Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cultivate Learning Party

I spent the day at an event called Cultivate – which was a one day conference at in Hamilton. It is the fourth in a series of an ongoing mini conference discussing new church initiatives. It is held in a neat place called The Freeway – a coffee house that has a drop-in and an art gallery and a stage for musicians.
Cultivate Gathering is a learning party. What does that mean? Well, I took some stuff off their website … basically it's designed to be everything good about a conference without all the rigamarole... and much more fun and interactive. Instead of bringing in some big-name, American speakers to tell us what they already wrote in their latest book we are looking to Canadian church planters and leaders to tell their stories. Instead of you listening to message after message and being filled with information we want you to be part of a dialogue with people in similar shoes and learn and grow within that relationship.

How the day worked was that we had a panel discussion with people who were doing the stuff in one of three areas; Planting [grassroots storytelling], Neighbourhood [living incarnationally], and Leading [forming community]. Then we broke up into small groups or discussion pods and discussed some of the topics that came out of the panels. You could switch groups anytime. At the end of each discussion time people tended to congregate in the two or three most interesting pods and the moderator needed to repeatedly call us back to the next session.

I took some notes on the day – part of them are what people actually said and some of it is my thoughts as I interacted with what they said. This may not be entirely coherent but it is probably in keeping with the informal style of the day.

Sunday is for telling our stories and for worshipping God.
A lot of people have great ideas about how to do church and how to make a difference in our society but how do we create something that is rapidly reproducible? The Emerging Church/Missional Movement is just a lot of hot air if it is not really effective in reaching out to people and creating some kind of reproducible model or churches.
What really is good news for the poor?
Transformation of the individual only really happens in community. A lone Christian is an oxymoron – is this a true statement? How does transformation really happen.
Being a neighbour starts by being a good neighbour to the people in your own house
Building relationships is hard work and it takes a long time
It’s not something that you do it’s something you are, something you are becoming
Sharing our stuff with other families is countercultural to most of western society. For example buying one lawn mower or one snow blower for every ten houses.

Some discussion pod topics: Pocket living (connecting with two or three others in your neighbourhood for prayer, study, accountability, fun), Living in community – i.e. in a house or apartment together, Third spaces (a place like the Freeway), Finding and working with a person of peace (how do you connect with them?), and How do you offer community?

Segment Three - Leading [forming community]
What is your own story of leadership
What is the most important issue in leadership in your church that needs to be fixed or emphasized – what’s our job?
We have to admit that we are leading
We sometimes pretend that we are not leading but we really are.
People are on a journey and we are midwives coming alongside to assist in the birth of a new thing
Many times power is held on to too tightly and not given away
Requires taking risks with young leaders
What is the role of the leader in inspiring people to follow Jesus?
First of all I follow Jesus
Live authentically and transparently
Be and encourager – cheerleader build people up
Take a chance on people
Leader takes on the responsibility given – understand the contract between me and the people who are following me
I need to have proper confidence in my role as a leader

It was a thought provoking day. It will take some time to process it all.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Eleven Days

It's been 11 days since my last confession ... er, ... post. There are lots of good reasons. I had a friend spend a week with me over Easter. It was good to re-connect and work on some stuff together (we plan to write a book together).

It's interesting to discover what you learn about yourself when you spend 10-12 hours a day for almost a week together with the same person. The first thing I discovered is that I am mostly an introvert. I like and I need to spend time alone. I get out of sorts if I don't. But I also realize that I'm at least partly an extrovert. If I spend too much time alone I get a bit squirrelly. (That does manifest itself in my Meyers-Briggs profile.)

My friend likes coffee. So do I and we drank a lot of it this week. The second thing I discovered is that I shouldn't really drink coffee all day long. I've come to realize that a couple of "grande bolds" from St. Arbucks is plenty of coffee for one day.

The third thing is that I like to do the research, intellectual pondering activity of discovering new ideas and finding out how they work. Translating that into action requires a bit more effort on my part. It's helpful to have someone who is different than I am to help me change gears. My friend approaches the world differently than I do. So does my wife.

I love books. I love buying new books. I like starting to read books. I have a hard time finishing most books. I've discovered most books would make good journal articles. If i could sort through all the stuff that doesn't belong in the journal article, I can read a book a day. I may have to rethink the "buying lots of books" thing.

Having lived with a theology professor all week I realize that on most days I'm still smarter than a fifth grader.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Prayer of St. Patrick

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
A truly remarkable man - worth looking into his history!

