The Spirit of God . . .

I have been reading and am continuing to immerse myself in two books: Michael Welker, God the Spirit and Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church.  Both books are immersing my mind in the way the Spirit has worked and continues to work in this world.  Here are some thoughts that are challenging to think about for a Church of Christ individual.

 

  1. As we live in a very diverse culture and in diverse communities the Spirit can often be found working in this diversity, not creating uniformity but rather celebrating the dimensions of diversity.
  2. The Spirit often gives and empowers leaders to guide communities.
  3. The Spirit leads communities into active ministry and to be a sign, foretaste and instrument of God’s redemption.
  4. The Spirit was at work in the life of ancient Israel, was at work in the life and ministry of Jesus and continues to be at work in the life of the church.

I find myself saying a lot about Jesus and I have to wonder if I need to start saying a lot about how the Spirit is at work, not only in my life but the life of the church.  I wonder what it would be like to say that the church is a Spirit led church.  Hard concept to think about for this Church of Christ student.

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Published in: on September 2, 2008 at 10:58 pm  Comments (3)  

A Blessing To A Lifeless Child Named Tucker

I had just finished watching the Blue Jays spank the Yankees 13-3 when my pager went off.  It is my week to be the on-call hospital chaplain.  I called in and was told by the nurse that a young mother was going to give birth to a 20 week old child that was lifeless.  The mother is requesting that I come in to pronounce a blessing when the lifeless child is born.

At 4:30am the pager starts vibrating across my bedside table and the beeping noise jars me from a dream.  I didn’t even have to look I knew what I was about to hear.  I call in to the hospital and am told to come up to the birthing unit.  I meet the family, mom, dad and grandma and there at the foot of the bed is lifeless Tucker.

I stumble through some words and than ask if I could hold Tucker and pronounce some words.  Not sure what I said . . . words about hopes and dreams, words about lost, words about heaven, words asking the question why.  I put Tucker back in his place, ever so carefully, I re-wrap his lifeless body so as it looks like he was never disturbed.  Dad is crying, grandma is crying and mom has a single tear falling from her cheek as she watches me with her lifeless Son.

It’s at these times I expect the Spirit of God to work.  The Spirit of God must be present for when there are no words that come to mind the Spirit of God must speak.  When there seems to be no hope the Spirit of God must bring hope.  When there is no one to comfort the Spirit of God must comfort.  For how else can God be present if it is not for his Spirit?

O God, when we need you most do not hold your Spirit from being your presence and transforming the present moment to a hope-filled moment.

Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  
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Worship

What I have Been (re-) Learning From Marva Dawn on Worship in her book, A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World.

 

“If we want to immerse our neighbors in the lavish splendor of God, then we must understand them more deeply than we often do” (pg. 19).

 

Today many people shift their image of themselves to “fit in with the fads and fashions of the times, young folks especially lack a nucleus of identity, a personality that has been formed by moral authority and mentoring models.  Furthermore, since they have no sense of themselves, they are unable to make commitments to another person in marriage or friendship or to a job, a vision, a vocation, a religion.  Their subconscious cry often becomes, ‘Keep entertaining me, so that I don’t have to face the absence of my self’” (pg. 43-44).  To this Dawn says that worship must not become pop spirituality and to simply entertain people

 

The key question s not what we should make worship to be in order to attract more people . . . rather the question we as churches need to ask is what does it mean to be church for the sake of the world when we worship and during the rest of the week?

 

When planning our worship services we should be asking, What kind of people are we creating when we worship?

 

“If television is causing people to be dissatisfied with the worship of our churches, should we change worship to be more like television – or should the splendor of our worship cause people to ask better questions about television” (pg. 73)?

 

When the church worships are we helping people live consumer and materialistic filled lives or are we helping people become like our God who is gracious, generous and always giving of thy self?

Published in: on August 11, 2008 at 12:36 am  Comments (1)  
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A Written Debate

There is a most interesting debate taking place on-line within the Churches of Christ.  The debate is centered upon two propositional statements.

