Here’s something to think about – “Churches as Cruise Ships”

Cruise_ship21I have never met Skye Jethani…in fact, I'd like to meet him PURELY to find out how his family came up with that cool name.  I've read a couple of his books and followed his blog for the past few years.  Many of you know that I am a student of culture, church history and everything that pertains to the Jesus following movement throughout history.  In addition, at least professionally, I've been blessed to have been a professional in churchworld for over 40 years.  Because of that, I have a bit of wisdom on what the contemporary American church has become over the decades.  Add to that, I've been exposed to a wide range of denominations, movements, para-church organizations and teaching ministries.  What's going on in the contemporary church in the USA is going to be discussed, analyzed, studied and be the source of critical comment for decades to come.  How culture over the past 50 years has impacted church practice and mission is almost beyond belief.  The pressures of consumerism, secularism, pluralism and individualism have altered the religious landscape.  In responce to that, there have been some who have not bucked trends but have embraced (even, from some perspectives, "sold out") to prevailing cultural tides.  No matter what a local faith community has or hasn't done as they have traveled into the uniqueness of the 21st century is almost irrelevant to one conversation that Skye mentions in his two part blog post, "How Churches Became Cruise Ships."  Here's that snippet:

A friend recently told me about a convicting conversation he had with a newcomer to his congregation. The man, from a Hindu background, came to the large church about a month earlier because he was curious about Jesus. “Everyone here has been very friendly to me,” he reported to the pastor, “and my family has been enjoying all of the programs. But I do have one question. When am I going to learn about Jesus?” 

This scenario isn't just a mega-church or large church issue…it permeates all churches in all places that are more concerned with denominational loyality, theological purity, or who are more program driven than mission driven.  We are living in an age where many people are not going to be impressed by the smorgasborg of programmatic elements that churches can offer to folks to retain their interest or to justify their existence.  The bottom line in the 21st century is that people are searching for meaningful connectedness and someone, anyone for that matter, who can demonstrate that faith can make a differnce in life.  How to get to heaven is not the predominant or presenting issue in contemporary living…how to make it through a DAY, sometimes even an hour, with meaning, purpose and peace knowing that they are inherently worthy and lovable, THAT is something people of which people are curious.  People don't seem to care if they are entertained or whether we in churchworld have full calendars of activities.  If you think about it, most of those efforts are, in effect, to keep the already convinced happy and content with a plethora of spiritual goods and services that they can consume.  If there is going to be a growing sense of mission and a resergence of faith in God there are going to have to be more places and people who are MORE concerned about Jesus being the "destination" rather than a building in which people appear to be more focused on keeping the masses through entertainment, having offerings large enough to cover the overhead of sprawling campuses or presenting to adherents massive selections of available religous goods and services.  There are going to have people and places where simple relational connections, conversations about God, and learning more about God are, as Skye says in his posts, the focal point of "church" effort – "no roller coasters necessary."  Really, Skye is SO right when he remarks, "all we really have to offer the world is Jesus." From my experience, and believe me, I've been the captain of "cruise ships" before…Skye couldn't have nailed it any better.  

Here's the article – read it and see what you think!


Tips for Parents – “5 Ways to Mess Up your Kids” – thanks to Patheos blog and Scot McKnight!

AdviceI read TONS of blogs a day…more honesty, I skim a lot of blogs per day looking for some inspiration, challenge, encouragement and especially info that I can pass on.  Well, today is one of those "pass it on" days.  Here's a blog post I read on Dr. Scot McKnight's blog.  Parents, this is for you:

5 Ways to Mess up Your kids – by Jim Martin

Most parents I know love their children and want to do a good job with them. Many of these people will do most anything to give their children a head start in life. Some will go to extraordinary lengths to give their children an advantage.

Yet, it is possible to parent in such a way as to make it difficult for them to grow up, mature, and live as Christ-followers.

The following are some ways to mess up your kids:

1. Model before them a self-centered life. Focus on yourself, your pleasures, your desires, and your preferences. Teach them by way of your example that life is all about “me.”

