Owning vs. Taking Ownership

I had a conversation with a good friend last night about all that’s happening in my life right now. As we get ready to start this brand new church in a matter of weeks, so many different things are coming to the surface.

Having grown up within the established church, I’ve got my fair share of stories. Despite the fallibility of people, I realized a long time ago that my faith wasn’t supposed to be in them but rather in Jesus. People will disappoint you, discourage you, let you down, and sometimes stab you in the back. We encounter people like that within the church and we are surprised but I don’t think that it should be any more a surprise to us than when we find sick people when we go to the hospital.

It’s not the surprise of finding them in church, it’s the surprise that the behavior is tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. Yes, Christ came to heal because it is the sick who need a doctor, but doctors generally give some direction on a plan of health and wellness to be on the road to recovery. If patients fail to follow that, they can’t be surprised when they don’t get better and feel better.

Over my years within the church, I’ve heard the statistics that 80% of the work of the church is done by 20% of the people. I’m not sure how accurate those statistics are and, frankly, I’m not sure I care because anything less than 100% of engagement means that we still need to be working so that people can not just attend church but be part of the church.

It makes me think about the difference between owning something and taking ownership of something. You see, I think that there are some people in the 21st century who believe that they own the church but they don’t want to take ownership OF the church.

Owning something means that you paid a price to possess it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you take care of it once you have it. It might mean that you pay someone else to take care of it. It may mean that you don’t take care of it at all.

But taking ownership of something means that possessing it isn’t the main goal, it means that you take responsibility for it. When it succeeds, you rejoice. When it fails, you lament. As it goes, so you go. You don’t abandon it when things aren’t going well. You stick by it.

A few years back, a phrase became popular to utter, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” The thing about that phrase is that the church is the bride of Christ. So, if you say that you love Jesus and hate the church, that’s like telling your best friend that you love him but you think his wife is a……well, you get it.

As we launch out with this new church, I want to allow God to build us into a place where people take ownership. I don’t want people to feel like because they have given money towards the ministry of the church that they somehow own the church and get to call the shots. If anyone owns the church, it’s Jesus, she is his bride, but I don’t think it’s about owning, it’s about loving and committing to her.

No, the church is not perfect, but neither are any of us. Abandoning her when she shows her imperfections is no better than abandoning your spouse the moment he or she begins to show that they are human.

I hope and pray that when people come to see what God is building through us, the specific local expression of his body, that they will see people taking ownership of the church rather than owning the church. I hope that they see beyond the flaws of the people who are there and instead see the flawless head of the church, Jesus Christ, who we are all seeking to be more like every day.

Advertisements

Reaching the Unreachable?

The Passion GenerationThe Christian church can get obsessed about things. Sometimes it’s a particular sin, other times it’s a particular trend, still other times it’s a particular group or subset of people.

Over the past few years, one of the subsets of people that the church has been most concerned and obsessed with is Millenials. If you’ve hung around churches at all, you’ve probably heard the statistics of how many of these Millenials are dropping out of church once they get to college. Books have been written. Studies have been done. Sermons have been preached. But what’s the answer in how to engage Millenials to get them back into the church?

Enter Grant Skeldon, a Millenial himself. Skeldon has written “The Passion Generation – The Seemingly Reckless, Definitely Disruptive, But Far From Hopeless Millenials.”

Now, I hate it when people talk things up so much that when you finally experience it for yourself, you are extremely disappointed as you find out that something has been oversold to you. At the risk of overselling “The Passion Generation,” I have to say that this book was one of the best books that I have read this year. The clarifier of that statement is that I have read more than sixty books this year, so I think that my opinion matters.

When it comes to Millenials, Skeldon seems wise beyond his years. This wisdom, he claims, has come from the countless mentors whom he has had pouring into him.

Skeldon is not afraid to admit some of the faults of his generation. At the same time, he isn’t afraid to point to those who are older who have caused some of the reactions that we see among Millenials. He speaks truthfully and honestly here, and if those of us who are older are really honest, it gets a little uncomfortable at times. For instance, he poses the question of why the most cause-oriented generation in the world (Millenials) are neglecting the most cause-oriented organization in the world (the church).

The primary means by which Skeldon believes the generation gap can be bridged is through discipleship. Discipleship has become a buzzword of late within the church, but the discipleship of which he speaks is not what most churches have embraced as discipleship. When he says discipleship, he doesn’t mean sitting down one on one with someone and going through a book together. Instead, he means discipleship like Jesus did: spending time investing in people and living life together.

