Wednesday, July 29, 2009

do you have to be born into a christian home to hear about jesus?

Recently, in a very prominent article, Newsweek chronicled the decline of Christianity in America. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, was part of this discussion and had his own thoughts on the issue. From a completely different angle, Voddie Baucham has examined the rise of Islam in France and compares the birth rate between the native French and the immigrants from across the Muslim world. Voddie’s answer: Christians should have more kids. I believe that there is a connection between the shrinking western family and the decline of Christianity in the west. Furthermore, I don’t believe that the church is in decline any more or any less due to how much or how little we are evangelizing.  Said another way, the decline of Christianity has more to do with the shrinking size of the family than it does evangelism {and this is a travesty}. 
The logic goes like this:
  1. Church’s methodology centers on evangelizing those already in the church. The majority of baptisms come from the children of those already attending the church and not from outside the church network.
  2. couples are having fewer children than in yonder days
  3. therefore our evangelism numbers our down and the church is in decline.
So I pose the question, does one have to be born into a Christian home to hear the gospel?

It appears to be the case. This is a multifaceted issue, especially the way I have linked the decline of the church, in part, to the decline of the family. Unlike Voddie, I am not prescribing that the answer to the rise of Islam or the decline of Christianity has anything to do with family size or family integrated church (FIC). I am not prescribing that we should stop evangelizing our children. I do think it is a shame, however, that it appears that unless you are born into a Christian family you are destined to hell. We certainly should evangelize our families {and perhaps even have more children. In the new “immigrant America” we appear anti-family to most other cultures, and, not to be vulgar, weak and unmanly—its true}.

I was talking with a friend about all of this the other day. He is part of an FIC church, and he suggested that this was the way that it ought to be. God designed the family to carry down the gospel. I agree that the family is an ideal form for passing on the covenant, new or old, from generation to generation. We are even instructed to do so. This was how the old covenant was passed down. The problem was that Israel forgot that family, though important, was not the end in itself. Israel was to be a “light to the nations” {Isa 49:6, 51:4}. The covenant was for them and their children. They were to faithfully past it down from generation to generation. But they forgot that they were to be a blessing to all peoples {Gen 26:4}. Again, I do not suggest that we remove this element, only that this method by itself is insufficient. It seems that churches intent on reaching their own and the whole FIC crowd have also forgotten this.

Extended families, in many cultures, are the fastest venue for transmitting the gospel. But the gospel must jump from clan A to clan B, and from B to C, and so forth. Right now, churches are only reaching the people who are already there or people who are inclined to come and seek. It is the exception, not the rule, to find people who were saved outside the context of the immediate family or church attendance. The average church, not to mention the FIC crowd, seems to take this description as a prescription. Since, they think, most people are getting saved at a young age, or as a result of family, then this is obviously how God intended it and we should schedule our resources accordingly. On the positive side, this means that our children are getting saved. On the down side, it appears that unless the lost are our children, they will probably never hear the gospel. As our country becomes less “Christian” and as our families become smaller, we will see Christianity shrink since we are only reaching our blood kin. Again, this is not the result of more or less evangelism. Rather it is because we have reduced strategy to family only and we happen to be having smaller families.

So I leave you with the question, how do we get our churches to remedy the travesty of only reaching those who are culturally Christian or are directly related to our membership? In your circle, are people outside of your genealogy hearing about Christ, or is it only your children?

All of that said: I am grateful I was born in a christian home; but we need to reach out to those who aren't.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

like a sore thumb: what independent baptists and muslims have in common

The idea of extraction has only recently hit my radar screen although I have lived under the system for many years.  Here are two obvious examples of extraction.

