Reflections on Good Friday. . .

Behold the triumph of the cross. . .

Good Friday. Churches across the globe spent the evening commemorating the death of our Savior in their own uniquely meaningful ways.

I have to say though that some celebrations are bothering me a bit. It’s somewhat traditional to have a somber gathering on Good Friday in order to set it against the bright Easter celebrations.

But what bothers me is that some churches have taken somber and turned it into morbid and, in a few cases, frightening.

Yes, the death of Jesus was a dark, bloody, violent event. And I think we should acknowledge that fact. But I wonder if we’ve missed the point of Good Friday.

There’s a song that’s become something of a Good Friday staple among some churches this year. Here’s the lyric:

Oh my soul, Oh my Jesus.
Judas sold you for thirty,
I’d have done it for less.

Oh my soul, Oh my Savior.
Peter denied you three times,
I have denied you more.

As the nails went in,
I was standing right there,
as you breathed your last,
I shook my head and I cried.

Oh my God, what have we done,
we have destroyed your Son.

And, depending on the church, you might see scenes from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or other similarly violent depictions of crucifixion.

But why must we revel in such guilt? Wasn’t the fact that King Jesus died enough to absolve us of this shame?

I’m speculating here, but perhaps it’s because, as can be seen in the lyric above, we need to remind ourselves of the guilt that we bear in his death. The bloodier and more disturbing the reminder, the more vividly we will sense the sting of guilt. Lest we ever forget just how sinful we are.

But is that the point of Good Friday? King Jesus died, not at our hands, but at the hands of that which destroys all of us: sin. The enemy isn’t you or me, but the sin in us that lashes out and attempts to destroy any good that it encounters, especially the greatest good—Jesus himself.

The point of Good Friday is that Jesus had had enough of what sin was doing to us, and since we didn’t have the capacity or even the knowledge to figure out the plight that we were in—let alone the ability to escape from it—he stepped in and, in an act of incredible and irrational love, let sin destroy him.

What is Good Friday about?

It’s about love. As Jesus himself said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.”

Jesus loved so powerfully, so vastly, so deeply, that he was willing to die than to see his friends (and that includes you and me) remain enslaved by the destructive power of sin.

I know Good Friday was yesterday, but as we’re still in the midst of reflecting on Jesus’s death, let’s focus not on the bloody spectacle, but on the love that motivated him to go to the cross.

Love conquers all. In the cross we see love in its most unfiltered expression. That is the triumph of the cross. Good Friday is a celebration because it reminds us that love will not be stopped, not even by death. Good Friday serves to remind us of our King’s love, not of our guilt. He doesn’t want us to feel guilty. He wants us to love him back.

Because Cross=Love.

Let’s all try to be less dismissive. . .

Christianity is my environment. It’s how I was raised, it serves as a lens through which I see the world and as a home I can rest in when the world makes little sense.

But Christianity makes little sense as well and has become as much a complex and difficult puzzle as it has a respite from a complicated world.

I grew up in the branch of Christianity known as Protestantism. Within Protestantism, I was part of a camp that would best be categorized as Evangelical. And beyond that I was part of a subsection of Evangelicalism known as Fundamentalism. (Both Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would likely take issue with my lumping them together, but if you look at the groups sociologically, they are compatible. One could hold to all of Evangelicalism’s “non-negotiables” and be quite at home within Fundamentalism. The differences lie in the additional “non-negotiables” in Fundamentalism and how the groups practice their beliefs.)

Side note: Interestingly, Evangelicalism as we know it today began as a response to Fundamentalism because, as Edward J. Carnell put it, Fundamentalism was “orthodoxy gone cultic.” But for the sake of this blog post, I’ll be treating Evangelicalism as the broader category that encompasses Fundamentalism, a decision I’ve based on the identifiers of the movements, not on which was formed first.

Fundamentalism in particular, along with the broader world of Evangelicalism and even, to some extent, the other branches of Protestantism, tends to assert “rightness” and “wrongness” as unmovable categories and often assumes that any disagreements between them and other branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy) are due to those other branches’ “wrongness.”