Skeldon believes that Millenials are avoiding the church not because the church is asking too much of them, but rather because the church is asking too little of them. Their fear of commitment is outweighed, he says, by their fear of missing out.

All that being said, Skeldon splits the book into two parts: Discipling Millenials and What Millenials Look For In A Church. He has good practical information in here, but he never claims to have a quick fix. In fact, there isn’t a quick fix. The process of discipleship, regardless of age, is a commitment that’s about relationships which take time.

At the end of each chapter, there are visual representations of some of the key points highlighted within the chapter. For the visual learners among us, this is very helpful. It emphasizes the things that Skeldon sees as most important.

As I read this book, I found myself agreeing with so much of what Skeldon had written. My own experience with Millenials has shown me that much of what he writes in here is true. Many in this generation that has been given a bad rap have not materialized out of thin air the way that they are. Instead, they’ve been discipled to act the way they do, maybe not so much intentionally, but unintentionally.

When I was growing up, my parents had a little plaque on the wall of my room. On that plaque was written a poem called “Children Live What They Learn.” The premise was that the things that children learn by watching, they will do for themselves when the time comes.

I think we are seeing a generation that has learned not what we’ve wanted them to learn, but what we have shown them, and what we’ve shown them hasn’t been the best. So there is a dual ownership here that led to this problem and there will need to be a dual ownership of said problem to move us away from it.

If you are a leader in the church or you simply have a heart for the next generation, I would highly recommend “The Passion Generation” to you. It’s a practical resource full of wisdom, insight, and advice that, if heeded, could go along way in engaging a generation that has been unfairly judged.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

When Faith and Trust Are Shattered

broken crossThe headlines in recent days have surfaced of allegations not only of Catholic priests who have been accused of child sex crimes, but also that the Pope knew about some of the allegations and did nothing about them.

Meanwhile, over in the protestant world, Willow Creek Church is still trying to crawl out from the dust and wreckage that surrounded their founding pastor, Bill Hybels, and alleged indiscretions as well as the unwillingness of both him and leadership to take responsibility.

Let’s not forget the countless Hollywood actors, producers, and others who have wielded their powers to abuse and take advantage of women.

As I read these headlines, my heart is heavy. It is heavy for the victims who lie in the wake of those who have had power and abused it. Wounds are bad enough but the pain intensifies when the one who has caused them makes no account for their responsibility in causing them.

My heart is also heavy because of the witness of Christ to the world. Unfortunately, those who are not a part of the church, who may look suspiciously at organized faith and religion, do not distinguish between God and those who claim to follow him. We will ultimately judge God by those who claim to follow him. Our judgment of God will be based on the fallibility and brokenness of those who stumble and fall as they follow.

As a pastor, I have a conscious awareness in my bones that, right or wrong, people’s perception of God may be heavily influenced by my representation of him. How I live and act, for the good or bad, will be directly linked to my association with God. I’ve not encountered that frequently when I do something right or when I live well, but it becomes center stage the moment that I step out of line and my flaws are readily apparent.

But allegations such as these are not new, we’ve seen them for years. The Catholic church has been embroiled in controversy before. In fact, it seems like this kind of controversy resurfaces every few years as the victims gain confidence and realize that although they have desperately tried to stuff down their emotions over past events, their courage and the voice of truth needs to stand tall.

Why is it that it seems that men in positions of power abuse that power? Does power really corrupt?

When I read of situations like this, it affirms my belief in the depravity of man, that each and every one of us have been so deeply impacted by sin that our natural tendency is towards it at every turn. The emotional rush that is felt from that power that one gains in authority can easily push someone to that place where they legitimately think that they are the savior and that nothing that they can do will ever lead to dangerous consequences.

As a pastor, people invite me into some of the deepest moments of their lives. When someone is sick or dying, when someone has died, when there is marital conflict, where there is doubt, these are the moments when people seek the church, they seek the face of God, and what they can often find there is the face of a broken and hurting individual who has the potential for allowing their own brokenness to drive their actions.

When someone comes looking for Jesus and instead finds Judas or something worse, their faith and trust are shattered.

How many tears will we continue to allow to fall before this stops? Why have we not set up better guardrails to protect the broken and hurting? Why do we continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?

