Saturday, July 30, 2005

On Friday night this idea screamed inside my head looking for a place to get out and get on paper...or in this case to get onto a computer screen. I have tried to let it out twice now to no avail. So now on Monday morning and a not so quiet day in the office with VBS Kids in the church and frequent interruptions I will once again make a valiant effort.

Generations: God has given me a passion for His bride, his church. My thoughts and desires are often focused on the church and what we need to do to make it right. I think we are a long way from what Christ had in mind, the church will endure till he returns again, I'm just not sure what it will look like. My goal is what SHOULD it look like.

I think one thing that keeps returning to my mind is the fact that when we worship it needs to be in spirt and in truth. Of course I get the wording from John 4 and the Samaritan woman. I don't think I am stretching it.

So maybe this is a blatant stereotype but for the most part I see several forms of worship and seldom to age groups transcend this model. There are hymns, blended (hymns and choruses), Contemporary Choruses, and now the more doscile chorus and rock praise.

In the more fundamental motions the oldest are fond of the hymns, the 45-60 prefer the blended, the 30-45 the contemporary and the 30 and younger want both reflective choruses and upbeat "raise the praise".

I would say that in charasmatic cirlces the generations would be at least one step in front of the above mentioned conservative/fundies. I don't really know I'm not in that I wish I was...?

So with all that said the obvious point is that these are worship differences but I know better. I see leadership differences, I see different values. The pastor as leader morphs into pastor as friend and co-sojourner. Where the pastor was once respected because of the position a pastor is now respected for his vulnerability and ability to share life and yet lead.

I'm not sure it's getting any harder but just different.

So as a young leader/pastor in the church I must admit that I don't see too much cohesiveness between the generations. This is the first time in history where so many ages were represented in Christ's Church.

I'm not sure if it's just the age of question (23-30) but I really feel right now caught in the middle of paradigms between old and new. I really do see the point of the older folks wanted to preserve what they once saw as so strong and right. I also see that it's not working anymore and there is drastic need for change. The question for me is not will I try to make the church successful in this culture but how to make it successful.

Friday, July 29, 2005

"Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said..." -Paul the Apostle

the GOD whose i am and whom i serve

the cry of my heart

Sacred Way: I'm wrapping up the Sacred Way, I'd say it's worth a read but as stated below it's not a book I gleaned tons of stuff from. What I did clean was the value of spiritual practices. The fact that posturing self in a position to hear from God and creating a place daily where God is invited to mold me is so essential.

Ministry Nuts and Bolts: I received this book yesterday from my mentor, Phil Hagar. He acclaims this book as one of the best ministry books. I try not to read more than one book at a time but last night I cheated my rule and read the intro to this book. I can tell it's going to be blog worthy so I'll post the link when I start writing about it.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Avacado: my blog template bugs me. Not that it's bad but I'd like to liven it up a bit but don't have then skilz to do so. Avacado green. That's got to be the color of the green peaking out behind the letters.

Blah, Blah, Blah: I've had a hard time paying attention to people lately. I'm not tuning them out on purpose but when people start talking to me I'm just hearing blahs. I then have to repeat it at least twice more. I'm sure it's frustrating for them and I don't enjoy it much either. I wonder if my brain is slipping or something.

100: So after days of 100 degree weather with it feeling like it was in the mid 120's it feels like the a/c is on at 83 degrees. I really love it!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Nathan: on a personal note my son is really growing. He's almost 5 months now and at his last weight check he is 17 pounds and 27 inches long. He's got a tooth or two wanting to come up from the bottom gum and they should emerge any day now. It's a neat milestone for him. He's sleeping in his swing as I type this and he just lifted his head and started laughing without ever waking up. Crazy guy!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Although we cannot always preserve our recollection, yet we must do so from time to time, and at least once a day, either in the morning or in the evening. In the morning form your intention, and at night examine your conduct, what you have done, said, and thought during the day, for in each of these you may have often offended both God and your neighbor. -Thomas 'a Kempis

For the fear of using labels that mostly inadequately describe certain actions and movements I'm going to try to keep them out of this post...well the one's I don't like.