2. Show little respect for your spouse, parents, and in-laws. Model before your children that you will talk to your spouse, your mom, or your father-in-law in the manner you wish–regardless!

3. Undermine your spouse. One way to mess up a child is for her mom and dad to constantly be undermining one another. Mom says “You can’t ride your bike until you do your homework.” Five minutes later, dad says “Go ahead and ride your bike but you will have to do your homework afterwards.” Confusing? It certainly is for a child!

4. Raise your children with a strong sense of entitlement. You can really mess up your children by convincing them that they are entitled to what they want. Consequently, they may believe they are entitled to good grades and to make the starting roster on a team. They get a job believing they are entitled to a salary that took others 15 years to earn. They get married and believe they are entitled to a certain lifestyle.

5. Be more concerned about being their friend than being their parent. Yes, I know. There is a sense in which our children when they grow up, can relate to us as friends. However, my children will have many friends in life. They will have one dad and mom….

Children, even grown children, need their parents to be parents.

Read more:

I had no idea – the 50th gate? Who knew!

1wwWo7316977I'm reading a book called, Soul-Making – The Desert Way of Spirituality by Alan Jones.  It is a heavy and dense read but enlightening and filled with spiritual depth.  Last night, as I was getting ready to sleep, I was "awakened" by reading the chapter in the middle of the book entitled, "The Fiftieth Gate." I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into at the time but the chapter instantly snapped me out of my drowsiness and into an intellectual and spiritual "buzz" that still is having influence on my soul.  The chapter is based upon a story for Hassidic Judaism.  

Here's a snopsis of the story Jones tells as the beginning of the chapter that got me thinking (thanks to the blog,

The Hassidic Jews of Eastern Europe loved to tell stories. Many anecdotes about their rebbes (rabbis, or spiritual leaders) contained profound spiritual, allegorical and philosophical truths, hidden in layers of simple folk tales. A good example is the story of Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuzh (1757–1811), the grandson of the founder of the chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. Battling melancholy and depression his whole life, Rabbi Baruch was known to be meticulous in helping his students with their problems, being conscious of his own.

In the story of the “Fifty Gates” Rabbi Baruch had a student, who frequently visited his rabbi and teacher to discuss his life, his studies, his doubts and his questions. Even after the student had moved to a different town, he returned to Mezhibuzh at regular intervals.

At one point, the rabbi realized that he had not seen his student for an unusual length of time. Possessing insight, divine inspiration and a keen sense of psychology, Rabbi Baruch sensed something was really wrong. He ordered his servant to harness his wagon, and traveled without delay to his student’s town. Upon arrival, Rabbi Baruch made his way into the house of his student, without so much as even taking the trouble of having his servant announce his presence. The student was home, seated at his desk, surrounded by books and papers, and the sudden appearance of the rabbi startled him!

The rabbi greeted with the words: “I know what is hidden in your heart! You have passed through all the forty-nine gates of reason. You became horribly entangled in your thoughts. You tried logic, reason, all kind of other sciences and philosophies! Every time you came up with a question, you tried to find an answer as best as you could (this made you pass a ‘gate’). After you passed through the first gate, each additional problem brought you to a second gate, which in turn brought you to a third gate, and so on. Soon you noticed that all of your reasoning and analytical skills invoked still other questions, which led you to discover still other answers, which led you to pass through higher and higher levels of gates. And so you continued on this path, till you arrived at the fiftieth gate. This is the gate that leads one straight down into the abyss.

“You have now posed and wrestled with questions for which no living man in this world has ever discovered any satisfactory or truthful understanding. If you proceed and continue trying to do so anyway, you will stumble, fail, and fall ever more deeply. There is no return from this abyss!”

The student was stunned that Rabbi Baruch not only knew what was troubling him, but that he had taken the time, trouble and effort to come in person in order to share his wisdom and show support to his wayward former pupil. The student felt great remorse.