I am grateful for the boldness of those who have come forward to bravely speak the truth. I pray that even in that bold step, they experience some amount of healing. I pray that they might see beyond the fallible and fallen people who have misrepresented Christ to them and see a savior who weeps with them in their pain. A savior whose heart beats for justice and compassion. A savior whose response to power and authority was to become a servant to all and to criticize and knock down the subversive and abusive powers of the day.

I am grateful that I have found a place where there is accountability and structure, oversight and connection to make sure that I am careful with the authority that has been afforded to me. It is far from perfect, it is still man-made, but it provides for more than I’ve seen in some cases.

May those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ be ready and willing to hear the stories of those whose faith has been shattered. May we listen without judgment and pray for understanding. May we represent Christ as a fragrant aroma, gentle and pleasing, rather than the harsh smell that has emanated from those who have misrepresented him. May we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn the loss of their innocence and may we show the compassion of Christ that led him to willingly sacrifice himself for the sake of even those who hated him.

And to all those whose faith and trust have been shattered, please know that you are loved by God. Know that despite the distortion of love and authority that has been shown to you, there is a God who wields his power not with a heavy hand and a selfish heart, but with a gentle hand and a heart that saw fit to give his only son for the sake of freedom, salvation, and restoration from the things that destroy and corrupt. May you experience and see Christ as he is, not as he has been misrepresented by others.

Faith Among the Faithless – A Book Review

faith among the faithlessOne of the most difficult things that I have found when reading the Bible is remembering to look at the contents based on context of both writers and readers (or hearers). I often find myself jumping right to how what I read applies to me today rather than processing just how the original readers received it. When I do this, I miss some significant pieces of the story and, frankly, it’s a fairly self-consumed and overall selfish reading without gaining the benefits of exploring context.

Mike Cosper’s book “Faith Along the Faithless” takes the ancient story of Esther and connects it to the world we now live in. He retells the story and fills in some of the details that might be missed on a perfunctory reading. In looking at this ancient story, Cosper sees many lessons that modern day Christians can learn and apply to their own lives.

Cosper tells the reader that this modern, secular age has had a profound impact on the church. As he moves through the story, he reminds the reader that this story is much less like Veggie Tales or the flannelgraph Sunday school versions of Esther that we may have heard and is much more like Game of Thrones. Deception. Betrayal. Conspiracy. Murder.

Esther was not the squeaky clean poster child that Sunday school teachers have sometimes portrayed. Esther and Mordecai were Jews living in Babylon. They’ve been assimilated and it’s become hard to tell the difference between Jews and Babylonians, very similar to our current situation.

Cosper intertwines his retelling of this story amidst his own thoughts and commentary. He makes references to the portions of the Book of Esther to which he is referring. This is a helpful reference for the reader who wants to be more thorough in looking at the biblical account while reading Cosper’s retelling.

My interest in this book was more about Cosper’s digging deeper into the story than it was seeing the comparisons to modern day. His overall connection to the exilic story of the Bible was good, I didn’t feel like he was trying to take the story and overlay the lessons that he was hoping or trying to teach. He gave the lessons in context and then made the leap to apply them today.

I appreciate good storytellers who are able to accentuate with added detail when they tell stories. Cosper does that well here with the story of Esther. I appreciated this book and even think that I may go back and refer to it in any future dealings with Esther or even reread it as a reminder. It’s a worthwhile read and the lessons that Cosper takes from the story of Esther and applies to today are definitely worth considering.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The “Why” and Not Just the “What”

As my children get older, the issues that they are dealing with become weightier and the questions that they ask become more poignant, requiring so much more than a simple “yes” or “no.” When they were much younger, it was not unusual for them to ask “why” in response to a command or an answer that they were given. But giving them the “why” of the answer was not always appropriate because of their lack of understanding and their maturity level.

Now, I find myself analyzing the questions that they ask and the instructions that I give them and realizing that simple commands of “do this” or “don’t do that” don’t suffice. If I’m honest, I know that they were never sufficient for me when I was their age and as I grew older. Prohibition without rationale seems to simply be given for the sake of controlling rather than because we want to see a change in behavior and heart. If we give commands to our children and scatter in prohibitions about what they should or should not do, the majority of children will push for something more, trite answers will not shut down the conversation. Giving the answer “because I said so” or “because I’m the parent” may have worked when the kids were toddlers, but those days are long gone.