One of the problems I have with this attitude is that it’s counterproductive. Protestantism, and especially Evangelicalism, is based on a conversion system. These groups attempt to convert people to their way of thinking, often pointing out what they perceive is incorrect about another groups’ beliefs. An example of this is the fire that Evangelicals often hurl at Roman Catholicism. They are quick to point out the faults in the Catholic Church’s theology, never once taking a look at the fact that they’re so concerned with the correctness of their doctrines, they’ve neglected simple commands in the Bible to love our enemies, care for the widow and orphan, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry.

All the branches of Christianity believe that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated by King Jesus, and that we are his ambassadors, charged with heralding the news that the Kingdom of God is here. But instead of working towards that end, we’re busy calling other Christians heretics.

Another problem I have with this attitude is that it’s arrogant and dismissive of other people. And if there’s one thing that doesn’t belong in Christianity, it’s arrogance and a lack of care for others’ thoughts.

In the long history of Christianity (and by long, I mean ~1,950+ years long), the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church occupy around 960 years (or approximately 50% of Christianity’s history). The Anglican Communion occupies 481 years (approximately 25% of Christianity’s history). Protestantism occupies just 367 years (approximately 19% of Christianity’s history). Methodism occupies only 245 years (approximately 13% of Christianity’s history). Organized Fundamentalism occupies a mere 95 years (approximately 5% of Christianity’s history). Modern Evangelicalism occupies just 68 years (approximately 3% of Christianity’s history). For Fundamentalism to call Anglicanism wrong about something is brash and arrogant. They may or may not be correct, but that’s not the point. The older branches of Christianity didn’t come to their theological conclusions lightly; many of their schools of thought spent centuries studying theology and drawing up theses, creeds, and statements of faith.lazyhistory

I’m not advocating that all the various branches of Christianity set aside their differences and work together. That’s an impossible proposition, and the diversity and plurality within Christendom just shows me that God is so much bigger than we are, and no one person or group has him figured out.

What I am suggesting is that we humbly acknowledge that though we believe something, we might not be right in that belief. God is mysterious, and much of what we think we know about him could be completely different in reality. It would be foolish of us to dismiss someone else’s belief about God on the grounds that their belief contradicts ours.

In other words, the “I’m-right-you’re-wrong” ideology needs to go. Let’s try to be a little less arrogant and dismissive, shall we? I’ll work on that too. And when we talk about our disagreements with other Christians, it might be best to avoid calling them a heretic, no matter how different their beliefs might be from our own. (which leads me down a path towards another blog post entirely).

Above all else, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Celebration. . .

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful!
Let Israel celebrate its maker;
let Zion’s children rejoice in their king!
Let them praise God’s name with dance;
let them sing God’s praise with the drum and lyre!

I often feel more worshipful at a wedding than I do at a church gathering.

The dancing, the laughter, the sheer joy that exists in that environment. There’s almost the sense of God’s celebratory joy overwhelming the place when everyone hits the dance floor.

I’m not a big Chris Tomlin fan, but I can’t help but think of these words from his song:

I feel alive
I come alive
I am alive on God’s great dance floor

And then for some reason, when I’m at my church gathering, I don’t celebrate. I look around me, and I see few people celebrating. It’s as though people have been lulled into near mundanity.

I almost want to stand up and shout, “The universe’s Creator and King LOVES US. He died for us, but now he LIVES AND REIGNS VICTORIOUSLY! Let’s sing! Let’s dance! We have LIFE!

And I wonder if that’s on us. Maybe, as leaders, we need to change the culture a little.

I live and work in New Jersey. We wear our cynicism like a badge of honor and proudly display it wherever we go. But as Christians, we have an incredible joy that should spill out into everything that we do—especially our corporate worship response!

In many cases I think we’ve allowed our cynicism to infiltrate our worship. It could be our cynicism, it could be our pride, or it could be our unwillingness to be vulnerable. It could even be a combination of all three. I used to think (read: come up with the excuse) that this lack of expressiveness in worship response is an attempt at contextualization, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was closing off a part of my heart when I sing words like, “Jesus Christ, you are my one desire. Lord, hear my only cry—to know you all my life,” and keep my hands in my pockets.

Yes, the area to the left of the Hudson River is known for its disenchantment, but I believe that as Christians, we shouldn’t be giving in to any of that. God himself rejoices over his people.

