developed strategies and a life of trying hard to follow the principles of the Bible. All of this is lead by Jesus from within. We just cooperate and obey.

Pick a question and respond:

  • Is your theology, ecclesiology, missiology and praxis old covenant, new covenant or a mixed bag?
  • Have you ever seen a Christian building (commonly but erroneously called a church) named something like “Temple” Baptist? Does that seem as incongruous to you as it does to me?
  • What’s the practical difference between an old covenant priest and a Christian priest, minister or pastor? How does that square with the new covenant?
  • What happens when our theology, ecclesiology, missiology, and praxis are a mixed bag of old covenant and new? Does it make sense to say we follow the Spirit (new covenant) and then talk about our goals and objectives we’ve developed? Does it make sense to say our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit yet meet in temple like buildings and have a Christian priesthood? Does it really make sense to say “I live by biblical principles,” and then say Jesus is Lord?
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How Dare You?

How dare you rock the boat?

A good friend of mine made an observation on his blog, “I long to see God’s house restored to its former glory. Imagine if the church gave 90% of its offerings to the poor, instead of to buildings, salaries and programs. That kind of love could change the world. ‘To help the poor is to honor God.’ Proverbs 14:31.” Frankly it’s a great statement and a worthwhile longing. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that my friend risked negative feedback from people who could be offended by this statement. Specifically he risked offending traditional clergy who would take offense at the implications of observing that we put about 90% of our offerings toward buildings, salary and programs and consequently very little ends up helping the poor.

Does this kind of offense from questioning the status quo actually happen? Of course it does; it happens all the time. In essence those who respond with accusations and offense are asking “How dare you?” How dare you make uncomfortable observations? How dare you question the status quo? How dare you rock the boat? Usually, but not always, this negative feedback comes from traditional clergy.

I’d like to make some observations about the reality behind the negative response to legitimate observations to the brokenness of our current church situation. First, people can respond negatively to accurate observations for a number of reasons. Perhaps they can’t question the status quo in their own minds so they can imagine why anyone else should do what to them seems like very strange behavior. Maybe the way things currently are benefits them in some way, so to question it would entail risk for them. Another reason would be that they try to project motive on the person who makes uncomfortable observations. They only motivations they can come up with are being judgmental, angry or bitter. What strikes me as odd is that the response is rarely to check out the veracity of the observations. That happens, but it is much more common for people to feel threatened.

This brings me to another issue; how people (particularly clergy) respond when they hear accurate observations to the status quo. The rarest response is that the hearer listens to what has been said, realizes that the observations are correct and starts to deal with the new reality.[1] Another response, which is nearly as rare; they recognize the truth of the statements but just don’t want to risk the fallout from dealing with the status quo. I actually know a pastor who is quite frank about this. The way things are disturbs him but he realizes that he actually has no marketable skills to support his family should he leave his paid position.

The most common response is to kill the messenger. This is done by questioning the motives of the person who has brought up the uncomfortable truth. Most commonly the accusations are of being judgmental, angry or bitter. A number of times I’ve had someone say, “You must have really been hurt by some person or situation in the past.”[2] The implication is that the observations have no basis in truth, it is just coming out of some dark place in my own soul. I suspect that people often try to kill the messenger because they don’t want to deal with the reality. But, the truth is that I can’t completely know their motivations any more than they can discern mine.

The real question is how do we deal with this? Do we stop speaking out? Do we just go along with the broken status quo even when we know that it not only doesn’t match Scripture, it is often exactly the opposite of what the Scripture says? Do we avoid saying anything to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt? I don’t think so. I think we speak the truth in love. We do need to make sure that anger and bitterness hasn’t crept into our hearts. But we still say what needs to be said. Imagine if the reformers had not spoken about the problems of the Church in the 1500’s. Further we don’t return evil of evil. We don’t respond by accusing them or speaking as if we can clearly see their wrong motives. We can’t. So we turn the other cheek but continue to speak the truth in love.

Pick a question and respond:

  • Have you ever spoken out about the problems you see and been accused of being judgmental, angry or bitter? Were you?
  • Is it possible to be angry, judgmental or bitter but still see problems? What do you think should be our response if we realize this about ourselves?
  • What are the key problems you see in the status quo of the Church? What do you think should be done about it? What does this tell you about yourself, in other words, why does this bother you?
  • Does hearing people talk about the problems in the current Christian status quo bother you? What does this tell you about yourself? Why does this bother you?


