I’ll be at Best Practices again this year! Drop in, say “hi,” join me in conversation about ministry in the 21st century…

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Yep, good news for me…I’m back at Best Practices in Phoenix again this year.  Follow the highlighted text if you would like to discover more about this great event.  I’ll be teaching, better said “facilitating,” three conversations during the conference:

1 – Languaging the Faith – in other words, how do Jesus followers get a “place at the table” in cultural conversation?  Our privileged past is no more…people generally speaking don’t talk “church” or faith…is there a possibility of joining the cultural conversation?  Friday @ 10:30am in the Nursery.

2 – Worldview – everyone has a worldview…for the Christ follower it is seen best by our actions than our words.  What does a Christian, biblical theistic worldview look like?  What does it or should it influence?  Thursday @ 3pm in the Nursery!

3 – Change Dynamics and Organic Systems – probably the most attended seminar that I do when I’m at Best Practices…this conversation is critical for those who are attempting to change or transition any “group” of people…especially churches and congregations.  Friday @ 8:30am in the Nursery.

 

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I’ll be at Best Practices again this year! Drop in, say “hi,” join me in conversation about ministry in the 21st century…

1

Yep, good news for me…I’m back at Best Practices in Phoenix again this year.  Follow the highlighted text if you would like to discover more about this great event.  I’ll be teaching, better said “facilitating,” three conversations during the conference:

1 – Languaging the Faith – in other words, how do Jesus followers get a “place at the table” in cultural conversation?  Our privileged past is no more…people generally speaking don’t talk “church” or faith…is there a possibility of joining the cultural conversation?

2 – Worldview – everyone has a worldview…for the Christ follower it is seen best by our actions than our words.  What does a Christian, biblical theistic worldview look like?  What does it or should it influence?

3 – Change Dynamics and Organic Systems – probably the most attended seminar that I do when I’m at Best Practices…this conversation is critical for those who are attempting to change or transition any “group” of people…especially churches and congregations.

 

Sola Fide? Faith Alone…not Certainty Alone

a79d9-6a00d83451607369e20115704c43cd970c-piJesus followers, be okay with questions and ambiguities.

Faith isn’t about certainty…it is about having the center of your life firmly grounded in Jesus.  Just deal with stuff…focus your life in Christ, and be calm about the rest.  You see, the thing is, certainty-seeking faith, I have to admit, is tidy…that type of faith likes everything clean and obvious and tidy.  But Biblical faith never is. Read the Bible. It’s messy and it deals with a lot of ambiguity.

God is okay with questions, folks, He’s okay with doubts.  He’s not like some theology professor who is just trying to cram you full of all the right answers to all your theological questions.

God isn’t going to grade you based on how many you get right and “punish or reward” you accordingly.  No, one of my fav authors, Greg Boyd said, “He’s a heavenly bridegroom who will do and has done everything He could possibly do, to enter into a loving relationship with you and me, and He doesn’t mind doubts, and He doesn’t mind questions, He just wants our hearts.”

 

That’s what faith is all about –we don’t have to have all the answers because we’ve got the reason to be confident – Jesus.  If we’ve got him, we’ve got life. We don’t need to be getting life from certainty.

A long time ago, I dropped my need to be right…I dropped the desire to be argumentative or to prove to people that I could debate anyone who interested in the Bible, faith or belief into a corner.  I decided and regularly proclaim that I could be and can be wrong.  I could be wrong about so much.  But you see, I don’t need to defensive, or to get angry…if I’m proven wrong, or if someone challenges me, I have admitted to myself and to the Lord, it’s not me that needs to be the focus…it is Jesus.  And he can stand up for himself.  All I need to do is be gracious…and trust not in my abilities to convince others of certainties but to show them the love of Jesus.

I’m just going to continue to get life from Jesus and be okay with the questions and ambiguities.  Remember, Sola Fide (faith alone) is trust in Jesus, not certainty.  You can believe all the right things in the world about Jesus, but until you’re embracing Jesus…until you pledge to be committed to him and to trust him, you don’t really understand faith.  Faith is not about what’s going on between your ears, but rather what you’re doing with your life.  The very definition of faith presupposes uncertainty…faith that seeks certainty…is not a strong faith, but rather a lack of faith.  Faith is acting in the face of uncertainty.  Faith is about us taking a step to live Jesus.  Yes, I’ve got good reasons for believing what I do…but certainty? Nah, I don’t have certainty.  But I have Jesus.  Enough said!