I arise today
Through a mighty strength. the invocation of the Trinity,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Through a belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his ascent to the great white throne.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holiness,
In deeds of righteousness.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot m:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak to me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me

From the snares of devils,
From the temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
From everyone who thinks ill of me,
Far and near,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between those evils, and me,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of paganism,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, wounding, accidents, sickness and disease,
Against loss and misfortune,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man, woman and child, who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

So be it, Amen

(Adapted from St. Patrick’s Breastplate, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill, Toronto Doubleday 1995)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Role for the PAOC

My denomination is the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada – a denomination coming out of the Azusa Street Revival and is now almost a hundred years old. We have a fairly strong presence in Canada with over 1000 churches. Over the past few years we have been discussing our future. This is an open letter to the PAOC putting forward some of my ideas and expressing some of my frustrations.

I went to a denominational think tank meeting a couple of years ago. I was disappointed on a number of levels but the most disturbing sense was that I felt like I really didn't belong - an outsider in my own denomination. Maybe it's because I haven't really been part of “normal” church for the past 17 years and I don't feel like I'm on the same page as everyone else. In my ministry in Thornhill I really feel like I'm having church 10 or 15 times a week. I meet in groups of two or three or ten. Sometimes with pastors and sometimes with men I mentor and sometimes with non-Christian neighbours. We talk about our failures and confess sin to one another. We discuss and sometimes study Scripture together. We sing and pray and listen for the voice of God. We pray for one another and the lives of those who need to know Jesus and we pray for our city. We reach out to include our neighbours in this process. We recognize that our whole lives are lived out in worship to God. It's ministry by hanging out and walking around. I guess I hadn’t really seen that I'm doing stuff differently or looking at the world differently until I actually got together with “normal” pastors to do something like this.

In the last Canadian census the numbers for participation in PAOC churches plateaued. (For some of the reasons for that result you might want to check out an article by Rick Hiemstra called Evangelicals and the Canadian Census) Those results caused quite a stir when the numbers first came out. In spite of our passionate commitment to church planting, we've increased the total number of churches nation-wide by a total of ONE in the past 4 years. The total number of people served has increased by only 10000 in four years - that's 2 or 3 more people per church per year. Let's say we were wildly successful as missional churches and every PAOC church in our nation doubled its Sunday morning attendance with new Christians over the next 12 months. We'd then have reached exactly 0,5% of the population of Canada. We need to be looking at radically different models and paradigms of church not just tweaking what we already have. We are still talking about the church as a place or a time or an event instead of a people gathered to do mission. We are still talking about "our" churches or PAOC churches or Pentecostal churches instead of the one church in the city. We are still talking like the great commission is all up to us instead of a work of Jesus incorporating the whole church. We are still talking about single churches planting other churches instead of the united body of Christ expanding into uncharted, unevangelized areas.

Sometimes our focus as a denomination is how to keep growing and maintain our denominational distinctives. However, I think we need to be shifting our focus away from survival to finding new purpose. The PAOC has fulfilled its original mandate – bring the reality of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts back into the life of the broader church. We no longer have a monopoly on the gifts of the Spirit or on speaking in tongues. We no longer have an edge on great worship. We don’t plant the most churches and are not the fastest growing denomination. We have a bit of an identity crisis. This is a crucial time. What is God calling us to be? Who is doing that thinking and that praying? The other positive impact of the North American Pentecostal movement has been to spread that vitality around the world. The fastest growing segments of the church in the global south (the third world) are those that embrace Pentecostal belief and practice. This reality of the dynamic operation of the Spirit of God in daily life deeply connects to a culture used to dealing with evil spirits.

In terms of our identity, I think we need to be discipling people as Pentecostals and not as Baptists. We have abandoned anything that smacks of the wilder charismatic and instead adopted safe teaching materials from those who marginalize the work of the Spirit. For example we adopt the Modified Wagner-Houts Spiritual Gift Inventory (a decidedly non Pentecostal resource) to help teach people about the spiritual gifts. We also use things like the Navigators 2:7 course for discipleship. Both of these are excellent tools but don’t really do anything to promote a Pentecostal ethos or theology – even with supplemental materials and explanations.