Part of the problem with missions to north Africa and the Middle East is that the movement, historically at least, has never become indigenous.  It is always driven by and presented as an outsider, westerner, counter cultural, crusader-esque political movement.  Extraction in this context takes place in a number of ways, many of them are well intentioned.
  • Sometimes this looks like a rescue operation.  Salim becomes a christian and undergoes persecution {more often because of our missteps than his own}.  Our responses: fully believing that the American dream is synonymous with the gospel, we reject the notion that this persecution is legitimate or can be used for the kingdom.  We just want it to stop.  We look for ways to bring him out of the country.  How does this look to the locals?  Christianity is a western religion.  Missionaries are the religious wing of the CIA.  The CIA topples your government and then the missionaries brainwash women, children, and other outcasts.  To become Christian is to become American/western.  To become Christian is to forsake family, tribe, nation, and heritage.  Just look at Salim.  He became a Christian with those white missionaries, and now he has left for America-traitor.  
  • Sometimes extraction looks like prejudice.  Are Arab believers reaching the Muslim majority at home?  not typically.  Christians have been severely persecuted and discriminated against.  Proselytizing Muslims is a big no no, one that will get you imprisoned or worse.  So one day Ahmed becomes a believer.  What are his options?  There is the expat oilfield workers church.  This would be a certain death sentence.  Need plan B: the Arab believers church.  These are people who have "grown up" as Christians and come from a Christian background.  It is almost as much an political and ethnic grouping as it is a religious one.  Look at their state ID and it says "Christian."  This looks like a better plan to Ahmed.  He goes there, amid their cautious and skeptical glances.  What must he do?  He must take a christian name and get rid of his "Muslim" name.  He must shave his beard and maybe get the traditional cross tattoo on the inside of his wrist.  He can no longer wear any traditional Islamic clothes.  What do you think the reaction of Ahmed's father will be when he says "abuni, I am no longer a Muslim.  I am a Christian.  I have changed my name to Matthias."  His father will probably beat him, kick him out of the house, that is if he does not turn him over to the authorities for reeducation or to be placed in a mental hospital till his "illness" is over.  He is ostracized from family and friends {the family clan is the basis of every aspect of life in the Arab world: job, marriage, protection, everything.}  Because he is blacklisted, he looses his job.  His wife, who is not yet a believer, is careful not to tell her parents about Ahmed, ops, I mean Matthias' conversion lest they force a divorce and he loose his family.  The landlord has kicked him out of his flat.  Completely wasted and ruined, he goes back to the church.  What is their response?  They just might be willing to take him in and help for a while.  But as soon as the authorities catch wind of what has happened they will turn him out on his own.  They don't want any more persecution and certainly not on behalf of one who used to be a Muslim.  If he is jailed, they cannot/will not help.  What are his options?  One, Christian or Muslim will give him a real job or a place to live.  If he is single, none of the Christians will allow him to marry his daughter since his State ID will always say "Muslim" and their children will technically be Muslim too, even though they are really believers.  Should he leave the country?  What other option does he have?  He has successfully been extracted from culture, and family, and economics, and every other area of life since he was forced out of his family and natural network.  The saddest part of all is that the gospel will not flow back through his former circle of family and friends.  How would this situation have been different if he had continued to be a part of his culture?  What if He had kept his birth name and traditional dress?  What if he hadn't presented his new beliefs in such a caustic, disrespectful way to his father?  Persecution in these contexts is inevitable.  Had he not been extracted from his context the persecution may not have been as severe and might not have come till later.  But the main point is that if he had not been extracted, he would have been able to advance the gospel through his circle.  Extracted, he was merely a victim to himself, and a liability to everyone else.  {the truth of the matter, is that the Arab church is just as culturally and politically extracted as he was.  That is, they were not actually living in the normal context for their part of the world.}
So how on earth are independent baptists at all like that?

