Posts Tagged ‘Church’

The Church: A Who, Not a What

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I’ve often noted that the term “church” refers to the people of God; the called out ones; those formed for his dwelling and bearers of his presence in the world. It doesn’t refer to a building, denomination or physical location.

This video clip points this out well. I wish I’d had it for the class I recently taught on the subject. My tagline for the class was, “The Church is a who, not a what.”

HT: Rob Fairbanks

Fostering a People-Development Agenda

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Yesterday I shared three major developments that Reggie McNeal believes must take place in order for the church to undergo a missional transformation.

The second shift in the three is to move from a program-driven agenda to a people-development agenda. This shift is necessary because the North American church has largely become a collection of programs run by staff and non-staff leaders and has lost its people-development calling.

Reggie believes the “rise of the program-driven church correlates directly with the rise of the service economy in post-World War II America. The manufacturing engine powering the economy yielded to the service sector as Americans could afford to pay other people to do things they no longer wanted to do themselves or couldn’t do themselves. People began to outsource food preparation, lawn maintenance, laundry, oil changes, and child care. And Americans outsourced spiritual formation to the church. It was during this period that the concept of church as a vendor of religious goods and services became entrenched in the ethos of the North American church culture.

“The demanding service expectation on the part of church families drove the church to proliferate its offerings in children’s and student ministries at first. This was followed by scores of other programs in an increasingly market-driven approach to capturing church members. The church growth movement of the last quarter of the twentieth century fed this frenzy as churches clamored for customers who could support the program expansion. The result was a resettling of the church population into congregations who have both paid attention to this program expectation and fed it as well.

“Church programming became increasingly complex as churches became more adept and more able to develop ministry options. The assumption grew that the church could provide the venues and opportunities for people to live out their entire spiritual journey as part of a church sponsored or church operated activity. This approach to Christian life has gone on now for so long that it seems natural and normal to North American church people.”

Because the program-driven agenda has become so deep-seated and expected, nurturing a people-development agenda and culture will require some important alteration in the way church leaders think and behave. In this video, Reggie talks about this second shift and how to foster it.

Reformed Church in America: One Thing: Reggie McNeal: What Are You Going To Do About It? from Phil Tanis on Vimeo.

What’s the Difference?

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

This is a 2-minute video that attempts to provide a sense the change in perspective between our traditional view of church and missional church.

HT: Alan Hirsch

A Conversation With Ed Stetzer

Monday, March 9th, 2009

This is a cross-post of an exchange between Rick Meigs, one of the Missional Tribe instigators, and Ed Stetzer that was recently posted at Missional Tribe.

Ed is not just a talking head, guru or theorist, he is a practitioner. He has planted churches in New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia and transitioned declining churches in Indiana and Georgia. Ed has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. He is currently interim teaching pastor of First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, TN. But his primary role these days is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence.

Ed’s must read blog is

MT: In simple terms, what issue(s) or problem(s) do you believe helped give rise to the “missional movement”?

Ed: The quality streams in the missional movement are good course corrective to some of the problems in the church growth movement (which, ironically, was mainly a response to the missio dei movement that de-emphasized evangelism in a the name of a holistic gospel). I think perhaps the common thread through all the variations “missional” would be the concern that churches have become inward focused and self-concerned and have given up the missionary nature of the Christian and the Church. “Mission” isn’t just a program or something some of us do, but something we are and something we’re all called to do as it reflects the characteristic mission of God.

MT: You mentioned the missio dei movement has/can lead to a de-emphasis on evangelism. This is a huge concern of mine. Can you unpack your thoughts just a bit on this?

Ed: Well, the last folks who put a strong emphasis on the missio dei actually did so to the detriment of evangelism. In a rather ironic reality, what became known as the “Church Growth Movement” was largely a response to the “missio dei” movement. The CGM (before it lost much of its way) was created to help the church refocus on evangelism because everything was defined as “mission.”

Missions historian Stephen Neil expresses the concern that when churches focus on societal transformation, and particularly when they call it missions, then “everything” is mission. Neil explained, “when everything is mission, nothing is mission.” Those words were prophetic: he spoke those words to a movement that progressively moved away from church planting and evangelistic missions to a near total focus on social justice (for more information, see the history of the Conciliar missions movement).

