Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Double Blessing - Mark Batterson

Pastor Mark has long been a hero of mine and lucky for us, we are close enough to NCC to drop in here and there. We've also had some dear friends on staff so we've gotten a front seat row for watching them innovate as they bless the DMV. Always inspiring. Pastor Mark's new book is out today and it is a great read.
Before original sin, there was original blessing. And so life is! That first blessing sets the tone, sets the table. It establishes the emotional baseline and spiritual trend line of Adam's life. But it's not just Adam's earliest memory. It also reveals God's most ancient instinct.
Blessing is God's default setting - His first and foremost reflex. If you don't believe that, you'll doubt the goodness of God. And if you second-guess the goodness of God, you'll forfeit His blessing.
God wants to bless you beyond your ability to ask or imagine.
There. I said it. And I believe it. The question is, do you?
Double Blessing - you'll be encouraged at how God's default setting is unequivocally for you; you'll be challenged to uncover no longer trivial blessings in your daily life, and you'll be implored to best steward your talent, time and treasure.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for review purposes.

Oct 2019 - City Fathers, City Mothers at NCC's Capital Turnaround.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Book Notes - Microchurches - Brian Sanders

In the summer of 2008, I became friends with a church planter named Frank, who with his wife and 5 kids, had started a church in Paris. A little while later, they moved back to the States and settled in Tampa/St Pete. He told me there was this incredibly potent expression of church multiplication in that area that they were involved with called the Tampa Underground. Tampa Underground was run by .... Brian Sanders. This is Brian's second book describing how they do it.
Once we have settled on the irreducible minimum of the church (that all churches must express the three heuristics of community, mission, and worship somehow), the what of church, the rest is left to the localized leader to dream, create, and contextualize. This is the next level of empowerment because it is not just giving people permission to lead, it is also giving them creative control over what they lead. Part of what is so breathtaking about the great commission is the transfer of authority (empowerment) that seems to take place.

Those of us who care deeply about the church are often bound by an aspirational anxiety about leading and growing churches. Many bright and capable leaders who have jobs, families, hobbies, and passions that are not in the “ministry” as we know it (are not pastors or missionaries) believe they must not be called to be church planters or disciple-makers. All because of our overly complicated definition of the church. Many pastors and formal church leaders of traditional churches are striving and burning out in pursuit of a kind of church that is neither biblically prescribed nor contextually desirable. All because of our overly ambitious definition of the church. I mean to give us an alternative.

The idea of church planting in America today is a duty relegated to pastors or full-time paid workers. And the new churches being planted, therefore, do not tend to understand or respect the simplest, grassroots expression of church. We can change that. Church planting is the business of every Christian, we just need to reimagine what we mean when we say church.
The microchurch at its best bottles the lightning of warmth, hospitality, sincerity, and human contact. It is precisely because microchurches can be awkward that they can also be community. I am just not sure you can have one without the other. As much as I wish you could. I don’t like feeling awkward any more than you, but if you can feel awkward then that means you are close enough to people to also feel loved and known.

My prayer is that every committed disciple would imagine themselves responsible for the future formation of the church. To dream about starting something small that is very much the church for their lives. To see it as something intimate and precious. To make the fundamental shift from believing the church is something someone else starts and runs that we choose and consume, to believing the church is something like a family that each of us pursues in the course of our life with God. The where of it then is less important than the who.

A worshipping community on mission is the church. This broad definition frees the church to form itself where it is most needed and be led by the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9) while still carrying its sacramental power. It is my contention that when these three conditions are met by the life and work of the same group of people you are looking at the church.

That is not to say that the church cannot be (and is not usually) more than that. It is just to say that there is some point at which a group of people with the intention of being the church actually becomes the church. The first work of ecclesiology is to ask when and under what conditions that group of people pass from being something other than the church to being the church. Launching a worship service then (no matter how big) does not satisfy the basic conditions. Gathering a group of Christians to study the Bible or share a meal does not satisfy the basic conditions. Engaging the poor and meeting a real need, with no mention of Jesus, does not satisfy the basic conditions. These are all good and meaningful endeavors, but on their own doing these things does not make a group the church. When those three conditions are consistently met in one group of people, no matter how small, however, we then have an expression of the true church. They would not need a building, or money, or leadership hierarchy. They would not need to be ordained in order to preach. They would not even need training or oversight. Those are all good and meaningful things, but they shouldn’t be required to be the church. The bus stop is not a church, but if a group of people gathered there every day submitted themselves to Jesus as Lord, and lived in community, making sacrifices for each other, and shared the love of Jesus to all who come to that bus stop, then guess what, that is a church.

When I share these ideas in high church circles, people fear losing control, such as losing their grip on proper doctrine or accountable leadership. They are afraid that being a smaller expression of the church will cause us to lose our sense of history or orthodoxy. But my response is that the microchurch is a way to preserve those very things. When we ask every Christian to take ownership of the church, we do not risk losing our history and orthodoxy.

When the people in the pews are not asked to be the church, then the people of God no longer embody what the church is supposed to be in the world. Any honest appraisal of the current church form will come to this conclusion. How we are doing it now is producing more heretics than a microchurch movement ever will.

It is one of those things that often creaks under the weight of self-consciousness. As we have discussed, trying to become a community can be an elusive quest. Instead, the best way to bond with people, to build a sense of community or family, is to pursue something else together.

This is one of the challenges to thinking about churches as essentially a building with a congregation and a budget. Leaders can be handed the leadership role of that kind of preexisting enterprise. They can simply apply for the job and suddenly have a church to lead. While this may be a way of transferring leadership between existing churches, it has nothing to do with the way churches are born. They are born in the fire of mission.

Before you can articulate a vision, build a team, or even define your church, you have to be someone who is engaged in mission. Because a church is not something that is planted but emerges from the seed of mission. We plant a mission; if that mission is fruitful and miraculously touched by God, it will grow into a church.

There is a school of thought that either overtly or by implication says that numbers do not matter. That we should not care about growth in numbers. I would agree that if what we mean is an obsession with growth that is rooted in performance, obsessing over numbers is not good. Trying to impress other Christians with our numbers is toxic. On the other hand, a total disregard for growth, taking pride in low numbers, or refusing to care that no one is changing or finding new life in Jesus is also toxic.

We must celebrate with equal conviction the addition of people to our microchurch as we do the sending of people into another mission. The irony of course is that the people who are generous in this way, who give, to them will be given more. If you are willing to empower people to obey the voice of God in their lives, the result may be fewer people in your own mission but more expansion in the kingdom of God. Whenever we give, we are depleted by it. But you are also shaping the nature and culture of the group you lead to be open handed, selfless, and concerned for the kingdom above all things. That kind of commitment is exactly what will be attractive to other people.

Instead, our multiplication or reproduction came out of a posture of giving freely our best people to the God who loved and called them. People are not our possessions. They belong in the group, but they do not belong to the group. They are not pawns to be moved around our gameboard. They are not a means to our growth. It is our love for God and others that leads us to want them to go where they are led and to become leaders of something themselves. It is not that we need to devise a system that will mobilize people to be part of a growth scheme. We should see the gifts and calling in the people around us and insist they let nothing stand in the way of a wholehearted pursuit of that. I am convinced that one of the reasons there have always been new people in our living room every week is because we are a sending church. It is a safe place to learn and grow precisely because it is a place that, when the time comes, you know you can leave. Microchurches need to have both a front door and a back door, and both are pathways to grace and the will of God.