Saturday, December 7, 2013

Forgiveness and Confession... in that order.

We typically speak of "confession and forgiveness" and do them in that order. My devotions this morning touch on the opportunity to reverse the order, and enter into confession in the confidence that comes from knowing you are forgiven.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Helpful Lenses for Devotions and Discipleship

In my work with 3dm as a discipling tool I've picked up some valuable "lenses" that can be put on like
glasses to help me interpret and even see things.  For example, one 3dm lens is the Triangle, which invites us to consider our relationships with God (Up), other believers (In) and everyone else (Out).  In my devotions this morning, that lens gave me a second and third look at a verse I might have otherwise skipped over because it "didn't connect with me."

(Note - here's an introduction to the SOAP format for devotional journaling I'm using.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Salvation Sounds in Lutheran Ears

The way that Lutherans tend to think of salvation is really nicely represented by the following passage from Ezekiel. Note how the activity of God has priority and primacy throughout, and obedience emerges at the initiative of the Spirit who has already been given. Even the awareness and regret over one's sinfulness shows up as an after-effect, rather than a prerequisite for the arrival of the Spirit and the gift of a new heart. (Gotta love the irony here: only a new heart is capable of regret over sin it seems.)

Ezekiel 36:24-31 NIV

24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Favorite Metaphors: Asteroid Field Navigation

I want to start collecting some of the metaphors and visuals that I keep returning to and thought I'd start with Asteroid Field Navigation. I touched on this briefly once before in the context of making "mistakes" but thought I'd brush it off and represent it.

Asteroid Field Navigation
Back in the days of Lewis and Clark they could spend a few years making a map, hand it over to you, and it would still work because all the mountains and rivers were right where they left them. In our world, the terrain itself is unstable, and it's better still to go the next step and just acknowledge that there is no terrain period. Instead, we travel and navigate in an asteroid field where everything is in motion, including us.  If you try to make a map, you won't succeed because by the time it's done, it's obsolete, and you've probably been hit by an asteroid in the mean time anyway.

But navigation is still possible. They way you do it is by constant course correction in a three step process.

First, orient yourself by quickly getting sufficient clarity about where you are and where you are going. "Where you are" includes getting a bead on the rocks in motion around you, especially those on a collision course.

Second, move. Take some action that avoids catastrophe, utilizes immediate opportunity and moves you in the direction of the destination even if it's not a straight-line course. (Fellow geeks will enjoy visualizing this with vectors.)

Finally, now that you have initiated movement, your whole context has shifted. So go back to step one and start over. Orient, Act, Repeat.

Spells OAR. Cute, huh?  That's just icing on the cake, speaking metaphorically.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Contradictory Theologies as a Guard Against Intellectual Idolatry.

I pursue a practice of daily devotions and journaling using the SOAP format, which I highly recommend.  Of late, I've begun posting photos of my journal entries as an easy way of sharing my life with others that are my travelling partners in the faith.  (Much easier than re-typing everything!)  So below is a photo of my entry for today.  It's a reminder that faith is about trusting a person, not confidence in a particular way of thinking about Him.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Baptism as a Binding of God - Metaphor from Adoption

Talking about baptism has a tendency to start fights among Christians, but I gave in to the urge to offer a key metaphor for me in a post on another blog so I thought I'd let folks here have a look too.

"Maybe the significance of baptism isn't in what it "does to" the baptized, but in what it "does to God." Perhaps baptism is a way God has empowered us to "bind God" to the person being baptized in a way that has eternal, spiritual significance.

For a metaphor, consider this. I traveled to Vietnam years ago, empowered by my wife to legally bind her (and me) to a child through my own signature on her behalf. Signing my name is a routine and frequently meaningless act, but in this context, it had huge, real and lasting significance for me, my wife and the child. (Her name is Amy.) In the same way, washing with water is usually not very meaningful, but in the context of baptism that act could have real significance.

