Archive for March, 2006

“forget about evangelism”

“Forget about evangelism,” Larry told us.

I was shocked. Jim blurted, “I cant!”

“Well, you’re a good Campbellite,” Larry said.

Jim Clark (Director, Christian Service Center), Chrissy and I were meeting with Larry James, CEO of Central Dallas Ministries. We drove over to tour and learn from one of the most effective and cutting-edge justice ministries in evangelical Christian circles. CDM started as a clothes closet run by white suburbanites, and now their clothes closet &emdash; which is run by folks from the neighborhood who utilize the non-profit’s services &emdash; is the smallest thing they do for Dallas’ poor. The clothes closet expanded to medical and dental clinics, law offices, a community center, a church, and two affordable housing units (with one more on the way), among other things. Larry said things started rolling for CDM when he asked the people of the neighborhood what their needs were instead of assuming he knew.

But when Jim asked Larry about the synthesis of justice and evangelism, Larry’s answer surprised us.

“You’re not going to like this answer, but forget about evangelism.”

Gerald Britt, the executive director of CDM, was sitting in on our conversation with, and apparently noticed that Jim and I were struggling with Larry’s statement.

“Evangelism is best done in relationships,” Gerald chimed in. He added that many who want to serve the poor simply assume that because someone is in poverty, they don’t know Jesus. Larry added that in all the years he has worked at Central Dallas Ministries, he had maybe encountered five people who didn’t “claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.” Admittedly, this definition of “knowing Jesus” is broad, Larry said, but the principle is generally true: We think that if someone is poor, they can’t be a Christian (and sometimes even think that they are poor because they aren’t a Christian).

They have a point. We aren’t rushing down to our Kiwanis Club or school board meetings with tracks and Bibles to “evangelize our middle- and upper-class friends.” I also understand where Larry and Gerald are coming from with regards to forgetting about evangelism. I don’t think they are advocating forgetting about being the incarnation of Jesus with people, but suggesting we forget about “doing evangelism” the way we’ve done it. They are advocating a focus on community formation, from which discipleship can occur. Larry found that when the locals from the neighborhood began running his food pantry, a community formed. He said that the church CDM started tripled in size when they gave the pantry to the community because people felt like they were “at church” all week.

Sometimes I think all we (meaning many Christian non-profit agencies “serving the poor”) are doing is congratulating ourselves for “serving the poor,” unconcerned with their everyday plight or walking with them as friends. We lock them in their holding cell while they wait “to be seen.” We secretly resent many of them for continuing to return to our agencies for help. We distrust them, fearing that they will make off with something that isn’t theirs or worse, assault one of our volunteers. When it comes down to it, many of us view the poor as less than human. But we still love to decorate our corkboard with all the newspaper clippings that inform our town of all the good we’re doing.

I don’t think Larry wasn’t saying “forget about God” or “don’t say anything about Jesus.” He was saying that when “evangelism” (in the traditional, “I have something to offer you” sense) is the focus, we will always be at arm’s length from the people Jesus loves most. When we look at people who might have a little less than we do in terms of their needs (what they are missing), we’ll never notice their assets (what they have to offer).

So here’s a recipe for “evangelism” that seems to be working in Dallas:

Create community. Make friends. Love the poor. This is the way of Jesus.

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boston celtics?

I haven’t read the book all the way through, but I have been impacted deeply by missiological principles gleaned from George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism.  Hunter suggests that an ancient practice of celtic monastic communities might have some relevance to how we in the West make disciples in a post-everything culture.  He compares the Roman model of “reaching” people with the Celtic model:

The Roman model for reaching people (who are “civilized” enough) is this:

  1. Present the Christian message
  2. Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians
  3. If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship.

In other words, we explain the gospel, they accept Christ, and we welcome them into the church- presentation, decision, assimilation (P. 53).

The contrasting Celtic model for reaching people is this:

  1. You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.
  2. Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship
  3. In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit (P. 53).

Christians have defaulted to the Roman way of evangelism for a long time.  We have assumed that a “good gospel message” should stand on its own to convict “the heathen,” and sometimes it does.  But reducing the gospel to a list of propositions to which a person can either agree or disagree is a gross oversimplification.  I have come to realize that in addition to eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, salvation means a different way of living — an attractive way of living — than what the world knows and experiences.  The practices of hospitality, Sabbath, non-violence, service, social justice, praiseworthy speech, as well as the traditional tenets of prayer and worship, point to the goodness of Christ and are indeed “good news” to a broken world.

