So, before you begin reading this particular blog, take a moment and look at the graph above. It won’t make any sense at first, but hopefully it will by the time you finish reading. That particular graph comes from page Center Church by Tim Keller. That particular section deals with how different types or groups of Christians connect with culture. Keller describes four main models: The Relevants, The Transformationalists, The Counterculturalists, and the Two Kingdoms. Each model has pros and cons. Keller deals with each model at length and discusses these pros and cons. His insights are layered with the thoughts of Richard Neibohr, Abraham Kuyper, James Hunter, Jamie Smith, Michael Goheen, Geerhardus Vos, D.A. Carson and Miroslav Volf to name a few.
So now check out that graph again. Is it engrained in your long term memory? Okay, so here are some important definitions all from Tim Keller’s book Center Church that describes what each model is:
The Relevants: Extreme Advocate: Robert Schuller. Middle Advocate: Brian McLaren. Mild Advocates: Rick Warren and Bill Hybels “The Relevants are especially inspired by the coming shalom and restoration of all things. They emphasize the importance of a church that exists for others, doing sacrificial service for the common good. If the Christian faith is to have any impact on culture, the time must come when it is widely known that secularism tends to make people selfish, while general religion and traditional morality make people tribal (concerned mainly for their own), but the Christian gospel turns people away from both their selfishness and their self-righteousness to serve others in the way that Jesus gave himself for his enemies. Just as Israel was told to ‘seek the peace and prosperity’ of the great pagan city of Babylon (Jer 29:7), so Christians should be well-known as people who seek to serve people- whether they embrace Christianity or not.” pg.235
The Transformationalist Model. Advocates: Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, Tim Keller, “The Transformationalists have a keen sense of the effects of the fall of human culture; their main focus is on thinking and living in all areas of life in a distinctively Christian manner. Most of our churches’ discipleship models operate by drawing laypeople out of the world and into the life of the church- which can be unhelpful…. Few churches actively support people to follow Christ in both their private and public lives, but the Transformationalists are filling this gap.” pg. 235
The Counterculturalists Model. Advocates: Extreme Advocates: Old Order Mennonite, Amish, Hutterites. Moderate Advocates: Shane Claiborne, Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon “The Counterculturalists point to God’s redemptive strategy of calling out a distinct people for himself; their lead theme calls the church to be a contrast community and sign of the future kingdom, if we are to have any witness to the world. Those who advocate this model rightly argue that Christians who work as individuals dispersed within cultural institutions cannon give the world a Christian vision of human flourishing in the same way that a community can. The church can provide the best setting for shaping a Christian’s worldview for work in the world.” pg.235
Two Kingdoms View: Advocates: Michael Horton, T. David Gordon, Kevin DeYoung “Those holding the Two Kingdoms view revel in the goodness of creation; their basic idea centres on the dignity of secular vocation and the importance of doing this work in a way marked by an excellence that all can see. The distinctiveness of Christian work will have little impact, directly or indirectly, unless it is accompanied by excellence… The very act of honest work, even in its simplest forms, even when it is difficult to do [out oa?] discernibly Christian worldview, is a wondrous good in and of itself. And therefore farming, police work and other vocations in which we serve the common good are vehicles for God’s love and care to the degree that they are done very well- with utmost skill and honesty.” pg. 235
Did you get all that? The point Keller tries to make is that we should try to be ‘centered’ on our approach to engaging culture. He writes: “The centre of the diagram, near the meeting of the axes, represents a place where there is greater reliance on the whole cloth of biblical themes- marked by an effort to hold together the realities of creation and fall, natural revelation, and special revelation, curse and common grace, the ‘already but not yet,’ continuity and discontinuity, sin, and grace. The closer you are to the center of the grid, the more you hold your theme in balance with the other themes.” pg.236
Why do I share all this?