 

Discipleship…can’t have enough encouragement to live that life!

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Cost of Discipleship, pgs. 45-47.

discipleship-tree

 

A Disciple of Jesus is a reflection of God in the world. When Jesus talked about discipleship, it was an “I’m all-in” challenge. Discipleship must have been challenging but it was also inspiring…can you imagine what it would have been like to actually physically follow Jesus?

Imagine the wonder, the questions, those “I can’t believe what I just saw” moments, the times of frustration, all the things that those early disciples must have experienced. We do know that being a disciple wasn’t something that happened overnight. Just because you choose to follow Jesus does not mean that instantly you know everything about what it means to follow him in all aspects of your life. Then when Jesus says to “go, make disciples,” if you are like me, you say to yourself, “ME?” “Are you talking to me?” “How do I do that?” Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters– yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.‘” — Luke 14:25-30

Well, here are a few things about discipleship that you need to know: We don’t have to be perfect to be Jesus’ disciple, but we do have to know what we are signing up for and be willing to submit all areas of life to God. As Jesus discipled people, he expected that their discipleship would touch all aspects of their life, relationships, and even society as a whole. Jesus paid it all…Jesus did it all…Jesus saves us all through His grace…Jesus asks for all! Every disciple needs to count the cost because Jesus isn’t going to stop in convenient places in your life.

As Bob Logan says in the Discipleship Difference book, “we can’t be a 2/3 disciple – picking and choosing our preferred areas of growth.” Only when we have been fully trained can we be like our teacher. A real disciple needs to embrace and be growing in all the dimensions of discipleship. True discipleship is holistic: we can’t be content to be growing in some areas and lacking in other areas. Jesus never approached every disciple in the same way. Every person was cherished and every individual was discipled differently – from the Roman Soldier who stepped out in faith to the rich young ruler who would not yield his most precious possessions…Jesus approached every one uniquely.

Philippians 1:6 says that God is going to keep at it…working His Spirit’s intention in our hearts and lives and actions. He is NOT going to give up just as we will never “make it.” There isn’t a finish line when it comes to spiritual maturity or discipleship (at least in this life). Just as the Apostle Paul exclaims, “I press on toward the goal of the upward call of Jesus.”

That’s our call as well! In the book, Bob outlines 10 key principles of reflect on how Jesus made disciples – as you read them, not only reflect but pray!

1. Principle 1 – Jesus made disciples of ordinary people – not superstars.

2. Principle 2 – Jesus started with unbelievers and made disciples outside of the community of faith.

3. Principle 3 – Jesus expected his disciples to make MORE disciples.

4. Principle 4 – Jesus’ context for making disciples was relationships.

5. Principle 5 – Jesus intentionally made discipleship all about the practical vs. the academic.

6. Principle 6 – Jesus started with his disciples where they were at in their lives.

7. Principle 7 – Jesus dealt uniquely with each individual disciple.

8. Principle 8 – Jesus recognized and accepted that discipleship was a process, complete with setbacks.

9. Principle 9 – Jesus assumed that discipleship would touch and transform every area of life.

10.  Principle 10 – Jesus intended disicplemaking to continue through the generations.

Look again at the diagram above…it was created to represent 8 dimensions of being and growing as a disciple. As Jesus became incarnate and lived among us, these are the ways we see him living. Take a look at the diagram and categories. Then evaluate your own life. Allow others to speak into your life as well: we never travel alone on the journey of allowing God to work in our lives. Stop NOW and pray. Take a special vow to follow Jesus – to love him, others and to live in obedience to him…to live a lifestyle of worship, relationship and mission. Hey, stop now. Don’t let this moment go by!