Moreover, are there historical patterns that further confirm Neil’s concerns? When we look at the history of missions, it is frequent (dare I say common?) that those churches which focus on societal change lose their focus on evangelism and church planting. The most healthy churches engage in evangelism (individual transformation), church planting (collective transformation), and societal impact (cultural transformation). And one tends to lead to the others. The best societal impact occurs when it is a reflection of individual and collective, gospel transformation.

So, when you hear someone you consider less “missional” that you say, “Let’s tell them about Jesus because if we serve the hurting we will lose our focus on missions,” it might have more historical validity than you would choose to believe. Thus, many are convinced that if churches have to choose between evangelism and social action, they should choose evangelism. And with good reason.

I just think that it’s short-sighted for churches to choose. Evangelism, church planting, and societal impact are like fruit that blossom and grow from healthy church trees. We do not have to bow to the tyranny of the “or.”

So, the church growth people reminded us that we needed to reach the lost. And, as we emphasize mission again, we would do well to be careful to not lose the evangelistic impulse as we also think more fully on the mission of God.

MT: Any practical advice to pastors and leaders on how to ensure that proclamation (as Frost would put it) is not de-emphasized in their efforts to move their faith communities toward a more missional stance?

Ed: I think you have to see it as one mission but with different facets.

To see all of this as one mission requires a biblical understanding of the gospel and the mission. The beginning point is to bring people into the mission (by seeing them become believers and followers of the King); the second phase involves forming groups of these believers together into transformational units (churches); the third aspect involves fulfilling the one mission (of bringing more into the mission AND serving the hurting) to the point that societal and cultural impact takes place.

While these often do not happen in a perfectly sequential way, a progression can be witnessed or identified. Hence, because of the order some conclude that a priority of evangelism exists. It is a fair statement, but incomplete.

A “priority” often creates a dichotomy where there can only be one. It is not either/or. Really, it is not even “both/and”it is “one mission.” Churches that chooses to join God on his one mission see the transformation of individuals because it is intensely evangelistic, the transformation of cooperative units as new congregations are formed, and the transformation of society because it cares about the world, because Jesus called the church to advance His kingdom in the world.

Perhaps a solution to our false trichotomy can be found by understanding the gospel and the Kingdom. Though the church is not the Kingdom of God, it is a sign and an instrument of the Kingdom. But, how does one enter the Kingdom? Well, by repenting of sin (a response to evangelism). Note the message and the response, “But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12, HCSB).

As Christians we have an obligation to care about society and the increasing evangelical consensus on the Kingdom of God calls us to plant new churches and engage in good works because of our Kingdom obligation. Jesus calls us to serve the poor and care about our communities so that we might obey the King and demonstrate His Kingdom, showing and sharing the good news of Jesus.

Thus, proclamation leads people to Christ who then join together in the larger mission. That mission is to see the world transformed by the gospel. The focus is to see people and society more like Jesus would have it be and the church is the tool God uses to accomplish that agenda. The church is not the goal; the gospel of the Kingdom is the goal and the church is the tool. As such, we invite people to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 8:12) and then to be a part of the mission of Jesus to serve (Luke 4) and to save (Luke 19:10).

MT: In “Breaking the Missional Code,” you and Putman wrote that “what is really needed is not just an understanding of missiological thinking, but a commitment to apply “˜missional’ thinking.” Are you seeing a commitment to applying missional thinking taking place? If so, what leads you to believe this and can you give some examples? If not, why do you think this is the case and/or what is hindering it?

Ed: The problem with the so-called “missional conversation” is that it too often stops at conversation. We have lots of professional and armchair missiologists, but very few practitioners. I do think there is a tide turning; however, time will tell if it involves actual commitment to applying missional thinking or if it is merely a new coat of paint on to what is perceived as the next technique for church programming or growth. There are mega-churches interested in what it might mean to implement “missional” in their communities. Church planting organizations are nurturing missional churches from the ground up and facilitating their multiplication. And then there are numerous smaller churches that are planting unconventional and gospel-centered — yet indigenous — communities.