The LORD your God is with you. He is a hero who saves you. He happily rejoices over you, renews you with his love, and celebrates over you with shouts of joy.
~ Zephaniah 3:17 GWT

The Hebrew phrase translated “he happily rejoices over you. . . and celebrates” looks like this: יָגִ֥יל The word celebrate here literally means, “to spin around under the influence of violent emotion.” God is dancing over us!

So if that’s how God feels about us, shouldn’t we at least try to respond to him similarly?

I went to visit my brother’s church, and—say what you will about churches with 10,000+ attendees—there’s a celebratory atmosphere there that is pretty rare in churches. Here’s a video of my brother leading his congregation in one of my favorite new celebration worship songs.

The Seven Pillars of Family Ministry. . .

I’ve been reading the book Dreaming of More for the Next Generation by Michelle Anthony, and in the book she describes what she refers to as the “seven pillars of family ministry.” I wanted to share them with you here because they serve as “Aha” moments in my ministry journey.

1. Family is Primary. The purpose of the church ministry is to walk alongside and equip families to disciple their children. If I’m taking seriously the charge that Paul gave in Ephesians 4:11-13, and I believe that the message to parents in Deuteronomy 6 is a call for them to be the primary disciplers of their children, this ministry should be equipping and training our parents with the same intentionality that we train and equip our teachers, mentors, and leaders.

2. Spiritual Formation is our Goal. Paul’s desire for the church in Galatia was that Christ be “formed in” them. What did he mean by this? His desire for this church wasn’t that they learn the facts of their faith—however important those facts may be. Rather, his goal was that they look more and more like Jesus. He wrote that “all the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s tempting to substitute spiritual formation with communicating information. We can very easily fall into the trap of making our ministry about facts, head knowledge, and measurables. I’m guilty of this all the time. “If children and families learn information, we may be tempted to pat ourselves on the back. But maybe we shouldn’t. Children may memorize Bible verses. They may know how many stones David used to kill Goliath. It’s good, but it’s not enough.”

It’s also tempting to make ministry about moral training. We can fall into the trap of trying to teach kids what it looks like to be a good Christian. Good behavior looks so much like faith in action. What if instead, we focused on training families on allowing the Holy Spirit to transform their lives?

Jesus doesn’t want people who are well behaved. He wants people of faith (see Luke 17). That’s much more difficult, but it’s more lasting, and it’s what will end up storming the gates of hell.

3. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher. Francis Chan wrote in his book Forgotten God that “the Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be.” There’s nothing wrong with the term “Sunday School Teacher,” but something can be taken away with that title. I wonder if instead, we gave God the role of “teacher,” and took on the roles of leaders, mentors, and storytellers? After all, in John’s account of the Gospel, he wrote that the Spirit of God is our Counselor, our Comforter, and our Teacher.

Imagine with me for a moment: what if we had students and children who worshiped God “from the inside out” (I love that song, by the way; it’s one of my favorites) “compelled by the Spirit—not through behaving in expected or mandated ways, but through seeing worship as a lifestyle instead of as a moment or event”? What if they fully realized their Spirit-given abilities to herald and exhibit the Kingdom attributes of love, grace, justice, forgiveness? What if they were able to discern God’s voice speaking to them and learn to obey that voice, relying on the Spirit’s power alone for their strength?

4. Scripture is our Authority. Our culture denies the idea that there can be concrete truths. My lead pastor often points out that truth is necessarily exclusive. If something is true, it automatically denounces anything that contradicts it as false. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a natural and obvious thing. If the truth is that I’m traveling north, then by saying I’m traveling south when I’m doing the exact opposite means that my statement is false.

Without truth, people are lost. Truth acts as a compass—morally, experientially, emotionally. As Christians, our compass is Scripture, and it needs to permeate our being otherwise we’re lost. Our task isn’t simply to teach kids about God’s Word, but rather show them how to investigate it for themselves.

Michelle Anthony shares this story in her book:

“Several years ago I was leading a group of elementary students through the book of James. At the conclusion of our eight-week study together, I was compelled by this idea of wanting them to flex their faith muscles. I didn’t plan a new study right away. I wanted to take our next time together to explore what could be next. The kids arrived and sat down as usual to hear the next Bible study, but this time there was none.

“Instead I asked them, ‘Children, how can you put your faith into action? You’ve heard these things from God’s Word for the past eight weeks. You’ve learned that God wants us to not just be ‘hearers’ of His Word, but ‘doers’ also. So what are you going to do about what you’ve heard?’. . . .”