Reflections on Las Vegas…

Reflections on Las Vegas
Many of us have had our lives shaped by tragic events in our lives.  For previous generations, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the Challenger explosion and 9/11 burrowed their way into our soul in a life-altering manner.  We will never be the same again because of what we experienced. No doubt, you remember those events as if they happened yesterday.   You remember where you were…what you felt…what you were doing…the relationships in your life that formed the community where you processed your thoughts and feelings.  Without even begging for transparency, I admit and affirm that tragic, world-changing events evoke powerful emotions…from anger to bewilderment…from confusion to hopelessness.  When the face of evil raises its ugly head in the context of our lives, that’s is what happens.  When you are forced to stare down evil’s reality and it’s effect on the human journey, you cannot help what you feel – no one can share words that make sense or are such that it brings instant comfort.  You just have to deal…
 
On Monday morning we all woke to begin our day in the wake of another expression of evil that has impinged itself on our world.  The news of people senselessly killed and wounded while enjoying a music event;  people faces, some of which we may have known, scrolled across our television or computer screens.  Shock was most likely the first thing that we felt…followed by who knows what…every feeling justifiable when trying to comprehend the images and audio of suffering and dying.  
 
We can’t make sense of this type of tragedy because we were created for a better world, a non-broken, non-dying, no tragedy-filled world.  Events as such hit us with such emotional and spiritual force because Our Creator envisioned a life lived in harmony, relational peace and security in the goodness and grace of His very nature.  Tragedy has happened though…in fact, tragedy happens.  It happens again and again because there is evil in the world.  In a culture that wants to deny that evil exists, Las Vegas screams, “yes there is evil!”  Our culture says that niceness will come your way if you are nice to others, that altruism will solve all our problems, or that new laws or a “fair system” will usher us into a utopian society where these types of events no longer exist…they are wrong.  We have witnessed time and again that we cannot control evil.  Evil cannot be contained or wiped out with money, laws or sheer will.  It exists and dealing with it only comes from the knowledge and dependence upon a God who is just as broken hearted as we are from this tragedy but who promises an end to suffering and pain and who redeems even the most distressed and alienated.  Jesus took this type of pain on Himself and would not be ultimately contained, restricted, defeated or detracted by it.  Jesus has love on His heart for all those impinged upon by evil and unexplained affliction.  And He has an empty tomb to point to as His word to us who long for victory and extinguishing of evil’s destructive fire.  
 
So, what can we do?  Evil must be named and confronted.  There must be no sliding around it, no attempt (in the search of a quick fix) to pretend it wasn’t so bad after all.  Only when that has been done, when both evil and the evildoer have been identified as what and who they are…can there be the redemptive embrace of what has deeply hurt and wounded us.  When we have named the evil and done our best to offer genuine understanding, compassion, and even forgiveness through the prism of God’s grace and love, will we begin again to experience what we pray for regularly in the Lord’s prayer, a “deliverance from evil.”
 
We can also pray for a holy imagination and the courage to share that vision with those who long for something more in life than witnessing a mad-man shooting up a music concert.  Jesus followers can live as if God’s future is now.   The compassion and love of God’s Kingdom is revealed in and through the followers of Jesus.  Explanations of why evil exists in a Las Vegas manner should be the furthest thing from our minds…redemptive, gracious, hope-filled action should be on all of our agendas.  Remember, Jesus took on the worst of evil…He confronted it and had victory over it.  Jesus didn’t approach evil passively and neither should we.  When God confronts evil He now uses us…words of hope and visions of a new life lived in a personal embracing of hope.  
 
One of my favorite authors wrote these profound words, 
 
“It isn’t that the cross has won the victory, so there’s nothing more to be done. Rather, the cross has won the victory as a result of which there are now redeemed human beings getting ready to act as God’s wise agents, his stewards, constantly worshipping their Creator and constantly, as a result, being equipped to reflect his image into his creation, to bring his wise and healing order to the world, putting the world to rights under his just and gentle rule.”
 
As we pray for Las Vegas, may the Lord bless us with courage, grace, and peace but may He also stir us into action…action that trusts in the ultimate victory of Jesus, our Lord!  

The issues of the age…why “church” is losing

719276Last year, Dr. Scot McKnight featured a blog post on Jesus Creed regarding Pew Research results regarding what they label as, “the Religious Landscape.”  In the original article, these results were specifically shared in relation to the Southern Baptists.  As you know, I am no SoBap.  Even so, I am interested in how religious mores are being shaped by contemporary culture and trends.  What I decided to do was copy the pertinent info for you to be able to see.  I especially want to share with you the “conclusions” (three specific points) at the bottom of the article.  Take note of some of the issues raised in this article. I’m actually going to underline the insights I believe are especially relevant for the churchworld:

