Archive for the ‘discipleship’ Category

My friend, who is in the process of leaving a church he’s attended for 8 1/2 years, made this comment in a conversation Tuesday:

The biggest problem to me with that [church] model is that it keeps it’s members busy doing things to attract other people, and in the end the people doing all the work are destracted from doing what God want us to do the most: love him and others. This is my take from being on a worship team for 8 years. In the end I spend a lot of time doing things for the team, but never really came away challanged to follow Jesus more (except through worship) or love other people.


I began our REVOLUTIONARY Café last night by reading this great piece by my great friend Miller, and it is definitely worth a read. I think it puts into perspective some of the language that has popped up repeatedly in recent years regarding Christian discipleship. It’s probably why Shane Claiborne calls himself an “ordinary radical.” (but, as Miller points out, he probably doesn’t do an adequate job of describing the day-in-day-out, often un-glamorous nature of the “revolution”). Do read.


swallowed by life

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

2 Cor. 4:16-5:5, Today’s New International Version

I read this verse — I mean really read it — for the first time the other night when thinking about a question Matthew posed in the comments of my last post.  That phrase — “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” — jumped out at me.  That’s what this thing is all about, right?  The mortal being swallowed up by life?

We will not see all that is mortal swallowed up by life until the end of time, of course.  But we believe that even though we are “wasting away,” we are inwardly being “renewed day by day.”

So we press on.

becoming real

“This is the true story, of seven twelve strangers diverse, young Bostonians, picked to live spend the MLK weekend in a house, work worship together and have their lives taped laid out bare, to find out what happens, when people stop being polite, and start getting real. The Real World Boston Faith + Justice Network.”

No, definitely not The Real World. Nobody “hooked up,” no drunken parties, nobody arrested, thank goodness 🙂

But from Sunday to Monday, 12 young Christians from Greater Boston came together at a retreat center an hour outside of town to talk and pray about how we can join with God in restoring this broken world. We are the leadership team of the Boston Faith + Justice Network, a community of Christians covenanting to live in more just, God-centered ways.

We knew we had been called to deeper community with fellow Christians in Boston. We knew we had been called to participation in compassionate justice that seeks to restore relationships — human to human and human to God. The retreat — intentionally scheduled over the Martin Luther King Jr holiday — was to be about bringing to the surface some “next steps” or practices for us along these lines. We prayed together, read and discussed theology together (Yoder, Boff, Wright…), wrestled with our identity as a group, ate meals together, and played some great games (including a card game called “Capitalism,” which is almost as cutthroat as the real thing!).

By Monday afternoon, however, our conclusions were less about what we were going to do next and more about who we were going to be. We had all committed to stop living what Parker Palmer calls “divided lives”:

Inwardly we feel one sort of imperative for our lives, but outwardly we respond to quite another. This is the human condition, of course; our inner and outer worlds will never be in perfect harmony. But there are extremes of dividedness that become intolerable, and when the tension snaps inside of this person, then that person, and then another, a movement may be underway. (“Divided No More,” Parker J. Palmer)

This is a good place to be, I think. I’m excited about this next step in our journey and the journey of the Boston Faith + Justice Network, which, for now, is 12 God-chasers working toward less disparity between who they are called to be and who they are.

preaching/living Jesus

one way.jpg

Jesus is controversial. His birth was not safe. Mystery and controversy shrouded the earliest days of his life. His entire existence ran counter to the power structures of his day, and it continues to do the same today. His way is so radically different from the way of mainstream humanity. His death is perhaps the most well-known event in history, whether or not people live by its principles (or believe its truth). And, of course, the event that occured three mornings later destroyed the dark powers opposing Jesus and solidified the hope of all who call on His name. The way of Jesus found in the gospels remains the most radical, counter-cultural, best way to live that I know. But as Kierkegaard said, “It is not safe to be alone with the New Testament.”

This is why it is no surprise to me when those who preach and live the way of Jesus above all other things — traditions, scholarship, or anything else — are opposed. We know they are opposed by the forces of darkness. But Jesus himself said that those who followed His way and promoted this different kingdom would be opposed by humans, and often times most rabidly by fellow “Christians.” I wonder if Jesus had in his mind the religious people when he made these kinds of statements …

what if?