I wonder about our culture and the extent of it’s brokenness. I wonder what parts can be redeemed, and which parts cannot. I wonder about whether or not the culture is growing in hostility towards Christianity, or if there is more of a ‘I don’t really care’ attitude towards faith. This last week, nations are wrestling with what to do with Syria and at the same time, the word ‘twerk’ has gone viral. I have been taught and I still believe that we are redeemers of culture. I also believe we need to be relevant to where people are at to hear the Gospel similar to what Jesus did with the Samaritan women at Jacob’s Well. At the same time, I deeply respect the Mennonites I grew up with who sever themselves from much of the comfortable things our Culture of Comfort gives us.
As the church, our calling is to continue to proclaim the Gospel, to make disciples, to administer the sacraments, and to practice discipline. These responsibilities are far from ‘cool’ cultural activities. When you are competing against Vegas, it’s tough for the church to offer a compelling alternative that will reach the desires of our hearts. Still, this is the responsibility of the church in a weird day.
This morning I got to hang out with some guys who struggle with drug addiction. We got to talk about life, faith, and even the theology of baptism. It was really cool. Afterwards, I hung out with the director of this program, and he told me something that struck me: If we are supposed to help the needy, the sick, if we’re supposed to step across racial barriers and be a part of the healing process in our culture, it all starts with knowing someone in that situation. It is simply about reaching out, taking time, sharing, becoming vulnerable with the other person. It is not necessarily about fixing our culture- although there are spiritual heavyweights with that type of ability. For most of us, it’s about connecting ‘one-on-one’ with another person who needs to hear the Gospel. You can do that in a variety of ways as Keller describes. Making those one-on-one relational connections is where it will start, and that is something we can all do.
Center Church For all of you Canadian readers, I’m enculturating myself by spelling centre in the American form: center. Center Church is the title of a book written by Tim Keller. It has also been (bar none) the most helpful book on church planting I have read. The book is not even about church planting! It’s a textbook summary divided up into three parts: Gospel, City, Movement. In other words, Keller first defines the Gospel, how to contexualize the Gospel, and how to move the Gospel forward. Seriously, anyone in church leadership must read this book!
To whet your appetite, here are a few quotes from the three parts:
From Part I: Gospel “The Gospel, then, is preeminently a report about the work of Christ on our behalf--that is why and how the gospel is about salvation by grace. The gospel is news because it is about a salvation accomplished for us. It is news that creates a life of love but the life of love is not itself the gospel . . . The ancient church father Tertillian is reputed to have said, “Just as Jesus was crucified between two thieves, so the gospel is ever crucified between these two errors.” What are these errors to which Tertullian was referring? I often call them religion and irreligion; the theological terms are legalism and antinomianism. Another way to describe them could be moralism and relativism (or pragmatism). These two errors constantly seek to corrupt the message and steal away from us the power of the gospel. Legalism says that we have to live a holy, good life in order to be saved. Antinomianism says that because we are saved, we don’t have to live a holy good life . . . If our gospel message even slightly resembles ‘you must believe and live right to be saved’ or ‘God loves and accepts everyone just as they are,’ we will find our communication is not doing the identity-changing, heart-shaping transformative work described in the next part of this book. If we just preach general doctrine and ethics from Scripture, we are not preaching the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God has accomplished our salvation for us through Christ in order to bring us into relationship with him and eventually to destroy all the results of sin in the world.” (pg. 31) From Part II: City
“Contexualization is not--as it is often argued--‘giving people what they want to hear.’ Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and form they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them. “ (pg. 89) In this particular section, Keller discusses the thoughts of Richard Niebuhr, Abraham Kuyper, and Jamie Smith. He even mentions Al Wolters name, which is cool because Al was part of a small group with me and other pastors in Hamilton. Amazing guy!
I have not yet read the third section yet, but I am eager to. The point of this blog is to simply encourage people to pick up this book and read it. It’s a great teaching tool and gift to the church. How would you define the Gospel, how do you bring it to real life in your context, and how is your life a response to the Gospel?
Several effective personality tests exist out there. The Myers-Briggs test, for example, is top notch. For those of you interested and are familiar with the lingo, I’m an ENFP. However, another helpful personality test is StrengthsFinder. It helps identify 5 gifts out of a list of 34. I have mentioned this test in a prior blog when referring to how decision-making can work better when one’s strengths are properly aligned. This blog helps define my top five. I am indebted to Drew Angus for most of this information as he is trained in this test.