[1] While this is a rare response, there is a corresponding truth, many people who have stepped out of the institutional status quo are actually ex-clergy; pastors, youth leaders, worship leaders or missionaries. I believe this is because questioning the status quo is becoming very common nowadays and the clergy are the people who are in a position to see the problems most clearly.

[2] Have I been hurt in the past? Sure, I know very few people who haven’t been hurt by the way things currently are. But what does that tell you about the way things currently are? Was the Church designed by God to hurt people?

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Church doesn't have to be this way.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious family. But, like most kids growing up in the 1960’s my family had a denominational orientation and we did go to church about eight or ten times a year. Here’s what I remember from those occasions. It was boring; not just a little boring, squirm in your seat and wish you were anywhere else boring. It was always a relief to wake up Sunday morning and see that we weren’t getting spiffed up to go to church. It is still a bit surprising to me that I ever came to Christ. Probably the saving grace was that when my sister shared the Gospel with me she didn’t tie it to church attendance, or I probably would have rejected it.

How did church get that boring? I think that’s a good question even if I did ask it rhetorically. Church, as it was originally practiced wasn’t boring at all. It was so wonderful that the early Christians often met daily. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:42). Granted, that can mean that they met daily or that there were some meetings going on somewhere every day. Most likely it is a bit of both, dedicated groups met often and there were groups meeting every day. But the point is that early Christians wanted to meet, they couldn’t wait. So what were they doing that was wonderful but is missing in many church meetings nowadays? And, a second question, what should we do about it?

First, what were they doing that we often aren’t? What’s missing? I think they were actually encountering Jesus in their midst. They weren’t doing some sort of planned, set piece, ritualized church service. They were doing something that was both spontaneous and a real encounter with Jesus. Let’s look at the only description of a church gathering found in the entire New Testament.

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (I Cor. 14:26-33)

This was spontaneous, not planned. There was very little or no prep time for this. That’s because no one besides Jesus was leading it. One could get their soul ready for this, but beyond that, planning an order of service is strange beyond words in this type of context. Second, it was an actual encounter with the living God, while gathered together among friends. How cool is that? This is describing a meeting of people where God is giving revelation, leading people giving instruction, causing people to speak in tongues and interpret tongues. There are prophecies (God telling the group something through a person). In fact, the information from God is coming so fast and thick that Paul has to give instructions on how those receiving information from God will need to wait their turn so that it doesn’t become a free for all. Wouldn’t you want to participate in that? I’d love it…and do love it when it happens among my friends and me.

So, what should we do about it (my second question)? Well, let me say first, in my opinion we shouldn’t try to avoid the inescapable boredom of a church service by turning it into a performance. That will avoid the boredom but won’t in any way guarantee an encounter with God. Here’s what I think we should do. Let’s just do what the early Christians did; the simpler the better. The more spontaneous, the better. The more Jesus controlled and the less people controlled, the better. I’ve been involved with this now many times since I’ve become a more “organic” Christian. These encounters are rich, spiritual and spur me on to love and good deeds. But there is one thing they are not; they are not boring.

Pick a question and respond:

  • How do you think church got so boring? What is the most boring part of a typical church service for you?
  • What do you think we should do about it? I’ve given my solution; do you have a better one?
  • Do you think turning a church service into a performance makes the situation better? Is the goal of going to church being entertained?
  • If you don’t think being entertained is the goal of going to church, what is?
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There is more than one way to think about issues.

Frankly I am often distressed by the poor quality of discussion that goes on in the Western Christian world. This poor quality of discussion stems from the poor quality of thinking. Let me give you an example. Is the Church as we have always known it, often called the institutional church,[1] broken and problematic or is it the Bride of Christ which needs to be respected and loved? That’s not a small or unimportant question. After all, if the institutional church is broken and problematic it needs to be confronted, addressed and changed. On the other hand, if it is the Bride of Christ, we who are Christians outside of this expression of Christianity, need to love and respect her. Both require lived out action. So which is it, a problem or a beloved Bride? It’s the wrong question.

There are two important statements about questions we need to understand if we are ever to get to the bottom of this particular issue. Statement #1: You never get an answer to a question you don’t ask. Statement #2: You never get the right answer to the wrong question. In this case the question is worthy of asking (we need the answer to this question), but it is the wrong question. I know it sounds like I’m not making sense so bear with me. This question needs to be asked (it is a worthy question). But it is asked in such a poor way that we will never find the answers we are looking for if we ask the question in this way  (it’s the wrong question).