MT: How are the leaders and pastors of your denomination responding to this whole missional discussion and movement?

Ed: Open but cautious. Which, incidentally, I think is a wise response to any biblically coherent movement or trend perceived as “new.” My denomination is facing its decline admirably in most cases and wanting to do what is biblically and practically necessary to do what it’s always meant to do: reach the lost near and far with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They let me hang around, so clearly they are not closed off to the missional discussion! And the research we are conducting is both waking us up to the problems before us and helping us problem-solve. Denominational publications “ both books and resources — are exploring “missional.”

We face an uphill climb, because the first guys to jump ship in my denomination were our creative, entrepreneurial young pastors and leaders, the guys most inclined toward missional vision. We’ve got to woo some of them back and nurture the ones rising up in the ranks, and I think the leaders in the denominations are realizing this.

And let’s be clear, as well: the SBC’s Cooperative Program is the largest and most successful denominational/organizational missions effort in the world. The task before us is converting that cooperation and focus in a concentrated way across the life of our local congregations.

MT: Thanks for the insight on the Southern Baptist Convention. As an aside, I think the SBC produced one of the best “missional” text (for lack of a better expression) in Blackaby’s “Experiencing God.” I remember well when Henry, who was still a Pastor and DOM in Canada, spent a weekend with our SBC church leaders and staff back in the 80s. He worked us through the material that would become Experiencing God. It was a profound weekend for me. Brought understanding to so much of what I was feeling and struggling with that we now label as missional.

In your latest book “Sent,” you talk about living the missional nature of the church. In simple terms, what does this mean?

Ed: In simple terms it means every Christian is called to live on mission. Wherever he or she is, whatever his or her location or vocation, he or she is to live on mission. We are ambassadors for Christ, as Paul says. Having been reconciled to God, he now carries the “ministry of reconciliation.” Mission isn’t something “other people” do in other parts of the world, or certain people do in your church program (as in the evangelism pastor or whatever). It is the call of every believer, and therefore the call of the Christian community. And it means the community not existing for its own sake like the self-interested Jerusalem church we see in Acts, but existing to share and “be”the good news of Jesus for the sake of its neighbors.

MT: Do you have a word of counsel for the pastor/leader who wants to help move his people towards living this missional nature?

Ed: A few things: You must live it yourself. It cannot be a theoretical technique you’re trying on. Pastor by teaching but also by being an example. Secondly, be prayerful and patient. Don’t take a sharp 90 degree turn. Cast a vision through your example and through consistent teaching over time and providing opportunities for missional service. Don’t push; lead. There’s lots of other things, but the last I’d mention is to network and seek counsel with other churches and leaders. See what’s worked for others and what hasn’t, get encouragement and advice, and develop cooperation between congregations.

MT: Thanks so much Ed for taking the time to share your experience, knowledge and heart with us.

There is a lot of great stuff here to contemplate. If you have a question or comment for Ed, please leave it here and we’ll ask Ed if he can pop over and respond.

You can also see a video exchange between Ed and David Fitch here.

Forge Canada on Defining Missional

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

In today’s newsletter from Forge Canada, their lead article is about defining missional church. The bottom-line of the piece can be summed up in this quote, “For ‘missional church’ to mean anything, it can’t mean everything.”

How true. It seems like everybody is attempting to add the term missional to the current program they are attempting to promote or make cool sounding. As Forge Canada writes, “Leaders, churches and denominations have all used the term ‘missional’ to describe anything and everything from a woman’s fellowship to their latest evangelism program.”

Look at this diagram I found today on the internet. Tell me, what is a missional cyclopedia, missional console or, OMG, a missional zip code?!

missional what?

So, do we give up on the term?

No way and Forge agrees. Like many of us they still see value in the term.

What we need, as fellow Missional Tribe instigator Brad Sargent once put it, is for “purveyors of missional emptiness to be sent to theological time-out until they have repented of their dilution of the term’s terms, meanings, and methods!”

Let us not give up on the term, but continue to be a humble and respectful corrective to misplaced notions.

