Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ego and The Modern Preacher

So, I'm a part of starting a new church. Hope you've picked that up by now. Anyways, the beginning stages of The Mission have afforded me the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of traditions currently employed by most churches. This is fun because you don't get to tackle "sacred cows" as easily in older, more established churches. One of these issues is service schedule. When did we come up with the (music - announcements - sermon - music) service schedule that is almost universal in Western Evangelical churches? Are we that uncreative that we can't figure out how to "do" church services differently? We might have to deal with this one at a later date.

But, my beef today has to do with the sermon. There's no denying that the pulpit has become the most important piece of furniture in the church. Well, I've got a problem with that. It is my belief that the use of "the sermon" is dying. The model of a person standing and delivering a one-sided monologue of information that lasts well into early Monday morning is, and has been, well on its way to grave. There are only a couple of things keeping the plug from being pulled on this tired act: tradition and egos. Preachers in today's American evangelical churches are often, not always, control freaks. Leaders are often control freaks. Since leadership, in the corporate form, has become the hallmark characteristic for today's preachers, I surmise that egos and the desire to control are what's holding us hostage to a model, the teacher/learner model, that has been academically and practically proven as the least effective at getting people to apply what they are learning.

I don't want to be that guy that puts people to sleep. You know, the Apostle Paul actually preached a guy to death one time. Then he raised him back to life. I don't want to be put in that situation. I want to teach and learn with people. I don't want to stand up and talk all the time.

So, I need some interaction and comments from you folks. It's painfully obvious that I can't even write a short blog, much less gain control of my rambling while teaching. Let me asks some questions so you can help me find the answers. After all, it's been proven that when you include your subjects in problem solving they will retain and apply much more than just consuming information. So, this is a win/win for both of us. You get to share you opinions, and I get to try and learn more about being a good pastor.

1. Why do those in ministry balk at the idea that the sermon is not the most effective way to teach?
2. Where did we come up with the "3 Point" sermon anyways?
3. What's the alternative?
4. Is there a New Testament model for sermons?
5. If you can't say it in 20 minutes, can you really get your point across in 45?

Have any more questions? Am I wrong about this whole thing? Talk to me.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Meeting this Sunday night!

This Sunday night we will be meeting at Kaley's apartment @ 7PM. All are invited to attend. This is a big deal because it will mark the first of our "every Sunday" meetings. In preparation for our time together, I would suggest that each of you take time to get to know a few passages of Scripture: Matthew 6:19-21, 2 Cor. 4:18, and Col. 3:1,2. Also take a moment to think about the word "perspective".

Also, I would ask that we continue to have patience as we put The Mission together. On Sunday I will update everyone on the latest info regarding this new church in Dayton. The new year is sure to be filled with a lot of excitement as we seek to become the hands and feet of Jesus in this community. As always, feel free to contact me for more information:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Beauty of Gray

At my old church we put out a monthly magazine instead of the more traditional weekly bulletins. It was an incredible idea and the creative team at IBC does a fantastic job each month creating this information piece called "Chatter". A few years back I wrote an article for Chatter. The article is basically about my journey with God up to this point in my life. For those of you in Texas reading this, feel free to skip this post.

Since I'm in Dayton now, working at making the dream of starting a church a reality, I think it's appropriate to post this article for those wanting to know a little more about me. The evolution of our faith can sometimes be a disheartening process. But, as I've allowed Jesus to become more and more at home in my heart, I've learned that this process is also what strengthens our faith the most. Many of us are tempted to run from our faith struggles or our doubt. For me, embracing the beauty of gray and letting go of the black and white has lead to an incredible expansion of my faith. Maybe it can for you as well.