The Pew Research Center has featured results from the Religious Landscape Survey in a couple of stories over the last month that have bearing on these issues.  The survey was conducted in 2014 and compared with a similar survey in 2007. As reported in May 2015 (here), over the seven years between these surveys the Christian share of the US population dropped from 78.4% to 70.6% and the Evangelical Protestant share dropped from 26.3% to 25.4%. Those who claim none or unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic, nothing in particular) grew from 16.1% to 22.8% accounting for the lion’s share of the decrease in the Christian population. The results released this year dig into this a bit deeper, Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind. The chart to the right comes from this report. Most of the “nones” shed their religious identity in adulthood … 78%, or about 17 to 18% of the US population. Among the common themes:

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. (Robin’s comment – my experience is that this is true. A new book by Os Guinness makes note of the fact that we are experiencing the full impact in our times of cultural shifts in essential belief systems).  This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God (Robin’s comment – again, this has been my experience).  

Another 20% cite the shortcomings of religious institutions, with hierarchy, power, and abuse scandals playing a role (Robin’s comment – no one in churchworld wants to address these issues – to those in religious institutionalism, their motto is “don’t rock my boat.”).  Among the more damning from the Pew study: “Too many Christians doing un-Christian things,” “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” and “Because I think religion is not a religion anymore. It’s a business … its all about money” (Robin’s comment – remember, culture is not rebelling against Jesus and spirituality but about “religion”)

The Unaffiliated makeup a growing share across generations…the none phenomenon is not just about younger people.  In fact, it is not entirely generational! It is also important to realize that the growth in “unaffiliated” is both between and within generations. Among those in the cohort to which my children belong (born between 1990 and 1996) 36% identify as unaffiliated, compared with 17% of my cohort. On top of this, the percentage of unaffiliated in each cohort increased between 2007 and 2014 (well, except my kids’ cohort because they were not adults in 2007 and thus not part of the survey). If trends continue, by 2021 we may well see half of those born between 1990 and 1996 claiming “unaffiliated.”

The Pew story on factors concludes:  “Whether Millennials will become more religious as they age remains to be seen, but there is nothing in our data to suggest that Millennials or members of Generation X have become any more religious in recent years. If anything, they have so far become less religious as they have aged.”

Solutions? Most of the “solutions” I’ve (the “I’ve” is the author of this piece) seen proposed focus on aspects of Christian practice that could be called “style.” Music style, for example. How we worship on Sundays. Now I’m not against music or other aspects of style evolving over time, but our core problem isn’t style. Nor is it “doctrine.” Rather, we have a credibility problem. The reasons I pulled out above highlight this point.

(1) Christians do not live and behave according Christian principles. “Hypocrite” is too often a valid judgment.

(2) Religion isn’t religion, it is just another business.  The focus is too often on numbers and ‘success,’ profit, prestige, and power, personalities and performance. A church is a Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) audience. This is just, plain wrong. The church is the community of God’s people and this is the only worthwhile thing we have to offer, now and for eternity.

(3) Rational thought makes religion go out the window. This is front and center in my town and among colleagues. Christians are often seen as opposed to reason, to science, but this goes far beyond science (Robin’s comment – I’ve often told my friends and people in our faith community that churches operate in such a manner where they expect people to leave their brains at the door and accept everything by blind “faith”).  We need to teach people how to think and live as Christians in a changing world. 

I don’t know about you but this is a good article on which to reflect.  The author’s three points at the end do hit “home” with many of the non-Jesus followers that I know as well as those who have walked away.  I could add some more reasons, but for the purpose of this post, this is enough to get you thinking…SO, got an opinion?  Go ahead and make a comment OR email me your comments at rdugall@apu.edu.

 

Developing a Discipleship Strategy…

1Discipleship – Definition

Being a disciple is being a follower and student of Jesus.  Jesus Christ is MORE than our Savior and God…Jesus is our teacher, leader and Lord.  Being a disciple is best defined as being an apprentice of Jesus.  That must be a definite and obvious kind of thing. To make a mystery of it is to misunderstand it. There is no good reason why people should ever be in doubt as to whether they themselves are his students or not. Anyone who actually is an apprentice and co-laborer with Jesus in his or her daily existence is living out or putting into action what it means to be a “Christian” in every sense of the word. We are not only SAVED by Grace but we LIVE by Grace.  Living by Grace is what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus.  I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner in which he did all that he did.   Disciples have PURPOSE and a MISSION.  Discipleship is the ENGINE that drives mission.