Here is how Forge Canada defines missional church:

“The missional church vision is not a programmatic response to the crisis of relevance, purpose and identity that the church in the Western World is facing, but a recapturing of biblical views of the Church all too frequently abandoned, ignored, or obscured through long periods of church history. It is a renewed theological vision of the church in mission, which redefines the nature, the mission and the organization of the local church around Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom. Missional Churches seek to respond to God’s invitation to join Him in His mission in and for the world, as a sign, a servant and a foretaste of this Kingdom.”

Better than most, but still focuses exclusively on being on mission with God and misses critical aspects around the church gathered and Jesus followers living “the way of Jesus.” Missional is as much about “being” as it is about “doing.”

On the Street: A Story by Matt Tamura

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Three O’clock People feeds and tries to help Portland’s street people. I’m part of the group and usually our team is down on the streets once a month. We always set-up at the same place and time (three o’clock) so the people know exactly where and when we will be there.


Some of us will be down next Saturday, but because of a severe cold front that was due to hit Portland yesterday, I knew our friends from the street would need what little we had now and not next week. So I took the tarps, socks and gloves down to the team working on this Saturday little knowing that God had gone before us and was working.

Here is the story of this last Saturday as written by Matt Tamura, the Three O’clock People group leader.


“Where do you sleep?!?!” He asked me with more than a small dose of desperation in his voice. I started stammering so he asked my mom, “Where do YOU sleep?” He was new to the streets, his first week for sure, maybe his second night. He didn’t have familiar faces to eat with, no one was willing to answer his questions. Those who do find a good awning or bridge spot aren’t usually willing to disclose its location to strangers.

“These people, where do they all go to sleep at night?”

“Under a bridge?” I reply, more of a guess than an answer.

“I need to find someplace to go…I am gonna get wet tonight…it’s gonna be really cold.”

“Ummmm…warming centers?” I say.

“Where are those?”


Why is every answer a question? It’s because I know the new warming center is for people with families, with kids. And I don’t want to tell him that I don’t know, that I don’t have any solution.

Paul showed up at Three O’clock People (our weekly feeding) today not really knowing what was going on. He had a small green rolling suitcase. He seemed youngish, maybe 35ish, good looking with only three or four days of stubble on his chin. “Are you going to feed us? Where is the soup kitchen?” I laughed: “It’s right about where you are standing.” We set up our tables and serve on the sidewalk. It isn’t always the most comfortable or convenient place, but it feels good to be out in the elements, beside them for an afternoon.

I had some blankets, but what he needed was something that might keep him dry. You don’t want to get wet on a night like [it’s going to be] tonight. Well thank God for Rick, who was going to be bringing some donated items next week, but had the premonition that they might really be needed this week. As if he were Paul’s guardian angel, Rick brought tarps and gloves and socks down to hand out.

[Paul got a tarp.] “WE ARE GONNA STAY DRY TONIGHT BABY! YEAH!!” Paul jumped and cheered and pointed to the sky. “That’s my God up there. He’s looking out for me.” Paul left with a little less fear, and a little more hope. He said he heard they might open up the Foursquare Church up the street for the night, and he was headed there to check it out. I watched him leave our corner of 9th and Pine, heading up Sandy and over to Ash.

What would be in your little rolling suitcase, if you had to leave your house today? What things would you stuff in your pockets? What if, in addition to losing most of your stuff, you lost contact with your family and friends? What if you were in an unfamiliar city, or a different country? I think loneliness is what affects me the most sometimes.

Another guy named Matt hung out with us and talked for a little bit. He has flip flops attached to his backpack shoulder straps even though he may not use them for another six months. When he goes out for a bite, he has to take everything he owns with him. Wow.

There is something all of our lives have in common. Routine. We have to go here to get food, go to this place to sleep, and be close to these people because they have our back. It’s easy for me to get into a routine. But then someone shows up and says “I don’t know where I’m going to sleep and I’m scared, can you help me?” And my heart was broken. That wasn’t in the script.

A few hours later I was still thinking about Paul, and I wanted to make sure he had a place to stay. I drove around looking for him. I circled the Foursquare church twice, noticing some homeless people hanging around one of the doors. I didn’t see Paul there, but I was kind of glad. I’d been praying that he was inside.


