Sunday, August 31, 2008

where are all the spiritual gifts in your church?

So which is harder? Helping a church which has not been practicing its spiritual gifts to start practicing them, or helping a church which seems to be using the term “spiritual gifts” rather loosely to reel those practices back in? This is the question that Jamie and I have been asking lately.

There doesn’t seem to be much balance where spiritual gifts are concerned. Either a church doesn’t practice them at all (outside of preaching, teaching, evangelism, and pastoring) or, in my opinion, they manufacture them and throw in a couple of extra gifts to boot.

But let me pick on the churches that I'm most closely associated.

If you’re in a church which does not see outward manifestations of spiritual gifts much, does that alarm you? Does it alarm you that nobody in your congregation speaks in tongues? Does it alarm you that nobody in your congregation has ever spoken a word of prophecy? It should. The New Testament tells us that those gifts exist and that they’re to be used to make the church effective. So how is it that so many churches continue to exist without so many of the spiritual gifts? Again, it isn’t as if those gifts don’t exist. In fact, it isn’t even likely that those gifts don’t exist within your congregation! It’s just that they’re not being used. In fact, the people in your congregation who have those gifts may not even know it! And that should bother you.

To be clear, I am not a “charismatic”. At least not in the traditional sense. I have never spoken in tongues, nor have I ever translated a message that was delivered in tongues. But I do believe in the gifts of the Spirit and I find it alarming that so many churches seem to be completely void of so many of the gifts. How can that be and why aren’t more of us questioning that fact? No wonder so many of our churches are ineffective. Without the gifts to make us effective, what did we think would happen?

These questions have been on my mind a lot over the past couple of years. In fact, it all started when I moved to London and began following the resurgence of the Anglican Church (The Church of England). Mind you, the Anglican Church is a traditional and liturgical church. They like robes, collars, incense, and weekly communion. In fact, I’ve always described the Anglican church as existing somewhere between Protestants and Catholics (kind of like a group of people who loved the traditions of the Catholic Church, but not the doctrine). With that in mind, you’d think that the Anglican Church would be fading fast. But not so fast! Over the last ten to fifteen years, the Church of England (in particular) has been experiencing a huge resurgence in membership and attendance. In fact, it’s become a young people’s movement. But what I found most remarkable as I began to pay more attention to the movement was that it is almost exclusively charismatic in nature! Imagine that! A former high brow, very traditional and “orderly” denomination is becoming increasingly charismatic. And to be clear, it’s largely only the charismatic congregations of the Church of England which are experiencing this revival!

What does that say? Again, I would not consider myself a charismatic nor would most people who know me, but as somebody who is deeply passionate about the local church and its mission to the lost, how can I ignore this movement that is not only sweeping across England, but also the world. In fact, many church statistics suggest that the only denominations still growing across the world are charismatic in nature. The rest of the church growth is happening through non-denominational churches (especially in the West).

Those of us who stand strong in our effort to not be charismatic must take note of this. Ignorance is not a good excuse. What gifts are present in your church but are not being used? Do you regularly see manifestations of the Holy Spirit through the spiritual gifts of your congregation. If not, why not?

In my right hand column are links to a couple of files on spiritual gifts. One is an assessment quiz which allows you to identify what your gifts are. The other is a sheet that helps explain the gifts and also gives you some scriptural warnings concerning each of those gifts. Those who have taken the time to fill out this assessment all come back with the same response; it is very affirming and encouraging.

One little disclaimer, however. As gifts like tongues and healing tend to be pretty obvious, they are not included in the assessment. The people who wrote up the quiz figured that anybody who had those gifts wouldn’t need a quiz to tell them so. The problem is that, with congregations of hundreds and even thousands who are not open to these gifts, it is possible that you may have one of them and simply not know it. And I must confess that, as one who has neither of these gifts, I have no good advice on how to figure out if the gifts lay dormant in you.

Still, at the very least, I pray that study and assessments like these will begin to open our minds to the gifts that God has provided for the church. Gifts meant to make us incredibly effective in our mission and gifts that, if left unused, will leave us incredibly ineffective!

Btw, the picture above is of the best church marquee I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s in the Stepney area of London and this is the front door of a church located in a community that has a very high population of Muslims.

Friday, August 29, 2008

the fine line between "risky" and "ill conceived"

I have to admit, when I first heard that McCain had made Sarah Palin his running mate I thought, “Gutsy move.” No longer would the Obama campaign be the obvious choice for “change”, or “something different in Washington”. In fact, it might not even be the obvious choice for the youth vote anymore. Sarah is young, beautiful, and the opposite of nearly every politician I’ve ever seen in Washington. “He may have evened the playing field with that move”, I thought.