We should be teaching classes on “how to listen to the voice of God,” and “how to pray for healing” and “prophetic intercessory prayer” and “prophetic evangelism” and “effectively prayer walking your neighbourhood” and even practical teaching on deliverance ministry. Instead we’ve left these to the fringe groups either because we are afraid to touch these topics or we don’t know how to teach them. The result of this “safe” approach to the supernatural and to the gifts has marginalized us to only emphasizing (and often apologizing for) the infilling of the Spirit with initial evidence of speaking in tongues. A spiritually alive church operating in the gifts of the Spirit can be messy and even sometimes unbalanced because we want to be open to the move of the Spirit. We also need to shift the focus from the infilling of the Spirit to the purpose of the infilling – it empowers us to attempt the impossible, to reach our neighbours, communities and cities for Christ. Our churches need to be outward focused and training centred, built to make disciples. We need to reject and confront the “church as shopping mall” tendency – congregants as consumers. We need to be focused on reproducing disciples.

So what is our next mandate as Canadian Pentecostals? We need to discover why we exist as a denomination. What does a PAOC church offer in the Canadian evangelical church milieu and in the broader context of world Christianity? I think it must be post-denominational in that our purpose needs to be much more about the church as a whole as opposed to a particular denomination. I think some of the elements of our new mandate need to incorporate an understanding of the unity of the church, of the city church paradigm (ie there is one church in a city – church in a locality as opposed to a local church), ministry to the poor (i.e. faith based social ministry), and developing radical new models for church in inaccessible locations. For example the city of Toronto is building 30,000 housing units (population 100,000 plus?) south of Queen Street in the east end. There is no land for traditional church buildings. How do we make church happen in that area? We need to be pioneering that kind of thinking – thinking that moves beyond church buildings and traditional models of church.

In terms of world Christianity, we need to be mentoring new Pentecostal denominations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, providing low cost biblical training schools for indigenous pastors. We need to be raising up African and Asian Bible college and seminary professors who are able to teach contextually and incorporate more local theologies. That takes courage and vision. We also need to be a home (or a “covering”) for those who will be immigrating to Canada. We may very soon see third world Pentecostals sending missionaries to North America. We may also see new Pentecostal denominations springing up in Canada that have their headquarters not in Mississauga or Springfield but in Jakarta or Dar es Salaam. We need to welcome and embrace them because they have much to teach us about passion and faith.

We also need to think about how we structure our denomination. We have too many levels of bureaucracy. We have a national leadership and eight district (more or less provincial) offices as well as a number of ethnic branches. I want to propose a more practical structural suggestion or two (just some wide open thinking here). First design districts around mission targets as opposed to arbitrary geographical or provincial lines. One that focuses on cities, and another for specifically rural areas,. We certainly should factor in the significant East-West-Quebec-Maritime differences unique to Canada. For example, we should probably have one district specifically dedicated to the city of Toronto and the GTA – one for English speaking congregations and perhaps another for ethnic mission in the GTA. Vancouver should also have its own district. Make the districts much smaller (20-50 churches) and have a district for rural churches and one for city churches. Then farm most of the district administration stuff to the national office.

Doesn’t it make more sense to have a national health care benefits provider? The higher the numbers the better the rate. Most district events and ministries could be nationally coordinated: youth, Christian Education, men’s and women’s ministries, conventions, training, etc. You could even have the same people speaking at events and just do a national tour. The economies of scale would be great. Then the districts could focus on local targeted mission – seeing our cities reached for Christ. Right now city pastors hardly talk to each other let alone plan how to plant new congregations or meet to pray for the mayor or local situations. My suggestion would be to have a district pastor/superintendent and some admin support all of whom should be able to have offices in one of the churches in their district. Their function would be more pastoral and (dare I say it?) apostolic. District staff costs would be greatly reduced and all district buildings and properties could be sold. National office would then be very administrative in its functions and responsible for world missions. They should also oversee training institutions and Bible colleges - which may be the topic of another post.

Perhaps these thoughts are only pipe dreams. Some of the suggestions may prove to be unworkable. Some things are already being done. My prayer is that we could actually anticipate the coming national and global shifts in Christianity and adapt our structures to fit the reality around us instead of redefining reality to fit our pre-existing, out-dated structures and philosophies.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Church Going Behaviour - Canada Style

In following up the previous post on the Barna research I found some research by Reginald Bibby that relates specifically to Canada. His findings line up with those of Barna but are close to my estimates. He wrote a great paper covering this information and in it he questions why there is this perception that religion and church attendance is in freefall when it is actually increasing. The specifics? Four out of five Canadians (78%) identify themselves as Christian and thirty four percent of Canadians attend church at least once a month (25% at least once a week!) But what does the press say? He gives these recent examples from Canadian media outlets.

