Lonely Old Men, & Poetry…

The thoughts in this post pose some interesting questions, which are the reasons behind why I wrote it in the first place. The questions are at the end…if the story becomes boring feel free to skip down and read them. I’d love your thoughts on them as well…

“Lonely Old Men, & Poetry”
Last night our simple church decided to go to what we thought was an “open mic night” at the Coffee Bean. The Bean is right down the street, and we’re always sure to meet people who live in our neighborhood when we go there. Our purpose was to build some relationships, and a couple of us were possibly going to contribute to the “open mic”…

Much to our dismay, we had received a bit of inaccurate information about “open mic night”. Turns out it was really “Poetry Reading Night”. We thought, “What’s difference does it make? We came to build relationships. Why would that change because it’s open poetry reading, and not open mic, right?” We had also spent some time covering the evening in prayer at the house before heading up to the Coffee Bean. So, we, a bit reluctantly, joined the group of poets in the back room. It was closed off from the rest of the coffee shop, probably due to the language/content of the poetry. Not to mention they had the mic CRANKED up.

It did not take us long to realize that this was going to be a long night. What we thought was open mic night was actually poetry night. What was SUPPOSED to be poetry night should have actually been called, “Erotic, Sexual Poetry Reading by Creepy, Old, Lonely Men and Women Night.” Haha! I won’t go into detail here, but you can imagine what we were hearing. Each person had crafted their wildest sexual fantasies into a poem to share with the entire group; all included MUCH use of the “F” word. Enough said.

I am really proud of our community for being such “troopers”, not judgmental, and having true compassion in their hearts for those we spent the evening with last night. For the most part we’ve all been far removed from our previous “Christian Bubbles”, which completely sheltered us from the world, sin, and the potential to be temped. Being around “sin” doesn’t make us want to leave so we don’t get “tainted”, or hinder us from remembering our purpose. We go confidently into dark situations having faith that the LIGHT is US in far more powerful than the DARKNESS we’ve entered into; we’re also “prayed up”, and on mission together as believers. (The Bible talks a bit about this believe it or not = )

There is one very important thing that came to my mind last night as we were sitting in the back room of the Coffee Bean while creepy old men were talking about their dream girl being tied to the bed…

I could not help but think that the way we felt sitting in this room (A bit uncomfortable, uneasy, not used to the atmosphere, confused, unsure of how to act, curious, maybe a bit offended, etc.) must be what it feels like to be an UNbeliever walking into a “church” for the first time…(Please do not hear me picking on the “institution” here. This “happening” can easily take place in a simple, or house church setting as well)

Think about it: We walked into the poetry reading as “outsiders”, not knowing much about it, the people, etc. We were greeted, and found our seats quietly. The next hour was spent in the context of a completely different, and new atmosphere. The language was different, the way people spoke, the things they spoke about, the attitudes they had, the activities they participated in, the way they expressed emotion, the music they listened to, etc. Of course, not all of these things were bad, or negative by any means. However, that is all we know of poetry night at the Bean, and probably all we’ll ever know unless we intentionally pursue relationships with those people outside of poetry night. Being there that night did not make us better-equipped poets or poem readers. We will most likely not “join” the poetry-reading group based upon our experience last night.

So, could our experience last night (Believers in a dark setting with unbelievers-on THEIR turf) be very similar to the experience an UN-churched person might have when they walk into a “church”? (Unbelievers in a “bright” setting-on OUR turf). It makes me think about the times Jesus encountered sinners in the scripture, and who’s turf they were usually on. Did Christ expect the darkness to be attracted to the light, come to Him, and be changed? Or, did he take the light out into the darkness and see lives transformed?

Hopefully this will help us to all think more about our unbelieving friends, and where they’re at. We, for a brief moment last night, were “in their shoes”. We learned what it must feel like to walk into a brand new place with new people who dress differently, talk differently, sing different songs, use different language, go on different vacations, enroll their kids in special schools, listen to special radio stations, shop for music & books at special stores, etc. etc. etc.

Should our weekly services be for unbelievers, or for believers?