Propositional Statement #1: The New Covenant writings are the divine pattern which must be followed for both fellowship and salvation. 

Propositional Statement #2: The New Covenant writings contain specific requirements and expectations of our God, few in quantity, that are essential for both fellowship and salvation.

Check out the debate at http://www.zianet.com/maxey/pattern.htm

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 10:49 am  Comments (1)  
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I Will Be Back

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten to write.  Catch me in two or three weeks.

Published in: on June 7, 2008 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lessons From A Catholic Missionary

Vincent Donovan was a Catholic missionary in Africa in the mid 1900s.  In his mission work he struggled with his missionary calling and through these struggles he discovered that if there was going to be any discipleship among the indigenous people of Africa new ideas of church and mission were going to have to be imagined. 

 

During the 1950s and 60s the Catholic priests serving in Masai, Africa built and equipped four schools and a hospital, purchased and upgraded a car to run community errands, attended kraals and drank milk and honey beer (sounds good) – and all this was going on for years.  But now read the letter that Donovan wrote in May 1966 to his bishop:

But never, or almost never, is religion mentioned on any of these visits.  The best way to describe realistically the state of this Christian mission is the number zero.  As of this month, in the seventh year of this mission’s existence, there are no adult Masai practicing Christians from Loliondo mission.  The only practicing Christians are the catechist and the hospital medical dresser, who have come here from other sections of Masailand.

 

That zero is a real number, because up until this date no Catholic child, on leaving school, has continued to practice his religion, and there is no indication that any of the present students will do so.

 

Later on in the letter Donovan would continue, “I suddenly feel the urgent need to cast aside all theories and discussions, all efforts at strategy – and simply go to these people and do the work among them for which I came to Africa.”[1]

 

What fascinates me about what Donovan is saying is that he needs to abandon all theories and discussions.  In his context this means abandoning the idea of building schools, hospitals and attending the social events.  Lamin Sanneh, who writes about this event says that Donovan is even going to have transgress hallowed boundaries, including ideas of church.

 

As I look at what Churches of Christ are doing in Ontario it seems that Donovan’s words can set us free.  We need to be free from the theories and discussions of how to do and be church for these theories and discussions are only hindering and hampering us.  These theories and discussions are not creating disciples in fact an alarming number of young people are leaving our heritage.  Our theories and discussions are not allowing us to discover the neighborhoods around the churches nor are they equipping us to serve the indigenous people.  In fact what the theories and discussions are forcing us to be and do is to remain a Southern US Church of Christ from the 1950s and 60s.  We need to quit discussing amongst ourselves how our current structures can remain in tact and do as Donovan says, “Simply go to these people and do the work for which [we are called].”


[1] Lamin Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations (Oxford, 2008), 236.

Published in: on May 8, 2008 at 10:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ministry Initiatives

Scott Frederickson says,

The question is never whether a congregation can offer a specialized ministry of one kind or another, but whether a congregation offers those ministries out of the core of who God has created it to be in its particular context.[1]

 

Our church has begun two initiatives to serve our neighborhood.  We have entered into dialogue with our neighbors living in the condominiums and through these conversations we have begun a community garden on the property of the church.  The garden boxes have been built and are waiting for the topsoil to be delivered.  The second initiative involves working with the public school in our neighborhood.  In conversations with the school we learned about too many kids going hungry everyday and so we started making lunches.  Each week our church makes 32 sandwiches and the school is responsible for giving hungry kids these lunches. 

 

These initiatives are certainly specialized to some degree and have arisen out of conversations with the neighborhood.  Yet I sometimes question whether or not we are involved in these ministry initiatives for the mere fact that we hope our church will grow numerically.  Should we not instead be involved in these ministries because God has created us to be his presence in this world?  Should we not instead be involved in these ministries because God has commissioned us to be participants with him extending his redemption to the broken?  Should we not instead be involved in these ministries because God has created us to be his hands and feet?

 

Right now I am thinking that I don’t want to be part of a ministry initiative for the mere reason that this will grow us numerically.  Instead I want to be a part of a ministry initiative because I have this deep understanding that what I/we are doing is rooted in what God is doing in and through us and what God is creating us to be.