Dr. Anthony then describes the awkward silence and her desire to validate her teaching by offering suggestions that the kids could just say “yes” to. She continues her story.

I didn’t give in. At this point, my faith was hanging in the balance as much as theirs was. ‘What are you going to do now that you have heard the words of God and how He wants us to live?’ It felt like an eternity in waiting. I was uncomfortable. My leaders were uncomfortable. The kids were. . . well, bored.

“But then one courageous hand rose in the back. The young girl said, ‘We could help the homeless people.’ My heat leapt! ‘Yes, we could do that! What else could we do to put our faith into action?’ I asked. Soon more children began to chime in with ideas that ranged from eliminating global hunger to knitting sweaters for cold dogs.”

Where do you think this faith that manifested in action ideas and steps came from? It was rooted in the truth of God’s Word.

John Wesley posited that there are four ways that God reveals Himself to us. Experience: “One thing I know; I was blind, but now I see.” Reason: Wesley often stated that without Spirit-given reason we cannot understand the essential truths of Scripture. Tradition: While he recognized the weaknesses inherent in tradition, he stated “Do not undervalue traditional evidence. Let it have its place and its due honour.” Scripture: “Wesley insisted that scripture is the first authority and contains the only measure whereby all other truth is tested. It was delivered by authors who were divinely inspired. It is a rule sufficient of itself. It neither needs, nor is capable of, any further addition.”

Scripture is of utmost importance to us and its truth is that which guides, yea distills all other evidences of God’s revelation to us. Our goal is to train children to see all of life through the lens of Scripture, knowing that while our interpretation may inform our approach, God always speaks first and foremost to us through His Word.

5. The Big God Story. This pillar is connected to the previous pillar in that to know the Big God Story we need to know Scripture.

Anthony writes:

“Because we’ve heard the story so many times, we might be tempted to gloss over the amazement that it’s all really true. God really did promise to send the Redeemer, He really kept the promise alive throughout history, He really sent His Son to die for us, and He really redeemed us from our sin because He really loves us that much! The Big God Story is amazing—and true! and sometimes it takes a new believer—a child—to remind us how shocking it truly is.”

It’s tempting to teach the Bible in isolated “stories” with little or no context to the whole. It goes back to the second pillar. Randy Frazee calls this “the Lower Story”—the biblical information found in the smaller stories, and we often teach “the Lower Story” at the expense of “the Upper Story”—the story of redemption, restoration, and relationship. This story is the one that transforms, rather than simply informing.

While the Bible isn’t all about Jesus, all of the Bible points to Jesus, and the narrative—much like a serialized TV show—beckons us to its climax—the arrival of the Messiah. When approached episodically, the Bible loses its fervor. But when we tell the Big God Story serially (the “to-be-continued” approach), children want to know what happens next and wait with baited breath to discover the all-important climax—Messiah has come!

The Big God Story, while all about God and His desire to be in a relationship with His image-bearing creation, draws us into its narrative. We are characters in this story, and it’s important to share that truth with children. They need to know that they are born because God wants them and made them to look like Him, and that life is all about knowing Him and loving Him because He loves them.

Sadly, culture (and the Church, to many degrees) teaches children that life is “all about me.” God exists to meet my needs and save me because the story centers on me. We need to help children understand that their part in the story is to know and love the Main Character.

Which leads me to Pillar Six.

6. God is Central. Worship is about growing closer to Him, experiencing His presence, getting to know Him. When we spend time remembering and celebrating what God has done through responding, worshiping, even just living, we are reminded that He is at the center of everything. Austin Fischer wrote that we are all “little black holes” trying to use our gravity to suck life into ourselves. Instead, we should revolve around the gravity of God; therein lies our sole satisfaction. As children discover this truth, their lives can be centered and they have a more compelling story to tell—and to be a part of.

7. Ministry Support. If you know me at all, you know that I love ice hockey. It’s an incredible sport that moves at frightening speeds, requiring an insane amount of coordination, not just on the part of the individual player, but on the part of the whole team. All five skaters need to be in sync and on the same page at every moment. The wingers need to instinctively know where the centerman is and vice-versa. The defensemen need to “feel” each other on the ice. The forwards and defensemen need to see each other, even without seeing each other.