The problem stems from the way the question is formulated, which in turn rises from poor quality of thinking, which can lead to bad behavior. The question is formulated as an either/or proposition. Is it this or is it that? This kind of thinking is called dualism or dichotomistic thinking. Everything in this way of thinking is one or the other, this or that, black or white, good or bad. It is a very useful tool if we are dealing with physics, chemistry or biology. However, when we are dealing with other situations, such as human behavior or spirituality; thinking in this way becomes highly problematic. A group of human individuals rarely act in one way or the other. They will most likely respond in a variety of ways that reflect their values, culture, experience or the particular situation. What inspires one person to pray will inspire another individual to cower in fear. One person can do a particular behavior for noble reasons. Another person can do the exact same behavior with evil motives and intent.

When we are dealing with the behavior of the “institutional church” we are actually dealing with a whole lot of individuals and God. Humans don’t always do the same thing in similar situations, neither does God. Yes, I know God is never changing, with no shifting of shadow (James 1:17). But God does make decisions based on the circumstance. For example, both murder and adultery are against God’s law, worthy of death, as expressed in the Old Testament. Yet God forgave King David of both and didn’t require his life.

So instead of asking: The institutional Church: good or bad; worthy of change or respect? We should ask how does God want us to behave toward a system that is unbiblical and causes serious problems yet is filled with people God loves and is a system that God continues to use and bless despite its problems? This may be a more complex question but because it is framed in the reality of actual human behavior and the way God acts, it will lead to better and more carefully nuanced behavior.

So let me state it plainly. The church as we have always known it is structured in ways that are unbiblical and even contra biblical. This causes serious problems for people and for the Kingdom of God. These issues should be addressed…graciously.

There are better ways of handling differences of opinion or perspective.

At the same time, the institutional church is the Bride of Christ. He still loves it and so should I. He still uses it, so I should be willing to work along side of it, perhaps even in it, if God so chooses. I should be aware that different individuals within this structure can do the same sorts of behavior, some with noble intentions and others with wrong motive. So I need God given discernment as to how I respond or if I respond at all. Are all pastors, priests, vicars and bishops control freaks with evil intentions? Hardly. Are a few? Yep. Can God still call people to the institutional pastorate? Yep. So I need to tread lightly and with discernment when I address issues and not paint with too broad of brush. Nevertheless, the problems associated with institutional leadership within the Bride of Christ should be addressed, honestly, clearly, graciously and with discernment.

I get quite a bit of flack for some of the issues I addressed in Viral Jesus, not necessarily for the way I addressed them but that I brought up the issues at all. While that is not always pleasant, I’m encouraged that most who criticize me are merely angry because I brought up the issues, or that I come to conclusions they don’t agree with, not because I did it harshly. And, those who think I did so with evil intent (there are a few) do so by placing motives in my heart that actually aren’t there.

Pick a question and respond:

  • Do you believe that we can ask good questions in ways that give us wrong answers?
  • Do you think we should be angry at the institutional church and those who are in it because of its problems? Would you want to be treated that way? Do you think your theology and behavior is absolutely perfect and above reproach?
  • Do you believe that we should avoid fellowship with those with whom we strongly disagree about issues of faith or ecclesiology?
  • Do you believe every difference needs to be discussed and confronted?


[1] A term I don’t particularly like because it is so commonly used by some house church people as a pejorative term. It is often used as a bludgeon not merely a description.

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Our lives should write God on the people around us.

There has been a lot said lately about the “person of peace.” This is the person that God leads us to who opens the door for the gospel, not only for themselves but for their sphere of influence. This person of peace seems to be the key to Jesus strategy in spreading the Kingdom (see Luke 10:1-23 especially verses 5 and 6). I discussed this in more detail in my posts: Finding the Person of Peace and Peace to This House. I tell a story of finding a person of peace in: Cesar, Man of Peace. But I’ve been asked by a number of people if we shouldn’t be the person of peace. Isn’t that our job? In effect, aren’t we told by Jesus Himself to be salt and light? My answer to that question is a clear and unequivocal yes and no. Let me explain.

