Sunday, April 28, 2013

Taking it to the Streets

In addition to the stuff I'm reading for church small groups, (Linda and I attend four: two mixed, one men only, one ladies only) stuff to critique (about six on my to-do list right now), and my first real concentrated attempt to read through the entire Bible in a year, I'm reading Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Churches out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church   by Peyton Jones, as a ‘pleasure’ read and because it was a free download from Amazon Kindle.
   Except what began as a pleasure read has turned on me and bitten the hand that feeds it.  I know – crummy metaphor, but I don’t know a ‘downloading’ or ‘reading’ equivalent to it.  Somehow ‘singed the eyes that read it’ just doesn’t have the same impact, ya know? Ooh!  Ooh!  Here’s one that will make sense whether you speak the same language, walk in the same circles, split the same theological infinitives or root for the same football team as me ... or not …  for any of those things: it has reared up its ugly head and tore a hole the size of Montana in the place I sit!
I was reading along one night just a little under a week ago and I came across this paragraph:
From 1555 to 1562 John Calvin sent eighty-eight church planters from Geneva into France. Some were successful; nine paid the ultimate price of martyrdom. When they started, there was only one Reformed church there. At the end of this period, however, there were 2150 Reformed churches that had been planted or replanted and were preaching the gospel.”
(Jones, Peyton (2013-04-01). Church Zero: Raising 1st Century Churches out of the Ashes of the 21st Century Church (p. 59). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.)
If that’s too much information to consume at one time, let me break it down for you.
In seven years, armed with nothing more than the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, the clothes on their back, and a burning, I would dare say Pauline burden to spread the Gospel to the unchurched of France.
Broken down further:
They had:
·         The Word of God
·         The Holy Spirit
·         A Divine Calling
·         An Overpowering Burden
·         The clothes on their backs.
·         An ongoing battle with the might of the Holy Roman Empire (Church at Rome/Catholic Church)
They did NOT have:
·         Modern Transportation
·         Modern Communication
·         Millions of pages of commentaries at their fingertips from their smart phone or iPad
·         Denominational support
·         Gatorade/5-hour Energy Drinks/Mickey D’s
In fact, nine of the original group of eighty-eight were martyred for their effort.  Yet with every manner of adversity stacked against them, these guys made an average of one church plant every day for seven years!  Think of it!  Imagine it where you live.  I’ll make it easy for you by refining the burden as it is revealing itself to me.  Not the United States.  Not even all of Florida, where I now live.  Imagine your home state – maybe even your home town, and a group of people so burdened by Almighty God that they throw away the current evangelistic model of opening the church doors on Sunday morning and waiting for the unsaved masses to come to them, they move outside the box and go all Paul on your town!  They take the message to the people instead of casting bait and waiting for the people to get snagged and reeled in.
This is the place where I get in trouble with my church.  I am more and more of the belief that church is for US!  The Christ followers!  It’s our spiritual check-up and refilling/recharging/empowering station.  It’s NOT the neighborhood outreach center and was never intended to be.  Even in Acts where Luke proclaims “Daily were added to the church those who were being saved”, the group “those who were being saved” were being saved as the direct result of the Apostles taking it to the streets and preaching, not handing out flyers and inviting them to Church.
Please don’t hear me wrong.  Yes, evangelism can, does, and SHOULD happen at church, but that is not the primary function of the church.  Sorry – not enough room here to ‘splain all of that one coherently.  Perhaps another time, k?
Here is where I was headed when I sat down to write this piece.
I’m reading Church Zero, and God is placing a heavy burden on me for church planting in my part of the world.  One teeny, weeny little problem, from my point of view.  I ain’t qualified.  On any number of levels!  And then there’s the whole health issue.  A week ago yesterday (Saturday, 20th April) was the five-year anniversary of the aneurism-stroke (easier to type than the actual technical term) that left my left side paralyzed in the sense that while I am 75-80% ambulatory, I have maybe 5% upper epidermal sensory feedback on my left side, 60-70% strength compared to the right side, and 60-70% petite motor skill/fine motor control (fingers and stuff) issue.  I’m not complaining.  Five years ago when they wheeled me into the hospital ER, a cocoon from which I didn’t emerge for nearly six weeks, I couldn’t move or feel anything on the left side.  Now I do stuff I shouldn’t be able to do; a testament to the miraculous machine God designed when He created our bodies! 
No wonder David wrote “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.” (Psalm 139:14 NKJV)
So I am sitting at my computer, 60 screaming megabits of downstream internet speed at my fingertips, a few of my college Bible texts still handy, access to more online, and a burden tearing at my heart that is screaming if 88 guys almost 500 years ago equipped with what they had could do what they did by the Grace of God, why are the Christ followers where I live playing musical churches and the churches so convinced that despite the first century model of taking the Gospel to the people, that the 21st century model of advertising and preaching to the choir is a better way to go?  I look at the tools at my disposal and inside my head it’s screaming WHY! And I wanna do more!
I know some things have to change.  Church Zero is a great book.  Not so much to preach from.  That’s why God gave us the word (logos – the written word) and the Word (His son).  As a whole we need to set aside those topical books for much else than personal edification, and get back to preaching God’s Word from God’s Book from our pulpits.  That’s what needs to be done in our churches to feed the flocks.  Use the books in small group setting, but for crying out loud, pastors, God called you to preach His Word from His Word, not from the Christian book of the month club!
And the church needs to train up men to take it to the streets and then unleash them to go and plant churches, and I don’t just mean extensions.  I mean autonomous, self-sufficient (as far as you can be apart from the Lord) bodies of Christ followers who replicate what happened to them.
Can I ask a favor of you?  This is really becoming a heavy burden to me, and I don’t know where to go or what to do.  Would you pray for me?  I’d appreciate it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wednesday Nights In the Word