“So, what can I do?” he asked, “Please! Don’t just tell me that in order to repent I have to go back all the way to the first gate!”

“No,” answered the rebbe, “you can’t undo knowledge or experience once you have acquired it, but you can handle it in a different way. When you turn yourself around, you will not be going backwards. You will be standing way beyond the last and fiftieth gate. You will stand in faith!”

Alan Jones then "theologizes" on this Hassidic story (i.e. parable) as he states:

"…we eventually come to the fiftieth gate.  Here we realize that not only is everything we concoct about God an illusion but everything we concoct about ourselves and our world is an illusion…as we approach the fiftieth gate, beyond which there is nothing to hold on to, we are entering the realm of faith which is NOT assent to a set of propositions, but walking into the unknown."  

Oh I love that!  I think I will stop this post here because there is MUCH MORE to be said about this chapter which I will revisit in the next few days.  In the meantime, think about this story and leaping into the "abyss" of faith.  I think you'll discover that once you and me are at that point, not only is community a necessity but also we discover a God who welcomes both our knowledge and especially the questions we have as we encounter the greatness of His mysterious and transformational presence.  

My goodness…what a topic to contemplate and discuss

1Rottenecards_9248393_p376v9mzr9Often I'm perplexed about how to approach this blog.  I'm almost at 1000 posts since I started this blog back in 2006.  I've considered many times wrapping it up.  Truthfully, it is one more responsibility that I take on during the week that hovers over my consciousness.  I want to do more with the blog but I can only do "so" much.  So, I attempt weekly posts and leave it at that.  

Well, today I'm borrowing a post from Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding.  I don't know Walt personally but I wish I did.  CPYU has been on my personal and minstry radar for years and I'm proud to say that I am one of their "raving fans."  Today, Walt posted something that is not only profound, but moving and perplexing.  How he presents this situation is comprehensively brilliant because he lays out the complexity of ethical dillemmas we face in our ever-changing culture.  I was moved by his post…and most importantly, it got me thinking and praying.  So, here you go…read it, refer to the links and watch the video.  Then, we can talk!


A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to the video embedded below. The video is titled “The Whittington Family: Ryland’s Story.” Their request was simple: “Would you watch the video and tell me what you think?” I watched. . . and my head began to spin. I watched again. . . and my head began to spin faster.

Since then, I’ve been filtering the video and the larger issues it represents through my ongoing study of the Scriptures, my reading on issues related to same-sex attraction, transgender, and marriage, and my tracking of these fast-developing trends in culture.

Last week, I invited our Doctor of Ministry students in our Ministry to Emerging Generations cohort at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary into the conversation. Actually, the conversation had been going on for some time among the members of our cohort. In fact, in the year since we had last gathered together, issues related to same-sex attraction and transgender matters were exploding to front-and-center in their churches and youth groups. The ethical and pragmatic questions were many and complex. So, viewing and discussing this video together was a very helpful exercise.

Since watching this video – not only the first time but many times since – I’ve been jotting and gathering thoughts. The thoughts are incomplete, nowhere near exhaustive, horribly disjointed (I think), and certainly in process.  But here goes. . . .

First, I feel for the Whittingtons. We live in a broken world. . . every square inch has been effected by the fall. We are broken people. We are married to broken people. And whether we want to believe it or not, our children emerge from the womb as broken people as well. As parents, all of us will have to face a variety of complex issues that result from this brokenness. We will be forced – from time to time – to cry over and with our kids as we plead with God to fix things that aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. In this case, I’ve heard stories like the Whittington’s before. Not often, but enough to know that they exist and that it’s enough to make a parent’s head spin. It’s not as easy to answer or live through as those of us who have never had to answer it or live through it might think.