There is a church I grew up in that fits the following description:  They were KJV only.  The women wore long dresses, had long hair, and typically, no make up.  Female dress was, according to the pastor, to be "Lots, Loose, Long, and Ladylike." The men were expected to have short hair, no earrings or tattoos.  Beards were permissible; shorts were frowned upon.  There was no mixed swimming and even no youth group.  Tv was heavily discouraged and heavily preached against.  Dating was not allowed.  Secular music was condemned as was praise and worship and any other contemporary music.  Contemporary music for them was the Gaithers and Steve Green--yes they were just that far out of touch.  College was discouraged.  BJU was too liberal for most {yes I said liberal!} and PCC was even to liberal for some.  When I went to SEBTS, many in the church broke fellowship with me {cause we all know how liberal Paige Patterson is...}.  All of this was done in the name of "holiness."  Their view was that everything in the world was evil intrinsically.  There were not any elements of culture which were neutral.  Church was viewed as the safe place, safe from all the evils and contaminants of the world.  There essentially wasn't any outreach into the community.  Some people, of their own initiative, actually did share the gospel.  But for too many of them, sharing the gospel was translated into some kind of denouncement of the evil of culture through the explanation of our "high standards" to some poor lost person who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.  There was a testimony hour where people could share what God was doing in their lives or share a witnessing story, etc.  Here are some of the examples {there are many stories which were genuine, these are just some which illustrate their extracted point of view}:    
  • One lady talked about an encounter with a young woman in wall-mart.  Allegedly, this young lady wasn't properly dressed {remember proper for these folks meant no holes in the elbows or knees...}.  The woman took great joy in telling us how she explained modesty to this young lady.  This was her taking a stand for "truth."  
  • More stories than I can count about political discussions, elections, candidates, etc, being proclaimed as "truth."
  • There were many a successful "stand for Christ" when objectionable music was played at a restaurant.  The suffering saint would walk up to the manager to lodge a complaint about the music.  The manager would turn the music off.  Evil has now been averted...
  • On one occasion, one of my neighbors, a teenage girl who was lost, actually came with us.  Her skirt was a little to short {we all know how defrauding knees can be}.  You would have thought she carried a plague.  Everyone avoided her; no one spoke to her.  She was LOST!  But that was just too bad for her.  
Ministry in this church centered around providing a safe place for like minded families to fellowship.  They were more than happy for outsiders to come, so long as they would clean up enough first.  The preaching centered around 5 or so topics {KJV only, No TV, Music, Modesty, Faith from Heb 11}.  These were on a continual loop with only a rare deviation to discuss discipline or divorce or creation or something like that.  All of these sermons were topical in nature, and, if you haven't guessed, proof-texted with scripture taken grossly out of context   Needless to say, whenever we went to evangelize those poor sinners out there, we were viewed with much suspicion and the Kingdom was rarely served. 

These two examples are very obvious.  No one reading this is thinking "yes, that is the way it ought to be!"  But in the next post, I will bring this closer to home and try to add some definition to extraction.

In the mean time, koolaid anyone?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

like a sore thumb: a personal journey of feeling out of place...

Ever felt out of place in church?  I feel that way everyAmishSpeedWagon Sunday these days.  I tell people who are unfamiliar with this feeling to go and visit a mosque or synagogue.  They speak a different language, know when to stand and sit, etc; and you are left there playing catch up.  I remember one visit to a synagogue distinctly.  I was taking a world religions class which was the pretext for the visit.  It turned out that there was a bar-mitzvah that night.  I was unaware what the proper protocol was concerning invitations and such.  It appeared to be an open event.  So, we went on in and sat in the back.  I had taken a few semesters of Hebrew and was trying to follow along as best I could.  In spite of my efforts, I was a line or two behind everything that was happening.  All of a sudden everyone stood up and turned and faced me and my wife.  I just knew that we were moments away from making the evening news.  I felt the heat rising to my head as I frantically read to see if I could make sense of what would certainly be a stoning.  For those who are not familiar, Jews move their body in various ways to illustrate what they are reading and saying.  Words that speak of contrition merit a forward bow of the audience.  My pulse slowed back down as I finally caught up to what everyone was doing.  They were singing something about turning to face the new morning light.  Their bodies followed their words.  We now see the humor in this event.

I have pondered, by the hour, why I feel out of place in church.  There are two churches that I felt at home in.  Both were churches I attended from childhood through college.  But even when I went back to these after having left them, I still felt oddly out of place.  The reasons I feel out of place have absolutely nothing to do with a language barrier or not knowing what is going on in the meeting.  I grew up in a Christian family and have been in church as long as I can remember.  I know that a small part of my feelings are due to the fact that I am headed overseas.  But this doesn't explain why from when I left for college till now I have felt foreign to church. That is to say, my feelings predate my involvement in overseas affairs.  I felt this way even when I served on staff with three different churches.  The feeling was even greater when I moved back to my home town and started looking for a "home" church again. 

I think I am beginning to figure it out.  The basic idea is this: the modern church is not situated in such a way that it is in the natural daily context of its constituents.  That is to say, the church, as we know it, geographically, socially, and even culturally exists in an artificial relationship both with the people who attend and the watching world.  Don't misunderstand me.  I am not equivocating artificial and fake, rather, I am juxtaposing artificial verses natural. 