Alan Hirsch Defines Missional

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Alan Hirsch defines missional in this article at the Leadership Journal website. Why the concern about the meaning of the word? Alan explains:

There are consequences when the meanings of words become confused. This is particularly true within a biblical worldview…. This is why I am concerned about the confusion surrounding the meaning of the word missional. Maintaining the integrity of this word is critical, because recovering a missional understanding of God and the Church is essential not only for the advancement of our mission but, I believe, also for the survival of Christianity in the West.

Alan goes on to give the proper meaning to the word.

This article is a must read because we are in danger of losing the vitality and force of the term by those who would transform its meaning through either lack of knowledge or self-serving exploitation.

HT: Andrew Jones

N.T. Wright on Future of Western Church

Monday, November 17th, 2008

N.T. Wright on the future of the Western Church and the post-post-modern Christian faith.

I find this quite fascinating and have given a lot of thought to what the church in North America might look like in the near and mid-term future. I personally am not looking to see a growth in numbers, but I do expect to see a deeper and stronger faith in those who name the name of Jesus. I expect to see a slow abandonment of the American machine/consumer/business model of doing church with a renewed emphasis on walking in “the way of Jesus.” I expect to see greater unity among the divergent tribes within the church and a shift from large/mega churches to smaller community based faith communities.

Tell me what you think the church in North America will look like in 10, 20 and 30 years out. Be brave and express yourself.

HT: Emergent Village

Suggesting a Few Changes in Form*

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

We have all been reading for years about how people in our post-Christian society are changing in relationship to spiritual understanding and approach. And for many of us who have been apart of the institutional church, it is not surprising that these same authorities are telling us that the institutional church is unable to comprehend or take advantage of this shifting spiritual environment.

Here is part of the shift they report to us.

  • Religion is out, but spiritually is in.
  • Christianity is out, but Jesus is in.
  • Future religious concerns are out, but “here and now” spirituality is in.
  • Propositional truth is out, but truth validated by intuition and experience is in.

The Pacific Northwest region of the United States (where I live) is called the “None Zone.”** This is because, when asked about their religious identification, more people answer “none” than in any other area of the United States. It also puts us at the heart of many of the changes the researchers are telling us about.

Here are some stats:

  • Northwesterners are twice as likely as people living in the Bible Belt to claim no religious preference.
  • The Pacific Northwest is the only region of the country where a majority of the population does not affiliate with a religious congregation.
  • Most Northwesterners do not participate in religious institutions and never have.
  • Sixty-three percent of total population of the Northwest are religiously unaffiliated.
  • According to USA Today, Seattle is the #1 unchurched city in America.

Yet it is also interesting that this is a spiritual region. Take a look at the following:

  • When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that God exists?”, 63% said they agree somewhat or agree strongly.
  • When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that God helps me?”, 53% said they agree somewhat or agree strongly.
  • Only 1.2% of Oregonians (my home state) describe themselves as agnostics (and a statistically negligible number are atheists).
  • Christianity is the stated religious preference of 75 to 79% of Oregonians.

My reaction to this is that we are living in a splendid place and time, filled with almost unparalleled opportunities! But we must think and act differently if we are to take advantage of the spiritual environment that we find ourselves in.

Form Follows Function

Because our thinking and action have to change, we must deal with the current “forms” that were developed based on old thinking and theory. Let me just throw out a few “form” changes I think need to be made.

Contextualized Language

Michael Frost says that we must employ “the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus.” Here are a couple of changes in language that I’ve made:

  • Jesus follower instead of Christian — We should not hide the fact that we are Christians, but they love Jesus so identify with him.
  • Faith community instead of Church — Faith Community is neutral language and could mean any faith and is comfortable with the not-yet-Christian. Again, we are not talking about hiding who we are, but instead, using neutral language that allows for open conversation and relationship building.
  • Spiritual pilgrimage instead of Christian life — Even the not-yet-Christian understands that they are on a life pilgrimage or journey and are usually willing to share that pilgrimage which give you the opportunity to share your journey.
  • God is Light instead of God is Love (meaning the love message as exemplified by the “Four Spiritual Laws” track) — As John wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” Spiritual people by definition are looking for light, an excepted metaphor for a condition of spiritual awareness which could be outward (e.g., divine illumination) or inward (e.g., inner light). Using the term in a conversation allows you to explore spiritual “things” with the person at a level that they are generally comfortable with.