During the period spanning the Thursday before Easter in 2007 through the Monday after, the country’s number one national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, ran 44 items that included the word “Easter.” During the five-day period, only seven had a religious theme with only one what could be described as a positive and current portrayal of faith – the Pope’s Easter mass in Rome. The dearth of religious material in the paper was all the more puzzling in light of the results of its own on-line poll conducted over Easter. The paper asked the question, “Does the Easter holiday hold religious meaning for you or is it just another day off?” Some 4,000 of the paper’s readers responded – and no less than 80% said it holds religious meaning.

On Easter Sunday, 2007, the most-watched evening news program on national television featured only one religious item – the Pope’s mass in Rome. No Canadian angle or Canadian content was included.

Over the Christmas season in 2006, one of Canada’s two national newspapers, The National Post, ran a weeklong series of articles on the state of Christianity in the country. The lead-in to each of the articles started with the line, “With interest in spirituality on the rise and church attendance in freefall…” (Brean 2006). No data were provided to document the alleged “freefall.” Actually, the paper used Bibby's most recent findings on beliefs and spirituality – but took a pass on his findings showing a post-90s increase in attendance.

A year earlier at the same time of the year, a widely used article produced by the national news service, Canadian Press, announced that, in 2006, “Pastors and priests face ever more empty pews” (Shackleton 2005). The documentation consisted of observations from select opinion leaders, including best-selling critic of Christian churches, theology, and scriptural interpretation, Tom Harpur. In a column of his own, Harpur (2003) has written, “The current decline [in church attendance] is a drop in the bucket compared with what’s coming. …all is far from well in Canada’s churches. It’s the role of false prophecy to cry otherwise.”

Together, these findings on religion in Canada can be summed up as follows.
• There are some 30,000 religious organizations in place – second by a small margin only to the number found in the sports and recreation sector.
• They have more participants than any other kind of organization – even pushing sports and recreation into second place.
• They have a core of 25% of the national population who attend their services every week, 35% every month, and about 45% in a six-month period.
• A total of 84% of the population continues to identify with the traditions they represent.
• Two in three people who are not highly involved are open to greater involvement if they can find that religious groups touch their lives in significant ways. If that adds up to a bleak situation, one has to wonder what the Golden Age of religion in Canada must have looked like (Bibby 2006:194).

On of the reasons there is perception of secularism in Canada is because there "is a subculture of people, especially individuals in the humanities and social sciences. “While its members are relatively thin on the ground,” he says of the subculture, “they are very influential, as they control the institutions that provide the ‘official’ definitions of reality" notably, education, the media, and the legal system. “What we have here is a globalized elite culture,” writes Berger, who can easily fall into the misconception that their views about religion reflect those of their respective populaces. This, he says, is “of course… a big mistake.”

A couple of charts help visualize this data. The first is a graph of monthly plus attenders (those who attend once a month or more) and weekly plus attenders (who attend weekly or more). This graph shows that attendance has been increasing over the past five years.

The second chart shows the percentage of those that identify themselves as belonging to various religious groups and denominations. Here again we see that 78% of Canadians identify themselves as Christian.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Church-going Behaviour

George Barna has tried to formulate a new way of counting and categorizing Christians and churched people. In a new study he has come up with five categories of church attenders and they reflect some very interesting characteristics - especially those he categoizes as "unattached" or those who had not attended either a conventional church or an organic faith community in the past year. They comprise 23% of the USAmerican population.

The other four categories are:
Intermittents (15%) - people who have participated in either a conventional church or an organic faith community within the past year, but not during the past month.
Homebodies (3%) - people who had not attended a conventional church during the past month, but had attended a meeting of a house church.
Blenders (3%) - adults who had attended both a conventional church and a house church during the past month.
Conventionals (56%) - adults who had attended a conventional church (i.e., a congregational-style, local church) during the past month but had not attended a house church.

The real interesting findings are whne regular churchgoers, are compared to the Unattached. Some of their (the unattached) characteristics are:

- more likely to feel stressed out
- less likely to be concerned about the moral condition of the nation
- much less likely to believe that they are making a positive difference in the world
- less optimistic about the future
- far less likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in its principles
- substantially more likely to believe that Satan and the Holy Spirit are symbolic figures, but are not real
- more likely to believe that Jesus Christ sinned while He was on earth
- much more likely to believe that the holy literature of the major faiths all teach the same principles even though they use different stories
- less likely to believe that a person can be under demonic influence
- more likely to describe their sociopolitical views as "mostly liberal" than "mostly conservative"

Six out of ten adults in the Unattached category (59%) consider themselves to be Christian. Even more surprising was the revelation that 17% of the Unattached are born again Christians - defined as people who have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that they consider to be very important in their life, and who believe that they will experience Heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.