The metaphor could be extended to address some of the other struggles around baptism. Suppose my wife and I had made a personal commitment to provide in every way possible for the welfare of the child *regardless of whether the formal adoption was allowed to go through.* Our ability to deliver everything our hearts desired to Amy might have been hindered if the formalities couldn't be enacted... (it wold have been pretty hard to get her out of the country and situated with American citizenship, for example!) Who knows, maybe we would have ended up finding it necessary to "move into the neighborhood" (See John 1:14 the Message) and become citizens of Vietnam in order to follow our hearts and care for the child we had *unilaterally* claimed as our own. When you use this metaphor as a lens, you can see nicely that the underlying commitment is the real thing, the main thing, but it's also helpful to have the formalities enacted since that 1) makes the commitment public to all and 2) makes it much easier for the blessings of the relationship to flow to the child."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Celebrity Endorsement of The Feral Pastor

I am thrilled to announce that the Feral Pastor Facebook Page has just been "liked" by none other than KVB Luther!

Truly, if I had bothered to create a bucket list, this would surely have been on it.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Membership Decline in the ELCA

Yes, numbers don't tell the whole story.  Yes, "membership" is not the best or only indicator of congregational vitality, much less faithfulness.  Yes, for some people this is old, old news.  Yet I continue to find people are generally unaware of the decline we are experiencing in my tribe, and those that have a sense of it don't readily have a sense of scale to go with it.  So, let me provide the visual that has haunted and energized me since I first began to attend to it about 10 years ago.

Primary data from Loren Mead, Transforming Congregations for the Future,
with more recent statistics added.
As a percentage of the US population (which has continued to grow year after year) this shows a trend of decline, unbroken for half a century.

However people may parse the causes and debate the responses, it's been clear to me since the get-go that a response is needed.  And given the "inertia" stored in a system with such a long-term shape to it's life (spanning at least two generations) I've always expected that the response will need to be very, very significant if it is to "turn things around" in any meaningful sense.

My own response has been to explore the possibilities for Christian missional community outside the core conventions of congregational life: pastors, property, programs and presentational (large group) worship.  This led me initially to folks in the house church movement, and more recently to those who are focusing on making disciples per se.  

They have a nifty saying: if you plant a church, you may or may not get disciples.  But if you make disciples, the Church will arise.

So, I am now moving my top ministry priority into directly discipling and equipping leaders.  Not just "church leaders" in the typical sense.  Leaders who will directly disciple and train others.  I am learning how to do this from the folks at 3dm, as I have found their material and approach to be excellent, and their theology to be wonderfully lean and hugely resonant with Lutheranism.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Well, today I am 54 years old and thinking, if I play my cards right, I just might hit my stride in the next year or two.  ;)

I am totally jazzed to share a birthday with my friend Caroline Ticarro-Parker, who is the founder and leader of the Catalyst Foundation.  Catalyst works to build communities in Vietnam to fight human trafficking.  So in addition to sharing a birthday, we share a passion for the people and especially the children of Vietnam - in part because we have both adopted children from there!

Now, someone else who knows and loves Caroline and her work has put up a $10,000 matching grant for a water project in honor of her birthday!  So if you want to help me celebrate, you can invite a thirsty person in Vietnam to join you in a toast by making a contribution to Catalyst.

The matching grant is for today only, so if you're inspired, now is the time to act! Follow this link to the water project on the Catalyst website.
Thanks for your interest in my blog and my journey!  Let's share the joy together!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leaning into Transformation in the "Experience Economy"

My friend Rich Melheim posted the following comment about The Experience Economy, a book aimed at secular marketing and business:

"SUMMER READING: In "The Experience Economy" (the only business book I've seen dedicated to the "author and perfector of our faith") the book starts with a value graph, showing that people don't value commodities, goods, or services much any more. We value experiences. By the end of the book, we see that experience isn't even the top value. The top value is transformation. That puts your "service" in the center of things people no longer value. When I say "forget the IHS" (one hour service), I mean the one-way show you put on for people. It has little value any more. Get EPIC (experiential, participatory, image driven, conversational) a la Leonard Sweet."

I've written before about the limited bang for the buck in Sunday morning worship, and affirmed but challenged the relative value we put on large vs. small gatherings in the first blog post I ever wrote, using the food pyramid as a metaphor.   But radical realignment is an unlikely challenge for a congregation to take on.  

Even so, we can use this to frame our thinking.  For conventional-model congregations (i.e. programs, property, professionals and presentational worship), how can you clearly and effectively leverage *each* of those four aspects of your life towards transformation?

And for my friends in 3dm and related movements, (house church, Life Transformation Groups etc.) here's yet another confirmation of your instinct to set aside most of the apparatus of conventional church so that life-on-life can really be your focus.  That is, I'm convinced, where the most fertile soil is for transformation.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Mission from Old Congregations?

A friend in a Facebook clergy forum was wondering how an established church might be able to participate in some of the "new things" going on missionally without abandoning wholesale the forms and expressions that have fed and continue to feed those who have been there for a while. Here's what I shared on that:

"Awesome question! What it might look like, I think, will depend first of all on the economics of your current congregation. If they are, like most, working hard just to keep the doors open then a both/and scenario is going to be really hard to envision. If I can assume that you're not in survival mode, then here are a couple of ideas that might at least be good for stirring the pot:

1. Provide financial support to a "home front missionary." Most people get the idea of a missionary as someone you give $$$ to, who then goes somewhere far away (where there are reported to be some non-Christians) and once in a while reports back. The missionary does not preach or teach at your church (except maybe once a year) and the people that join his/her congregation do not help pay your bills. Leverage this idea to support a missionary to the people who are *culturally* distant in your area, but with *no* expectation that the will join your church. The missionary then has freedom to help the evangelized to develop a non-conventional form of congregational life that fits their culture and is both reproducible and financially sustainable. (For more on this, check out this old blog post of mine.)

2. Release a batch of folks from your current congregation to be a "missionary band" and support them in inventing a new mode of congregational life. Be sure they take their offerings with them!

3. Offer an alternative confirmation track for those who are interested in being "missionaries to the future." Train these young people to function like the missionary band in #2 and hugely empower and encourage them to take ownership of the formation and leadership of their own congregation. (Confirmation as mission developer training. This will have some very salutary effects on the design and content of your confirmation program, I think.)"

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jesus, Orpheus, and Evangelism by Beauty

I've always been troubled by evangelism that needs to make people afraid of something so they will flee to Jesus.  Isn't it possible to present something that's inherently more desirable in the first place?  So I was delighted to discover a piece of Greek mythology I'd never heard before that expresses that idea.  It's the story of Orpheus and the Sirens.

To back up a bit... The Sirens were creatures who sang so beautifully that the sailors who heard their song could not resist going towards it.  They would throw themselves into the sea and perish on the rocks around the Sirens' island.  I knew the story of how Odysseus found a way to hear the song and survive: he had his crew lash him to a mast and plug their own ears with wax before sailing by.  Crafty one, that Odysseus.  But I had never heard there was another who got his crew past this peril as well.  It's a story of Orpheus who sailed with Jason and his Argonauts.

Orpheus was the greatest of musicians and had been invited to sail with Jason for just this situation.  As they approached the island of the Sirens, Orpheus began to to sing and play on his lyre, and his song was more enchanting that that of the Sirens, so the crew stayed with him and sailed past to safety.

To me, that's the image of evangelism I want to strive for.  To "sing a better song" that people would find even more compelling than whatever other songs have captured their hearts before.  Or better yet, casting Jesus as the Orpheus character, to introduce people to the Singer Himself.

You can do evangelism by fear.  But wouldn't it be better to do evangelism by beauty?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Shameless" Sermon Series, Part Four: "unComfortably Numb"

In the fourth and final message in my Shameless series, we look at the ripple effects of a disconnected life and the ways we try to numb the pain, which leads to more pain, which leads to more numbing.  We revisit the central message of the series, which is how God goes past the symptoms on the outside and deals with the VSD at the center of our hearts.  From there, the series winds up with a call to share what we have found with others as "Ambassadors for Christ."  All this, and Heinz 57 steak sauce as well!

Sermon from June 30th, 2013 from Gethsemane on Vimeo.

Anne Lamott Nails It for the Shame Series

This Facebook post from Anne Lamott is so perfect for the whole series I've been doing on shame and the struggle to achieve our own good-enoughness. Anne Lamott.... broken AND beautiful, just like all the rest of us!

Last week, when I was having the experience that almost every writer longs for, I got as mental and confused and low self-esteem as I've been in a while. And everyone I was with was extremely sweet, smart and affirming. It was the damn system that failed, the system I was raised believing in, that I can achieve and impress and people-please SO successfully, that I will finally get the seal of approval sufficient to fill the Swiss cheesey holes in my soul. I will have arrived, finally. Yay

During this pretty high-falutin' experience under the bright lights, w/ kind smart people and FABULOUS make-up, I felt like I'd 9 cups of coffee, two bags of candy corn, a box of chocolate truffles-- Heaven, right? I love being out of my body, tripping on my own fabulousness, mood-altered to within an inch of my life. And then guess what happened? You're going to hate this

It ended. Yes! My turn was over. All the smart kind people--and even my make-up person--TRAITOR!--went on to the next person. 

And then there was just me, even more needy, worried, and self-doubting than usual--had I talked too much? Too fast? I had meant to sound like a cross between Gloria Steinem and Ram Dass--but had just sounded like a very caffeinated ME. Regular old human me, beautiful, slightly nuts, flawed. Trying to tell my truth about God and being human, in my own voice.

Sigh. Then I flew home, to my dogs, my life, my writing, church, etc, and I drank a lot of water, and my friends loved me out of ALL sense of proportion, and I got to do the sacraments that save me--plop and putter. Reading to my grandson. Radical self-care--lots of rest, Wimbledon, salads, rubbing lotion into my fabulous jiggly thighs. Eating delicious low-sugar life-giving foods, with perhaps an excess of cherries and peaches. Okay, and plums. And that one night w/some See's. Getting a little writing done EVERY day, by pre-arrangement with myself, as a debt of honor. Teaching my Sunday school kids, that they are loved and chosen, safe beyond all understanding, and that to be alive in a miracle. 

Home! In my funny gorgeous dumb puttery life! Sweeping the kitchen, singing along with the Beatles. Hallelujah, and wow, and thank you thank you thank you.

Friday, June 28, 2013

For Such A Time as This... Facebook?

Most of us churchy folk live in a social bubble where nearly everyone we know is churchy. So going out to where the unchurchified people are is a common challenge.

For such a time as this... has God created Facebook?

As an "out" exercise, one could intentionally wander around their FB social space in search of people outside the shrinking sphere of Christendom.... see what's up in their lives.... pray for them... and even consider messaging them to share a simple word.  

"Sorry to see that you're . I'll be keeping you in my prayers."

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Shameless" Sermon Series, Part Three: "Brene, to the Therapist!"

Here's the third in my four-week series on shame.  I share a lot about my own interior life this week to show the multiple ways I see the Lord at work to heal and bless me, and to help destigmatize the very valuable things God provides through counseling and medication!

To watch the clip of Brene I refer to, go to and watch the segment from 10:50 to 14:40.

Also, if you want to see the Powerpoint slides directly, as they are hard to see on the video, you can find them here

These sermons are being done at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Maplewood, MN.  It concludes on Sunday, June 30th, 2013.

Sermon from June 23rd, 2013 from Gethsemane on Vimeo.

"Shameless" Sermon Series, Part Two: "The Shame Game"

Here's the second of my four week series on shame.  We get a look at the core of Brene's insights on shame, and then I make the connection to faith.  In a nutshell, I modify her wise words:
"Let yourself be seen, and believe that you are enough."
to link them to the spiritual reality of the loving God in this way:
"Let yourself be seen by God,  and believe your Father when He tells you that you are enough."
To watch the clip of Brene I refer to, go to and watch the segment from 6:06 to 11:20.

Also, if you want to see the Powerpoint slides directly, as they are hard to see on the video, you can find them here

This series is being done at Gethsemane Church in Maplewood, Minnesota.

Sermon from June 16th, 2013 from Gethsemane on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Can the Big Church Fish See the Water?

A friend offered this question in a pastor's forum:

"How robust of an institution does a local congregation really need? A side conversation... got me thinking about church organized in a manner of an AA group, or perhaps the Scouts, or little league sports teams - few if any staff at the local level, oversight and organization at a regional level, nimble, and gathering in homes and other community spaces. What think you? Could the church thrive with a much more stripped down, streamlined, loose association?"

To which I replied:

"I think what your describing is similar to both the early church and the church under persecution in China - both cases of explosive growth. If we weren't already *in* such a hugely different paradigm, we might be asking the question from the other side: "How robust could the church be if it tried to operate with a minimum size that was so large you were required to add layers of organization and find special buildings just to even have a meeting?""

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Shameless" Sermon Series, Part One: "Brene to the Rescue!"

Here's the first in my Shameless sermon series.  (Every time I write "shameless sermon series" I feel like I'm apologizing for something.)  ;)

In this first sermon, entitled Brené to the Rescue!, researcher/storyteller Brené Brown sets out to solve the mystery of human connection and comes face-to-face with the great connection killer: Shame.  As a part of the sermon, the congregation undertakes an activity to challenge the shame of struggling with shame, seeing visually that this is a very common challenge among us.

(Early in the sermon we watched a 6 minute segment of Brené's TED Talk.  To respect the copyright on that talk, it is not included in the video below.  So I suggest you pause at that point and watch the first 6 minutes here.)

Sermon from June 9th, 2013 from Gethsemane on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Insights for Public Speakers

Anyone doing public speaking, preachers especially, will really appreciate these four great observations on what makes an effective presentation.  Based on Brene Brown's TED Talk on vulnerability.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Asteroid Field Navigation

A clergy friend posted a nice thought this morning that got me pontificating about the Asteroid Field again. (Not that it takes much to get me to pontificate.)

He wrote:

"When you are organizing a new kind of community you will make mistakes. Admitting when you are wrong is essential to successful organizing. Self awareness is healthy. But like any community the main thing is to have fun together and git 'r done. For my money this means foster creativity, celebrate liminality, open source crowd source strong networks, and grow this frickin' church. Spirit willing that is."

I replied:

"Count me in. And FWIW, I suggest pushing back even harder on the assumption that we shouldn't make "mistakes." Embedded in the notion of mistakes is the idea that a correct path exists that you cold, theoretically, follow correctly. Like a trail map through the mountains that you could deviate from by a mistake in navigation. Much of our context no longer even allows for the possibility of a map, because there is no terrain. We navigate the asteroid field now. There can be no map, and if you try to write one you'll get hit because you sat still too long while drafting it. In fact, I'd say that the most common "mistake" in our context is just that: sitting still too long. The only chance at survival (not to mention progress) is *constant movement and course correction.* Orient, Act, Repeat.

"As a side note... OAR navigation works much better with very small teams, I think. Taking a Star Destroyer into the asteroid field is lunacy. Going in with a TIE fighter or the Falcon is pretty darn risky... but survivable!"

Friday, May 31, 2013

Biblical Authority as an Acquired Trait

I write notes to myself and occasionally need to corral all my scraps of paper.  Found this one today on the changing place of Scripture in faith formation.

"As we move further away from Christendom and Modernity I think we will need to accept that you can't use the Bible to convince anyone to believe in Jesus, but rather, it will be faith in Jesus that will convince people to value the Bible."

Other than the hyperbole in using "can't... convince anyone," I'm thinking this is pretty much on target.  The Bible, for many, doesn't begin with authority that you can use to found a faith.  Rather, it will acquire authority from the relationship between a believer and Jesus himself.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Shameless" Sermon Series and TED Talks

I'm gearing up for a series of sermons of freedom from shame.  The spark for this series was a hugely popular TED Talk by Brene Brown (see below), and I wanted to lift that up for people regardless of their interest in my own series.  It's good stuff.  I'm curious, also, just to know who may have already seen her talk, and if others have used it in worship or for teaching.

Here's the official article on my series.  It will be recorded and the videos will be posted here each week, typically by Sunday afternoon.

I am very excited to tell you about the sermon series I will be doing in June! It's entitled Shameless and will explore how the love of God frees us from feelings of shame and inadequacy. 
This series was inspired by a "TED Talk" video I saw online not long ago. TED Talks are short presentations by creative thinkers on a huge range of topics - everything from physics to fishing! The one that really grabbed me was by a woman named Brene Brown. In her presentation, she talked about the deep human experiences of connection and shame, love and vulnerability, sharing both her research and her personal journey towards whole-heartedness. This talk has been viewed over 9 million times! Brene has touched a lot of hearts with her insights and her personal courage to be open. Her core message is "Let yourselves be seen, and believe that you are enough."  
This is a true, profound and life-changing word of grace. And yet it leaves one essential thing unsaid: who is it that sees you, who says you are enough? The Shameless sermon series will seek to fulfill the promise of her talk by answering that question, inviting everyone to let themselves be seen by God and to believe their loving Father when he tells them they are enough.

Wrestling with shame has been a challenge for me personally over the years, and I'm so eager to share with others the grace I've found for dealing with that in Jesus. If you or someone you know ever struggles with feeling "unworthy" please be sure they get the word about this series! And by all means,encourage people to view Brene's talk online first. If they like what they find there, tell them the news gets even better when the love of God get into the mix!  
The series will go something like this...
Sunday June 9..............Brené to the Rescue!
Sunday June 16............The Shame Game
Sunday June 23............Brené, to the Therapist!
Sunday June 30............unComfortably Numb 
Now, is plugging my own sermon series a shameless thing to do?  Maybe so.  I guess I can live with that.  ;)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Replication vs. Recursion in Discipleship

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:1

Several years ago I heard Neil Cole speak about the process of discipling people and he used a great image to illustrate what not to do: photocopying.  We're all familiar I think with what happens to an image when you make a copy, then a copy of the copy, then a copy of the copy of the copy and so on.  Neil was reminding us that when we work directly with others to disciple them, we need to be clear that we are an example to them, but not an example to copy.  Rather, we need to be examples of how to copy Jesus.

More recently, I've been in in a weekly phone huddle since October, learning the 3dm approach to discipleship and mission.  I would describe it as a hands-on "direct discipleship" process, and the same themes are emerging there.  They talk about having a life worth imitating, but again the focus is on picking up the habits of going directly to Jesus as the "master copy" each of us should work from.  A key part of the training in the huddle is passing on the skills, mindset and practices that help one be a good Christ-copier.  (I just made that term up.)

Ruminating on this, I've been wanting specific language and imagery for this.  The language, I think, is the distinction between replication (successive re-copying) vs. recursion (repeating the process of first-generation duplication.  Visually, I've been sketching stuff that looks like the two images at left.

This helps me see the key distinction in my role with the next generation (or iteration, perhaps.)  I should see myself, not so much as the one discipling you, but as one nurturing the relationship between Jesus and you so that he is the discipler and you are the disciplee.  (As a biologist by trade, I recognize this as the role of a catalyst.)

Some nice things fall into place when using this little mental map.  For example, I like to think in terms of learning the "tools" of discipleship: key concepts, practices, attitudes etc.  The language of tools however can become uncomfortable if it suggests that I am going to "use the tools on you," and teach you to use them on the next person.  Rather, the point of the tools is that I learn how to use them on myself, to nurture my own discipleship relationship with Jesus.  When I begin to "disciple you," that really means introducing you to the same tools, so that you can use them on yourself for the building up of your own relationship with Jesus.  The whole "tools" language has other issues of course.  It's a bit "manipulative" as an element in a loving relationship perhaps, and can point you towards what's in your hands vs. whose hands you are in.  But the recursion perspective at least steers it away from me getting my own hands under your spiritual hood.

Another thing that falls nicely into place is the requirement for a living Jesus.  In the replication model, once you get your first copy you technically don't need the original anymore.  Jesus could be out of the picture, or even dead for that matter, and the discipling chain can keep right on going.  In recursion though, there is an absolute requirement for a living Jesus to be continually involved, since he is the one that each generation needs to connect to directly so that they can be his disciples.

Personally, I think it's a good thing to have a discipleship model that requires the involvement of a living Jesus.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Evaluating Discipleship - Head, Hand and Heart

Some recent conversation about evaluating ministry in a Facebook group got quickly bogged down in typical struggles. Butts in pews and bucks in the offering plate can be measured, but don't tell the story etc. I brought a different perspective in these words:

"Most of what we are talking about evaluating (whether numerically or otherwise) are, I think, merely proximate targets. They are *close* to what's important, but not the thing itself. If our goal is to make disciples, then our real evaluations should be on the actual traits that describe such people. For convenience (and alliteration) I like to use three categories: Head (knowledge), Hand (practices), and Heart (attitudes). As it turns out, I think those are listed in order of ease of evaluation, and in reverse order of importance. If we never get around to really assessing how we are doing in shaping people into 
Christ-likeness in those three dimensions, then I assert we never really know if we are being effective or not.
...and to anticipate a question, yes, you certainly can have a meaningful evaluation for "Heart" factors e.g. love, joy, peace, patience etc. I myself have taken depression inventories, which are a reverse indicator of joy in a way. Also, spouses can be readily enlisted to provide evaluations along these lines: "Honey... I've been attending church for a year now. Do I seem more kind or patient to you?" (I'm thinking that last bit was probably only 5% facetious. Maybe less.)"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Agitating the Lutherans (Again)

Here's a little inside baseball for my Lutheran readers. I've been pressing the house church conversation on some Facebook forums and thought I'd collect a couple of my posts here as well:

"Along with the anxieties over wandering away from theological orthodoxy, another panic point in the house church conversation among Lutherans is presiding at communion. ("Panic point" is a bit condescending... sorry about that. Couldn't resist the alliteration.) Case in point, Clint Schnekloth posted a comment about the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Eucharist expressed in our extreme avoidance of having non-ordained people preside, and it's elicited over 500 comments in just over 2 days. That's called touching a nerve."
"Our theology staunchly affirms that the validity of the sacrament is NOT dependent on who presides. Yet our practice consistently and powerfully contradicts, and IMO trumps our theology in the minds of laity and many clergy."
"The "good order" standard is a huge leverage point I think we need to lean on as much as possible. It's one of the greatest assets of Lutheranism, because it points us to the importance of pragmatism. When I look at the entirety of our congregational life - everything from these kinds of presiding questions to the huge investment in large group weekly worship - I just keep asking; just how good does anyone think our current "order" is??? Blessed as we are with hugely valuable insights in theology, our key temptation is to evaluate "goodness" solely based on theological concerns. Meanwhile, our practice for shaping lives that enflesh the richness of our theology is manifestly ineffective."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stirrings among the Lutherans

Something is afoot in my tribe. (ELCA Lutherans)

I've been keeping my ear to the ground for people interested in things like house church and discipleship movements since before I started this blog back in 2007. Found lots of people out there and a lot of ferment, but among my tribe the connections were few and far between so I was mostly sowing seeds it seems.  As of today, it seems to be different.

First, a post in an ELCA clergy group on Facebook yesterday asked if anyone was looking at house church model for ministry.  This thread became very active with quite a number of people joining in.  It led right away to talk of extended conversations and networking, and to the formation of a new FB group this afternoon that already has 31 members eager to continue the conversation .  That is a lot of (mostly) Lutheran clergy types hot for a house church conversation!  I've not seen anything like it before.

Second, a FB group formed some weeks ago for ELCA folks who were active or interested in using the 3dm approach to discipleship. That group has 132 people in it, predominantly clergy as far as I can tell.  The energy building in that conversation led to a suggestion that people gather in Florida at the Exponential Conference to have some conversation about 3dm discipleship in our Lutheran context.  I jumped right on that and thought maybe there would be another 5 or so that might go for it as well.  I just learned today that there are 23 people planning to convene for this conversation!

Looks like the Spirit may be up to something.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

State of the Evangelical Union 2013

I'm finding a huge amount of value in Mike Breen's work on discipleship through 3dm and wanted to pass along his (annual?) post on The State of the Evangelical Union.  I shared it will Bill Easum, whom I've had the privileged of working with in recent years, and he found it valuable too.

Some of my favorite bits:

"...discipleship... is “a long obedience in the same direction.” It isn’t complex and easy. It’s simple, but hard to do."

“There is a paradigm shift that needs to happen. We need to move from being a worshipping body that sometimes does mission to a missional body that gathers to celebrate and worship.”

" the end of the day, I want to be part of a movement that puts missional discipleship back into the hands of every-day people. You get that by learning Family on Mission."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Prayer vs. Prayerfulness?

Just wanted to pass along a very nice blog post by Ben Sternke where he talks about the temptation to seek out a certain feeling in prayer ("prayerfulness" as he calls it) rather than simply praying and letting our feelings follow along (or not) as they will. Here's the link and an excerpt below.

"But the trap is that when it is time to pray again, I inadvertently find myself seeking that state of mind instead of doing the activity that brought about the state of mine. I seek the secondary effect (“prayerfulness”) as a primary thing and thus lose both the primary thing and the secondary effect. I end up neither praying nor feeling prayerful! I vaguely try to conjure a certain state of mind and eventually give up, frustrated at how “hard” it is to pray. 
But what I have been learning lately is to abandon the pursuit of “prayerfulness” and simply get down to the business of actually praying. This sounds absurdly obvious, I know, but it has been a profound revelation for me. Just sit down (or stand up, or walk around) and prayJust start praying."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Satire Suggests... House Church?

Found this editorial cartoon in the paper today which gives a window onto how the church is viewed:

Regardless of how fair you feel the critique is, it does suggest, to me at least, a different kind of message from heaven one might want to keep an ear open for.  Something along these lines:

Now, how's that again O Loving One?  I ask a handful of people to manage your money and use the edifice they already have to live a glorious life of joy and generosity that clearly has your name written all over it?  Then we plead for others to join us with their big bucks to live lives of simplicity and service, to show we're not faking it, and to demonstrate that your beneficence is not a ponzi scheme?  Say, this sounds pretty good!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

DiscipleShift - Priorities for Change

For a quick rundown on some critical priorities for change in the church, it would be tough to do much better than these five below. They are the themes for the Exponential conference
coming up in April.
"The DiscipleShift theme is about moving the church planting conversation beyond missional versus attractional to a deep and passionate discourse around disciple making. At next year’s conference, we’ll explore several major shifts:
Shift 1: From Reaching to Making We need to shift to a clear definition of “disciple,” and then ask if our church is making that kind of person. It’s not enough to reach people if we are not making biblical disciples.
Shift 2: From Teaching to Modeling Discipleship begins with pastors and church leaders shifting their view of discipleship from classes toward a discipleship lifestyle. As leaders, we must intentionally model what it looks like to follow Jesus and lead others to do the same.
Shift 3: From Attending to Participating Discipleship cannot simply be a program or a ministry we offer and people attend. We have to shift discipleship back to the center of our churches, making it the purpose of everything we do and let people know that discipleship is dependent on participating in the endless process of following Christ.
Shift 4: From Connecting to Transforming Beyond just classes and sermons, discipleship must be based friendship and time together. To cultivate the kind of disciples Jesus did, we have to shift our paradigm from activity and surface connections to deep, accountable relationships.
Shift 5: From Attracting to Deploying Jesus was much more concerned with the 12 men He invested in than the thousands He taught. Shifting our scorecard from how many people we gather to how many disciples we deploy is essential."