Thursday, September 25, 2008

What is the Gospel?

Greg Gilbert tells us that there are two different, both equally valid, views of what the Gospel is. Both have their place, but defining which one is the answer to someone's question is another issue.
These are the two 'questions:'
  1. What is the gospel? In other words, what is the message a person must believe to be saved? And
  2. What is the gospel? In other words, what is the whole good news of Christianity?
Greg's first post on this topic looks at the two 'answers' to these questions. In his second post he looks at the two ways the written Gospels themselves look at what the Gospel is, quoting a number of different passages on the topic, and in his third post he ties the two approaches to the Gospel together.

Three posts that are well worth printing out rather than skimming through online.

Dave Gibbons asks:

In the light of increased costs (as much for New Zealanders as for Americans), are we spending our money on the wrong things? Dave Gibbons looks briefly at the issues in a post on Out of Ur:
Buildings for one...
The largest expenses for most churches are facilities and staff. First, let’s consider the stewardship of our space. Is it really the best to buy as much land as possible and erect large buildings, when the same dollars could be better deployed in other initiatives that prove more impactful? How much of our space is actually utilized during a given week? In expensive urban centers, every square foot comes at a very high purchase price, and we can’t forget about the cost of furnishing and maintaining the space.
Or staff...
How about staffing? As culture moves from a hierarchical model to a more flat, open, or wiki model, how should we staff? When I looked more closely at our budget, I realized that over 55% of our budget was staff related. While our staff is amazing, it had unintentionally created a bottleneck in our mission—it impeded the development of our people because we were “staff-driven.”
Read the rest of his post to see what his thinking is.

Dan Kimball says more on the Emerging Church

There's a new notion floating around: the 'emerging church' concept is dead, it isn't marketable, it's no longer a 'brand.' But what's the reality? One author who has something to say about it is Dan Kimball, who wrote the book, The Emerging Church, several years ago.
In his blog, he's written his first post on the topic. It begins like this:

I am going to write a couple of posts on the book "The Emerging Church" and what has changed or not from my perspective since the 5 years it came out. Each post will address something I have learned or has changed or has stayed the same and has been further affirmed.

The first one I will write about and one big change from 5 years ago (or actually 6 or 7 when I was actually writing the book) is that there is a different context and definition regarding the term the "emerging church" that has developed since then. For some, this may be uninteresting and may not care - but for others it is significant, especially if you have been in the midst of it all and seen the change of definition happen.


When we have learned indifference, when we are really skilled and determined at the business of ignoring others, of putting our own well-being, our own options, first--of thrusting our own ego into life, as the ideal form of life itself--we may be quite certain that at that point, life has become hell. We need be no more thoroughly damned.

Daniel Berrigan

Consequences: Truth and...

Is Christianity in NZ changing?

New Zealand blogger, A J Chesswas, has an interesting blog called Put up thy Sword! which I sometimes catch up on. While I was searching for something else today, I came across a fairly lengthy post on his site (it was written back in March) in which he discusses another blogger's post discussing The Changing Face of Christianity in New Zealand. (Unfortunately, the original blog is only accessible if you've got a Wordpress account.)

The post is divided into five sections:
Evangelism becomes a dirty word
Salvation takes on extra dimensions
End-time fever dies down
The extremes become more attractive
New lingo, same deal.

Chesswas looks at each of these areas in turn, asking whether they are just different of another person's growth in Christ, or whether they're actually changes in the way we view Christianity. Worth a look.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Henri Nouwen

Only when we have the courage to cross the road and look in one another's eyes can we see there that we are children of the same God and members of the same human family.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Bread for the Journey

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mother Teresa

Today, the same Christ is in people who are unwanted, unemployed, uncared for, hungry, naked, and homeless. They seem useless to the state and to society; nobody has time for them. It is you and I as Christians, worthy of the love of Christ if our love is true, who must find them, and help them; they are there for the finding.

