Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Talking About God with Non-Christians--Be Upfront With Who You Are

My D.Min. teacher, Dr. Richard Peace, has written a book called Holy Conversation: Talking About God in Everyday Life. In this book he advocates that Christians need to pick someone outside of the church to be their "conversation partner" about Spiritual matters.

In this, he says that Christians should be upfront about what they are doing--trying to learn how to talk with non-Christians about their faith. Furthermore, he says that we should be honest and tell them that of course we would love to see them come to believe in Jesus.

We need to be more upfront about who we are with our non-Christian friends. This may spur conversation and interest in Spirituality, and it is disarming. Too many times we don't talk about our faith at all.

Here is the link to his book:

What struggles have you had in talking about God with non-Christians? What triumphs have you had?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Missional Church Seminar Review

I finished up my seminar work this weekend at the Glendale Church of Christ. There is a good young core there that really has taken the concept to heart (thanks, Brice, for your passion!). They are scoping out gathering places for the church to engage in mission.

Fortunately, the Burbank area, which is nearby, has many such places. It is a neat urban area, with many coffee shops, a theater, and shopping. They pointed out the Starbucks and street where a scene from Jurassic Park 2 and Fun with Dick and Jane were filmed.

I reorganized some material for this seminar, dividing the presentations into the following sections:

  • Session 1: The Biblical-Theological Basis for the Missional Church

  • Session 2: Developing a Missional Church Strategy

  • Session 3: Making Disciples Through Mission (includes Missional lifestyles)

  • Session 4: Impacting Every Ministry for Mission

  • Session 5: Evangelistic Methods and Messages to Reach Today's Postmodern Culture

  • Session 6: The Story of Redemption (my Evangelistic Bible study for Postmoderns; see http://www.storyofredemption.com/)

The second session on develping a missional church strategy was reorganized material which emphasized the comprehensive process involved in evangelism, and the many entry points needed. Other new emphases included picking target groups and evangelistic small group process. I hope to pick up some additional tips on the latter in my D.Min. class this week.

I love helping churches become more missional and outward focused. It was a good experience, and the group talked about the concepts long after both the Friday night and Saturday sessions.

On Sunday, I spoke on the lordship of Jesus Christ, emphasizing discipleship in all areas of life. Again, this seemed to be well received.

Signing off for the night. Tomorrow!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

My run-in with a cop

Thursday night at about 11:00 PM I returned to the apartment that I am staying at, having spent a late night working at Fuller. There is no parking in this city. I had to drive for forever, up and down the streets, looking for a spot.

Finally a spot opened up. It was on the other side of the street, and a car was behind me. I zipped in as quickly as I could, got out, went inside and went to bed.

On Friday morning when I got up and went to the car, I saw that there was a cop beside the car. He asked me if I knew whose car this belonged to. I said it was my rental car. He said it was parked the wrong way. I told him my story, how it was late, I was tired, etc. Then he said, "So you were drunk, and you parked on the wrong side. You left the lights on."

I said, no, the lights were flashing because I was hitting the find button on my keyring, trying to figure out which of the 15 white cars on the street was my rental car. I said I was a D.Min. student taking a class at Fuller, and that I was from Missouri and not used to this parking problem. (You know it is bad when even Denny's offers Valet parking!). He said, They have laws in Missouri, don't they? I said yes. I then apologized repeatedly, and he let me go.

Wow--talk about assuming the worst! Why do cops always assume people are drunk? That is the second time in my life that has happened. I guess it is easy to get jaded in that line of work. Thought you might find that story interesting.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Movie, A VBS Card, & A Missional Church Seminar

Yesterday after class I worked on designing our VBS postcard/flyer (see picture). Then I went out and saw Oceans 13. Lest you think I'm a heathen, on Tuesday night I went to a mid-week small group meeting. We had some good singing, and we then studied about envy. It was a good mix of older and younger, as well as a good mix racially. It is so wonderful to meet with God's people wherever you go.

Oceans 13 was pretty good. But I missed the last scene because I got a phone call that I had to take at the end. I guess I'll catch the ending on DVD.

Tomorrow and Saturday I'm doing a Missional Church Seminar for the Glendale Church of Christ. Glendale is a suburb of LA that is 40% Armenian, and more than half of this group speaks Armenian at home. A missional approach to outreach is even more important in this type of multi-cultural setting, for a "build it and they will come" mentality simply does not work well when people have to cross socio-economic and cultural lines.

