Sparking a Movement

A summary of Spent Matches by Roy Moran

The Christian church has used a range of participatory metrics to evaluate her success in the modern era. Conversions, baptisms, the number of people present in worship: we fastidiously record these numbers throughout the year and then pore over them at year-end leadership summits. We define success as an increase in these totals; failure, plateau or decline. The analysis of these numbers governs the design and direction of the programmatic functions of the church. Leaders will tweak the edification programs to push for a more active evangelism, believing that transferring more information will make more effective evangelists. But how often are these same leaders referring to the commission given to the Church by her Lord to check the validity of their choices?

As Roy Moran states in his invaluable book Spent Matches, not often enough. The flaw in these metrics of success is that we no longer live in an era where information transfer to our neighbors and friends is effective in igniting their interest in God and His grace. To state this is a more colloquial fashion: the lives that surround the typical evangelical church are not the least bit interested in knowing what goes on inside. What people respond to is running into a radical life, one that is radically committed to Jesus and His teaching. Telling people what we believe puts their hypocrisy radar on full alert (as they have become conditioned to do in all areas of life). Living what we say we believe makes us stand out from the rest of the world clamoring for attention in the lives of our family, friends and neighbors.

It can be tempting to read the book as the outline for implementing a program, particularly because it includes ‘suggested’ outlines for meetings in the closing chapters. Mortify this temptation by slowly considering the imagery of the dire condition of the Church Moran paints at the beginning of the book. He suggests that our metrics should show the declining influence of modern Christian practice, likening the condition to a burning oil drilling platform surrounded by miles of churning sea. In the modern day we have two choices, jump or fry. To stay on our current platform is to die slowly on a long slope of decline. To jump is the join a movement back to the first principles of the Lord’s commission for His community of followers: make disciples who make disciples.

Moran is not the only author to put this idea into print. The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne leads to a similar conclusion, and has been influential in many churches by offering a ladder down from the burning platform. Moran is more forceful. We must jump and return with fresh eyes to the text of Matthew 28:18-20 and stop the bifurcation of the Gospel movement. Following a declaration of the expansive authority given to Him as the basis for the commission, Jesus commands His Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (ESV). The command to baptize these new disciples into the family and to teach “them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” The Church has been obedient to this commission, but the methods have resulted in a bifurcated gospel practice where we separate life from faith. We have defined discipleship as an education process (information transfer) and then convinced ourselves that discipleship precedes evangelism (“sharing our faith”). The outcome of this process? Disciples never feel ready to evangelize others, so we double down on teaching them, hoping that someday their ship will launch. All the while, the platform burns.

The myth of preparation-perfection that plagues the information-transfer Church is refuted by reading the verses in the passage that are not a part of the memorized commission. The audience for the Lord’s command is His remaining eleven disciples, some of whom worshipped, but some of whom doubted! Perfection was not to be the enemy of progress, as Jesus commanded them to jump from the platform into the unknown. As Moran says,

“Jesus didn’t exhibit any sense of alarm indicating this was out of the ordinary or unusual. He was quite comfortable with a team that didn’t have it all together. In fact, He was comfortable commissioning people who not only lacked complete faith but were confirmed doubters.”

This is a catalyzing moment in the book, setting in relief the encouragement to jump and ignite a new movement within the Church, disciples who make disciples as they go along, each edifying and encouraging the other rather than relying on subject-matter experts that students feel they have to imitate before moving on the Mission. The Lord does not expect to create a class of mission-minded within the Church, specialists who carry on the Commission while others sit and watch. To be a Christian is to be a disciple, one involved in daily learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus and then putting that into practice. Moran’s take on John 15:8 (“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”) is accurate and puts our current process is stark relief:

“Jesus’ hope was that it would be normal for His followers to make disciples as they lived out a dangerous message that would divide families ad heal the brokenhearted, challenge the well-off and encourage the impoverished, transform the oppressors and bring freedom to the oppressed. To fail to make disciples would indicate followers weren’t connected to Jesus and the heart of His mission.”

Owning this concept is the spark of a movement that puts away information transfer and replaces it with community life. Jesus did not commission us to be taught principles about Himself, he said we were to be taught and then apply what he commanded. This obedience is the missing part in most programs in the modern Church; we are never challenged to show what we’ve done with what we’ve learned and so we never do. This is the source of the apathy we see in the pews. We have more information than we can possibly process at our fingertips, but scarce few opportunities to put it into practice and fewer still partners in the discipleship life holding us accountable. The discipleship patterns that Moran suggests through the book aim to fill this vacuum.