- Mother Teresa

Friday, September 12, 2008

Worship and Words

I have often thought that too much of our worship focuses on the speaking of words. The sermon is given pride of place and time, even though it often contains a message we have heard several times before. Would we not do better to stress how the Word daily "becomes flesh" in our neighborhoods and communities, if from time to time we shifted the emphasis from podium speaking to face-to-face fellowship? Gathering around tables to eat, or in gardens to weed and harvest, or on building sites to do repair and construction--and not just on Sundays--we can learn more directly the ministry needs of the communities in which we move.... This more corporate sort of perception not only leads to authentic worship but quite naturally also leads to good work and good relationships.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Being Innovative 2

After yesterday's post on innovation, I came across an article today that had appeared in the NZ Challenge Weekly. (Unfortunately I can't link to an online version of it as they seem to be rather behind in their archiving. However, there's a slightly shortened version of it here.)

In the article we learn that Papakura East Presbyterian Church gave members of their congregation envelopes containing various amounts: $20, $50 or $100. There were two rules as to what was to be done with the money:
1. People couldn't just give the money back to the church; they had to use it to make a difference in someone else's life.
2. They had to link up with at least one other person in the congregation to combine their envelopes.

Thus the exercise served both the church by increasing community, and served the community by increasing church amongst them - you might say.

Apparently many of the congregation struggled with whether to take an envelope, and with the responsibility in using the money wisely. In the end 191 people took them and found a variety of ways to use the money: hiring a bigger vehicle for a family holidaying with a wheelchair-bound son; paying for a doctor's appointment; buying bike helmets for the children of a refugee family; giving money to a solo parent to buy shoes for their child; giving money to someone who had an unexpected vet's bill.

More than 90% of the recipients had no particular connection with the Church. The minister of the church, Geoff New, said that rather than expecting people to come to a particular church programme, this project met them where they were at. Furthermore, it gave the members of the congregation a sense of mission in ways they hadn't realised previously.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Being innovative

One of the biggest difficulties we face as Western churches is our seeming inability to reach out to the world around us. Calvary Bible Church in Colorado has used five (mostly) innovative ways to reach out over the last few years. These are the first two. You can find the others here.

They gave $100 to 100 people and directed them to use the money to raise more money. This idea was, of course, based on the parable of the talents. Their $10,000 was multiplied into $50,000, which they donated to local charities - it wasn't used to prop up the church.

Using the verse from Luke 12 that a man's life doesn't consist in an abundance of possessions, they challenged people to live radically, stop accumulating possessions, and give to the poor. The project was for 200 people to sell $200 worth of their possessions and give the money to the poor. $84,000 of possessions sold went to local community organizations. The congregation, meanwhile, was encouraged to live with less and be more kingdom minded.

Jordan Redding

Sometimes the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, on those occasions when it probably should!

On Saturday the 30th August at the Roslyn Presbyterian Church, there was a concert to celebrate the relaese of Malcolm Gordon's new album, “One Voice” and the comeback of Mephymology. Malcolm's song “Te Whiti” can currently be heard on Radio Rhema and Life FM.

The concert also featured the premiere of the music video for “Child Song”, which was written by the young Dunedin man, Jordan Redding. It's been adopted as the theme song for Global Mission. (That's the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand's office called Global Mission. It's situated in Auckland.)

Interestingly enough, Jordan attended Kavanagh College, the Catholic co-ed school in Dunedin, until last year. The reason I heard about him is that he was one of 2008 Otago Daily Times Class Act finalists. This initiative identifies and celebrates the excellence of young people in the province of Otago.


I’ve lived with a broken back for 40 years, and I never let it stop me. Don’t let what you cannot do stop you from doing what you can do.

New Zealander, Sir Tim Wallis at 70. From a report in the ODT 10.9.08

Sir Tim says his life has been one of perseverance and persistence, two qualities that have always accompanied him. He's had a fair share of setbacks and life-threatening accidents, including breaking his back in a helicopter accident in 1968 and crashing a Spitfire in 1996.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Gospel Approach for Postmoderns

