Thursday, December 29, 2011

Is God Organic, Jesus Simple, and the Holy Spirit Missional?

Okay, I'm on a writing roll. I don't post a blog for months and now two in a week. What's up with that?

I write this blog mostly on aspects of what I and others call organic, simple, and missional church.  After a few conversations this week regarding the validity and definition of the terms, I've gotten a bit frustrated with how people are separating them from each other.  That somehow they exist apart from each other.
Over the years, I've always made a point of joining them together, and now I'm even more committed to that practice. I'll use the example of the Trinity being One, but all separate parts with unique attributes and purposes.

For the purposes of this blog post, and not to form any kind of divergent theology, I'll make the point that God really is organic, that Jesus made it all simple, and the Holy Spirit is profoundly missional.

I've written so much in the past on this blog, about how I define the word organic. But for those of you who may be new readers, or old readers who need a refresher, here it is again.

Basically, organic means to me; God initiated, God activated, God generated, God cultivated, God sustained.  God is the essence of what organic is. It's Him. Only Him.

Not the flesh, not good programs or strategies, not someone's current best seller on the topic, not current marketing techniques, or the latest fad in church growth. It's not "honey I shrunk the church" into the same form of church as what meets in a building every week, only now shrunk down to fit into a home.  What is organic may meet in a building, or anywhere else.  Where people experience organic church is really not that important. That people experience God in a living and present way, is what is important.

God and His initiatives, His agenda, His interactions with us. As Jesus prayed; "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." His will, now, today, everyday.

"Doing church" in this way assumes a relationship that knows how to listen in intimacy and requires abiding in Him.  It is a relationship of close affiliation and attention to that "still and small voice".

It acknowledges that anything apart from Him is worthless. 

It assumes that God has a unique plan for the day, and He wants to share that with us.   

Jesus Himself, who sought the Father every day for the unique plans of the Father for that day, is our example in how to live simple church. 
Jesus says that, "he did only that which the Father is doing". He didn't make up his own strategies, or complicated the instructions from the Father.
He just listened and obeyed.  Simple.

If Jesus felt it necessary to walk in this way, why would we think we can do it differently?

Although simple, it does require some things from us. Effort to seek Him, practice in listening to Him, patience to wait on Him, and the faith to believe in, and move with Him. No wonder that some people quickly take the easy way and pull away from this dependent relationship with God.

Scriptures say, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:5-7.

 Without this dependent intimacy, the flesh soon rises to substitute a replacement. Soon that substitute turns into a system, then rules, and finally a religion.  And we all know that religion kills the Spirit.  Same ole', same ole'.

At this point, some are satisfied to say, "that's good!"  "Deep and abiding intimacy and fellowship, that's what it's all about!"  Something like: "me and God, God and me, together the two of us, just like it should be!" La, la, la, la, ...........

To that I say, no, don't stop there!  Your only 2/3 the way!  This is not all about YOU!

Jesus and God were not satisfied to keep their intimate fellowship and relationship to themselves - they desired to share it with others! "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life". John 3:16 

When Jesus left, he gave us the Holy Spirit to be the outward expresser of the Father and Son to us.  The Holy Spirit is the missional communicator of God and Jesus.  The outward and manifested reality of the Father and Son to us, so we can know and experience them in a myriad of ways.
The Holy Spirit has His mission - to reveal the Father and the Son and bring the reality of their existence to us.  Missional.

We are called to share this mission also.  To give the good news of knowing Christ intimately through the gift of salvation with others.
In all the relationships of our lives.  To those who know Him, and those who don't.   

"How will they know Him unless someone tells them, and how will someone tell them unless they are sent? Romans 10: 14-16.

 That's organic, simple and missional church.  Don't pull them apart.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Refrigerator Family Album

We hosted a Chinese student this fall in our home as she attended the University. When we were getting her packed up and making all the final arrangements for her to head back to China, she made the statement, "I want to be placed in your refrigerator." I blankly gazed at her, stretching out the moment as my brain worked fervently to decode the message. I have learned over the years through interaction with different cultures and languages, to use times like this as a fun puzzle game to figure out the meaning of words that may not initially make sense. This particular time it was taking me a bit longer to put the puzzle together, but finally I understood. "Oh, of course! We will place a picture of you on our refrigerator!" She smiled her big beautiful smile and said, "oh thank you, that will mean so much to me."

Now this might sound really stupid to you, and you may be thinking; what's this got to do with anything?

Our refrigerator, like many of yours, is full of pictures of our family and those we consider like family. It's like a giant photo album of those who are a part of our lives in deep and significant ways. Our Chinese student wanted to be considered a part of our special and extended family after she returned to China, and her picture on the refrigerator was a symbol of that and her continued connection to us.

I don't think many of us realize how rich we are, who have Christ, to those who dwell in spiritual poverty. We don't pay attention to how our light illuminates the darkness that some live in daily. We take for granted that we are members of an eternal and incredible "family with benefits" that others only see, sense, and long for, from a distance.

The scriptures say in Luke 11:33, "“No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light."