Beyond parenting, I’ve thought about this in the church, with children, youth, and adults. Too often, the church has been quick to talk about prohibitions, the “what,” without giving sufficient reasons for them, the “why.” Then when people respond less than favorably, we get surprised or even angry at the response, as if answers that would never suffice for us should somehow be acceptable to those to whom we are giving those answers. But those answers we give are rarely sufficient.

We can all most likely think of some of the controversial topics that the church has dealt with for which clear boundaries have been given. Sexual relationships. Marriage. Abortion. Euthanasia. And many others. Even the Bible verses that we give when defending our position on some of these topics only address the “what” rather than the “why.” We want to give people a compelling reason to embrace the teachings or positions of Christianity and yet we can so often give restrictions without reasons or rationale.

It’s made me think an awful lot as I’ve dealt with my own children but also as I’ve had conversations with the various generations represented within my church. If you’re younger than fifty, chances are that you’re not going to take the “what” answer to a question about restrictions and run with it. You’re going to want something more. You’re going to want to know the “why” of something.

If the church is to remain relevant, she won’t become relevant by dressing up with various accoutrements that make her look like our culture. Instead, the church needs to engage the various topics that come to the forefront by providing rationale and reasons for the worldview we embrace. If we simply hold to clichés like “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me” then we will find many abandoning the church.

But if we choose to dig deep and understand for ourselves and teach to others why we’ve come to the conclusions that we have come to and what has shaped and formed our worldview, I believe that more people will see that we’re not simply trying to put restrictions on life for the sake of restriction but rather that those restrictions are given in order that we may have life more abundantly. We may find that we begin to live into the image in which we were created. While not everyone will agree, it’s an approach that seems far more valid to me.

Too often, it seems, the church points backwards in history to places where rules and regulations were given, but we don’t point back far enough. Most of what we point to is just outward rules. We need to point deeper into the heart and soul, into who we are at creation. We need to connect things to the overarching themes of Scripture that point to God’s intent in creation. We need to point at the image in which we were created, the imago dei.

Considering our culture, this becomes problematic as our culture continues to try to divorce and separate our hearts and souls from our bodies. We’ve become a neo-Gnostic culture that embraces the inward and emotional, while abandoning its connection with the physical. We see Francis Schaeffer’s two story imagery playing out every day within our culture and our world.

We are emotional, spiritual beings, but we are also physical, sexual beings, and those things cannot be easily separated, certainly not as easily as our culture wants us to believe. But saying that we cannot separate them is not an answer that will suffice, it’s the “what” rather than the “why.” We are emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual beings because that’s how we were created by God, in his image, for his purpose. Those aspects of our being did not come about after sin entered the world. They were there before, sin just skewed our perspective of them all.

The gap between the church and the culture seems to be growing larger. That gap seems insurmountable from a human perspective, but the church will not do herself any favors until we begin to have conversations that begin to address the “why” of our beliefs and worldview rather than simply regurgitating the “what” and expecting that everyone will just come along for the ride.

 

5Q – A Book Review

5QIn the early days of the Christian church, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus laying out the various roles of those in the church. He wrote in Ephesians 4:11-13, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors (shepherds) and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This description has come to be known as the fivefold ministry of the church.

In the introduction of his new book “5Q” Alan Hirsch writes, “It is sobering to consider that, as far as we can tell, Christianity is on the decline in every Western setting…” This decline of which Hirsch speaks of is due, in his opinion, to the abandonment of the bulk of this fivefold ministry of which Paul wrote. He says, “As for the church’s ministry, the historical church has largely opted to exclude apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic frameworks and has viewed ministry through the now severely reduced categories of the pastor (shepherd) and the teacher (theologian).” Using the acronym APEST to describe this fivefold ministry, Hirsch claims that the Western church has done a good job of eliminating the APE ministries and accentuating and even overemphasizing the ST ministries.

Hirsch asks his readers to read through this book with soft eyes, doing their best to let go of the ways that they’ve looked at things in the past in order to see more clearly what we’re missing by excluding these crucial elements of ministry for the body of Christ. Hirsch goes so far as to say that, “the fivefold ministry is the way, or mode, by which Jesus is actually present in the church, and by which he extends his own ministry through us.”

