Saturday, December 15, 2012

What I Would do Differntly

Neil Cole
I have included a three-minute-to-read, important excerpt from Neil Cole's great book (and my favourite on the subject of starting and growing micro/house/simple churches). You may not see yourself as a 'church planter' but these truths that Neil shares are of value to all followers of Jesus. We ALL need to be reaching out to our families, neighbours work-mates etc whoever they may be. And we need to have the end in mind that our genuine friendship will result in some sort of regular get together where the important issues of life will be discussed. The result may be a new disciple; it could be a church!

The paragraph on 'rethinking leadership' is vital. So much current teaching on leadership is so restrictive. It blatantly excludes new believers, and independent thinkers, in fact all but the super-talented qualify. Listening to the tapes of one prominent leadership teacher makes me wonder if he has even heard of the Holy Spirit. We need to reject this sort of teaching and embrace the Holy Spirit, his gifts, and the promises of God. We are not (all) called to be CEOs of secular companies, nor should we be restricted by the world's leadership principles.

About Neil Cole. Neil leads a movement, "Church Multiplications Associates" (CMA). In the first six years of CMA, Cole states, "there have been close to 800 churches started in thirty-two states and twenty-three nations around the world." (page 26 of "Organic Church").

First, I would begin in the harvest and start small. Don't start with a team of already-saved Christians. We think that having a bigger and better team will accelerate the work, but it doesn't. It is better to have a team of two, since the right two makes the work even better. The churches birthed out of transformed lives are healthier, reproductive, and growing faster.

Second, I would allow God to build around others. Don't start in your own home; find a 'person of peace' and start in that home. Read Matt. 10 and Luke 10, and do it.

Third, I would empower others from the start. Let the new believers do the work of the ministry without your imposed control. Let the excitement of a new life carry the movement rather than your intelligence and persuasiveness.

Fourth, I would let Scripture, not my assumptions, lead. Question all your ministry assumptions in the light of Scripture, with courage and faith. Let God's Spirit and God's Word lead rather than your own experience, teaching and tradition.

Fifth (and this is the 'biggie'). I would rethink leadership. Set the new believers loose immediately and walk with them through the leadership process. Leadership recruitment is a dead end. We are all recruiting from the same pond, and it is getting shallower and shallower. Leadership farming is what is needed. Any leadership development that doesn't start with the lost is staring at the wrong place. Start at the beginning with the end in mind. The learning process isn't over until there is a flat line on the screen next to the bed!

Sixth, I would create immediate obedience in baptism. Baptise quickly and publicly and let the one doing the evangelising do the baptising. It is absolutely foolish the way we hold the Great Commission over our people and then exclude them from obeying it (by insisting on leaders only doing the baptising). We need to let the new convert imprint on the Lord for protection, provision, training, and leading, rather than on other humans (and leaders).

Seventh and last, I would settle my ownership issues. Stop being concerned about whether "your" church plant will succeed or not. It isn't yours in the first place. If we have our own identity and reputation at stake in the work, we will tend to take command. Big mistake! Let Jesus get the glory and put his reputation on the line; he can take care of himself without your help.

Feel free to pass this letter on.
Your feedback is appreciated.
Jack Guerin

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Two Ways of Doing Church

I was struck by this provocative "LEADING LEADERS" article and believe it will be helpful to everybody who is struggling with issues surrounding how we do church. Please note the following...
  1. It will take you longer to read than my usual Simple Church Letters.
  2. I believe the time spent reading it will be a worthwhile investment of an extra 10 or so minutes.
  3. It is an interview with two very influential pastors who have extremely contrasting views on doing church.
  4. It doesn't provide any 'pat answers'.
  5. I trust that it will make you do some serious, important and radical thinking.

Coming and Going
Two leaders. One mission. Two very different strategies.
a Leadership interview | posted 11/24/2008 12:02PM
Observing Neil Cole and Ed Young Jr. is a study in contrasts. The soft-spoken Cole quietly entered the vacant sanctuary where we were meeting. He lingered in the back for a while before anyone realised he had arrived. By contrast, Young burst into the room with a shout —every head turned. The sanctuary was immediately electrified.

Their contrasting personalities are paired with very different approaches to ministry. Ed Young Jr. is senior pastor of Fellowship Church, a seeker-driven congregation that began in Dallas in 1990. After surpassing 20,000 in weekly attendance, Fellowship Church is still growing with a highly structured multi-site model that uses video broadcasts of Young's sermons. The mega church now has four locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and recently launched its fifth campus in Miami, Florida.

