Friday, April 04, 2008

Belonging before Believing?

“[Americans] are among the loneliest people in the world.” –George Gallup Jr., The People's Religion

A couple of years ago I attended a gathering made up of church leaders and thinkers.
Brian McLaren, who was one of the facilitators at this gathering, suggested that people long first to belong before they will make a decision to commit (or believe). Interestingly, Joesph Myers, in his well-received and useful book, “The Search To Belong” (which I highly recommend), also mentions this statement in which he overheard Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren discuss (probably in more detail than the statement I heard) how postmoderns (and I would also include moderns, post-post moderns, neo-moderns, and all the other categories that one could be a part of J ) wish to belong before they believe. However, as I have wrestled with this statement, Myers’ book on belonging has challenged me to question, defend, and re-think, how I/we approach Formation, Discipleship, and Community.

For example, Myers confronts Six Myths about belonging:

Myth #1: More Time=More Belonging
The greater the amount of time spent in relationship with another person, the more authentic the community will be…Belonging is not controlled by time, and time by itself does not develop belonging.

Myth #2: More Commitment=More Belonging
People often believe that there is a significance relationship between commitment and community…a relationship that involves commitment does not necessarily promote a greater experience of belonging.

Myth #3: More Purpose=More Belonging
Sometimes people who have a common passion and purpose do connect. But a common purpose or vision or goal does not guarantee that people will connect.

Myth #4: More Personality=More Belonging
Many people believe that some have a natural ability to belong. They assume that if a person is more gregarious, more extroverted, he or she will have little trouble experiencing community, whereas those who are shy will struggle to belong…But introversion and extroversion neither block nor enhance our experience of belonging. Healthy community can be experienced and developed by introvert and extrovert alike.

Myth #5: More Proximity=More Belonging
Randy Freeze states, “The simple fact is that in all place of effective community people live in close proximity to each other.” This statement is true (in the sense) that people who live in close geographical proximity may connect with one another. However, this statement is also false in that space in some sense is a matter of perspective (take all the tech and web connections, cell, texting, and so forth).

Myth #6: More Small Groups=More Belonging
The implication of many churches is that small groups are the best, if not the only way to ‘build’ authentic community. Just think of the many books and other marketing tools promoting small groups. Nevertheless, small groups can expect only about a 30 percent involvement at best from the congregation? Maybe the answer is that small groups do not accomplish the promise of fulfilling all facets of a person’s search for community…Small groups deliver only on one or two specific kinds of connection, and a person’s search for community is more complex than this…As a result, many congregations have gone down the small group road only to find they have circled a cul-de-sac and ended up where they began.

Rem Koolhaas states in Wired:
“Our old ideas about space have exploded. The past three decades have produced more change in more cultures than another time in history. Radically accelerated growth, deregulation, and globalization have redrawn our familiar maps and reset the parameters: Borders are inscribed and permeated, control zones imposed and violated, jurisdictions declared and ignored markets pumped up and punctured. And at the same time, entirely new spatial conditions, demanding new definitions, have emerged. Where space was considered permanent, it now feels transitory—on its way to becoming.”

[excerpt taken from The Search To Belong by Joseph Myers]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Interruptions or Opportunities

It was a busy week, full of stress and weariness, and worst of all, nothing was getting done. It had less to do with time management or over commitment, and more to do with the ‘more than usual’ interruptions and distractions that entered my life. I felt like a runner whose legs were heavy as lead pipes, and yet, with my sides burning and mouth wide open desperately gasping for air, I knew that there were more miles and obstacles ahead…And than I reflected on these words:

“Don’t we often look at the many events in our lives as big or small interruptions, interrupting many of our plans, projects and life schemes? Don’t we feel an inner protest when a student interrupts our reading, bad weather our summer, illness our well-scheduled plans, the death of a dear friend our peaceful state of mind, a cruel war our ideas about the goodness of man, and the many harsh realities of life our good dreams about it? And doesn’t this unending row of interruptions build in our hearts feelings of anger, frustration and even revenge, so much so that at times we see the real possibility that growing old can become synonymous with growing bitter?
But what if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities, if they are challenges to an inner response by which growth takes place and through which we come to the fullness of being.
What if the evens of our history are molding us as a sculptor molds his clay, and if it is only in a careful obedience to these molding hands that we can discover our real vocation and become mature people?
What if all the unexpected interruptions are in fact the invitations to give up old-fashioned and out moded styles of living and are opening up new unexplored areas of experience?
What if our history does not prove to be a blind impersonal sequence of events over which we have no control, but rather reveals to us a guiding hand pointing to a personal encounter in which all our hopes and aspirations will reach their fulfillment?”