Hirsch proceeds to support the idea of fivefold ministry with a biblical foundation. As we live into our own gifting and encourage others into their gifting as well, we begin to fulfill the purpose for which Christ left the church on the earth as his ambassadors and representatives. We move towards the fullness of Christ as we live into this ministry. The church has been sorely lacking by not living into this paradigm and ideology. This lack has led to a “fatal and degenerative dis-ease into the body of Christ.”

Jesus epitomized this fivefold ministry in his own life and the church has been called to carry out and continue to use this paradigm to accomplish his work on the earth. The cultural mandate to which the Church has been called should fulfill this purpose through these ministries. This fivefold ministry of the church Hirsch terms 5Q. As Hirsch writes, “Once we have identified 5Q as perfectly exemplified in the life and ministry of Jesus, we can then see how he grafts these into the foundation of the church.”

Hirsch lays out the five ministries: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher. He gives descriptions of the various characteristics of each, also giving examples of how these gifts may manifest themselves in both sacred and secular environments. Hirsch says that these fivefold archetypes can actually be found throughout creation and history, giving them ontological weight.

Hirsch then moves from Christ to the church, describing just what it would look like if the church should embrace 5Q and live into this fivefold ministry and archetypes. He also describes just what happens when there is a deficit in these areas, giving examples of just what that would look like within the church. To live into this paradigm is to move towards a much more functional means of doing things. The apostle Paul described the church as a body and Hirsch agrees. Just as the parts of the body work together with their strengths and functions, so should the church follow suit. To neglect an area is to be deficient. “To remove one is to undermine all the others. We need all five to mature.”

Over and over again while reading “5Q” I found myself nodding my head in agreement with all that Hirsch lays out. The APEST model is something that he has spoken of in his other works as well, but not to this same depth. It makes sense. It’s logical. It’s biblical. In theory, it seems like it should be successful, in a biblical and spiritual sense, not necessarily in a worldly sense.

In order for the 5Q approach to really work, there needs to be a paradigm shift within the Western church. That shift may be easier for some local communities and harder for others. That shift may be easier for some congregations and harder for some pastors. Egos can’t get in the way because they will surely short circuit this approach in a heartbeat. The purpose of a body is shared ministry and experience, if personalities who can’t handle being the center of attention or the primary focus can’t step aside to embrace a fivefold ministry, we can expect that the Western church will continue the decline that we have already been experiencing.

5Q is not a new idea. It’s as old as Christianity itself, but the focus and shift within the church has moved away from a more balanced approach towards ministry and placed the emphasis and weight on a select few. Should we then be surprised when we see some of those crumble beneath the weight and when we see so many longing for something so much more significant than they have experienced? I think not.

I’ve been a fan of Alan Hirsch for years. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him in a little Irish pub in Long Beach, California a few years back. There was no pretense about him in person and his writing reflects the genuine personality that he possesses. He writes not with a pretentious confidence but with a loving desire to share the knowledge and wisdom that he has gained through his own experience, seen both personally and second hand.

If the Western church were to shift back towards this fivefold ministry which Hirsch is encouraging, I think we would see a significant change in effectiveness and in staying power. Of course, if we instead choose to embrace the things that we have always done, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see history repeating itself.

There are plenty of resources in this book for local communities to use to help more towards 5Q. I look forward to exploring them myself to see just how the community of which I am a part can move back towards ministry the way that Christ intended.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from 100 Movements. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

A Book Review of “One” by Deidra Riggs

one deidra riggsThe back cover of “One” reads, “Our world needs fewer walls and more bridges. Be a bridge builder.”

It seems that’s exactly what Deidra Riggs is promoting in her book. she makes a case for Christians not necessarily having missed the boat on the gospel as much as we have missed the boat on our understanding of love in the kingdom of God. We are divided within the church and our example and witness hardly seems consistent when we talk about a God who accomplishes the impossible.

Riggs writes, “As members of the body of Christ, our language and cultural differences and our music and sermon length preferences seem like weak and empty reasons for separating ourselves from one another and thinking it’s okay to do so.” We have separated and segregated ourselves, sequestering ourselves in homogenous communities, churches, and other places. Riggs indicts Christians as having chosen, “churches and faith communities that envelop us in the comfort of people who look like us, think like us, vote like us, and dream like us.”

