Toward the Center

Mark 4:1-9 contains the parable of the Sower and the Seed.  The sower extravagantly threw seed out and some landed on the path, some of it landed in rocky soil, some of it landed in weedy soil, and some of it landed on good soil.  Jesus used the parable to describe the way people respond to the word of God.  Most of the time we think of these different types of soils as categories of people.  Yet, when we consider the parable from a spatial perspective, we see that these different types aren’t in rows.  They are in concentric circles.  

The path surrounds the field.  Between the path and the field is a drainage ditch where there is rocky soil.  Then there is the edge where the cultivated soil meets the uncultivatyed ground.  There, weeds grow.  With this view of the parable, the meaning is not found in making sure that you are the right type of soil. Rather it is about going beyond the path, ditch, fence line and toward the center.  At the center of the story is where life will be found.  

The Center of Christ’s story is the cross and he bids us go with him all the way to that place.  Amen.  

Surplus of Meaning

We often treat parables as simple stories that have single “points” or morals. However, a parable really has what Paul Riceour called a “surplus of meaning.” That is we may revisit a story and encounter new knowledge that had always been embedded in the story, but that we did not see the first time. Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We all know what the story’s “point” is: we should be willing to help others regardless of our prejudice toward them. That’s a good message and undoubtedly that’s one of the things Jesus meant, but the story has always contained more meaning than our simple moralizing can offer.  

First, take the set-up. Luke explains that a lawyer asked Jesus a question about inheriting eternal life. Jesus turned the question on him and the lawyer recited the answer that Jesus had also given at times when Jesus was willing to answer the question directly (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34). In summary, he said–love God; love your neighbor. And then the man asked a follow-up question. And we often preach this as though this were a controversy story and that the man was seeking to challenge Jesus or interrogate him. Yet, the Luke says that the man was “wanting to justify himself.” The word Luke uses there for “justify” is an important word in the New Testament. It refers to God’s activity to make us right with God. It is righteousness making. Perhaps, the lawyer genuinely wished to know what righteousness looked like.  

Second, notice that the man was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jericho was a cursed city. After Joshua destroyed Jericho he pronounced this curse, “At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: ‘Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.'” (Joshua 6:26-27).  The man was on his way from the Holy City to a cursed city. He was on his way from blessing to curse. It’s possible that this is an incidental detail. But, quite possibly Jesus was saying that the man was not an innocent victim . . . And maybe innocence isn’t what qualifies a person for help.  

Third, the Priest and the Levite were going to Jerusalem. They were probably going to serve in the Temple. Stopping to touch the bloodied man would have meant that they would no longer be clean for service in the Temple. It was not so much that they were calloused. They had prioritized their commitments to a place of worship over their ethical responsibility to serve humanity. In another place, Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 where God said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). Within the discussions of his day, Jesus elevated the importance of the ethical above the activities of the pious.  

Finally, while we normally identify with the Samaritan and assume the point of the story is that we should be like him (which is how the Lawyer takes the story also), the original hearers would have also heard that they–like the man on the road–should be willing to receive help from a person they had been raised to hate. We can give help to another and leave our prejudices in tact. We show growth when we let go of our prejudices enough to accept the help of another.  

Parables of Jesus

Matthew 13 contains a series of parables by Jesus.  I recently found a handout that I had put together that contained all the parables that I could identify.  I’d gladly accept your help checking the accuracy of the verse numbers or making sure my list is complete.  When we look at parables, it’s important to think about the original first century Palestinian context.  We also want to think about the surprising character of the stories.  Too often Christians reduce parables to stories with moral endings.  “And so, what this story teaches us is . . . .”  Yet, the stories surprise and upend.  Finally, we tend to identify with either the rescued victim or the good guy in the parables.  Yet, the parables do us the greatest good when we consider how we might be similar to the villains or obstacles in the stories.

