Posts Tagged culture

Why 4 different gospel accounts?

Have you ever wondered why there are four different versions of the same gospel story? Mark Driscoll gives a helpful explanation:

The way the Gospels in our Bible have been arranged provides a perfect example of how the same gospel story can be presented in different ways. Some critics of Scripture have argued that the differences between the Gospels are contradictions. This could not be farther from the truth. The four gospels simply are similar to your local nightly news. The first three gospels are like local network television affiliates for ABC, NBC, and CBS, which generally report the same stories with some variation in eyewitness accounts and details. This explains why roughly 60 percent of the first three gospels give the same information. John, on the other hand, is more like one of the national cable television newscasts—such as CNN—which have news stories that are rarely found on the local nightly news. This explains why roughly 90 percent of John is unique to his account. (Radical Reformission, 57)

What do you think are the implications of this in terms of how we adapt our gospel presentation? How can we adjust the form of our gospel presentation without adjusting the content?

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A Fresh Look at Mission

One of the first books that began to reshape my understanding of the church’s role in culture was Mark Driscoll’s The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out. I wanted to share an excerpt from it, as I think it has some helpful ideas as we consider what it means to “embody the message and mission of Jesus in every place he sends us.”

I’m also excited about Mike and Val Kelley’s Community Group that will be meeting this summer and working through this book (click here for more info on this summer’s groups).

In the book, Driscoll coins the phrase “reformission,” which he then defines like this:

A radical call to reform the church’s traditionally flawed view of missions as something carried out only in foreign lands and to focus instead on the urgent need in our own neighborhoods, which are filled with diverse cultures of Americans who desperately need the gospel of Jesus and life in his church.

One of my favorite excerpts comes from the third chapter, “Shotgun Weddings to Jesus”:

In reformission evangelism, people are called to come and see the transformed lives of God’s people before they are called to repent of sin and to trust in God. Taking a cue from dating is helpful on this point. If we desire people to be happily married to Jesus as his loving bride, it makes sense to let them go out on a few dates with him instead of just putting a shotgun to their heads and asking them to hurry up, put on a white dress, and try to look happy for the photos.

Reformission evangelism understands that the transformed lives of people in the church are both the greatest argument for, and the greatest explanation of, the gospel. Therefore, it welcomes non-Christians into the church, not so much through evangelistic programs as through informal relationships like Jesus developed with his first disciples. In our church in Seattle, as lost people become friends with Christians, they often get connected to various ministries (for example, helping to run concerts, helping to guide a rock-climbing expedition, taking a class on biblical marriage, helping to develop a website, joining a Bible study, serving the needy) and participate in them before they possess saving faith. In this way, reformission evangelism depends on friendship and hospitality as conduits to the gospel.

As trust is earned over time, lost people will often speak with their Christian friends about “our church” before they speak about “our God.” Often they first convert to the church and friendships with its members, and second to God, whom they meet in their friendships and experiences in the church. For example, a woman in our church who knows that she is not a Christian asked if she could host a Bible study in her home and have someone else teach it, because she enjoyed the people in “our church” so much that she was excited to have them in her home.

Reformission evangelism considers it vital that lost people be brought close enough to witness the natural and practical outworking of the gospel in people’s lives. Reformission Christians are not ashamed of the gospel, and they speak about Jesus and pray to him in front of their lost friends as they would around their Christian friends; and their lost friends appreciate their authenticity. Their lost friends are comfortable asking them questions about the Christian life, and these reformission Christians have earned the right to give answers as a result of their friendships and hospitality.

At some point, God may grant saving faith to their lost friends and enable them to pass from death to life, but their salvation is ultimately between them and God, as he alone gives salvation. The precise moment of their conversion is known by God, but it is often unknown to them, because authentic conversion is experienced more as a process than as a single moment. Ultimately, what matters most is not when they meet Jesus but that at some point they begin loving him with new hearts and will continue to do so forever.

One of the most fascinating aspects of reformission evangelism is that lost people actually function as missionaries themselves before their conversion. Lost people commonly speak with lost family and friends of what they are learning about Jesus, even inviting them to church and introducing them to their Christian friends. Hence, reformission evangelism is careful not to sever lost people or new Christians from their tribe of lost friends because those relationships present further opportunities for evangelism. The only exception would be if those relationships were causing someone to fall back into habitual sin.

What stands out to you from that excerpt? What do you agree or disagree with?