We’ve chosen to divide ourselves by our issues rather than looking past them to our commonalities. Our differences seem to be the one thing that our God can’t seem to conquer, at least in our own minds. We don’t work to move past these things because of the potential mess and discomfort that would be involved. Instead of looking to understand differences in ideas, opinions, and viewpoints, we choose instead to turn them into lines in the sand. Riggs writes, “…distilling a moment in a person’s journey to categories – pro-life or pro-choice, criminal or upstanding citizen, sinner or saint – limits out ability to let God be God in the life of that person.” She adds later, “When the people on the other side of our argument become our enemies, and we identify them as such, we have let our argument become our idol.”

“A faith that uses Jesus to justify any type of division, prejudice, injustice, or superiority needs to be examined and brought back into alignment with the truth of Christ’s message of good news.” We can’t remove our call to love our neighbors from the message of Jesus Christ. While that may feel uncomfortable, justifying our division, as Riggs says, needs to be evaluated in light of that message.

Riggs is incredibly honest about her own part in this. She admits her struggle and candidly shares of her own story. She is not perfect and never comes across as such. She admits, “When I mistake my position on an issue as being critical to my identity, I’ve let these differences stand between me and others in the body of Christ.”

We often struggle when we don’t fully understand from where someone is coming. Our lack of understanding, or ignorance, should be no excuse for downplaying how someone experiences something that is completely foreign to us. Instead, we need to lean into the relationship to try our best to understand where the other person is coming from. We cannot dictate how a person should or should not respond to a situation, especially when they’re coming to it from a completely different perspective or viewpoint than us.

When it comes to racial divides, It’s inappropriate for white people to be telling black people to “get over it” or “move on from the past” when the past continues to rear its ugly head and prove that it’s not as far back in the past as we’ve made it seem. Love and understanding need to be our primary goal when we encounter these situations that divide us. In fact, downplaying and diminishing the experiences of others in the midst of this will actually increase the divisions that already exist.

So much of what Riggs shares speaks to my heart. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the past months exploring the issue of division and race. There is a tension that I feel though as I read “One” and I keep trying to put my finger on just what it is. Is it my own discomfort in having to change my ways or is it a discomfort in something that just feels wrong or different?

Riggs writes, “If we let our convictions take the place of Jesus in our lives, we could very well be standing in the way of the same Holy Spirit with whom we profess to be filled.” As I read this, I’m trying to understand just what Riggs wants us to do with our convictions. Isn’t it the Holy Spirit who gives us those convictions? How can the convictions that we have received from the Holy Spirit stand in the way of the Holy Spirit himself?

Of course, we can easily be reminded of the story of Peter in Acts having a vision of animals that had been called “unclean” to him coming down from heaven while he heard a voice telling him to eat. His own convictions ended up being wrong because God had expanded the menu. As Riggs writes, hiding behind spiritual convictions to justify our own prejudices is unacceptable.

I read Riggs’ arguments as being specifically pertaining to the racial divide that we see within the church, but there are times when I wonder if she’s moving past that to other areas that are seemingly dividers within the church. While she never explicitly mentions it, it’s hard not to think about the current state of the church in America and some of the other divisions that we see over convictions and the interpretation of those convictions. While I don’t condone unloving or ungodly prejudices, there is a tension that we will feel as followers of Christ when we hold to conviction of sin while still loving our neighbors, regardless of where they stand.

I may be reading too deeply into what Riggs has written and my own bias may be expanding her arguments past what her intentions were. Despite my discomfort with my interpretation of what Riggs is saying, I applaud her for speaking into this topic of division and race with such conviction and raw honesty. What she offers in “One” is an opportunity to engage a difficult subject by someone who has been far more impacted by it than I have and whose understanding can help me with my own.

“One” is an opportunity to begin to understand, especially if you are like me and are coming at the issue of racial division within the church from one who is not the minority. I would encourage you to hear what Deidra Riggs has to say. Let it challenge you, but more importantly, let it move you.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

A Disruptive Gospel – A Book Review

Ipier_disruptivegospel_wSpine.inddn the first chapter of “A Disruptive Gospel” Mac Pier shares his own experience of coming to understand and embrace the gospel. He explains the gospel and then lays out five specific matters which we should organize our lives around if we embrace the gospel and Jesus. The five matters are: the gospel matters, church unity matters, cities matter, millennial leadership matters, and movements matter. Pier spends the rest of the book emphasizing these matters.