If the church is truly artificial to its ethno-politico-religio-socio context, this explains why so much energy is spent trying to convince and attract the surrounding community to come and see and why so few people are in fact coming and seeing.  So if this fact is true, then why did I feel at home at those two childhood churches?  Also, why did I later feel out of place at the same churches I once considered home?  The truth is, those churches were always artificial.  They only felt like home initially because that was the only world I knew.  My whole context of growing up revolved around my parents.  When I left home, that changed.  Home itself-the house I grew up in-never felt like home again.  When I came back to those churches as an adult, and now an outsider, I experienced just how out of context these churches actually were.  They were like any other church I had visited in those years away.

I am using this post to start a short series on extraction methodology.  I will explain this more in those posts, but it should suffice to say that extraction methodology is doing church, ministry, evangelism, or missions in such a way that it is not in the context of the target people.  This is having devastating effects on the younger generations.  Ed Stetzer says:
70 percent of young adults (who attended regularly for at least one year in high school) ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.
It is not just me.  The question to all of this is, "why?"  What are the causes?  I am sure that part of the reason many kids never come back to church is because many of them are not in fact believers.  They grew up as cultural Christians and no one ever noticed till they never showed up again or until they did show up in some poll demonstrating how heretical the younger generation is.  I think the issue of conversion plays a larger part than anyone realizes, or, perhaps, is willing to admit.  But rather than asking the "why not?" question, "why don't kids come back to church?" or "why aren't the unchurched coming to our hip and trendy services?" it is better to ask "why would they think about coming in the first place?"  

That last question is one that hit me the other day as I was visiting a church.  I thought "why would I ever go here?"  Don't get me wrong, there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the church.  They didn't teach heresy.  There was an acceptable amount of love and fellowship.  I realized however, that it was completely outside any natural element of my daily life.  This was a piece of ground in my city where I never travel at any other point in my week.  It is a group of people I have no other interaction with at any other point in my week.  The teaching, while sound, was geared to a new believer audience, even though everyone in the audience has been believers longer than I have been living.  There is no natural context for this church whatsoever.  Granted, I could go there and make friends and take part in the fellowship.  But these relationships would be artificial in the sense that they were made purely on the basis that I was now making myself artificially part of some group.  Remember, artificial does not mean superficial or phony, rather, it is juxtaposed to natural. 

This series is not another "down with traditional church" rant.  Repairing the problem is not just a matter of getting rid of church buildings but goes much deeper into our understanding-or lack thereof-of culture and context.  

Some things to look forward to:
  • How ministry to Muslims and Independent Baptist types are the same
  • Evangelism comes across as mugging because we have left the world and now must invade it.  God doesn't invade the world; He is already at work.  He made it; it is already his.
  • The only reason we are having to find were God is working and get involved is because we have moved out to our safe enclaves.
  • Natural groupings and meetings-lessons we can learn from work overseas.
  • Jesus is Lord; Context is King: not just a hermeneutical quip. 
  • When the father revealed his Logos to us, he put a face on it so we could understand it.  God's strategy hasn't changed.
  • What contemporary church and traditional church have in common and why they their struggle to be relevant is useless.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

welcome to first baptist church of facebook inc.