Careful?: I am currently reading The Sacred Way by Tony Jones. It is a neat book for me to read because with the new trend in youth worship and even in adult worship services it is good to read about the stuff that I see others doing. What I particularly like about these new trends in worship is the interaction that the methods provide. I am careful to note that this style of worship is a trend, this is not a comment on the Emergent Church or on Emergent Thought, I believe that is different. BUT there is a shift going to more liturgical things and a swing to the practices of the Desert fathers.

I believe that this movement is relatively harmless. I believe that it is an excellent way to rediscover ways to connect with our Savior on a regular basis. I also believe that these ancient models can be used in corporate worship very effectively.

You'll notice I said relatively harmless. Up to this point in time I have led several Lectio Divina sessions with groups as large as 400. I have also let times of interaction with a scripture text that one might label a HIGHLY modified Ignatian Examen, where on interacts with the text but placing themselves in the scripture using their imagination and five senses.

Relatively Harmless: I admit to not reading much on the subject but from reading this book, the Sacred Way, I think there is a word of caution that needs to be said. Both the disciplines of Centering Prayer and Meditation find their roots in Buddhism. The ideas come from spiritual sojourners that had ventured to the east and taken part in buddhist mediation and "centering". They then adapted these practices and rather than "emptying" self and mind for the sake of being empty they empty them through Christ and for Christ. All of this is done for a deeper "sense" or "experience" of Christ's filling.

Sounds dangerous to me, especially considering the roots.

So this begs the question: Is there a set way God desires us to worship him? there certainly were regulations for the Israelites. How far are we allowed to go in our freedom? Is adapting other religions methods a dangerous practice? I think so

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Invitation: So I've been in a few discussions over the years about altar calls and invitations. I think for the most part the "new skool" of thought says that altar calls are typically manipulative and therefore aren't used all that often. I will admit that as I work with my students I recognize how easy it can be to "manipulate" them to make a certain decision. Sometimes it is hard to let the Holy Spirit work w/out greasing the wheels.

So because of my desire to not be manipulative I do try to be careful when I give an invitation but I do still give them because I feel that merely hearing and never being asked to act is an equal injustice.

So that brings us to last night. Last week I merely read the passage in Galatians posted below, so last night I read the second part. The part about how we are to nail our sinful desires and passions to the cross. I told the students its a day to day thing, an hour to hour thing. There were lots of blank stares throughout the lesson and I was pretty discouraged. Then at the end I merely asked if there were any questions and one of the guys raised his hand and said "Nick, I'm a liar. I live one way on the outside and then I act a certain way here. Every week I come and tell myself I'm not going to do it again but then I go back with my friends and mess up. I'm just a liar, I don't even know how to live the truth."

So after I picked up my teeth from the floor. I stared at him for a few minutes. Then I stared at my paper stand and then I picked up my jaw from the floor.

I said " Since February -2 (pronounced "ought 2") I have never heard someone be so honest with me and I don't know what to say."

I gathered my composure and told him how he needed to put to death his old life style. I told him it would be one of the most painful things he will do in his life but one of the most necessary. I told him how I had to do that and for a long time life was very hard but that is why I am the man of God I am today.

So invitation or not the Holy Spirit worked last night.

All creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voice and with us sing

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Do not read to satisfy curiosity or to pass the time, but study such things as move your heart to devotion. -Thomas 'a Kempis

I really love to read and I think the only thing that keeps me from reading more is my lack of discipline. But even still I find that my reading is voracious compared to some and because of that fact I am often asked about what I am reading and what I am learning. Rather than review what I have read I thought I put down the books that are either on my shelf waiting to be read or in my cart at Amazon waiting to be bought. ( I spent lots of time putting in links but either the links don't work or you have to be logged in to Amazon for them to work, I'm not sure which but I'm not fixing it either, good luck).

