Friday, May 25, 2012

What Is a Church?

"Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." - John Calvin

At Launch Conference this past week I heard one of the speakers make reference to this quote, suggesting that this really isn't what a church must be.  The thought was that this really doesn't represent who Jesus is.  And, as I posted earlier this week, knowing who Jesus is becomes essential for us defining what church is supposed to be.  Our Christology defines our Missiology which then in turn defines our Ecclesiology.  Because this is true, a church must be much more than a place with has the Word and Sacraments.

But what was Calvin actually trying to accomplish?  It's amazing when we begin to study history the amazing impact Calvin had on the church.  I would argue that his impact rivals that of Luther because of his concern over helping the people find an identity outside of the Roman Catholic Church.  The RC's had been not just the religious identity, but the complete identity of so many people for generations, and now that they were leaving them, it was hard to know where to go.  This is where Calvin stepped in.  While I don't always appreciate his theology, it's hard to deny the impact he made on the Church as a whole.

I say this because it is easy to look back at this quote, and others like it, and say that Calvin had it wrong.  Perhaps he did, and there should have been more added to this statement.  On the other hand, getting critical of those who were striving to steer a ship on the right course while plugging all the holes is probably not the wisest thing to do.

So what is a church?  This, then, becomes the question.  If Jesus is the image we are meant to reflect, and the church He was building the one we are to look like, this should point us in the right direction.  It is Jesus we must look to in order to define who we are.

And what about this one?  Jesus goes to places no one will go in order to reach the people no one else will reach.  These are the stories which tell us who He was.  

We find Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples, serving those who came to be with Him.  Are we serving those who come in our doors?  Are we loving them this way?

This, then, is what we should look like.  Too often we are defined by our beauty, but Jesus was defined by His stripes.  It was by His wounds we are healed.  His willingness to suffer like this was based on His love. Do we love this way? Are we willing to be wounded and bleeding on behalf of those who are lost?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Who is Jesus? The ultimate question.

The second speaker at Launch Conference was Alan Hirsch.  Alan is a thinker and a provoker.  I say that in the best way possible!  He provokes people to think and reevaluate the direction they are living and leading.  I have found his writings and teachings both educational and challenging.  If you want to learn more about him, you can check out his website here.

I won't write in completion about what he said.  If you are interested, you can find a lot of his teachings online, on iTunes and so forth.  However, one of the things which struck me from this first session was a statement I have heard him speak about before, but bears repeating.  Our Christology (what Scripture teaches us about Jesus) should determine our Missiology (what Scripture says about the mission of Jesus followers) which should then in turn determine our Ecclesiology (how we "do" church).  It looks something like this;


When we get this backwards, or even switched around a little, we are in dangerous territory.  In other words, we should never ask "How can we do church better".  Instead, we should ask ourselves what Jesus taught and while on earth, and then examine how we can better reflect him.  Hirsch said "There's something terribly wrong about not reflecting the name of the Person whom we claim."  That, my friends, is truth.

If Jesus is indeed the founder of my faith, my church and my salvation, I must be sure to actually make Him my foundation.  Alan calls this "Re-founding the Church".

What this does is make the need to study the life of Christ that much more important for church leaders, such as myself.  Is my Christology wrong?  Because if it is, I am most definitely leading the wrong way.  He brought up the letter to the church in Laodicea, in which Christ says "I stand at the door and knock."  We find Jesus in this letter standing outside of a church trying to get in.  This should make me ask an important question concerning Faith Country Chapel: Is Jesus on the outside trying to get in?  And if He is, who/what are we worshiping and serving?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Who are we reaching?

"Are we out to reach people?  Or are we out to reach lost people?"  This question, asked by Vince Antonucci, grabbed me.  I was at Launch Conference, a conference centered around church planting, but actually much more, and Vince was the first speaker.  His blog says this about Vince: "I have that typical story, told too many times: Guy grows up in home with Jewish mother and gambling addict father, guy becomes a Christian in college by trying to prove the Bible isn’t true, guy leaves career in law to become a pastor, guy starts church in Virginia Beach that grows from four people to hundreds, guy leaves church in Virginia Beach to move to Las Vegas to start Verve, a church for people who work on and live around the Vegas Strip."  You can find his blog here.  Looking it over quickly, as I hadn't heard of him before this last weekend, I especially liked this blog post.  He is a man who calls us to a higher way of living, without compromise.  

The question about whether we are out to reach people or lost people is an important one for churches, and therefore pastors, to ask.  I thought it would be good for me to ask this question of myself.  Who am I trying to reach?  Who are we trying to reach?  It's not that people who are already followers of Jesus don't need a place for fellowship and discipleship.  That wasn't what he was saying, and certainly not my thoughts either.  But there were some startling statistics which he gave.  The one which really stood out was this: In no county in America are there more Christians than there were 30 years ago.  That's right.  Even though there are about 90,000,000 more people living in America, there has been a steady drop of those claiming to be followers of Jesus.

So what is needed for the church is not to search for more people.  This often is just people who go from one church to another.  Some churches in America are getting larger, while others are dying away.  There needs to be something done.  That is where the Church comes in.  Not a church, by the way, but the Church.  We must go out as missionaries into our work places, our communities and into our families and reach the lost, calling them to the Father in the name of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Missional Renaissance

I wanted to write about “The Present Future” because I was working on Reggie McNeal’s follow-up book, “Missional Renaissance.”  If you have read and enjoyed “The Present Future”, I recommend this one as well.  The first book left me with a lot of questions, which this one helped to answer.

The subtitle of the book really spells out where McNeal is going to take us in this book: “Changing the Scorecard for the Church”.  Knowing there will be questions of “how” from leaders, he shows us how we can change the direction the church is going by changing the scorecard.  As he says throughout the book, people will do what gets celebrated.  So this book is written with that in mind.

The beauty of it for me is that it is written with leaders of traditional churches in mind, which is important if it’s going to do much good in today’s world.  I, for one, need help in figuring out just how to move a traditional church into becoming more missional.  This book gave me a lot to chew on and think about.  Once again I found myself reading with a notebook beside me, where I would often find myself writing down questions and ideas the book brought to my attention.

I find myself thinking differently these days.  I’m thankful for books like this one which have helped me to do so.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Present Future

I read “The Present Future” by Reggie McNeal last year about this time, and have never reviewed it here. Let me say first that this book still is with me. I loved reading it, and it challenged me in a big way. It’s a very easy read, as McNeal writes in a very conversational way, and doesn’t use too many big words! Let me say a couple of things I really liked, and one I think the author could have done better.

 First, any time we are challenged, I think it’s a good thing. McNeal challenges many presuppositions about church; both in what we do and why we do them. I think every church leader should read it for this alone. Whether you come away agreeing with that he says…well, that may not happen. However, it’s worth the challenge.

 Another thing I really liked is that McNeal frames a lot of the book in questions. He’s not writing in order to give answers, but to help the reader think for himself. This caused me many times to put the book down and think through some things. 

The one thing I think he could have done better in the book, which he does in his speaking engagements, is be sure to point out the balance which needs to be drawn between being “incarnational” (much of the book) and “attractional” (which is ignored almost completely).

 All in all, this is probably the leadership book which has most challenged my ministry when I read it, and continues to challenge me today.