facebook church There is much talk about Gary Hamel's article concerning the facebook generation's impact on the corporate world.  I want to discuss what some of the implications might look like for the church.  {The bold points are Hamel's original points, my reflection is in brackets}
1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.
On the Web, every idea has the chance to gain a following—or not, and no one has the power to kill off a subversive idea or squelch an embarrassing debate. Ideas gain traction based on their perceived merits, rather than on the political power of their sponsors.
{Theologically, I am not sure that this would be such a great idea.  But what about strategy, methodology, and atmosphere?  I went to a church function today which designed to attract the local community.  It was a complete flop.  Barely anyone showed up, including church members.  This isn't such a problem since we have all had ideas go down the tubes.  However, I found out that this is an annual event. Essentially, this is the way they had always done it whether it worked or not.  Success/outreach was not the issue; activity was.  It seems that it would be positive to bring in new ideas to the design and strategy team at least to examine the "way we have always done it" crowd.  Considering Hamel's point concerning subversion, it would provide a cathartic dose of honesty to expose, address, and repair problems rather than just shoving them under the rug.  Ever been to one of those churches where there was civil war brewing under the surface but everyone on stage provided such a sterile environment?}
2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.
When you post a video to YouTube, no one asks you if you went to film school. When you write a blog, no one cares whether you have a journalism degree. Position, title, and academic degrees—none of the usual status differentiators carry much weight online. On the Web, what counts is not your resume, but what you can contribute.
{The church's insistence on "professional" leadership is the very thing stultifying growth.  The problem is not so much that we DO have highly trained leaders, but that we DO NOT have people who assume a role in the movement due to a lack of professional training.  Translation: laity sits in pews because they think you have to have an Mdiv to serve God.  But what if they were like cyber folk?  We would have churches full of people who were part of a movement being sent out and trained by seminary trained staff.  The current model explains why so few are coming to faith: we show up to support the staff, hear what they have to say, and send the few to the masses.  The lay churchplanter is a vital need to the church of the next generation.}
3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.
In any Web forum there are some individuals who command more respect and attention than others—and have more influence as a consequence. Critically, though, these individuals haven’t been appointed by some superior authority. Instead, their clout reflects the freely given approbation of their peers. On the Web, authority trickles up, not down.
{Whether or not we realize it, this is the way the world works.  This is the reason why in many small churches it is someone other than the pastor, elders, deacons or other leadership actually pulling the strings.  Sadly, this leader is rarely constructive and often selfish.  More generically, this is exactly what a "person of peace" is.  From the negative side, few believers make their way up the unspoken hierarchy within or without the church-see my post on being a follower.  At the strategic level, we need to look for those unspoken persons of leadership and influence.}
4. Leaders serve rather than preside.
On the Web, every leader is a servant leader; no one has the power to command or sanction. Credible arguments, demonstrated expertise and selfless behavior are the only levers for getting things done through other people. Forget this online, and your followers will soon abandon you.
{If only the church's march forward were based on "credible arguments, demonstrated expertise, and selfless behavior!"  Instead, we move forward only when the right people approve, it looks safe enough for the key-holders to enjoy, and when it looks close enough to how we have always done it.}
5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.
The Web is an opt-in economy. Whether contributing to a blog, working on an open source project, or sharing advice in a forum, people choose to work on the things that interest them. Everyone is an independent contractor, and everyone scratches their own itch.
{Ever been to a church which automatically assigned everyone to a job and you have to request your name be taken off if you don't want to do it?  Many churches uses these manipulative means for acquiring participation.  It is as if we think that in order to follow Jesus we must be miserable at what we do.  Think about how most people describe their calling to Christian service.  They wanted to do plan A, and said they would never do plan B but God wanted them to do plan B.  They "surrendered."  What if God gave us passions and gifts specifically for the purpose of ministry; sound familiar?}
6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.
On the Web, you get to choose your compatriots. In any online community, you have the freedom to link up with some individuals and ignore the rest, to share deeply with some folks and not at all with others. Just as no one can assign you a boring task, no can force you to work with dim-witted colleagues.
{One of the strangest things I have found in church, after leaving the church I grew up in, was how artificial the grouping at church was.  Often it is a group of people who have nothing in common, can't get along, and, barring Sunday, never associate with each other in any other capacity.  Is it any wonder why all the programs in the world are not bringing the world to church?  In our church planting strategy, we need to look for those natural groups-something we do overseas but fail to do here.}
7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.
In large organizations, resources get allocated top-down, in a politicized, Soviet-style budget wrangle. On the Web, human effort flows towards ideas and projects that are attractive (and fun), and away from those that aren’t. In this sense, the Web is a market economy where millions of individuals get to decide, moment by moment, how to spend the precious currency of their time and attention.