This is why the Celtic model is so important.  It allows Christians and not-yet-Christians to authentically enter into each other’s lives, as most normal people in the world do, without the question of “have you committed your life to Christ” (writer’s note: what does that even mean, anyway?) being the first question. It allows the secular person to experience what virtuous Christian life looks like, assuming the life of the Christian friend is virtuous. It allows dialogue to frame the process of discipleship, not simply “teaching,” “telling,” or Bible study. It focuses on the process of discipleship in terms of belonging before behaving or believing, with the latter two always eventual goals for the future.

If we began taking a more Celtic model of evangelism/discipleship (where discipleship is what leads up to someone’s turning to God, not what follows it), how would that change the way we conceptualize Christian community? How would it transform our relationships and friendships with the not-yet-Christian? Would it make them less awkward if we weren’t always bent out of shape that they aren’t a Christian and allow us to focus on simply being a Christ-like friend to them? I think the Celtic way of evangelism has great implications for the relationship of the Christian community to the world, a world that is growing more and more skeptical of us with each hour that passes and that sees in the church less and less relevance for their lives.

Missional-Priority

by Fred Peatross

I’m a recovering church addict who has intentionally exchanged church activity for time with the people Jesus misses the most. I’m learning more while swimming with the fish than I ever learned while attending Sunday school.

It’s counter-intuitive for church folks to disconnect from the church way of thinking and feeling but it’s the most effective way to incarnate the post-Christian world. Missional incarnation means trading church time for time in the water with the fish? It’s about choice. Will it be missional priority or church activity?

Missional-priority was Christianity’s original state.

Think Jesus.
Jesus spent most of his time with the “fish”
Think early disciples.
History reminds us that the first disciples were centrifugal&emdash;continually moving away from their spiritual center&emdash;Jerusalem. The book of Acts chronicles their “road stories.”

Is there a church somewhere that would admit to not being missional? I can’t imagine a church anywhere saying they weren’t mission-minded, forget foreign missions–we have post-Christian America. All would affirm! “We’re missional.” But suppose a missional auditor, if there was such an occupation, made an annual visit to every church in America to assess the church’s budget and expenditures? Exposure would tell a new story.

Spiritual Formation, or Consumers and Spectators?

Swimming with the fish is a radically attractive way of living. Jesus was subversive and we were created to be a community of revolutionaries. But , for many, the sum total of American Christianity is the 11:00 AM Sunday gathering where spectators passively sit waiting for their Sunday homily. Prayers revolve around the sick, newborns and a safe return from a sunny vacation. Seldom, if ever, do prayers mention the missing.

Someone said, “True believers aren’t people who have a mission; rather, a mission has them.”

Church-Primary and Church-Secondary

  • Church-primary has become ten to twelve Christians sitting around a table at a restaurant every Sunday afternoon and Friday night
  • Church-secondary has become, at maximum, gathering with a Christian assembly 1-2 hours a week
  • I rarely give to the local church. I now give to emergent missional churches and missional-priority people who indigenously incarnate culture. Most churches overlook or cannot afford to give to missional-priority people because of the financial limitations created by staff salaries and budgetary priorities. But the greatest barrier to a clear Kingdom vision may be a misunderstanding of what a priority-missional community looks like.
  • Granted, most Christian churches have a missional aspect. But when one examines a missional-priority church more closely, one discovers a significant difference between a church that does mission and a missional- priority church. That difference begins at the theological foundation and ultimately finds expression in practices inherent to the broader Kingdom vision .
  • Missional-priority means more time with the missing than Christian friends
  • Missional-priority means stepping across the borders of the church campus to engage the “missing” on their territory.
  • Crossing borders to create safe places for the missing stands as a corrective to the prevailing mentality of the church and its uncanny addiction to centripetal ministries, which attempts to drag seekers into its gig.

Think Jesus!
Jesus wasn’t centripetal but centrifugal.

Fred Peatross is a Christian who lives and worships in Huntington, West Virginia. He has been a deacon, a missionary, a pulpit minister, and shepherd. Presently Fred is responsible for carrying out the Great Commission and directing a Nuclear Medicine department. He has been married to his wife Paula for twenty-seven years. He is currently giving his blog a rest.