We do need to be people who are actually living the Gospel. We do need to be salt and light. But I wouldn’t call that being a person of peace, I would call that being a peaceful person. I’ll explain the difference. A peaceful person, as I’m using the phrase, is someone who is controlled by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22-23). As such they will demonstrate the peace that comes from the Spirit of God. And such a person is yeast (Matt. 13:33) as well as salt and light because their life not only reflects God, but will be guided by God to be doing good in the world. Such a person is ready to give an account for the hope they have (I Pet. 3:15). In other words, their life is so attractive that people want to know why.

However, Jesus uses the term “man of peace” often now referred to as the “person of peace”[1] (Luke 10:6) in a more specific way. It is the person God leads us to so that we can not only preach the Gospel to them but take it to their “oikos” their household or sphere of influence. They are the human door opener into the network of relationships in a given place.

So yes, we should be people of peace ourselves if we are talking about being the peaceful people I mentioned above. But when we are on mission with God to extend His Kingdom, we are not the people of peace Jesus was talking about in Luke 10. If such were the case our ministry would become attractional and not viral. We would be drawing people to us instead of seeing the Gospel spread powerfully outward through the network of relationships that occur in all cultures.

So, we are to be peaceful people who are salt, light and yeast. If we really are such people, our life itself becomes a testimony, so much so that we need to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. But we do this with gentleness and respect (I Pet. 3:15). Note that our life is a witness and then we are prepared to make that witness explicit verbally by giving an account for our hope; in other words, preach the gospel. Let me say that more succinctly. When we are peaceful people it leads us to people of peace.

One of our problems nowadays is that we don’t know what to do with a person of peace when we find one. Our natural instincts, breed into us by many years of congregational church life, is to invite them to a church service. Don’t do that. A slightly better tendency is to lead them to Christ and figure the job is done. Don’t do that either. Still better is to realize that we are not meant to make converts but disciples so we start to disciple them. As good as that is, don’t do that either. Here’s what Jesus taught us to actually do. When we find the person of peace we are to make them a disciple and allow them to lead us to their oikos, their household, their sphere of influence. When we do this Jesus becomes part of that household. In other words, we make sure they all get introduced to Jesus. Further, we encourage each of these new peaceful people to take Jesus to their own spheres of influence. That’s how the Jesus becomes viral in a society. When we do less than this, we stop the flow of the Kingdom dead in its tracks. That is what my book Viral Jesus is about.

So, by all means be peaceful people. And be encouraged that when you do so Jesus might just lead you to people of peace. Which just might allow you to sneeze Jesus and see him go viral in the society around you.

Pick a question and respond:

  • Do you agree with my distinction between peaceful people and people of peace? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever found a person of peace? Did you know what to do, so that they not only became disciples of Jesus, but that they were the first among many?
  • Do you agree or disagree with my assertion that taking a new convert to a preexisting church is not usually a good idea, because it can impede the flow of the Kingdom? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever been asked to give the reason for the hope that you have?


[1] Women are just as likely if not more likely to be people of peace than a man. For two biblical examples notice the woman at the well in John 4 and Lidia in Acts 16.

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Are we acting like pioneers or refugees?

A friend of mine recently sent me some observations from one of his friends about people who are currently leaving church as we have always known it. These observations are not original with me, but they are insightful and I thought I’d share them.

In the entire Western world people are leaving Christianity as we have always known it. Call it what you will, congregational church, institutional church or legacy church. Whatever it is called, this expression of Christianity in the West is hemorrhaging. But why are so many folks leaving?

Refugees

The first type of people who are leaving are refugees. Just like folks crossing the border into Turkey from Syria; these people are leaving an unsafe environment. They are seeking to preserve their spiritual life from a hostile situation. This could be from abusive leadership, lack of ability to participate and be respected, lack of deep relationships or a sense of a spiritually stifling environment. Their motivation is avoidance of threat.

While they are seeking safety, they aren’t necessarily seeking something new and better. They don’t have a vision for making the Church better as much as they just don’t want to get hurt anymore. For such people, if the situation changed, a new leader or more exciting worship for example, they just might go back. And, because they have no vision for the future, they have a low tolerance for the difficulties and trials that come with building something new. This category comprises the vast majority of people leaving institutional Christianity today.