But upon further review…

Check out what a Republican political strategist (Ed Rollins) has to say concerning her qualities:

She is young
She is articulate
She is smart
She is tough
She is pro-life
She is a mother of 5
One of her sons is going to Iraq
Her youngest son has downs syndrome
She played on a state champion basketball team
She is a hunter
She is a pilot
She is a lifetime member of the NRA
She is blunt
She is outspoken
She is charming
She is a great debater
She was runner-up for the Miss Alaska title
She won Miss Congeniality in that contest
She plays the flute…???

Now listen, I’m open to some better qualifications coming along, but so far, not so good. This is, after all, the women second in charge to a 72 year old man who’s had cancer no less than five times! If ever there was a reason to care about a candidate’s running, mate, it’s right now! Let’s be honest. There’s a better than average chance that, should McCain win the presidency, his running mate will spend some time in charge.

McCain’s argument against Barak has been the fact that Barak has “very little experience”. Then he goes and chooses a running mate who’s been in serious politics for less than two years! What in the world…???

Admittedly, Obama’s choice for a running mate was pretty disappointing. I suppose he needed to go the safe route, and another old white guy certainly fit that bill. But I was hoping for something more from Obama. Still, you’ve got to feel safer about Obama’s choice than you do McCain’s choice.

For the record, I’m not a McCain hater. Two years ago, when McCain and Hillary seemed like a lock, I was feeling pretty good. I think Hillary is a very intelligent woman who would probably make a great President. And McCain was always a bit of a maverick, voting against his own party for what he believed to be the greater good of the nation. I like that in a candidate and really felt good about either one of them. And for the record, I don’t believe that McCain is another George Bush. That’s ridiculous. In fact, McCain has had to work very hard over the past two years to appear conservative at all. And, despite the fact that he believes in “staying the course” in Iraq, had McCain been president in the first place, I don’t believe the United States would have even gone to Iraq. But I’m disappointed in the pandering that McCain has done over the past two years. He’s gone from Maverick to push over. He’s gone from “the best Republican candidate in years” to “just another old white republican candidate”.

That said, I still have hope when it comes to John McCain. My biggest hope is that, once he’s won the election (if that were to actually happen), he’ll go back to telling the Pat Robertsons of the world where they can stick their “world leader assassination suggestions”. But the last two years, along with his vice-presidential nomination, have me wondering if he’s really prepared to be President or if, like an old sports star that’s long past his prime, if he’s still running simply because retiring without having won the Presidency would leave an awfully unfulfilled hole in his retirement party.

Seriously, if he doesn’t win, how long do you think it will take him to retire?

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I’ve been asking myself the following question/s tonight: What church would admit that it doesn’t want to reach new people? When a church says that it wants to “change” or “move forward” to reach its community, what in the world does that actually mean? Give me something tangible.

Does is mean that they now have a new rotating list of door greeters in case a visitor comes? Does it mean that they will be friendly to any visitor that comes? Does it mean that they’re really hoping and/or praying that new visitors come? Does it mean that they’ve cleared out some space and put in a pool table, in the hopes that a visitor will come? In short, does it all revolve around visitors coming…and then somehow finding something about that church that relates to their needs?

I’ve been talking to a lot of churches about this lately. It seems that everybody wants to grow. They want to move forward. They’re open to the changes necessary to see growth happen. But are they really? I’ve quoted an old friend of mine many times on this blog who once said to me; churches say they want to reach lost people, until they figure out what that means.

For Jamie and me it meant stepping WAY outside the box and probably also our comfort zone at the time. It meant that church might not look a lot like the church we once new. And it certainly meant that our ministry path would not take any of the traditional routes. And in the end we met more lost people than we ever had inside the box. So why would we ever get back in?

Every church says that it wants to reach lost people, but what does that mean? I think it means that they want the excitement that new people bring. I think it means that they don’t want their church to grow old and literally die. But I think very few churches are really open to the changes that might be necessary to make that happen. I think some churches think they’re open to those changes. But I don’t think they really even know what those changes are. Again, it’s more than just a new door man, or a new “blended worship service” (which is a really….weird word to use in that context), or a pool table downstairs in the basement. And it means more than just hiring a new youth minister who will “go out and get those kids” and then somehow, in defiance of sociology, psychology, relevance, and possibly even the gospel itself, talk those kids into wanting to attend a weird concert and short (or sometimes really long) lecture every Sunday morning.

A number of years ago I was serving in a church that will, for the purposes of this post, be known as Church X. I was really struggling. It was a very traditional church that had all but lost its young people. Unbeknownst to me, I had been hired to reverse the trend. The trend was that the church was now out of touch and hadn’t successfully and meaningfully discipled anybody in years. So even the adults who had managed to stay were of no help and, in their current state, and as harsh as it is to say, were also of no use. Again, I was really struggling.

