Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cleared for Drywalling

I got to Java Journey shortly before 8 am to let 82-year old volunteer, Joe Guthrie, in so he could frame the doorway for the French doors. I knew the city inspector was coming later and I had to finish what he was going to review. We met Joe when he stopped by on a Saturday morning on July 18th when the youth from Trinity Church in Greensboro were volunteering. He told me he loved to work on things as a volunteer and gave me his number. After he finished the French door frame he asked: "What else you got?" I told him the other 3 door frames needed wood added, so he did that!

The inspector arrived while Joe was working on the other doors. I fully expected that we would be told to make a few adjustments and then call for a subsequent inspection. I was making haste taking into account the work to tweak everything and then be ready by the end of the week to be given a green light. The concern was brought on by the fact that 20-30 volunteers are scheduled to gather at 2149 N Center St on Sunday to put up sheetrock.

What a joyful surprise when the inspector spent about a total of fifteen minutes before saying: "I'll let you move on with this." Part of the time he looked at plans, wiring and plumbing, and asked a few questions. The rest was filled by conversation of our mutual enjoyment of music (I told him he looked like Peter Yarrow and found out he plays the drums).

Today was another big mile-marker day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Organic Elements in the Corporate World?!

My friend, Dennis Cheuvront, e-mailed this link to me: The Customer is the Boss at FAVI by Kevin Meyer. Dennis sent it to me as it parallels principles of Java Journey and our "liquid church" gatherings (I love the idea of the "plant manager" in the blog).

It amazingly sounds like a lot of the things espoused by a single individual a couple millennium ago and the earliest form of his community. Applied in today's society, it may look something like this.

Sadly, many of us are indeed "measuring something irrelevant."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Finding Balance

I'm still reading and enjoying the book "The Rabbit and The Elephant - Why Small is the New Big for Today's Church" by Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna.

In a discussion about "The Values That Define Us" there is a needed caveat for those who may become prone to smugness. But it is followed by another courageous observation about the M.O. most conventional churches operate with.

I must confess that it is easier to view the challenge from an outside-looking-in perspective than it is when trees hide a forest. I recall squirming in my seat hearing such observations during seminars with Reggie McNeal and George Barna when I was in that proverbial forest not that long ago.
Any of us who think that we have all the answers or that we are 'where things are really happening' are merely deluding ourselves. A synergy occurs when we lay aside our differences and work together across the body of Christ.

Christians in the West have followed the gods of the American dream of materialism, or popularity, of numbers. We have become performance driven rather than love motivated. We give Jesus the title of "Lord" or "Head of the Church," but in reality, we devise our own plans and then ask Him to bless them. We build buildings and create programs, following the advice of church-growth statisticians, and then we expect the Holy Spirit to come in power. And when, in His great mercy, He delights to bless us through some of these things, we presume that we have built His dream church. How can we have fooled ourselves so badly?

I would like to publicly acknowledge and express gratitude toward Trinity Fellowship of Hickory - under the leadership of Dodd Drake - for recognizing and proactively supporting Java Journey. TF has prayed for JJ and promoted our cause. Many have volunteered to spend time and energy on the build out effort.

The family of Safe Harbor Rescue Mission has also spent many hours helping JJ prepare to launch.

This is the kind of synergy mentioned in the quotation. Both ministries have not caved into the M.O. of growing big just to grow big.

I pray that more of this will happen across the American ecclesiastical landscape.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Melting Ice Blocks

I'm borrowing a quote from a FB friend's blog (Brad Boydston) that he pasted from the "Out of Ur" (David Fitch) blog posted yesterday.
...Having said all this, the “great halls” (stadiums) of preaching distribution will not connect to the lost souls of post-Christendom. Post-Christian people are not attracted to the sermon as the first place to go in their spiritual distress. We must help leaders understand that if you spend 35-40 hours a week in your office preparing a good sermon on Sunday, making it not only theologically competent (which is worthy) but slick, you are ministering to the dying vestiges of Christendom.
You know my "mantra" that this is all based on a blind dependency on an M.O. we refuse to see and break away from. The paradigm is the old church as a big block of ice sitting at one location never to move. The institutional church is hooked on invitation/attraction and all it is really doing is shuffling a small percentage of society from ice block to ice block. So we persist with the poor stewardship of pouring our resources into the block and expecting someone to sit within it for several hours per week to dazzle the shuffled masses.