Pioneers

But there is also a different kind of person leaving church as we have known it. These are folks with a vision of the future. They have an agenda to make something new and better. Such folks have an entrepreneurial drive to work with God to build the Kingdom of God. They long to see the Church become effective again in advancing into new and even hostile territory. They long to move forward to a way of doing church that builds true community and where everyone can participate based on their unique God given design.

While they can see the problems with what they left, their focus is on the good that can be instead of the bad that was. Therefore they can still be gracious to what they left. Such people are patient with the numerous difficulties of building something new. They are not put off by the mistakes others make or they themselves make. They assume that part of building something no one has seen before is false starts, risks and failure. They see such things as an opportunity to learn, not a difficulty to complain about. These folks are not Lot’s family fleeing the burning cities; they are Abraham seeking the Promised Land.

Let’s Be Pioneers, Not Mere Refugees

While we can and should be compassionate for the pain and struggle of refugees, we need to realize there is a Promised Land. The current struggles and difficulties of the institutional church are not merely a difficulty to tolerate or flee; they are an opportunity for the Kingdom. Instead of looking backwards in anger, we need to look forwards toward the promise. God is doing something new in our time through organic church. We are in the very beginning phases in the West.[1] We are making mistakes, but we are learning from our mistakes and the Kingdom goes forward. My message to my refugee brethren is this. We know you are hurt and we long to see Jesus heal your wounds. But there is a Promised Land. Come be pioneers with us. We should have the same attitude Paul had towards the ongoing development of his life:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:12-14 NASB).

Pick a question and respond:

  • Is it easy to discern a refugee from a Pioneer? How would you do that?
  • How can pioneers be helpful in healing the wounds of refugees?
  • What would be your suggestions on how to transform from a refugee to a pioneer?
  • As pioneers, what should our attitude be towards the churches we left? How can we have constructive relationships with them to work towards the building of God’s Kingdom?


[1] Places like China and India are far ahead of us. We need to be humble and learn from them.

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Our paths are interconnected with the paths of many others.

In my last post Three Patterns I discussed the pattern Jesus taught his disciples to use to do ministry just like Him. And I commented that “following Jesus supernaturally into this pattern allows us to walk down the highway of the Gospel, which I will talk about in my next post.” So how does one learn to walk down the highway of the Gospel?

Paving Stones

The Highway of the Gospel is paved with millions of connected paving stones. Each stone is connected to others which are connected to many more still. To walk down the highway of the Gospel you need to first plant your feet on a paving stone. So what is a paving stone? It is what is commonly referred to as a “house of peace.” Here is how Jesus described[1] it in Matt. 10: 11-13: Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

Finding the Paving Stones

But how do you find a house of peace? First you have to find the person of peace, what Luke called the man of peace and Matthew called the worthy man.[2] It is the person of peace who leads you to the house of peace. For more on finding the person of peace read my post Finding the Person of Peace. This is all a supernatural process which Jesus leads us into and through.

Interconnected Paving Stones

Each paving stone touches many others.

It is understanding how a house of peace works and how they are connected to other houses of peace that helps us understand how to walk down the highway of the Gospel. The word used in the Gospels for house is the Greek word oikos. This word does mean the building we commonly refer to as a house. But it has a much richer meaning. It also means the nuclear family that lives in that house, the extended family of that nuclear family, the servants or slaves of that family and even the intimate friends of that family. In other words, it means anyone who would rightfully spend time in that home. A much better word would be “household.” That’s why I think translating this word “house,” which merely refers to the building in English, is a poor translation. The building is a house only because of the household that lives in it. The people are the point, not the building.

When a person of peace (who is a part of the household) introduces us to their household we introduce them to Jesus and allow Jesus to dwell among them. But here’s the thing. Each one of us have numerous household or oikoi. Because intimate friend can be a part of a household and we can be a part of other people’s households our household is connected to many others. In fact, one way to look at the idea of “oikos” is to think of spheres of influence. One person can have many spheres of influence. Chrystal is part of her nuclear family. She is also intimately connected to her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and in-laws. But, she also has friendships and influence at work. The same can be said of her evening softball team and the PTA at her children’s school.