Finally one day, after the pastor and I had had it out, he stepped into my office and suggested that maybe I wasn’t doing my job. That maybe I hadn’t accomplished what I had been hired to do. And before I could even think about what I was saying, I blurted out; “Of course I’ve not done my job! You’re asking me to perform miracles here! You’re asking me to fix two decades of total failure on your part!”

It was an awkward moment. As soon as I said it, I thought “Oh no! What did I just say!” It was like referring to the huge pink elephant in the room that everybody had worked so hard to ignore. But instead of giving me a verbal bashing, he just stood there, looked at me, blinked, and after a minute, finally suggested that we had to figure out a way to get along.

If you can look over the course of your life and pinpoint turning points, those two minutes were a turning point for me. After he left, I sat down at my desk and realized that, as crazy as it might have been to say what I’d said, what I’d said was true. And it was true for a lot of guys. And it was going to be true for a while.

We now live in a day and age when churches hire professionals to do the foot washing. And after years of complete and utter failure on the church’s part to disciple, be relevant, and to evangelize, they go out and hire twenty years olds to fix things. And when those twenty year olds suggest something as crazy as, say, an after game dance in the fellowship hall, the pastor/deacons sit down with him to discuss how he might model his youth ministry and own personal style on the adult congregation’s model and style…which had been doing so poorly that they had to go out and hire a “professional” to help them fix it.

What do churches really want?

What they want is for their methodology to work. They want to be able to somehow appease the older people in the congregation, and for that same methodology to be relevant to the needs of youth and young families. They want to turn back time. But they can’t. So what in the world are they going to do?

Again, what in the world are they going to do???

Monday, August 04, 2008

ever faithful

So it has been a while and much has taken place since the last time I wrote.

Among other things, I just spent two weeks leading worship in France. It was a solid two weeks where we got to sit under some fabulous teaching and where I also got to introduce three original songs that went over very well. I’m currently in the process of trying to lay down some very rough tracks. Some interest has been expressed so we’ll see where that goes.

In other news, and after two years of waiting and searching, our divisional leadership has decided that, in one year’s time, I should leave my local ministry and take on the divisional leadership role full time. At the moment we are praying through the situation and asking God to provide us with direction and would truly appreciate your prayers as well. It would obviously mean a huge change for us, both in calling and in heart.

In even more news, I’m currently working on an essay entitled “The Disneyfication of the Church”. My head is about to explode.

In some ways, very uncertain times lay ahead of us. We have no idea where we’ll be this time next year. In other ways God has been reminding me of my history with Him. Throughout the life of the Israelites, there seemed to be this never ending pattern. God provides/raises them up, they are really thankful for a while but eventually begin to grumble and wonder where God is. Though God always sends somebody to remind them of their history (the prophets), He also allows them to succumb to their own lack of faith. And then the cycle begins again. I have a similar history where God provides and specifically directs me but where I also, when the times feel uncertain, find myself asking where God is in all of this. It’s a weak area of my life and the enemy knows it. With that in mind I’ve just started reading the Old Testament, starting with Genesis (in case that wasn’t obvious), with the goal of reminding myself of the history of God and his people and the specific history of God and myself.

God has always been faithful to provide and direct in His own perfect timing. I have not always been so faithful at trusting him and learning the lessons that He’s asked me to learn. I hope to break that cycle this time around.

Incidentally, below are the lyrics to the most popular song of the past two weeks. I actually wrote it several months ago. Little did I know how perfect the message would be for me several months later. Hopefully I’ll be able to post the tune soon. I've still not decided on a title. For the past few weeks it has been known as I Know but I've never really liked that. Suggestions are always welcome!

(verse 1)
I know a Spirit that lives in my soul
I know a God who’s wherever I go
I know a Saviour whose blood covers me

I know a fount that makes dirt white as snow
I know forgiveness like I’ve never known
I know redemption that changes my heart and my soul

(bridge 1)
And I know a faithfulness that never ends
A God so devoted he loved me while still in my sin

(verse 2)
I know a promise to never let go
No matter the storms or the trials or how hard the wind blows
I’m deep in His hold

And I’ll hold to these things no matter what may
I’ll hold to these things for all of my days
Hold to the promise that one day my soul He will raise

(bridge 2)
And I’ll love the One who first came to me
And offered His life so that I might go free!

All of my days
I’ll sing your praise
My hands I will raise
For I am amazed
The extent of your grace
Causes me to embrace
And sing out your praise
All of my days

(verse 3)
I know a healer whose breath gives me life
Who binds up my wounds and gives sight to the blind
Whose death changes hearts and whose life changes minds

And I serve a God with a purpose for me
A plan that I might prosper and I might be free
So I stand and believe

(bridge 3)
Believe in the One who breathed life into me
Life not just here on this earth but eternally

God bless and thanks for the prayers!