Alan Hirsch has stated that in America a large percentage of evangelical churches are "tussling with each other" to reach a small percentage of the population. He qualifies the small percentage by noting the a majority of Americans report an alienation from the current form of "church" where you go to one location on one day a week for an hour or more.

Tony & Felicty Dale (with George Barna) have nailed the problem in their recent book "The Rabbit and the Elephant" with this observation:
"Liquid church happens when we stop inviting others to come to church and instead we go out into every sphere of society as the Lord leads. We reach out to our neighbors or our coworkers, and instead of asking them to come to church, we get together with those people right where they live and work. In this way, segments of society that might never have experienced church life are affected by the Kingdom of God."
May the Holy Spirit's heat once again go to work!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What Is an Organic Church?

-Frank Viola, Finding Organic Church 2009 (pp 20 & 21)

As I have stated elsewhere, I’ve been using this term for over fifteen years now. Today it has become somewhat of a clay word, being molded and shaped to mean a variety of different things by a variety of different people.

By organic church, I mean a church that is born out of a spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meeting (as opposed to pastor-to pew services), nonhierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.

By contrast, whenever we sin-scarred mortals try to create a church the same way we would start a business, we are defying the organic nature of church life. An organic church is one that is naturally produce when a group of people has encountered Jesus Christ in reality (external ecclesiastical props being unnecessary) and the DNA of the church is free to work without hindrance. It’s the difference between standing in front of a fan and standing outdoors on a windy day.

To summarize, an organic church is not a theater with a script. It’s a lifestyle – an authentic journey with the Lord Jesus and His disciples.

The difference between organic churches and nonorganic churches is the difference between General Motors and a vegetable garden. One is founded by humans, the other is birthed by God. One is artificial, the other is living.

For this reason, church planters are like farmers and midwives.

Friday, September 11, 2009

No Kingdom on YouTube

Matt 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (NIV).

On a piece of paper, write down what you think this statement of Jesus means. (Did you get this from a Sunday School quarterly?)

καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος

Concept translation:

And this message that brings joy of the reign of God through his Messiah shall be proclaimed throughout the whole inhabited earth leading to a testimony to all various groups of people. And then the completion shall be present.

Kind of a riddle, isn’t it?

Read Luke 17
20Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
22Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them.

ἐντός = inside

The Kingdom is NOT observable.

Question: “Can you really see inside you?” Try it.

There’s no “here” nor “there” is there!

Look at verse 37.

37"Where, Lord?" they asked.
He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."

What on earth does THIS mean???

OBSERVATION. “Dead body”/”vultures” "Where?" is the wrong question!

Kingdom cannot be viewed

NIV omits a needed concept in 17:21 that the KJV includes. ἰδού “I-doo” KJV: “Behold” is now “Look!” “Check it out!” - the YouTube prompter.

This buttresses the point that Jesus often made about the "secrecy" aspect of the Kingdom. It's not "can't tell because I'm not supposed to." It's "I cannot present this reign in a tangible form. It is much deeper and runs farther than anything imaginable - because it is life-transforming and eternal."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Saturated Synthesis

Deuteronomy 16:21 Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to the LORD your God...

Vent warning - I have a confession. I don't know if I am fueled by frustration or jealousy when I see fellow believers evidencing their passion for play, big toys and self-aggrandisement with photos of huge campers and running around with little ATV's on Facebook. Or snorkeling in tropical waters far off - or even false eyelashes and implants. I realize that the measure I use (no pun) will be used for me as well, but I think it may be deeper than a surface annoyance. It looks like some type of justifying blindness. The justifying usually comes via a 10% check conveniently placed in a plate or box at the one location-for one+ hour-on one day a week. I'm going to once again place blame on the cultural condition we find ourselves in (therein the blindness).

A good friend (Jim Black) posted a link on FB that articulates the problem. It is an article from Minnesota Christian Chronicle Online published last month. It is called The good news in the decline of American Christianity written by Greg Boyd

This following insight jumped off the page for me as indicative but also as a personal caveat.
By contrast, whenever Christianity has become popular among those who are part of the dominant culture, it has tended to stagnate. While there are exceptions, the Christianity of the dominant culture has always tended to absorb and even “Christianize” the core values of its culture. It has thus tended to manifest less and less of the unique, counter-cultural values of the Jesus-looking Kingdom—values such as humility, simplicity, self-sacrificial service, community, unconditional love and non-violence.