On the Shelf:
American Jesus by Stephen Prothero: The sheer size of this bohemeth intimidates me but one of these days I'll tackle it.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston: This is the story of the guy that got is arm stuck between a bolder and a canyon for 6 days before he cut his own arm off and walked to help. I just haven't been in the mood for a biography lately.

If you want to walk on water you've got to get out of the boat by John Ortberg: He spoke at council so I went and bought his book as soon as I got home. I'm not even sure what it's about but it's got a cool looking cover...

The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry: I thought it'd be good to read a book on preaching in the desire to want to become a better preacher.

In the Cart:
Plan B: Further thoughts on faith by Anne Lamott: Travelling Mercies was so engaging that this book deserved to be bought.

Through Painted Deserts by Don Miller: Probably my favorite author right now because of his humor and rawness. This rerelease has yet to be released.

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell: he's an excellent teacher and this book was just released so I'm going to give it a buy and see what Rob has to say. Really I've been in a holding pattern waiting for this book to be released.

Morph: The texture of Leadership for tomorrow's church by Ron Martoia: This was a recommended book by an old professor of my from TFC, Doug White. I really respect Prof. White so I figured it's worth a read.

Inexperience: I was sitting at my desk today noticing that the year is 2005. How boring! I mean really considering the circumstance, we just went through a turn of the millennium a few years back. We're knee deep in the computer age or neck deep depending on how well you keep up with stuff and bidness is goooood. The best we can come up with is 2005. Someone was asking me when Heather and I started at our current church I told them February of 2002. Pathetic.

I remember seeing the old war movies, old men sitting around talking about their war adventures. Back when men were men and killing was good. Did they ever say I killed my first Commie in 1902, by 1905 I had killed over 500 hundred? NO WAY.

You know what they said? The used a little word that I've only ever heard gun owners and enthusiasts use...aught. Rather than pronounce the 0 in '05 they would say "aught five". Nick when did you start working at your church...I would reply "aught two".

So who's to blame? We really can't blame anyone. Even my 90 year old Grandmother wasn't around at the last turn of the century so it's not like we have a large group of people educating us on how to say certain things without sounding like a bunch of sissies. The worst thing we can do is continue to move on not using the age old word "aught".

I'm just sad I've missed so much of this decade...we have 4 and a half years before it's history. Let get it right.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Back in it: After I preached on Sunday it was good to get away for a few days. Heather and I (with the boy of course) headed up to Summitt Grove to spend Sunday night and then come back tuesday. We've had some strees with the job lately and just needed to get away. We headed up to camp and were given a great room in the lodge, complete with a full bathroom and a/c. They also offered us 3 meals a day and free use of the pool. Not only was it nice to get away on our own little mini-vacation it was all FREE to boot. We need free. God is good and so are good friends!

Out of the Game: I know ministry is not a game but for analogy reasons I'm going to call it a game. I really feel like I've been out of it for the past...well almost year. I'm not sure how it happened but it did. Starting a few weeks ago I can really tell that Heather and I are having conversations that are so pivotal in people's lives. It's weird to feel about ministry that way but really it's true. The conversations are important to me because they are people I love but really they don't have ramifications in my personal life. The person I'm speaking to on the other hand it may be life ruining or life changing. I don't think I'm being over dramatic. It just reminds me to seek God for wisdom

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Friday, July 15, 2005

Galatians 5:19-21
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Galatians 6:7-8
Don't be misled. Remember that you can't ignore Go dan get away with it. You will always reap what you sow. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death.