Pier reiterates his point about unity multiple times through the book. He writes, “Division in the church breeds atheism in the world.” His reiteration of this is great that it’s hard to think there isn’t some kind of back story. As much as he emphasizes unity within the church, it doesn’t seem that he is overly promoting ecumenical ministries. The bigger issue within cities is the segregation that exists within churches. The lack of integration within churches can be just as great of a hindrance to the gospel as disunity.

“A Disruptive Gospel” also promotes an awareness of, care for, and raising up of millennial leaders. Millennial leaders are the church of today and tomorrow, to disregard or ignore them is to almost purposefully seek the death knell of God’s church, although I don’t believe anything can kill God’s church. There needs to be strategic movements and intentional plans to seek ways to transition the youth of today into leaders by discipling them and investing in them. One leader shares, “Young people desperately want a ‘third place’ to connect, and very few churches provide that space. There is virtually no transition from youth group to a larger church gathering on Sundays.”

The movements that have occurred and are occurring within U.S. cities such as New York and Dallas are the focus of many of the early chapters within “A Disruptive Gospel.” Movement Days have been started within cities with the realization that cities shape culture, gospel movements shape cities, and leaders catalyze movements. The idea behind Movement day was to create a convergence between the prayer movements that are taking place within the church as well as the church planting movement that is taking place in the church. As Pier says, “What our cities need more than anything is a maturing and deepening of relationship between diverse Christian leaders within the same city. Missional unity is the ball game.”

Education and information are key factors in seeing a gospel movement take off. Pier writes, “We can love only that which we know. The more we know about our community, our church, or our city, the more we will care about its well-being. Research compels us to act.” How can we reach people that we don’t know and don’t know about? If we fail to know them, we will fail to love them. We need to become more aware of the people who Jesus wants to be a part of his kingdom, not necessarily the ones who are already in the kingdom and the church, but those who may be the furthest away.

Pier goes on to share about what is taking places within cities throughout the world. The United Kingdom. Dubai. Germany. South Africa. The Philippines. God is at work throughout the world and there is much to be learned about what is being done and tried all around.

The subtitle for “A Disruptive Gospel” is “Stories and Strategies For Transforming Your City.” The first half of the book seemed to move along fairly well. There were nuggets of information and good insights that I thought were really helpful. As the book moved on, the information seemed repetitive and dry, less about story sharing and more about information sharing. My interest waned as it went on. So, I could almost give two different reviews for the two halves of this book.

Overall, there was good information in here. That information could probably have been shared in half the space that it took. If you don’t mind skimming a book to find the nuggets that lie along the way, you might want to read “A Disruptive Gospel.” If you are expecting a book that moves along at a decent pace, holding your interest at every page, you may want to read something by the guy who wrote the foreword of the book, Tim Keller.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Facing the Inevitable

Robin-WilliamsOver the last few days, I’ve read article after article, seen news story after news story, as people have remembered Robin Williams. Who was he? What were his struggles? What were his triumphs? How did he come to the point where he ended everything?

As I’ve read the articles, I’ve agreed with some, been encouraged by others, and downright objected to others. As someone who writes a lot, I kept asking myself whether or not I had anything to add to the conversation. I have vowed that I don’t want to be “that guy” who simply writes to jump on a bandwagon. I only like to write if I feel that I’m saying something different.

As I’ve waded through all of these stories, two things have stood out to me. The first had to do with all of the talk about whether or not suicide was a selfish choice. The other thing had to do with how suicide was being portrayed, how were people addressing this issue of someone ending their life?

There is so much stigma connected to the word “selfish,” that it’s hard to look at it with fresh eyes. I was doing what I could to try to understand exactly what someone would mean to say that suicide was NOT selfish. I had some conversations (1 live and 2 digital) with people who had been personally impacted by someone close to them committing suicide. I wanted to hear from them about something that was troubling me, because from my vantage point, suicide seemed selfish.

While every single case of suicide is different, it seems that those who take their lives may actually believe that their actions are unselfish. They may feel that they have been a burden to those whom they love and who are caring for them. They may feel as if the only way to find peace is to end it all. The notion of selfishness comes out more from the survivors than anything else. We ask ourselves, “how could they do this to us?” Didn’t they care? Yes…..they cared, sometimes too much.