I am looking forward to working with this church to help them in their outreach. A multi-layer strategy will be necessary, for the types of things which will reach affluent white, English-speaking families will not work as well with the Armenian population. There is a good core at the church who really have a heart for outreach. It should be a good dialogue.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Music, the Arts, and Spirituality

I'm reading a good book right now called "All in Sync: How Music and Art are Revitalizing American Religion" by Robert Wuthnow. In this work, Wuthnow shows how those who engage in musical and artistic interests have a heightened interest in spirituality. And this flows the other way as well.

Some items of note on this:
  • 61% of Americans say that "listening to music" has been very important or fairly important in developing a closer relationship with God. The same proportion give these responses for "reading literature and poetry."
  • The memory of religious pictures and music from childhood often play a powerful role in helping someone re-connect with God.
  • There is considerable evidence that crisis in one's life, such as divorce, leads one to greater interests in music and the arts. These often have a healing effect, and lead people to greater interest in spirituality.
  • Among those who say they have experienced illness, loneliness, or grief, 70 percent report that music was helpful during this time, and 77 percent say this about activities such as sewing, woodworking, or painting.
  • 30 percent of those in small groups discuss art or music; those that do are better able to connect with young people; art and music seem to foster the small group's ability to grow spiritually
  • Music or art help a great number of people to pray or meditate.

We have underestimated the ability of music and art to impact our lives. This morning I arrived at class about thirty minutes early. I stayed in my car and turned on classical music that was soothing. I have to say that this was a very spiritual experience, allowing me "space" to think about spiritual things.

What role has music and the arts played in your spiritual life?

Here is the link to this book:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Root Canal, Pie & Burger

This morning I got to class and checked my email, and I found an email from Becki saying that she had to have a root canal yesterday. Her tooth had been aching, and when she went in to see the dentist they diagnosed it and did the procedure right away. Ouch! Please give Becki all of your sympathy. And us. It was $1300. Ouch again.

I went to lunch today with Kurt, the D.Min. director, and one of the D. Min. office staff, Julia. We ate at "PIe and Burger"--real subtle advertising. I got the spagetti. Just kidding. No, I got the burger and a piece of coconut creme pie. It was very good.

Growing up in suburbia, you always gravitate to safety and security--and name brands. This goes for food too. Suburbanites eat at "safe" chains like Chilli's. Very boring and very pre-packaged. I learned about real food from Chuck, my preacher friend, who took me around to all of the "holes in the wall" in OKC. That is where the good eatin' is.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What percentage of churches convert 5 adults a year?

Well, I arrived last night safely in LA. Going from the airport to Pasadena, where I am staying, I got into the wrong lane and lost about an hour. Not fun.

I began my class in evangelism today with Dr. Richard Peace. One interesting stat I learned was this: of 30,000 mainline denominational churches, only 150 had five or more adult converts for three years (for a total of 15). Wow. That is really bad. Last year we had a down year on conversions; however, so far this year, we have had 11 converts from the community.

The reasons for the decline in the mainline are many, including bad theology and poor adjustment to culture. Hopefully, with God's help we can avoid these problems and share God's love with our world.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Do mission and you get a church

I wanted to give a caution for the previous post. The sending action of the church is primary, and it is through this mission that all else is achieved.

This is what I mean. The church is called to go out into the world and 1) seek and save the lost; 2) proclaim the good news; and 3) serve. When it goes out and does this, then it makes possible everything else it is called to do. Jesus called his disciples to follow him, and it was on the road that they were shaped into his image. The Sermon on the Mount happened on their missional journey. As they journeyed together, they bonded with one another. Mission enables discipleship, fellowship, and brings glory to God.

Those involved in our Starbucks outreach have gotten a glimpse of this. Our mission is to engage non-believers in this place, sharing the good news in subtle ways and blessing the lives of those who come and those who work there. Those involved in this mission have grown very close, and it is a time we very much look forward to. We are excited about those outside the church who have come and are now a part of the group. As we have met, we also have been shaped--learning to be respectful, being patient with one another, and praying for our times together.

When you do mission, you get a church. If you try to "do church"--sitting around--you never get to mission.

