Friday, October 26, 2007

what makes somebody a disciple?

It’s been an interesting week for me. Over the past few days since writing my last post, which included a thought on why cell groups sometimes don’t work, I read a post by a friend who was discussing the same thing. Between his post and several emails I received from friends, I was pointed to several articles and even a video by Willow Creek who apparently are now suggesting that the style of church they’ve been promoting for the last thirty years, might not be the way to go after all. I had not read their articles, seen their video, or was even aware of the discussion, but I was surprised to see that they were using the same language I had used when they suggested that maybe “one size doesn’t fit all”. Stay tuned boys and girls, I’m not completely out of my mind.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Willow Creek. On one hand, they challenged us to consider the things about our worship services which might feel a bit exclusive to outsiders (something that the Army still hasn’t really taken on board), but they also suggested that worship wasn’t seeker friendly. They brought cell groups to the forefront, something that I believe in very much, but they also gave us the four laws of cell (something that my church is obsessed with) and suggested that, if we didn’t follow them, we would never truly succeed with cell groups. They encouraged us to reach out to our communities, and even gave us many great tools for doing it, but they were also very happy to stamp their name on churches across the U.S. by developing the Willow Creek Association. I have to admit that the franchising of church has left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes it felt a little too much like church was a business for Willow Creek.

I guess it’s easy to take shots at those at the top. Madonna was criticized for adopting a child who was living in poverty. Oprah was criticized for starting a school for girls in South Africa. Bono is constantly being criticized for his mission to free third world dept. And Willow Creek will have their detractors too. But I have to applaud Willow Creek for having the courage to do the research, and then the courage to actually admit that the research had proven them wrong.

In a nut shell, Willow Creek is now admitting that regular attendance at a church programme does not necessarily affect long term commitment to Christ. Again, I haven’t read the book, but apparently they are now promoting personal prayer and Bible study as the way forward. I’m sure that that’s a bit of a simplistic description of their new direction, but I believe it is the basic idea. With that in mind, their new direction will include giving their members the tools they need to own their faith, rather than trusting the faith of a leader who is simply herding people from one programme to another.

All churches should take note of this, but I speak to mine own denomination now when I reiterate my concern that we are not discipling our people. Even our most traditional leaders are concerned with the fact that our Corps are depleted of leadership, yet we do not seem to be connecting the dots. Again, I am impressed with the fact that Willow Creek was willing to put their own necks on the line by funding the research, and then were further willing to admit that they got it wrong. A few years ago our now general was the territorial commander for the Salvation Army in the UK. Upon realizing that we had very few people entering our “seminary” anymore, he demanded that divisional leaders start pushing more people in that direction. He never bothered to ask why there were fewer people, mind you, and to this day, our “seminary” classes remain alarmingly small.

Why don’t we have more local leaders? That is the question that we should be asking. I believe that there are lots of reasons behind this, but one of them is certainly the fact that we’re simply not discipling people and helping them to take ownership of their faith. We usher them from one programme to another and then send them home. We wouldn’t expect somebody to learn how to dance by attending several ballet performances a week, and we shouldn’t expect somebody to take ownership of their walk with God when there are people who have been willing to do it for them for the last fifty years.

I look forward, only somewhat cynically, to hearing what Willow Creek’s plan of action will be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the devil and daniel johnston

Last night I watched the documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and my mind is blown. It tells the story of a manic-depressive American singer/songwriter/artist who has been covered by nearly 150 artists, including Pearl Jam, Beck, Bright Eyes, the Eels, and Tom Waits, and who is and was revered by people such as David Bowie and Kurt Cobain. His art has been exhibited in studios from New York to London. While I was intrigued by his work, and managed to find several of his singles which I’ve now included on my ipod, I was just as intrigued by those who idolized the man.

It was easy to watch the documentary and see the similarities between Johnston and Dylan (lyric wise), as well as Johnston and Brian Wilson (madness wise), but I was more interested in the similarities between Johnston and a dear friend of mine who is also manic depressive (also known as Bi-polar). My friend is just as much the artist and, like Johnston, if my friend could ever get it together long enough, could easily get their work published for others to see and be touched. This friend often sends me work and I’m always blown away, but they are just as quickly in the hospital dealing with their latest episode. It’s such a frustrating and sad cycle to watch from the outside and must obviously be even more frustrating and sad from the inside.

As I’ve spoken with my friend about finding an agent, their response is always that an agent will make them do public appearances, something that they are extremely uncomfortable with.

Anyway, it’s a great film if you have the means.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually written quite a bit in the past couple of weeks, just nothing I felt like posting. Topics have included but have not been limited to:

- When Cell groups don’t work – a discussion on why one size never fits all. Ask a tailor if one size fits all and he’ll turn his nose up at you. That’s because a tailor is committed to the idea that everybody is different. When we try and take one model of church programming, and squash it into a different context, we often get a programmatic version of a one size fits all t-shirt. In some cases it gets us by, in others it doesn’t work at all. Either way, it could be better with some thought and effort.

- Successful Discipleship and Outreach? - If a church isn’t succeeding in youth ministry, senior adult ministry, or ministry to those with special needs, it isn’t succeeding. My argument is that if a church is reaching young adults, they should be encouraging/discipling those young adults to reach out to their community. This will include other young adults and should also include the discipleship of people younger than themselves…namely teenagers. If a church is reaching adults, where are their children? Therefore, if a church is targeting and reaching either of these targets, and not reaching teenagers, it is not a successful discipling community. However, you could have a very successful ministry to senior adults or to people with special needs, and not reach any teenagers because neither of these two groups would necessarily be associated with teenagers. I also included an encouragement that reaching and leading a group of 5-10 teenagers a week really isn’t that difficult.