This whole tragic end to the life of a loved and respected person has brought into the limelight the way that we handle depression. It has been becoming more acceptable to talk about it, to share your need for help, to find medication, and to just educate about depression overall. I have heard too many horror stories about how people in very visible positions have been treated with their own admission of depression, especially pastors. It’s a travesty to think that we fail to extend grace to those who brains are being affected by something. If those of us who follow Christ really believe that sin tainted the whole world, why should our brains be somehow resilient, resistant, or immune to the impact of sin?

A lot has been written about Robin Williams’ freedom, primarily with a Tweet that the “Genie” is now free (based upon the character he played in the Disney animated feature “Aladdin”). It’s true that he is free from the earthly demons that plagued him, from the depression that drove him down, from the addictions that constantly beckoned him back like the sirens to Ulysses, but it doesn’t negate the fact that there has been a tragic loss of life, that there is a family that is now short one family member, and there is one more statistic to show how deadly and dangerous depression and mental illness can be.

Personally, I have been grateful to see more discussions opening up to the severity of depression, primarily discussions among those within the church. Having had parents who struggled with depression and struggling with it myself, I am grateful that we can begin to talk about something rather than sweeping it under the rug or simply labeling whatever fits our comfortable world. Depression is easily overlooked and unseen, while it’s not any one person’s responsibility to see it in others, we all need to keep our eyes open to the people to whom we are the closest.

I mentioned the other day that a young woman shared her story in our corporate gathering time this past Sunday. She shared how she had hid what was going on inside of her from everyone around her. It’s not the hardest thing to do, especially when those around you aren’t really paying attention. We are a distracted and busy society that only slows down when we are forced to do so. May we take such a tragic situation and learn something from it, not that will keep for a day, a week, or a month, but that will sink in for a lifetime.

Social Media and the Church – Part II – Keeping Up With Your Peeps

peepsBy far, one of the greatest benefits from social media that I have experienced in my own setting is in the area of pastoral care. Specifically, this pastoral care has been as it relates to the pulse of the congregation in the area of spiritual, physical, and personal needs.

Social media allows people to stay connected to friends and family that live far away. One of the primary reasons that my wife had gotten into social media years ago was because of that fact. We had moved far away from our family and social media allowed for us to stay in contact with pictures, comments, and notes to our family, making the distance between us feel a little less significant than it really was.

Over my time as a pastor, I have experienced the communication struggle that exists within the church, primarily when people in the congregation are having health or other struggles or concerns. There have been numerous occasions when I found out about a church member or attendee who was in the hospital after surgery had already occurred. No one had told me of this person’s admittance into the hospital or their surgery, but it was presumed that I “should just know.”

As I explained to those people that pastors were not mind readers, I struggled with how to stay in the loop with what was going on in and around the congregation. Social media has provided a great resource to stay in tune with what’s going on. Granted, not everyone is forthcoming with the things in their lives on social media, but my own experience has shown that people are fairly willing to share prayer requests, needs, and concerns with those who are among their social media loops.

Spending a few minutes a day checking into social media to see what’s happening with people connected to your faith community is a worthwhile investment. It takes discipline to ensure that you don’t get completely off track, but perusing your “wall” to see the latest and greatest of what’s happening has been beneficial.

Recently in my congregation, a young woman was hospitalized for six weeks. I first learned of her illness through social media. All along the way, as the doctors tried to discern what it was that they were dealing with, her mother and father were diligently updating social media to ensure that they were getting the same update out to everyone with whom they were connected.

If you have been around a faith community for any length of time, you probably remember the prayer chain. They still exist but are growing less effective in the days of technology, texting, and social media. Now, instead of picking up the phone to call the next person on the list, a mass update can be posted to social media, altering hundreds (or thousands) of people to any prayer requests and needs.

Another case in point that was not within my own congregation but involved a friend of mine from seminary who lives in Haiti with his wife and family. He had been burned in a grease fire and had to be transported to Florida and eventually his home state, Iowa. Along the way, he and his wife were updating social media and keeping everyone current on their needs and concerns. It literally shrunk the world and allowed them to connect, in seconds, with their own network. As he continues to recover, everyone can stay updated by visiting his or his wife’s social media wall for the latest.

Social media is simply a tool in these circumstances, and it’s important to realize that. Many times, follow up phone calls, emails, or texts have been sent to find out more specifics of the needs. Relying completely on social media to find out about concerns is not advisable, but as one more means to keep a pulse on the things that are happening around your faith community and the community in which you live, it’s a worthwhile investment of just a few minutes a day.