Friday, June 15, 2007

20 Characteristics of the Missional Church

What is the missional church? It is the church that is sent out into the world, taking up the mission of Christ. By looking at the narrative of Christ's life and ministry, his statements about his mission, and passages which detail the fundamental mission and nature of the church, I have come up with the following 20 characteristics of the missional church.

  1. The missional church loves God and neighbor.
  2. The missional church views itself as a missional community.
  3. The missional church lives incarnationally amongst the people whom it seeks to save, and thus its mission is contexualized for its community.
  4. The missional church follows the Spirit who has preceded them into the world.
  5. The missional church engages in table fellowship.
  6. The missional church actively seeks and brings salvation to the lost.
  7. The missional church serves the world and one another.
  8. The missional church provides ministries of healing to the world, ministering to the brokenness of humanity.
  9. The missional church proclaims the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God.
  10. The missional church lives under the reign of God and witnesses to this reign through its lifestyle.
  11. The missional church ministers to the poor, needy, and outcasts of society.
  12. The missional church is being made holy, transformed into image of God.
  13. The missional church emphasizes heart over ritual, continually seeking to shed itself of burdensome rules that are oppressive.
  14. The missional church challenges all structures and powers, both religious and political, which fall short of the kingdom of God.
  15. The missional church brings glory to God through its worship, its being, and its service.
  16. The missional church seeks to keep all believers faithful.
  17. The missional church offers repentance and forgiveness of sins.
  18. The missional church reaches out all nations/ethnic groups.
  19. The missional church is an agent of reconciliation, breaking downs all barriers.
  20. The missional church forms disciples of Jesus Christ (as it goes out into the world), baptizing them and teaching to obey.

All such lists are by nature reductionary. This list could be expanded or reduced further, based upon need. It could even be divided into traditional categories of evangelism, discipleship, service, fellowship, and worship. However, these categories alone fail to capture the essential missional (sent) nature of the church. These things happen in the midst of the world, in the public sphere so to speak, not primarily in a church building. The church should be thought of as being rather than as a place.

What do you think of these characteristics?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Shopping--A Spiritual Quest?

Well, I am working hard to finish my paper on missional engagement in suburbia. Below is an exerpt on the "spiritual" nature of shopping.

In the materialistic worldview, shopping itself becomes a spiritual quest and an all-important religious ritual.

In his book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhill details the shopping habits of both men and women. In one section about women and shopping, however, he upholds the spiritual nature of women and shopping, stating that there is nothing superficial about the female relationship with consumption:

"In fact, it’s women, not men, who plumb the metaphysics of shopping—they illuminate how we human beings go through life searching, examining, questioning, and then acquiring and assuming and absorbing the best of what we see. At that exalted level shopping is a transforming experience, a method of becoming a newer, perhaps even slightly improved person. The products you buy turn you into that other, idealized version of yourself. That dress makes you beautiful, this lipstick makes you kissable, that lamp turns your house into an elegant showplace."[1]

This endless consumptive cycle—for both men and women--can only bring emptiness.[2]

Have you ever tried to find purpose, meaning, or identity when buying clothes, cars, homes, or the like? I have. In that new shirt, I'm that hip young dude. In that home, I have arrived and find respectability. And so on. What about you?

[1] Underhill, 117

[2] While Americans have made the pursuit of material things a spiritual exercise, at the same time, religious expression has been commodified. Obvious examples of this include televangelists who promise prayers of healing in exchange for money, but religious consumerism is prevalent throughout America. Spiritual seekers will buy religious t-shirts, pictures, videos, pens, bookmarks and much more religious “stuff.”

Those religions that are most visual and therefore most marketable will be most popular in a consumeristic society. Note the popularity of the Catholic religion—which is rich in visual imagery--in movies. As Vincent Miller says rather wryly, “Sales and rentals of videos of Quaker prayer meetings have been disappointing in all markets.” Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum, 2005), 73-106.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Giant Leap of Faith

Some personal reflection today . . .

For those of you familiar with the Strengths Finder test (http://www.strengthsfinder.com/), I am an Achiever. Achievers work long and hard to accomplish their goals, and they want to do their jobs well. They find great value in this, and enjoy working alongside other hard workers.

I also have strengths in Ideation (concepts and visualization), Learner, Futuristic, and Input (research). These are all very strong as well.

