The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 17 – “Loving without Strings”

Blessed to be a blessing…if you are blessed, you will be a blessing…whatever you want to say, God calls us to bless others.  As mentioned in this chapter, “to bless” means to ask for God’s favor to rest upon a person or “to make happy or prosperous or gladden”.  Matt and Hugh write,

“Biblical blessing is the tangible favor of a personal God who loves humankind and desires to offer his life to them.  It’s best understood in the Hebrew term ‘shalom’.  ‘Shalom’, said as a greeting or benediction, references one person’s desire to see the peace of God touch every aspect of another’s life.  It’s a holistic blessing that calls for action by the one granting the blessing”.

As succinctly as possible, God calls us to share the blessing that He has abundantly given us to others…no strings attached…no bait and switch…no ulterior motives…just simply love and blessing with the Holy Spirit being responsible IF ANYTHING is to happen because of it.  Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if it was simply lived with the goal of being a blessing?  Blessing the waitress who waits on you at a restaurant…blessing on the guy who takes your credit card at the gas station…blessing the kid who walks across your front lawn…or blessing the people you say “hi” to at the grocery store.  Some one once told me a long time ago, “if Jesus loves you and that brings you joy, would you tell your face?”  More times than not, followers of Jesus are NOT known for their acts of kindness, love and blessing…now is the time to make the Kingdom tangible…be a blessing to others. 

Just a few more chapters…stick with me…we’re on the home stretch!

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 16 – “Living Among”

Ok – here’s where Matt and Hugh take most followers of Jesus out to the wood shed for a little “discussion”.  Here’s the big idea:

“This issue of ‘how incarnational should an incarnational community be?’ is why we must align our theology around the call of mission.  This third habit (the first two covered in previous chapters on “Leaving” and “Listening”) of incarnational people: the habit of living among, means participating in the natural activitys of the culture around you, with whimsical holiness…(the) issue of holiness or perceived holiness is the theological elephant in the room.  If the church is to move out of irrelevance, this one issue must be settled both theologically and practically…the question of whether we ‘should’ be in the world is pretty easy to reconcile.  Christ addressed the issue this way.  He told us in Matthew 5:13 that we are to be ‘salt and light’…the bottom line, ‘this is how we know are in Him: whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did’”. 

That’s the issue, isn’t it?  You gotta get your hands dirty in the world to live missionally…no more spiritual ghettos…no more hanging JUST with people who believe and feel the way you do about the world and culture…no more “head in the sand” attitudes and actions…but now an immersion, a holy immersion, into the world in which we live.  There’s much more to be said here…but you’ll have to push back or read more if you want more.  We’ve said it before – dualism is Gnostic and over.  In order to “save” the world, we need to live among the world.  More tomorrow…

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 15 – “Listening”

This is bound to be a short post…I know, you're probably LEAPING with joy!  It is not that the chapter is bad or boring…it is rather that this is a no-brainer in my book.  Instead of having people in your life so that YOU can do the talking, how about you have people in your life so that YOU can be a listener!  Instead of memorizing bible passages to spout out…or a canned evangelism talk…or even your testimony ready to blurt out at a moment's notice, why not listen to the journey of the "other". 

"The issue of listening may sound easy, but it's quite a lost art…superficial type(s) of listening is about generalities and stereotypes, and therefore it misses the mark…listening is about knowing the person."

What's that old cliche?  God gave us twice as many ears as mouths…for a reason! 

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 14 – “Leaving”

This chapter actually marks a major shift in the book…from now on, we start to get intensely practical.  All for the good…theory needs to move to praxis…beliefs need to transform into action.  Although the chapter has a peculiar title, “Leaving”, it all makes once you see how the authors are attempting to steer the reader to face significant lifestlyle challenges and changes.  This is the hinge pin for me personally with all the books that I have read regarding missional living/paradigm.  A vast majority of them are deep theologically…they explore the paradigm well and lay out their perspectives with clarity and passion.   What most are short on though are practical steps for implementation of the vision.  My long distance friend, Alan Hirsch, did a good job with application in The Forgotten Ways (especially the handbook that was recently published) and there are a few others – yet without some real life examples of action, theory and theology gets a bit cold for my taste.

So, let’s jump in:

“…leaving, which entails intentionally giving up what is comfy, easy, and familiar and going somewhere else, doing something different, and giving up time so that we can connect with people.  Since the word ‘missional’ theologically means “to be sent”, leaving is where living like a missionary really begins.  Leaving isn’t just about going overseas.  It’s about replacing personal or Christian activities with time spent building relationships with people in the surrounding culture.”

