Pendulums and Plumb Lines

the_pendulumThe Christian Pundit published an interesting article, Young Evangelicals Are Getting High.

It claims that the trend among young people now is towards “high church”, including Catholicism and Anglicanism, where they can find “a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality…”

This a clear reaction against the recent fad of Christian existentialism – in all its many forms.

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Discombobulating Fellowship

Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more from folks who are frustrated because they are wanting, but not finding, participatory fellowship rooted in ongoing community.

Discombobulated

Discombobulated

In our area, we’ve been seen such fellowships emerge over the last several years. Many of my blogs arise from what God is doing among us.

Those fellowships typically involve anywhere from eight to as many as twenty-five people intentionally meeting at least weekly to encourage and minister to one another.

More importantly, folks in those fellowships are relating together and supporting each other throughout the week.

Such fellowships don’t look anything like traditional “church” or even appear on traditional organizational radar screens – often because they are informal (even though intentional) and functioning within communities on the fringes of society.

Rather than come together for directed meetings or spectator “services”, the folks I relate to are learning to allow Christ in them to be expressed among them and through them – both in our gatherings and in existing communities.

Lately, though, things have become somewhat comical as we watch others try to figure us out.

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Spectator Church

church-service“Years of sitting in traditional church has not prepared us to do church in the manner described in the New Testament. We have been taught to come, to sit, to watch, and to listen to what others have prepared. This is Spectator Church.

By contrast, the church described in the Bible invites us to engage in a kind of Participatory Church, where everybody talks, laughs, eats, worships, in an atmosphere where all learn, all minister, and all grow.

These groups are not cell groups, or even just Home Groups. They are real churches, complete and autonomous.”

~ Graham Cooke and Gary Goodell, Permission Granted to Do Church Differently in the 21st Century

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Traction

treadmillI’m having an interesting online (but private) conversation with someone, talking about the state of things in his part of the country.

Here was my observation:

“My impression from interactions on Facebook with various folks in the [deleted] area is that there is a lot of angst that has driven folks from institutionalism and legalism, but not much in the way of any solid foundational Biblical principles operative among them.

“Your area seems to be a hotbed for interest in ‘organic’ things, but mired in lots of unrealistic sensibilities. They seem to have idealistic expectations rooted in those sensibilities but can’t seem to find traction, yet they are not willing to change and so they keep trying and trying without success.”

I wonder if this describes other areas around the country as well?

~ Jim

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Related articles

Myopic Ekklesia

In Romans 12, Paul lists what Biblical scholars often call the seven “motivational gifts”.

Promoting Our Own Core Motivations

I like that description. After years of pastoral counseling with hundreds of people, I’ve come to deeply respect how God creates each of us with different core motivations. Furthermore, among Christians, those seven core motivational gifts often correspond to God’s unique calling for each believer.

When we tend to elevate our own gift, motivation and calling above all others, however, and think the Church and God’s people need to do the same, our “gift” becomes oppressive.

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Organic Dead Ends

I’ve been thinking a lot about why significant segments of the organic church community in the Western hemisphere have failed to achieve Biblical viability – becoming instead anemic, self-focused and insular.

Even a casual observer must acknowledge that “organic” or “simple” churches in the West (unlike other parts of the world) seldom exhibit dynamic spiritual power; consistent reproduction, growth and maturity; or tangible, transforming impact.

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My Smart-Aleck Response

Ministry One to Another?

On Facebook, I posted a comment supporting a recent blog by Neil Cole about why the “organic church movement” is important. One of my smart-aleck Facebook friends responded:

Organic Church Movement? Is that a movement naturally fertilized? Or maybe movement marching only to organ music. Could also be a church movement of Kidneys, Livers and Colons?

So I thought I’d be a smart aleck in responding:

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Finding Ekklesia

Several weeks ago, I was asked how to find “ekklesia” (the Greek word in the New Testament often translated as “church”).

Many today are frustrated because they can’t seem to find authentic fellowship, or feel stuck in the “wilderness” after leaving the institutional church.