Should we be trying to accomplish effective discipleship & evangelism SIMULTANEOUSLY using the same weekly service? Are both not going to suffer greatly in the process?

Could two serious issues in the American church today (Weak discipleship & being “seeker sensitive”) come to an end if we stopped putting all of our eggs in the “weekly church service” basket, ceasing to attempt to be both “seeker sensitive” & solid disciple makers with this ONE tool?
(I don’t know of many churches who would admit that this is their ONLY “tool”, but there’s no denying that it is the primary tool used to attempt to achieve both of the above outcomes. If you’ve EVER spent any time on staff at a church then you know that most of the time, energy, resources, etc. are poured into the weekly worship gathering)

Desperation Blog…Part 2

A couple months back I posted an entry titled, “The Godless: A Desperate Generation”. Though it is not entirely necessary to read before this entry, it may help you to see what sparked the thoughts below…

In the past few months I have been almost convinced that it is impossible to be desperate for God in America because of our lack of need for Him in regards to basic provision. My mind has shifted gears in the past few weeks, though I still strongly believe that it is MUCH more difficult to grasp a desperation for God without needing, and relying on Him for the provision of our basic needs.

I have realized that anyone, in any country, who takes the scriptures seriously, lives them out, and denies themselves daily, can begin to understand what it means to be desperate for God in a physical and Spiritual sense. If I truly live the scriptures, and take them seriously then I will be without some sort of fleshly need, or desire. I will have need for God’s provision in my life. Because desperation for God has not been modeled for many of us in our lives we will have to pursue it more intentionally, and with everything in our being. As we deny ourselves of fleshly desires we will quickly be made desperate for God, His presence, and provision in our lives.

If you are married, and truly seeking the scriptures/living them out in your marriage then you certainly know, or are learning to be desperate for God. If you are not married, that’s okay, you should still keep reading. At the core of the Gospel we see this idea of denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following after Jesus. (Matthew 16:24) This is a daily denial of self, which goes completely against everything in our being. This poses a question: if we are not desperate for God, are we truly denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus as the scriptures call us to? A second core principle of the Gospel is the idea of putting the interests of others before ours, having the attitude of Jesus. (Philippians 2:4-5) Second question: if I am not desperate for God on a daily basis I am basically saying that I have this “flesh”, “denial of self”, and “other’s interests before mine” thing figured out. That thought breeds self-righteousness, and arrogance. Scary.

I know many people who seem to have it all together. They have the right answers for everything. They have the best, most eloquent responses to all of life’s situations. They read all the right books, and spend large amounts of time studying scripture. This intrigues me, especially when very little of it is translated into life practice. It seems to be mere head knowledge. Ironically, many of these same people think very often about themselves, and very little about others. At the core there seems to be a lack of desperation for God. Maybe an even deeper root is the absence of the realization that NEED to be desperate for God should exist!? In our sin nature we have been deceived into thinking that a “good Christian” is someone who has it all together instead of someone who is daily crying out in need for God to save them from themselves.

I have learned lately that I am an extremely selfish person. I will probably be learning this more and more as I get older, lasting until the day I die. This has manifested itself in the relationships I have with friends, as well as my marriage. The Lord is making me desperate for Him to choke out my fleshly, selfish desires, and put my wife’s/others interests before mine. That is, after all, what I’m called to as a husband, and believer.

Some other questions that have crossed my mind in reference to this subject of being desperate for God:

Is my lack of desperation for Him, which we have seen can be translated to a lack of denying myself, and putting the interests of others before me, be hindering me from involvement in the growth of the kingdom? Ouch.

How many kingdom opportunities am I missing out on as a result of my lack of desperation for God, and my focus on self?

As Christians, when will we stop thinking it’s all about us, our walk with God, our time with God, our community, our church, our faith, our righteousness, our accountability, our sin, our forgiveness, etc. and start focusing on how those things can empower us to bring light/life to dark/dead places? (Take the focus off of ourselves, and our interests in order to redirect that energy to the focus on the interests of others)

Thanks for reading. I would enjoy, and greatly benefit from any insight you all have on these thoughts.

“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.