Ministry should be the same. Parents and leaders should support each other. After all, they’re on the same team. They have the same goal: to train children to become aggressive followers of Jesus who are heralding His love for the world. Why shouldn’t we all work together?

Admittedly, I don’t know what that looks like practically, but I’ve got some ideas.

One of the beautiful things about ice hockey is that, unlike any other sport, after someone scores a goal, all five skaters huddle up and celebrate the goal together, acknowledging that every skater on the ice played an integral part in that goal.

Family ministry methodology — the family-integrated church model. . .

I’ve been thinking through a number of “big-picture” items as it relates to my place and ministry. I have to admit, while my ministry philosophy has remained largely unchanged over the short time that I’ve been vocationally involved in youth and children’s ministry (under three years), my methodology has often evolved and been challenged throughout my journey. From the logistical and structural to the heart of precisely what we’re teaching children, I’ve made wholesale changes to the way I run a children’s ministry.

I can’t say that my methodology is the best or is the right way of doing things, but it works for my context and current season. But as seasons change and as my thoughts and beliefs are challenged by those from whom I’m learning the ins and outs of ministry, I do what I can to remain malleable and introduce whatever change is necessary in my ministry.

Yet there are also times when I’ve been challenged by a system of thought or a trend that has only strengthened my own resolve in doing what I’m doing or in residing within whatever “camp” I fall under.

This is one of those times.

In the world of youth and children’s ministry there are several key names that I’m sure you’ve probably heard of if you have spent any amount of time in the church world. People like Doug Fields, Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller, Michelle Anthony, Michael Chanley, among many others.

One name that’s been popping up in my circles lately is a guy named Voddie Baucham. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Baucham is the teaching pastor at Grace Family Baptist Church in Texas and the founder of Voddie Baucham Ministries. Baucham is an advocate of strong parental leadership and shepherding in the home. He takes a stance on developing a home wherein children are being discipled and trained by their parents. He urges parents—fathers emphatically, likely because dads are the ones more prone to abdicate their responsibilities in the home—to own their roles as the primary disciplers of their children.

All good stuff.

But here’s where I have to part company with his teachings. He’s one of the main proponents of a movement known as the Family Integrated Church Movement, or FICM. The main thrust of the FICM is that parents and children should be with each other through all aspects of church life. In the family-integrated ministry model, children and youth ministries are eliminated in favor of bringing families together in all ministries.

Outside of the fact that I wouldn’t have a job in this kind of ministry model, I take issue with the spirit behind it. While I haven’t done much research, from what I have read, the FICM comes from the home-schooling community. I could be wrong, but every aspect of the FICM points to either heavy influence from home-schoolers or formation by home-schoolers.

Proponents of the FICM cite statistics that show church attendance among young people declining. They point the finger at families and their abdication of their responsibility to disciple their children and advocate for more time spent together as a family. Their solution is to have families spend more time together through church activities.

One blog commenter who goes by Shadowspring had this to say about the family-integrated church model:

The problem I have with FIC churches is that they were born in the home school community and promote home schooling. Trust me, not enough time with family or parents is NOT a problem in a home school situation!

They spout all these statistics about how little time the modern family spends together, but that’s not ever relevant in the communities that are pitching and practicing FIC. True statistics about their parishioners would point to a great preponderance of the children’s time spent with family, and very little (in some cases none) time spent with anyone else outside of the presence of a parent or older sibling. . . .

The way I see it, they are so mistrustful of their children, and even their fellow parishioners, that they dare not let them out of their sight even for a moment. No one is to be trusted to share the faith accurately except mom and dad. Even the pastor is being listened to by parents so that they will know exactly what little Johnny has been exposed to.

It may be that in such a judgmental, cloistered group, they fear what weaknesses of the family might be brought to light in a Sunday school conversation. . . .

As it is, these families drawn to FIC ministries are the very families that should be putting their children in Sunday school, and signing them up for community league sports. If your child can be led astray by a mere one to five hours a week outside of your presence, then you have a serious problem with your FAMILY RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS. . . .

Insecure families, who feel constantly under siege from “the world” because of the insular preaching they are under, who are afraid of being judged wanting by their own fellow congregants, and/or who need to feel in absolute control of their progeny to feed their own egos, those are the families targeted by FIC and the ones who will be most harmed by attending one.

