“The Art Of Being Wrong”

As I prepare to ramp up and start writing here at “A Holy Discontent” again I thought I’d do a few throw backs to some of my favorite posts from “the early days”. When driving to work this morning I had this peaceful feeling when thinking about how I don’t always have to be right, and how good it feels to just say to someone, “ya know what, you are right. I was way off, and thank you so much for pointing that out – I’m going to work on letting Jesus fix that in me.” Then, I remembered that I had written this post back in January of 2010! Whether you’re a long-time “A Holy Discontent” reader, or new around these parts I hope you enjoy…

“When we are wrong Jesus is right – it’s redemption in action.”

“You see, if we are never wrong about anything then that means Jesus isn’t having to make us right in any areas of our lives…we hinder His redemptive work in us.”

American culture (and human nature) screams that we must never, ever, ever, under any circumstances admit that we are wrong…about ANYTHING, ever. Whether it be a petty decision we made, statement that slipped out, or a huge life decision that did not go as planned, we seem to have an inability to recognize that we just might have been…WRONG. Is it really so bad…to be…WRONG?

I have determined that we, as humans, need to learn, practice, and perfect the art of being wrong; not when we are not wrong, of course. = ) Perhaps our default should not always be that we ARE right, and could not possibly be wrong. Maybe we could re-program our default to be that we quite possibly could have made a better decision.

“When we are wrong Jesus is right – it’s redemption in action.”

“You see, if we are never wrong about anything then that means Jesus isn’t having to make us right in any areas of our lives…we hinder His redemptive work in us.”

We allow our upbringing, traditions, and personal preferences to get in the way of being wrong all the time. These things cripple us from growing into the people we need to be; the people God desires to build us into. Over the past two years it has become increasingly freeing to let go of things I have done to realize they may be wrong, and could be better in. It hurts at first, but the end result is a more perfect you.

In marriage, our spouses have been placed into our lives to sanctify us by the Holy Spirit that lives within them. When we refuse to ever be wrong we disregard that truth, and hinder our own personal cleansing. In our lives as believers we are so certain we are right that we miss out on things God is trying to teach us.

This also plays into how we “do ministry”, church, etc. My friend Neil Cole directs an organization called CMA. In their organization they have what they call a “wall of shame”. On these shelves resides years worth curriculum, strategies, and plans that they had to retire due to their ineffectiveness. They were willing to accept that those things were…wrong. They put them on the shelf, and began striving for better. Of course, it was painful to retire the resources that took so much time, energy, and money to create. However, the end result was so much more beautiful than the tragedy that would have followed had they insisted on being right.

We could go on and on with examples of how this plays into our lives, and negatively affects us. I am not suggesting that we be ok with being wrong all the time, or become insecure in everything we do because we “might be wrong”. I am simply suggesting that we have a much looser grip on our pride that insists we are incapable of making a bad decision…otherwise known as…SIN. If I never realize, and accept the sin in my life because of pride or not wanting to be wrong I refuse to allow anything in my life to be redeemed.

“Jesus, continually reveal to us where we are wrong. Allow Your Spirit in us to more quickly recognize these wrongs so we may invite Your Spirit in to bring us back into alignment with Your Kingdom. If we neglect this longer we continue to shout with our actions that Your work on the cross was unnecessary, and that we do not need it. Set us free Jesus, and remind us of the permission you gave us to be wrong when you died for the fact that we are sinful.”

I leave you with two definitions…

Redeem: Compensate for faults, or bad aspects.

Redemption: The action of saving, or being saved from sin, error, evil.

Amendment…Ouch.

After going back & reading over my last post, “A Bad Thing…?” and having several close friends (including my wife) point out that some things said may have been a bit harsh, out of line, or taken the wrong way I realized the need for action. My pride screamed out, but then I remembered that these people truly care about me, are kingdom minded, and have no hidden agenda…

My first response was to retaliate to their comments or emails defensively…which I did in some cases (sorry=). After some discussion with friends, and wrestling with the Holy Spirit I realized I needed to do something much different.

My second thought was to DELETE the blog post, which would be the easy thing to do. I then realized that I truly wanted my wrestle to be SEEN, or READ by anyone who reads my blog. I wanted it to be evident how easy it is for us (me in this case) to slip into challenging and questioning the motives of others, which can be very dangerous.

I wrote the last post rather quickly, and with little pre-post revisions. I did not run it by anyone first, and had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth based upon the experiences I mentioned in the post itself. (By no means an attempt to justify)

So, I wanted to “go on the record” with an amendment to my last entry. Again, I do not want to remove the post, but paint a full picture. May these two entries be a lesson learned the hard way, with hopes that others can avoid falling into such traps.

