Monthly Archives: October 2007


Just a note to those falling all over themselves to say “I told you so” in response to the Bill Hybels/Willow Creek apology/confession: Don’t be lame.

It is most unhelpful. Okay, you were right all along (as you so gleefully want everyone to know). Now what?

One blog post I read was from a guy who, after pondering whether to credit Hybels for his very difficult announcement, decided “Nah. It’s too late.”

Well, look: Congratulations on your precognition. Now let’s figure out how to be graceful in our right-ness.

Exulting in the confession of failure of someone you expected to fail all along does not seem particularly Christlike to me, and if we’re going to make this about spiritual maturity . . . See where I’m going with that?

A request: If you’re going to rejoice in whatever you perceive someone’s failures to be, at least take a next step and offer some solutions to the problem.

Despite my own concerns with (my perception of) Willow Creek’s planned response to this development, I think Hybels’s announcement took tremendous courage and humility, and that is a success all Christ-followers ought to strive to emulate.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.– Philippians 2:3

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Busywork is Not "Going Deeper"

Jeff Vanderstelt, Building Teams and Developing Leaders: Part 1:

I’ve found that we fill people’s calendars so full that they don’t have any time to actually grow up. And I think we’ve bought into some things that we think actually make people grow up . . . What if someone come to me and says, “We just want to go deeper”? . . . What we fundamentally realize is that most people just want to fill their schedule with more Christian activities so they don’t have to actually live out the mission. So somehow when they got to the end of the week they went, “Whew, I did a lot of church stuff, man, that was amazing.” They didn’t do a thing for anybody but themselves. Really. So if you’re going to equip people . . . you have to say “How are we helping people make time to actually dwell in their community?” . . . They are so busy doing church work they aren’t being the Church any more.

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What is Spiritual Maturity?

I think that is a really important question.

So much of what so many of us do in the church toward maturing people spiritually presupposes a unified answer to that question. But our answer is generally unspoken.

The REVEAL survey, which is now a bona fide phenomenon, having produced a startling confession from Bill Hybels, asks a variety of questions, the aim of which is to gauge “where churchgoers are.” My church participated in the survey, and I was one of the 500 or so respondents from my church to answer the survey, so I’ve seen the questions personally. They generally come from two angles:a) How involved are you in your church and how satisfied are you with your church?b) How do you feel about the quality of your spiritual life?

Some of the individual questions are quite pertinent to an honest assessment of one’s spiritual maturity. “How often do you read your Bible?” and “How often do you pray?” and “How often do you participate in community service or charity work?” are good questions.

But generally speaking — and here I’m not at all picking on the REVEAL survey but on the evangelical Church’s approach to gauging spiritual maturity in general — our measuring stick amounts to Participation and Feelings.

And here’s where I get hung up: I’m not sure spiritual maturity can be quantified that way.I do think that the more spiritually mature a person is, the more connected and invested in Christian community they are, and I do think that …

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Forgiveness is About Healing

People are messy, so forgiveness is messy. People are radically broken, so grace is radically healing.

By the time we get to the end of Hosea‘s sordid ballad of messy romance, the prophet’s poetry has clearly connected Hosea’s stern love to God’s disposition toward us, and it has clearly connected Gomer’s wanton immorality to our predilection for idolatry. This is the Gospel: the overcoming of a commitment to sin by a commitment to forgive.

Our sin makes a cuckold of God. But the great love of our great God continues to woo us.

Here’s how Eugene Peterson’s The Message renders Hosea 14:1-9b:

O Israel, come back! Return to your God! You’re down but you’re not out.Prepare your confession and come back to God.Pray to him, “Take away our sin, accept our confession.Receive as restitution our repentant prayers.Assyria won’t save us; horses won’t get us where we want to go.We’ll never again say ‘our god’ to something we’ve made or made up.You’re our last hope. Is it not true that in you the orphan finds mercy?”“I will heal their waywardness.I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out.I will make a fresh start with Israel.He’ll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring.He’ll put down deep oak tree roots, he’ll become a forest of oaks!He’ll become splendid—like a giant sequoia, his fragrance like a grove of cedars!Those who live near him will be blessed by him, be blessed and prosper like golden grain.Everyone will be talking about them, spreading their fame …

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Yet More on Joy

A Time to Laugh: John Frye on Joy in Ecclesiastes

A taste:

Behind the wisdom writer’s call to joy is a deep-seated belief in a theology of celebration. The God of Israel called his people to joy. God’s people were to eat and drink and rejoice in his presence (when they brought tithes to the LORD). Even told to buy “fermented” or “strong drink.” What?! Nehemiah told the people not to weep and mourn, but to eat and drink, “for the joy of the LORD is our strength”. Jesus told stories of a joyful, party-throwing shepherd who found his lost sheep, and a celebrating woman who found her lost coin, and a village chief who as a father calls for a city-wide feast when his lost son came home. And there was “music and dancing” (Luke 15)!

We sorely need a theology of joy and celebration . . . For many, there is a religious knee-jerk response of guilt to every experience of joy. “There will be no joy without guilt in this house…in this church!” Years ago I got a call from a local Bible school telling me that their students could no longer attend our church because we held a square dance during the Fall season. Drabness and dullness are next to holiness. I don’t know where these ideas crept into the faith, but they certainly did not come from the Bible or from Jesus.

I think Christian kill-joys perpetuate the ancient heresy of gnosticism. Gnosticism promoted the idea that the …

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You Can’t Program Discipleship

First Sally Morgenthaler, perhaps the most influential proponent of the attractional worship paradigm, says the paradigm doesn’t work.

Now no less a church growth icon than Bill Hybels says they “made a mistake”:

James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”

. . . Hawkins [says], “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might …

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Jesus is For Losers

A few weeks ago our pastor said one of the boldest, riskiest, best things he’s said since he’d arrived at our church in April: “Sometimes you have to let your dreams die.”

It was not said in a woe-is-me and poor-poor-pitiful-you way. It was about God’s will. It made total sense. And yet it is the sort of thing rarely said in churches these days, when the prevailing theme appears to be God Exists to Make Your Dreams Come True.

A few months ago I listened to a podcasted message by the man I consider my mentor-pastor, and while I can’t remember every jot and tittle of his sermon text, one sentence was burned into my brain the moment I heard it and has never left: “To be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life.”

Why do statements like these sound revolutionary?Yes, they challenge our natural bent toward self-interest. Yes, they challenge our cultural premiums on pleasure and independence. But within church culture, why are they so revolutionary?

Some friends of ours visited a church recently and in relaying the quality of the message, one of them said that, teaching from Philippians, the pastor announced that the normal Christian life is characterized by suffering. My friend, a big smile on his face, concluded, “Which, you know, was good to hear.”

It’s not about being joyless or gluttons for punishment. It’s about, partly, not saying to believers who are growing through some terrible, terrible things “You are abnormal; …

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"10 Things" for Starting a Ministry

Actually, this is Gary Lamb’s “10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I First Started Church Planting”, but I’m guessing they may be fairly applicable to any ministry start.

1. Be secure in your calling . . .

2. People who come one time and act like you are the greatest thing in the world, want to sign up for everything after one visit, talk about how they are called to ministry after one visit, etc are the ones that won’t last long. It happens every time.

3. You can NEVER cast vision too much. Volunteers do what they do because of the vision, not because they need something else on their schedule.

4. Small groups are a lot of work and NO ONE is doing them well especially if they are reaching unchurched people. However when they run right there is nothing greater.

5. Who you do this thing with is so important. Do it with friends and people you enjoy being around.

6. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. The bible talks a lot about it and it is part of spiritual growth. Big vision takes big money and God uses people to fund that vision.

7. Be yourself. The world doesn’t need another Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Rob Bell, or Erwin McManus. It does however need you to be you and who God created you to be.

8. Don’t …

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Ecclesial Adultery

This is my first encounter with Gen-X Rising blog (I didn’t even know people still used the label Gen-X except in a historical sense), but this post by Andrew Thompson is a hum-dinger:Cheating On Your Church

A substantial taste:

There are some legitimate reasons to leave a church once you join as a member . . . But they are few in number. And most reasons people leave amount to nothing more than ecclesial adultery. When you promise fidelity to both Jesus and a congregation of his disciples and then break that promise over matters as simple as boredom with worship or frustration with a committee, you are running out on the bride of Christ. It’s cheating on your church, folks . . .

There is, of course, an underlying reason why people instinctively think that seeking out a church that meets all their felt needs is a God-given right. And it has to do with consumerism and the aforementioned market economy. Most Americans simply cannot conceive of the idea of not being able to choose their church the way they do their cell phone plan or where they’ll get tonight’s take-out. But think about what that mindset does to the Bride of Christ: it turns her into a cheap prostitute, who peddles her wares on street corners in the hopes that you’ll condescend to choose her over all her similarly cheap competitors.

If you want to do something truly radical for Jesus (and ‘radical’ is a relative term in our historically …

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Ministry Engines (and the Starter Switch)

Tony Morgan highlights some insights from Jud Wilhite of Las Vegas’ Central Christian Church.

Something that jumped out at me was this:

Jud indicated for their church it means simplifying their ministry programming to focus on weekends, groups and serving. That’s it. They’ve tried to eliminate anything else that might compete with these primary ways that people take their next steps toward Christ.

It jumped out at me, because this was the original intention I proposed pursuing with Element, our church’s ministry to college students and young professionals. We wanted to orient the ministry more in terms of community, not merely in terms of programming, and in fact, when I was asked about my interest in teaching for it, that was one thing I sort of made my involvement contingent upon — that it not be just a service or just an event, but an attempt at building community, and thereby providing for our demographic an introduction to and bridge into the greater church community. Any other program, in my mind, would likely only forestall the exodus of young people out of the life of the church another four years or so. I didn’t want to be a holding tank for people who’d still leave, but a growing tank for people to grow up into the life of multigenerational Christian community.

So what I proposed were three “tent pegs,” so to speak:- continuing and multiplying the small group structure we already had for the purpose of relationships and in-depth Bible study- service projects- …

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