While I find her tone to be a bit too inflammatory, I would have to agree with her sentiment. I don’t see the FICM as an insidious church movement, but I question its effectiveness in our context. I also realize that it stems from a very different hermeneutic than my own. I hold a very high view of Scripture, but I couple that with a belief in an infinite God who has chosen to reveal much of who he is through the Bible, but there is nothing in the Bible that leads me to believe that God couldn’t reveal himself through other means. Christ himself pointed to nature and culture in order to unveil aspects of his present/future kingdom.

The FICM appears to base much of its methodology on Deuteronomy 31:12. This makes me rather uncomfortable as it screams prooftexting to me. It also looks like they took a descriptive text and made it prescriptive.

As I’ve mentioned before, often the way you view a passage such as Philippians 4:8 can radically alter the way you interact with the world around you. If it’s a passage of exclusivity, then you will begin to eradicate anything from your life that doesn’t fit into the box of “true, honorable, just, pure, and commendable.” But if it’s a passage of inclusiveness, you’ll begin to search for all that is true, honorable, just, pure, and commendable wherever you go.

Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” If we take seriously our call to make disciples of all nations (not just of our physical progeny) and if we believe what Christ said in John 20:21, then we must do what we can to train our children to be missionaries. And one of the first things a missionary does is engage his community. How will our children learn to do so if we keep them away from their peers in school and in a church setting?

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that parents are the primary disciplers of their children. But I don’t believe they can effectively be the sole disciplers for their kids. While I often disagree with Reggie Joiner, I have to say that he nailed it with his “Orange” methodological approach to family ministry.

I’ll go into more detail on family ministry thoughts and ideas in some later posts, but for now, let me ask you this: am I off-base? Is my view of discipleship so narrow that I’ve excluded family-integrated church as a viable discipleship methodology?

A few problems in KidMin. . .

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the problems that have plagued children’s ministry. I’m not saying ours is perfect—far from it, in fact. But I am saying that there are things we’ve been removing from Emergence Kids that I firmly believe should be removed from every children’s ministry (and every church community, if you think about it).

Here are just a few. The first is what I call the moral lesson. Moral lessons wreak havoc on children’s ministries because they don’t actually teach the Bible. They tell a story from the Bible and then draw some kind of application that’s designed to elicit certain behaviors from children. If a lesson ends with something like, “Hey kids, what have we learned today about how God wants us to live?” then odds are you’ve landed on a moral lesson.

The problem with this is that the Bible clearly teaches us that any attempt to adhere to the law is fruitless and an endeavor in foolishness. The law was designed to show us how sinful we are. But tying up your story time in a neat little moral lesson only reinforces the lie that children have to behave a certain way in order to please God.

The second is what I call decision-based or convert-centric teaching. We fail to teach the gospel regularly because we’re often teaching children moral lessons. So when we do actually teach the gospel message, we scramble to ensure that children will accept Jesus on those occasions. And in baptistic circles we might go one step further: altar calls.

The problem with this is that it’s little more than coercion. We’ve essentially strong-armed children into making a decision about Jesus. And because they’re looking to please their peers and teachers, they’re most likely going to say “yes.” But do they actually understand the gospel? Probably not, because we’ve spent more time teaching them moral lessons than teaching the gospel. Also, Christ’s commission to us was not to go and make converts. Instead, he told us to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

And the third problem is this: playing the protagonist. Here’s what I mean by that. Often in order to make an application from the story, we put ourselves and/or the children into the shoes of the protagonist. But not only does that inhibit the child’s ability to imagine the story unfolding before them, it’s an inherently bad hermeneutic, and it can lead to all sorts of theological errors.

Let me explain a little bit. When we tell kids the story of David and Goliath, we often cast ourselves or the children into the role of David. For instance, “Boys and girls, are there giants in your life that you need to fight? Well, just like David, God can give you the power to fight those giants!”

But God doesn’t allow us the freedom to cast ourselves in those roles. We then assign something to Goliath (a bully, or a test, or a scary situation at home), as if to say, “Here’s the scenario that God had in mind when he let this story unfold!”

But if anything, we should be casting ourselves into the role of the frightened Israelite army, Jesus into the foreshadowing role of David, and Death into the role of Goliath. Do you then see the kind of application we can draw from the story with that kind of perspective?