A fair number of churches today claim Acts chapter 2 as their model, seeing a return to the ancient church as a solution to moribund Christianity. The component missing in many is the discipleship pattern given by the Lord’s example and command: disciples, however imperfect, who make other disciples (who repeat the process) in community. This is what will capture the imagination of a world that has long ago become inured to the invitations of the Church. I invite you to read the book a few times and see if you are tempted to jump from the platform into the raging sea of the culture, trusting the Lord’s promise for our weakness, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

SIDE BY SIDE: 2 audacious lists

Two Lists Will Revolutionize Your Relationship with God

Praise the Lord, O my soul; and forget not all his benefits–   Psalm 103:2

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In a busy life it is all too easy to miss God at work. We can become so wrapped up in our daily lives that the sometimes subtle moves of God all around us can fade into our surroundings and we walk right by.Some will not be noticed and missed forever. Others will be sensed at the amygdala level and later, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, will receive the full attention of the brain. We can call these ‘near misses’.

It’s certainly possible to proceed through life unaware of God at work. We can remain faithful and repentant to the best of our ability. We can just exist, naïve to what we are missing but this is a difficult position to maintain. Once the Christian has tasted the briefest experience of knowing the living, active God at this level, he is driven to experience more. This is by design in the relationship between God and human kind and it serves a purpose in the course of discipleship.To become cognizant of God at work begins to form our confidence. He has promised to be at work and we have seen him at work. Confidence builds faith. Our witness to the work of God trains us to place ever greater trust in His promises. Faith builds boldness. If God has been faithful in promise A He will be faithful in promise B despite appearances to the contrary. Greater trust, greater faith and audacious boldness lead to the fullness of life promised to the people of God.

Two sheets of paper can start the trust building exercise. On page one, list the experiences you have had that evidence God at work around you. This is an easy list to start since the first experience you have to record is your own salvation. Build from there recording moments in which you have seen God at work in your life or the lives of others. Make note of the transformation that occurred. Search the scriptures for promises that align with that experience. Write it all down and set it aside.

The second sheet of paper will contain a record of near misses, those times in which you walked past God at work only to realize it later. Perhaps it was an evangelistic opportunity or a moment in which you could have encouraged another person, brought correction for them, comforted them. We call these near misses because the Spirit reminds us after the fact that we passed by the Father without notice. This activates the Reticular nerves and we become more aware of our surroundings, seeing things that had not been noticed before.

When you have completed both lists place them side by side. Ask yourself, if God has been faithful and actively working in those instances on list A, won’t He also be faithful and active when you become more aware of the moments on list B? Of course! The witness of list A builds your confidence and your increasing confidence contributes to a deepening faith. That faith and your heightened spider-sense will transform you from being an observer to one actively seeking to be involved with the Father’s work. Now, you’re living.

image by Ana C.

Back to the Beginning

Insourcing by Randy Pope

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all men.” John 1:4

Discipleship in recent Christian practice has taken an intellectual bent, focused as it is largely on communicating head-knowledge. This is valuable but rarely results in transformation when not paired with an equal measure of heart-knowledge. When the two disciplines are aligned the exercise becomes the pouring of one life into another. In a secular context, the apprenticeship enables an experienced craftsman to share the process and philosophy of one’s craft with another, coaching and guiding the apprentice to attain to the same level of arts. Jesus modeled the same thing throughout His ministry, pouring His life into a group of men who would one day lead His Church.

Pastor Randy Pope has given us a volume of encouragement entitled INsourcing. Less a manual than it is a memoir, INsourcing details the philosophy underlying the practice of Perimeter Church called Life On Life Missional Discipleship. Pope and his leadership team designed and implemented a way of living the Christian life together that engages both the head and heart to produce disciples prepared to engage the Mission of Christ’s Church.

Pastor Pope doesn’t advocate for his program as though it is the only model to be emulated. Rather, he encourages the reader to examine their own context and to develop a methodical process which fits them best. Emphasizing the tortoise-like pace of true discipleship, Pope’s most valuable contribution is the permission it gives the leader reading the book to take the long view in gaining a vision for what could be.

Readers looking for a plan or a new model should look elsewhere. Leaders seeking an apprenticeship will find INsourcing valuable as God places a vision for their particular context before them. While the vignettes of the small groups are a bit idealized, they provide a powerful parallel to the abstract ideas presented through the surrounding chapters. Closing the book you will be convinced that LOLMD will produce something that no program can do, real disciples of Jesus Christ.

I’m grateful to Zondervan who provided this copy for review.

Snipping the Tail of Rupert’s Drops

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As readers have come to expect from Dr. Sweet, an upending of long-held paradigms is to be found in the pages of I Am a Follower. Less about mimicking the the ego eimi statements of the Savior and more about challenging modern perceptions of the Mission, Sweet’s book orients around the idea that leadership was not in Jesus’ mind when He set about discipling His followers and the generations that follow through the Bible. Sweet may be right, but a mature and finely-honed sense of discernment are needed to apply this notion, something that those new to the author’s works may not be prepared for.