Second, even though the stories we live are complex and gut-wrenching, I must always – as a follower of Christ – submit my emotions to the truths of God’s Word. . . whether I am the one playing a major role in the story, or if I am invited in to play a supporting role. Scripture must always first and foremost inform  all of life. . . and not the other way around. Sure, life is the lens through which we approach the Scriptures. That’s an unavoidable fact. But I have to know and address my biases as I go to God’s Word. Then, the Scriptures must dictate the trajectory of my life, rather than vice-versa. I can’t let my emotions or “heart” (as it’s called today) tug me away from God’s will and way by causing me to hear, embrace, and live something that God never intended or desires for me. Un-reined emotions are soil in which the seeds of getting easily fooled so easily grows. “Following my heart” is always a dangerous enterprise. My calling as a follower of Jesus is to engage in the messy and difficult business of twisting my life to conform to the Scriptures, rather than twisting the Scriptures to conform to my life. Sadly, the latter is what seems to be happening more and more in relation to sexual issues in the church.

Third, in the case of this video, there is a strong element of emotional trickery. Who among us can’t be moved by the Whittington’s story being told as it is. . . the family photos, the video clips, the music, the text? It’s the whole package. And that’s where the danger lies. If we aren’t careful, we can allow ourselves to be so manipulated by the way the story is being told that we fail to be conformed to the bigger Story in which this smaller story needs to be seen and processed. Again, emotional tugs can blind us to the truths God desires us to see, embrace, and live. As Christians, we need both grace and truth. When we are pulled by our emotions, we tend to err on the side of cheap grace. Sadly, when that happens, we usually sacrifice truth. Of course, truth embraced by hard and compassion-less hearts is equally dangerous and wrong.

Fourth, we need to differentiate between ethics and pastoral care. Last week, ethicist Dennis Hollinger, author of The Meaning of Sex and President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – visited our cohort and made this very important distinction.  Dr. Hollinger explained that ethics is about the moral designs of God. Holding to these designs is our high and holy calling. But the reality is that this is a difficult task in a broken and fallen world. Thus, our  difficult as we seek to answer the question. . . “What do you think about this video?”, or more specifically, “What do we do in this situation?” Pastoral care is about the love, compassion, and empathy that the church is called to provide to people as they walk through life’s struggles, often in response to ethical problems as we yearn to achieve God’s design. It’s about learning how to walk with people through their struggles. The reality is that each of us will someday, if not already, have to walk through this family’s story with a family that we know.

Finally, we live in an age of child-centered parenting. I know, that sounds like the way it should be. But it isn’t. After all, parenting is about the kids, isn’t it? Not the way we see it today. Parents are given the role, right, and responsibility to be parents because of their wisdom, age, maturity, and experience. And we need to do so from a God-centered perspective. But  we have arrived at the place where a pre-school child makes a statement and expresses a desire, and then the parents accommodate that statement and desire. How did that happen? That’s not leading children. That’s following a child’s lead. It’s also a recipe for disaster. Don’t we understand the place of wisdom, age, maturity, and experience that differentiates parents from children and is behind the parental role? I’m glad my parents didn’t give me everything I ever asked for! Isn’t the role of parents to protect kids from themselves and their broken desires, inclinations, and decisions? In this case, I certainly don’t want to take anything away from the difficulty this family has faced. But to be blunt, they have not only done something far too drastic far too soon, but they have then allowed their young child to assume the role of a public icon for those who want others to do the same.

In an interview on these issues with Christianity Today’s Owen Strachen, Tim Keller says, “Jerome Kagan in The Atlantic has talked about how we’re all wired—there are three basic ways to deal with threats. Some run, some fight, some stop and get philosophical. You find this insight in neurochemistry—across 36 cultures, these instincts are wired into us. These are very much who we are. In only a small percentage of the threatening situations is our habitual approach the right one. The worst thing parents can do is listen to the culture when it says, ‘Let your child be who that child is. Don’t try to change him.’ Kagan says that’s the worst thing you can do. Children need to be pulled out of their natural instincts. Parents need to intervene and not let their natures run them. Doing so is a form of child neglect. I’ve never forgotten that with the transgender question. We’re told we can only affirm [this identity] today. The lack of wisdom in this response will become more evident over time. We’re now a radical individualistic culture. If you do anything against it, you’re sacrilegious. I think we’ll see 20 years of mistakes, and then we’ll realize it wasn’t a good idea.