The unique power and beauty of the Gospel tends to get diluted, and the church gradually is reduced to little more than a slightly Christianized version of the broader culture.
My response was a Charlie Brownian "THAT'S IT!"

Lord, help me to discover the secrecy of the Kingdom virtues of dying to self on a daily basis. Sting me with conviction when I start to erect any kind of Asherim beside the altar I build to you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Awaited Milestone

A very busy day today.

In the midst of all my activity was a phone call I received from Hickory city planning department. They called to inform me that our plans had been approved but they needed an estimate on the cost of the project. I basically wet my finger and pointed up in the air and came up with a number. They also informed me that I had to have a licensed contractor sign the application. I didn't think we needed one as I was told that only a licensed plumber and licensed electrician had to sign off on the mechanical requirements of the build out.

I called one of our friends (Matt Taylor - the worship leader at Trinity Fellowship) whose father is a licensed contractor and had looked at our space in the past to offer advice. He told me to call his father and that he would call him to let him know I would contact him. Mike (his name) agreed to sign the application and will meet me tomorrow morning at the city planning office.

So after tomorrow - we are cleared to start the major work to transform the space into an operational Coffee Shop and intentional ministry. We are rejoicing.

If you can lend your support in any way by locally volunteering, supplying materials or supporting us financially (tax deductible) we would be very grateful. Please contact one of us so we can give you further information.

Thanks and keep up your prayers. Blessings!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Will You Take a Quarter For That?

Here are excerpts from an interview of Phyllis Tickle found on the Covenant Church website. I admire her courageous answers and the denominations willingness to open itself up to the challenge of her insight.
Changing the Church – Like a Giant Rummage Sale

By Cathy Norman Peterson

CHICAGO, IL (August 31, 2009) – Editor’s note: Phyllis Tickle, best known as author of the Divine Hour and founding editor of Publishers Weekly's Religion Department, has spent the last two years speaking about what she says is the changing face of Christianity. Tickle calls the current era “the Great Emergence.” She likens the changes we are witnessing throughout both culture and the church to a giant rummage sale in which the church cleans out its attic and starts fresh. Each upheaval, she says, brings about a new and more vital form of Christianity, but it also disrupts the dominant expression of Christianity. In an interview with Covenant Companion features editor Cathy Norman Peterson, Tickle discusses how she envisions this change impacting denominations such as the Evangelical Covenant Church.

How will this rummage sale affect the church in North America?

There are four tributaries that feed into the main river of what we call Christianity. Those tributaries are Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, and Orthodoxy. As emergence Christianity forms, it is more and more seeking to go back to what Robert Weber called the “ancient future,” to go back to first- through third-century practice.

For emergence Christians, many of whom come out of Pentecostalism, out of Evangelicalism, and out of Roman Catholicism - it’s what we’re still rebelling against to some extent. The attitude is, “Protestantism has failed us or we wouldn’t be in this mess.” In this country there are over 27,600 distinct Protestant denominations recognized by the IRS for tax purposes. Which is divisiveness gone pathologic!

Since its inception, members of the Evangelical Covenant Church have been asking, “Where is it written?” We always go back to the text…

One of the things about the Covenant that I have discovered is that there is very little defensiveness. That doesn’t mean you’re easily persuaded. It just means you’ll hear me out, or you’ll hear someone out. Then if it doesn’t mesh with the word, and doesn’t affect the walk, it will be thrown away. If it does, it will be incorporated.

If emergence Christianity were ever going to be organized - which it probably is not - if it were going to be organized into anything, it would look like the Vineyard Association or the Covenant. There’s enough hierarchy in both of those denominations so that they’re not pure emergence, they’ve still got some cache of denominationalism, but the sensibilities are there. That makes it easier to talk here. It also means that I learn more in talking with these groups, because now we’re talking with practitioners who’ve actually been doing it. In your case, for 125 years to some extent.

You say that emergence Christians aren’t limited to “bricks and mortar” anymore.

Emergence Christians really aren’t. And there’s a certain naïveté or irony in that. Obviously if you’re going to meet physically anywhere outside of the Internet, you have to have a place to do it. A lot of that happens in public space - in public parks and pubs. If you’re going to have a real cohort meeting, you’re going to have to go somewhere. But that’s not like owning property though. It’s a social justice issue because emergence Christians would say, “Well, that building looks to me like five, six million dollars. Do you know there are hungry people in the world?”