I hope and pray that church communities across the world will start to see the error of teaching like this and will begin to actually share the gospel with children.

In this message to my Emergence Kids team, I touched on a couple of these problems and discuss the importance of gospel-centricity in how we teach children.

Consumer church. . .

I saw an interesting post on Twitter from a pastor the other day that basically asked about the effectiveness of using a Net Promoter Score at his church. If you’ve never been inside the retail world, let me get you caught up. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a metric used to determine customer satisfaction based on a 0-10 rating scale. A score of 0-6 is a detractor, a score of 7-8 is a passive, and a score of 9-10 is a promoter.

Practically, a company will request that you fill out a survey, usually online. The survey consists of a series of questions that ask you to rate your experience with the retailer on a scale of 0-10 (with 10 being “excellent” or “most likely to recommend”). A company’s NPS can be as low as -100 (everyone is a detractor) or as high as +100 (everyone is a promoter), with +50 being a desirable score.

The NPS is used by retailers like Apple and GameStop.

Now that you’re all caught up on what NPS is, let’s talk about the idea of using an NPS at a church. If there’s something that plagues the Church in America it’s consumerism. The consumer ideology runs so deep in our blood that it’s almost impossible to do anything without having some kind of consumeristic leaning. Even in our churches, western consumerism runs rampant in varying degrees. From the more vivid examples like Lakewood Church to the slightly less consumer-driven like North Point Community Church and even to the traditional groups.

The question I see rising up here is this: should churches allow for some consumerism? While some may differ with me on this topic, I would argue that we should do all we can to remove consumerism from the Church.

Consumerism leads people to church-shopping. They “go to” church because of what they can get from it or how they feel about it. One church has cooler music while another church has a better teacher. One church has better children’s programming while another has a better students’ ministry. They weigh their options and choose a church that best suits their needs and desires.

And the Church in the West is okay with this. In fact, across the board, churches are using our consumerism to their advantage. If they know they have a really great band, they’ll mention to you just how “rockin'” their music is. If they have a great media production, they’ll talk about how classy their media are.

To date, I haven’t heard of any church using satisfaction surveys and promoter scoring, but from what I know of the American church world, I wouldn’t put it past several of them.

Here’s why I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a church using net promoter methodology. The idea of seeing “How likely are you to recommend our church to your friends?” in my email bothers me.

Ultimately the purpose of the Net Promoter Score is to encourage an organization to improve the overall customer experience. To what end? So that the current customer will continue to patronize their company and so that they can obtain a wider customer base. Without the customers, the company will decline and eventually cease to exist. The final authority is the customer base.

Using net promoter methodology in a church is saying essentially the same thing. Why take these metrics unless you planned to do something to improve the overall parishioner experience? You want your parishioners to continue to attend and contribute to your church, and you want to increase the size of your congregation. You’re actually saying that the final authority in your church are the congregants.

But in reality you’re accountable to God for how you’ve led the church. Net promoter methodology seeks the approval of your church’s attendees. But what about submitting to the reign of Jesus? What about seeking his approval? Shouldn’t the Word of God be the final authority in your church? At the end of the day, no one else’s opinion holds any weight.

God’s purpose for the Church is to glorify himself by his Church restoring the earth and taking part in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation through making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey his commands. Do you really need to take a poll to do this?

Whose approval are you seeking?

Wherever you go. . .

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.”
~ Charles Spurgeon

In my previous post I mentioned every Christian’s responsibility to follow the mission of Jesus. Sadly, we’ve shifted our focus to the wrong things. We’ve lost the urgency of our calling quite a bit since the Edict of Milan passed in AD 313.

Since people had to be in church, Christians no longer felt the necessity to go out into the world and make disciples because, well, everyone’s here already. When this happened, the Christian life was no longer about restoring the world and reconciling it back to God (2 Corinthians 5.18-21); rather, it became about sin management and individual spiritual fulfillment. Discipleship was no longer about training to attack the “gates of hell”, but about becoming a person of high moral standards.