I spent 3 hours last night in the company of about twenty or some odd friends (some more odd than others) who were evidence that the body of Christ has no boundaries.  Most of those present once upon a time belonged to the same local community of believers, but a major, dramatic change in leadership and with it commensurate leadership style, if not necessarily direction, sent that local body spiraling to a point where, frankly, probably only a dozen of the families or fewer who were partnered together in ministry there when I became involved, remain.
There is still a community of believers there, and funnily enough – sadly enough, even – the core values upon which the ‘old ministry’ and the ‘new ministry’ are based really aren’t any different.  In fact, if you really trace their roots within the sphere of 21st century ministry models, they’re Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church updated and adapted to this time, place, people, and pastoral personality, which, by the way, is what Warren said was the way to use his method to begin with.
So what happened that plan B steps into plan A and both B and A are the same but the first thing B does is implode on A, scattering the masses, most of them leaving a trail of bloody scars behind?  I don’t have the answer for that.  My wife said we were an emergency adoption.  I said it felt more like a hostile takeover.
What I do know is that in my lifetime I have experienced the gamut of church plants that began in a pastor’s living room to mega churches that seated 6,000 several times a Sunday morning.  From small communities of believers where ‘everyone knows your name’ to magnificent edifices where you’re lucky to arrive an hour early to get a good parking spot within walking distance.  From sitting literally at the feet of great preachers, to watching the recording of the previous night’s message on a big screen the next morning.  From a hug or handshake on the way out to a handshake from the surrogate.
I’ve seen music change from anthems whose themes were lifted right out of scripture to the highly emotionalized ‘praise songs’ of my teenage years to the extreme of ending an Easter morning song service (We call it a Worship Experience now) with a soloist performing a Phil Collins/ Genesis Song while video from some Jesus movie played in the background.  As a parenthetical aside, have I mentioned that my senior thesis was on the subject that “Christian” and “Rock” are mutually exclusive terms musicologically speaking, and that where you have the one, you cannot have the other because of their exclusive musical definitions?    In other words, that which makes Rock music Rock music, by definition precludes the possibility of it being Christian, and the simple fact of throwing ‘God’ word at it doesn’t change what it is musically. That’s another story.
Anyway – back on track.  I’ve seen church move from outreach to inbreeding back to outreach to . . . something.  We have a recorded alter call with no one up front to meet anyone who might respond.  That’s been replaced with instructions to fill out a card.
So – where was I before I started chasing rabbits?  Did you know that Levitical Law forbade the Children of Israel from eating rabbit (Hare)?  Me either, until this morning.
I guess preaching is one of the biggest changes.  I was ushered into the Kingdom of God through the faithfulness of a man of God named Homer G. Lindsey, Jr.  He was pastor of Northwest Baptist Church in North Miami, Florida.  As a result of his preaching the Word of God, I trusted Christ as my Savior on November 21, 1965.  Pastor Lindsey baptized me on January 6, 1966.  He later went on to first join, and then replace his dad at First Baptist Church Downtown, Jacksonville, Florida.  For you football folk who need a reference, that’s Tim Tebow’s home church.
Dr.  Lindsey is with the Lord now, but the lives his ministry influenced are legion.  He is the first of many who share something in common I’ll get to in a moment.  Homer Lindsey, Bill Chapman, Mickey Proctor, Aubrey Malphurs, Jerry Falwell, Art Boymook, Bob Savage, Steve Cardona, George Butler, Tom Little, Tom Lemmon, David Miles, Brian Brown, David Marquart.  These men all have one thing in common, and my contact with them (and others at whose feet I have sat, but were not my ‘Pastor) spans nearly fifty years:  They preached the Word of God from the Word of God, not from books about the Word of God!
I suppose that’s the biggest change I see in ministry today.  Choices – what to do – Study Romans or read a chapter of Circle Maker, Use the author’s Study Guide, preach it on Sunday – DONE!
That’s what makes this Wednesday night group so rocking cool!  Week after week, irrespective of where we were Sunday morning, we check all that stuff at the door and gather at the tableau of the Word of God to see what Almighty God has to say to us both collectively and individually.  The Bible says “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these books, but however well written, well intended, or insightful they are – they’re Not the Word of God.
In the seven years from 1555-1562, Reformationist John Calvin sent 88 church planters from Geneva into France.  Armed with only the Holy Spirit and the Word of God these men planted 2,150 reformed churches in SEVEN YEARS.  That’s almost a church a day!  Nine of them were martyred for their efforts.
So – Wednesday night, a bundle of people, some cookies, coffee, a guitar, and the Word of God.  We had what, in the good old days, we used to call a Singspiration, last night.  It was sprinkled throughout the three hours with praise, prayer, worship, the Word of God, Fellowship, and oh yeah: the awesome presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  If you were there, you know what I’m talking about.  Last week we finished up Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi.  Next week we begin Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome.  David wrote “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105 NKJV).  He also wrote “Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not Sin Against You.” (Psalm 119:11 NKJV).  If you’re not somewhere where you’re being preached to and taught from the Word of God – and not just from books about ideas in the Word of God – my friend – you’re in the wrong place.
You know something?  Every great revival in history has begun with a handful of Christ Followers who met together on a regular basis, studied God’s Word together, and prayed together.  This Wednesday night gig just might be the spark.