This article is re-printed from Next-Wave E-Zine, which explores church and culture.

faith and justice

As I mentioned in my previous posts, a group exists in our future city called The Boston Faith and Justice Network.

It began as a conversation between Christians (initiated in part by our new friends, Aaron and Amy Graham) who saw great injustices and hurt in the world and wanted to explore the connection between these injustices and their faith. Take a minute to read their mission statement.

Recently, someone expressed to me their fear that if we “focus too much on social justice, we’ll lose the proclamation of the gospel.” This person’s concern was authentic and heart-felt, and I tried my best to communicate why I believe justice for the oppressed is at the very heart of our Heavenly Father, using verses like Deuteronomy 15, the book of Amos, etc. Friday night, I was convicted of exactly why the Christian is obligated to serve those who are broken and marginalized, genuinely working for their “freedom from bondage.” We attended the meeting of the Boston Faith and Justice Network, where retired Gordon-Conwell professor Dr. Steven Mott spoke on “Jesus and Justice.” Mott worked from Jesus’ reading from the scroll in the temple in Luke 4:18-19, revealing what that reading would have meant to the Jews to whom he was speaking.

Jesus’ mission statement at the outset of his ministry (which was read from Isaiah 61:1-2) — much like the book of Isaiah — was dripping with “social justice” language. Mott said Christians have often translated Jesus’ words as being metaphorical for spiritual blindness or oppression, which Mott acknowledges is a part of it. But the undeniable translation of the passage, Mott proposes, is that Christ’s mission of restoring humanity to God included not only spiritual salvation and eternal life, but physical redemption and release from oppressive chains. (in fact, here’s an interesting fact: Jesus doesn’t quote in Luke 4 the one part of Isaiah 61 that is completely spiritual/emotional — “bind up the brokenhearted”) We, the people of God, are to follow Christ into the world, fighting for those in oppression and serving those in need. This is Christ’s heart.

So, what about proclamation of the gospel? Here’s a thought: What greater proclamation of the gospel is there than in working to free the broken and marginalized? Didn’t God have Amos speak some harsh words to his people regarding observing religious festivals and worship while neglecting the poor? If we believe that salvation is deeper than just a list of beliefs or a transaction of Hell for Heaven, we must believe that it also includes the righting of wrongs, justice for the oppressed, care for God’s creation, and welcome for the stranger — all without any agenda besides following Christ.

we’re back in texas…

…but we don’t have to be happy about it.

While it’s great to be back with family and closer to friends, we left a little bit of our hearts in Boston this week. We love the cultural activities, the people, the food, the tight-knit community, and, yes, even the weather (hey, after years of 90 degree winters in Abilene, 30s and 40s are a breath of fresh air). Take a second to read this interesting essay from a lifelong Bostonian for several more reasons why Boston is a wonderful place to live.

But the most exciting part of our future move to Beantown doesn’t have anything to do with the cultural or geographical or meteorological characteristics of Boston. We are thrilled and honored to be joining a “movement already in progress” in one of America’s oldest cities and the birthplace of American Christianity. God is at work in Boston. Ralph Kee, director of the Greater Boston Church Planting Collaborative, told us Thursday that in the first six months of 2006, around 20 new church plants will launch in Boston. God is at work in the group of students and young professionals who started meeting to pray about and discuss the connection between their faith and justice for the oppressed and marginalized. He’s at work in the Sinners and Saints house church community north of the city in Beverly, MA, with whom we ate and worshiped on Thursday night.

Logistically, Chrissy got confirmation from her adviser that she will be able to graduate with her MBA from Suffolk in August 2007 and we have narrowed in on a neighborhood in which to live for at least the first year in Boston. We spent time with another couple and several individuals with whom we have a special relational connection. In short, God continues to pave our pathway to Boston. This past week revealed a lot to us, most of all confirming that we are being called to join God in his redemptive work in Boston.

Thanks to those of you who prayed for us this week, and we continue to petition you for your prayers as we finish up our Abilene chapter and prepare for live in the big city. In the coming weeks, I will continue to reflect deeper on lessons learned this week that relate to our ministry. For now, it’s time to rest and cope with our Texas re-entry culture shock.

Click here to see photos from our week.
the fam at fenway

Boston 2006: The First Few Days

I could go on and on about how Boston is the best city (which it is) and how we wish we could stay past this week (which we do) and all that jazz, but it’s just your standard issue stuff.

Boston has been wonderful. We have seen much of the city, met some wonderful people, and been reminded of God’s love for and work in this great American city.

Here are a few highlights thus far:

Saturday and Sunday: We spent time with old friends from my childhood church, Connecticut Valley Church of Christ in Windsor, CT, which my parents helped plant in the early 80s.

Sunday night: Met with Aaron and Amy Graham at their South Boston apartment. This couple was invited to do a Bible study with some local folks in a neighborhood food pantry, and the “folks” invited them back the next week. It happened again the following week, and so began what is now the Quincy Street Missional Church in Dorchester. The community has seen some transformation just because of the presence of Ma. Siss’s Place (the food pantry) and now the Grahams and the church. The Grahams have also helped launch Kaleo Ministries and the Boston Faith and Justice Network, two important organizations in the city. We look forward to deepening our friendship and partnership with the Grahams, a couple through whom God is working in Boston.

Monday: Did the tourist thing around Boston on a mild, rainy day. Took an official tour of Boston’s Mecca, Fenway Park. Incredible tour. We (along with two members from the Harding church planting team) learned all about the history of the BoSox and the major league’s oldest ballpark. We also took a “SilverLine tour” to get further acquainted with the layout of the city. Relaxing, informative day.

Tuesday: Drove around and observed Dorchester, one of the neighborhoods we are considering for housing. Ate lunch with Beth Maynard, an Anglican priest and author of Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, who lives south of the city and was a wealth of information regarding the cultural and spiritual landscape of Boston. Looked at a few apartments in the Dorchester area, most of which are being filled immediately. Ate dinner out with my parents at Massimino’s, a wonderfully quaint Italian restaurant in the North End. Hooked up with several from the Harding team for some conversation and prayer afterward.

Wednesday: Drank coffee with Nathan, Tim, and Kim, who are involved in a newly planted collegiate ministry in the north part of the city. Met with the off-campus housing director at Suffolk University, searched for jobs with downtown universities, and Chrissy met with her adviser and finalized her Fall schedule. Explored South Boston (Southie), and were shown several available apartments by real estate agents. We loved Southie! (much colder and windier today!) Dined with friends Zach and Sarah Shaner and Chad Smith at Trident, a café and rare bookstore. Heaven.

Lots more to do this week. Thanks for your prayers. We are having a blast, and are more sure than ever that Boston is the place God wants us. I’ll check in later this week.

leaving, etc.

Well, we’re heading to Austin tomorrow, and then on to Boston on Saturday morning. We’ll be in Boston (with my folks and brother) through the following Saturday. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ll be doing further scouting of the city, a little touristy stuff, meeting with similar-minded folks, and walking in confidence that God is going to continue to unveil his plans for us even further. I hope to provide updates — if not every evening, at least three times — this coming week. Please, please, please pray that God’s will would be done in, through, and around us in Boston this next week.

Anyone with their eyes open can see that something is afoot around the world. God, like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, is “on the move.” Clearly the “missio Dei” is exploding in areas like China, India, and Africa, but let’s not forget about what God is doing in North America. Consider the following report, which I received in an e-mail from Joel News:

The ‘organic’ leadership solution

In North America there is a growing movement of simple churches, home-based small groups focused on Jesus and doing what He says. House church coach John White shared about what he calls ‘the Luke 10:2b leadership solution’ – a daily prayer for laborers in the harvest. Since he started praying this, and teaching this organic principle to other believers, God sent people on his way, one after the other, asking advice on how to plant churches, and he could simply coach them in doing that. In this way, the simple church networks in the United States are growing exponentially. While 530 simple churches were planned for 2005, they planted over 6,000. While they intended to train 530 church planters in 2005, they saw 1,000 church planters trained in the first two months of 2006 alone. With this kind exponential growth (the current growth rate is 70%) they might reach their target of 4 million simple churches in North America (in 400,000 networks, and with 40,000 network coaches, and 4,000 lead coaches) by the year 2018.

Link

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Related Update: Did anyone see this article in Time this past week about house churches in the United States?  There are even “house synagogues” (seriously…) — read about it here.  OK, we’re heading to Austin in a few hours (to hopefully eat some Kirby Lane cheese dip tonight), and then onto Boston tomorrow morning.  Pray!