Tomorrow, how will I mold and shape these interruptions?

May I cast off the temptation of despair and speak about the fertile tree while witnessing the dying of the seed. May I look for hope in the middle of crying cities, burning hospitals, and desperate parents and children.

Then indeed we can break out of the prison of an anonymous series of events and listen to the God of history who speaks to us in the center of our solitude and respond to his ever-new call for conversion!

[excerpt taken from Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Movement, Myth, or Reality?

Robert Webber’s book, Younger Evangelical captures what he calls, “the thinking of the college and seminary student, and in particular, the ‘Twenty-Something’. A major concern of this book is where these movers and shakers are likely to lead the evangelical community in the next 25 years.”
Webber breaks down the major cultural and religious shifts into three categories: 1. Traditional Evangelicals (1950-1975)…Modern Worldview/Industrial Society/Post-WWII, 2. Pragmatic Evangelicals (1975-2000)…Transitional Paradigm/Technological Society/Vietnam War, and 3. Younger Evangelicals (2000-)…Postmodern Worldview/Internet Society/War on Terrorism.
He attempts to present the differences between traditional, pragmatic, and younger evangelicals, and he addresses how each group approaches many aspects of the Church (e.g. theology, apologetics, youth work, evangelism, and so forth). Below are some of Webber’s thoughts on Worship, Theology, and Ecclesiology.
*(make note that Webber states that these declarations are not of ‘absolute accuracy’, but are intended for thought and discussion).

1. Theological Understanding:
-Traditional Evangelical: Mostly affirm the purity of the church
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Great Commission ecclesiology
-Younger Evangelical: Incarnational ecclesiology

2. Theology Commitment:
-Traditional Evangelical: Christianity as a rational worldview
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Christianity as therapy, Answers need
-Younger Evangelical: Christianity as a community of faith, Ancient/Reformation

3. Church Polity:
-Traditional Evangelical: Mostly denominational
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Mostly congregational but creating new fellowships
-Younger Evangelical: Mostly congregational but networking with all Christians

4. Church Eschatology:
-Traditional Evangelical: Has an eschatological view, Mostly pre-millennial
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Indifferent to eschatological views
-Younger Evangelical: Seeks to be an eschatological community living out the future in the present

5. Ecclesial Paradigm:
-Traditional Evangelical: Constantinian church, Civil religion
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Culturally sensitive church, Market driven
-Younger Evangelical: Missional church, Countercultural

6. Leadership Style:
-Traditional Evangelical: Pastor centered
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Managerial model, CEO
-Younger Evangelical: Team ministry, Priesthood of all

7. Worship:
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Contemporary
-Younger Evangelical: Convergence

8. Style
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional program
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Contemporary presentation
-Younger Evangelical: Liturgical, Ancient/Future, Contemporary

9. Content
-Traditional Evangelical: Thematic
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Topical
-Younger Evangelical: Triune

10. Participation:
-Traditional Evangelical: Primarily congregation singing
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Singing choruses
-Younger Evangelical: Highly interactive

11. Seating:
-Traditional Evangelical: Rows
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Theatre seats
-Younger Evangelical: Relational configuration

12. Instruments:
-Traditional Evangelical: Organ and brass
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Bands
-Younger Evangelical: Eclectic use of instruments

13. Music:
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional hymns
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Contemporary choruses
-Younger Evangelical: Eclectic use including ancient forms of singing

14. Choir:
-Traditional Evangelical: Traditional choirs, Presentational
-Pragmatic Evangelical: No choir, Worship leader teams
-Younger Evangelical: Singing serves the text, Strong emphasis on congregational leadership

15. Preaching:
-Traditional Evangelical: Didactic
-Pragmatic Evangelical: Therapeutic
-Younger Evangelical: Narrative with an emphasis on obedience and Christian living, Interactive

So, what do you think?

1. Do you agree with Webber’s assessment?

2. What category do you personally fall into [not by age, but by practice :-) ]? Do you personally favor the Traditional, Pragmatic, or Younger Evangelical?