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The History of “Amazing Grace”

One of the interesting observations from last week’s U2 concert was that, as Bono sang the song “Amazing Grace,” very few people around me seemed like they knew the song. They knew all the U2 stuff by heart, but they didn’t know this famous hymn. It struck me that this was another indication that our culture is much more post-Christian that many churches or Christians would like to think. Christians are foolish to assume that people know things that we might take for granted or think, “everybody knows that.”

Anyway, I’ve always loved this video about “Amazing Grace” and the story of how John Newton developed the music to his much-loved hymn.

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10 Ways to be a Great Church Plant Core Group

We’ve been so blessed at Second Mile to have such a great core group — we called them the “launch team” — who have done so much to help us start in strength. Tomorrow morning I’m going to be sharing with a group of men from the core group at Christchurch of East Mesa, a new sister church of ours (both of us were launched out of East Valley Bible Church in Gilbert). My contention is that it doesn’t matter how gifted or called the church planter is if his team is not on board in living out the vision of the new work.

So I made a top 10 list to help these guys start the church in a healthy way:

1. Your primary job is to create a culture that you and God will be happy about 10 years from now. This is a difficult thing to do, and part of the goal behind our current Core Values series. Who you are in the early days is who you will be later. Sure, some things change. But the DNA of who you are as a church and what drives you is formed quickly. Even though many core group members eventually move on, their role as culture-creators is essential.

2. Your new pastor and church will eventually disappoint you and let you down. People get into a new church thinking it will be utopia. It isn’t. Even if it is for a while, eventually the glitter rubs off. If you find the perfect church, leave because you will ruin it.

3. Work to create an evangelistic texture to every ministry environment. Evangelism is not just one program or an event. It happens all the time as people feel comfortable inviting friends and welcoming them into the community. Tim Keller’s resource on Evangelism & Church Planting in Postmodern Cities is very helpful here.

4. Always talk as though nobody knows who your heroes are. Christianity has its own little subculture, and different churches have their own set of “heroes” that they admire and talk about. But if you mention “Piper,” “Keller,” “Crowder,” “Luther,” etc. without explanation and assume everyone knows who those people are, it creates insiders and outsiders in a way that isn’t helpful. For us, and for Christchurch, it’s important not to assume people know who “East Valley” (our sending church) or “Tom” (our sending church’s pastor) are. One lady visited a group, kept hearing from an older woman about all the things “Tom” used to say and assumed that he was the lady’s deceased husband! Either way, to people who are far from God or not from your tradition, this is unhelpful and alienating.

5. Be known by what you’re for, not what you’re against. Is the church started from a positive vision for something or as a reaction against something? It makes all the cultural difference in the world.

6. Don’t moralize your personal preferences. Sometimes people are drawn to a new core group because they think it’s an opportunity to “create the church I’d like to attend.” But if those preferences (styles, times, songs, programs, plans) become sacred and moralized (i.e. “this is the right way to do it”), you’ll be disappointed (at best) or divisive (at worst), convinced that everyone else is sinful and bad.

7. Leave your current church on great terms (or go make it right if you didn’t). For a Christian who’s joining the core group of a church plant, this is really important. Don’t leave with baggage from your last church. If you’ve been in a position of leadership or responsibility, communicate with the people you’ve been working with. Don’t disappear out of nowhere, don’t drop the ball, and don’t smear mud on people or things that you didn’t like there. If you’ve already left and you’re guilty of division or gossip or dropping the ball, go apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make it right. Don’t bring your personal junk into this new work and think it won’t negatively influence the new work.

8. Relentlessly involve new people. I’ve realized that, in general, the “80-20 rule” where 20% of people do all the work is not the fault of the 80%. They would like to be involved. But once the 20% know each other and who they can count on to get things done, they stop asking people outside that circle. That’s why it’s huge to constantly be meeting and involving new people.

9. Be ready for change. I call this the “Brett Farve Retirement Principle” or the “for now” principle. One of my mentors says you should end every sentence with “for now” because the only constant thing in a new church is change. We’ve followed this advice and it is very good (for now).

10. Direction, not intention, determines your destination. This line was stolen from Andy Stanley’s “Principle of the Path” and simply means that where you’re headed is where you’re headed, even if you’d like to be headed somewhere else. The implication is that the things you want to be true of you in the future have to be part of the equation now or they will be very difficult to implement to the culture someday.

These are things that we’re still working on and trying to develop, and I’m thankful for the men and women who are striving to make them a reality in our church. It’s made the early days of this effort a sincere joy.