“What do you think?

A very telling differentiation and perspective on “choosing” a local faith community (aka local church)

1Yeah-Right-On-67450627640I've been following a number of "movements," organizations, etc. that are exploring the mission-driven (aka "missional") paradigm for years.  Below is a great post by Brad Brisco of the Missio Alliance.  I think Brad has stated some excellent questions that are consistent with what many of us feel is a new reality of "local church" (ekklesia) in the 21st century.  As you read it, make sure you click on the link within the post so that you can see the CONTRAST between "market-driven," "consumeristic/individualistic" paradigms of church and the missional paradigm.  I'm sure it will give you an unique perspective!  

4 Questions To Ask Before Joining A Church

The long-standing effects of a Christendom-shaped imagination incline us to misunderstand the nature and purpose of the Church. It continues to influence the way we view leadership, mission, and evangelism. It can even shape the questions we ask when we find ourselves in the position of seeking out a church community to belong to. One example of this can be seen in a current post on The Gospel Coalition website. The article presented four questions to consider before joining a local congregation. I understand the limitations on fully articulating a position via a blog post. Further, I realize the author limited himself to just four questions. I would assume, if given more time, there would be additional questions to consider. However, recognizing the limitations, I still found the post to be woefully inadequate. I believe the essence of each of the four questions highlights the deeply rooted, and some cases, devastating effect the legacy of Christendom has on the American church.

In my opinion each of the questions flow out of a Constantinian ecclesiology that is organized around an understanding of church leadership that is skewed towards the gifts of shepherd and teacher, while at the same time void of the apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic gifts. As a result, the body doesn’t mature (read Eph. 4), and does not experience multiplication. Apostolic movement (which I believe is at the essence of the church) simply will not happen if we rely only on the ministry of shepherds and teachers. We need to understand the “marks of the church” from a fully functioning five-fold ministry model.

Moreover, I find the essence of the original questions built upon a faulty assumption that the church exists for the primary benefit of its “members.” Do followers of Jesus need to be equipped and edified as part of the body, including the ministry of shepherds and teachers? Absolutely. But I believe four decades of church growth mentality has subverted the healthy, and right teaching of the church as family and body, to a place of self-centered consumerism that is not only detrimental for the maturity of individual church members, but also for engagement in God’s mission. Encouraging those who are looking for a church to start the process by asking where they can best be “fed” has lasting implications towards how people understand the purpose of the church. Perhaps, in some cases, consumerism can be redeemed at some level; however, encouraging people to start with a question of personal satisfaction begins a trajectory that is difficult to change.+

All of this leads to a view of church as a place where certain things happen, or worse, the church is simply seen as a vendor of religious goods and services. Instead we need to understand the church as the called and sent people of God. Engaging God’s mission is not an incidental aspect of what it means to be the people of God. If God is a missionary God – and I believe that is the case – then we as the people of God are missionary people.

Lesslie Newbigin says it well when he states: “The church is not meant to call men and women out of the world into a safe religious enclave but to call them out in order to send them back as agents of God’s kingship.”+

If I had only four questions to ask, I would prefer to consider issues along these ideas:+

Is The Church Making Disciples In The Ways Of Jesus?

Is the church asking what the gospel of Jesus (not about Jesus) has to say about all aspects of life? What does the gospel of Jesus have to say about our relationships? Our families? Vocation? Finances? Racial reconciliation? Poverty? Hospitality? Sexuality? Are people in the church actually becoming more like Jesus? Are people learning how to combat the idols of our day? Are they learning to live for the sake of others?+

Is The Church Activating All Of The People Of God To Engage In Mission And Ministry?

Is the church helping people identify their gifts? Not just to serve in the church, but to engage in God’s mission. Are they being equipped to discovery how God is working in their neighborhood and through their vocation? Are people learning to discern how best to participate in what God is doing? Does the church equip and release people to start new ministries, missional communities and churches? Does the leadership of the church model missionary engagement? Does the church take responsibility for the last, the least and the lost in their community?+

Is The Church Challenging People To Feed Themselves?