I think that God has used these strengths in me to accomplish some good things. However, it is easy for me to overly rely upon my ability to work hard to achieve, to learn, to plan for the future, in order to "achieve" some spiritual goal.

Sometimes, though, God leads us in ways that we cannot prepare for. We cannot study our way into, nor work our way out of. Abraham's call to go to some land that God would lead him to, for instance, fits this bill. Abraham could do no research on the place to which he was being called--God didn't tell him. He could not envision the future--there were no hints. He could not work hard to do the job better--he didn't know what he was supposed to do.

I am good at having faith in God when I can be a partner, working as he has made me. And I can have faith that God does great things in others, and that he is active in the world in ways I cannot understand. I believe that the Spirit has gone out into the world before us.

I suppose I have not been often tested on trusting God in my own life when I cannot see the way forward, when I cannot achieve or plan. Dropping out of medical school, with some vague idea of doing ministry, was the closest thing to this. I wonder what God has in store for me . . . Whenever we have not been tested in an area, watch out! God will shape us.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Small Group Evangelism

I am getting excited about an upcoming D.Min. class that I have at Fuller Theological Seminary, beginning next Monday. It is a class on evangelism with Dr. Richard Peace.

Peace has written several books on evangelism. I wanted to highlight one of his books, Small Group Evangelism. Here is the link.


Too often we rely upon mere personal witness and conversation in sharing our faith. People are drawn to community, and the most effective evangelism happens in a community or small group setting. As people witness the love in the group, this testifies to the truth of the gospel and is appealing to non-Christians.

Peace gives several practical steps on how to set up an evangelistic small group. A few good pointers:
1. Be up front in this invitation. Tell people that it is a group that will have some Christians and non-Christians, designed for those who are interested in exploring faith and spiritual issues. Ask someone if they are interested in being a part of this type of group.

2. Choose a topic that fits a felt need or seeks to provide an answer to something non-Christians are asking about.

3. Give specifics on how long the meeting will last. Tell people it will be 4 or 8 weeks, so that they can see that it has an ending. People find it difficult to commit to something without a potential stop date.

4. Hold the meeting in a location that is comfortable with the target group.

5. Have a target group, and make this group fairly homogenous. People with similar backgrounds and experiences find it easier to share and form bonds of friendship, which will keep them going to the group.

Do you like the idea of small group evangelism?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Coming Back from West Texas

Hey guys. I'm sitting in the airport in Midland, Texas, about to fly back to Oklahoma City. There we will meet my parents, pick up our kids, and drive back to Kansas City and preach tomorrow (on the Lordship of Jesus). I'm tired already!

We had a good time with my aunt and uncle and cousin out here. They live in exurbia--those big country estates outside the outer suburban ring.

This kind of living has its appeal for Americans who love their space. In fact more than 60 million Americans now live in exurbia. But this kind of living is also very isolating and lonely. I lived in an exuban area until I was 14. Our country estate was nice, but I missed having friends. I wonder how the church can connect to those living in these areas.

I've been without email access for a week now, and for some reason, I can't access it right now either. So if you guys have sent me messages and I haven't responded, this is why.

Check back in with you on Sunday or Monday.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Democratic candidates talk about their faith

Well, I don't know how many of you on this blog are interested in politics, but I found the following news story interesting. In a special forum, the democratic candidates talk about their faith. Hillary Clinton shares how her faith helped her through her husband's affair, and John Edwards talks about how his faith helped him through his teenage son's death in 1996.

Read the full story here.


In general, Americans want their candidates to have a strong faith, but for them to be governed by American principles first and foremost.

Do you think candidates should talk about their faith? What are you looking for faith wise in a candidate? Should Christians put their hope in politics?

Also, Edwards talks about poverty in relationship to his faith. Where do most Christians place this concern in their assessment of candidates?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ten Facts About TV Watching

Here are some statistics on TV watching that I thought were interesting.

  1. Time per day that TV is on in an average US home: 7 hours, 40 minutes

  2. Amount of television that the average American watches per day: over 4 hours

  3. Time spent daily with screen media for U.S. children age six and under: about 2 hours

  4. Percentage of US families with children age 0-6 with at least one television: 99

  5. Percentage of US households with 3 or more TVs (2003): 50

  6. Percentage of parents who say that if they have something important to do, it is likely that they will use the TV to
    occupy their child: 45

  7. Percentage of Americans who always or often watch television while eating dinner: 40

  8. Percentage of Americans who say they watch too much TV: 49

  9. Time per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 38.5 minutes

  10. Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked, would rather watch TV than spend time with their fathers: 54

See the full list of TV watching statistics at http://www.tvturnoff.org/images/facts&figs/factsheets/FactsFigs.pdf

Which of these do you find most troubling?