If Jesus connects you with Chrystal and she introduces you to her family you can bring Jesus to them all. But that is just the first step. Chrystal can introduce you to her friends at work, the softball league and the PTA so you can introduce them to Jesus. Or more ideally, she can just do it herself. And Chrystal’s husband Jeremy, who has friends at the bar and work and in the neighborhood can do the same. But let’s not forget what Annie, the pitcher on the softball team can do, or Jeremy’s buddy at the bar Rich who takes Jesus to the AA meeting. Rich’s cousin can tell her entire family, some of whom take Jesus to work, to their brother’s family who lives in France, and to the sailing club. Bill at the sailing club tells Conrad who gets so transformed by Jesus that he tell the entire workforce at the corporation he owns about it. Who knows where those people will take Jesus next.

Is this idealistic? That is exactly what happened in the first centuries of the Church. And it happened so fast that it got to Caesar’s oikos by Paul’s lifetime (see Phil. 4:22). It can happen today. There are a number of reasons why it doesn’t but a key one is that we no longer take the gospel to the households of the person we share the Gospel with. Instead, we wrench them out of their households and insert them into a new group of people we call a congregational church; which usually doesn’t act like an oikos at all. And, in doing so, we put a roadblock on the highway of the Gospel in the first generation.

Pick a question and respond:

  • I stated there are a number of reasons why we don’t end up walking down the highway of the Gospel today. I gave one reason; can you think of more?
  • Have you ever thought of our society as a interlocking set of spheres of influence? Did you ever notice the strategic implications of this?
  • Can you think of a society ancient or modern, technologically advanced or Amazonian forest dwellers who don’t have a society that works like this?
  • Why do you think we don’t take full advantage of the highway of the Gospel nowadays?


[1] Jesus also referred to the house of peace in Mk. 6:10; Lk. 9:4; Lk. 9:4 and Lk. 10:5. Zacchaeus’ house, Cornelius’ house, Lidia’s house and the Phillipian Jailer’s house were all houses of peace.

[2] People of peace are at least as often, if not more often women. Both Lydia in Acts 16 and the woman at the well in Jn 4 were people of peace. It was the convention of the day to use masculine terms to refer to both men and women, like we still use the term “mankind.”

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You can't do ministry like Jesus commanded unless you understand how to be connected to Him.

Recently my friends and I sponsored an organic church planting conference called Bay Area Momentum 2012. I wanted to share here what I spoke about at Momentum.

I believe there are three patterns we are either aware of or should be aware of. The first pattern is one of the key reasons that much of the ministry we see nowadays is ineffective. The other two patterns lead to fruitful ministry.

Pattern #1: The Power Is In the Technique

Someone has a successful ministry. In fact it is impressive. Others would like to have the same results as the person who founded this impressive ministry. So, the person who founded the ministry develops a seminar series with notebook, a webpage, videos and workshops. If you too come and take the seminar you too can find the techniques that are bound to lead you to success. The pattern is: a.) someone has success, b.) copy their techniques and c.) you will have success too.

Here’s the problem. The power is not in the technique. Copying a technique often leads to a lifeless ministry and a lot of frustration. Which leads me to the second pattern, a pattern Jesus gave us himself and told us would lead to fruit.

Pattern #2: The Vine and the Branches

Jesus told us clearly and explicitly how to bear fruit and it has nothing to do with techniques. He made this abundantly apparent in John 15:1-17. The pattern Jesus develops goes like this: He is a vine and we are connected so closely with him it is like a grape branch is connected to a grape vine. To describe this tight, intimate connection Jesus used the word “abide.” This word has two interconnected meanings in Greek. It means to live in. It also means to remain; which is why it is sometimes translated “abide” and in other versions as “remain.” This connection is so intimate that it is described as Jesus living in us while we live in Him. It boils down to this pattern a.) Seek a spiritual state where the life of Jesus is so enmeshed with ours we don’t know where He leaves off and we begin. b.) Stay there. c.) You will bear fruit (Jn 15:5), more fruit (15:2), much fruit (15:8), fruit that remains (15:16).

Pattern #3: Ministry Jesus Style

This is not to say that Jesus failed to teach us how to do ministry. Quite the contrary, his pattern (not technique) is taught explicitly four times in the Gospels (Mt. 10, Mk. 6, Lk. 9 and Lk. 10). Besides being taught explicitly by Jesus, Jesus himself demonstrated the pattern a number of times (Jn. 4:1-42 is a good example). And we see the twelve apostles and later Christians following the same pattern.