In the post I challenged the motives, and reasons behind why many pastors plant churches. What I unintentionally did was generalize, and group all pastors into that category. That is not fair. I made the attack that they only plant churches if it benefits them in some way, etc. I did not realize how harshly this came across, and want to retract that statement. I realize now that it was completely unnecessary at getting across the point I was making in the first place. Silly Aaron.

I am embarrased by the fact that I accidentally allowed myself to make a very general statement that lumped a lot of really great guys into a category that they did not belong. I felt terrible as I realized that our BIGGEST financial supporter could have been lumped into that category based upon my EXTREME, and unnecesary comment. (They would be the FARTHEST thing from my description in the last post)

My wife gently pointed out to me that by making such an accusation I was doing the very thing to these wrongly accused pastors that SOME others have done to us in the past. We, and many other like-minded individiuals have been lumped into the category of “rebellious”, “house-church”, “wound-lickers”, etc. Morgan challenged me with something that many of us in the “simple church” world are constantly wrestling with: “Be careful, lest you become what you hate”. In other words, I was upset that some pastors had delegitimized some of our student church planters, & grouped them in with some angry, upper-middle class, baby-boomer, “house church” people. It led me to retaliate by doing the same thing to them that I was upset at them for doing to me. Silly Aaron.

My whole point in the previous post was that young people who are passionate/apostolic need some good ol’ spiritual fathers to encourage, release, and affirm them. (I could have fit that into a 140 character twitter update!) But NO, I just had to bring out some unneeded, below-the-belt jabs; for these I apologize, especially if you accidentally got generalized.

I would, however, encourage every “church planter” or pastor of a church that plants churches to always check your motives. In our organization we try to check ours on a regular basis. About a year into things we realized that we had fallen back into a numbers trap by trying to start a bunch of churches “in our network” (Duh, so we could take credit for them, and show everyone how much God was using us…) Praise Christ that He revealed that evil in our…MY heart, and led us to make proper changes.

Sometimes the enemy sneaks in to pervert the most good-intentioned things, making them evil at the core, but pretty on the outside.

To sum it all up: OMIT the entire first four paragraphs of the previous post. =)

Thank you all for your grace.

“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.”

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1…A?

Why “church planters” Suck at Reaching the Lost
(This one might hurt…it hurt ME to write)

Previous blog written on May 14th, 2008

This is follow-up from part 1 of the “Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost” entry. I couldn’t just pick on the everyday Christian, and had to ask, “well, who is responsible for training, and leading these everyday Christians!?” (I want to start off by saying that I have been one of these “church planters”, “trainers of everyday Christians”, etc. I am guilty. I repent daily. I beg the Lord for something different, something fresh, and something new…heck, something Biblical.) I was recently in Orlando with a large group of “church planters” at Exponential 08′, which is one of the largest church planter’s conferences in the country. I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with a few of the key speakers/authors outside of the conference. These are guys who are introducing new thoughts into the picture for what life as a disciple of Christ looks like according to the scriptures, and the implications that result for those of us who claim to be disciples. We sat around chatting about things, and it led me to the following thought…”church planters” (Me) suck at reaching the lost. There are many reasons for this. I will attempt to touch on a few of them…

We have been planting churches for the already churched for years. Most of our plans, strategies, models, etc. include language and practices that the average Christian is familiar with, or can relate to. However, those outside of the church, who do not have any church background or Christian upbringing are lost in the mix do to a HUGE language/culture barrier. Most of our “church growth” is a result of Christians transferring from one church to the other. We MUST stop planting churches for ourselves, and start being Disciples of Christ who focus on being missional in our communities. We MUST stop kidding ourselves into thinking that the large numbers in our weekly services are a legitimate measure for success. Are those numbers bad? NO. But are we reaching the lost, or simply entertaining a tragic game of “musical churches” for Christians?

I will not be so arrogant as to think that some disciples are not being added to the kingdom as a result of our current form of church, and church practices in America. However, I would submit that we have things backwards. We “plant churches” thinking that it will produce disciples. The opposite, in fact, is what we find in scripture. Jesus COMMANDED us to “go and make disciples”. He never even so much as suggested that we go “plant churches”. Interesting. I have experienced personally that when we start with the disciple, “church” naturally happens. When we start with the disciple those disciples become The Church; they don’t start going to church. They become a part of The Body of Christ. Of course, a natural result of people becoming radically transformed by the Gospel, and living missionally in the context of community, are the “church practices” that follow. Notice though, that these “church practices” are merely a RESULT/REACTION of transformed disciples; they are not the “end”, but simply a “means to the end”. In America we start with the “church practices”, invite others to join those practices, on our terms, and hope that a disciple is produced. We accidentally get consumed with those practices, so much that a team of professionals now has to manage those practices. Typically, those managers of “the practices” must have extensive Biblical Degrees, and demand control of this finely tuned machine, lest they lose control. Ladies and gentleman…ding ding ding: church planter. Me, if I’m not VERY careful. (Except I don’t have a seminary degree…ooops)