Neil Cole is a pastor and the director of Church Multiplication Associates (CMA), a "growing family of organic church networks." Cole advocates a decentralised, micro-church strategy to reach the growing number of people who will never be attracted to a worship service. CMA began in 1990, the same year as Young's Fellowship Church. In that time, Cole's network has launched hundreds of churches in homes and coffee shops across forty states and thirty countries.

The contrasts between Young and Cole are striking: extrovert and introvert, mega church and micro church, centralised and decentralised. But what's surprising is what these two leaders share in common. Beyond a passion for reaching the lost, both men played basketball in college and both majored in art. Both cut their pastoral teeth at mega churches, and both followed their fathers professionally —Young is a second-generation pastor; Cole is a sixth-generation lifeguard. These commonalities only make their divergent ministry strategies that much more intriguing.

Leadership editors Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien met with Young and Cole at Fellowship Church's Miami campus to discuss their different approaches to mission. Befitting Fellowship's attractional model, the entire church had been converted into a studio set for the summer sermon series, "At the Movies." Film posters and a marquee were displayed outside the entrance; even the restroom signage was changed to resemble dressing rooms.

While most pastors are probably not as committed to the seeker model as Ed Young Jr. or as gung-ho for the organic/missional model as Neil Cole, investigating the divergent ends of the spectrum is helpful for clarifying your own church's strategy for reaching out with the gospel.

How did you come to faith, and how did that inform the type of ministry you do today?

Neil Cole: I came to Christ in college and grew at a very strong mega church. I ultimately went on staff there. Later, when the senior pastor left, our church went from 3,500 people to 600. So I've seen the struggles of being part of a large church staff.
After finishing seminary and leading a small church in L.A., my denomination asked me to oversee church planting in Southern California and Arizona. We really wanted our first plant to succeed, so we poured in a lot of money. We paid for two full-time pastors, a sound system, worship teams, lots of publicity, consultants and toolkits. But a year later the church died.

What went wrong?

Cole: I think God wanted to teach us something. The parables about the kingdom are usually about starting with something small, like a mustard seed. We learned a church cannot be bought; it must be planted. And that means starting small.

Ed Young: I grew up in a pastor's home, but when I went to Florida State University my understanding of the church changed. I was attending a good, traditional church in Tallahassee, and I invited my teammates from the basketball team to come. Nothing connected with them. That shocked me. I began seeing the church with a different set of eyes.

I eventually went on staff at my dad's church in Houston. Like Neil, I had the opportunity to be on staff at a megachurch. But I wanted to help start a new church that would be attractive and accessible to people like my college teammates. We moved to Dallas and began Fellowship Church. I didn't intend to start a megachurch; no pastor worth their salt does. We had no idea it would be so big.

Big is an understatement. You clearly invest a lot of energy and creativity in your worship services. Why?

Young: The worship event is the port of entry into the church. We have many, many, many, many other things that connect people to the church, like small groups and hospital visitation. Relationships are really important, but worship is the biggest entry point. So we are very intentional about our sermons and creating an experience.

Is it about attracting as many people as possible?

Young: Yeah, we want people to come and hear the gospel, but it's also about creativity. I think church should be the most creative place in the universe. That's a big part of who we are. The movie series we're doing right now, and the way this whole place is decorated and transformed, that's about creativity.

I've heard that you once preached from the turret of a tank. Is that true?

Young: (Laughing) That story always comes up. We had a guy in our church who said he owned a tank. I didn't believe him, so he took me to see it, and sure enough he had a tank. I was planning a message on spiritual warfare, so I thought it would be great to have a real tank in the church.

Are those ways to create buzz; to draw a crowd?

Young: Honestly, it just seemed like fun to me. Ultimately the creative stuff we do is about good communication. A tank is a great visual in a sermon. It's got to be about communicating the message. Period. We're not interested in creating a sideshow. Church cannot, cannot, cannot become a circus. If something isn't going to reinforce the message, we just don't do it.
But as word travels about the crazy things you've done, doesn't that attract more people?

Young: I suppose, but that's not why we do it. We want people to connect with the message of Christ, and we'll use creativity to make sure that happens.

Neil, how does your approach differ?