A significant proportion of the Unattached engages in traditional faith activities during a typical week. For instance, one-fifth (19%) read the Bible and three out of every five (62%) pray to God during a typical week.

The Unattached distinguished themselves from the churched population demographically, too. They are more likely to be single, male, and to have been divorced at some point. They are also less likely to be registered to vote, which is often a sign of people who feel less connected to or influential in society.

What does this say to me? It says that USAmerica is a very very Christian country (at least outwardly) - in spite of what is seen and heard on the media and in spite of the negative decisions being made in the courts. 62% attend at least once a month and 77% go at least once a year! And even those who don't attend church, 60% of them also consider themselves Christians! That means that 91% of the nation considers itself Christian! That is stunning at a number of levels. It means that most people who support abortion and gay marriage etc. consider themselves Christian. It also means that being Christian is much more about being American than being someone who is passionately obedient to Jesus. It may also mean that faith is much more about a personal sense of encouragement or comfort than about discipleship.

But then I'm probably not saying anything new or fresh.

I wonder what the statistics are in Canada if we used the same categories. My sense is that most people would self-identify as Christians (maybe as high as 80%0 but church attendance would be much lower (less than 40%). I'll have to look up some of Reginald Bibby's studies. Anyone have a link for me?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Story in Economics

Economics seems to have a great deal to do with our new world - maybe it always has. I've posted a few times on the pervasiveness of the consumerist mindset and the dangers it poses to discipleship. Having lots of money and stuff makes it harder to follow Christ. Or as Jesus put it in Luke 18:25 "Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Well I was reading some stuff over at the The Church and Postmodern Culture blog and came across this interesting take on it. The whole post is a bit tough to get your head around but if you like thinking about postmodernism and philosophy. it's a pretty interesting read. Here's a quote from one of the commenters"

"The hyper-modernists have realized that the royal road to (private) riches comes not in making things, but in making stories, narratives; or rather, in making symbols upon which we can project our stories. What, for example, does Nike manufacture? Not one thing! They make no shoes or shirts or anything you can touch. Rather, they manufacture a symbol, the swoosh, and their task is to associate that symbol with fashion, with athleticism, with what-have-you. To actually make a useful product, to have factories and to deal with real workers, would be considered crass and vulgar; there are slaves enough in the East to perform those tasks. No, Nike makes a symbol, and markets it, and contracts with slaves to make products to which the symbol can be attached."

This puts marketing and consumerism into perspective. Nike hires "swoosh" missionaries to evangelize the world with the good (?) news of Nike. Then people flock to the Nike store to worship and come out with things that identify them with the swoosh. (you can insert your own brand - Apple seems to fit a little too well here!)

It really is a scary proposal. We are built to live by a story that guides our lives or at least the helps us make sense of this world. If the one that is true doesn't seem to fit, or we have grown tired of it, or other stories are being told more convincingly, we can see the result in our world. I wonder if we've forgotten how to tell His story or how to link it with symbols that make sense to our world.

This stuff will require more thought.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Boys will be Boys

Some people argue that gender differences are the result of socialization (i.e. that you actually teach or nurture boys to be boys and girls to be girls). The posts of the last week have been a serious look at those reaffirming that there really is a hard wired (biological or at least hormonal) difference. Today I thought I would quote this little piece that actually made the rounds 5 or 6 years ago. It's a hoot. Enjoy.

Interesting facts discovered while bringing up boys.

1. A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house 4 inches deep. 

2. If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite. 

3. A 3-year old Boy's voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant. 

4. If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound Boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 ft. room. 

5. You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way. 

6. The glass in windows (even double-pane) doesn't stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.
7. When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh", it's already too late. 

8. Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it. 

9. A six-year old Boy can start a fire with a flint rock even though a 36-year old Man says they can only do it in the movies. 

10. Certain Lego's will pass through the digestive tract of a 4-year old Boy. 

11. Play dough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence. 

12. Super glue is forever. 

13. No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.
14. Pool filters do not like Jell-O. 

15. VCR's do not eject "PB & J" sandwiches even though TV commercials show they do.
16. Garbage bags do not make good parachutes. 

17. Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving. 