As I’ve thought about this, it’s been hard for me to know how to respond. The last thing anyone needs is another “program”, “method” or “three easy steps” to find something that God designed to be authentically birthed, and sustained, organically.

You see, God intends that life reproduce life. That principle is built into the very fabric of creation. Like all things that impart life, real ekklesia is organic, through and through.

And by “organic”, I mean simply this: The authentic and diverse life of Christ in me, which is then expressed among us and through us as we become the wonderful, dynamic, multi-gifted and participatory Body of Christ.

The key to finding this, I think, is found in those two words: authentic and diverse.

So here’s my response on how to find ekklesia, rooted in my own experience of finding, and then helping others find, real life and real fellowship – not as one who’s arrived, but simply as one who has been on the path maybe a little longer.

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Becoming The Body of Christ

Sure, institutional churches have great programs, services and staff, and lives are touched. But have they produced a mature Body of Christ?

Isn’t this the nub of the matter?

Folks can rationalize all they want and try to read their human traditions back into the Bible, but after it is all said and done, has the institutional church succeeded in seeing a mature Body of Christ emerge?

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Directed verses Participatory Church: A Dialog

A friend of my mom who is a very dear, older sister in the Lord:

“How are you doing, Jim?”

Me:

“Good. I just got back from being in the jail this morning. I was with about fifty men from one of the housing units.” (She knows I often “minister” in the jail.)

Her:

“Oh, did you teach?” (Years ago, I had a very successful traditional teaching ministry in one of the larger churches in the county, and she was always one of my most eager and engaged students.)

Me:

“No. These days, I mainly let them teach and minister to each other. Sometimes I may say something, but not always and I keep it really short so they can take the lead among themselves.

So NOT church!

“Today various men shared verses, testimonies, songs, teachings and we even had some great, improvised Christian rap by two of the brothers.

“One man shared, with tears of joy, about how the Lord had given him peace over the uncertainty of his upcoming trial, and I asked if he would pray for other men facing the same anxiety. He did a beautiful job as a half dozen men gathering around him in a circle, arms round each other’s shoulders, and he imparted to those struggling with the same issue some of the grace God had given him. He had never done that kind of thing before. I didn’t pray for them, but stayed in my seat, because that other brother who was an inmate had the grace needed and I didn’t.

“That’s how it works. We’ve gotten away from directed meetings were a worship team ‘does’ worship for everyone and a pastor ‘does’ a monologue teaching and everyone passively sits there – other than following along with the music and maybe an ‘amen’ or two. We just don’t see how that matches up with what the New Testament says about being the church: the multi-member Body of Christ where every part contributes.

“Instead, I have learned to sit back so they can learn to express what the Lord is doing in them and it always seems to meet the needs of those present. Sometimes I have something to share, usually along the lines of helping to create a framework for them to come forth. This morning, however, like most of the times I join with them, I said a few words as just one of the guys then sat down as they ministered to each other for an hour and half. Like usual, they also ministered to me.”

Her:

Silence, then, “Oh, so you are there to make sure they don’t get off track?”

Me:

“No, they’ve learned to do a really good job of that themselves. I just go to enjoy their fellowship every now and then and be an encouragement to them or maybe add some foundational input.”

Her:

Silence, then “Oh. “

More silence, then, “So they get together every week or so when you go in?”

Me:

“No, actually, they are their own church. They meet as smaller churches every day after their evening meal. I may see them only every week or two, but they do fine on their own and don’t much need me. We encourage them to be the church, rather than trying to ‘do’ church for them or importing church. That way, they learn to minister to each other and grow up in the Lord.”

Her:

A very, very long silence, then finally, “Nice weather we’re having, huh Jim?”

Me:

Sigh. It’s just about impossible for people to break out of their traditional concept of “church” and to get their mind – and spirit – around the New Testament idea of participatory fellowship rather than directed meetings.

Some day, some day. In the meantime, I just continue to sow seeds as the Lord directs …

~ Jim

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“Us” and “Them”

Exactly. This video captures my passion and expresses my life.

Jesus is not about “us” ministering to “them”, or “us” creating cocoons of shared sensibilities as though we are “Beyond” everyone else.