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Two Quotes on Relevance in Ministry

Young pastors like myself are always thinking about how to make the unchanging message of the gospel relevant to the ever-changing cultural situation we find ourselves in. Just like a foreign missionary would examine his or her culture and look for ways that the gospel connects, American Christians should be doing the same thing.

Though they might not be exactly on the same theological or philosophical page, pastors John Piper and Rick Warren have been helpful for me as I think through how to have a relevant ministry. Consider the following quotes:

John Piper (in a discussion with other pastors):

“I think there are common denominators in human beings that are so massive, that one can get a lot of mileage out of feeling them very strongly. Like, ‘everybody’s gonna die.’ You should try feeling that sometime. And ‘everybody loves authenticity.’ I try to feel that…and then I read the newspaper and listen to a little bit of NPR and look at advertisers (I think they’re the ones who really study human beings), but mainly I’m trying to understand how John Piper ticks and go deep with my own heart and my own struggles and fears and guilt and pride, and then try to work on that and figure out how to tell others from the Bible how they can work on that. There’s enough connection to be of some use.”

Rick Warren (in an interview/discussion with Ed Young):

“I have found in looking for evangelistic hooks, it is more helpful to focus on what’s not going to change. Because I can tell you 30 years from now what’s not going to change. God’s promises are not going to change. Go’ds character is not gonna change. God’s love is not going to change. God’s word is not going to change. Human nature is not going to change. And I know that even 30 years from now, no matter what the technological changes, communication changes, or cultural changes — it will be a totally different world — but people will still be lonely, people will still get bitter, people will still get angry, people will still have relational problems, people will still have guilt and resentment and regrets and worries and fears and doubts, people are still going to have problems with parents and kids, they are still going to be looking for purpose. So the only way to always be relevant is to be eternal — to focus on eternal things — things that don’t change.”

I think these are wise words. Many things change. But the most important things never do. Remembering that will always keep you relevant.

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Building Second Mile’s Culture

One thing that I get asked a lot from people who are wanting to be part of Second Mile is, “What can I do to help?”

Here’s my typical answer: “Well, there are a lot of things that can be done in terms of tasks — there are many opportunities to volunteer on our various ministry teams — and these tasks are really important. But what I really want you to do is help us build a culture that will be something we’re happy about 10 years from now.”

This is so important because every group of people has a culture (some have called it a “code” or “DNA”) that reveals who they really are and what they really care about. This culture is often unspoken and subtle–it’s more felt and experienced than articulated. And, regardless of what a group’s stated values are, their culture is what their actual, lived-out values are. One definition for culture is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a” group of people (Merriam-Webster).

I think it’s likely that the culture that is created at Second Mile in the first six months will be the culture that exists six years from now, even though the programs, structures, and people of the church will be very different. That’s why I’m exhorting people not just to do some tasks, but to build a culture of love, grace, servanthood, hospitality, warmth, authenticity, community, compassion for the hurting, and life-transforming passion for God.

How could you help build a great culture? Here are a few ideas:

  • Get white-hot for God. Do whatever it takes to stoke your passion for Jesus. Repent of sin. Pray. Dig into Scripture. Serve those around you. Tell somebody about what Jesus has done for you. Do whatever it takes.
  • Depend on God’s Spirit every moment. Scripture tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.” That would be a pretty good culture, eh?
  • Cultivate a servant’s heart. Do anything you can to help anyone at anytime. Serving people is one of those things that makes us more and more like Jesus.
  • Be generous with your time, your resources, and your money. Look for opportunities to bless people with the resources God has given you. You’ve been blessed to be a blessing.
  • Have somebody over for dinner. Find a person you don’t know very well yet and open your home to them with love and hospitality.
  • Smile and laugh. Enjoy your life. Create opportunities for fun. Laugh at yourself.
  • Extend care to someone in pain. Hurt and brokenness are all around us. Find somebody experiencing pain and walk alongside them with care and compassion.

Building a culture is both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. I think we’re on a good track and our leaders and team have been incredible. Let’s keep it up and build a community that loves and honors God with everything that we are.

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“How Much Do You Have to Hate Somebody Not to Proselytize?”

Ed Stetzer posted this video to his blog today and it’s worth watching and meditating on. It’s of Penn Jillette, a comedian and illusionist who happens to be an atheist, describing a recent encounter he had with a Christian.

Penn says:

I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, and you think, ‘Well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward’… How much do you have to hate somebody not to proselytize?

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