I’d love to talk about the details here of praying for workers in the harvest, supernatural ministry, being sheep among wolves, not taking a purse or bag or sandals, peace resting or returning and wiping the dust off our feet. But this post is about the strategic pattern. If you want more details it is Chapter 9: Viral Church Planting in my book Viral Jesus. But here is the basic strategic pattern: a.) Allow Jesus to introduce you to the house of peace (Lk. 10:5). He does this by connecting you to the person of peace (Lk 10:5). While this will look different every time, Jesus seems to follow a pattern when leading us into this ministry. For more detail on this pattern read my post Finding the Person of Peace. Following Jesus supernaturally into this pattern allows us to walk down the Highway of the Gospel, which I will talk about in my next post.

But, I think we need to take seriously Jesus words of exhortation when he taught the disciples how to do this kind of ministry in Matt. 10. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master (Matt. 10:24-25b). Isn’t it time we started doing ministry again like Jesus instead of the latest famous ministry guru?

Pick a question and respond:

  • Why do you think we are more willing to follow the example of the latest ministry guru instead of doing what Jesus taught us to do?
  • Do you think our social context so distinct that ministry Jesus style won’t work here?
  • Do you know anyone who understands and practices Lk 10 style ministry? Do you?
  • In discussing the Lk 10 pattern I used phrases like “Allow Jesus to introduce you…”, “He does this by connecting you…” and “Following Jesus supernaturally into this pattern…”. Do you think we can do ministry Jesus style just by following the pattern ourselves or treating it as one more technique? Is the pattern itself enough?
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By organic church I mean something like this.

There are lots of kinds of churches. Besides the dozens if not hundreds of denominations we could name, each with its own way of doing things, there are lots of different models out there. There are liturgical “high worship” churches, like the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, Anglican and Episcopalian churches. There are the Modernism movement (mostly called liberal by their theological foes). There are charismatic churches, Pentecostal churches, cessationist churches, evangelical churches and fundamentalist churches. There are seeker friendly churches and there are Gen-X churches. I could go on and probably so could you. So, why did I end up focused on organic churches? It’s a good question.

I was a missionary is Spain. As an experienced missiological researcher, I was asked to answer a simple set of questions for the Evangelical churches in Spain: why, since we have such a lovely Gospel, are Spaniards rejecting us? After all, we preach grace and forgiveness, love and acceptance and peace with a powerful yet loving God. If you believe in God, which most Spaniards still do, why wouldn’t you want “some of that?” Why isn’t what we are preaching considered “good news?”

So, I started using all my missiological/anthropological/sociological research tools. And, to cut a very long story short, here’s what my helpers and I came up with. Evangelicalism is an expression of Christianity that reflects the Enlightenment worldview. Spaniards skipped the Enlightenment. They went straight from the Ancient worldview[1] to postmodernism. That happened from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. Evangelicalism (and Liberalism, Pentecostalism, etc. etc.) expressed itself culturally in Enlightenment ways. That didn’t work for people with an Ancient worldview or a postmodern worldview. We weren’t speaking to them in their cultural language so the way we expressed ourselves sounded like static on the radio to them.

That’s fine for Spain but here’s the thing…the entire Western world is already postmodern. That includes the United States and Europe. You can hate postmodernism, complain about it, fight it, refuse to participate, do what you want, but in doing so you will choose not to communicate with postmoderns.

My next research step was to find out what was working among postmoderns. And I found out there were four kinds of churches that worked in certain ways. Some postmoderns long for mystery, art and pageantry in religious expression. For these folk (a small but significant number) liturgical “high worship” churches will meet their needs. For baby boomers (the generation stuck between high Modernism/Enlightenment and postmodernity, seeker churches can work; at least those boomers who are not still stuck back in Modernism. For other postmodern seekers there are Gen-X churches, with the art, the candles, the rock music and the hip preacher dressed in latest trendy clothes speaking from a stool instead of a pulpit. But with all of these models there is one problem. The biggest obstacle for postmoderns with religion is institutionalism; and all of these models are highly institutional. Some cool Gen-X churches can be just as domineering and controlling as the Catholic Church. In fact, there has been a recent scandal about this very thing.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with new generations of people (all those born since the baby boomers) who, as postmoderns, tend to be spiritual seekers but who also strongly tend to distrust institutions. So, with these people we’ve been offering institutional religious structures and it hasn’t been working too well. This is the sociological reason the Church is dying in the West. But, through my research I found out about organic/simple/house churches which keep all the biblical spirituality and faithfulness to the Bible but skip the institutional part, which isn’t biblical anyway.