3. What category best represents your local church?

4. How do these findings influence how we ‘do’ church, as well as ‘being’ the church…both now and in the years to come?

(also, check out The Wonder of Worship, by Keith Drury, Worship Old and New, by Robert Webber, and Emerging Worship, by Dan Kimball)

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Christian Practice of Hospitality

The practice of hospitality was a pillar of the early church, but in the last 200 years it has become a foreign concept. In being one of the main practices seen throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures, hospitality had a special place in the movement of God and His work. For example, in Genesis, the people of Israel are aliens in a foreign land and embodied the stranger/guest role, while God resembled the host.
In addition, we read how Abraham and Sarah welcomed in a stranger, offering them water and fine food. However, the stranger that they welcomed ended up being an angel sent by God (Genesis 18:1-10). In the New Testament, one of the most humbling examples of the practice of hospitality is when Jesus, as host, supplies breakfast for his guests (the disciples). In this act, along the shore after his resurrection, Jesus prepares fish (breakfast) over a fire (John 21).
For the first 400 years of Church history, believers of Christ tended to welcome those who knocked at their doors, for they thought it could be Jesus who was knocking. However, during the Medieval period, hospitality was increasingly used for selfish gain, rather than self-giving. It focused more on entertaining those with status; excluding rather than embracing. Therefore, while the church began losing its influence on this rich Christian Practice, governments and civil groups took more of lead in the area of hospitality.
Hospitality is about inclusion, a welcoming into one’s space, which moves past the ‘strangeness’ of the stranger. As a result, it breaks down the biological family, for it is a theology that sees things from a Kingdom perspective, rather than a local or privatized perspective.

The misconceptions of the practice of Hospitality
1. Consists of tea, appetizers and house warming parties…things my grandma would do.
2. Lay Leaders who are given leadership over greeting and welcoming folks at the front door of a church…passing out bulletins, shaking hands, saying ‘welcome’, and so forth.
3. Something that women do…it has a feminine slant. Men do not perceive hospitality as a practice or a means of grace, because men preach and evangelize. This is a big misnomer.
4. Scripture does not speak much about hospitality, nor the importance of it…therefore, it is not something that is really important to the Christian Faith.

So, what are the gestures of Hospitality?
1. Anticipating needs, being aware of those around you, being sensitive to their needs…often times they are small acts
2. Marks one’s entrance and departure (accompanying them on their arrival or exit)…even if it interrupts the conversation or event.
3. Offering people food, a shared meal
4. Makes sure that when you are welcoming someone they do not feel like an interruption.
5. Does not expect blessing…it is selfless, but Christ-like
6. The practice of discernment is important, for one cannot truly welcome everyone
7. One must cultivate an attitude of gratitude (see 1 Peter 4)…if not, hospitality cannot be sustained

What would the Church resemble if it seriously adopted the practice of Hospitality?
1. At its core, it would be diverse
2. There might be a level of ‘rich’ chaos in our congregations (translating different languages during the services, disruptions—such as testimonies, common prayer, etc.)
3. Homes and Churches would weave together hospitality…a holistic approach.
4. Congregations would centrally embrace the importance of social ministries and see their community through the lens of God’s Kingdom.
5. The Church’s theology of the practice of hospitality would be reflected in the architecture, design of the services, and the like.
6. A philosophy of hospitality, removes the ‘task’ mentality and the tendency to measure success by results, etc.
7. Hospitality would include family, friends, and those of the ‘least of these’—strangers, oppressed, outcasts of ‘your’ society (e.g. alienated teens, elderly, or the obvious-refugees, homeless, etc.).
8. Christian hospitality would not be mistaken for just a salutation or kind words…but bringing one ‘into’ our world…the Kingdom of God.
9. As Wesley taught, hospitality is a means of Grace. Thus, there is mystery in the practice of Hospitality (both publicly and privately)…which may be why it is so difficult, yet so rewarding

Other passages speaking about Christian Practice of Hospitality:
Luke 14:4, 12-15—“But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away….Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do no invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

1Peter 4:8-11—“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.


1. What comes to mind when you first hear of the word hospitality? Does it reflect the Christian tradition of this ancient practice?

2. How do you practice hospitality? How does your church practice hospitality?

3. It’s one thing to practice hospitality with people that we like or people that we want around. But how do we practice hospitality with people that are difficult to include?

