Patronizing the Poor

patronize |ˈpātrəˌnīz, ˈpa-|
verb [ with obj. ]
(often as adj. patronizing) treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority: “She’s a good-hearted girl,” he said in a patronizing voice | she was determined not to be put down or patronized. Continue reading

Snowshoeing & Church Planting

One of my favorite things about living in Burlington is that you can drive to numerous amazing trailheads in around an hour.  In the middle of January that means one thing for me: snowshoeing!  Yesterday, after our Home Fellowship meeting several of us headed to the edge of the Green Mountains to hit the trail and take in some views.  As we trudged forward two things happened (the same two things that always seem to happen when hiking in the mountains): the trail became steeper and our legs grew more tired.   Continue reading

One eyed monstrosity

Yesterday in our Home Fellowship meeting we were discussing questions such as, What is the church?  What is the church’s purpose?  Why does the church exist?  If you were to start a church from scratch in 2011 Burlington, VT, and sincerely use the scriptures as your guide, what would it look like?  As we were reading through different scriptures from the Message (a modern paraphrase of the Bible), this section from 1 Corinthians 12 in particular stood out Continue reading

Sent & Scattered

It seems pretty clear from reading the New Testament book of Acts that the early church, despite its many faults, was driven by an apostolic impulse.  The word apostle literally means “one who is sent out,” and we can easily see from the narrative in Acts that the church took a “sent and scattered” approach to ministry.  Whenever the church became too centralized or inward focused,  God allowed persecution to move the process forward.  As I look at the American church, I often see a struggle with taking a sent and scattered approach to ministry- especially when it requires a radical change in mindset, ministry strategy, and use of resources.  Although I’m knee deep in helping start churches in relatively unchurched communities, I find myself sometimes internally struggling to throw off the status quo of comfort zone Christianity to embrace this apostolic impulse which should still drive us today.  This has led to me asking myself a tough question as both a church-planter and Jesus-follower…

What prevents us from taking a more sent and scattered approach to ministry?

Control issues. I’m pretty sure that beginning with the day of Pentecost that the twelve apostles and other 120 followers of Jesus realized that this Jesus movement was going to be something way bigger than anything they could control.  It’s easy to assume as we look at scripture that because the apostles and elders of the early church gave some pretty clear (and sometimes strict) parameters to people wanting to become Jesus followers and even more-so to other leaders, that they were all about control.  We must remember that this was way before the time of instant communication via phones, text messaging, and emails, with letters taking weeks and months to reach their destination. This communication gap forced the early church leaders to put a great deal of trust in those they had mentored and sent out.  Does a lack of control open the door for people to go “off the farm” with their mission and even theology? It’s certainly a possibility, but even in the most controlling church environments this happens more than we’d like to admit- just look at the number of church splits that occur over these issues.

Trusting leaders. I think one reason we may struggle to trust emerging leaders is that we have not put the time into mentoring and developing them.  One big reason that Jesus trusted the apostles was because of the power of the Holy Spirit working through them.  We should also consider the obvious fact that He trusted them as leaders because He had invested a great deal of time and energy in developing them as leaders.  We see this same confidence from Paul in his letters to Titus and Timothy.  Paul had invested in these guys and trusted them to not only lead but to develop others who would lead.  In our present era we cannot simply delegate the responsibility of developing a new generation of Christian leaders to Bible colleges or seminaries- I would argue that the best context for learning still remains local churches doing real ministry in the real world.  I’m not arguing against the value of theological training, but I do believe that the people most likely to influence culture and engage those outside the church are not ordained vocational clergy.