18. You probably DO NOT want to know what that odor is. 

19. Always look in the oven before you turn it on; plastic toys do not like ovens. 

20. The fire department in Austin , TX has a 5-minute response time. 

21. The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy. 

22. It will, however, make cats dizzy. 

23. Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy. 

24. 80% of Women will pass this on to almost all of their friends, with or without kids.
25. 80% of Men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Once and Future Church - Book Review

This is one of the books on my DMin reading list. It was written by Loren B. Mead who was the past president of the Alban Institute. Since I have to do a review of it for my course, I thought I'd post a summary and a bit of a review here.

The book does a decent job of examining the current state (EDIT: when written in 1991) of the church - although from a decidedly mainline perspective. Mead begins by analyzing the"current" Christendom situation - which in many ways still applies today.

Mainline churches in first half of 20th century were powered by a strong clear uniform paradigm of mission – built buildings and seminaries, and mission agencies that were well funded and clear in their mission. That changed in 60’s and 70’s. The one clear paradigm of mission stopped being clear and consensus disappeared – different agendas, conflicting demands and needs appeared because the culture was changing. People and congregations who were once prepared to make sacrifices to support a mission consensus found it hard to generate enthusiasm and conviction for a more complicated reality (a reality interpreted primarily by the denominational officials out of touch with the reality in specific congregations).
Three things happening simultaneously:
1. a fundamental change in how we understand the mission of the church
2. congregations were being challenged to move from a passive supportive role to a front line active role. The role of laity, clergy, bishops is in transition
3. institutional forms and structures are changing – the old are collapsing.

Three responses to these events:
1. frantic effort to recapture initiative with new programs so compelling they will garner new support – restructuring, downsizing, trying to stop the bleeding
2. holding steady and hoping for the best – (i.e. RC church not responding to shortage of priests, PAOC shared funding model)
3. moving ahead into a new paradigm of mission, rebuilding and reinventing the church as we go
Mead favours the third response but says we need to know:
a. what the new paradigm really is and should look like
b. how do we determine what parts of the old system to keep to make it in the new era?

He then describes three paradigms in church history.
1. The Apostolic Paradigm
The central reality of this church was a local community called out of the world, that lived by the power and the values of Jesus, preserved and shared within the intimate community through apostolic teaching and fellowship and through ritual acts (eucharist). One gained entrance into the community only when the community was convinced that you shared its values and experienced the power of the Spirit. The world was opposed and hostile to this community. There was a clear inside and outside. There was a powerful conversion event to enter the community. Baptism was death to the former life in the world and a birth into the mission of the community. Your role in the community demanded a role in mission to the world. The role of the community (and its traveling troubleshooters – like Paul) was to build up its members with the courage, strength and skill to communicate God’s good news in that hostile world. This paradigm continued until the fourth century until the conversion of Constantine.

Then came the second paradigm:
2. The Christendom Paradigm
Christianity became the official religion of the empire – no longer was there a hostile world around the church – the church and the world became one – the church was the empire. The missionary boundary became the geographic boundaries of the empire – so to extend the empire was to extend Christianity. No longer was the individual on the mission frontier – no longer needed to witness – no longer needed to be different or separate from the world. Missions was now the task of the professional (soldier, politician, emperor). The task of every Christian was now to be a good citizen, to support the laws and leaders of the empire. One was no longer converted into the church but was born into it.

This paradigm still influences us today. However there are cracks in the system. The "empire" is no longer Christian - even if it has a Christian leader. There is no longer uniformity of mission or purpose. Mead goes on to say a third paradigm is emerging but we don't know what it is yet.

He spends much of the rest of the book trying to describe some of what is going on in many mainline churches today. Although he makes a number of interesting points, much of his material are tired ideas suggesting change and fresh thinking that still lines up with a Christendom paradigm.

Some good analysis of the three paradigms. He has a very good description of the development of the Christendom model and the characteristics of it that can still be felt today. There is a good rationale for the historic development of the denominational system in USA. His analysis applies equally to the mainline and free church traditions (the appendix is helpful but a bit redundant). Unfortunately, his solutions and suggestions are tired and old. He clings to the denominational structures and institutions. He assumes the traditional role of worship and church services. He nowhere defines mission and never mentions the name of Jesus until his conclusion. His suggestions for the shift that needs to take place in the clergy seems like a pep talk with no real concrete changes. Suggestions about experimenting more and helping lay people do more theological reflection are truisms that don’t really help anyone who has been seriously thinking about church and culture.