The Growing Seed   Mark 4:26-29  
The Two Debtors     Luke 7:41-43
Lamp Under a Bushel Matthew 5:14-15 Mark 4:21-25 Luke 8:16-18
Good Samaritan     Luke 10:25-37
Friend at Night     Luke 11:5-8
Rich Fool     Luke 12:16-21
Wise and Foolish Builder Matthew 7:24-27   Luke 6:46-49
New Wine/Old Wineskins Matthew 9:16-17 Mark 2:21-22 Luke 5:37-39
Strong Man Matthew 12:29 Mark 3:27 Luke 11:21-22
Sower Matthew 13:3-9 Mark 4:3-9 Luke 8:5-8
Tares Matthew 13:24-30    
Barren Fig Tree     Luke 13:6-9
Mustard Seed Matthew 13:31-32 Mark 4:30-32 Luke 13:18-19
Leaven Matthew 13:33   Luke 13:20-21
Pearl Matthew 13:45-46    
Drawing in the Net Matthew 13:47-50    
Hidden Treasure Matthew 13:44    
Counting the Cost     Luke 14:28-33
Lost Sheep Matthew 18:10-14   Luke 15:4-6
Unforgiving Servant Matthew 18:23-35    
Lost Coin     Luke 15:8-9
Prodigal Son     Luke 15:11-32
Unjust Steward     Luke 16:1-13
Rich Man and Lazarus     Luke 16:19-31
Master and Servant     Luke 17:7-10
Unjust Judge     Luke 18:1-9
Pharisee and Publican     18:10-14
Workers in the Vineyard Matthew 20:1-16    
Two Sons Matthew 21:28-32    
Wicked Husbandmen Matthew 21:33-41 Mark 12:1-9 Luke 20:9-16
Great Banquet Matthew 22:1-14   Luke 14:15-24
Budding Fig Tree Matthew 24:32-35 Mark 13:28-31 Luke 21:29-33
Faithful servant Matthew 24:42-51 Mark 13:34-37 Luke 12:35-48
Ten Virgins Matthew 25:1-13    
Talents Matthew 25:14-30   Luke 19:12-27
Sheep and Goats Matthew 25:31-46    
Wedding Feast     Luke 14:7-14

 

Sibboleth

There’s a bizarre story in Judges 12. The Jepthah (my least favorite biblical character of all time) led the tribe of Gilead in battle against the tribe of Ephraim.  These were both tribes of Israel.  It was an internal squabble. The Gileadites beat the Ephraimites.  The soldiers of Gilead set up roadblocks at the places where the Ephramities would seek to cross the Jordan and get back home.  If a soldier claimed he was from Gilead, they would make him pronounce the word “shibboleth” which means ear of corn or stream.  If he pronounced it “sibboleth,” they would know that he was from Ephraim—because they talked funny in them parts—and they would kill him.

Between religious groups, we also have similar kinds of shibboleths.  We distinguish outsiders from insiders by the pleasures we deny ourselves.  Some groups denounced playing cards—playing dominoes was acceptable.  Some groups refuse all alcoholic beverages.  I’ve just about decided that the neo-reformed movement is dominated by ex-Baptist who simply wanted to drink beer in public.  Some groups view dancing as the epitome of sin.  Other groups regard going to the movies as wrong.

I had a pastor friend who once went to a convenience store, got some beer and took it to the counter, paid for it, and upon seeing one of his church members walk in, left his beer (and the receipt) at the counter and walked away.  He was too afraid of the judgment he would receive if the new tribe he was trying to be part of heard him pronounce shibboleth as “sibboleth.”

As Christians we struggle with what to do with pleasures.  We know that indeed some practices like gambling, drinking, and indiscriminate sexual behavior can indeed take hold of a person’s life and become addictions.  But, we often create such a strong overreaction to these pleasures that we leave people with intense feelings of guilt.  People indulge their pleasures but try to keep their pleasures a secret from the members of their church—or less realistically, from God.

For all of us who want to keep our “spiritual” lives and our pleasures divided by a high wall of secrecy and guilt, the Old Testament book of the Song of Songs sits like a smiling older cousin whispering, “Come here, I want to show you something.”  Blessed here as Holy Scripture is a book filled with sex, food, drinking, and even violence.  We’ve never known what to do with the book really.  Medieval Christians made it into an allegory for spiritual love of God.  But I think God intended something different.  I think God’s spirit motivated us to keep the book as a way of saying, “you know, you really don’t have to keep these parts of your life away from me.”