Minimizing relationships. We can easily forget that the primary vehicle through which the good news of Jesus travels is relationships.  Two thousand years ago the Greco-Roman household or oikos provided the perfect relational network of close friends and family members for the gospel to go viral.  In the modern era, studies have continued to prove that the primary influence on people coming to faith in Jesus is relationships with family and friends.  When we act like a program, a worship service, or even our preaching is the key to people becoming followers of Jesus, then we’re actually putting our focus (and usually investing our resources) in the exception rather than the norm.  I’m definitely  a big fan of gospel-centered preaching, but I’m also certain that the overwhelming majority of our culture is deaf to what is being said from our Sunday morning pulpits.  As a friend recently shared with me: “relationships are the currency of the kingdom.”

Old” paradigms. As much as we try, it’s hard to move beyond our default perspective of what church is- a large group of people gathered in one place on Sunday with a lectern as the focal point of where ministry happens.  In a culture where even the most irreligious person defines a church as a building with a steeple, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that the Jesus movement met as churches for the first 200+ years without buildings set aside as places of worship.  Somehow this ancient idea that the church is the people of God on mission with God has been somewhat lost despite the fact that the New Testament never refers to the church as a literal building.  Please understand that I’m not suggesting that established churches tear down buildings and sell off all their property (well… unless these things are preventing real ministry from happening).  What I am saying is that if we are going to engage an increasingly nonChristian culture then we will have to have an open hand with our approach to ministry and go way back (like 2000 years back) to what made the church the church.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and even get some “push back.”

 

Strategic Priorities

Often I wake up in the morning with 100 ideas running through my head, a growing “to do” list, and wondering where to begin.  Now I realize I’m not the only one with a busy life.  Whether you are a church planter, pastor, stay at home mom, professor, custodian, salesman, grad-student, single mom, or corporate exec, life is busy.  In the middle of my busyness, though, I need a base-line to go back to.  What is my God-given mission and focus?  What should be the focus of my time, energy, and resources as I seek to start a church and serve the city of Burlington? Over the past few weeks God has given greater clarity to my prayers and helped me discern what my “strategic priorities” need to be:

  1. Developing leaders who model the message and mission of Jesus. Luke 4:18-21, 9:1-6, 10:1-12
  2. Reproducing Home Fellowship with an ethos of sacrificial service. Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37
  3. Launching a community service platform that mobilizes Christians to serve Burlington. Jeremiah 29:4-7, Matthew 20:25-28

In this post I’ll deal solely with strategic priority #1…

One of the many things that stands out to me about Jesus is that He was incredibly clear about His identity, His mission, and His message.  He knew who He was and what He was about.  Chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel finds Jesus in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth.  He’s recently survived a 40 day fast and temptation battle with Satan.  He’s just beginning His public ministry.  Word about him is spreading as people are blown away by his teaching.  We can imagine it’s a packed house on the sabbath as people are trying to figure out what’s going on with this hometown son of a carpenter turned rock-star rabbi…

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

They sat in stunned silence—they are amazed that this teacher is the son of a local carpenter—and then Jesus takes it one step further….

21 And he began to say to them, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Jesus is in essence saying: I am the Messiah and this is what I came to do. Something Jesus comes back to over and over and over again with statements like…

The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If you scan the gospels, it’s not difficult to see how Jesus prioritized His life and ministry:

The sinful over the righteous.

The sick over the well.

The least over the greatest.

The lost over the found.

Simply put: Seek the lost. Serve the least.

SO to really develop leaders who model Jesus’ mission and message, there are a few things I and the leaders I’m developing need to understand:

1. The difference between religious moralism and the gospel. As Christians we can often try to show off our “superior” morals as a means of earning credibility.  Any time we approach following Jesus as a list of religious dos and don’ts, we’re embracing the same mindset as the Pharisees and missing the point of the gospel.  Although Burlington is not a particularly religious city, the local progressive, environmental, socially tolerant, save the world mentality serves as a “works righteousness” substitute for organized religion.  I’m convinced that one way not to reach people here is by having a competition comparing who has better morals.  The message of the gospel seems pretty clear that no matter what standard we’re trying to live up to- whether defined by the Old Testament law, modern evangelical Christianity, or the local progressive culture- we’ll eventually FAIL in our attempt.  In the end, we are all fallen people in need of a serious dose of God’s grace.