The Beauty of Gray
By Brian Ward

Over the last decade I’ve been on a journey of sorts. This journey hasn’t taken me to distant or exotic lands, but instead through a maze of Christian “stuff.” And for most of this journey, I’ve been just plain worn out. That’s what trudging through a bunch of thoughts and theories, ideas and interpretations, and volumes of systematic theology will do to a person. It can be downright unhealthy. Unfortunately, I took all this “stuff” and turned it into something far more important than it needed to be. I wanted my study of theology to lead to a deep and satisfying love for God, but instead it turned into a nearly impenetrable fortress of beliefs that led to loneliness and isolation.

So, I’ve decided to call it quits. Game over. Goodnight!

OK, not really…but I am changing my ways. I’ve recently found myself reinvigorated on this journey. This refreshing has been fueled by the freeing understanding that I no longer must be “right” all the time. The only promise or guarantee I make now is that I’m not going to figure it all out.

Here’s how it all began.

Soon after I made the decision to follow Christ as a teen, I quickly started to build my walls of defense to protect my Christianity. Just about everybody in my life, including my immediate family, were non-Christian. So I found myself having to defend my beliefs all the time. In addition, my early Christian years ran parallel to a pre-existing battle in America between liberal and conservative denominations. Philosophical and theological lines were being drawn faster than a Baptist church could boycott Disney. Those were the days when many Christians wouldn’t bat an eye at images of starving African children, but would rally by the thousands to keep the Ten Commandments posted in government buildings. I was one of those people.

Throughout my years at a small Christian college, Dispensationalism, Calvinism, and all sorts of other “isms” found fertile soil in my soul. Learning about God and developing convictions about issues is not a bad thing. But those first few years of college is when I really started to blur the lines between essential and non-essential Christian belief. Then I decided to go to seminary. The graduate institution I chose was renowned in the world of evangelicalism. Now, I thought my seminary years would serve as the ultimate fortress-building experience. But something really strange and annoying happened. My carefully crafted barricades started to crumble. The more I learned, the more I became aware of how much I didn’t understand. It was terribly uncomfortable for someone who prided himself on knowing a lot of stuff.

But I didn’t go down without a fight. I was so determined to keep my fortress of knowledge standing that I became abrasive and exclusive about my theological viewpoints. In the end, this just led to dissatisfaction and despair, and even worse, separation from a multitude of my Jesus-loving brothers and sisters. You see, my conservative evangelical fortress was fantastic at keeping my beautiful boxed-up theology safe, but it did an even better job at keeping God on the outside my life. Soon I would realize that I had taken tools, thoughts, and ideas and elevated them to idol status.

It’s been said a million times that worshipping anything other than God never pays off. Even if it’s stuff that is meant to help you learn about God. No, I didn’t worship little jewelry pieces shaped like a cow or cute little figurines that fit nicely on shelves. Instead, I bent my knee before facts and charts and commentaries. I jumped head first into western culture’s obsession with information and consumed the black and white world of modernity. In doing so, I managed to totally miss the beauty of gray. Gray was bad. Knowledge and facts were good. I thought the more knowledge you had, the better Christian you were. For me, what seemed like a noble desire to know God turned into an empty and lonely religion of systems and diagrams devoid of a living, breathing and active relationship with the very mysterious God of the universe. And inside, I was longing for relationship and intimacy with Jesus and the variety of folks that belong to Him.

At this time I went through what I would describe as a christian depression. I couldn’t read anymore books, didn’t pray very much, and really struggled with digging into God’s Word. I was being forced to engage the emptiness of hitting rock bottom in my spiritual life. Looking back now, I can totally see how God was working to knock down all the useless walls I had built. He used colleagues to challenge me and brought His Word to me in a new and exciting way. I went way outside of my comfort zone and read books that I thought were nothing short of heresy just a few years before. Slowly but surely, the eyes of my soul were being opened to the possibility that God could not always be confined to categories and systems. He was proving Himself to be big and incomprehensible. Strangely, I found my “new” God to be far more comforting and fulfilling than the one I came to know from theology books.