What if…righ_gra.jpg

… Jesus and early Christians never could have imagined (or hoped) that being a Christian would become anything but being radically counter-cultural, persecuted (by the principalities and powers), marginalized, and yet altogether joy-filled and attractive (as a community)?

… There are those who are powerful and significant in God’s eyes &emdash; and don’t even know it?

… Christianity is more about who we are when we’re not at church?

… Christianity was never about “church” at all &emdash; but a collection of lives sold out for the worship and mission of their Creator?

… Our faith and any of the competing power structures (the political arena, in particular) are diametrically opposed to each other?

… We have more to learn about the person of Jesus from the poor, sick, and young than all the PhDs in the world &emdash; combined?

… The message of Christianity was as much about the first 25 chapters of Matthew as it is about the last three?

all we needed was God?

… Christianity was never intended to be a religion?

What if we’ve been missing the point all this time?

the challenges of traditional church in my neighborhood

As we spend more and more time in our new Boston neighborhood — in people’s homes or chatting in the park — we become even more convicted that the modes of evangelism that “worked” in the Bible Belt are moot on our block. (I’m growing more and more convinced that modes of evangelism that “work” in the Bible Belt — mainly the “if we build it, then they’ll come” model — have worn out their welcome even in the Bible Belt, but that’s a different post…)

One of the main reasons is the sheer diversity that exists in East Boston. There are over 56 nationalities that people in our zip code are a part of, and they speak over 20 languages. That’s one zip code in Boston.

As I asked in a post a few days ago, do we believe that God cares about the people of Boston — and the world — infinitely more than we do? Mateo correctly pointed out in the comments section a few days ago that though we often give this idea lip service, we seldom live it out. We rely too heavily on our own methodology or pragmatism. But Revelation paints a beautiful picture of a banquet at the end of time at which “every tribe, tongue, and nation” are represented at the banquet table of the Lord. This means every diverse people group from every socio-economic bracket imagineable. Not just “postmoderns” or college-aged or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or African Americans — the Afghan, Argentine, Spanish, and Ukrainian children of God will be present as well.

Do our current church planting/evangelism methods account for this great diversity of God’s children, many of whom live right around us?

We’ve been asking the question, “What would it take to see a vibrant family of Jesus in close reach — culturally and geographically — of every person in East Boston?” Well, for one, we need someone who speaks Khmer, the native language of the Khmer people in Cambodia, to communicate the gospel in that dialect while modeling the Way of Jesus in a culturally relevant form (there are 36 people in my zip code who put Khmer as their “language spoken at home”). And what about the 10,319 people (in 2000, mind you) in my zip code who speak Spanish at home? (from experience, most of these people speak Spanish when they’re not at home as well) And who is considering how the hundreds of Islamic people in my zip code will not simply accept a proposition about the existence and divinity of Jesus Christ, but will follow Him?

Believing that God will use us to reach a cornucopia of people besides the WASP types we’ve grown up knowing means recognizing that our limited methods and strategies are just that — limited. Can just one church reach all 56 people groups in East Boston? Can 10 churches? Can 100 churches? Well, if we redefine what “church” means, then maybe. If “church” means “radical followers of Jesus hearing their master’s voice and following His lead,” then watch out. This will take us among the East Bostonians from Greece, Guatemala, and Guyana, and to those speaking Polish, Portuguese and Persian. We will begin to incarnate the love of Christ among the people — all the people — that God loves so dearly, and transformation will begin to take place. God will add to his church those who are “red and yellow, black and white.”

The best news is that Steve and Chrissy aren’t responsible for making disciples of every person in these 56 people groups (and those are just the people groups as they are broken down by nationality … imagine if we broke down people groups in terms of interests, socio-economic status, neighborhoods, social group…). God added to the church those who were being saved in the Book of Acts, and we believe He will not only do this in Boston today — He will commission and send Khmer-speaking Cambodian Christians back to their own people to live out the Way of Christ. Moroccans will begin to speak of one from whom they do not need to earn their way to heaven.

Our responsibility is simply to listen to our Master and do what he says, going in love to “all the world.” For us, “all the world” can be found within two square miles.


Note: Originally, I titled this post, “why traditional church won’t work in my neighborhood,” but at 1:07 a.m. I got up and changed the title to the one you see now. God is using several forms and structures of Christian community in East Boston to reach the diverse people groups here, and for that I am grateful. Diversity — even in ecclesiology — is beautiful. What I am calling for is a deeper and more imaginative faith in what God can do through us to facilitate the planting of “vibrant families of Jesus within close reach — culturally and geographically — of every resident of Eastie.” This takes faith, and it takes all of us.

You can see all the nationalities and languages in my zip code by clicking here, clicking “search by zip code,” and entering “02128.” I’d encourage you to do the same for your zip code. You might be surprise who lives next door.

Beyond Brokerage

This is an amazing passage from Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. There’s so much to glean from this little section of the book, but please read it all if you can. Allow it to shape you as it shaped (and challenged my socks off!) me when I read it yesterday.

Beyond Brokerage

Layers of insulation separate the rich and the poor from truly encountering one another. There are the obvious layers like picket fences and SUVs, and there are the more subtle ones like charity. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, can also function as outlets that allow us to appease our consciences and still remain at a safe distance from the poor. Take this poignant example you may have caught wind of: it was revealed that Kathie Lee garments, which have earned Wal-Mart over $300 million in sales annually, were being produced in Honduran sweatshops. These girls, as young as thirteen, worked fifteen-hour shifts under the watch of armed guards and received thirty-one cents an hour. But the great irony is that the garments they were making for Kathie Lee were sold under a label that promised that “a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this garment will be donated to various children’s charities.” More recently, Kathie Lee has been an advocate for workers’ rights. Charity can be a dangerous insulator.

It is much more comfortable to depersonalize the poor so we don’t feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that results in someone sleeping on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes. We can volunteer in a social program or distribute excess food and clothing through organizations and never have to open up our homes, our beds, our dinner tables. When we get to heaven, we will be separated into those sheep and goats Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 based on how we cared for the least among us. I’m just not convinced that Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me,” or, “When I was naked, you donated clothes to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He seeks concrete acts of love: “you fed me…you visited me in prison…you welcomed me into your home…you clothed me.”

With new government funds and faith-based initiatives, the social-work model can easily entangle the church in the efficiency of brokering services and resources in a web of “clients” and “providers” and struggling to retain God’s vision of rebirth, in which we are all family. Faith-based nonprofits can too easily be the mirror image of secular organizations, maintaining the same hierarchies of power and separation between rich and poor. They can too easily merely facilitate the exchange of goods and services, putting plenty of professionals in the middle to guarantee that the rich do not have to face the poor and that power does not shift. Rich and poor are kept in separate worlds, and inequality is carefully managed but not dismantled.

When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ. The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed. And Jesus did not set up a program but modeled a way of living that incarnated the reign of God, a community in which people are reconciled and our debts are forgiven just as we forgive our debtors (all economic words). That reign did not spread through organizational establishments or structural systems. It spread like a disease — through touch, through breath, through life. It spread through people infected by love.

Often wealthy folks ask me what they can do for the Simple Way [the neo-monastic Christian community of which Claiborne is a part]. I could ask them for a few thousand dollars, but that would be too easy for both of us. Instead, I ask them to come visit. Writing a check makes us feel good and can fool us into thinking that we have loved the poor. But seeing the squat houses and tent cities and hungry children will transform our lives. Then we will be stirred to imagine the economics of rebirth and to hunger for the end of poverty.

Almost every time we talk with affluent folks about God’s will to end poverty, someone says, “But didn’t Jesus say, ‘the poor will always be with you’?” Many of the people who whip out this verse have grown quite insulated and distant from the poor and feel defensive. I usually gently ask, “Where are the poor? Are the poor among us?” The answer is usually a clear negatory. As we study the Scriptures, we see how many texts we have misread, contextualized, and exegeted to hear what we want to. Like this one about the poor being among us, which Jesus says in the home of a leper and after a poor marginalized woman anoints his feet with perfume. The poor were all around him. Far from saying in defeat that we should not worry about the poor, since they will always be among us, Jesus is pointing the church to her true identity — she is to live close to those who suffer. The poor will always be among us, because the empire will always produce poor people, and they will find a home in the church, a citizenship in the kingdom of God, where the “hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.”

I heard that Gandhi, when people asked him if he was a Christian, would often reply, “Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are.”