Poverty in Suburbia

We usually associate poverty with the inner city, and affluence with suburbia. Indeed, they often go hand in hand. However, a new phenomenon has surfaced in the last couple of years--poverty in suburbia.

In December of 2006, The Brookings Institute reported that “by 2005 the suburban poor outnumbered their city counterparts by at least 1 million,” and that the poverty rate in the suburbs was 9.4 percent. This poverty rate held steady in the West and Northeast, while increasing in the Midwest and South.[1]

One surprising example of suburban poverty is found in Rockford County, New Hampshire. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in Rockford County, was identified by Money Magazine as the fifth place to live in the United States. And yet, the Red Cross in Rockford County had nearly 7000 people visit its food pantry last in 2006, up nearly sevenfold since 2000. Many of those seeking help do not have cars, and with the high price of gas and the lack of public transportation in the suburbs, it is difficult for those needing help to receive it. Many suburban areas do not even have organizations in the area that provide assistance for poverty-stricken families.

One Red Cross worker said, "Public hospitals, nutrition assistance programs--most of these things are still overwhelmingly urban. You see small-scale operations in suburbs getting inundated. They just can't deal with the demand."[2] Affordable housing for the low-income workers who provide the service jobs in suburban areas is difficult to find, and foreclosures in suburban areas are increasing dramatically.

This shows that despite Liberty's affluence, we have great opportunities to reach those who are poor among us. Our "Children's Outreach Ministry" has been attempting to do just this, as we seek to provide school supplies for needy children and help them financially throughout the year--at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and VBS.

Do you find suburban poverty surprising?

[1] Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone, Two Steps Back: City and Suburban Poverty Trends 1999-2005(Brookings Institute, December 2006, accessed 6-03-07 2007); available from http://www.brook.edu/metro/pubs/20061205_citysuburban.htm.

[2] Eyal Press, The New Suburban Poverty(The Nation, April 13, 2007, accessed 6-03-07); available from http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070423/press.

Do we have a responsibility to the inner city?

Here is an interesting piece from my research on suburbia. As the suburbs grew, businesses and homeowners moved out from the inner city. The inner city, devoid of high paying jobs, began to deteriorate dramatically.

In 1986 an angry resident from a Philadelphia suburb disavowed any responsibility for the problems of the inner city, stating: “It is ridiculous to suppose that those of us in the suburbs have any responsibility to help in the current Philadelphia school crisis. We did not create the problems of the inner city and we are not obligated to help in their solution." See Crabgrass Frontier by Kenneth T. Jackson. http://www.amazon.com/Crabgrass-Frontier-Suburbanization-United-States/dp/0195049837/ref=pd_bbs_2/102-5518143-5243312?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1180894371&sr=8-2

Sadly, the sentiments expressed in this letter are too often found in suburban Christians—if the plight of the inner city is even noticed by them.

Do surburban Christians have a responsibility to help the inner city? How can we do this?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Quest, Taking the church to a little girl

Today I helped facillitate the Missional Church sessions at Quest, and spoke on a panel with Grady King and Poncho Hobbes. Grady is at the South MacArthur Church of Christ in Irving, Texas. Back in the 1970s it constructed a 3500 seat auditorium, the largest in our fellowship. At that time, Irving was a thriving suburb, and the congregation was almost all white.

Today the neighborhood around the church is very much Hispanic and African-American and poor, while the church membership has stayed Caucasian (people drive in to worship) and wealthy. The minority groups will not come to worship at their building, because of socio-economic differences. They do not feel comfortable there.

So the church rented an apartment which the neighborhood people would feel comfortable going to. And on Wednesday night many Christians go over to the apartment and play with the kids, loving on them and telling them about God. And guess what? One little Hispanic girl said, I love Wednesday night. When asked why, she said, because this is our church!

Isn't this a great story? Rather than insisting that people come to them, this church went to the people--on their terms, and to bless their lives. Isn't that a great story?

How could we apply this in our local context?