So, that’s the technical answer to why I plant organic churches, but that’s really only part of the answer, and actually not the most important part. Once I started practicing organic Christianity I found a much deeper relationship with Christ and a joyous freedom I’d never experienced in more than 30 years of Christian leadership. But, that’s another story.

Pick a question and respond:

  • Do you think railing against postmodernism is going to change many postmodern’s minds? Do you think offering them something they find offensive is a good solution?
  • If we choose to be postmodern sensitive in the way we minister and live, does it mean we buy all of the values of postmodernism? Is it possible to be postmodern sensitive yet live a biblical lifestyle?
  • Have you ever had an experience like mine, God using something you no longer value much (in my case research) to take you to a new place in your spiritual life?
  • Do you think the technical part of my story (research/sociology) or the spiritual side of my story (deeper relationship with Christ and joyous freedom) would be more persuasive for you?


[1] I’m talking about worldview (the way people see the world) not technology. Spaniards had modern technology but not a Modern (also called Enlightenment) worldview.

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Heikki met Rene and Laila in front of Joensuu city hall.

In late August and early September my friends Lyle and Kristy Wilkinson and my wife Margi and I were in Finland conducting organic church planting training. We did this in the cities of Joensuu, Lahti, Helsinki and Tampere. We also we able to do some brief organic discipleship training with a Russian pastor in St. Petersburg, Russia.

One of our convictions is that training should be more like Jesus’ training where the emphasis was on learning through doing. Training like this puts as much emphasis on actual ministry experiences and debriefing as it does on training through sharing information. We’ve found that this is not only more effective, it is more exciting and more fun. In the church planting portion of our training we teach Luke 10 principles. As a group, we then practice listening prayer, asking God to tell us where to go and what to do. Then, in obedience to the Lord of the harvest, we immediately go and do what Jesus has asked. Afterwards, just like Jesus did in Lk. 10: 17-23 we conduct a debriefing, telling stories of what Jesus has done among us. I wanted to share a story that happened during our training in Joensuu.

Before I share this story I want to set up a little context. Postmodern Europe is not what any knowledgeable observer would call “open to the Gospel.” Most sociologists consider Europe not only postmodern but “post-Christian.” All of that to say my experience of sharing the Gospel in Europe in the “typical way” is that the response is not only uninterested, it is hostile. By “typical way” I’m talking about sharing the Gospel with people that Jesus has not led us to. But that is not our intention. We are looking for the man of peace, a person[1] Jesus is guiding us to, not just a generic person we are hoping might be interested. For more on finding a man of peace read Finding the Person of Peace and Cesar, Man of Peace.

In prayer my friend Heikki had been told by Jesus to “find a man in a cap.” This led him to meet Rene and Laila, a couple from Tallinn, Estonia who were setting on a park bench in front of city hall. Heikki started out with a light, joking conversation with Rene. Then Heikki asked if he could bless him. Rene jumped to his feet. He did it so fast that Heikki was afraid that Rene was going to punch him. Instead Rene said, “I’ve just been praying and waiting for someone to come talk to me about Jesus.” So Heikki asked him if he would like to give his life to Jesus. Rene was more than ready. Heikki led Rene through a prayer asking Jesus to become part of his life. Heikki then turned to Laila and asked her if she would like Jesus in her life. At this point Rene interjected saying, “as a believer it will be important to me to have a wife who believes also.” So, Laila entered the Kingdom. Heikki then spent some time with follow up council and prayer for these new believers and their family. Finally Heikki sensed that he had done what Jesus had sent him to do and he left.

Our debrief later had a number of stories of obediently following Jesus and doing exactly what he had asked him to do. You can imagine how joyous that time was. But, those are stories for a later posts.

Pick a question and respond:

  • Have you ever had Jesus lead you to a person of peace?
  • Have you ever practiced evangelism by asking Jesus where to go, what to do and then did just that?
  • Would you prefer training that included practices and debriefs or just information? Why? Which type of training would be more effective in your mind? Why.
  • When Jesus sent out the twelve (Matt. 10, Mark 6 and Lk9) and the 72 (Lk 10) supernaturalism was a normal result. Do you see this kind of supernaturalism in your ministry today?


[1] Lk. 10:6. This person is most commonly now called a person of peace because they can just as easily be a woman as a man. This same person is called a “worthy person” in Matt. 10.

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