Sunday, February 28, 2010

Comfortable in my own skin

This week I had lunch with an old friend that was on my High School water polo team (isn’t Facebook something). He looked good and I was glad to catch up. He was able to fill me in on how all my old teammates are doing and what they are now up to. One is the team physician for an NFL team, another is a high powered attorney for a major LA law firm. One is owner and operator of several restaurants in the LA area. He asked me what I am doing. I started to tell him and was able to express how Jesus had really changed my life.

Lately I have answered this question by saying, I am a founder and director for a non-profit organization that helps resource people to follow Christ and start organic churches. That usually raises more questions about what the church is and is not. I also tend to say, I am an author as well. All of this is true, but none of it truly expresses who I am or what my true role is.

Then he asked me a question that I really struggle with answering these days. He asked, “Are you a minister?”

In earlier days that was an easy question to answer. It was a slamdunk: Yes. I was a pastor of a church--a “real” church (tongue in cheek). I went to seminary, was ordained by my denomination and would preach sermons every Sunday to a congregation that spoke of me as their pastor.

The Lord has taken me down a different path in the last ten years, however, and I do not fit in the old paradigm any longer. I tried to explain that, but it isn’t easy since our language has not caught up with the new expression of the church.

When I am not on the road, I spend a relaxing Sunday morning getting a coffee and a light breakfast while I read the paper, my Bible, and journal a bit. I am part of a church but it meets in a home on Wednesday evenings, and I am not really a pastor. I no longer preach sermons or have elder meetings. I do not do much pastoral counseling or supervise staff that run programs.

In these days, I can no longer just say I am a pastor. I function in a more apostolic role, but I can’t see myself putting that on my business card anytime too soon. As uncomfortable as I am with describing my new role in the kingdom of God I am far more at home now than when I was in the old system. It isn’t really important that I have a title or clearly understood role as it is that I fulfill all that God has called me to do one day at a time.

Today I believe that every follower of Christ is a minister. All who have the Holy Spirit are ordained. I love the new paradigm much more and am glad to discover my identity in this movement.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Seed of an Organic Kingdom Movement

The organic nature of any movement is found within the seed of life. Every seed contains the life of the tree within, remaining dormant and waiting to be released. You cannot substitute that seed for anything else and expect real results. A lemon seed will never produce an apple tree. The genetic code within can only produce the results it has been designed by God to grow into. We reproduce after our own kind and can do no other. We must plant the true seed, not a seed substitute.

Peter tells us that the seed within is not capable of dying and will result in a transformed life when planted in soil prepared for it:

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)

All living things are created to procreate. The church is a living thing that is also to reproduce after its own kind. But we must recognize that the life is found in the seed, not in a program, a curriculum, a charming personality or dynamic resources. There is no substitute for the word of truth in a heart purified by confession of sin and ready to act in simple obedience.

Inorganic things can produce but not reproduce. As Christian Schwartz once said: "A coffee maker can make coffee (praise the Lord) but cannot produce new coffee makers." Those who follow Jesus are the fruit of God's Kingdom, as such we carry within the seed of life for the next generation. To not reproduce is to deny our very internal nature and is counter to God's design.

The growth occurs when the seed meets soil that is pure and cleansed and ready to obey. The growth can only come from within and not be produced from the outside in by any sort of teaching, programming or coercing. The growth occurs "all by itself" (Mark 4:28). You cannot make someone or something living grow. Paul said he planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but only God causes the growth. (1 Cor. 3:6-8)

As my mentor George Patterson once pointed out:

Every time we eat, we eat the fruit of God's tremendous reproduction power given to plants and animals. Look around out of doors; it's everywhere—grass, trees, birds, bees, babies and flowers. All creation is shouting it! This is the way God works!... We ourselves don't make the church grow or reproduce, any more than pulling on a stalk of corn would make it grow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Go Small to Go Big

I am a big thinker. Some people assume that because I do church in a small way that I am opposed to big things, and that is vastly untrue. I will not be satisfied until the whole world is changed and you can’t do that in a single church, but you can with many small ones. But the way to effect the global is to start with the microscopic.

Seth Godin boldly declares, “Small is the new big.” Contrary to the way we usually think, the way to big is really to go small. Of course this is counter intuitive. So often we try to make something grow bigger and end up doing less than we could. Jesus used the parable of leaven to show the effect of a small thing on a massive scale. He also often referred to the smallest known seed as having huge potential for earth shaking results (Matt. 17:20).