A light is meant to illuminate and be seen. It draws people to it as it dissipates the dark. It is up to us to put ourselves onto lampstands that shine with accessibility to those in darkness, so that the light of Christ may draw those in darkness to it.

This is not hard to do, because God has called us for this purpose -
He has put within us the light of Christ to be His representatives, His ambassadors, His living reality of the family of God in Christ Jesus. Our pictures have been placed upon the "refrigerator of heaven" acknowledging us as His own special family members.

Are you placing yourself as a lampstand in places of darkness so that the light of Christ may shine forth?
A light, in a room full of lights, doesn't add that much. It was created to shine in dark places to be fully appreciated.
Find some dark places to shine out.
See what the Light in you will draw to Itself, and who will want to be placed on your refrigerator door!

The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.
Isaiah 9:1-3

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Are We So Ineffective In Making Disciples?

One of my classes at the University of Minnesota this spring was focused on adult education and particularly, how adults learn and retain that learning.
Let me share some basic points regarding adult education that many years of research have shown:

1. Adults retain 90% of what they learn if they teach it to someone else, and have immediate application of what they learn.

2. Adults retain 75% of what learn when they practice it.

3. Adults retain 50% of what they discuss in a group.

4. Adults retain 30% of what they see demonstrated.

Look at those percentages and think about it in the context of how it relates to making disciples. Paul told Timothy to be effective in his ministry of making disciples and extending the Kingdom when he exhorted Timothy's efforts with; "so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" 2 Tim. 3:17.
If we truly want to see a multiplication movement of the Kingdom of God, instead of the centralized "addition" model we have settled for, then we have to understand how this is best accomplished. This a accomplished when we use the most affective ways to teach, train and equip.

Jesus obviously knew how to teach adults. Although we have him on a number of occasions standing publicly and teaching the masses, the majority of His training of the disciples took place in demonstration, (raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out demons), discussion ("Who do men say I am?, What do you think?"), practice (He sent them out two by two, "You do it"), and go teach someone what you know ("go and therefore make disciples... teaching them to observe all I have commanded you"). The gospels are full of examples of these top four ways that adults learn and retain what they learned. Go through the gospels yourself, and highlight all the ways you find these top four ways of learning.

Now in contrast to these top four that we've covered, here are the ways that adults learn and retain the least:

1. Adults retain 20% of what they see and hear in Audio-Visual teaching

2. Adults retain 10% of what we learn through reading

3. Adults retain 5% of what we learn through lecture

Wow! Doesn't that resemble our dominant teaching/training practices of today? Almost all of what we do in 'making disciples' involves preaching and podium speaking at conferences, in churches every Sunday, and in the writing of books and blogs. Add some cool and entertaining video clips, and we have all the least effective ways to train up and equip a disciple for the work of the Kingdom!

Let's get real about all of this and start being more effective in producing disciples. I know I want to see a movement that is true multiplication and not stagnated or settling for a few additions.

We have settled for the pedagogical manner of downloading all the information we want people to know, and then think we have accomplished something powerful and impacting. Where is the impact?
It's pretty easy to give information download (I'm doing it right now and it's taking a couple hours of my day - not such a sacrifice). Taking this route to make disciples really has little impact, except to make names for ourselves (ouch!). Easy, noncommittal, pretty ineffective and totally Western in culture. It also is primarily done by only a small minority in the Body of Christ. Have we had enough of it yet?

The good news I see in all this, is that we ALL can do the top four in the list of effective ways to learn and retain that learning. All of us! That is how God designed it to be. We can ALL demonstrate, discuss, practice with others, and give away what we already know! We are all in unique places that we are called and equipped by God to do this in. Each of us!

We are not all called to be teachers, writers and bloggers that download information regularly and hopefully through the Holy Spirits anointing. That is a gift the Body needs and does grow from, but it is not the only, or even BEST way. The BEST way is for us all to demonstrate, discuss, practice with others and give away what we know! Even a new Christian has things to give away, and that is why we see so many new Christians bringing others to Christ during the first year or two of their conversion. Then what happens? They settle into passivity. They get taught to do so.

Come on Church! Let's get activated! Go activate others to make disciples through demonstrating, discussing, practicing and applying all that we know and turn the world upside down! Jesus has equipped and called us and provided all that we need. He is enough!

"Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and lo, I AM with you always, even unto the end of the age". Matthew 28:19-20.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Do'in the Stuff

One of my favorite sayings is from a man named John Wimber, who began the Vineyard Church movement in the 1980's. He liked to say that; "we're all called to do the stuff".

The stuff, refers to the things that Jesus did like heal the sick, cast out demons, make disciples, multiply resources, raise the dead, hear clearly from the Father, calm the storms, bring the truth in word and action, all of which was ultimately bringing the Good News that it was the time of God's favor. Not only are we commissioned to do the stuff, but according to the Lord in John 14:12; I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

Greater things than Jesus? I've heard people teach that Jesus meant a collective anyone and he, and this passage refers to the whole Church rather than individuals. To me it is clear in the passage that Jesus is giving a statement about each person (anyone) having an opportunity to do even greater works cumulatively through their lifetime, (since Jesus really only ministered for about three years), and that they would be doing the very same kinds of things that He did.