- Know Thyself – One of the greatest problems the church faces right now is one of identity. Nobody knows what their local church should be. Is it a place to uphold the traditions handed down by the generations before? Or is it a place for something else. My problem is that I’m so biased I couldn’t write the article without demeaning one side and making it very obvious which side I stood on. Still, I quoted Socrates which would have surely given me cool points.

- The Big Move - Another exhaustive discussion of the church’s attempt to move from modernity to post-modernity and why it struggles so much to do so. It points out that the church is rooted so much in modernity that it struggles to figure out a way to shift into post-modernity and still sustain significant continuity with its past and, therefore, what it considers to be its makeup.

- Universalism? - A discussion of theologian Karl Barth, somebody I’ve been reading lately and somebody with which I have at least one thing in common. It seems that Karl Barth was often labelled a Universalist for suggesting that all humans are children of God and are in a “covenant partner relationship” with Him. I’ve also had it suggested to me that I’m a Universalist for the very same reason. Neither Barth nor myself are Universalists, though I admit to having tried to be for a while.

So that’s my past couple of weeks summed up in a nice little post. Where have you all been?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


It's about time! Seriously, the new millennium was supposed to bring us all kinds of cool new products. In fact, I have a Sports Illustrated issue from the early 70's which promises that by the year 2000, we'd have 150 yard football fields, women quarterbacks, and that some of the positional players would be using jet packs. But none of that stuff came true (well, the women quarterbacks thing is kind of true)! We're not even riding around in hover crafts yet, something that I find immensely disappointing. So finally a product like this shows up. I feel like Han Solo and Chewy should be sitting over in the corner, having a conversation, while Ben cuts off somebody’s arm with a light saber at the bar. This thing is straight out of Star Wars.

Now, the key is going to be somebody actually learning to play this thing, rather than just playing with it. Can you imagine the first club that features a legitimate DJ playing this? Who cares about dancing! Suddenly we’re just all standing around the light table, watching the DJ and his magic cubes!

you're really selling yourself

Today I taught my first English class. I had three Polish ladies, two Bangladeshi ladies, and one lady from Chili. An interesting mix. I have to say that I was a bit anxious when I first got started, but really ended up enjoying the experience a lot. I felt a lot like Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam.

It’s funny what you end up doing in life. When I finally went forward and admitted that God had called me into fulltime ministry, I can remember making an unspoken and unofficial yet very serious pact with God. All I asked, really, was not to move out of the States. I was very serious about this. In fact, I once broke up with a girl based souly on the fact that I thought she’d been called into missions and I was not interested. But here I am, living in London, working in a neighbourhood where there are over 350 languages spoken, and teaching English classes.

The irony doesn’t stop with my move to London, however. I took both French and Spanish in school and really didn’t learn a word of it. Furthermore, I was a terrible student passing only because I went to a Christian school where they gave serious extra credit for memorizing Bible verses. Yet again, I’m now teaching people English. I guess that I should probably also throw in the irony of an American teaching English classes in Great Britain. The Brits don’t consider my form of English actual English, after all.

With no training in church planting whatsoever, and nobody around us who’s ever done it, the question in our minds is always how to connect the dots between our community service and our faith. Don’t get me wrong, for me, my community service is a big part of my faith. But how do you get those involved in your community services to start asking the questions. People around us, especially those with the money, are getting a little antsy. They want results. And results for them are souls saved or, at the very least, attending a Bible study. It’s funny, I’ve never felt more proud of a situation that I was involved in, yet also never felt so much like I was walking on shaky ground. I’ve never felt more authentic as a Christian and never felt more like what I was doing really mattered, yet every day there’s the knowledge that it could all end tomorrow if our funding runs out. In fact, we have a meeting next week with the people who make those decisions. How do you make one Bible study with ten people in it sound bigger? I don’t know.

For those of you with SA ties, this weekend is our Youth Councils and, for the first time in our project’s history, we will be taking young people from our own community. It’s a huge step and an exciting new chapter in our project’s history.

I’ve never been good at selling myself or anything that I was involved in. I tried selling shoes but I was terrible at it. Same thing with menswear. And trying to sell my ministry to those with the money just makes me feel dirty. Next week I have to do just that. If you’re the praying kind, please remember us as we try to lay aside those feelings and convince people that what we’re trying to do is worth it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

tps reports

Is it cheesy that I have a “spiritual gifts inventory” on my blog? In fact, does it make me look like a charismatic? I once stumbled onto a blog whose description included the fact that the writer was “non-charismatic”. I still haven’t gotten over it. In fact, I entered into a week long debate with the writer of that blog until it dawned on me that I didn’t even know the person and was, therefore, a dork for getting into the argument.

So today I started work on a Masters in Theological Education. It was a strange mix of emotions to be back at University. Mostly, I just felt old. College kids are dressing like it’s the 80’s again. I have a 20 year old in my Masters class. He started University at the age of 16 (he’s American, btw). Nice, and just what I needed; a twenty year old genius in my class.

Anyway, today the professor said something that I really liked. He said;

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

I might have to get that one on a t-shirt.