Now, some have said that such talk is a blatant attack on gatherings or doing “church” as Christians have for many centuries…though I can understand how people might feel that way, let me assure you, that Hugh and Matt are not saying this at all.  Take a peak at this…

“We’re not saying that we shouldn’t have private times with believers…”

This type of thinking isn’t church bashing…it is rather a plain and simple challenge to no longer define (our identity as followers of Jesus) ourselves by our gatherings, programs and buildings.  We are called by God to be more comfortable and more intentional about doing “our stuff” in the midst of culture than behind closed doors in safe environments.  So much of recent history is filled with example after example of people who follow Jesus being “programmatic enslaved” to their local church…being kept busy with insider activity after activity.  My opinion?  We’re stuffed to the gills with information, preaching, and internal efforts to get us to grow…real growth happens when we put the faith that we have to the test in the midst of real life with real people in real situations.  Hugh and Matt give some specific examples of what it means to leave:  from having dinners and doing meals with people who are spiritual “sojourners” to going out of our way to build relationships with people and looking for a chance just to talk…but much of the point has to do with the word “leaving”…threatening to most…but vital for the purposes of God.

More to come manana…

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 13 – The Hello Experiment

Chapter 13 on 9.09.09 – fun!  Anyway, we’ve been tracking through the book, The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  It has actually been as much of a discipline for me as it has been an informative journey for you.  Today’s chapter has to do “living out”…here’s a summary of this concept:

“Living out is the natural and intentional process of making habits of four practices:  Leaving, living among, listening to, and loving with no strings attached.  These four habits, if lived out by a given community of missional people, will help you have the right posture and be in the correct position to gain the hearts of God-seeking sojourners around you.  You’ll actually begin to change the normal programmed response of people toward the gospel, toward Christians, and maybe even toward the church.”

And here is some more:

“People in America are not ignorant of Christianity.  They’ve heard the message, seen our churches on every corner, they flick by our Christian TV shows, they see our fish symbols on the backs of our cars.  They’ve seen so much of pop Christian culture (I would say, “sub-culture”) that they have a programmed response to us:  IGNORE, IGNORE, IGNORE.  What’s needed is a change in parameters – something that will alter their emotional response.”

No more evangelism programs…no more formulaic, mechanistic efforts to gain a crowd…no more mission boards, committees, task forces, foundations that keep the “average” follower of Jesus separated from the one challenge that Jesus gives each of us directly…”GO”.  All this boils down to one issue – are you and me living out our lives like jesus?  More to come in future chapters…in fact, the authors are going to get much more specific on the practices of “living like Jesus”…come back for more!

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapters and 11 and 12 – “Lift up the Hood” and “Tip it over”

These two chapters really need to be read in tandem…if you do not, you are left with a sense that the authors simply want to bash traditional church structure.  The "figure" that Hugh and Matt use to illustrate traditional church structure is essentially the way it is – it is a pyramid – hierarchical – starting with the pastor/ordained at the top of the "food chain" – staff and/or lay leaders at the next lower tier and the general "laity" or congregational members at the bottom of the heap.  His point?  As stated on page 102:

"the congregational members, by and large, are fairly inactive and are not ultimately responsible for making a tangible difference in culture…how many people can model the Kingdom way in this structure?  at best, the pastor can share a story about his life during the week that gives a glimpse into active faith.  But you still have only one person modeling instead of an entire movement of people living out their own Tangible Kingdom for people to experience."

Later in the chapter, the authors go on to state that in traditional church structure, primarily based around an attractional methodology of ministry needs to be given serious critique IF a faith community's goal is mission:

"The attractional church structure gauges success by how many people show up on Sunday and the all-too-few stories of people committing their lives to God.  But we don't know whether disciples or apprentices of Christ are being made or whether we're making a tangible difference in the culture that we are called to reach.  The point of discussion is NOT to judge this traditional church structure, to call it bad or out of date.  We simply want to show that this structure of attractional church makes it very hard to communicate, show, or create a place of belonging where the whole gospel can be discovered.  It's not a matter of the heart; it's simply that the structure limits missionality and the ability to be incarnational as a community."

That is it in a nutshell, isn't it?  Our structure needs to enhance our mission…NOT our mission needs to be adapted to our structure.  For many faith communities, the structure of church actually PREDEEDED mission – in other words, there was an institutional structure embedded in the very dna of the community as it was launched.  Serious problem leading to more serious realities…soon after the imposed structure, the "organism" of the community had to feed the institutional mindset/monster…actually gutting much of the life out of mission. 

The question is – how do you structure a community to be focused on what should be the most important aspect of the community's life – mission?  Missional/mission-driven followers of Jesus are those committed to forming their character and lifestyle after those of Christ and who are compelled to live out their faith in the context of a community.  In chapter 12, Hugh and Matt "tip the pryamid over" to be able to begin to articulate and envision a 'structure' or framework that is responsive to the gospel, respectful of the call of God to move deep into Kingdom living, and that propels people into the culture without a diminishing of the passion for faithful discipleship.  Frankly, you should be reading this chapter (in fact, both chapters) for yourself…

More to come tomorrow..