In his hugely successful book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, Malcom Gladwell identifies three characteristics necessary for an epidemic-type spread of a trend, idea or even a virus itself: “one, contagiousness; two, the fact that little causes can have big effects; and three, that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment” (he calls that moment the “tipping point”). He devotes an entire section of his book to “the law of the few,” in which he cites example after example of how huge epidemic-type movements began with very few people. In fact, that is only how they begin.

Not every small thing is powerful. It matters what is within the small package. A grain of sand and a grain of wheat are both small. One has the God-given potential to eventually feed the hungry world. The other can be the catalyst to create a blister or a pearl—but only one.

Before we can change the world we must be able to change a single life. But we must change a life in such a way that the same life is able to do it all over again with someone else. That is best done in small ways that eventually affect the global. When you are looking to spread an idea virus by coordinating larger groups to do so, the whole process breaks down. But if it is as simple and small as one life to another, the virus can spread easily and each person carries the contagion.

A tiny microscopic virus is bringing an entire continent made up of dozens of nations to its knees in Africa—AIDS. This virus is passed on person to person in a very predictable manner but it spreads almost unhindered. It spreads because those infected have an internal motivation to continue doing what spreads the virus. In combating the virus we are not just trying to figure out a way to stop the virus itself but to stop the behaviors that spread it, and that is the hardest part, because it is against the natural drive in the people.

Why is small such a big deal? Small does not cost at all. Small is easy to reproduce. Small is more easily changed and exchanged. Small is mobile. Small is harder to stop. Small is intimate. Small is simple. Small infiltrates easier. Small is something people think they can do. Big does not do any of these things. We can change the world more quickly by becoming much smaller in our strategy.

If I can be vulnerable for a moment I want to share with you my greatest phobia. Until now, this was a secret known only to my wife and three kids (and boy do they have fun with it), but it is time for full disclosure. I am not afraid of large dogs, strange people or standing in high places. I have no problem in the dark or an enclosed place. I have a phobia about bugs. There, I said it. An individual bug doesn’t really bother me. I am glad to remove a spider found in the bathroom by one of my daughters without hesitation. It is when bugs swarm that I am creeped out. This has always been my greatest nightmare. Even as I write this and imagine it in my mind I feel shivers on the back of my neck. The feeling of ants all over my legs is the worst! I hate it.

The truth is we should all be a little freaked by swarms of insects; they are so overwhelming that there is almost no defense. You can have a double barrel shotgun and an automatic machine gun at the same time and you are absolutely defenseless against a swarm of killer bees. You can shoot at the swarm, and you may even hit a couple of the bees, but the swarm doesn’t even need to duck when you shoot. It will come without any slowing or adjustment after you have fired all rounds. And that is also why a decentralized movement can literally be unstoppable.

While for years now the church has invested in growing larger, the new missional movement is trying to get smaller in its focus so that it can get bigger in its impact.

Small is the new big.

From Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spiritual Gift Inventories

I was asked on my blog if I like to use spiritual gift tests in my church context. I thought you might all want to hear my answer:

For the most part, I do not use gift surveys, I believe they tend to do a few negative things.

Spiritual gift tests...
  1. Peg someone for life. We do not need the "I don't have that gift" excuse any more!
  2. Carry authority they should not. A survey doesn't tell you your gift. The Holy Spirit working through the body does.
  3. Have an unwritten bias in the test that slants people. Whoever develops the test has a point of view that slants the questions and gets tainted results.
  4. Take the focus off of the body and put it on the individual. We are all prone to be self absorbed already, these tests just get us looking in on ourselves and makes spiritual gift discovery about fulfilling our own needs...the opposite of what gifts are about.
  5. Make gift discovery simply a matter of personal preference rather than true effectiveness. All the surveys are more about what you prefer than what you actually do. The spiritual life is not to be driven by personal preference.
  6. Suggest that gift usage is a matter of job placement rather than HS led effectiveness. In most institutions, the roles available have a tendency to determine what usage of the gifts are defined as and limits all creative expression. Your gifts can be useful in many more avenues than a typical local church allows.
If the temptation to use surveys is just too much to bear, I suggest you have people take multiple tests just to bring some balance to the concept. At least then the people see that one test doesn't have authority and that they have different slants. I still think this can present a problem.

As tests go, I do like the idea of a 360 view where ten of your friends you know best take your test for you (such as on Alan Hirsch's APEST gift test online

There is nothing like serving others in the body to discover what you are called to do. Failure is also a great instructor, but it tends to cost a bit more than the typical survey does.