Yeah it's true.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What you wish for: This week my heart has been burdened for my youth, I had heard some stuff they were doing and it really just broke my heart. The kind of pain that keeps you up and night and makes you think of the situation when you don't want to. I didn't know specifics I just knew the students that I see at church and youth group are not the real people I know. So for last night's message I just read scripture. I never do that. But I didn't want to be manipulative or even convincing I just wanted them to hear from the word of God

Galatians 5: 19-21 and 6:7-8

Break out the NLT and give it a read.

God has worked the wheel is in motion. Lord give me the grace to handle it and the words to say!

So Proud: I just said goodbye to my best friend. JB and I met on the first day of college. The next semester we were roomates and then after not rooming together for a year and a half we resumed rooming together our 2nd second semester Junior year and then our incredible senior year. Since College we have kept very close, living in the same town for almost a year after college and then with visits, vacations and communication the past 4 years out of college have been great. This morning I gave him a big hug and knew I would see him for 4 years. He and his wife, Iris and their baby boy Gavin are heading to Russia first for 2 years of language school and then hopefully work with University students.

It's so sad to know I won't see him for so long but I wrote all that to say how proud I am of JB and how amazing it is to see the work of his life. He is a man of God, a man of patience and a man that is easy to befriend and to love. He is a gentle giant that always has a smile for you and a kind matter who you are.
This is us holding the other's son.

Suck it up, Cream Puff: In college we were hanging out in our room one night and a couple of friends were in our room. Well inevitable one of us starts whining about something and John Mallish just looks him right in the eye and says "Suck it up, Cream Puff" it became an instant classic and from time to time I'll break it out on people. Well the other day I was feeling particularly defeated and just pretty crappy. I felt like my ministry is a waste and that I'm a real waste sometime and the thought just came to my head. Suck it up cream puff you are a child of God called for is purposes so get up and get moving I've got plans for you.

It was nice!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Do I really believe it?: I'm preaching this sunday and got much of the writing of the sermon and the planning of the service done yesterday. It was an excellent day in the office where I felt incredibly productive for the first time in many many months. Then I left and went home about 4pm. When I got home the terrible feeling of questioning came over me. I must admit I don't feel that feeling too often, so when I do it is sickening. So I was grouchy all night to my wife, I'll have to remember to apologize to her tonight for that. But the questioning came with this question "Do you really believe what you are preaching on sunday?". Do you really believe that surrendering your life and life decisions and passion to the Holy Spirit is what is missing in people's lives? It's hard for a 25 year old man to get up in front of a group old enough to be his parent's and tell them what they need to do. But when it came down to it and I thought about it, the message is the next in the journey we need to be on as a church. Whether they accept is their perogative. I'm really not afrain of people's reactions. After all I'm just the jr. pastor, any mistakes I make are due to my youth *wink, wink*. I hope that I always have that attitude. I think that's what God wants of me. So yeah I believe what I'm preaching and how I'm going to preach it. To God be the praise!

Tyrant Pastor: I've mentioned before that I have had some moderate involvement with District Leadership and have served on district committees couple that with the fact that I know many people at churches within my denomination I hear alot of crap about pastors. Most of those pastors are my friends at worst they are my brothers in ministry. I have instilled in myself from the beginning of me working here that I will never stand idly by when something negative is being said about the character of my senior pastor and with that I also will not listen to character attacks on other pastors as well. So with that said it amazes me some of the pastors pull with their people. Really if I were a church goer I would not tolerate some of this stuff.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Reading: I really don’t know where I come up with these books to read. Well I buy them at Amazon but it never ceases to amaze me how I can stumble upon what has to be the best books written. Certainly not all books are good or enjoyable to read, I remember reading badly written or boring books, it was during a time called “college”. But I got to tell you I haven’t read but one not so good book in the last 25 or so I’ve read.

You’re Right: I recently bought Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz (the CEO of Starbucks). I’m not really sure why I bought the book, actually I was watching tv and Shultz and Dell were doing a commercial about something, I really have no idea and something in my head said, “Nick you should see if he has a book out”. So I checked and he did. Back to the main point. I began to read this book over lunch knowing I would glean something. Little did I know I would learn more in 30 pages than I have in months. I’m not sure how I know it’s “right” but somehow when I read his ideas I just know that as I am reading I am finding golden nuggets page after page. Kinda Weird yet invigorating.