Come to Jesus

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

In a previous post, I interpreted the earlier part of Matthew 11.  Jesus indicated that he would be the Messiah, the Christ, not by militarily crushing the opposition.  Rather, Jesus would be the Messiah by infusing a suffering world with the healing power of God.  Jesus would be the Messiah by yielding compassion and not a sword.  The Messiah Jesus did not recruit the strongest army, he did not look for the strongest and most powerful or form alliances with the movers and shakers.  Rather he said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Jesus extended compassion not coercion and comfort not force. If we look at the verbs we see three things that Jesus encourages the weary to do: come, take, learn.

Come:
One of the common mistakes that pervades our culture is that you need to be some sort of religious super-athlete for Jesus to pay attention to you.  I mean after all that’s how everything else operates.  You want to see the CEO of a major company—you have to be something special.  If you want to meet the most significant rock star—you better have a back-stage pass.  We who call ourselves Disciples of Christ never wanted people to believe that you had to clean up your act before you come to Jesus.  We would hate knowing that someone didn’t feel that they could come to Jesus because they didn’t have their life altogether.  But, whether we wanted it or not, the idea that you must change before you come to Christ pervades the classes of people today who are weak and heavy burdened.

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phillip Yancey shared a story of a friend.  A prostitute had come to him asking for help.  She told the most terrible story of abuse and degradation.  She spoke of the horrible conditions that she and her two-year old daughter had succumb to in the midst of sustaining their existence.  Finally, the friend said, “At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help.  I will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her face.  ‘Church!’ she cried. ‘Why would I ever go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse.’”   It’s important to say that the first thing Jesus says to those who need him.  For the people to whom he was meant to be the messiah.  The first word he speaks is “Come.”  Just come.  Come to me.  What an amazing Christ we have who sends the body guards away and invites all who will to come.  Each Sunday we offer an invitation and we invite all who will come to come.

Take:
Take my yoke upon you.  The yoke of Christ symbolizes the will of God.  Once you’ve come to Christ you enter into God’s kingdom.  Once you’ve said yes to Jesus then the next phase is to begin to allow that acceptance from Christ to transform your life.  There’s an old saying, I don’t know where it originates, but it says, “Jesus loves you just the way you are and loves you so much that he will not leave you that way.”  Indeed, whenever we come to Christ we discover that he gently and loving asks us to change.

Learn: 
One of the things I know about the typical church is that when you say “take my yoke upon me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” there are people who scoff.  There are some long-time workers in the Church who say, “I came to Jesus and my burdens increased.  I suddenly had start doing a lot of things that were hard.  The reason, I think, that the yoke of Christ doesn’t seem as light to some as they had hoped it would is because their trying to carry it and a number of other yokes at the same time.

There are others, however, who say, “I’m not weary, I’m not weak.  Where’s the good news for me?”  I would contend that those of us who recognize that we are perhaps a bit too strong to hear these words as speaking to us, we must ask ourselves whether or not we have contributed to the weariness of others.  Perhaps the way that Jesus intends to accomplish the extension of his compassion is through persuading the powerful, whole and strong to share their blessings with others.  This is how Paul said it, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  Let those of us who know Christ’s compassion share Christ’s compassion.  Learning from Jesus often means learning a new way to think of ourselves.

 

What Kind of Christ?

Matthew 11:3 reports a curious question from John the Baptist, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?”

Background
Many Jewish people in the 1st Century had come to expect a deliverer.  They hoped for someone who—like Moses—would release them from their captivity, suffering and oppression.  They came to name this person they were expecting the Messiah—in Aramaic–or the Christ in Greek. Deuteronomy related Moses’s final speech to the people that he had led out of captivity in Egypt.  In Deuteronomy 18:15 he said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from among your people a prophet like me.  You must listen to him.” In the first century, John and others might have been asking questions like:  When will this prophet show up?  How will we know that he is coming?  What kind of person would this Messiah be? John had been placed in prison by Herod. He was probably remembering the words of Malachi—“See, I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to the temple; the messenger of the covenant you desire will come” (Malachi 3:1).  John perceived himself as the voice crying in the wilderness.  He was preparing the way but was he preparing the way for this one Jesus of Nazareth?