4. The church growth movement has studied how much more successful it is for churches to reach out to people that are ‘like them’ (homogenous unit principle). Is this trend (and human tendency) Biblical?

5. Do you think the Christian practice of hospitality is easier or realized more fully in cultures that aren't as individualized as western culture?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Re-discovering the Theology of Christian Practices

Christian practices are patterns of cooperative human activity in which life together takes shape over time in response to the Word and work of Christ. Thus, our practices are a conversation between our actions and beliefs, and are a balance between being and doing. However, Christian practices must not be mistaken for duties, but rather patterns of communal action that create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us. They are places where the power of God is experienced. Wesley calls such practices a means of grace, which helps us live out a life that is holy. Therefore, in the end, Christian practices are forms of participation in the practice of God.

In the coming weeks we will look at the theology of some of these Christian practices (and their deformation), such as hospitality, truth telling, confession, promise keeping, fidelity, gratitude, and so forth.

For Further Thought:
1. How would you (or your local church) define Christian Practices?
2. Are there certain practices that should be more emphasized than others?
3. What practices would you add to the list above?

(Notes taken from: Craig, Volf-Practicing Theology, and Pohl-Making Room)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hello World!

Hello world…it has been over 2 ½ months since my last post, and I was not planning on posting anything for another week or so, however, this could not wait. You see, I do not normally post personal “information” on this blog, but I figured I would make an exception due to the magnitude of this news…well...

Andrea and I are expecting our second child sometime in the middle of April :-) !!!

Well, I have to get back to studying …talk with you all in about a week!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Christians should post Beatitudes, not Decalogue

In doing some research on issues of church and politics, I came across an interesting article, written by Prof. Jerome Meckier, a University of Kentucky professor of English emeritus. The premise of the article deals with Christians (primarily Evangelical Christians) voicing their opinion on the issue of fighting for the right to ‘post' the Ten Commandments, while not ‘living’ out the Beatitudes! Professor Jerome Meckier states:

Supporters of posting the Ten Commandments in America's post offices or on the lawns of state capitols misunderstand separation of church and state. Unfortunately, their grasp of Christianity is just as faulty. The Commandments are a pre-Christian document central to the covenant between the God of the Old Testament and his chosen people.

For Christians, the New Testament supersedes the Old. Tolerance and compassion replace the demand for an eye for an eye. The Sermon on the Mount, nine blessings, takes precedence over 10 strictures from Mount Sinai. Christians would do better to post the Beatitudes. Moses was an inspired lawgiver; Christ claims to redeem. The former commands the Jews not to anger God, whereas the latter reveals the sorts of people who will actually see him.

The Beatitudes may be said to list the characteristics of the ideal Christian. Such a person is poor in spirit, meek, a mourner, a seeker of justice, merciful, clean of heart and a peacemaker willing to be persecuted in support of truth and justice. The mourner I take to be anyone sorely afflicted; perhaps this includes all who can empathize. One can be poor in spirit -- that is, detached, free from material craving -- no matter how grand one's actual worth, although the less one has or needs, the better.

In Matthew, when one of the Pharisees, putting Jesus "to the test, asked him, 'Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?' Jesus said to him, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets'." In short, Jesus reduced 10 commandments to two: honor God and love your neighbor. Instead of prohibitions, both are calls for positive action.

Jesus was a gifted pedagogue with a subtle sense of humor; he proposed less, yet demanded more. He knew how difficult it is to love another with the same degree of understanding that one reserves for oneself. Nor can one ever excuse another person's weaknesses and failures as readily as one accepts one's own. Two commandments are more difficult to obey than 10.

And just who is one's neighbor? If you expand the list beyond wife, husband, parent, siblings and the people next door, obeying Christ's second commandment becomes increasingly difficult. Loving one's neighbor is this world's simplest, yet hardest, imperative. Loving one's neighbor as oneself, one will not kill him, lie to him or about him, sleep with his wife or steal his cow…None of the great teachers posted anything. Christ, Buddha, Mohammed -- none erected monuments. Each taught by word of mouth and personal example.

Those who are eager to set up ostentatious display cases for the Ten Commandments should be compelled to memorize Matthew 22:35-40. Then they should have to write on the blackboard 500 times what may be called the 11th commandment: Thou shalt post no commandments.”

So, what are your thoughts on this issue? Do you agree or disagree with the premise of the article?

(article taken from: