Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wikipedia, Blogs and Writing

Isn't life like that? You blog about something and then suddenly you find a hundred other places where that topic was discussed. It makes me think back to when we were pregnant (well actually Brigitte was pregnant) and it seemed everywhere I looked I saw pregnant women. You see what you pay attention to.

Well the point is that after posting about Wikipedia, I suddenly discovered all kinds of blogs and articles and sites describing some of the difficulties with using this as a source of information. This article ( Wikipedia and Academia Hit News Headlines Again) has a whole list of related articles and sites about the difficulties of the Wiki phenomenon. In part the article reveals that Middlebury College history students are no longer allowed to use Wikipedia in preparing class papers. The school's history department recently adopted a policy that says it's OK to consult the popular online encyclopedia, but that it can't be cited as an authoritative source by students. The policy says, in part, "Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source." History professor Neil Waters says Wikipedia is an ideal place to start research but an unacceptable way to end it.

However most places would allow you to cite Wikipedia and other online information sites (including blogs) but not to use them as reliable sources of information. They could be used to provide anecdotal information or examples of differing opinions on a topic but not for hard facts. That would have to be backed up with more traditional sources.

There are a number of alternative online sources of information that are more reliable and don't have the same left leaning, anti-Christian bias of Wikipedia. A couple of notable ones are Scholarpedia written by, you guessed it, scholars. Experts must be either invited or elected before they are assigned certain topics. Then there's Conservapedia, a conservative, Christian-influenced wiki encyclopedia that was created as a response to Wikipedia's alleged left-wing bias. The information found on this site is free of foul language, sexual topics and anything else deemed offensive by the site's editorial staff. There are also the paid subscription sites like Encyclopedia Britannica Online and Microsoft's Encarta. For a fuller description check out Top 7 Alternatives to Wikipedia from the Online Education Database.

This site gives information on how to cite a blog or Wiki article. The Citation Machine actually does the work for you if you plug in all the information. One of the difficulties of online information is that the material is not always where you first found it, or the website that you discovered the information has disappeared. For that purpose there is The Internet Archive who describe themselves as "building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public."

I started this trek over at Matt Weibe's site where he posed the question: Blogging: A Reliable Academic Source? He also has a couple of posts on blogging (Part One and Part Two). Two other sites that have some contributions to the topic are Blogging: Academia's Digital Divide? and The academic contributions of blogging.

This may or may not be useful information to you. However, in the midst of the work on my DMin, I need to often refer to or access the information on blogs and online sites because that is where most of the information about Emerging Church and Postmodernity is found. Much of the thinking and conversation is also happening in blog form and contributes to the topic in a significant way. I know I will be referring back to this post a number of times over the next few months.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Church in the City

I had a good meeting today. Ten of us (pastors and leaders in North Toronto) gathered to give support to a pastor who has just been given greater responsibility – he has just moved from being an associate pastor to a senior pastor in a small congregation in Thornhill.

We came to give him support. It’s been a long hard road for this congregation and they are still facing an uphill battle. They have a leased location on a Yonge Street (our major north/south route) which means a high rent. They are a small congregation. They have had a checkered past, highs and lows. They have just had a leadership transition. They’re not sure they will be able to stay.

We gathered to pray, to brainstorm and to listen to God and to one another on behalf of this local church and for this pastor. And God showed up. Although the work is not done, it was such an encouraging time for this pastor and for all of those who gathered. It was the church working the way it was supposed to. There was no competition, no boasting, no finger pointing or blaming - just a deep sense of support and unity. We were truly acting as the church in the city.

I hope I have his courage to ask for help in my time of need. I almost feel like I want to precipitate a crisis just to have the support of my brothers and sisters in Christ gathering around me to pray and offer their help. Just knowing and being a part this group of pastors feels supportive. I pray every church and pastor in the city has this amazing resource.

Michael Vick Finds Jesus

My second item. There has been a great deal of publicity directed towards the case of Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback who confessed to being involved in dog fighting. In his televised apology he said that he had found Jesus. A number of other public figures have spoken of finding Jesus (Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton to name two more recent ones). Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed asks: “How do we (as Christians) respond to these type of statements?” My prayer is that Jesus has met him and encountered him at the deepest level - so that he could never go back to anything less satisfying. However, a flurry of comments suggested how some might respond to this statement – including mine - which I included below.

One person said we … “would forgive his debts,” to which I responded:

What debts? All his debts? To whom does he owe those debts? Not to me unless I consciously “took” offense.
I really am wondering about this issue. Maybe it is a result of the media’s hanging out everyone’s dirty laundry and once we see it we feel we have an obligation to respond or judge. I’m wondering what my (or any sincere Christian’s) responsibility is in extending forgiveness to what is really a private (or at least personal) wrong.
The same question stands before us in evaluating his faith commitment. How can I possibly evaluate it? How can I make any judgement on it at all? Do I know him? Does he know me? Can I see his daily life? Is he accountable to me?

On a slightly different tack, the concept of forgiveness has come up a number of times. Yesterday, a neighbour (with whom I have been discussing some issues of forgiveness) asked me if I forgave Michael Vick. My response was “What is there for me to forgive?” I don’t know him. He has never hurt me. He hasn’t harmed my world (any more than a thousand others who have committed crimes). He may have harmed some dogs (or allowed them to harm each other). He may have done something that I find morally wrong. He has confessed to doing something illegal.

But I don’t understand how I could forgive him, or refuse to forgive or have any need to forgive him. Doesn’t a long distance (ie not personal or relational) forgiveness or unforgiveness put me in the position of God and Judge - just as the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing?
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:6-7
Do we have any responsibility or right to forgive the sins of someone we have never met or who has never wronged us?

I think it’s difficult enough to forgive my spouse and my neighbour – the people we do know and whom we must forgive.

Wikipedia's Underbelly

A couple of things caught my attention the past couple of days.

The first one was an article about how Wikipedia is edited. (A brief comment about Wikipedia from their site: Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. Almost all its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet, simply by clicking the edit this page link.) It turns out that people editing the articles on Wikipedia have been expressing their vested interests by slanting stories in their favour. This was discovered because a guy named Virgil Griffith came up with a computer program that reveals who edits these articles, via a system where it scans the I.P address and cross-references it with the I.P. directory (i.e. it shows you who made the edit – or at which computer the edit was made).

So we have large companies slanting information in favour of their product and against the product of its competitor. For example:
- Microsoft tried to cover up the XBOX 360 failure rate
- Apple edit Microsoft entries, adding more negative comments about its rival
- Microsoft then edits Apple entries, adding more negative comments about its rival
- Exxon Mobil edits spillages and eco-system destruction from oil spillages article
- Scientology removes criticism and negatives article from Scientology page
- Amnesty International removes negative comments
- Dell Computers deletes negative comments on customer services and removes a passage how the company outsources work to third world countries
- EA Games deletes whole paragraphs of criticism about employment practices and business methods
- Fox News removes all controversial topics against the network from the Fox News page
- News of the World deletes a number of criticism against the paper
- Nestle removes negative comments on its business practices from its page

This is significant because Wikipedia is so widely used. Many college programs restrict or prohibit the use of internet research because of these issues. It has caused a bit of a stink.

The second thing is on the next post.

Monday, August 27, 2007

God is not Great? Deluded Evangelistic Atheists

There have been a number of very popular books written recently that have questioned a great many things about Christianity - and religion in general. The blockbuster that seemed to open the gates was The Da Vinci Code (first the error-riddled book and then the pitifully awful movie). The book recycled (according to some, plagiarized) some discredited theories about Mary Magdelene, Da Vinci and of course Jesus. Despite being a work of fiction, the author presents these claims as historical fact: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." In fact, almost nothing Brown claims about art, history, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Bible, secret documents or the Catholic Church is either true or accurate. Many web sites and books point out the factual errors.

However, The Da Vinci Code as well as a renewed interest in Intelligent Design has released a flood of books about the Gnostic Gospels (like The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels) and a great deal of anti-God books written primarily by atheists, like:
"God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris, and "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Some of these books have been on the New York Times bestsellers list for months.

At the same time, these books have received some scathing reviews - and not just by those sympathetic to a religious worldview. Stephen Prothero in the Washington Post, points out something I have observed about atheists before. They fundamentally refuse to understand their own faith (atheism is after all a faith position) or the faith of anyone else. A quote from the review ...
"What Hitchens gets wrong is religion itself. Hitchens claims that some of his best friends are believers. If so, he doesn't know much about his best friends. He writes about religious people the way northern racists used to talk about "Negroes" -- with feigned knowing and a sneer. God Is Not Great assumes a childish definition of religion and then criticizes religious people for believing such foolery." Prothero finishes off his review with ...
"Christopher Hitchens is a brilliant man, and there is no living journalist I more enjoy reading. But I have never encountered a book whose author is so fundamentally unacquainted with its subject. In the end, this maddeningly dogmatic book does little more than illustrate one of Hitchens's pet themes -- the ability of dogma to put reason to sleep."

For a more point by point critique of Hitchens' book by a pastor and a New Testament scholar, Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts creates at least eight posts on his blog. This is lengthy and fairly focused on the Christian critiques sections in Hitchens' book.

The more popular book has been "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and has written a number of books on that topic - some of them countering the Intelligent Design school of thought. Andrew Brown reviews the book in a British Publication called the Prospect Magazine. The title and sub-title speak volumes. "Dawkins the Dogmatist: Incurious and rambling, Richard Dawkins's diatribe against religion doesn't come close to explaining how faith has survived the assault of Darwinism."

However the most enjoyable review I read (including the comments and responses) was by H. Allen Orr in the New York Book Review. I quoted a couple of sections that I really enjoyed (this is also a very long and detailed review).

"The God Delusion certainly establishes that Dawkins has little new to offer. Its arguments are those of any bright student who has thumbed through Bertrand Russell's more popular books.
One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn't seem very good at it.
But as I made clear, I have no problem with where Dawkins arrived but with how he got there. It's one thing to think carefully about religion and conclude it's dubious. It's another to string together anecdotes and exercises in bad philosophy and conclude that one has resolved subtle problems. I wasn't disappointed in The God Delusion because I was shocked by Dawkins's atheism. I was disappointed because it wasn't very good."

And now my favorite quote: "Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I'm forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he's actually more an amateur."

I have not read any of the books I mentioned above (except for the Da Vinci Code - which really wasn't worth the time invested - but that was before I started the DMin) - nor do I plan to - unless there is a relational component to it (ie I meet someone who is so impressed with it and wants to get my feedback). At any rate, atheism or belief in God is really not countered or overcome with one book or one debate. Actually I think we (both Christians and atheists) suffer from a deep and fundamental misunderstanding of each other. As one reviewer (I think it was Mark Roberts) said: "We inhabit different universes." I think that is so true. As a Christian I can't even begin to think that this world makes any sense without the existence of God. It seems so self evident to me. To believe otherwise is irrational to me. To disagree about the nature of that God and how he is revealed to us is understandable - but to deny the evidence of something much greater than us seems the height of folly. As the writer of the Proverbs says: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" Proverbs 9:10.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

When You Come Bring My Books and Laptop

I ran across this post by Fred Peatross at blog called Abductive Columns and I identified with it a great deal. So I've copied and pasted the post - and then added a few comments of my own at the end.

"Hi, my name is Fred and I’m a book addict. But I’m not a recovering book addict. I purchase books and more books. I read three to four books a month and I am currently three books behind.

If you prefer to picture heaven as pearly gates and streets of gold and jasper walls and crystal fountains, be my guest. I prefer a heaven that looks like a reading room.

I read for many reasons. Two worth mentioning. I enjoy learning and being challenged by the minds of others. It opens the gate to a rich world releasing me from my own backyard.

Without the thoughts of others my ideas become imprisoned, fenced-in, stale, bound, and copyrighted by my own limited intellectual reasoning. I walk within the confines of my backyard anesthetized in a sleep-walk of my own opinions, thoughts, and ways.

When Christians are not reading their faith community’s forward movement slows, creativity is compromised, and understanding and momentum atrophy. Last week a friend objurgated me for referring to the church as a stained-glass ghetto. This person failed to understand the metaphoric phrase “church in a stained glass ghetto” because he wasn’t an avid reader.

Thomas Jefferson couldn’t stop buying books. Whenever he traveled, he was on the lookout for books.

The traffic lanes between literature and life are highly congested. My lived experience is colored by literary experiences and increasingly by the hundreds of articles and online conversations I have daily.

In the past, theological conversations were found in books, magazines, and articles. Theological conversations today can still be found in books and conferences, but the cutting edge, progressive, thoughtful conversations are linked between blogs. This is not a conversation that is taking place in a traditional way. If you think you can go to the bookstore and purchase the most recent book and find out what’s going on, you’ll miss 90 percent of the conversation, which is essentially a grassroots, democratic, electronic, and interpersonal conversation."

Back to my comments again ...
Fred really is right about where most of the conversations are happening today - even if those conversations are later recorded in books. What used to happen only occasionally, or only in academia, over a cup of coffee and recorded scrawled on napkins is now happening every day on blogs and email conversations and it is recorded digitally (which is then easily compiled into more permanent forms like books). I am also increasingly finding books online as Ebooks which are being passed on from friend to friend and are reaching a broad range of people with almost no advertising. I mentioned one here a couple of days ago referring to the book called "So You Don't Want to Go To Church Anymore."

I think one of the best things about online conversations is that you can just eavesdrop - hearing what everyone else is thinking about, before you pipe in - or if you want, you don't have to say anything at all! The best way to start is to go to a site like that linked at the left or one in my Links page and then click on something that looks interesting and keep going. I find myself going to 15 or 20 blogs or sites, one linked to the next, reading different bits and pieces that I often copy and paste and use for papers or sermons.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Chickville and Guyville

I like talking and thinking about the differences between men and women. There are a ton of books out there from many perspectives with the classic being the Men Are from Mars: Women are from Venus series. I enjoy using some of this stuff in pre-marital counselling where it is marginally useful and marriage counselling where it is extremely useful.

There is an interesting discussion about the differences between men and women going on at a couple of blogs. It started with Julie R. Neidlinger at Lone Prarie posting a little ditty about Useful Chick Information for Residents of Guyville - ten points to help guys understand where gals are coming from.

The gauntlet was thrown down to challenge some guy to respond in like manner. So Keith Schooley did by posting Useful Guy Information for Residents of Chickville and then a follow-up with All the Lonely People. I would say Keith's is actually very well thought out and extremely insightful. Julie's stuff was .. well, not necessarily useful for someone married for 23 years but interesting nonetheless. (EDIT What I meant to say was that I enjoy this repartee and have actually spoken at retreats using a back and forth style like this. Julie's comments were insightful and provocative but Keith's comments took me back to those days of trying to communicate to a roomful of women about how guys approached relationships.)

I may use some of this stuff for my premarital counselling sessions. It should provoke some good discussions.

By the way, be sure and read the comments - they have some great follow-up comments and in Julie's post, a few other less useful attempts at Useful Guy Info.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


As I was in my DMin class discussing the changing culture and even geographical landscape we began to talk about the significant population concentrations happening in downtown Boston because of the many condos going up. These are high end condos with gates and security guards and video cameras. Our prof was talking about putting together a flyer to invite these folks to their church (only a few blocks away). My suggestion was, why not help someone buy a condo in this building so that they could move in and have a neighbourhood style impact? It would allow them to have a small group meet in the building, access to the "party room" for meetings and daily contact with many residents. The prof had never considered that type of community outreach before.

I am also convinced that in our diversified but ever more segregated world it will be more and more difficult to use mailings as an effective way of communicating your message. Internet advertising may help but it is difficult to target small groups of people located in a specific neighbourhood. Personal contact is always the best way to go. So to have an impact in a "closed" community you need to become a part of that community. You need to move into the neighbourhood.

I'm not alone in my thoughts. Alan Roxburgh is now echoing the same sentiments in his blog and I've quoted a few of the more relevant paragraphs.

I have this sense that God is calling us to move into neighborhoods in cities, towns and villages to quietly form Christian life around a Rule of Life and a set of practices. The formation of a missional order, a band of people moving back into the neighborhood for the sake of the people, place and future of where they live. So I imagine that perhaps, in this simple and unpretentious way God might be wanting to give life and meaning back to the suburbs, inner cities, condo towers and gated housing projects where people are warehoused, commodified and so deeply, crushingly abandoned and alone in a culture shaped by spending and buying. I’m convinced that the only way we can discover and sustain this kind of mission-shaped life is through the formation of some kind of order.

One of the themes you will pick up from Allelon as we seek to understand the ways of forming a multi-generational network of missional leaders is the call to re-enter neighborhoods and go local. We are compelled by the imagination of the Gospels were we are told that God came and pitched its tent beside ours in Jesus. We believe there is a deep call to re-enter neighborhoods. In the manner of Luke 10: 1-12, we are sensing that in the suburbs, cities and towns we are being asked to participate in a movement that vulnerably lives in, among, beside, for and with the other in our neighborhoods. We believe that answers to the questions of what God is up to in our time and what churches need to look like can only be answered from those willing to risk leaving behind their baggage (no bag, no cloak, no extra sandals) and entering the hospitality of the other. We are also convinced that this shift in imagination and practice calls for a missional order that seeks to intentionally live out of a rule of life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Virtual Pastors

This is different. Virtual Pastors ... Hmmm.

"We have the technology" (remember the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man?) Well now we have The Virtual Preacher Man. You've heard of search committees looking for pastors for a church. Well with this concept you can keep changing your pastor every week. There is a company that has developed virtual pastors - computer generated characters that preach (from sermons on the internet) and tell jokes and have various life experiences that they share with their congregation. The congregation gives electronic feedback after every sermon to further refine the personality and style of their "pastor."

Does this remind anyone of Max Headroom?

This is hilarious - it sounds like many of us may be out of a job. Read the rest of the story here.

Ordinary Attempts

I hope you remember the review I did on An Atheist Goes to Church. Well the author Jim Henderson has a website called Off The Map, with some great articles and resources.

One of the links is to a blog about divine appointments or what he calls "ordinary attempts." Here he advocates for a more simple approach to evangelism and developing spiritual relationships. He describes one encounter where he uses a simple four question survey which gets people talking about eternal things.

He defines OA's (ordinary attempts) here as the simplest and most basic form of evangelism. This belief is based on what Jesus said “If you give a cup of cold water to a little child because you are my disciple you won’t lose your reward.” Matthew 10:42.
Our culture’s equivalent of a cup of cold water is attention. OAs are free attention giveaways. And paying attention to people is a daring Kingdom of God action.

Along the same lines is another blog about Doable Evangelism with the subtitle "What if Evangelism Meant Just Being Yourself?"

Some good stuff here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Recent Meanderings

I haven't posted much recently but have been wandering around the internet and blogosphere a bit.

I read an online book that made a bit of an impression on me called "So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore" written by Wayne Jacobsen under the pseudonym of Jake Colsen. An online copy of it can be found here. I may post again giving my responses.

For a follow-up to Tammy Faye by Rick Joyner, check this out.

Daniel Henninger has written an interesting oped piece in the Wall Street Journal's "Opinion Journal" on The Death of Diversity and a study on why people in ethnically diverse settings don't care about each other. You can find it

A few weeks ago I posted on some posters lampooning anything postmodern or emerging church. Well Emerging Grace put together some that are a bit more generous in their view of the same concepts - Better I think, and very nicely done.

I'm not sure who actually puts any stock in these things (I certainly don't - or rather I have a different explanation for them) but The Fortrean Times: The World of Strange Phenomena has put together The Top Ten UFO cases in the past 60 Years. There is some weird stuff out there.

You can take a whole bunch of fun little "tests" at this "Mingle" site (which is actually an online dating site but you can ignore that and just take the tests). It turns out that I am 71% addicted to blogging and my blog is rated general (see below) because of my use of the word "missionary" somewhere in my blog ...

One more thing ...


Thursday, August 16, 2007


I found this image at this blog along with some of the comments. If you look at the photo you can see stars (the rounder images with a "twinkle" or "aura" around them) and you cans easily count at least 30 galaxies (the more elongated images). However the caption states that about 1,500 galaxies !!! are visible in this deep view of the universe. This image was captured by allowing the Hubble Space Telescope to stare at the same tiny patch of sky for 10 consecutive days in 1995. The image covers an area of sky only about width of a dime viewed from 75 feet away.

How small are we? (Or how big is God?)

Cosmologists now conservatively theorize this:

Think of an atom that we will call "A"

Think of the observable universe - all that we can see and observe with the instruments we have today including Hubble (13+ Billion Light-years in any direction). We'll call that "O"

Now we'll call the possible size of all of creation beyond what we can see and we'll call that "C"

And consider this: A is to O as O is to C.

The Atom is to the Observable Universe as the Observable Universe is to all of Creation.

Which means that all we can currently observe of the universe is like an atom compared to what might be out there.

My brain hurts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Help Desk

For all those who have been frustrated with computers or frustrated with helping others use their computers.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some Thoughts on Discipleship 5

The first three views were from Neil Cole, Wayne Jacobsen and David Garrison. Now Roger Thoman at the House Church Blog posts more of his collection of ...

Thoughts on Discipleship Pathways

Curtis Sargeant

Curtis, former missionary to China, is also a student of Church Planting Movements. He encourages us to consider that discipleship is not a knowledge-based process, rather it is about modeling a lifestyle of surrender and obedience. He asserts that the reason Paul was able to leave behind growing disciples in a short amount of time is because they were in contact with a man who was “thoroughly in love with Jesus Christ, filled by the Spirit, and completely surrendered to the Lord’s control.” Curtis contends that Paul’s lifestyle “painted an indelible picture in the minds and hearts of the new believer-leaders…”

Curtis also suggests that a simple church, with the above characteristics, will have a dynamic transformational impact just by being the church:

“A simple group in love with Christ and with each other, sharing freely with each other and with a lost world and constantly in his Word and in prayer. ‘Together,’ discovering more each week about him and his will. If they continue to abide (John 15) in a relationship with Christ and the Body (church), they will have everything they need. The Holy Spirit will be their resident teacher…”

Curtis’ book is available free online here. He asks that when quoting from his book you make reference to his website:

Alan Hirsch

Hirsch, in his book Forgotten Ways uses the term “action-learning discipleship.” He suggests that we should look at the way Jesus discipled:

“As soon as they are called he takes the disciples on an adventurous journey of mission, ministry, and learning. Straightway they are involved in proclaiming the kingdom of God, serving the poor, healing, and casting out demons. It is active and direct disciple making in the context of mission. And all great people movements are the same. Even the newest convert is engaged in mission from the start; even he or she can become a spiritual hero.”

Hirsch describes his own missional training network:

“[We] host an internship, where the intern is placed in an environment where he or she is somewhat out of his or her depth. We do this because when people are placed in a situation requiring something beyond their current repertoire of skills and gifts, they will be much more open to real learning. It’s called jumping in at the deep end. The vast majority of the interns’ learning is by ‘having a go’ and actually doing things.”

A good summary of Hirsh’s grasp of discipleship is his statement that “mission is the catalyzing principle of discipleship.”

The introduction to “Forgotten Ways” is available online here.

Much here to chew on!

Some Thoughts on Discipleship 4

We've already looked at Neil Cole and Wayne Jacobsen. Now Roger Thoman at the House Church Blog posts more of his collection of ...

Thoughts on Discipleship Pathways

David Garrison

Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements, has seen simple discipleship chains provide the key to the rapid multiplication of disciples and churches. (Simple churches themselves are also generally present in rapid church planting movements).

Garrison suggests that six basic lessons provide a discipleship foundation for new believers. One of the six lessons is on how to be the church and start simple churches. In this way, new believers also immediately become new church starters.

The key, however, is the way that this basic teaching is passed on. Person A teaches Person B a basic lesson. He then asks Person B to teach the lesson back to Person A so that Person A knows that he has grasped it. Then, Person B takes the lesson and teaches it, in the same manner to Person C, Person D, Person E, Person F, and Person G. Yep. Five more people are taught the lesson and they are taught how to pass the lesson along to five more people each. So, everything a person receives he must pass along before a next lesson is given.

Of course, discipleship in this model does not have to be limited to just six basic lessons, but you can see the focus: every person learns to become an immediate discipler as well as a disciple.

Some Thoughts on Discipleship 3

Roger Thoman at the House Church Blog posts more of his collection of ...

Thoughts on Discipleship Pathways

Wayne Jacobsen

Wayne’s view of discipleship is far more fluid. Here are some quotes from his book…

“Jesus didn’t leave us with a system he left us with his Spirit. He gave us his Spirit as a guide instead of a map. Principles alone will not satisfy your hunger. That’s why systems always promise a future revival that never comes. They cannot produce community because they are designed to keep people apart…

“Just keep in mind the simplest lesson that has been repeated countless times since Jesus was here: The more organization you bring to church life, the less life it will contain…

“That’s where religion has done the most damage. By making people dependent on its leaders, it has made God’s people passive in their own spiritual growth. We wait for others to show us how, or even just follow them in hopes that they’re getting it right. Jesus wants this relationship with you and he wants you to be an active part in that process…

“‘But can we do it on our own? Don’t we need some help?’ Marsha asked.

“Who said you’re alone? Jesus is the way to the Father. As you learn to yield to his Spirit and depend on his power, you’ll discover how to live in the fullness of his life. Yes, he’ll often use other people to encourage or equip you in that process, but the people he uses won’t let you grow dependent on them.”

The value of Jacobsen’s writings is that he challenges us to stay away from formulas and remain dependent on our relationship with the Father.

These quotes are from his book that is available free online.

Some Thoughts on Discipleship 2

Roger Thoman at the House Church Blog posts some of his collection of ...

Thoughts on Discipleship Pathways

How do we address healthy disciple-making (spiritual formation) in the context of simple/house church?

I think this issue has much to do with how we view the process of discipleship. If it is just information downloading (my old way of thinking), then it’s simply a matter of a well-designed program. If, however, it is about relationship, modeling, life and lifestyle transmission, well… that is going to be a different matter altogether.

To get my own juices flowing on this subject, I decided to review some of the different perspectives and approaches to this topic that I found interesting.

Neil Cole

Neil encourages discipleship to begin in groups that are smaller than organic/house churches. He calls these small incubators “Life Transformation Groups.”

"This is a group of two or three people who meet weekly to challenge one another to live an authentic spiritual life. Members of these non-coed groups have a high degree of accountability to one another in how they have walked with the Lord each week, which involves mutual confession of sins as well as reading a large volume of Scripture repetitively. LTGs are also missional, in that they actively pray for the souls of lost friends, associates, and neighbors."

These groups, as you can see, focus on accountability, Scripture (lots of Scripture reading), and actively praying for the lost. Neil feels strongly that one cannot improve upon the Bible for curriculum and that helping people immerse themselves in Scripture provides them with the needed foundation:

"Do we really think we can improve upon God’s Word? Why do we so often give people our own teachings and curriculum rather than Jesus’ teaching? … The helps that are available to us are not sinister or wrong, but they are also not the seed of God’s Kingdom."

I particularly agree with Neil’s desire to see Christians learn to be “self-feeding” as quickly as possible.

Neil sponsors Greenhouse Conferences and the quotes above are from his book, Organic Church.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Some Thoughts on Discipleship

I've been hunting around a number of blogs and have been reading some contributions on the topic of discipleship over at the House Church Blog that I though I would copy and paste here in the next few posts. But first I thought I would share some of my current thinking.

Discipling people has become a significant theme for me and I have been realizing that discipleship starts well before someone actually starts following Jesus. I could also say following Jesus starts well before someone makes a decision to commit their lives to Him. In that sense I am discipling my neighbours with my words and actions and attitudes before I ever have a "spiritual" conversation with them and I am certainly discipling my children as they are growing up - both before and after they make a decision to follow Jesus. My relationship actually changes as they become older from that of parent/child to mentor/mentee, discipler/disciple and to that of more of a peer relationship as they begin to match and surpass my spiritual maturity.

In my mind, the two main challenges of discipleship in our culture are:
a. the battle against consumerism - that tendency to measure our worth by the things we have or the temptation to pursue things instead of find our fulfillment in God.
b. the temptation to equate being a disciple with doing a list of Christian things like being a faithful church goer (complete with all the other church-going requirements), reading your Bible, saying your prayers, witnessing, etc. A disciple should instead be measured by his/her ability to listen to and obey God, the quality of their love for God and neighbour, their humility, and a number of other hard to measure qualities that can only be discerned by the close relationship established in a family context.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Keep it Simple

Roger Thorman at the Housechurch Blog posted on why he does the "house church/simple church thing." I though his reasons were good enough to copy and post here.

I do not see the overall tenor of the New Testament church as being one that focused heavily on “the form” or “the model” of church. Church, the people of God, is simply believers living an everyday lifestyle of worship, service, obedience, loving others, etc, etc. Yes, they gathered to bless and encourage one another, but, honestly, the form of these gatherings was not addressed with great emphasis. I think it was assumed that if Christians lived passionately for God, then gatherings would happen quite easily, organically, and… often very simply.

And… overall… we want to participate with God in His life and in His purpose on the earth.

So… why do we do this house church / simple church thing? … here is my list:

I believe in gatherings that are small, because we need the support, encouragement, and deeper growth that comes from this type of community.

I believe in gatherings where everyone is known so that no one gets lost.

I believe in gatherings where we can learn from each other’s personal lives and stories (not just head knowledge) so that growth and discipleship takes place in the context of genuine, healthy relationship.

I believe in gatherings that are participatory because this involves and engages the entire body of Christ.

I believe in gatherings that call the body of Christ to take responsibility for its own spiritual life and stop relying on mediators, events, or someone else to “bring us the goods” because we need to grow up.

I believe in gatherings that are simple so that we are free to spend time with nonChristians and have the time to invite them into our lives.

I believe in gatherings that are easily multiplied, so that we can see people released to reach people anywhere, disciple people everywhere, and start “churches” at any time in any place.

I believe in gatherings that are inexpensive so that money is freed up for apostolic workers and the needs of the poor.

Is there one particular “model” that all of this fits into? I think God will constantly challenge, stretch, and re-shape our man-made attempts to “do” church gatherings. And I think that is okay. The point is to keep focusing on maximizing our life with Him, our partnership with His purposes, and our spiritual growth.