Responding to the Question
It wasn’t a benign question. Jesus did not come in the way he had expected the Messiah to come.  John came preaching judgment and prophetic challenge to the power structure.  He sang the dirge though people did not mourn.  He came neither eating nor drinking and the people said “He has a demon.”  Jesus contrasted John in many ways.  He came eating and drinking, celebrating and accepting.  But the people didn’t accept him either (see Matthew 11:16-19).  Jesus gently encouraged John to accept that indeed he may just be a different kind of Messiah than the one he had expected.  Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you see and hear—blind receive sight, lame walk, lepers are cured, deaf hear, dead are raised, good news is preached to the poor.”  In short, Jesus is saying—if you imagined that the Messiah would be someone who had compassion on suffering individuals, if you believe that the Messiah would care for the hurting, impoverished, and injured well then actions speak louder than words.  Wisdom is proved right by her actions

Jesus indicated that he would be the Messiah, the Christ, not by militarily crushing the opposition.  Rather, Jesus would be the Messiah by infusing a suffering world with the healing power of God.  Jesus would be the Messiah by yielding compassion and not a sword.  The Messiah Jesus did not recruit the strongest army, he did not look for the strongest and most powerful or form alliances with the movers and shakers.  Rather he said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Jesus extended compassion not coercion and comfort not force.

Relevant Sermons

A preacher casts no shadow as he yells about the Bible.
According to a Gallup Survey put out last month, relevant sermons are the number one and number two items that attract people to church.  Here’s the order in which people ranked their “reasons for attending church or other place of worship.”

1. Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture.
2. Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life.
3. Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers.
4. Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities.
5. Dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring.
6.  Social activities that allow you to get to know people in your community.
7. A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music.

Hmm.  I wasn’t self-conscious about preaching before (OK, that’s a lie) but now . . . .  There’s a concept in social psychology called “Social Desirability Bias” that says that survey subjects sometimes say what they think they’re supposed to say rather than saying what they truly believe.  However, if we accept the survey as unbiased, the challenge is knowing what “sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life” really are.

For one person, it might be that sermons help a person make sense of external realities like personal finance, politics, and professionalism.  Another person might say that connecting religion to life means internal peace in the midst of stressful, turbulent, or confusing experiences.  Still others see connecting faith and personal life as sermon references to the familiar popular music, recent books and movies.  If we were to ask for a show of hands with the question, “How many of you want the message this morning to impact your life in a meaningful way?”  My hunch is that everyone’s hands would be raised.

Matthew 10 contains a sermon Jesus preached.  It certainly related the religious content to the personal lives of the congregation.  He said—“have no fear” (Matthew 10:26).  Great!  Encouraging!  Inspirational!  But wait there’s more, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  Wait! Hold On!  That’s not what we had in mind.

Ah, but the people asked for a message that connected religion to life.  This is a pretty big connection.  There’s more to the sermon that is troubling.  Jesus said that those who wish to receive him must love him more than they love father or mother or son or daughter.  And he said, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).  The problem with “Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life” is that they are really hard to preach when one is committed to a Savior who says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Facing Opposition

The second half of Matthew 10 contains some of the more difficult teaching that Jesus gave.  Matthew 10 is the second of five major teaching sections where Jesus’s instructions were compiled.  Like the Sermon on the Mount, it’s likely that these teachings came from various sources.  Much of the content seems to  reflect the post-resurrection, early Christian context of the Gospel writer.  However, Jesus himself gives the warnings in Matthew’s Gospels.  They are warned that they will face an assortment of difficulties including physical discipline/persecution from religious communities (10:17), legal proceedings and political persecution (10:18-20), and  family disputes (10:21; 10:34-37).  Those of us who grew up in supportive family and community contexts where our faith was nurtured may have difficulty imagining what this experience was like for Christ’s earliest followers.

They are given warnings and encouragements about how they are to respond.  They are to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance when they are called upon to defend themselves in court (10:19-20).  They are told to flee from aggressive towns and look for places where they can be welcomed (10:23).  Their suffering is seen as a way that they can be conformed to the likeness of Jesus himself (10:24-25).  Jesus provided a future orientation to this teaching calling them to be faithful to the end so that when they have endured they would be rewarded (10:26-28; 32-33).  The solution to the  problems created in following Jesus seems to be endurance, trust, and faithfulness.

I have two reactions to this kind of teaching.  On the one hand, I am worried that some American Christians identify our loss of some cultural privilege in American culture as “persecution.”  To call the experience of Christians in the United States “persecution” is not only irrational; it is offensive to the memories of the Christians at other times and in other context who lost life, property, family members and security for the sake of the gospel.  We are not persecuted and should not pretend that we are.  At the same time, I have been influenced by people like Clarence Jordan (who was persecuted . . . By fellow Christians) and Stanley Hauerwas who have called Christians to understand that if our proclamation is so tepid that the world finds no reason to persecute it, we may have watered it down.

Creation and Covenant Meeting Minutes

While digging through some very old meeting minutes, I located this summary that I thought I would share:

The Chair called the meeting to order saying, “Let there be light.”  It was seconded by the Spirit hovering over the waters.  The motion was approved. There was light.

A subsequent motion was made to make of Abram and Sarai a great nation.  The motion was amended to change the names to Abraham and Sarah.  After floor debate, the motion was approved.  Abraham believed–the treasurers reported credited him with righteousness.

A motion was made to deliver the descendants of Abraham and Sarah from captivity in Egypt.  A one-person delivery team was nominated from the Chair and after addition from the floor, Moses and Aaron and Miriam were then authorized to requisition God’s people from slavery. The governing powers objected.  The Chair overturned the objections.  The motion was approved.

The convener of the rules and regulations committee gave a report from the Sinai conference indicating two tablets representing duty to the Chair and duty to others had been proposed.  After idol-demolition and rewrite, the tablets were reissued.  Since the motion came from committee no second was needed.  No objections were heard.  The motion was approved.

Reports were given by the wandering in the wilderness committee, the occupation committee, and the judges committee.  A motion was made to accept the reports.  The motion approved.

The monarchy committee announced the selection of the King Saul.  He was approved by unanimous consent.  Following his ascent, he was removed from office by the chair who appointed King David and then King Solomon. The motion was approved.

A move was made to divide the kingdom into two division.  The proposed northern division retained the name Israel.  A rebranding campaign was approved for the southern division to be called Judah.  Eventually, both division fell and went through restructure.  A motion was made to rebuild the capital and the temple.  The motion was approved.

The chair gave the staff report.  Throughout the meeting, the people made mistakes and suffered the consequences for their mistakes but, they never exceeded the statutes of limitations on God’s favor. Th Chair moved that, “The Lord, Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  Although the motion needed no second nor was it subject to vote is was seconded and seconded and seconded again.  The motion was approved.

Traveling Light

Matthew 10

Today’s airline travel conditions encourage traveling light–security checks that require disrobing in public and disassembling electronics, increased charges for checked luggage.  Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Take no gold or silver, or copper in your belts.  No bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or staff . . .” (Matthew 10:9-10) It will only cause the security people to look at you funny.

Frequently when I talk with people about the future mission of the church, we can’t quite seem to get past all of the programs, personnel, building that we collected on previous trips into the small carry on luggage we need for the future.  We’re like the people who have taken an endless series of slides and organized them in a library of projector wheels only to discover that few people still have their projectors and the lamps needed to illuminate them are really hard to find.  That the pictures have faded and the images dulled does not negate the value of the experiences they reflect.  It is simply an indication that the future will look quite different from the past.  We need new travel clothes to manage the rugged terrain ahead of us.  And this means shedding the old travel clothes and it means leaving behind the souvenirs we’ve stowed away in those pocket.

The Church needs to travel light so that we can offer travel light.

Disciple-Making

Traveling Light means shedding the clothes of management and adopting the clothes of clothes of disciple-making.  The church’s call hasn’t changed.  It remains what it always has been—to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus commissioned the twelve he sent them to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).  Jesus sent the Disciples to people who were like the Disciples.  Sometimes the hardest people to communicate the gospel to are the people just like yourself.  He said proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of heaven; respond to those things that are not consistent with the kingdom of heaven—cure diseases, cast out demons, strive for meaningful relationships.  This is a prelude to the final commissioning in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus said, “Go into all nations, make them my disciples” (Matthew 28:16)  Disciple making is the chief end and aim of the church, but it begins with communication to those nearest at hand.