Recently I read a passage out of 1 Corinthians which served as the final nail in the coffin of my days as an exclusive evangelical. I’m sure I’ve read this particular passage before, but this time I read it from The Message translation. The words jumped off the page and straight into my heart. Eugene Peterson translates 4:1 as saying, “We are guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them.” The original word that Peterson translates as “secrets” is musterion, which is most commonly translated “mystery.” I thought about the differences between a guide and a security guard. Guides are often those individuals that are incredibly passionate and inviting, longing to share the joy they have of their subject. Whereas security guards are intimidating and much more focused on keeping people out. I belonged to Jesus, but I was guarding my brand of Christianity, not sharing his truth and love.

So, I began to remove my barriers and refocus on Christ, and I realized I wasn’t alone in this journey. Many people struggle with building walls and losing sight of the One who has freed us. Perhaps the Church, in fact, struggles with it, too. As the missio dei, or the Mission of God, spreads through nations and tribes all over the world, isn’t it becoming increasingly more important for us to see ourselves as part of this movement instead of separated by non-essential doctrinal issues? Maybe it’s time to tear down our walls, erase our lines, and offer a God-relationship that is universally available and knows no geographical, genealogical or cultural barriers. I, for one, am done with hoarding Jesus for myself and drawing theological boundaries that divide rather than unite.

I’ll always be a fan of knowledge, and I believe we need to use our brains to think and figure and hypothesize. We need to celebrate the cognitive ability that God has gracefully given us. But that is not all there is for those that belong to Jesus. My journey has taken me through nausea and fatigue, confusion, and back to the nausea thing again. I’m not ditching all that I’ve learned. But I’m not going to pout when someone doesn’t think the Left Behind books are 100% accurate. I certainly don’t think that all of the thoughts and theories that I turned into idols are wrong. Knowing God more deeply, searching the scriptures, and studying theology are all valid and honorable tasks. Certainly we should all get into the business of knowing what we believe, why we believe, and in Whom we believe. But for the first time I’m excited about the musterion of God and His tireless and passionate pursuit of the restoration of all of His creation. I’m cutting the chains of the “my way or the highway” mentality that has held me captive for so long, and removing words like “clearly” and “obviously” from discussions about God. I’ve taken off the old black and white lenses of modernity and am trying desperately to learn the beauty of gray.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What is a Missional Church?

As many of you might know, I've had two other blog sites that I've used over the last few years. With the dream of starting a new kind of church now a reality, I will use this site as my primary tool to communicate what God is doing in and through The Mission. The first area of interest we need to address is "Missional". The Missional Church is a relatively new philosophy of "doing" church. The Mission, our new church in Dayton, TN will more than likely align itself with this philosophy. Missional doesn't even seem to be a real word according to my mac's spell check. Regardless, as we set out to "do" church missionally (apparently this is also not a word), we need to be on the same page as to what that is. The following is a little heavy for those A.D.D. types, so now would be a good time to munch down on your attention stimulant of choice.

JR Woodward at Dream Awakener has a perspective on what missional success might look like. Here it is:

* Not simply how many people come to our church services, but how many people our church serves.
* Not simply how many people attend our ministry, but how many people have we equipped for ministry.
* Not simply how many people minister inside the church, but how many minister outside the church.
* Not simply helping people become more whole themselves, but helping people bring more wholeness to their world. (i.e. justice, healing, relief)
* Not simply how many ministries we start, but how many ministries we help.
* Not simply how many unbelievers we bring into the community of faith, but how many ‘believers' we help experience healthy community.
* Not simply working through our past hurts, but working alongside the Spirit toward wholeness.
* Not simply counting the resources that God gives us to steward, but counting how many good stewards are we developing for the sake of the world.
* Not simply how we are connecting with our culture but how we are engaging our culture.
* Not simply how much peace we bring to individuals, but how much peace we bring to our world.
* Not simply how effective we are with our mission, but how faithful we are to our God.
* Not simply how unified our local church is, but how unified is "the church" in our neighborhood, city and world?
* Not simply how much we immerse ourselves in the text, but how faithfully we live in the story of God.
* Not simply being concerned about how our country is doing, but being concerned for the welfare of other countries.
* Not simply how many people we bring into the kingdom, but how much of the kingdom we bring to the earth.