We hear a lot about postmodern people these days, and how difficult it is to get the message of Jesus across to them.
One worker in college ministry in the States has come up with a simple way of doing this. James Choung believes that young people are well aware of something being wrong with the world. They may not call it sin (at least not before they become Christians), but they know that things are awry.
On one hand we have beauty and perfection and wondrous design; on the other we have ugliness and mess and distortion, things that upset our sense of balance in the world, and make us realise – even if we won’t say it – that things aren’t what they should be.
Choung’s simple way of taking people from that point of dissatisfaction through to belief in Christ can be drawn on a paper serviette.
First he talks about the longing in our hearts for a world that’s free of wrongdoing and evil and other garbage. People have an understanding that things aren’t the way they should be, and can easily agree that the thirst for a more perfect world may well be evidence that such a world has existed, or will exist in the future.
At that point they need to face the fact that in spite of their best intentions they all contribute to the mess in the world; no one is free from guilt in this regard. Their unwillingness to help others, to clean up the problems they create, to refuse to do good when they could - and a host of other things – all show that their failure to love others is also a failure to love God.
Choung says we still need to ask people to “repent” – literally, to change their mind” or to have a new way of thinking. They have to let their selfish lives die with Jesus – so they can have a new life of loving Him and their neighbour. Choung says, ‘That’s a huge call to faith for this generation.’
Jesus often simply said to people, Follow Me. He didn’t require them to be without sin before they did so; he wanted them to be willing to change. That’s the step postmoderns often want to skip: having realised the wrongness of things, they think they can get straight on and make things right on their own – without any help from Jesus.
But Choung tells them that only Jesus can put to death the selfishness of their lives. Without Him, moving onto ‘saving’ the world is just an empty dream.
The fourth step in his diagram is also important: once they accept Jesus, they need to see that He’s sending them on a mission; He’s not just giving them eternal life without any need to call others to Him. And within that call are all the areas of mercy, justice, acting rightly that Micah talks about.
On the surface, Choung’s approach isn’t particularly radical. Helping people face their understanding of a world gone wrong is maybe a slightly different but more ‘user-friendly’ starting point. It obviously works.

An article on Choung and his four circles appears in the July 2008 Christianity Today. It can be found online.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

On Abortion

While New Zealanders wait for the outcome of Justice Forrest Miller's criticism of the Abortion Supervisory Committee, a new study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has concluded that government social spending and economic conditions do more to reduce abortions than legal strategies such as parental consent laws. You can read a summary of this here.

Mary Nelson writes:

Joseph Wright (Penn State University) and Michael Bailey's (Georgetown University) examined the dramatic drop in abortions in the 1990s. The results are significant. States that spend more generously on nutritional supplement programs, for example, could see up to 37 percent lower abortion rates. Other factors such as cutting welfare more slowly and higher male employment rates had a 20 to 29 percent reduction rate.

The negative approaches don't seem to work. Welfare caps on children born while on welfare and laws requiring parental consent for minors have only negligible impact. The study concludes that "pro-family policies reduce abortions."

Both Republicans and Democrats should take note. The authors estimate that increased welfare payments and less Medicaid funding for abortions could lower the current abortion rate by 37 percent.

Perhaps the New Zealand Government might take note: not caring for young families and not helping men and fathers in particular to work, is a dangerous social policy.

Innovative Church

Two ways of doing mission that have an air of innovation about them. We were alerted to both of these by Christian World Mission newsletter, dated 4.9.08

1.Church-goers in London's financial district walk up a gangplank for their weekly services in a floating church. A converted freight barge nestled amidst the skyscrapers of London's Docklands, St Peter's Church in Canary Wharf is the only boat-style church in Britain.
The barge was the idea of a handful of Christians working in Canary Wharf, who met at different venues to take part in Bible readings. Following this year's global credit crunch, church ministers have reported a significant rise in attendance amongst bankers, analysts and other financial workers at the lunchtime services.

2. Stressed-out London commuters were offered a moment of quiet reflection when the Church of England published a special prayer in their morning newspapers. The prayer for a "Moody Monday" was included in the free Metro newspaper after a survey by the church revealed September was a particularly stressful time for UK workers.
Of the 1,000 adults questioned, one in three want to make an improvement to their lifestyle and are expected to be "very busy" over the coming months. One in eight said they were "dreading" going back to work.
The prayer, which targeted 1.4 million commuters, asked for God’s help in dealing with everyday life and encouraged people to make the best of every new day. It also encouraged people to take part in Back to Church Sunday on 28 September.
The prayer printed in Monday’s edition of the Metro reads:

Dear God,
You know me. Don't you? I’m not just a person on a bus or a train. I’m not just another face on CCTV; or just another login name. I’m me, and I have stuff going on.
Love life issues; bills to pay. Egos at work to deal with; an overflowing inbox.
So please, give me strength. Guide me to focus on what's really important. And help me make the most of every moment of this new day in this new month.
Thank you.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Big to small?