During the Second World War and the economic reconfiguration that followed, Americans perfected the process of mass production.  We discovered that efficient factory work requires division of labor, reduction of waste, and a fluid system design.  The mentality of the age came into the church as we cultivated sophisticated management procedures for dealing with the call of the church.  The church began dividing the work of the church among various committees, a flow of out-put and process was designed, and training programs were developed so that people would be able to function with the institution of the church.

And here’s what we discovered: people who worked in organizations that had compatible management strategies could effectively employ their workplace experience in the church and be productive members of the church.  If you think I’m making this up just consider the old wording of a welcome to new members the church I serve used for decades.  It said, “We welcome you to work and worship . . . of this church.”  What we lost in this process was an awareness that those who are called upon to serve in the church do so not out of professional expertise but out of spiritual empowerment.  We created a church system in which you didn’t need to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as much as you needed to know Total Quality management.

A recent Barna survey compared mainline Protestant churches—like ourselves—to non-mainline churches like evangelicals, charismatics, and Baptists.  They found that 50% of mainliners are personally active in church vs. 66% of non-mainliners; 77% of mainliners reported wanting a close personal relationship with God vs. 88% of non-mainliners.  Among mainline members, 67% said they want to be deeply committed to Christian faith compared to 82% of evangelicals, charismatics, and Baptists.  The Barna study also looked at where the priorities are. Mainliners showed a stronger preference for a higher paying job 42% to 25% and they 77% indicated that they want a comfortable lifestyle in comparison to 65% of non-mainline Christians.  Surveys don’t tell the whole story but what we see in this is a growing trend among main-line Christians—like Methodists, Presbyterians and us Disciples of Christ—toward a shallow hunger for an intimate walk with God and a greater emphasis on material prosperity.

What that means for our present is that we are ill-equipped for the call of Christ.  We have been overly shaped by the market and inattentive to the mission.  Our future traveling clothes must be designed to form the disciple—a person who is committed to the daily walk with God, motivated by a desire to obey God, and capable of taking risks for God.

Micro-Church

Traveling light means shedding the clothes of megachurch and adopting the clothes of micro-church.  Disciple-making is not something that can be done at a distance.  It may involve reading books, but it doesn’t come from a book.  It may involve media but it doesn’t come from media.  The most consistent way for churches to make disciples is by having spiritually new Disciples become intimately involved with spiritually mature Disciples. It takes face to face encounters beyond the level of small-talk.  It involves trusting one another, praying with one another and for one another.  It involves holding one another accountable in those areas of weakness, and challenging one another to expand areas of strength.

In commissioning the twelve, Jesus emphasized using the hospitality of a single home as the basis of operation.  He said, “As you enter the house, greet it.”  This greeting of the house is a more warm and fond expression than simply saying hello. It is a statement of warmth and acceptance of welcome.  By working from home the Disciples got to work up close and personally with a household of individuals.  Those individuals would be the most transformed and would be the lasting influence for Jesus when they left.  Jesus disciple evangelism was creating a sustained long-term relationship with people who would in-turn have sustained and long-term relationships with people and allow that spiritual friendship emerge into the work of God.

From the 1980’s forward, the single most dominant question asked in churches has been that of church growth.  New churches have been formed in the last 30 years on marketing principles that have exceeded anyone’s expectations.  Here in the Metroplex, we are in the center of a Megachurch Mecca.  And it causes many people to equate church size with church faithfulness.  In an effort to keep up, churches of every shape, size and age, started  asking the same question, “How do we attract new members.”  The attraction works in creating new customers.  It does not work as a model for making Disciples.  For several decades we have developed higher and higher expectations on the qualifications of our personnel, more expensive physical plants, and greater dependence on technology but in the end these efforts have not served us in serving God.  Because in the end, they only served to crowd God out.  The travel of the future must be less about attraction and more about authenticity; less about volume more about vulnerability, less megachurch and more of a mirco-church model.

People say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior expecting a different result.  Someone suggested that that describes the church we see before us today.  I disagree.  We keep repeating the same behavior expecting the same result.  Our context has changed, the needs of people have changed, and the mechanism we put in place generations ago are no longer adequate to meet those needs.  Specifically, what people need most is a vibrant and growing relationship with God.  That will only occur when we put aside the management and marketing models of the past century’s journey and learn to travel lighter, more relationally and more authentically into the future.  By traveling light, we can be travel light as Christ intends us to be.