How does one “lean into” discipleship? 

1 – First thing we should do is emphatically and repeatedly express to Jesus our desire to see him more fully as he really is. Remember, the rule of the kingdom is to ask.

2 – Second, we should use every means at our disposal to come to see him more fully.

3 – Seriously look at the lives of others who truly have apprenticed themselves to him. Often his radiance in such people gives us very bright and strong impressions of his own greatness.

4 – But the final step in becoming a disciple is decision. We become a life student of Jesus by deciding.  Sooner or later, you will either “drop your nets and follow” or not…your call!

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Discipleship and Jesus as Lord – Non-Dualism

When you say, “Jesus is Lord” you are saying a mouthful!  Why?  Because there are vast implications of the Lordship of Christ in your life.

First of all, you can’t say “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, there is no such thing as “dualistic Lordship.” Jesus will not be shared with another as Lord of your life.  Ask yourself, “who leads, directs, guides, and holds me accountable for my life day by day?  Who is it that guides me and my decisions and leads me through the hours that I live?”  Jesus directs your ONE Life in Him!

How will we Simplify Discipleship

Here are two keys:

  1. Discipleship can and should be discovery-based. This means that we can actually discover what we need to know about God by opening the Word of God ourselves while the Spirit leads and teaches us.
  2. The second key is “obedience-based discipleship.” A disciple is one who loves and obeys. Therefore obedience-based discipleship focuses on becoming one who follows, one who lives out what God has shown, one who consistently steps into the place of “your will not my will be done.”  Jesus said it, “if you love me, you will obey me.”

The bottom line is that a disciple is one who is coming to know God himself through personal experience (followership) NOT merely a bunch of knowledge (ABOUT God).

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The Discipleship Mission, Vision and Strategy

 The Mission and Vision of this Discipleship Strategy, Core Values, Strategic Overview

Vision – Our Preferred Future

The Vision of this Discipleship Strategy is to build a movement of like-minded followers of Jesus for the purpose of actualizing the Great Commission of God (Matthew 28:16ff).

The Vision is simple – Let us venture in a discipleship partnership to take the Great Commission seriously in a creative manner.  In a consensual partnership, let us commit to building the Kingdom of God through the intentional building of redemptive discipling relationships wherever the Holy Spirit may lead.

Mission – What we do

The mission is to make disciples of all nations – to love God, love others and live for Jesus.  Our mission is evangelizing the lost and unchurched, making disciples intentionally, teaching all to faithfully respond to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and building up people of faith so that each is exercising their giftedness in the context of loving, supportive, and challenging community.

Philosophy – Why we do it

The DNA of growth and fulfilling the great commission lies in the heart/life of every follower of Jesus.

We adhere to the belief that God works through His people.   To be a follower of Jesus is to understand that mission is the heartbeat of God.

These challenging times call for an uncompromising, courageous, and brave new action that spurs the community of Christ as well as individual Christ-followers to renewed faithfulness.

Our lifestyles must be steeped in belief that the character and life of Jesus must be freshly incarnated in the lives we live.

The Church, any church, exists to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world NOT primarily to enhance our private lives, self-esteem, or self-directed purpose.

Gift-based ministry is the foundation of a community that is alive and faithful.

We align ourselves with God’s missionary purposes in the world and are “sent” to be live the life and values of Jesus.

Mission is defined not by what a faith community DOES but by its very IDENTITY…followers of Jesus are daily on a mission.

Core Values – What We Adhere to in Discipleship

  1. The primacy of Scripture as our story of living.
  2. The indispensable role of the Holy Spirit as equipper and empowerer.
  3. The role of community: We aim to both learn and do in the context of community.
  4. Theological praxis: We aim to always both learn and do; to never divorce hearing from obedience. Nothing has been learned in a life in Jesus until it can be “done.”
  5. Spiritual transformation: The goal is spiritual transformation into Christlikeness for the sake of the world.
  6. Missional focus: We are called to go to the world after we come to Christ. We ARE a mission.
  7. A commitment to the whole church: We love and seek to bless the whole Church…that is our deep desire. Our focus is not to demean, bad mouth, or become arrogant.