“Good Teaching…?”

CB064071What is “good teaching”? There is one class of people who would name their favorite pastor, or conference speaker to answer that question. (Usually based upon how that person measures up on the laughter meter, or how “deep” & theological that person can dive with their eloquent sermons) Others would say that “good teaching” is a non-negotiable when searching for a “church home”. Many venture out on a journey to find a church with “good teaching”, never to find what they’re looking for. The sad thing is that the phrase “good teaching” is usually measured with an improper “scorecard”. It is usually a question of, “good entertainment”, or “did the person on the stage say anything in particular that caused me to perk up in my seat-based upon excitement, or conviction?” Or, “Did the sermons elicit any emotional response?” What then, really, is “good teaching”, and how can we shift our minds away from an inaccurate perception to a healthy, Biblical one?

My friends Tony & Felicity Dale, along with the help of George Barna, have recently come out with a book I have been reading called, “The Rabbit & the Elephant”. As soon as I am finished reading the book I will be posting a more extensive “review” if you will. Today, however, I wanted to share with you a bit of what the authors have to say about this topic of “good teaching”. I need not add anything to their words…

“Let’s look at the Apostle’s teaching first. If our simple churches are going to multiply rapidly, we no longer have the luxury of taking several years to train a Bible teacher. Anyway, the goal is not a few gifted teachers but a lot of hungry learners. Paul the apostle faced this dilemma as well-in some instances he was forced to move away from the new believers almost immediately. For example, in Philippi he only ‘stayed there several days’ (Acts 16:12, NIV). Therefore, we like to use an approach that allows the Bible to teach itself, enabling even young believers to lead. In New Testament times, teaching was far more interactive. For instance, the word used for Paul’s lengthy teaching in Ephesus is the Greek word dialegomai, from which we get our word ‘dialogue’ (Acts 20:7). Jesus’ informal teaching was frequently discussion-based and interrupted by questions He either posed Himself or was asked by others. Evangelical Christians tend to emphasize the importance of good teaching, but we believe that this is missing the point of helping people to genuinely learn Scripture and apply it to their everyday lives. Statistics show that we learn far more by actively participating than we do by hearing alone. People remember approximately 20 percent of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see and hear, and 70 percent of what the say themselves. In simple church, everyone is involved in the learning process. More than once, we have had people tell us they have learned more in just a few months of simple church than in years of listening to good sermons!”

The authors then go into a few methods of scripture study and teaching they’ve experienced in different simple churches, but you’ll have to get the book if you want to learn about those! Many evangelicals get worried that this type of teaching is dangerous, and allows potential heresy to creep in…

“Many who come from traditional church backgrounds are concerned that such an approach opens the door to heresy. We can attest that in the dozens of groups we’ve been part of over the years, we have never seen anyone sidetracked by wrong teaching. Even with the youngest Christians, we’ve found that when anything too outlandish comes up someone will usually point it out.”

Some other good tidbits from the book:

“Larger groups may run more smoothly if someone acts as a facilitator-to make sure that the study keeps moving, that everyone is taking part, and that no one (particularly the facilitator) dominates. It is not the facilitator’s job to answer questions but rather to direct the questions back to the group…by continually pointing people back to the scriptures, the facilitator ensures that the Bible remains the authority.”

“…The Bible itself is the teacher, and everyone in the group is involved in both the teaching and learning, as well as applying what is learned to daily life.”

“…The hard fact is that listening to long discourses does not turn people into disciples!”

“…Research by the Barna Group has revealed that in conventional churches in the  US, within two hours of having left a church service, the typical attender cannot identify the topic of the sermon, much less the key points communicated within it!”

“While there are many people who appreciate well-crafted and flawlessly communicated sermons, there are even more who appear to get little value from them.”

***All exerpts from “The Rabbit and the Elephant” – Chapter 10: Simply Reproducible***

Click Here to purchase the book!

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“Interns, College Courses, & Good Discussions”

Some of you know that we recently brought on our first “official intern” for Intentional Gatherings as an organization here in Vegas. We have had many people come in and out of our different communities in Ft. Worth AND Vegas over the past three years. They have all been “informally trained” to take what they’ve learned back to wherever they came from. We have also moved quite a few young people in and out of the different I.G. Houses in both cities. Here in Vegas we do, on paper, call those who have come into the I.G. House, “house interns”. We’ve also seen hundreds of students trained to start simple/campus churches through the various trainings we’ve hosted/been a part of. We would also hope that ANYONE who is ever a part of any of the I.G. communities would be equipped/discipled in such a way that they could ALL go anywhere in the world to start their own simple church. However, this is our first “formal” intern who has come in to learn specifically about planting simple church communities with the end goal of starting his own community when he’s done. We’re about a month in and things have been really exciting…Pray that it continues to be fruitful. Welcome Aaron Fullmer!

I have another friend who spent some time with our community here in Vegas last summer. He went back to school in Reno, but we’ve stayed connected. He’s doing some cool stuff in his neighborhood with his roommates to facilitate “Missional Community”. He’s in a college class right now, and had to write a paper/do some sort of study on The Church in America. Unfortunately, it was a discussion about “Institutional Church” & “House Church”. He asked me to comment on this issue for his paper. I’m not a huge fan of debating these two things anymore. However, I thought it was worth sharing with you guys for some more healthy discussion to continue our wonderful chat from this past weekend…

From Jon:

“I’m just looking for one or two quotes for an article for a class I’m writing. Just sum it up…

What’s your opinion on home churches compared to the institutionalized church?”

My Response:

“Dude you know I can’t make it that short-haha! This is as short as I could manage….

It depends on how you’re defining “church”. Biblically, The Church is defined by the people of God, The Bride of Christ, etc. To put the word “institutionalized” before the word “church” is a bit scary and dangerous to me. However, placing the word “house” before the word “church” is also very dangerous. When we do either we confine the people of God to a place, and put the Holy Spirit in a box.

Practically speaking I do feel that institutional churches do a poor job of “equipping the saints for the work of service”. Because they are run like a business they are dependent upon money, infrastructure, staff, programs, etc. When those are the dependent variables the God-given purposes of His people get distracted. In our current day and time most businesses AND institutions across the board are struggling. This is the VERY same with MOST churches that operate as institutions. When money is NEEDED to survive as a business (institutional church) then certain things MUST be done in order to get people: 1) into the church (building) 2) Make/Keep them happy 3) Please/entertain them 4) Get them to pledge membership-tithe & volunteer their time. When the primary focus becomes the above we very quickly throw TRUE discipleship out the window. (Please know I am not questioning the motives behind why these churches do what they do. They are obviously pursuing what they feel God has called them to in making disciples-I would hope & assume)

I have found, in my experience, that more organic expressions of the ecclessia better facilitate discipleship & “equipping the saints for the work of service”. Not only that, but because it is NOT dependent upon any of the above variables it is much more reproducible. Anyone from anywhere and in any context can follow Christ, make disciples, and facilitate Gospel centered community ON MISSION when the “criteria” for “what/how/why” we do church is made more simple & organic by nature.

God has used the institution to do wonderful things, and change lives-we’ve forced Him to have to work in that box here in America (Generally). He’s working in crazy ways OUTSIDE of the box of the institution all over the world. The Church-the people of God were never created to be institutionalized (Thank you Constantine) and sure as hell never meant to operate as a business. We prove our lack of faith when we insist that the movement of the Spirit of God, and the Gospel can/should only operate inside the realm of an institutionalized business. God is moving, and there is a HUGE shift happening among the Body of Christ. May we welcome it gladly, appreciating some of our past healthy tradition, but not cling to it in foolish  pride.”

Your thoughts?

Thank You “Church Planting Movements”…

Church Planting MovementsAs you may know I have been slowly reading through a wonderful book by David Garrison called, “Church Planting Movements“. This book is brilliant, and prophetic. I came across something this morning that encouraged me, and gave me much hope for the future…

“Converts are put on a pew while they demonstrate their conversion through years of faithful church attendance.  If the convert grows disinterested over time, the faithful conclude that his conversion was not genuine, when, in fact, he may have simply grown bored. This patter has led to a staggering attrition rate for evangelical churches around the world. The passion and zeal of the new convert is slowly absorbed into the church pews until an anemic, nominal Christian finally drifts away. Lost people are finding the message of the gospel powerful both in its appeal and its ability to change their lives, but they find life on the pews to be less satisfying.

In recent years, evangelical churches have improved discipleship training in an effort to conserve new converts. Some of these efforts have proven effective, but often they concentrate on indoctrination that results in better-educated Christians, but not necessarily better-assimilated Christians.

In Church Planting Movements prospective converts often begin serving Christ even before they become His follower. A Southeast Asia missionary began meeting regularly with a group of Vietnamese physicians. Though the physicians were not yet Christian, they met weekly for prayer, Bible Study, and sharing a vision of what they perceived to be God’s desire for them and their people.”

Garrison, David. “Church Planting Movements”. 2004. Wigtake resources. Pg. 230.

Word on the Street…

I received this comment through an email from a young guy who has been exploring what it looks like to live in Gospel Centered Community in one of our I.G. families over the past couple of months. This was his response after me giving him a hard time about being so quiet during worship gatherings. It is very refreshing, and encouraging to hear things like this:

“I feel like I’ve been able to mentally understand the core values and purpose of Christianity, but I’ve rarely ever felt spiritually close to God. I can give some theologically correct answers and I try to live by them, but the basis of my action feels more like a rigid conviction rather than an overflow of the love God’s given to me. I see in the I.G. family an authentic heart for God’s people, and I hear stories of the Spirit moving in everyone’s life. So, I figure that most of you have greater experience at engaging God and people in a way that has more depth than mere intellectual explanations. Yet I am unsure of how to make such a thing real in my life. I relate to Kierkegaard in that way.”

The purpose of posting this is not to boast in anything that we have done as an organization, or I.G. Community. We simply feel that the above statement is a beautiful picture of fresh perspective from someone who is new to “organic church”. I think this would have been his/her response to many other Organic/Simple Churches as well…To God be all of the Glory.

City-Wide Missional Community Network

Two years ago there was only about one group of people pursuing simple/organic/house church, or what we call “missional community”, in Las Vegas. It was Apex Church. When Intentional Gatherings moved into town we were told by many in the city that we were “crazy”, and that the vision of seeing “MC’s” multiplied throughout the city was “unrealistic”. They said that it “just wouldn’t work in this city”. Since then we have connected with Apex, and met many others who are also on this pursuit of living in tight-knit Biblical Community through the multiplication of simple expressions of the ecclesia.

A few months ago some of the leadership of these organizations got together to discuss what it would look like for us to partner, unify, and cooperate as similar organizations in the city. As a result, the “Vegas Valley Missional Community Network” was birthed. There are now about seven organizations/churches representing 16 different “missional communities” spread out all over the city.

There is an inward purpose, as well as an outward focus behind why this network has been birthed. (Missional – outward. Community – inward) Because of this network, each of our individual organizations now realize that they are a part of something bigger throughout the city. We know, and are affirmed because there are people spread out all over the city who are pursuing the same vision; the same vision that we were told was “unrealistic”. That is the inward focus, which we pray never becomes dominant in this network. The outward focus should be a natural result, or response of each individual community as they pursue life with others centered around the Gospel. The outward purpose of this network is to see “missional communities” multiplied throughout the entire city. Our prayer is that this will happen through the training, and release of apostolic leaders to start new communities where the Gospel is not rooted deeply.

This past Sunday evening believers from the different organizations involved in the Vegas Valley Missional Community Network gathered for the first time to meet one another, celebrate what God has done in their communities, and pray for one another as they are on mission together in the city. Here are some pictures from the evening…

What a beautiful, and God ordained evening. It was the first of many. Thank you to all of you who joined us, and helped out with everything. Until next time…

I.G. Vegas = Eight Months Old…

It has been eight months since Intentional Gathering’s first permanent presence in Las Vegas. It has been quite the ride. We have seen the Lord do some amazing things. He has taught us much. He has begun forming some beautiful Gospel Centered Biblical Communities here in the city, and used I.G. Vegas to influence to birth of new “missional communities” in other parts of the country. Over the past eight months we have been continuously reminded of some of the core principles we learned at the birth of our journey of that began two years ago in Texas…

1) If we EVER think we have “it” figured out then we have fallen victim to pride, & self-righteousness. We will soon lose all ability to hear from the Holy Spirit, and the ability make proper changes in order to stay effective in our pursuit of seeing the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth.

2) Every “missional community” IS, and MUST BE different. There is NO formula. Gospel Centered Community centered around mission MUST happen naturally, and cannot be forced.

3) We must not spend precious time, energy, and efforts trying to rally believers around our “cause”, “model”, or “way of doing things”. We MUST pursue making disciples, and adding NEW believers to the Body of Christ in order to grow the Kingdom of God. As we pursue making NEW disciples Christ will grow His Church. Amen.