{The church emulates the corporation here.  I have been at churches where various ministries of the church were notorious for making a last ditch effort to spend the rest of their budget so their budget wouldn't be reduced the next year.  There is a need to plan the money strategically, but we need more spontaneity.  All too often we plan and budget non priority items early on and have no money for great ideas that happen later in the year.  Do we really need to plan ahead to have dedicated flowers every Sunday?  It would be better to focus the spending around reaching the goals set forth in the great commission vision.}
8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.
The Web is also a gift economy. To gain influence and status, you have to give away your expertise and content. And you must do it quickly; if you don’t, someone else will beat you to the punch—and garner the credit that might have been yours. Online, there are a lot of incentives to share, and few incentives to hoard.
{I don't think this will be too big of a change for stateside churches.  This tends to be an attribute of American culture.  In other parts of the globe, however, knowledge is power, and this includes gospel knowledge.  This particularly happens in male dominated cultures, which happens to be most of the 10/40 window.  This is particularly true in Muslim circles.  Often the men, who are literate, receive the gospel first and fail to transfer it to their wives, who are non-literate.}
9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.
On the Internet, truly smart ideas rapidly gain a following no matter how disruptive they may be. The Web is a near-perfect medium for aggregating the wisdom of the crowd—whether in formally organized opinion markets or in casual discussion groups. And once aggregated, the voice of the masses can be used as a battering ram to challenge the entrenched interests of institutions in the offline world.
{Again, there is some semblance of this in many churches so the change may not that revolutionary.  But the truth behind this point is that any kind of real movement must be grassroots.  A change or revival at the top is meaningless unless the grass catches fire as well.}
10. Users can veto most policy decisions.
As many Internet moguls have learned to their sorrow, online users are opinionated and vociferous—and will quickly attack any decision or policy change that seems contrary to the community’s interests. The only way to keep users loyal is to give them a substantial say in key decisions. You may have built the community, but the users really own it.
{True also of church.  In a secular society, people can walk away from the church at any moment for any reason.  Most churches, both contemporary and traditional, have forgotten this fact.  Many churches are top down in every area of church life.  They are run by trained professionals.  They are designed for people to come to and enjoy and grow.  Churches which often grow fast and large do so based on the personality running the show.  When he leaves/retires/dies, the movement dies.  We must begin to get back to utilizing the lay force.  We need to rewrite our vocabulary so that no one hears that they need to leave it to "the professionals."  The sooner we build consensus and really sell our vision to the rank and file, the sooner we will see a movement with historic impact.  If we fail to do this, the church in the west will be all but gone within a few generations.}
11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.
The web is a testament to the power of intrinsic rewards. Think of all the articles contributed to Wikipedia, all the open source software created, all the advice freely given—add up the hours of volunteer time and it’s obvious that human beings will give generously of themselves when they’re given the chance to contribute to something they actually care about. Money’s great, but so is recognition and the joy of accomplishment.
{Again, what if we didn't sell following God as the mortification of joy?  The way the church is most powerful-the way God designed it to be-is when the members are using their actual talents for God's glory.  God has given people burdens and passions for a reason.  We would do better to utilize the ways in which it is obvious that the should serve God than to insist that serving God must be a drudgery.}
12. Hackers are heroes.
Large organizations tend to make life uncomfortable for activists and rabble-rousers—however constructive they may be. In contrast, online communities frequently embrace those with strong anti-authoritarian views. On the Web, muckraking malcontents are frequently celebrated as champions of the Internet’s democratic values—particularly if they’ve managed to hack a piece of code that has been interfering with what others regard as their inalienable digital rights.
{In church circles, heretics are the hackers.  I am not talking about actual heretics, ones who would deny the divinity of Christ or the resurrection.  Rather these are people who try to move the body, when the body only wants the status quo.  Look at Luther [The reformer, or the king-take your choice].  The only reason he goes down in history affirmatively is because he won the fight.  Had he lost, he would have been a hacker. 
So that was "hacking" on the positive side.  On the negative side, there are many people who are critical of anything and use their, sometimes, brilliant critiques to advance themselves.  These are the people we are to be on guard against.  It is always easy to make something look bad and irrelevant.  It is a soft target to go after the SBC.  Anyone who has been paying attention can do that job.  But how many could actually fix it if they were given the chance?  The ability to "diagnose" does not necessarily imply the ability to repair, restore, and reform.  Many bloggers were able to win a recent SBC election.  At the end of the day, their guy was a decent candidate.  But their agenda had more to do with self advancement with a "because we can."  Again, it is easy to win based on how bad the other party is.  It is much harder to win based on personal merit.}
By and large, the impact that the facebook generation will have on the church will be a positive one.  The key will be the establishment becoming flexible to this kind of change.  Even better would be if the establishment pursued this kind of change since it is unclear whether or not generation F will be willing to force their change on the establishment or just walk away and do their own thing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