Many Evangelical’s are immediately critical of Leonard Sweet and his body of work labeling it emergent and him as being on the fringes of orthodoxy. This misses his role as a provocateur working to prod the Christian masses to a deeper meditation of what Christ and His Church are to be about. In Follower, Sweet challenges the infatuation we have leadership in all of its permutations. He critiques the corpus of leadership material, training and practice, saying that it has led Christians away from the true command of Jesus to “follow me.” Creating an environment in which leaders are celebrated threatens to diminish Jesus when those leaders are not intentional about pointing others back to Him. The cure, he says, is for leaders to return to the original position as disciples at the feet of the Rabbi. As their wonder and humility are restored, a new attitude will be reflected in their discipleship of others.

I agree with Dr. Sweet in his premise that good leaders must be first and foremost good followers of Christ. I don’t believe that he intends to say that there should be no focus on leadership in the Church though it is difficult to see in his blanket indictment. Clearly, the Spirit calls some to be leaders. The illustrations that Sweet elects to provide of leaders who ‘get it’ show his bias. Standing up Shane Clairborne as a model of humility is difficult to accept as everything about the carefully cultivated image of Clairborne screams ‘look at me.’ Effective leaders such as John Piper, Bill Hybels and Jim Shaddix can both impress us with the leadership gifts and the calloused knees of true disciples.

Reading Sweet is never easy and Follower is no different. He will cause you to stop and think, considering his use of scripture and illustration. Dr. Sweet’s work is not for the casual Christian who lacks the ability to process the often challenging ideas that he types. The reader must be able to not only say that he or she doesn’t believe what is written, they must also be able to state why.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.

Rolling in The Deep

Going Deep by Gordon MacDonald

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“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”
― Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Returning to the fictitious church he first introduced in Who Stole My Church?, Gordon MacDonald unfurls the story of a group of Christians returning to discipleship as a priority in their lives. The discipleship is not solely for their own spiritual edification, as the modern interpretation has formed it, but for the purpose of leading others into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Rather than intelligent people with a faith in the brain, MacDonald emphasizes the growth of leaders who have a depth of heart, a weight that enables them to lead others to an ever deepening faith.

As he did with the previously noted book, MacDonald uses the parable format to teach the importance and process of dreaming, forming and implementing an intentional leadership process. While the topic certainly lends itself to a step-by-step, factual format, the use of story allows for a greater depth of discussion. For example, MacDonald could point out that some of those mentored would fail and then rehearse a process of discipline and restoration. By embedding the failure in hockey devotee Damon Marsh on the other hand, the entire sequence of prayerful selection, invitation, meeting, mentoring and failure enables the reader to see it happening, perhaps even seeing a potential disciple in front of us. The same things that make the narrative of the Bible so effective in teaching us the ways of God make Going Deep especially useful for those leaders who want to take their bodies deeper.

Church leaders and potential leaders will find much to apply in MacDonald’s book. The story carries the principles along without the need for bullet points or a study guide. Coming to the conclusion of the story, the reader who is interested in implementing the idea are left with many questions. I think this is evidence of MacDonald’s wisdom as it requires that the reader ‘go deep’ themselves in order to localize and discern the answers on their own. Even if the book is read simply for your personal application, you will come to end not being satisfied with the shallow waters near the shore any longer.

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this copy for review.

www.thomasnelson.com

Therefore Go

Our Last Great Hope by Ronnie Floyd

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A fair percentage of the people sitting in our pews on Sunday morning would claim at least a passing familiarity with the Great Commission. A smaller percentage would be able to correctly locate it at the end of Matthew’s gospel. Fewer still would understand the far-reaching implications of these verses.

And only a handful would see the words of Jesus as applying to them personally.

This lack of apprehension lies at the core of Ronnie Floyd’s latest book, Our Last Great Hope. Pastor Floyd seeks to spark a renewed fervor for the mission of the Church in its call as the final hope of the world. Moreover, he wants to personalize the mission to individual believers. So many times, the church views this commission as applying only to the pros: the missionaries, pastors and other spiritual mentors. Pastor Floyd dispels this thinking throughout the book, speaking directly to the reader and imploring them to own the commission.

Floyd writes with a pastor’s heart for the lost and in a preacher’s exhortative voice. The pages ring with the active language of a Sunday sermon and the eyes of the pastor pointed directly at you. As the Christian mission is dissected, Pastor Floyd lays it in your lap and challenges you to claim that reaching the lost isn’t your responsibility. Good luck.

Floyd’s approach to awakening the Church contributes to the success of the book. Rather than a step-by-step, theological-practical treatise, the pastor writes about reorganizing our lives in ways that place us in the perfect position to step up and fulfill our calling. Instead of confronting the reader with the bottomless needs of the city, for example, pastor speaks to the transformation of our families that will naturally encourage engagement in the mission.

Ronnie Floyd has given us a fine book for sparking a renewal of the Mission. Irenic in tone, Our Last Great Hope is nonetheless urgent in proclaiming the need. Read this book and then go.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.