Cole: I was trained like Ed— to create a church experience as an outpost and invite people to find Christ there. One of our early plans was to rent a coffeehouse to reach young people in Long Beach. We were getting ready to launch. But in the middle of one of our strategy meetings God spoke to us and said, Why not go to the coffeehouses where they are?

Rather than trying to convert people from their coffeehouse to our coffeehouse where we could then convert them to Christ, we decided to bring Christ to them. So we started hanging out at their coffeehouses, and things started rolling. People started coming to faith in Christ. That's the difference between being centralised and decentralised.

What happened after they became believers?

Cole: We organised them into home groups that met every other week. They were so eager to grow and be together that they started meeting every week. Eventually I tried to launch a worship service, because that's what I was taught to do. People who had grown up in the church came, but none of the new believers did. I was expecting people to leave life to come to church. We learned that wherever life happens, church should happen.

So, the meetings in the coffee shops became their churches?

Cole: Right. And it also meant that the mission continued to spread. After a person becomes a believer, we tend to extract them from their context where they're primed to make an impact. Then we plug them into the church. It isn't long before all their friends are Christians and the impact is lost.

What's been the impact of your decentralised model?

Cole: We are seeing churches multiplying because we focused on the micro level, not the macro level. We all begin life as a zygote; we start multiplying at the smallest possible level. If we can't multiply on a small scale, we'll never multiply on a larger scale.

Ed, we're sitting 1,500 miles from your church's main campus. Why have you chosen a large scale, multi-site model?

Young: First of all, I didn't think it would work. I sometimes call the multi-site movement the gymnasium of 2008. I remember as a kid all these churches were building gymnasiums and buying roller skates thinking that would cause growth. It may have worked for a few churches, and then everyone just copied the trend. It's tempting to think if we just open another site or launch satellites we'll grow. I was sceptical.

But do you believe it's working for Fellowship?

Young: Yes, it's working, but I'm not just talking about numbers. I'm talking about lives being changed. Numbers are great, but what do they represent? We're seeing people come to Christ. If that wasn't happening, it wouldn't matter how many sites we have or how many people are attending.

With multiple sites in multiple cities, how do you now see your role as the pastor?

Young: I like to say I lost control of Fellowship Church as soon as we grew larger then one hundred people. The role of the pastor changes as you get bigger; it become less about control and more about influence. I believe churches are led by leaders. I believe God gives one person the vision —the pastor. I don't believe a committee-led church can be as effective as a pastor-led church. That doesn't mean a pastor shouldn't be accountable to anyone. It's not a dictatorship, but there needs to be strong leadership. My wife and I have four kids. If we put everything up to a vote, the immature would win every time. It doesn't work.

Neil, what does leadership look like in a dispersed, organic church model?

Cole: In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about five leadership roles, —apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, and shepherd. And he says leaders are called to equip the saints to do the ministry. So the evangelist isn't called to reach the lost, but to equip other believers so they can reach the lost.
The difference between a skilled Christian and a true leader is how interested they are in the success of other people. It's about equipping others instead of being the superstar yourself.
Has your movement been effective at that kind of leadership?

Cole: Yes, but not always. Back at my office we have a shelf we call The Shelf of Shame. We put all of our unsuccessful projects and resources on display there. Some resources may have been successful at addition, but they didn't multiply leaders —they didn't translate into other cultures. So we shelved them.

I don't know too many ministries that display their failures like trophies.

Cole: I had an art professor whose critiques were harsh. People hated him, but I didn't because he taught me not to fall in love with my own creations. That's why we have the shelf of shame. It teaches us not to love our own creations too much. We've got to be willing to let go, to scrap things we've made.

Christianity at its core is about dying to one's self. The shelf teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously, and to trust Christ more. That shelf contains some of God's best lessons to us. So we're not ashamed of the shelf, —we celebrate it.

Ed, what has been an unexpected lesson you've learned since launching Fellowship Church.

Young: When I started, I didn't realise the financial mantle the pastor carries. Even though I grew up in a pastor's home, I didn't understand what a significant part of ministry that was. Whether your church has a hundred people or ten thousand, the financial burden is a heavy one. I used to be scared to talk about giving, but that was a mistake.
It's part of ministry, and it's part of growing in Christ. I feel that burden, but I use it to help people grow in their faith through giving.

Cole: A lot of pastors feel that pressure, but I don't. Church Multiplication Associates has only one and a half employees. We don't have any overhead. We don't really have a budget for anything.