like sheep to the slaughter

I tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. Well, as ahead of the curve as my budget will allow... When it comes to free technology, I like to be on the front end. I started with xanga and blogger early on. With facebook, I joined the first year it started. The year when you would hear "What's facebook?" and were required to have a college email address. I don't know how old twitter is, but I resisted this one a little longer. I just joined, and am not all that impressed. It seems like it is the status function of facebook. Cool if you are a high school girl with a network of bored cell phone clad friends--lame for the rest of us. I will stay with it for a little while just to check it out. {my tweet?, twit?, whatever...}

All of that aside, there is a very interesting article over at TechCrunch. Here is the skinny. Most people are sheep-true in real life as well. 80% of twitter accounts have fewer than 10 followers and 30% have none whatsoever! Only 20% off all accounts have breached the 10 followers "ceiling", if we can call it that. Concerning the dissemination of information, 81% of all accounts have fewer that 10 tweets {for those who are nontwits: status updates}. A Harvard Business School study suggests that the top 10% of twits produce more than 90% of all tweets.

The TechCrunch article tells us what we already know. People are basically followers. My Father tried to instill in us at an early that we should be leaders and not followers. Set the path; don't follow the masses. Since rule of following is true for the masses, it is also true for the church. Think about these two truths. First, things don't change internally with the church because we are all followers {theologically a good thing; methodologically and transformissionally a death knell}. We as individuals are followers, and we as corporate bodies are followers. Where is the individual and corporate ingenuity and creativity. Why is it after 300 years of church in this country we are still worshiping in buildings, following an order of service, and addressing the culture the same way we always have? Has it just been such a winner of a plan thus far? Second, things don't change externally in the culture as a result of the church because we are only followers. When things go crazy in the world-and there is lots of crazy in the world-people should be able to look to us for guidance. We should be leading those around us through life. By this, I do not mean that we should create an outside community wherein they can leave the real world and take place in our trendy knockoff Christian culture. We need to be involved in the real world looking to the future rather than retreating and bemoaning "the way things used to be." Better to hold the keys to the doors of tomorrow than the pictures from the past.

When we think about these stats from twitter, it is important to see just how few lead so many. It doesn't take a million people to lead a movement. Often, it only takes a handful of key persons of influence.

How do we put ourselves in the top 10%? How do we shape the future of our city? How do we position ourselves far enough down the road so that the culture will be coming through the path we have blazed?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

windows and doors

2441584-2-mdina-malta-door-1 In a previous post I referenced partnering with a group who did evangelism at a mall.  The mall received very international clientele, and the group's goal was to talk specifically with Muslims.  The mall was full of people from all across the 10/40 window.  My partner was long on zeal and short on tools.  I do not say anything to puff myself up {for certainly I still make many blunders} or to tear my partner down {He truly loved God and was zealous to reach people with the gospel}.  This story only serves to illustrate a point.

My partner's style of approaching people was rather caustic.  You could see the shock {and at times terror!} on the faces of those he stopped.  My partner was highly educated {PhD in English lit} but lacked certain social graces.  For those who know me well, know that it must have been bad for ME to have noticed.  At the evangelistic level, he was very fast to pull out labels to describe himself or his beliefs.  "Protestant" "Conservative" and others were freely thrown around.  {The problem with this approach is that the gospel is more than a label.  Labels are sometimes loaded terms with different meanings for different groups.  Point being, offend them with the cross not a label.} 

There was one encounter in particular which will serve our purposes here.  Technically, you are not supposed to be doing this sort of thing at a mall and we started to receive attention from a security guard.  I have been picked up mall security before-for some reason I look like a terrorist...-and didn't want the evening to end prematurely with us being thrown off of mall property.  I decided to divert them, and I left my partner to step into a bookstore and get a cup of coffee.  By the time I returned he was in the middle of talking to a Pakistani man, Salmon.  I sat down in time to hear the tail end of an exchange something like this:

Partner: You need to read the Bible
Salmon: I have already told you, I don't want to read the Bible.
P This is the most influential book in history
S I don't care: you need to go watch Lost
short pause
P I have never seen it, but I have heard that Lost has a lot of Christian ideas in it just like Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' books.  Have you read any of those?
S {shoots him a frustrated glance}
ME  I show up
P hi ME, I was just telling him that he should read the Bible, but he doesn't want to
S Actually I am telling him he should go watch Lost