2. Sharing the gospel is about sacrificial service and speaking truth.  Addressing the obvious physical issues is what gives us opportunity to address the deeper unseen spiritual issues. We see this throughout Jesus’ ministry—it was not an either/or approach but a both/and approach. This is why we see Jesus healing someone with physical disabilities—the blind and the lame—and at the same time forgiving them of their sins.  This is why we see Jesus feeding 5000 hungry people while teaching them about the kingdom of God. It is very difficult to tell someone we care about their invisible spiritual needs if we don’t show concern for their more obvious physical needs.   It just so happens that we live in a community where there is no lack of physical or spiritual needs.

3. Social justice issues provide a huge area of common ground.  In Burlington we have a rapidly growing homeless population and an international refugee community approaching 5000 (many of who have experienced hell on earth).  Our community cares a great deal about these issues and it just so happens that Jesus cares about these issues too- that’s some serious common ground.  The difference should lie in our motivation, which should not be rooted in either an attitude of self-righteous moral superiority or some form of white-middle-class guilt.  Our motivation for social justice (and worshiping God in all ways) must be rooted in the fact that  we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked people  who have experienced God’s radical grace (see Revelation 3:15-20).  Christians have no excuse to not be the pace setters in the arena of social justice.

Please pray that God will teach us how to raise up gospel-centered leaders as we seek to plant this church and serve Burlington.


 

Another one down…

For the second time in two months I’ve heard news of a pastor/church planter having an extramarital affair.  In both cases the guys were well respected by their peers, seemed to have an excellent leadership team around them, were leading fast growing churches that were engaging large numbers of nonChristians, and cheated on their wives with their administrative assistants.  In some ways this makes me sad, in some ways mad, and in some ways fearful.

Sad because of the hurt and havoc that has been caused primarily in their families but also in their churches and communities.  I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing, but I do know that I never want to be the source of such pain.  When I was a single youth minister in my twenties, my old friend Troy Lindsey would always tell me, “never sacrifice your marriage or family on the altar of ministry.”  Every week God reminds me of those words of wisdom.  The most important ministry I will ever have is to Christin, Jude, and our soon to be born daughter.

Mad because of the black eye their actions have given to their churches and more importantly to the cause of Jesus.  I realize that the message of Jesus will survive the mistakes of messed up messengers, but we all know that our character and actions give credibility to the message we share.  When we say “yes” to serving as pastors, teachers, or any type of spiritual leadership, we should understand the weight of the responsibility we are taking on.  James 3:1 says bluntly that “we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Fearful because I know that I’m no better than either of these guys.  I know that I am just as temptable and to think otherwise is just stupid and prideful (see 1 Corinthians 10:12-13).  I need grace.  I need accountability.  I need your prayers.

I’m thankful for the spiritual speed bumps God has given me in my life, if I ever try to go down this path.  God has given me an accountability partner I talk to every other week.  God has also provided me with a group of ministry leaders to meet with every Wednesday morning.  At the same time, I remember Erwin McManus once saying, “If you’re not going to be honest and faithful to your wife who you’ve made a life-long covenant to, then you’re probably not going to be honest to the guys who are supposed to be holding you accountable.”   Fortunately, I have a wife who can eerily see right through me.

SO here are some ways you can pray for me…

*Pray that I will never substitute ministry success for finding my satisfaction in Jesus.

*Pray that I will never sacrifice my family on the altar of ministry.

*Pray that Christin and I will continue to grow closer to Jesus and each other every day.

*Pray that I will be honest and accountable to the men I meet with regularly.

*Pray that God will guard my eyes, mind, speech, and feet as I seek to follow Him.

*Pray that if I ever get another administrative assistant that it will either be a guy or a lady old enough to be my mom.