[1] Scott Frederickson, “The Missional Congregation In Context,” in The Missional Church in Context, ed., Craig Van Gelder (Eerdmans, 2007), 60.

Published in: on April 23, 2008 at 1:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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Shifts Taking Place in the Church

The following is taken from Peter L. Steinke, Congregational In Anxious Times (Alban, 2006), 75.

 

 

Interesting shifts affecting congregations include:

  • People are less interested in an intellectual approach to faith and increasingly drawn to an experience of faith.
  • Authority in the congregation is shifting from vertical dimension (top-down) to the horizontal structure (network, teams).
  • People are attracted to churches that offer certainty more than to churches that offer information or knowledge.
  • The visual is replacing the verbal as a major revenue for communicating the message the church wants to convey.
Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Churches of Christ & Ecclesiology

Has our movement’s ecclesiology changed over the years to one specific ecclesiology or are there several competing against one another? 

Thomas Olbricht has an excellent article in the most recent Restoration Quarterly journal (2008, vol. 50.1) in which he outlines the varying views of what “church” has largely been thought of throughout our movement’s history.  As I look at Churches of Christ, and more specifically Churches of Christ in Ontario I believe I can confidently say we have several churches operating under an ecclesiology that has largely been shaped by Roy E. Cogdill and Leroy Brownlow.  Yet, Everett Ferguson’s ecclesiology has made significant impacts on our heritage in Ontario as is evident with his invitation to teach short courses at Great Lakes Bible College in Waterloo, ON. 

As I lead the Newmarket Church of Christ I am leading us down a new path which operates under a new ecclesiology.  This new ecclesiology is not based upon the teachings of the apostle Paul but instead is based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Thus my ecclesiology is being developed on the teachings and actions of Jesus.  What else is influencing my ecclesiology? The notion of being a covenant people.  I suppose then that the words of Rubel Shelly and Randy Harris come in to play at this point, “We . . . propose a shift from institution to person, pattern to principle, deed to motivation.”  Our ecclesiology is not about “restoring the true church” but rather is about living in such a way so that we can be the body of Christ in this world. 

 As the community of faith I serve is struggling with the notion of moving out into the community to be the presence of Jesus we are inadvertently taking on a new ecclesiology.  What we are saying is that we are not interested in simply proclaiming “We have the right pattern” but instead come and journey with us as we realign our lives so that we become like the living Jesus . . . so that we become the presence of the living Jesus.

Published in: on March 4, 2008 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Identification for Incorporation”

I am living with the book, A Community Called Atonement.  I have been strengthened and challenged in my thinking of what atonement is and what atonement accomplishes. 

Towards the end of the book McKnight (to use a phrase of McKnight’s) develops a bag that is able to hold all the metaphorical clubs of atonement.  Atonement is not just being atoned for our sins; “atonement is identification for incorporation (pg. 107).  McKnight wants us to understand that Jesus has died for us so that his life might become our life.

 

If McKnight is right that we are atoned “so that his life can become our life” then our churches will look drastically different than what they are today.  No longer will we be individually focused, no longer will be delivering hell, fire and brimstone sermons and then forgetting to tell “the sinners” what kind of life they are to live.  Instead we will become vessels in which the world sees God and what God is about.  We will find churches intentionally incorporating practices that bear witness to God’s love, peace and justice.  We will see churches participating in the work of God and becoming “the neighborhood church” rather than asking the neighborhood to come across the street to “our church.”  To quote McKnight,

In the rest of the book there is no attempt to be comprehensive or exhaustive about what a missional praxis of atonement looks like.  At rock-bottom reality each community will work out its own praxis of atonement, and that praxis will have a different shape and orientation in each community.  The central question of a missional praxis is this: “How can we help?”  This central question springs from a desire to go out into the community rather than an overwhelming desire to have the community come to the local church (pg. 118).

Published in: on February 20, 2008 at 1:30 am  Leave a Comment