Misreading the Writing on the Wall

Ed Stetzer points out a concerning trend:

“Here are the facts: North America is the only continent in the world where the church is not growing. In North America, the church is in decline. Some even claim it is dying. Most denominations — including evangelical denominations — are shrinking.”

I had a hard time tracking with the rest of his post where he analyzes this trend.

When it comes to diagnosing the problems in the Evangelical church in the West, I tend to agree with Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola:

“We believe that the major disease of the church today is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The person of Jesus is increasingly politically incorrect, and is being replaced by the language of ‘justice,’ ‘the kingdom of God,’ ‘values,’ and ‘leadership principles.'”

“Most Leadership Issues Are Actually Discipleship Issues”

Dr. Bob Logan draws a very short line from leadership to personal character and discipleship. Here’s the scary thing: people we lead probably have deep insight into our shortcomings as leaders and even into our character, but they have no safe way to constructively share this insight. Even worse, some leaders have no strategies or skills for absorbing and acting on feedback from people who know them well, so they subtly or overtly stifle negative feedback.


The False Dichotomy of Vertical and Horizontal Spirituality

David Murrow, whose observations about church consistently push me to think deeper, points out the steady slide toward television-style production values in evangelical churches:

Church consists of horizontal and vertical experiences. We attend church to meet with God (vertical) and with people (horizontal).

Horizontal experiences make terrible television. But vertical experiences work great on TV, because they can be scripted, timed and quality controlled.

So, fast-growing congregations have been investing heavily in the vertical experience, while removing all things horizontal from their weekly worship services.

But David misses one critical connection: the made-for-TV trend in churches is caused, largely, by the popular but faulty vertical/horizontal spiritual paradigm.

Jesus detonated a theological bomb on this worldview when he stated in Matthew 20 “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” If I feed someone who is hungry, I am doing it directly to Jesus. He continued to draw the converse correlation as well: if I neglect to feed a hungry person, I’m neglecting Jesus.

In the Kingdom economy Jesus introduced to earth, this idea of “investing heavily in the vertical” without connecting vitally and personally with other people is impossible.


Values Then Vision

More good stuff from Dr. Bob Logan’s blog, this time around the roles of values and vision in church planting:

“Your values are not just what you say you want, but what you actually live. The [sic] can be a big gap between a planter’s desired values and actual values.”

The most compelling church vision statement I’ve encountered comes from Ephesians 1:10: “Bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”


“A Flexible Understanding of Church”

Love it that Ed Stetzer brings up Ephesians 3:10 in his introductory post to his series on ecclesiology. Hoping he addresses questions of church structure (rigid/fluid), church permanence (short-term/long-term), and church self-awareness.


“If they are to go from unchurched to churched, it better matter.”

Dr. Dave Daubert, from a post on the Logan Leadership blog:

Young people who do not participate in church life do not want to come to a faith community where no one takes their discipleship seriously. If they are to go from unchurched to churched, it better matter. They can do lots of things that don’t matter.


My Lost Comment on Carlos Whittaker’s Blog

He asks if online community can be considered church. I posted the following a couple times and tweeted at Carlos to troubleshoot the issue, but still no public comment. So I’ll throw it out on my blog:

Shane Hipps made some really interesting observations about virtual community a few years back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJkSJmvK7eg

I view any communication that happens online as correspondence. Really fast, media-rich correspondence.

Did Paul stop belonging to any of the churches he planted when he moved on to the next town? Paul corresponded with brothers and sisters in other places. He also spent months at a time in prison.

Pretty sure the Romans weren’t big on letting prisoners out for weekly church services.

Those letters of correspondence, along with the believers that visited him and brought him food, were his church for a season.


6 Reasons to Prayer Walk

From the time we’re very young, many believers are taught to prepare for prayer with these instructions: “Fold your hands, close your eyes, and bow your heads.” It’s a great way to keep kids quiet for a moment while you bless a meal, but it’s not the only way to pray. In fact, I’ve found that doing the exact opposite is a great way to pray, as well: stand up, open your eyes, and walk around the neighborhood. Here are some reasons why:

1. Walking is good exercise. Staying active is vital to physical health. Praying is vital to spiritual health. Why not do both at the same time?

2. Walking engages the mind. A walk is great for inspiring creativity, including creativity in prayer. I think better when I’m moving rather than sitting still. I’m able to focus my thoughts and keep them focused for longer periods of time than when sitting. Others don’t necessarily think better when they move, but their minds work differently from when they sit, opening up new possibilities to tune in to God’s spirit.

3. Walking can make prayer more social. Walking and talking seem to compliment each other really well, and when you include God, they get even better. I frequently walk with someone else, whether it’s my son riding along in his stroller, or another believer that shares a similar interest in praying for our community. I’m able to be an example for my son of how to talk to God, and I’m able to learn from other believers as they speak the prayers God has put on their hearts.

4. Unexpected things can happen when you walk. God reveals himself surprisingly quickly when we go into the community and talk with him. It’s almost like he’s been waiting for us to join him in our neighborhoods, and when we do, he jumps out and yells “Here I am! Look what I’m doing over here! I want you to get in on this!”

5. God can make you the answer to someone else’s prayers when you walk. Sometimes as I’ve approached people on the street during my prayer walks, I’ve felt God prompt me to talk with them, leading to some pretty cool conversations. I’ve even been able to pray with them right there on the street.

6. “As a man prays, so he is.” AW Tozer was on to something. Sometimes, prayer can feel like a repetitive chore to check off the religious checklist for the day. Walking puts a different spin on prayer. As a friend of mine put it, “I believe there is an intentionality to getting out of your routine and location that moves us from religious repetition to relational conversation.”

There’s really no wrong way to prayer walk, but it can take some practice and some patience. It’s okay to test it out by yourself a couple times to get a feel for the right pace and distance. It can also take some time to get comfortable praying out loud while you walk around with your eyes open. Give it a few tries and see if God does something powerful through your prayers.

Too Long; Didn’t Disciple

Some interesting ideas here from David Murrow on what a church might look like if it were built around spiritual coaching, but I wonder if the whole thing could stand up under it’s own weight. Turnover is also a reality in discipleship, and this model seems to rely on some amount of consistent critical mass to attract disciples to the “league”.

Also, I don’t think it’s wise to assume that women and children will just magically follow Jesus and experience body life because their husbands and fathers are in a discipleship program. I do believe that a committed man is the most influential factor in raising a Christ-centered family, but a man isn’t the only person that needs structured discipleship.

Of course, God demonstrates his wisdom in variety, and this kind of church would definitely demonstrate a different facet of his wisdom.


Community Without Relationships

Alan Knox explains one risk of the Sunday morning ministry machine:

“A few years ago, Margaret and I were part of a children’s ministry. I was director of this ministry, while Margaret was one of the teachers. We had several other teachers and leaders and helpers that served within this ministry. In the eyes of the church leadership, this ministry was “successful” because we involved large numbers of adults and served large numbers of children.

But, in reality, looking back, we did not have strong relationships with either the adults involved in the ministry or with the children that we served. (We did have a strong relationship with one family, but that relationship existed before we served together in this ministry.) Why were we able to serve “successfully” without relationships? Because the structures propped it up. We each had a position and a job description. We did what we were supposed to do. It was fun and rewarding for the kids, so they came.”

All believers bear the responsibility of initiating and nurturing relationships, but we can set ourselves up to succeed or struggle by what we choose to repeatedly do.