This was sent to me and thought I'd post it here so I can find it when I need to:

Emerging Values

The next generation is redefining spiritual formation, community, and mission.
Brian D. McLaren

I snuck into pastoral ministry via the English department rather than the theology department. I wasn't planning on being a pastor, but you know how these things go.

There was a moment in graduate school (it was the late '70s) that I won't forget. Not the moment one of my freshman comp students (I had a teaching fellowship) told me he had trouble with spelling, so he wanted to turn in his composition assignments on cassette tape instead of on paper.

No, it was the moment I "got it" regarding a strange new school of literary theory, then associated with the terms "post-structuralism" and "deconstruction." A chill ran up my neck, and two thoughts seized me:

1. If this way of thinking catches on, the whole world will change.
2. If this way of thinking catches on, the Christian faith as we know it is in a heap of trouble.

I couldn't have articulated why these thoughts so gripped me back then, but my intuition was right, I think. I was "getting" some facet of what we now term "postmodernism," a way of thinking that has both continuities and discontinuities with the modernity from which it grows, in which it is rooted, and against which (perhaps like a teenager coming of age) it reacts.
Another moment came in the early '90s. I had left college teaching to pastor a church. A newcomer to our church, a spiritual seeker, highly educated, highly motivated, and highly skeptical of easy answers was asking tough questions, I was giving (thanks to C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Josh McDowell) my best apologetics-informed replies, and I wasn't getting through.

My linear Liar-Lunatic-or-Lord arguments, either-or propositions, and watertight belief system didn't enhance the credibility of the gospel for my new friend; rather, they made the gospel seem less credible, maybe even a little cheap and shallow.

Oh no, I thought. That way of thinking I encountered in grad school has caught on, and Christianity as I know it is in a heap of trouble.

Since then, I've grown less anxious and much more hopeful about the future as I've discovered how many opportunities arise along with the challenges of the emerging culture. (Modernity, after all, was no Sunday school picnic for the church.)

The way we traditionally expressed Christianity may be in trouble, but the future may hold new expressions of Christian faith every bit as effective, faithful, meaningful, and world-transforming as those we've known so far.

In recent years, as I've met, emailed, conversed, and conspired with many usually-younger ministers in the emerging culture, I've seen three themes—rivers, if you will—that seem to be shaping the contours of ministry. Are these radical, threatening, and revisionist? Or are they continuous, harmonious, and resonant with our past? Perhaps they're a little of both.

The spiritual formation stream

Compare modern Christianity's quest for the perfect belief system to medieval church architecture. Christians in the emerging culture may look back on our doctrinal structures (statements of faith, systematic theologies) as we look back on medieval cathedrals: possessing a real beauty that should be preserved, but now largely vacant, not inhabited or used much anymore, more tourist attraction than holy place.

Many of us can't imagine this.

If Christianity isn't the quest for (or defense of) the perfect belief system ("the church of the last detail"), then what's left? In the emerging culture, I believe it will be "Christianity as a way of life," or "Christianity as a path of spiritual formation."

The switch suggests a change in the questions people are asking. Instead of "How can I be right in my belief so I can go to heaven?" the new question seems to be, "How can we live life to the full so God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven?"

Instead of "If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would spend eternity with God in heaven?" the new question seems to be, "If you live for another thirty years, what kind of person will you become?"

I'm not certain any postmodern churches exist quite yet. But even in modern churches we can feel a rising tension, a fomenting discontent: why aren't we making better disciples? Why aren't people becoming more holy, joyful, peaceful, content, and Christ-like?