If one of the problems is lack of agreement about mission then the definition of mission needs to be a priority. He seems to shy away from any kind of parameters of what the mission should look like. This is clearly articulated in the final chapter as he gives examples. He never really says that the vitality of the mission must always be about the vitality of the relationship of the believer to Jesus and the formation of a community of faith. He still assumes that visitors will be coming into the church from the community and that there will always be children to train. Most mainline churches are graying out and many “free” churches are merely collecting the castoffs from the mainline churches as opposed to responding to the post-Christendom culture. (The Evangelical churches are clumped into the "free" church category. These are not currently facing the same intensity of the crisis that mainline churches face but will be soon.)

He nowhere addresses the real task of mission into a hostile world and how to do that. He merely assumes that as the church changes the mission will once again become clear. He also assumes the continuation of the clergy role (although in a changed form). I think he completely misses the boat there. I’m not sure there will be a role for national and international denominational offices. The more likely role is to band like-minded churches together regionally or as cities.

All in all I think this author has not grasped the seriousness of the cultural change around him. He assumes that the church will change and must change. He also admits he doesn't know what that change will look like. It will be more different than he ever imagined.

Biology and Work

Yesterday I posted on the studies involving sexual differences in children and how to teach them better. Today a controversial article on sexual differences comes out in the National Post. It postulates that the scarcity of women in the upper echelons of business is due to biology! A few quotes:

Forget the patriarchy, long blamed as the major culprit against gender equality at work--a new book argues that biology may be the cause of what often precludes women from conventional success in the workplace.

Oxytocin, the hormone that drives women to nurture their young, may be behind women's failure to seize the corner office; sex differences in cognitive self-assessment may explain why women withdraw themselves from extreme competition at work; and the way their brains are wired may give males undue advantage in the winner-takes-all competitive spirit that drives many high-powered offices.

When it comes to the biological underpinnings of competition, the sex differences are also significant. Male performance is boosted simply by having to compete, while female performance is automatically lowered by competition, according to studies that tested fourth-grade schoolchildren under different running scenarios in gym class.

The rest of the article can be found in today's National Post

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Same Sex Education in a New Light

I think it has always been clear to every parent that boys and girls are different. There have been a raft of books about the differences in recent years: from Dobson's "Bringing Up Boys," to John Eldridge's "Wild at Heart" and even Robert Bly's "Iron John." It seems that more schools are now recognizing that reality and are providing same sex classrooms in public schools. Separating schoolboys from schoolgirls has long been a staple of private and parochial education. Maybe there is a good reason. It probably should happen in Sunday School as well.

The New York Times has just done a lengthy feature article on it which can be found here. They follow the research of Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author and advocate who this May will quit his medical practice to devote himself full time to promoting single-sex public education. I've quoted a couple of paragraphs from the article below. Some interesting stuff here.

Sax asserts that boys don’t hear as well as girls, which means that an instructor needs to speak louder in order for the boys in the room to hear her; and that boys’ visual systems are better at seeing action, while girls are better at seeing the nuance of color and texture.

The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes. The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer.

A group of Japanese researchers found girls’ drawings typically depict still lifes of people, pets or flowers, using 10 or more crayons, favoring warm colors like red, green, beige and brown; boys, on the other hand, draw action, using 6 or fewer colors, mostly cool hues like gray, blue, silver and black. This apparent difference, which Sax argues is hard-wired, causes teachers to praise girls’ artwork and make boys feel that they’re drawing incorrectly.

Under Sax’s leadership, teachers learn to say things like, “Damien, take your green crayon and draw some sparks and take your black crayon and draw some black lines coming out from the back of the vehicle, to make it look like it’s going faster.” “Now Damien feels encouraged,” Sax explained “To say to Damien: ‘Why don’t you use more colors? Why don’t you put someone in the vehicle?’ is as discouraging as if you say to Emily, ‘Well, this is nice, but why don’t you have one of them kick the other one — give us some action.’ ”

Born Again ... Again!

I was reading someone's blog where they were talking about the phrase "born again." It causes me to search out the original Scripture reference and reflect on it a bit myself. It's interesting how we forget (or maybe just relegate to the back of our minds) those familiar Scriptures that we think we really know. Sometimes we also think we fully understand the concepts behind the Scriptures as well. We have established in our minds what they mean and never need to examine them again.

Fortunately the Word of God is alive and sharper than any sword and cuts into our complacency again and again. The Word speaks to us on so many levels. We can look at it historically or allegorically or as a fresh word for each day. The Spirit makes it alive for today.