And you've planted churches in forty states?

Cole: Early on, we were fully supporting our church planters, but we realised the cost of reaching even one city would be huge. Using traditional planting methods, it would cost $80 billion to reach Atlanta! To have a spontaneously multiplying movement, we needed everybody involved. So we stopped paying church planters. The next year we got more, and better, leaders because they weren't looking for their next career move.

So fewer paid staff means more growth. That contradicts conventional thinking.

Cole: Three things deter spontaneous multiplication: buildings, budgets, and big shots. They may add to the kingdom, but they deter spontaneous multiplication. If ministry requires a highly trained, professional staff member, then an ordinary person is prevented from doing it.
And buildings may be useful, there's nothing immoral about them, but they don't multiply. If buildings grew out of the ground, that would be nice. But they don't. If we have to wait for the space and money to build facilities, we're not going to multiply very quickly.

Imagine that God calls you to make disciples in Chicago, where we live. How would you begin?

Young: Fellowship Church started in order to reach people, like my teammates, who don't connect with the church. I'd probably launch a church in Chicago like we've done in Dallas and in Miami—one that connects with people who don't go to church.

What are some of the key steps in that process?

Young: We'd need to find a team and a campus leader to run the church in Chicago. Our leader here in Miami came from a site in Dallas. We'd need someone like him to move to Chicago. There would be a giving campaign to support the effort, —there's that financial mantle again. We'd need to find a facility to rent or buy. Eventually we'd launch a worship service and start reaching out to the community.

Would you use video preaching?

Young: Probably. That's what is working for us right now, but we're always open to new ideas.
Neil, how about you?

Cole: We would drop two people off in Chicago and then spend a lot of time in prayer.
That's it?

Cole: We want to see a kingdom epidemic. That begins by sending a carrier of the virus. It doesn't really matter if that's me or someone else, but we think sending pairs is really important. You see that all the time in Scripture. But it starts very small.
What happens once the team is on the ground?

Cole: Our two workers will walk the streets of Chicago, in prayer, with their eyes and hearts seeking God's direction. Once they make some connections and engage a community, they'll look for a person of peace that God has prepared. We believe that if God calls us to start a church somewhere, then he's already prepared a person of peace in that city. When that person comes to faith, a chain reaction begins.

What about actually organising a church?

Cole: In Matthew 10 and Luke 10, Jesus sends his disciples out. He tells them to stay in one house, or oikos. The word really means a household; a social web of relationships. That's where they find the man of peace. When he comes to faith, rather than extracting him from his oikos and into a church, he is positioned to transform his original oikos. That transformed network becomes the church.

I think that's why Jesus told his disciples to stay in one house. He didn't want them to carry the gospel from house to house. He wanted it to spread like a virus, an epidemic, from one carrier to the next. That's a chain reaction. That's multiplication.

Apart from reaching the lost, how is your church maturing disciples?

Young: Sometimes larger churches are accused of not doing discipleship well, but that's not the case. The truth is we have more people at more stages of maturity, so just looking at a few doesn't give an accurate picture of what is really going on. I like to think of Fellowship Church as a table, and the pastor is the dude with the food. In one chair are people who don't know Christ. In another chair are the new believers. In the last chair are the most mature —what I call "the core." We want to move people from the first chair to the third.

As your paid staff has gotten bigger, has it made people less involved in serving and ministry?

Young: It's a big staff, but considering the size of our church it's small. That forces us to give the ball of ministry to the people, and we measure what they do with it. We're always asking, are they serving, are they tithing, are they bringing new people? We give them a lot of responsibility in our programs, and some don't like it. That's ok. I tell them that Fellowship Church probably isn't for them.

Cole: Most churches try to mature people by using programs. But if the program is the agent of change, then the program gets the glory.

But can't Christ use the program?

Cole: Yes. I'm not saying it doesn't work. I'm saying it's not always the most effective way to mobilise changed lives. We want people to imprint on Christ from day one. Imprinting is a term from ornithology, the study of birds. When a baby gosling hatches, it imprints on the first moving object it sees. That object becomes its mother, and the gosling expects to be fed and protected by it.

When a person comes to faith in Christ, most churches tell them to just sit back and receive. They're spoon fed by the church. And what happens? They imprint on the church or the pastor. They expect the church to do everything. And we wonder why there are so many passive Christians.

What is the alternative?