Why, in a Christian subculture served by 24-hour Christian radio-TV, bathed in books and periodicals of unparalleled quality and quantity, instructed by a state-of-the-art seminary system, and inspired by a state-of-the-heart worship music industry … why are so few of our good Christian people good Christians?

Why is Prozac needed by so many? Why are the most biblically-knowledgeable so often so mean-spirited? Why are our pastors dejected so often? Why do our speakers (both human and electronic) have to blare so loudly to get a response, and even then, why is the response so shallow or temporary?

That discontent may be the ending point for many of us, but it is the starting point for our brothers and sisters of the emerging culture. If Christianity doesn't bear fruit in a way or rhythm or pattern of life that yields Christ-likeness in real measure, they aren't interested. Being "saved" is suspect if people aren't being transformed.

That's why, I believe, we see such a resurgence of interest in Roman Catholic and Orthodox writers, especially pre-modern ones. To find this emphasis on the "renovation of the heart," we have to go back (with few exceptions), way back, to St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Benedict, Ignatius, the Fathers. That's why good Baptists and Presbyterians find themselves signing up for spiritual direction at a local Catholic monastery.

In this setting, preaching both loses and gains status. Instead of an exercise in transferring information so that people have a coherent, well-formed "worldview" (often an upbeat name for "systematic theology"), preaching in the emerging culture aims at inspiring transformation. It is in a sense demoted from the center of public worship, bookended by bumper music. It steps down from its pedestal to join singing, the Lord's Supper, prayer, silence, and recitation as one formative ritual or practice among many.

This apparent demotion can actually be a promotion: preaching becomes less and less a well-reasoned argument, and more and more a shared practice among preacher and hearers, in which the Word runs among us like rivulets across a meadow after rain, nourishing fresh green life to spring up. The preacher becomes the leader of a kind of group meditation, less scholar and more sage, less lecturer and more poet, prophet, priest.

In this new context, I believe we will see a new kind of religious professional arise: the liturgist, the artist who weaves threads both ancient and contemporary, creating a textured fabric in which people experience both the exuberant rejoicing of the charismatic and the profound quietness of the contemplative, along with the attentive desire to learn (perhaps most characteristic of evangelicals?) that lies between.

Like a symphony conductor, the liturgist will, I believe, transform public worship from a weekly show or lecture to a weekly experience of group spiritual formation.

In my hopeful moments, I see this new emphasis on spiritual formation as making possible a convergence. What we might call post-evangelicals and post-liberals begin finding one another on this common ground of spiritual formation, welcomed and hosted by our Catholic and Orthodox sisters and brothers. What is terra nova for us has been their native soil for a long, long time.

The river of authentic community

Lesslie Newbigin, British missionary to India, may turn out to be one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century and one of the most important guides for innovative Christian leaders in the twenty-first. He was fond of reminding us that Jesus never wrote a book or established a school. Rather, his legacy was a community. The greatest hermeneutic of the gospel, he would say, is a community that seeks to live by it. (See The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Eerdmans, 1990, or The Open Secret, Eerdmans, 1995.)

I'm not surprised that megachurches developed in late modernity. In a culture that believed secular science and secular government could solve most of our problems, a culture that assumed religion in general and the church in particular were declining industries, it made sense that Christians would find comfort and confidence in large herds.

"See? We're significant! We're big and strong!" our large numbers said to an unbelieving culture that tried to dismiss us. (I am not "against" megachurches. They have and will have many advantages, but ironically, their size may become an increasing disadvantage.)

What happens when the climate changes, when "post-secular" is an accepted term to describe our times, when ivory tower intellectuals join pierced-and-tattooed teenagers in saying, "I'm not religious, but I am spiritual"?

Now large numbers become less important: quantity of people becomes less important than quality of relationships. So the "church growth" of the '80s and '90s has given way to the quest for community. This quest is essential, but it's also risky and hard.