Is the church providing encouragement and resources to help people read, study and reflect on the word? Are there daily opportunities for people to be in the word individually, but more importantly in community? Are people encouraged to read and listen to other resources to equip them to become more like Jesus?+

Is There An Expression Of The Church In Close Proximity To My Home?

Is the primary gathering of the church located in, or near my neighborhood? If not, is there an expression of community close enough for me to walk; one that is not disconnected from the rhythms of where I live and work? Is there a small group or missional community in my neighborhood where I can experience community with others in close proximity? A community where the word is not only studied, but where people are able to reflect communally on local missional engagement?+

Final thought: I am convinced that until we fully grapple with, and understand the post-Christendom shift, as well as rethink the missionary nature of the church, we will be incapable of making the changes necessary in the way we think and act as the body of Christ.

A great post from my friend, Heather Davis!

1social-media-problemsSocial media and its impact on the culture and on people's and family's lives is growing and not ALWAYS in a positive manner.  I'm seeing more reports of marriages hurt by tech/social media addiction and secretive relationships, children engulfed in an alternate reality that eventually enables them to escape real life, and teens who carry on conversations and create alter-egos just to shock, satisfy needs and live a completely fictional parallel life.  Heather Davis, author, speaker and teacher, wrote this article on HER blog.  Highly recommended because it states the obvious:

Communication vs. chatter

I chose for my final 5:45 workshop the theme of Social Networking: Opportunity or Dependency and found myself once again surrounded by twenty-somethings. The Brother (ed. note – Heather was at a monastery for this seminar) who led was delightful and engaging and made so many thoughtful points and with absolutely no judgement that I, and the young people, were utterly enthralled. He even had a hand-out! On it were several points that warrant reposting:

“93% of communication is non-verbal.”

“There is a human limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships— on the Dunbar scale, it’s 150.”

“If everything is important, nothing is important.”

At this point he invited everyone to turn on their phones and leave them on for the rest of the class. He then called up two volunteers and handed each of them badminton racquets and a birdy. He started by positioning them very far away, say, thirty feet, and invited them to rally. We watched as the birdy sputtered and fell in the chasm between them, as they lunged for shots that went far off course. Despite their best efforts it was hard to get any sort of rally going.

“When we are far removed,” the Brother said. “It is hard to have good communication. The social media are a great blessing in these situations. People who could not be in touch at all now can be.”

Now he positioned the girls close together, just two feet apart, and asked them again to get a rally going. They barely had room to pull their arms back and swing, let alone return the birdy. They became stifled and giggly, unable to do much of anything but fetch the birdy as it fell at their feet.

“Ah, so here we see what happens when we have too much communication. It kills any chance of a healthy back and forth discussion because there is nothing to say anymore.” The brother then pointed to a boy in the room on a smart phone. “You just posted on Facebook, probably, that you’re at a workshop in Taize on social networking and two girls are playing badminton, right?” The boy smiled sheepishly. “No, that’s good,” the brother said, “I wanted you to. You’ve probably been posting and texting throughout the trip, right? There’s nothing wrong with that. But think about this: now when you go home, your friends won’t have any need to ask you what you did on you trip because they’ll already know. And you won’t want to tell your stories because you feel as if they’re old news.”

This is how social media, when used too much, actually kills communication.

He then positioned the girls about ten feet apart and they soon began an easy rally that was effortless and fun and went on for a good twenty or thirty volleys. “This is the effect we want to create when we use our internet tools. Too little communication and a relationship dies. Too much, and it chokes on itself. Next time you are texting or tweeting or posting, ask yourself: will this make it more or less likely that we’ll have something to talk about next time we see each other. Will this bring us closer or will we find ourselves face-to-face and instead of talking comfortably, as we did online, will we bury our heads in our phones and talk to someone else?”