The phrase is mentioned in the third chapter of John where Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."Nicodemus a teacher of the Torah asked him the question and Jesus was a bit surprised that he didn't understand the concept.

I pulled two main concepts out of the passage:

1. Each day is a new beginning.
Every day is a fresh start. God has something new for us every day. Lamentations 3 says:

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

So we can be born again every morning. Each day has endless possibilities. It has never existed before and awaits us experiencing it. If we live looking to the past it binds us and blinds us.

Our bad past binds us with hurts and false expectations. It traps us in a prison of what used to be. We become afraid of trying something new or of praying big prayers because we think it will turn out the same way it turned out last time.

Our good past blinds us from seeing new possibilities. It makes us expect the same good thing that happened last time and closes our eyes to the surprising and creative ways God may want to do things this time.

Jesus quoted Isaiah 61 when He began His ministry by reminding people that He came to set the prisoner free and open the eyes of the blind. To me that speaks of the endless possibilities of a new day.

2. We need to become like little children.
This is the second concept that I pulled out of that familiar passage. The Kingdom of God is backwards. The greatest shall become the least, the first shall be last, in a fight, turn the other cheek. And to become spiritually mature we need to become like a little child. Get born again, start over, become little, become dependent, helpless and small. Instead we too often want to become know-it-alls and super saints. Start over. Be born again, again. Unless we become like little children …

In Matthew 18 Jesus instructs us to become like little children.

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I think this is why Jesus was surprised Nicodemus didn't understand Him. In our religious systems we sometimes think we need to be serious to be mature. I think God wants us to be playful, to enjoy the Kingdom, to celebrate and rejoice with God. Everything is done already. Let the wind blow even though you don't know where it goes.

Finally I think that Jesus' resurrection is about being born again. He died, was buried and then on the third day became alive again. What joy he must have experienced! "for the joy set before him He endured the cross!" What a fresh new beginning!

Scripture finishes of with a new beginning.

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

Enjoy the new day!

And in case you didn't notice - I did a new thing - shaved my mustache! (Check out the new profile picture.)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Answers to Loneliness

A rather interesting post at A Place for the God-Hungry.. Interesting because I have been continuing to wonder how to express the significance and importance of community and hospitality as I've been continuing my thoughts about my DMin thesis. First the post ...

Many, many people feel isolated and alone.

- Many men in their more honest moments will speak of feeling alone or friendless.
- Many ministers speak of feeling very alone in their ministries. One often hears the phrase "isolated and alone" when ministers are being very honest.
- Many people speak of how hard it is to make friends in their church. Some will point to a time, place, or church when they had close friends. However, they have never been able to have those same kinds of experiences again.

Some people admit they have few if any friends but will then say that they really have no time to invest in new friendships.
Why is the sense of being alone or friendless so common? What are some of the contributing factors? What can be done (either by individuals or by a church) to help remedy this?

A blog reader posted a comment ...

We can't help [but] acknowledge that many of our lives are so frenetic that we do not have room or time for relationship. You can almost see eyes roll when you begin speaking about real community and what it takes. People are thinking how idealistic that is and they question how they can possibly fit it into their lives between work, kids activities, chores etc. This same overly extended generation of people can hardly fathom the spiritual practice of hospitality in order to cultivate relationships.

As a church I don't think there is a cure all for this. Certainly we can position ourselves and our entry points to facilitate people getting into smaller groups of one kind or another in order to make connections with others. I think the greater challenge is trying to form a culture that prioritizes hospitality, service, confession, sharing and mentoring. Perhaps when Christians are being honest about their lives, testifying and praying over each other in public ways, the temptation to remain in a lonely place of guilt or shame will be less likely.
Sorry this comment is so long. You really have me thinking.

My comments ...

It is sad to think that this obviously intelligent person who makes the comment thinks the church has no cure. The church fundamentally is the cure - but not the church we see around us. Isn't Christian loneliness a symptom of the failure of "typical" church? I continue to wonder what the God answer is. How do we create faith communities that actually do alleviate loneliness and enhance community? I think we may each need to personally think back to times when we were experiencing what we felt was meaningful community and list some of the elements that made it so. Then each one of us must take responsibility for ensuring that our current communities reflect those characteristics. It will no longer be done for us - except by accident.

I'm really only thinking out loud here. I continue to speak to people about what this looked like for them and so far I have no consistent answers - just some clues that keep leading me deeper. I will stay in touch.