My top strength is entitled Includer. “Stretch the circle wider” is the way the StrengthsFinder begins its description of this strength. I am aware of exclusion, and feel it when someone is outside the circle. I seek to shrink the gap between the haves and have-nots. Includers value assimilation and integration. The ‘Barrier Labels’ (aka ‘shadow side’ of each strength) come out during times of stress or anxiety. When the includer strength is not working well, they can be perceived as indiscriminate, unable to decide, and can be generous to a fault.
My second strength is entitled Woo. Woo stands for ‘winning others over’. These folks are socially fast and outgoing, and will take the social initiative. A woo-er is excited to meet new people, and hates a social network that is static or shrinking. A metaphor that depicts this strength is the politician shaking hands with a constituent. When this gift is used well, woo-ers are outgoing and brings people in and breaks a lot of barriers across relational divides. The Barrier Label, however, is that woo-ers can come across as phony or shallow.
My third strength is positivity. This gift is self-explanatory. Those with this gift are optimistic, helpful fun-loving. Positivity lifts emotional environments, and is contagious with enthusiasm and energy. Positivity requires freedom to experience the joy and drama of life. In other words, they need to have the freedom to feel. Their value is to live life to its fullest. When the Barrier Labels creep up, those with positivity can come across as naïve, superficial, or think that everything is wonderful all the time.
My fourth strength is adaptability. Those with this gift are focused on the here and now and are not worried about what comes next. They react with immediacy with the immediate. They have a willingness to follow the lead of change. They love spontaneity and are not all that crazy about predictability. The working metaphor for this strength is a river: “Go with the flow!” The Barrier Labels (you may start noticing a theme) are directionless, indecisive, inconclusive and whimsical.
My fifth strength is maximizer. It’s important to note that there are four quadrants of strengths. Three (includer, adaptability, and positivity) of my top five fall in one category of strengths called ‘Relationship building’. Maximizer and woo fall in a category called ‘Influencer’. Maximizers are committed to excellence, focus on what is strong, and manages what is weak. Maximizers require quality to be valued as much as quantity. At their worst, maximizers may come across as perfectionistic, picky, and even controlling.
This test has proven very helpful for me because it explains who I am when I am doing well. When I am not doing well or performing at my best, I can also see those Barrier Labels creep in and cause problems. In fact, those of you who know me well can pinpoint both good and bad examples. This test also helps me remember myself. That may sound strange, but as we begin to start this work of church planting, I am forgetting about my strengths. In other words, the anxiety of ending this residency and beginning the official work of church planting in September has led to more reminders of my Barrier Labels. Doubts creep in and the fear of failure sticks to thoughts here and there.
Not only do I need to remind myself of myself, I have to remind myself that this whole journey is not even about myself! God certainly uses our strengths, but that’s not what leads to success. Knowing our strengths is useful, but they alone do not lead to success. What brings success is daily surrender to the Lord’s strength.
I read the Chronicles edition of Jehoshaphat king of Judah this morning. II Chronicles 20 says that King Jehoshaphat hears news that a large army from Edom is marching from the southeast to attack them. This worries the king and so he summons the entire nation to their feet and prays. They pray that the Lord will help them from this imminent disaster. Without using an ounce of their strength, the Lord answers their prayer and sends the coming army into disarray. In that example, King Jehoshaphat led Judah to prayer and they called out to the Lord. Because they called upon the Lord, the Lord flexed his muscles and showed them how powerful He really is. My prayer, and my hope for those reading this, is that we will learn to rely on the strength of the Lord with total dependence and surrender. My hope is that those who experience me will not see me, but see my savior Jesus. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” I’m learning this very slowly. Are you?