Remember, we want to employ the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus.

Smaller Faith Communities

Growing and maintaining large faith communities lends itself to attractional, seeker focused programs and activities, but also creates structural impediments for missional focused Jesus followers. We must consider establishing a greater number of smaller kingdom outposts where:

  • It is easier to foster community.
  • It is easier to be part of a supportive family.
  • You have better group communications and shared values.
  • There is less need (maybe no need at all) of dedicated buildings. The local pub or community center would work just fine.
  • The Pastor doesn’t become a CEO.
  • Community members don’t get sucked dry of time, energy, and resources attempting to maintain structure and organization.
  • It is easier to welcome the stranger into the midst of the community.

Geographically Close Faith Communities

Faith communities that are composed of members who are geographically dispersed foster, among many other things, individualism and attractional approaches to “doing church.” In contrast, members of missional communities should, as much as possible, live in the same close geographic area and become intentionally indigenous. This implies that many will purposely relocate to be part of a specific missional community. The advantages are numerous, including:

  • Shared values with that of your community.
  • Missional proximity.
  • Easier to built local relationships with local not-yet-Christians.
  • Easier to establish and maintain third places (a captivating concept).
  • Easier to contextualize the message for their own situation and place.
  • Easier to practice hospitality.
  • Concentrated prayer and missional effort.

Since I’m looking at this from my Pacific Northwestern USA context, I’d be interested in hearing your perspective. Its your turn to build on and add to this.

* This post is a rewrite and update of one I did a year or so ago which got lost in the great blog meltdown of December 2006.
** Killen Patricia O’Connell, “Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone,” AltaMira Press (March 2004).


Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

“The Ooze” Select Blogger Book Review

“Static” by Ron Martoia (Tyndale, 2007) is one of those books that will speak to the person who already knows the truth the author is working to relate and to those who have never explored this ground. For the former, it will refresh and invigorate the concepts. For the latter, it will open a whole new door of understanding.

So what is this book about? Its about how the words many Jesus followers use to describe their faith often shuts down spiritual conversation instead of enhancing it. Our language creates ‘static’ and the author want us to learn to tune out the ‘Christian noise’ so both the Jesus follower and the not-yet-Christian can experience the real message of Jesus.

Although the style used in the book to communicate the message is not my favorite approach, it is effective. It takes the form of an ongoing dialog between the author and Jess and her husband Phil. Phil has been “sharing” with a Marty, a coworker. Seems Marty is now avoiding Phil and Phil can’t figure out why.

In the 241 pages, Martoia does a tremendous job exploring the language Phil and most Jesus followers use when talking with not-yet-Christians. Ron attempts to answer questions like “Why do people tune out the Christian message? Why are the words we use turning people off from the real message of Jesus? What if these words are causing misunderstandings about Jesus? What if we haven’t heard the whole story?”

To give you a taste, let me leave you with this line of thought from the book.

Martoia asks, “How many people do you know today who go around with feelings of guilt over their sin, over missed obligations, over offending God?”

Most people in our post Christian western world who are not followers of Jesus simply find no connection with the idea that they are sinners in need of a savior and therefore don’t connect with our “gospel.” “That doesn’t mean they are accurate in their self-assessment, but it does explain why they have moved on to other conversations,” say Martoia. Further, the author explains why Jesus dying on the cross for our sins so that we can go to heaven doesn’t even reflect the story that people in the first century would have understood when explaining the word gospel.

What’s the answer? You’ll have to read the book, but as Chuck Smith Jr. writes, Martoia guides “us back through original language in its original setting [and] brings us to a gospel that is a divine newsflash, as compelling today as it was in the first century.”

For those who read and enjoy Scot McKnight, you will also like this book. You can hear the echo of Scot throughout, who, not surprising, Ron credits as a major influencer.

Highly recommend.

Any of you read this book yet? If so, what was your take?