It continued like this for another ten minutes.  I think I was as shocked as Salmon.  With increasing certainty, Salmon insisted that if you continue telling people the same thing that no one would ever want to listen to you.  He followed this with several "I am really not interested" with a kind of "no means no" grimace. 
When I am witnessing with a partner, I do my best to allow them, if they are the one leading, to finish their train of though/line of reasoning.  It always bothers me, when I am headed somewhere and my partner decides that he wants to head somewhere else and cuts me off.  I think disunity in a conversation is confusing to a witnessee.  I broke the code; I had to.  Much to the shock of my partner, I started discussing the Pakistani culture with Salmon.  It shocked both of us that he, who I was sure was about to walk away at any second, leaned forward, looked me in the eyes, and started telling me all about his homeland.  So I started with questions:  What is the language?  Culturally do you have more in common with Afghanistan or India? {most Americans don't ask him that one, but he really liked it}.  These questions were not merely random.  They served a number of purposes.  First, it slowed down the conversation.  Prior to my interjection, it looked like a Chinese ping pong match.  Second, they served to demonstrate I was truly interested in him as a person--and I truly was.  I really do enjoy studying cultures and worldviews.  Third, the questions functioned strategically to discover who he really was, what he really thought, and to guide him down a certain path of reasoning.  Turns out he was as postmodern as any American or European {for those who are intimidated by the thought of talking to postmodernists, you don't need a degree in philosophy or apologetics.  Just give an honest projection of yourself, gain trust through relationships, and tell your story in terms that are relevant to them and not the church crowd}.  He had been raised Muslim.  He had heard about other religions and philosophies.  Now, he had a good education, a great job, lots of money, and he really just thought that all religions are true enough for themselves and that everyone should get along peacefully and quietly, and, most importantly, should leave him alone.  He was a far cry from the stereotype with which my partner was labeling him.

From the common interest of culture, I started asking him about the role of honor and shame.  What brings one honor?  What brings one shame?  What does one do when shamed to fix the problem?  Then I asked if I could tell him my story.  He leaned forward in his seat and eagerly said "yes."  He listened for thirty minutes to my journey from a hyper religious neoamish group to a mad search though all religions and philosophies to settling on a more culturally integrated/transformissional Christianity {primarily how I was able to move from my state of having shamed God and myself to how my situation was rectified without retribution on my head--I told my story in worldview terms he understood}.  To make a long story short, he wasn't ready to convert when I was finished.  He wasn't even ready to take the Bible I offered him.  But real communication did occur.  I actually listened to him enough to know who he was and what he needed to hear.  He actually listened to me tell him my story in vocabulary that was relevant to him.  The event turned from a very negative event to a positive event where we listened and learned.  He was visibly touched when I said I would pray for him that night {if I could go back, I would have prayed for him on the spot-opportunity lost...}

So what is the point?  I believe it was Donald Mcgavran who formulated the harvest principle.  The basic idea is that we should be going to where we see the harvest happening.  We should be going to those fields which seem to be receptive.  This is similar to Blackaby's "find where God is working and get involved."  Both of these rules are good, but one must be careful when applying them.  Many people have used these rules to overlook vast areas of the globe which appear to be unreceptive, such as North Africa and the Middle East.  As of late missiologists have realized that when you look at a geographic region, such as a city, that there are some groups within the city which are hardened, while others are receptive.  This is a better rule of thumb.  But what if everyone, or almost everyone is receptive at some level to certain approaches while not receptive to other approaches?  What if they are actually not receiving us and our methodology rather than actually rejecting the cross?  Here was a man who for all practical purposes was highly resistant.  Or was he?  My partner was slyly trying to crawl through the window  by recommending certain books in hopes that he would read, be lulled to sleep by the art and some how wake up believing the Christian worldview.  Salmon reacted the same way any of us would react if we caught someone sneaking into our house through a window.  We would be appalled, shocked, and defensive.  But what about if we just knock on the front door?  Will we perhaps get invited in and served some tea or coffee?  Regardless of our efforts and intentions, when communication does not really take place, then no evangelism actually occurred.  Inevitably we will go to peoples half-cocked and and preach against stereotypes which we assume they ought to be.  When they kick us out we will come back with our war stories of suffrin' for Jesus and talk about how resistant the world is to the gospel and probably revert by to trying to vote in our religion.  But what if we had just walked through the front door?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Christian Mugging

I have some forthcomming thoughts on "Christian mugging." Here are two skits to get you thinking.