Cole: Christ immediately deployed people. Matthew was back with his friends. The Samaritan woman went back to her village. When a brand new Christian is thrust into a hostile environment with a mission, they're going to pray like crazy. That makes them imprint on Christ immediately.

But they still need to learn and mature in their faith. How does that happen?

Cole: We use LTGs—Life Transformation Groups. It's a gender-specific group of two or three that meets together once a week for about an hour. Every week, every person commits to reading thirty chapters of Scripture.

Young: Thirty? That's incredible.

Cole: They'll meet together to confess any sins. And the group's goal is to reach someone else for Christ. That is what makes it different from an accountability group, —it has a missional focus. Our goal is to multiply groups of two or three, because ultimately a church is only as good as her disciples, no matter how good the programs are.

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the mission of the church in the years ahead?

Young: I'm always hearing about new ideas that churches are trying, but I'm concerned that we're making things too complicated. We've got to fight to keep things simple. I tell leaders, I don't just want to hear about something new you're adding. Tell me about the things you're subtracting. To be effective in the future, we've got to resist the temptation to make our systems overly complicated.

Cole: The way we've done church for the last fifty years, the attractional model, is going to reach a certain population, but we're getting close to tapping out that market. We have to think in terms of mobilising the kingdom to go where people are. Too many Christians are passive and unengaged. They may listen to Christian radio and read Christian books, but they're not communing with God directly. Therefore, they are not dynamic witnesses, and they rely on the church to do all the missional work. We need to help people hear from God directly and obey him.

More on Money

Here's a short, provocative article passed on to me by a respected friend and colleague, David Allis --( I'm happy with that which is 'provocative' as I believe God wants us to seriously think about what happens to his money and his Kingdom. I also fear God's judgment on us when we ignore his more than 2,000 Bible references about helping the poor -- locally and globally -- and we squander his money, or allow others to squander it, to pander to our (or others’) selfish desires.
Building a Kingdom
Take a look at these numbers:

3.4 million. 3.7 million. 11 million. 1.7 million. 6.4 million. 2.3 million. 5.6 million. 11.8 million. 4.6 million. 700,000. 5 million. 6.1 million. 5 million.

What are these numbers?

Every year I have been an ordained minister (which is one year) I have received a calendar that displays 12 pictures of church buildings that a certain company helped finance to be built. They are beautiful buildings- one has a prominently featured outdoor fireplace attached to it. One was even built to exactly replicate the movie theatre that the congregation originally met in. Nice buildings.

And listed at the bottom of the calendar page for each one is the price tag for that particular building, proudly displayed there. And those are the numbers I began this article with.

Here's an experiment- add those numbers up real quick. Use a calculator if you would like. Take your time; this article will still be here...

Did you get about 67.3 million dollars? What do you suppose the universal church could do with 67 million dollars?
I mean, besides build buildings...

Do we really need these elaborate structures? How necessary is an outdoor fireplace that I would estimate cost in the tens of thousands of dollars? Does it make sense to replicate the exact same building you were already meeting in for 6.4 million dollars?

Is it really necessary to spend a few extra thousand dollars to ensure the pumps on your baptismal operate without sound? Does a congregation really need all of those 20 acres? All of that 50,000 square foot building?

And if they do, does it really all have to be brand new, or would that old high school or shopping centre just a few blocks away have sufficed for a third of the price? Or maybe that other church building that the Baptists had to move out of last year?

What could Christians have done with 67.3 million dollars instead? Well, here are just a few ideas:

World Vision could have fed 184,384 children for an entire year.

At an average micro-loan of 200 dollars a piece, that money could have helped 336,500 people start a small business in their villages so they could feed and care for their families.

At around 10 dollars a piece, 6.73 million mosquito nets could have been distributed in Africa, where 3,000 children a day die from malaria.

And if you aren't convinced about that, and you think some money should go into church development, should go back into "us," well, for you then, 67.3 million dollars could have planted, for 500,000 a piece (a lot more than most church plants need) 135 churches, all over the world.
135 new church bodies, instead of 13 new buildings.

184,384 lives saved from starvation, instead of 13 new buildings.

336,500 new businesses started to feed 336,500 families, instead of 13 new buildings

6.73 million children not contracting malaria, instead of 13 new buildings.

Yeah, I know, God deserves nice places to be worshiped at. I know that people will say that a place should reflect the Glory of God, and that we should build buildings that bring honour to God.