Wendell Berry describes how communities around the world are destroyed by the proliferation of "publics" (governments, corporations) that appeal to the self-interest of individuals—see Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community (Pantheon, 1994). In their lust for votes and sales, publics undermine the virtues needed to sustain community while inflaming the vices that tear community apart.

Consider the car dealer who successfully uses a woman's sexy legs to sell cars, and simultaneously weakens thousands of marriages by adding one more straw to the tired back of men's sexual fidelity. Those straws add up.

In this tough situation, the church seeks to build a kind of miraculous community of virtue, a community not based on race, culture, status, wealth, or even religious background, but rather a community convened in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Who else is building community in this world of expanding publics and self-interested individuals? The church is, in more and more places, the only community-builder left in town. Sadly, too many churches function more like publics, sucking people out of their neighborhoods into church activities that isolate believer from neighbor and frustrate Jesus' prayer that his followers would remain in the world.

But the quest for community itself can also beguile with a dangerous idealism. In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the danger of "wish dreams," where my ideal of Christian community makes me hate the brother who frustrates the achievement of my ideal because he talks too much, talks too little, is too rude or too polite or whatever.

Similarly, the ideal of community itself can become a commodity that people want to experience, much as they would experience Disney World, simply by showing up. It's hard to imagine a more depressing place than a room with a few hundred people who showed up expecting community to happen to them.

So, this quest for community challenges us not to seek community as a commodity, but rather to pursue love (which is patient, kind, not rude, etc.) as a practice, which yields community as a byproduct. We're working against a lot in the quest—not only our native selfishness and surliness, but also massive systemic problems, like these:

1. Our dependence on automobiles which isolate us in little glass and metal boxes, transporting us from the glass and concrete boxes of our workplaces, shopping malls, and church buildings to the glass and gypsum boxes of our homes, where we watch the world happen in the plastic and silicon boxes we call TV sets and computer screens. This auto-dependency turns neighborhoods into bedroom communities (an oxymoron), so we sleep, not in communities, but in housing developments. Front porches are gone; back decks have replaced them. Nobody walks down the streets anymore, or if they do, they're too preoccupied on their cell phones to wave and say hi to a neighbor, much less slow down and sit a spell.

2. Our manic pace of life that wants community, but fast, like French fries, and without the grease.

3. Our transience, which means right about the time we, against all odds, get close to a circle of friends, half of them will up and move away.

It's no surprise that in this fragmented world, community becomes a higher value, even though it is so darned hard to achieve and sustain. It's no surprise that interest in house churches increases in these times, where the shared life of a few is so important that even bothering with public worship is optional.

Throwing a small-groups program at this hunger for community is like feeding an elephant Cheerios, one by one. What's needed is a profound reorganization of our way of life, not a squeeze-another-hour-for-"community" into the week.

Of course, maybe a little programmed community is better than nothing, but I expect that this thirst for community will lead to a lot of experimentation in the years ahead. Perhaps many of our churches will become more like Catholic churches in the past, where the ideal parish had a few households where monks or nuns lived in community, practicing radical hospitality that would overflow to the community at large.

Perhaps we'll find that if even a few people in our churches practice this radical hospitality and generous community, their extraordinary fervency will warm us all and model new ways of life for us manic, transient, auto-driven denizens of bedroom non-communities. Or perhaps what we now call small groups will morph more and more into house churches, drawing us into truer life together.

Whatever new and varied forms our search for community takes will require new and varied forms of leadership. I expect that leader-as-CEO, leader-as-scholar, leader-as-therapist, and leader-as-hero/martyr will give way to less dominant styles of leadership, less dominant but no less important. Less like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, and more like young Dorothy, community leaders in the emerging culture will increasingly resemble the lead seeker in a journey, not possessing all the answers, but possessing a contagious passion to find a way home—and to bring others along in our common search for love, courage, wisdom, and home.