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 10 – “Another Angle”

OK – many of you who have followed me or have been a friend/companion in my journey as a follower of Jesus know the score on this…the attractional model of ministry in local ekklesia has not only been critiqued and found wanting but when stacked up against an incarnational approach to ministry/communal life in Jesus reveals itself to be weak on how it impacts and produces actually a stagnation in spiritual development in hearts/lives/and a sense of compelling mission.  So, I am not going to bore you with another overview of the issues – but suffice to say, that this chapter in the Tangible Kingdom addresses the two approaches to ministry…let's say this – God will sort out the fruits of any and all approaches to ministry.  I'm not going to hammer on the attractional model…if that is what God is calling someone/some church to do, then do it to the glory of God.  I might not feel/think that it is a completely biblical/faithful model, but that's an arguement/debate for another time.

A quick peak at the main points of chapter 10:

Attractional Approach vs. Incarnational Approach to Ministry

Attractional Approach

  • Unbeliever is invited to church
  • Unbeliever confesses belief
  • Unbeliever repeats a prayer
  • Belieiver joins church
  • Cognitive Discipleship ensues
  • Focus – Counting confessions
  • Believing enables belonging

Incarnational Approach

  • Sojourner is invited to belong
  • Sojourner confesses interest
  • Sojourner experiences the good news
  • Sojourner participates in community
  • Experiential apprenticeship is discipleship pedagogy
  • Focus – Transformation
  • Belonging enables believing

More to come…

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 9 – “Jipped”

The authors begin this chapter with a definitive sentence/question.  In fact, this is a question that has far-reaching implications not only theologically but for how we will be envisioning ministry in our generation and in generations to come.  The truth is every generation has to address this question in their context if the truly believe in the incarnation.  So, here it is:

“do you think it might be possible that the primary reason Christianity in the West is in such a marked decline is simply due to the fact that we don’t know what the gospel is?”

Defining the Gospel is (and pardon the redundancy) the defining question…your definition of the Gospel will shape your praxis, ecclesiology, missiology, pedagogy, etc.  (in other words, it will shape how you live, what “church” looks like to you, whether you live on a mission or not, how you share/teach what Christianity is about, etc.) …living with your definition of the Gospel will either prove to be faithful and consistent to the call of Jesus or it will in some instances diminish what Jesus was commanding us to do. 

Is the Gospel about getting people saved?  Is it about a home in heaven when they die?  Is the Gospel only a written expression of the life of Jesus in the bible?  Is the Gospel embodied in the Church? Is the Gospel a systematic set of beliefs and doctrines about God?  Or, here's what Halter and Smay say:

“it is really good news…it meant that life NOW could be different…Jesus is saying that there is a new Kingdom now, one that’s totally different from the kingdom you’re accustomed to, and anyone can get in on it…His announcement that his heavenly ways are available in some way here on earth.  Not in fullness, for it will never be heaven here…but you can have a slice of heaven here on earth…it is the tangible life of God flowing into every nook and cranny of our everyday life…it makes a tangible difference that can be felt in this life.  And when this other-world life shops up, even in the smallest form, it is attractive, and people unconsciously move toward it like thirsty horses stumbling toward a watering hole.”

What is the Gospel to you?  There are many good resources for wading through these questions…but understand again what is said at the outset of this post…how you answer that question sets you on a very specific journey of faith…will you answer wisely and faithfully? 

The Tangible Kingdom – Chapter 8 – “Paradigm”

Western        Eastern        Postmodern        Gospel Response

Why we believe                      Reason           Faith          Preference          Discovery
How we view relationships      Autonomous   Holistic       Pluralistic           Inclusive community
What we value                       Security          Legacy       Gratification        Eternity now
How we influence                  Institutions      Tradition    Deconstruction    Modeling
How we measure success        Product          Process      Justification         Transformation

This is probably the most "dense" section of the book…the above is a chart that outlines the main points of the chapter.  Huge and Matt argue that there are three distinct cultural paradigms (framework of understanding reality) that shape our praxis in ministry and Kingdom living:

1.  Western Modernism – what they call, "WestMod" – coming out of the Enlightenment, the "lights when on" and people woke up to become "reasonable, smart, confident, and scientific in orientation.  High dependence on human reasoning, extreme optimism, and the expansion/progress myth.

2.  Easternism – those deriving from a non-roman world…primarily a non-European, western mindset that is shaped more by holism and theocentricity.

3.  Postmodernism – so much has been written on the deconstruction of modernity and the issues of an emerging philosophical/reality paradigm through the gauntlet of "postmo", I won't bore you with the details.

The authors provide what they call, "A Gospel Response" to key issues in living, interpreting and navigating life in a new world…take a peak!

More to come tomorrow…