How does a denomination like the Covenant move into this new era if we’re not tied to buildings anymore?

Denominations, as we have them established now, are already so heavily invested in bricks and mortar that there’s no way to walk away from it. To whom are you going to sell it? That structure is so specific to what you’re already doing that it doesn’t have a whole lot of turnover, unless you’re going to raze the thing and sell the land.

By their structure, denominations are accustomed to worship in the physical presence of one another. A lot of emergence Christianity can happen on the Internet and in virtual church. So that’s one of the solutions - one of the ways they get away without bricks and mortar. For denominations, I think that more and more there is motivation to begin to use that space in more ways than just on Sunday morning.

The question is how can we have alternative worship? Or how can we have something that’s really emergence? Can we even have emergence off-site? Very often the church or the congregation that’s asking these questions has decreasing numbers. And the deal breaker always is, “Are you willing to unscrew the pews?”

Why do we need to unscrew the pews?

The pews are a gift of the Reformation - or the curse of the Reformation, depending on how you look at it. That’s where we got those pews. Pews are the Reformation way of delivering the gospel. You screw the parishioner down, and you put the priest or the pastor up there in front.

A pure denomination has a hard time not thinking of itself as having a geographic locus. Whereas emergence Christians - or at least those among them who are younger - are not really as tied to space as much as they are to relationships. Now, having said that, nothing bothers me more than the notion that emergence Christianity is generational. That is so far from the truth, it’s just not true. But those emergence Christians who are thirty-five to forty and under have had the Internet experience. It really is entirely relational. You don’t get the tribal loyalty or the locale loyalty that denominations were built on - that the Evangelical Covenant Church was built on to some extent.

How much do we lose, going that direction? Do we lose anything that matters?

Every time it’s happened before, whoever held hegemony of place - five hundred years ago, obviously it was Roman Catholicism - had to drop back and make room for what was emerging. It was Protestantism that time, and it’s emergence Christianity this time.

Christianity has spread demographically and geographically after every one of these things. So it will spread the faith. It may not spread Protestantism, or it may not even spread your particular denomination. But it will spread the faith.

How do you view what is happening online with the virtual church?

That really is scary to a lot of people. Because you’re talking about a worship experience where you can’t really see those who worship with you exactly. It’s a different form of worship. The one that’s easiest to get into now is Second Life. That will blow your mind. A common service is going on, but at the same time people all over the world are talking to each other about it. It’s a kind of combination of Twitter and being in church.

There are sticking points. How do you know the confession is right? Can the elements be consecrated electronically? Can you give the Lord’s Supper electronically? In a few places there are “congregations” that are purely virtual. They’re not in Second Life - they’re just communities, almost like a Facebook group. They’ll be ordaining their own pastors before long, I suspect.

The 1950s church was held together primarily by women being on the phone all the time and checking on each other. Then we lost that idea of June Cleaver at home on the telephone. The archbishop of Canterbury says it very well. He says, “Over the last fifty or sixty years, church has become a place to go instead of a people to be.” I think that nails it - it sounds slick, but I think he’s right.

What would you say to people who think that doing church online is the destruction of the church as we understand it?

No, it’s not. Did the church end when we got on a donkey and rode to the next town for the first time? Or crossed the ocean in a boat? It’s technology, and every time it comes, I’m sure there’s anxiety.

The notion that you were going to ride in a Ford to church five miles away, instead of walking down to the village church, was absolutely decimating. Technology is scary every time we’ve gone from our feet to a donkey. But that doesn’t really assuage the anxiety entirely. There’s nothing funny about having to live with change.

What do you think the church will look like in twenty or thirty years?

Anybody who answers it is sticking his finger out the window to test the speed of the wind - and it’s about that accurate. But I think there are some things you can say for sure. Emergence Christianity is already maturing enough so that it’s splintering. Clearly the emphases are going to change.

By its very nature, emergence Christianity is self-organizing. You can’t make it happen - it’s going to organize itself wherever it springs up. That’s in yoga class or a coffee house, or wherever a church comes up. It’s non-hierarchical, which immediately gets rid of bishops and ruling elders and all of that. That means that Protestantism, which is definitely hierarchical, is going to have to drop back and find a way to be church and still watch this other thing spread and grow and become probably about 50 to 60 percent of American Christianity.

It's always a relief to realize that we are not insane.