But if you look around, you’ll see that we no longer live in Christendom. Christianity is quickly becoming a fringe practice. I realize that to many, this comes as sad news. But I’m actually very optimistic about this. Why? Because it means that the Church is again given the opportunity to follow Jesus’ mission. We are reentering the pluralistic world with which Paul was so familiar. And in this world, our traditional methodology for leading people into the kingdom of God will rarely, if ever, produce any real fruit. Instead we’ve assimilated people into a church subculture, rather than unleashing them into the world’s culture with the mission of plowing a counterculture.

These are some examples of the practices of the Christian faith. Internally we devote ourselves to the teaching and study of the Bible. We gather in community to lift each other up, sharpen each other, and keep each other accountable before God. We also share meals together, comfort one another, share communion together, and practice hospitality. Externally we’re supposed to engage in the community, become a blessing to our cities (Jeremiah 29.4-7), and serve those in need (Matthew 25.31-40; Matthew 10.40-42; James 2.14-17).

In a modern church-centered life, the primary focus of the believer is on his internal life, resulting in questions such as, “How is your personal walk with God?” or, “How’s your church life?” Like I’d mentioned in my previous post, without a mission, the life of a Christian becomes about sin management and the self-actualization of one’s spiritual potential.

Here’s what happens in our traditional church discipleship model. When the believer follows this course, his effectiveness in the culture is diminished greatly. Why? Because he’s no longer a friend to the people he once associated with. He was pulled from the community and brought into the church culture, where he was nurtured and cared for and raised to look like the people who are inside this Christian bubble.

This model, when put into practice looks something like this: Bob has been in church for many years. He decides one day, after hearing a sermon on sharing the Gospel, to invite one of his coworkers to a Bible study at his house. After some time, Joe (Bob’s coworker) gives up his Wednesday night poker game and decides to attend the Bible study. Joe eventually gets saved and becomes heavily involved in the church life. He’s at every Bible study class, he hands out bulletins during Sunday services, and he even serves on the outreach committee that’s working on a big free carwash event that will be used to invite people in the community to start attending their church services.

A year later, the pastor preaches another sermon on sharing the Gospel, and Joe recalls his poker buddies. He hasn’t seen them in almost a year, but he decides to call one of them to invite him to church.

Basically, what has happened here is this: Bob has extracted Joe from his context by finding something attractive inside his church world and highlighting it for Joe (green arrow underneath the diagram). There’s been an attempt at pushing Joe into the culture, but because Joe hasn’t been properly discipled, it becomes extremely difficult to reenter his previous context. He soon finds that all his friends are Christians, and outside of family responsibilities, work, and church-related activities, he has almost nothing else to do.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad methodology, but is it really that effective? Is it the best method we can come up with?

What if we were to reverse the model?What if instead we were to move from “external” to “internal”? Here’s what I mean.

Matt and Steve are believers. On Mondays they hang out at a little pub a few blocks from their neighborhood. They meet there every Monday after work, hanging out with the regulars at the bar, being an encouragement to the men who are trying to numb whatever pain they’re experiencing. They’re comforters and companions to the patrons of the place.

On Thursdays both of their families have dinner at Steve’s house. After dinner, Matt leads the little group in taking communion.

On Fridays they go on a group date with their wives and one or two other couples. And on Sundays after the church service Matt, Steve, and their friend Todd get together to pray with each other, talk about what God is teaching each of them, and hold each other accountable to the mission of Jesus.

Now, at any point in their schedule, Matt and Steve could engage in mission. As they develop friendships at the pub, opportunities to talk about their faith with someone become more readily available. They could invite someone from that area of their life into their Thursday evenings. Or they could invite someone from their church to join them on Monday afternoons and teach him how to build friendships with people outside of church. But no matter where you look in their lives, you can draw a sense of restoration from their rhythms.

You see, the Christian life is about so much more than just staying morally pure or sitting still in a church pew or serving on a church committee. It’s about restoring and reconciling to God every aspect of life.

My girlfriend often talks about a holistic, restorative approach to interacting with creation. Discipleship should be no different. Life shouldn’t be dichotomous for a Christian—church life and “regular” life, or even spiritual life and physical life. No, everything is connected, and wherever you go, you’re a missionary.

Again, I’d like to know what you think. Am I completely off base? Do we really need to rework our thoughts about church/discipleship (as I’ve posited), or can our current/traditional methodology be tweaked slightly and updated?

Original diagram taken from The Austin Stone Community Church missional community paradigm.