David Gibbons was the head of a huge mega-church, NewSong, when he sensed God calling to Bangkok, of all unlikely places. What he learned there showed him that big money and big buildings and all the other stuff that goes with mega-churches isn't necessarily the most effective way of 'doing' church. In Bangkok, there was no room for huge urban churches; instead, small meetings and small churches work far more effectively.

Leadership Magazine has an online interview with Gibbons, in which he explains a number of the things he learned from his experience.

Making It New

In his review of Andy Crouch's new book, Culture Making: recovering our creative calling, Gideon Strauss writes:

[Andy] Crouch argues that American Christians adopted broadly four stances in relation to culture during the course of the 20th century, in each case taking an appropriate gesture toward certain elements of culture and inappropriately expanding it into a comprehensive posture toward the common culture in general. While some cultural products (like sex trafficking) demand outright condemnation from Christians, a posture of condemnation fails to account for the goodness of culture, warps Christian testimony to hope and mercy, facilitates hypocrisy, and—particularly in response to artistic works—comes across as "shrill and silly." Critique, by contrast, is an entirely appropriate response to works of art, the more so the better the art. But a posture of critique diminishes the delight to be taken in many good products of culture, and encourages a certain kind of cultural passivity that overemphasizes analysis and underappreciates participation and production. A pot of tea, a loaf of bread—the best first response to these is savoring consumption. But a posture of consumption limits us to living "unthinkingly within a culture's preexisting horizons of possibility and impossibility." Consumerism is capitulation to the existing culture at a deep level, allowing our very identity to be defined by what we can purchase. Copying from a culture is, at best, a recognition of "the lesson of Pentecost that every human language, every human cultural form, is capable of bearing the good news." But copying as a posture produces inauthentic, dated, and tame results.

Instead, Crouch says, the cultural postures Christians should adopt are those of cultivation and creation. Cultivators are "people who tend and nourish what is best in human culture, who do the hard and painstaking work to preserve the best of what people before us have done." And creators are "people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming and thrilling and beautiful."

Andy Crouch has a blog site, also called Culture Making

Monday, September 01, 2008

Mad Church Disease

I just came across the Book Blog, Mad Church Disease. It's the preliminary to a book on burnout amongst Church workers/ministers that's due to be published early next year by Zondervan. The author is Anne Jackson, and the following is a bit about her.

In 2005, a few years after she had started her tenure on a church staff, Anne, a twenty-five-year-old wound up hospitalized for gastrointestinal inflammation. She spent a week in severe pain. Every test brought one conclusion: the only thing making her ill was stress. Stress she had brought on herself.

She returned back to work informing her supervisors she wouldn't continue the crazy work schedule. However, even with working fewer hours, Anne realized she could no longer function in a healthy manner in her current environment. A friend and coworker asked her, "Does working at this church interfere with your communion with Christ?" That provocative inquiry wasn't just a question, it was also an answer.

Five months later, she resigned. After leaving, she realized the long-term impact her previous seventy hour weeks had on her marriage, her health, and her relationship with Christ.

Almost twenty years later since Anne has seen many well-known leaders fall victim to ministry burn out, including two who have been mentors in her own life. She realised she she must do whatever she could to help bring God's message of restoration, light and love to those who are pastors, or other church staff, their families, and the volunteers that give so much time on top of their busy schedules.

She began writing her book on burnout and opened up a blog for people to comment on the situation: hundreds responded, and some of their stories will become part of the book.

The book will include questions and a study guide to help the reader walk through their own personal journey of healing from (or preventing) burnout. Several leaders contributed “Second Opinions” to the book (their own thoughts on aspects of burning out and restoration) including Bill Hybels, Wayne Cordeiro, Perry Noble, Mike Foster, Gary Kinnaman, Brandi Wilson, Matt Carter, Shawn Wood, and Craig Groeschel wrote the foreword.