But if I remember right, didn't God already make something that is supposed to carry God's image, and thus God's Glory?
When those things that he created are over looked and neglected, abused and oppressed, I wonder what brings him more glory and honour- making sure that what he created isn't being stepped on and abused, or pouring resources into things like a man made waterfall at the entrance to a church building?

When a congregation sees fit to spend that kind of money on ornate structures and, to put it truthfully, unnecessary details like million dollar stage lighting, I can't help but wonder-
whose kingdom are they really building?
Cody currently blogs at

Winston Churchill: "We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us." Does your church have a building programme? If it does, are you happy with what your “God” money is being used for? I’d love to hear your story.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Should a Christian tithe?

When I was a new Christian, a member of the Methodist Church I was attending told me that John Wesley gave 10% of his income to the Kingdom of God. (I've since learned that he gave far more than that, living on the same amount of money each year regardless of the increasing money that came into his hands). But that remark started me on my tithing journey lasting 50 odd years. And for me, that was a necessary discipline in regards to trusting God and learning to be free from the deceptive love of money. So, one answer to the above question is, if God tells you to tithe, then you must obey!
If you have been following my Simple Church Letters, you will know that after years of following traditional church practices I have started asking disturbing questions. As far as tithing is concerned I was at a loss to answer one of my daughters questions, "Why is it that some preachers preach from selected Old Testament Scriptures and not other O.T. verses?" She was referring to the Malachi 3 verses on tithing. My stance has always been that if a teaching from the O.T. is repeated in the N.T. then (obviously) we must accept that teaching. So, is there a command or exhortation to tithe in the N.T.? In Matthew 23:23 Jesus did tell some Pharisees to continue to tithe what their gardens produced - and notice he didn't mention money - but these people were still living under the Old Covenant. This incident can be compared with the healed lepers who were commanded to present themselves to the priests. Today, should we expect a person to follow this procedure when they are healed?
I was once teaching on Paul's financial giving chapters (2 Cor. 8 & 9) and a pastor wanted me to include tithing in my 'money message'. The reason I didn't is because it's not there! If tithing was a N.T. practice, why didn't Paul include it in these chapters as well as in verses like 1 Cor. 16: 1-4?
My tithing practice stopped when I realised it was 'unthinking' giving with no sense of guidance from the Holy Spirit. I was also convicted by the many O.T. and N.T. verses that call loudly and insistently to God's people to be generous to the poor. And, I've heard many sermons on the Jerusalem apostles recognising Paul's and Barnabas's apostleship and giving them the "right hand of fellowship" (Gal. 2:6-10), but I've never heard a sermon on verse 10 regarding both groups of these apostles expressing their major concern regarding "helping the poor." In view of these ‘insistent’ verses, there should be no Christian or Christian church that is not actively and generously helping the poor of this world. And when we do, we are told in Proverbs that those who give to the poor lend to the Lord, "and what interest he pays on your loan!" (Translation based on "The Living Bible").
I'm tempted to give a blast against the way some people use these Malachi verses to bludgeon people into guilt-induced tithing. I even heard an internationally known teacher say that non-tithers come under the "curse" of verse 9. This sort of manipulation of Scripture makes my spiritual blood boil. A careful reading of the small book of Malachi will show you that it was the priests who were robbing God, not the people. See, 1:6 –2:9; 3:2-4.
If you are serious about discovering the truth of the tithing debate, go to the website of Christian apologist and theologian Russell Earl Kelly PH.D. In his numerous blogs on tithing, Professor Kelly delves extensively into the Old Testament, giving surprising and well researched evidence regarding the tithe, what it was (and what it wasn't), who received it (and who didn't), as well as scholarly research from the New Testament.
To conclude, I'll repeat three suggestions I made in my last Letter and apply them to N.T. giving.
1) Be Free - in the N.T. sense of freedom.
2) Be Lead by the Holy Spirit - He will guide you.
3) Be Extravagantly Generous. Like the Old Testament believer (see Psalm 112), whom Paul quotes in 2 Cor. 9:9,
"He throws caution to the winds,
giving to the needy in reckless abandon..."
(Message Bible)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Financial Freedom

My wife Averil and I, and the church we attend are travelling on a liberating journey. In fact I have had been told by two friends that they have heard that...'Jack and Averil have gone off the rails.' Well, there's some truth in that. Rails can be very restrictive!