This past week I went back to school. Monday morning I flew to Grand Rapids, MI for a week-long Christian Reformed/Reformed Church of America church planting conference called Thrive! It used to be called Bootcamp. It probably should still be called Bootcamp. I am writing this blog on Friday slightly overwhelmed by all the information we learned this past week. We were questioning whether or not I should attend this conference now, or wait until the next one in January. I am so incredibly thankful that God opened the doors for me to go this week. Yes, it was hard being away from family for the past 5 days, but the flip side was that I was able to visit family in Grand Rapids. I spent most evenings hanging out with Judy, and Phil and their family, Brad and his little guy, Isaiah (sorry I missed you, Christy!). My parents even picked me up from the airport Monday morning as they were visiting last weekend. Finally, my sister Shawna and her three girls even made the trip from Chicago to visit me. All the while Heather and the boys were able to spend the week at Mom and Dad Immanuel’s. So although being away from family was hard, and though Thrive! took tons of mental energy, hanging out with my parents and most of my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews filled me back up.
One major take home from attending Thrive! was how impressed I am of the caliber and quality of trainers we have in the CRC and RCA in the area of church planting. It’s no wonder 70% of church plants in these two denominations are successful. I feel so much more equipped now then I did a week ago to go and begin this adventure of church planting. No book can provide a more thorough overview of church planting essentials. From the nuts and bolts to the big picture, from discipleship to self-care; they provided tool after tool to help us go. We learned that this year will be the most aggressive year of church planting in CRC history. God willing, 35-40 church plants will get started in 2013. It was mentioned that there needs to be 30 new churches/year in the CRC to maintain status quo. So we are on the right track for 2013.
On top of it all, I made new friends who are part of this difficult journey. Remember to pray for church planters. In hearing some of the stories of my new friends, it became much clearer to me how difficult this work is. It was a sobering week hearing about sacrifice and uncertainty. So please keep praying for church planters. Pray that God will provide security, hope, health, and finances. Because Satan does not want these new ministries to succeed, please pray that God will strengthen us, empower us, embolden us, and mould us so that all these new plants won't only sprout, but thrive!
Here’s a ‘work map’ our trainers asked us to put together throughout the week. I’m sad to say that I don’t have any other pictures of Thrive! other than this. Each note on this map has pretty much everything I have to do for the next several months.
So this past week was my first time officially on the job coaching gymnastics. I was quickly reminded I was not teaching Vacation Bible School. True, I did hear the name of Jesus within the first few minutes, but the context was the Third Commandment. After trying to explain to a child he needs to keep his arms straight by trying to squeeze his ears with his arms, his surprising response was, “I hate you!” I was like, ‘Wah?’ I carried on as if he said, “You’re the best coach in the world!” Later that evening, a few middle school girls thought my hair looked like a band member of One Direction. One girl said Harry, and after googling One Direction, I think she was referring to Harry Band. I took it as a compliment, but I was yet again reminded that I was not present as a pastor. I was the new coach. They didn’t know who I am. I didn’t know who they were. In their mind, being Harry Band’s (much) older brother would be just as realistic as being a pastor.
Being in this position felt weird- almost foreign. For so long, because my identity has been wrapped up as a pastor, I almost forgot what it felt like just to be new and unknown. It was a strange feeling not knowing all the kids. All the other coaches were loved and appreciated, but being the new guy, I have a ways to earn their trust. Being new is hard to do. It is tough and intimidating, even with kids. Being new, I was not the gregarious personality making all the kids laugh. On top of that, I don’t know the warm-up drills. I don’t know the names of each face. I have to relearn how to spot handsprings and back tucks. It is a humbling place to be after preaching and teaching for so long.
Of course, my hope is that great relationships will form from this experience. In fact, I even think I ended up making a good impression with the child who “hates” me. My hope is that I will pick things up quickly in order to lead warm-ups. My hope is that I will win the trust of kids and coaches in order to fit into this community I am learning to love. More than that, my hope is that I will be able to shepherd some of them into a relationship with Jesus. They may say his name, but the hope is that they will know his name.
Although the official work of church planting does not begin until September, these small steps into the community feel like giant leaps. They are necessary leaps as I try to make connections in the name of Jesus. What small steps into the community are you making that will allow you to make relationships in the name of Jesus? What small steps into the community do you need to make in order to be the salt and light Jesus has called His Body to be? If you are a Christian, let’s show this world that His Body is the source of salvation and strength… gymnastics type strength!
For those of you who, like me, have no idea who Harry Band is…