And, for me for now, this means keeping the whole dog-gone thing simple, simple, simple.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Not Getting Burned by the Pyromaniacs

I was just over at Pyromaniacs, a rather conservative Evangelical, strongly Calvinist blog site looking at some posters lampooning anything postmodern or emerging church. They are actually kind of funny but be warned that some of them only make sense if you have been reading a lot on the emerging movement and are familiar with some of its shortcomings.

Anyways I was reading the post mentioned above (that linked to many of the posters) criticizing Scot McKnight's (the guy who blogs at Jesus Creed) article on the emerging church found in Christianity Today online (I have mentioned that article before).

The folks over at Pyromaniacs were very articulate and very concerned about the more radical wing of the emerging movement. I'm concerned too. However the tone of parts of the discussions were quite vitriolic and I wondered how helpful some of the interactions were. Pyromaniacs are, after all, compulsive fire starters. I guess they like to generate some heat. However in spite of my wonderings, I posted a reply which I've quoted below.

Interesting post - and very good interactions. I'm new to the blog and came here to see the posters via a link from Tall and Skinny Kiwi (who thinks they are hilarious by the way). I like them too - but like most humor, they rely on exaggeration and stereotyping.

I suppose I would categorize myself as a radical conservative, Evangelical but post-Christendom Christian. As I read the post and the comments I often feel as if Emergent and Postmodern have become (almost) synonymous (in the eyes of many who criticize the movement). I think most emergent people I know would say they are trying to respond to postmodernity with an effective biblical witness. But then my circle may not be very large.

I like a lot of what the emerging movement is saying and doing but as a reform movement it has a lot of extremism. Most students of Church History would (and probably will in the future) see it as a minor blip in the history of the Church. I don't think it has much staying power because it is a transitional and temporary response to the current phase our culture is going through. It will move on and hopefully create space for whatever new expression of the church that will become the strong, biblical response to postmodernity.

The value of the emerging movement (in my opinion) is in that "wonderful" concept of deconstructionism - but probably not in the way someone like Jacques Derrida intended it. I think the contribution of the EMC will be in its deconstruction of the church - simplifying it and removing from it every non-biblical element and structure to the point where, if we removed one more thing, it would no longer be the church.

Luther and the reformers started to do this but I think they lost their nerve and continued to keep many of the elements of Catholic ecclesiology. They reformed much of the theology but not much of the ecclessiology and certainly not much of the church and state, political/religious intertwining - they probably made it worse (because of the religious wars and political jockeying that resulted from the reformation). But we live in a different age - an age where the church has been proclaimed irrelevant by a postmodern culture - and has lost its force. I think we can learn much about our current situation by looking at the theological wranglings of the reformation and the great awakenings (1500-1750). We sometimes see that period as a short moment in time but where do you think we will be in 250 years?

Our task is to steward a new reformation. What are its theses and who nailed them there? I think in some ways the argument about emerging is beside the point (because it is passing on and because the energy wasted on the culture wars takes energy away from creating solutions to the challenges of Postmodernity). I'm hoping I didn't miss the point with my comments.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More Swarm Theory

I am still thinking about how this concept of swarm theory relates to the church. Is it possible to actually develop Christians with the core competencies to make the church work in as effective way as ant colonies or bee hives work? Can we create a different ethos?

Can we hardwire certain values into people's makeup? If each member is hearing the Spirit and acts according to scripture (the hardwiring) the things that could get done in the kingdom would be amazing. To lead an organization like this a leader must equip people to hear the voice of God and obey it. He (or she) must not make decisions for others, make sure decisions remain close to where they are carried out (otherwise he becomes a bottleneck). The role of leadership is to instill those values and give permission to make decisions. Historically the church has developed
hierarchical controlling systems of leadership instead of releasing empowering systems. So I don't think the real role of leadership is to cast vision or to administrate but to instill (hardwire) kingdom values.

To me the core competencies (hardwired values) include:
+ you (we) are the church - not some organization (the hive) or some bigwig (the queen bee)
+ every individual must act responsibly.
+ every individual must make his or her own responsible decisions
+ everyone must take initiative to work hard and do his or her own part
+ don't follow fads
+ don't imitate others
+ every member must know how to listen to the Holy Spirit (my sheep hear my voice)
+ the goal is the larger good (ensure the continuation/growth of the colony)