The rigid 'rails' that guided the giving of Averil's and my 'God' money (tithes and offerings) were very simple. Our main gifts went toward the support of our local church and other money to the same overseas missions. With the arrival of A/P's this could be done with impressive efficiency. But with the fresh insights into other aspects of our Christian/church journey we began to question this almost unthinking giving. The new freedom we were enjoying made us look at the challenge to be 'guided by the Holy Spirit' in the realm of financial giving. Just what should be our priorities? Where should we direct our giving?

I was struck by a statement in a recent "Tear Fund" publication which said, "There are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about looking after the poor, the widows and the sick." Thinking about this made me take a hard look at what the Bible does (and doesn't) say about giving. The Old Testament shows God's compassion towards the poor, the alien, the widow and the sick and his directions to his followers to support and care for them, e.g., Isaiah 58. The New Testament follows suit, e.g., Matthew 25:31-46. And, the apostle Paul gives us two whole chapters (2 Corinthians 8 & 9) on the subject of giving, but it is not giving to a church building or any other church programme, but to people who were suffering in a famine. It is in fact a cross-cultural missions appeal. (c.f. Acts 11:27-30).
To turn your giving from duty to delight here are three things to consider:

Be Free. If you are under any sort of self imposed, church imposed or guilt imposed pressure to give, this is wrong pressure and I suggest you get out from under it as quickly as you can. God certainly doesn't take pleasure in receiving gifts that are squeezed out of us by any sort of manipulation, "...Don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure..." 2 Cor. 9:7.

Be lead by the Holy Spirit. If your giving is locked into a predictable, boring, lifeless habit, ask the Holy Spirit for fresh guidance. Ask about your responsibility to the poor - especially the other two thirds of the world who sadly eke out a living on less than two dollars a day. If you don't (like me) believe in 'hand outs' find out about 'hand ups' like Tear Fund's, and other mission organisation's microenterprise initiatives. The Holy Spirit is never boring or predictable, so get ready for an interesting, surprising and exciting financial ride.

Be extravagantly Generous. But how do we compare our generosity? I can answer this question in Paul's words from the 'giving chapters of 2 Corinthians, "You know how full of love and kindness our Lord Jesus Christ was. Though he was very rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich....Thank God for his Son -- a gift too wonderful for words." (2 Cor. 8:9; 9:15, NLT). "God so loved that he gave..." So should we!

Going back in order to go forward

The exponential growth of the early, primitive church was impressive. From approx 25,000 in AD 100 to around 20 million in AD 310. Some of the things the early church didn't have included, special buildings, seeker services, worship bands etc. Gene Edwards says, "It was the only temple-less, clergy-less, ritual-less, religion in human history!" What a glory to the Carpenter and His faith!" He goes on to say, "Rugged...people were the clergy, the living room their temple and Jesus Christ was the vocabulary...the church of Jesus Christ was born in informality. It ought to have stayed that way...our faith was born that way."
So just how did we get so complicated? To find the answer to this important question we need to understand the massive impact on the church of a Roman Emperor named Constantine. Rodney Stark says, "For too long, historians of the church have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (ca. 285-337) caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax." Dr Stuart Murray lists changes Constantine initiated. Some of them are...
  • The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of a city, state, or empire
  • The movement of the church from the margins of society to its centre
  • Sunday as the official day of rest (Constantine was a 'sun' worshipper) and obligatory church attendance, with penalties for non compliance
  • The imposition of a supposedly Christian morality on the entire society (although normally Old Testament moral standards were applied)
  • A hierarchical ecclesiastical system...buttressed by state support
  • The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations
  • A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and the relegation of laity to a largely passive role
  • The increased wealth of the church and the imposition of obligatory tithes to fund the system
  • The use of the Old Testament, rather than the New, to support and justify many of these changes
We can also add, the dressing of the clergy with expensive robes, exalting them and giving them financial rewards. This took place too alongside the above changes.
Karl Barth rightly and strongly said, “The term “laity” is one of the worst in the vocabulary of Christian religion and ought to be banished from the Christian conversation.”
Although it is true that we can lay lots of blame for the present-day state of the church at the Emperor's door many other doors are being blown wide open today. There is a growing world-wide movement to embrace the simplicity of the early church, to reject the complex machinery of antiquated church structures, unbiblical traditions and practices and to focus our energies on devotion to Jesus and the spontaneous spread of his Kingdom. Be neither surprised nor condemned if you're dissatisfied with your present situation. And if changes are in the wind for you, watch your attitude toward those who have disappointed or hurt you. Seek earnestly God's direction for your life with humility and faith. According to Jeremiah 29:11-14, God will hear and answer.