I think many people skip this passage, or take the corporate interpretation of it because they can't imagine a life of experiences that would include doing the things Jesus did, let alone greater things throughout the course of their lifetime!
But that's what Jesus said.
The issue is if you believe it.
If you do believe it, dose your life show it ?

My friend Neil Cole likes to say there are two types of people; those who live incredible stories of their own, and those who just tell other peoples stories. Which one are you?

We just had a weekend of "spurring one another on towards love and good deeds"(Hebrews 10:24), at the Organic Greenhouse training conference in downtown Minneapolis. There is incredible synergy that happens when God brings hungry people together, who want to get out into the world and actually bring the Kingdom of God to those who need it. People not motivated for any other reason than to share the love and goodness of God that they themselves have the joy to experience every day in knowing Christ.
I had the privilege of meeting and hanging out with such people this past weekend. Those who long to do what Jesus did and even greater!

A life like this requires faith, risk and boldly stepping out into the unknown -yet this is a life living and experiencing first hand their own great stories rather than telling the great stories of others.

You just can't separate great works from great faith. And great lives have both.

For so long multitudes in the Body of Christ have kept to themselves; praying,prophesying, teaching, helping, having a type of community that choses to be pretty oblivious to the world and opportunities around them. Living a life of some faith, but not great faith.

This has resulted in a church of little impact and few stories of greater works! But that is not what God has designed for us. He has promised and "is able to do far more abundantly beyond that which we ask or think, according to the power that works within us." Ephesians 3:20. He desires to give us great lives with great stories of His Presence!

Jesus said; "No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light." Luke 11:33.

We've been keeping our lights to ourselves. We've been keeping Jesus to ourselves. We have settled for little faith and comfortable lives. We've not 'asked or imagined' beyond our day to day thoughts and personal comforts. But we still have opportunities for great faith and greater works for the King and Kingdom! Each day gives us those opportunities if we look for them!

Let's "do the stuff" and live great stories of great faith for a great King!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time to Grow Up

In the previous blog post Longcuts, I shared that the expression of faith in simple, organic and missional paradigms of Christianity require intentionality on your part. Nothing is done for you. Your the initiator of the level of intimacy you want with God. Not only the initiator, but also responsible for your own maturity. Maturity is not easily or quickly attained, so the quicker we start on this journey the better. God expects us to mature, and Paul exhorts the Ephesians and us, in Ephesians 4:14-16 with, "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature".

Children have everything done for them. We don't expect anything different, and neither do they. Of course, we want them to mature, to become more and more responsible for themselves in all areas. We move them into adulthood. We call this maturity. That is one of our main purposes as parents and adults in their lives.

Unfortunately, we don't have this same mindset in much of the church. The defining of maturity seems illusive, like a target we never hit or sure of where and what it is. We claim we are training, teaching, leading, etc. people into maturity, and yet they never seem to reach it! All through the process we communicate messages like: "you need me for your spiritual growth", or " without my leadership, you and everything else will fall apart", or "your not ready yet, and I'll be the one to know when you are".

No wonder we have people who are immature, insecure, without initiative and motivation. We have not been creating adults with all of our "ministry" but perpetual children and young adults never venturing out on living their own adventures in Christ. We have not made maturity each persons responsibility but rather someone else's job to produce it in them.

I home schooled my kids for most of their lives, and did it a bit differently than what I saw around me at the time.
I watched home school parents who dictated every lesson. They picked it, taught it, monitored the progress of the lesson, and then corrected it. The student was a passive participant really - just obeying the system. Many had official times to start, do a lesson, take breaks, and end. They even set up rooms in the house as special home school classrooms. Very official, and very professional looking.

I wasn't a professional. I knew I couldn't give my kids everything they needed for a good let alone great education. I went into it not as a teacher, rather as a facilitator of their learning.

I went into homeschooling with the desire to create an environment that stimulated a love of learning, which would ultimately be their motivation. I wanted to key into and release their own motivation for learning which ultimately is what would sustain the process throughout their lives. That meant finding out what that motivation was (what excited them) and letting that motivation direct much of their learning.
I also learned quickly that I needed to instill from the beginning that they were responsible for their studies, not me.

I'm always amazed that many in the Body of Christ, still look to others to constantly "parent" them and they never grow past adolescence at best. These people want everything done for them, and nothing much asked of them. They wait for others to tell them what they should do, think or volunteer for. They can't learn but through someone else's teaching. They can't lead because no one has "released them" to do so. They walk in only a shadow of what their lives in the Kingdom could be.

In some simple churches, there is the propensity to fall right back into this way of functioning together because it is familiar, and in many ways much easier for all involved. We have leadership that still often keeps others dependent upon them for constant instruction, guidance, inspiration, correction and motivation.

But we have incredible opportunities within the context of simple, organic, missional churches to foster environments of maturity. To create atmospheres that encourage initiative, creativity, responsibility and ultimately; "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." I Cor. 14:19-21.

In the next blog post I'll dig into this a bit more.