Another way to define what Missional Church is to look at what missionaries have been doing for well over a hundred years. Grossly summarized I'm sure, but it works like this: a person or group gets called by God to a certain area of the globe or people group. Most reputable mission agencies provide significant amounts of language and culture training before a missionary is commissioned and sent out. Then, once on location, there's more language and culture training. You just don't get dropped off in the jungle, run to the nearest village and start preaching. You live among the people. You learn their ways. You learn what they eat, what they wear, and how they interact. You do this because you want relationship with them and you know that your life changing message won't be heard if you are not trusted in the community. You have a calling and a deep love for these people, and you desperately want to share with them your amazing God.

Boy that was a long explanation, but there is a point. America is quickly becoming, and some places already are, post-christian. The American church needs to begin to position itself as not only a sending agent of foreign missions, but radically reshape its mission here. American Christ followers are in desperate need of missions training. Not to go to the jungle, but next door to the neighbors. We need to take the time to learn their culture and language before we begin to preach. We've gotten so used to the "invite them to church and huddle them in to hear relevant messages" mentality that we actually act confused and shocked that folks aren't knocking down the doors to get in anymore. We rarely shop with them, share with them, listen to their music, or live in relationship with them in order to earn the right to be heard. We judge them, tell them what their doing wrong, and alienate them if they ever do get the courage to break the threshold of our churches. In reality, it couldn't be any more opposite from what missionaries do.

So, here's a big missional church question we should ask ourselves: Are we going to live with the community, or preach at the community.

A missional church makes the decision that they have a calling and a deep, deep love for the people surrounding the building's physical location. And, they will stop at nothing to engage these people. The church's staff are mission training specialist constantly educating the congregants about the community's culture. The program is to reach a people group - the only weird thing is that these people group are our neighbors, not some far off "national geographic" people.

Being missional is very different than what today's church practices. It seems everyone is very slow to move away from the "attractional" model of trying to get people in the doors by cool music and a kickin' children's ministry. We don't think those things are bad by the way. We just believe that as we move further into our ever changing culture, the attractional (also not a word) model will be on the wrong side of effective. That's enough to chew on for today... maybe even the whole week. Stay tuned for more info on The Mission by regularly checking this site.



Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Mission Dayton

The Mission is a new Faith Community in Dayton, TN. It was started with the hope of connecting people to each other and to God. Here's a brief description of who we are:

"We are a community of ordinary, broken people committed to the stubborn hope that God loves his creation and will restore all things to Himself. The mission of God to redeem the world is therefore our mission, as together we pursue justice, celebrate beauty, love our neighbors, and share the good news that God is building a new kingdom in our midst under the authority of Jesus Christ.

We look to Jesus—his life, teachings, death, resurrection, and eventual return—as our example, as together we seek to live in authentic, loving community with one another and those around us. We believe the Church is at its best when it sacrifices and serves.

We are regular people committed to living out the Mission of God in community and for the community."

If you're out there in or around Dayton and you're not connecting in a local church, please get in touch with us. We would love to hang out!

10,000 Blessings,
Brian Ward
The Mission Pastor

Our 1st Meeting!

Well, technically it was our 2nd meeting. But, last Sunday night was our first service. We gathered at Kaley and Sarah's apartment for a time of worship and study. We talked about salt. Remember that salt is no good hanging out with other salt. So get out there and be salt so that we can "God-flavor" the earth. For info on upcoming meetings and stuff, please check back here often. I hope to use this blog site as one of our main communication tools. Also, I plan to write regularly what God has me thinking about various stuff.

I have to say that I'm continually thankful to God for leading us to start this new faith community in Dayton, TN. Remember to pray!

Love ya,