Not to change is to change

I'm sure you would agree that in almost every area of life, one-size-fits-all just isn't true and doesn't work. In fact to push this as fact is a complete no-brainer. The truth for Christians is, "You hear it (the wind) rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it's headed next. That's the way it is....with the wind of God, the Spirit of God." (John 3:8, Message Bible). When it comes to creative, new (ancient) ways of doing church, the 'Wind' is certainly blowing around the world and the message is, CHANGE!
But change can be a painful process, especially when it comes to doing church differently. Some wag said that you get more reaction - and misunderstanding - from challenging church structures that you would if you challenged the doctrine of the Trinity. But change is not an option, it's a necessity unless we're content with the status quo. "What's the status quo?" asked the school teacher. A small boy's answer, "It's Latin for the mess we's in." And, if we look critically at the state and diminishing influence of the Western Church we's in a mess!
Here are some reasons why we must be open to, and take steps toward change.
1) Because the traditional way of doing church is so anti Kiwi (Western) culture.
This includes things like;
  • Singing new and strange songs. (How many Kiwis sing - especially men - during a normal week?) Once upon a time men would sing as they work, but today, at most work sites, it's the radio that provides the music.
  • Passively sitting in rows listening to one person, usually a male, preach, shout, use a strange language and an ancient book.
  • Being treated like school children expected to remain quiet spectators of the action that is taking place at the front of the building.
A change in my thinking was when I began to ask myself what my neighbour's reaction would be to being invited to church versus coming over with a beer for a BBQ. At the Barby he/she would be relaxed, feel at home and although wouldn't hear a sermon, would, hopefully, have the opportunity to see one among the Christians present. Then, if interested they could talk about their questions and struggles.
2) Because our Church Growth Seminars haven't delivered what they promised, but God has proven principles that do.
Alan Hirsch in his missional church book, "The Forgotten Ways," states, "In AD 100 there were as few as 25,000 Christians. In AD 310 (before Emperor Constantine) there were up to 20,000,000. He then makes the following observations regarding the early church.
  • They were an illegal religion throughout this period.
  • They didn't have any church buildings as we know them
  • They didn't have the scriptures as we know them
  • They didn't have an institution or professional form of leadership
  • They didn't have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, commentaries, etc.
  • They actually made it hard to join the church. (pages 18, 19).
3) Because 'big' doesn't necessarily mean better.
("Rabbits multiply much quicker than elephants." Wolfgang Simson. "There are very few whales in the ocean compared to the millions of minnows." David Gibbons).
An Anglican vicar recently told me of a survey that showed 85% of ministers in the survey wanted to have a church like Hillsong (Australian mega church), while only 5% of their congregations wanted the same. Another survey quoted by Hirsch and Frost indicated that only approximately 12% of Australian non-church people were impressed with today's contemporary mega church. Selah!
While attending a church growth seminar I listened to a speaker championing the complicated systems of hierarchical church leadership. He then threw in this throw away comment. "Of course you can have church with half a dozen people and Jesus." That remark stung me. "Is Jesus that boring?" I asked myself, "that we have to have a crowd of two or three thousand when Jesus himself was happy with 12 or even with two or three." Matt. 18:19, 20.
In these Simple Church Letters I'm not knocking large churches, I'm simply arguing for creativity, breaking out of confining boxes, asking the hard questions, taking calculated risks - like killing off some of those one-foot-in-the-grave sacred cows. And that we take time to listen sensitively to and respond obediently to what the Holy Spirit has to say about our traditional church beliefs and activities, as we are commanded to in Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29, etc.
The rock climber’s climbing gear slipped out of his hands and clattered hundreds of metres to the bottom of the mountain. Desperately he grabbed the trunk of a small tree that was growing from the side of the mountain. Panting with fear and looking wildly to the top of the mount, he screamed, “Is anybody up there?” “Yes,” came a welcoming response, “It’s Jesus!” The climber then yelled, “Can you help me?” “I can,” Jesus replied, “But if you want my help you must first let go of the tree.” After a few moments silence the climber called again. “Is there anyone else up there!”
"A great deal more failure is the result of an excess of caution than of bold experimentation with new ideas. The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution." J. Oswald Sanders.