God help us – institutional and organic churches alike.

Hear me on this: God may not call all of us individually to this or to that, but He does call all His people to a big “us” – also known as His Church, the multifaceted Body of Christ.

And in His Church there is no “them” when it comes to His life being expressed in us, among us and through us.

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Outside the Box

For most Christians, “church” is the big box where they attend a “service” on Sunday mornings.

If they are super-committed Christians, maybe it means attending additional meetings and programs that emanate from the Box during the rest of the week.

Outside the Box!

It took me years to learn to think – and act – outside that box!

Yes, Christ can be found in the box. But He does His best work, I’ve found, apart from and outside the box.

My spiritual heritage was outside the box. I was birthed into the Kingdom of God during the Jesus Movement and was very active in what we’d now call a network of “organic” or “simple” fellowships. But as the decades passed, I allowed myself to be slowly but surely drawn into the box.

Getting back out required a radical paradigm shift as I honestly and painfully let Scripture strip away my man-made traditions and accumulated expectations.

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Jesus at the Fringes

It’s amazing how ekklesia takes root in the fringes of society when you empower Christ in existing community rather than trying to bring “church” to them, take them to “church” or do “church” for them.

Why Do We Make It So Complicated?

When some of us started changing our perspective, we started seeing dynamic, participatory, indigenous fellowships emerge in the jail, among the homeless, and with ex-offenders – as well as other improbable existing communities.

The life of Jesus that is evident in those fellowships at the fringes of society is now attracting “normies” to come and be part of their times together. It is amazing to see the spread of the Gospel through those whom society scorns, for the redemption of society.

When you introduce people to the freedom to find and express Christ in them and through them – and thus allow them to relate together as a fully functioning and participatory Body of Christ – Jesus just naturally happens!

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The Mythology of Tithing

Did you know that tithing is never mentioned once in the New Testament, except for a few references in the context of Old Testament practice?

Money or Life?

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for nearly a year now, but just didn’t have the energy to face all of the likely rage from those who have a vested interest in promoting the tithe as a sacred cow of the institutional church.

So here’s the simple fact: Tithing is not ever mentioned in the New Testament as something for Christians to do or as a valid practice within the church.

Nope, nada, zip, nyet, just not there!

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Old Covenant Church

I think I’m slowly comprehending the profound cleavage that’s occurring today in how folks understand “Church”.

Old Covenant Church

The Old Covenant was a revelation about God – His nature and precepts – with a tabernacle/temple where people could go to find His presence and a priesthood to help get right with Him.

This is like many churches today, which do a wonderful job teaching us about the Lord, providing a place and an environment for us to experience His presence, and serving as a bridge between God and His people.

Many are content to go to church to learn about God, feel His presence, and have an anointed and appointed pastor and his worship team mediate from the front. It would be dishonest to deny that those can be truly amazing, life-affirming pillars for one’s faith.

But in the New Testament, is that God’s perfect will?

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The Road to Grace

For the religious, the road to grace is the toughest journey they’ll ever face.

For me, this certainly has been the case. And although the road to grace has been a wonderful journey, there have been many bumps and detours along the way. But slowly, I’m finally starting to find my way forward.

It’s Jesus in me and Jesus through me, so that it becomes possible to have Jesus in us and Jesus through us.

So much of my life over the last five years has been about the Lord reducing me to that simple truth.

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A Hollow Gospel

Sometimes I get angry and need the Lord to settle my spirit.

I am so frustrated over the shattered lives of man after man who I help find the Lord in jail, who then go to some on-fire, podium-focused, pastor-centric church when they get out.

Inevitably, I will see those men back in jail again a year later, or I’ll hear that they have relapsed and fallen back into addiction or bondage.

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The Question of Leadership

The Question of Leadership

When folks first start re-thinking “church” and considering the idea of open, organic, participatory fellowships, the first thing they seem to focus on is the question of leaders and leadership. That was true for me.

Those are important issues, for sure. But the incessant focus on who will lead – and on creating proper leadership structures – typically comes out of the whole institutional church clergy/laity paradigm, which God is now trying to break.

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