Do we find anyone in the Bible ever intentionally “planting churches”? Not that I can find. Interesting. I realize that Paul went to new cities, raised up disciples of “The Way”, and then left. I would submit that he went to those cities to raise up disciples of Christ, and the result was people living in the context of tight-knit community. The followers of Christ in those cities were naturally led into certain “church practices”. His follow-up letters are addressed to “The Church at (fill in the blank)”. He was referring to the people, or community of believers when he refers to them as The Church. He also addressed The Church by the CITY the people lived in. Not by denomination, or what building they attended on a weekly basis. “When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1) There are verses all throughout Acts that describe this idea of The Body of Christ being together within the cities they resided. They were defined in their city by the way they lived their lives. The outsiders actually labeled them as “Christians”, or “mini Jesus'”. They didn’t even place that label on themselves! They simply lived out the Gospel of Jesus in community with one another, and received their label from others. They were the Bride of Christ, they were The Church. I fear that we have lost the art of being, and raising up disciples in our attempt to “plant churches”. When will we begin to raise up disciples who will go to, or be in their cities in order to truly reach those who do not know Jesus? When will we stop creating machines that busy the “Christian” with programs, and choke out the movement of the Holy Spirit because man takes total control? (If the previous statement does not apply to your church then do not let it offend you. If you feel offended then it might apply, and require some issues to be addressed. Please hear my heart, and receive this gently. I pray for the day when we can all have mutual accountability within the Body of Christ, and “spur one another on to goodness”.)

When will regular, everyday Christ followers feel the freedom, desire, and responsibility to live the Gospel outside the walls of an institution? Is the institution bad? No. Does it do good things? Absolutely. Is the church (little “c”/institution) as we know it in America a catalyst for a movement of the Holy Spirit that sweeps through communities, and transforms the multitudes as we read about it the scriptures? Tears come to my eyes as the hard truth leads me to answer that question with a broken…. “NO”. (There are some RARE exceptions to this statement). This is not an easy realization to come to. It challenges, and changes everything I have ever known about “church”. However, I cannot escape the fact that much of what I see in our “church practices” in America are nowhere to be found in the scriptures. I wonder what it would look like if those of us who call ourselves “church planters” allowed that label to be placed on us AFTER we have raised up disciples in the cities we inhabit? After all, in the scriptures The Church is The Body of Christ. How can we go to a city with a name, budget, location, website, core values, prospectus, mission statement, staff, and plant a “church” with no disciples!? No people? No Body? It seems a bit presumptuous doesn’t it? It’s time we start going places with the intentions of raising up disciples, be led into missional community with one another, and then look back and say, “Praise Christ! Look at THE CHURCH that was planted!”

I do not want to be a mere complainer, someone who tears down and deconstructs. So, please know that I believe there are answers and solutions to the above issues. As my close friend, and mentor Lance Ford told me today regarding this entry: “…include some answers…we can deconstruct until we’re blue in the face…”, and as Alan Hirsch says, “the best critique of the bad is the better.” I have several more entries to follow up the ones I have posted so far. God willing answers and solutions will be formed in the entries to come. Stay-tuned.

“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Part 1 – Christians Suck at Reaching the Lost

Previous blog written on April 20th, 2008

I have recently realized how stubborn, arrogant, and prideful we are as humans…and Christians. On a small scale we think that we are always right with our individual convictions, or opinions. That causes us to act with irrational and selfish behavior. We don’t even know how to selflessly serve our spouses, loved ones, families, and best friends much less “love our enemies”. On a large scale our nation has been guilty of ethnocentrism for decades. Ethnocentrism: evaluating other people’s cultures according to the standards of one’s own culture. We think our way is better. We go to foreign countries with the idea that we are going to “enlighten”, or teach them a better way of doing things; our way. The reality is that there are movements of the Lord taking place in huge/powerful ways overseas, ways that we have never seen in the U.S! In the evangelical world this has translated to a large amount of Christians, if not all at some point, who feel that they have figured “it” out. (Even if they/we/I do a poor job at living out the basic principles of what “it” is) We begin our journey towards Christ with passion and vigor. Our excitement with this new awareness of grace ironically fuels our ability to start “living right”, and sin less. This is where something goes terribly wrong for many of us. I do not mean to make blanket statements about ALL Christians. However, this was definitely my story, and the story of many I know. We drastically change much of our old behavior, and add some new rituals to our lives. i.e., reading our Bibles, going to church often, praying, serving, etc. These are all great things. However, many of us aren’t quite sure how to handle our life change in terms of relating to others, and communicating these values effectively to those we come in contact with.

We quickly become self-righteous, and Pharisee-like. Either we want our friends to be where we are, making the same changes and commitments, or we distance ourselves from them because they are not. If the first is true then we tend to run them off because we pretend that we have it all together. We become judgmental, hypocritical, lame, boring, etc. If the latter, it is because “bad company corrupts good character”, right? Isn’t that what we have been taught our entire lives? “Aaron, you don’t need to be hanging out with them, they are a bad influence.” Many times that advice is not entirely wrong or bad if we are attempting to remove temptation from some area of our lives. However, it has sadly translated into every aspect of our lives as we become more mature Christians. How does that happen? Can we grow more mature as followers of Christ while we continue to distance ourselves from the rest of the lost world? Dan Kimball, in his book “They Like Jesus but not the Church”, states that statistics show most Christians lose contact with almost all of their non-Christian friends within two years of “accepting Christ”. I thought back on this in my own life, and it was somewhat true. When it wasn’t true was only in cases of sin in my life that I wasn’t releasing to Jesus; I stayed in relationships with those people not to reflect light to them, but to continue in disobedience. Those who participated in sin that was not included in my arsenal of sin were quickly deemed as unholy, and therefore, “unworthy” of me to associate with.

Dan talks about the “Christian Sub-Cultures” that we have created, and essentially locked ourselves in. Think about it, we spend much of our time at “church”. We surround ourselves by Christian friends. We join Bible study groups, and have accountability partners. We busy our lives with “Christian activities”. Many of us place our kids in private Christian schools. Heck, many of us have chosen our careers in ministry where we almost completely cut ourselves off from the outside world. We listen to “Christian” music, go to “Christian” concerts, eat at restaurants owned by Christians. We read “Christian” books, and shop at “Christian” stores. We drink coffee at “Christian” coffee shops, and go to “Christian” camps. We go on vacation with our “Christian” friends, and stay away from rough parts of town. We have cross collages in our living rooms. We refuse to participate in many activities based upon what someone has told us our entire lives from a pulpit instead of what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us through scripture. Kimball would say that some of us break free from our Christian sub-culture, but usually only for a very brief period of time before darting back to it. We have conditioned ourselves to be so different, and uncomfortable with anything unlike us. All of the sudden everyone who is not like us becomes wrong. And so it goes, that we, as the body of Christ, have isolated ourselves from the rest of the world. We so quickly forget that the rest of the world is what Christ has called us to humbly serve, and love in the first place.

Luckily, we serve a God of unending grace and mercy. Somewhere down the road of our journey we realize that we have lost sight of our purpose. We realize that our lives are ultimately designed to reflect glory to God, and that is most effectively done when His gospel is lived out. Part of this translation is that those who are different from us, those who are lost, are the ones we are to be broken over. Finally, we venture out. We try to relate to, and reach those who are “of the world”. The word tells us to be “in the world, but not of the world”. Sadly, we have been neither. The result is that we suck at reaching the lost. We try everything we can to be “cool enough”, or “hip enough” thinking this will reach out to a desperate world in need of a Savior. We realize that the places we’ve spent most of our time over the past however many years might not be where any non-believers spend time. So, we try going where they are. This proves to be quite the challenge. We have spent so many years in isolation that we fit in about as well as home-schooler in the real world. We are uncomfortable, and awkward. We get nervous when we get around “sin” and “sinners”, forgetting that Jesus spent most of His time with people of that label. The end result is sad. We retreat back to the comfortable boxes that we’ve created, and called churches. This is a safe place where “normal Christians” can be professional church members. This is where we stay away from sin, and sinners, becoming more holy, and pleasing to God, right? Now a paid staff is responsible for doing the “dirty work”. The professional member puts their check in the plate, attends all the events, serves in the youth group or nursery, and maybe even goes on the annual mission trip. Our only job now is to invite non-believers into our box, where the professional Christians who make up the staff take it from there. Unfortunately, a large majority of the lost world will never step foot into the doors of a traditional church building. Here we are, comfortable in our simple, easy, and normal boxes. We’ve even pulled God into the box with us. His Spirit in us screams out for air, but our fearful flesh can’t handle it outside of the box; we retreat right back into a life of safety and certainty. All the while the world that we are called to live in is absent from our lives…

It would seem that this has all occurred because of the expectations of those around us, the expectations of other Christians. It is these false, man-centered expectations that have caused the dilemma we are in today. The expectations of God, and the challenges of the scriptures are diluted to fit into our easy, comfortable, certain, and risk-free lives…