Here’s a quick video of some things that have happened over the past eight months in Vegas, and some upcoming opportunities we have as an organization…

“Airbags”

All-new Hyundai Accent, 3-door version - 6 standard airbags.From the beginning of “Intentional Gatherings” we have made it a point never to think that we have it all figured out. We believe that the second we start thinking we have it all figured out is the second we become closed off to allowing necessary change, and therefore, become ineffective. It would appear that many in America have lost touch with this idea of continuous improvement. It seems somewhat ignorant to believe that the way we do things RIGHT NOW will be the best way to do things in six months, right?

This all makes me think of the automobile industry. Years ago, people did not wear seat belts. Many people died. So, changes were made, and seat belts were required. At first, waist straps were implemented. This worked well, but was not completely effective. Automakers soon realized that they needed to implement a shoulder strap to provide further protection from collision. Seat belts save lives. Wear your seat belt! However, people continued to die in tragic accidents even while wearing their seat belt. So, necessary changes were made…

The airbag came onto the scene. What an amazing invention. The airbag was designed to save lives, which it did. However, there are two important things about airbags that we must remember: 1) Without its partner, the seat belt, airbags are not only ineffective, but dangerous, & 2) Airbags can kill children. Automobile manufacturers are pretty good about making changes, and fixing things that are unsafe. I wonder sometimes if “the church” in America is like the airbag. (I use this term “the church” in reference to our current form of church in American, and very loosely because it means so many different things to so many different people, few of which are correct. This probably includes myself; I beg the Lord daily to teach me what it truly means that as His follower I am, and you are, The Church.) The airbag is an amazing thing. It saves lives, and does great things. But through time those who implemented the airbag realized some things about it. If a small child was involved in an accident, and the airbags deployed it would kill them. The airbag was not effective at saving the lives of smaller children. Our current form of church in America (Institution) is an amazing thing. It saves souls, and it does great things. Period. Anyone who tries to argue that is disillusioned. The institution, just like the airbag, has the potential to spiritually kill if necessary changes are not made. Is the institution bad, wrong, or lost? No. However, it may have become ineffective in many ways by allowing stubborn pride to hinder it from making the appropriate changes.

Soon children under a certain age were prohibited from riding in the front seat, and some cars had the ability to turn off the airbag feature. But wait, the airbag is a great thing, right? Why would anyone want to turn it off? How devastating would it have been if auto manufacturers would have only focused on the saved lives resulting from the airbag while ignoring the child fatalities? I pray that we, as The Church, will celebrate the good, but welcome the opportunity for change and the constant pursuit of effectiveness. This type of change only comes through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Are we spiritually starving the next generation because we feel they are supposed to be “doing church” like we did growing up? Are we pushing the lost away because our arrogant, self-righteous pride has taken over the call on our lives to usher in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

There are guys in the “emergent/organic/simple/house church” movement who are somewhat disenfranchised with the church as an institution. Many of them have taken up a new hobby of bad mouthing the church that doesn’t look like theirs, which happens to meet in a living room. This is a terrible approach. Not only does this cause even more division among the body of Christ, it is arrogant and prideful. Philippians chapter 2 speaks of a unification that occurs through humility. Thinking that I am right and everyone else is wrong is not humility, and cannot birth unity. The issue is not a debate between who is right and who is wrong. Too often in the church time is wasted arguing and discussing who’s right about this and that, who does church “right”, who’s doctrine is correct, etc. I wonder if the Lord isn’t thinking to Himself, “man, they just don’t get it…I thought I made it pretty clear in my word that their purpose is to glorify me, and become more like me.” On that note, I cannot help but think to myself what would happen if the church in America began taking the teachings of Jesus seriously. We’d see rich professionals giving everything they have to the poor and radically following Jesus. We’d see “neat Christians” decide that it’s “ok” for them to NOT be comfortable ALL the time and have perfect, secure, and happy little lives. Shane Claiborne says, “I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning, and when the rich meet the poor poverty will come to an end.” Nicely put.

The root issue seems to be pride. We do things a certain way, our way. We do them for a certain period of time, and it soon shifts from our way to the right way. We then presume to volunteer everyone around us to do things our way, convincing them that it’s The Way. What would it look like if the church stopped getting so set in its ways and tied up in tradition, but allowed the Holy Spirit to lead in a consistent way? Obviously, this would require much humility, and a raised awareness of allowing change.

“Father, as your followers would You burn into us a spirit of humility. May we never allow our prideful flesh to convince us that we figured it out. Show us where You are, and where You’re going so we may follow. Motivate us to action and cause us to embrace doing things differently. Prepare your Church, your Bride, for your return.”