The missional current

I thought the word "missional" was awkward when I first heard it. My spell-checker still tries to correct it. But the word is here to stay, subsuming and replacing more familiar adjectives like missionary, evangelistic, and socially active. Mission in this sense includes missions, and more. It brings together evangelism and social action, "home" and "foreign." It integrates Christian concerns that range from racial reconciliation to ecological stewardship, doing good works and doing our daily work with goodness (which is an underrated fruit of the Spirit).
Old categories merge in what I believe is a radical shift in our theology, from a system in which "missions" is one department of theology, to a new place where theology is one department of mission.

I was once talking with Dallas Willard about Islam. He dropped this little thought virus: "Remember, Brian, in a pluralistic world, a religion is valued by the benefits it brings to its non-adherents." The virus has taken hold in my thinking, bringing to mind sayings of our Lord, like "the birds of the air" nesting in the branches of the kingdom of God, people seeing the light of our good deeds and "glorifying your Father in heaven," "by their fruits you will know them."
How different is this missional approach to the "rhetoric of exclusion" that worked so well in modernity: "There are blessings to being on the inside. You're on the outside and so can't enjoy them. Want to be a blessed insider like us?"

In contrast, missional Christianity says, "God is expressing his love to all outsiders through our acts of kindness and service. You're invited to leave your life of accumulation and competition and self-centeredness to join us in this mission of love, blessing, and peace. Want to join in the mission?"

I live in the Middle Atlantic region. Our landscape has been carved and nourished by three great rivers: the Potomac, the Susquehanna, and the Delaware. If you moved here from the Mississippi Delta, or the Sonora Desert, or the Los Angeles Basin, you'd feel the difference of our topography, even if you didn't know about the three rivers that give our land its contours.
If you're exploring the emerging culture, all you learn about these three rivers—spiritual formation, community formation, and missional action—will help you find your bearings, settle down, and feel at home.

Brian McLaren is a pastor with Cedar Ridge Community Church ( in Maryland, an author (most recently of The Story We Find Ourselves In), and a fellow with Emergent (

Monday, July 04, 2005

Be Prepared: So I have a few projects I want to get done around the house. That reminds me...I need to do laundry or tomorrow will be my last day of clean underroos. So today I woke up and wanted to get one of my projects done. I lazyed around for a little while this morning and planned my attack on my back deck. The deck is finished but I wanted to lower the railing. When we built it the railing was placed at 36" due to inspection codes but we thought it would look best at 32". That was two years ago. So today was the day, the modification required that I unscrew the top railing, cut to fit between the 6x's and then screw the railing back down at 32". Really not a big deal. I got to break out the circular saw and show off my man skills to the neighbors and break out the cordless drill. So about half way through the project my cordless drill decides the batter is low.'s my own fault I should leave the darn thing charged but I didn't. Fortunately I need to make a run to Home Depot, where I forgot to use my gift card I got at christmas, so that game me time to charge the drill enough to finish my job. So at the end of the day the railing is lowered, (in my best Napoleon Dynamite voice) I put some sweet caps on the posts and the deck looks great. Be prepared Nick be prepared.

Bombs Bursting in Air: Tonight I was standing on my back deck. The downtown park where they shoot the fireworks is about 3 miles to the right of my house so I was watching those and then some kids to my left began to shoot their own stuff and I just heard explosion after explosion. Francis Scott Key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner, is from Frederick so that was a pretty neat experience.

Full Hooch Mode: So I was flipping channels and there was Jessica Simpson wearing a hooker t-shirt that said "Preacher's Daughter". Why must she do that? I would post a picture but I don't want to encourage her!

Eating Contests: these eating contests are something else. I mean what's more amazing that seeing a little Japanese man pound down 49 hot dogs in 12 minutes. What more amazing is the little Japanese woman pounding 37 for second place. I mean HEY it's america the land of excess why not enjoy people gorge themselves on america's most dangerous food. What I don't like is the commentators that call them athletes.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Making News: Before I moved to Frederick, MD I had never even heard about it. I even had friends from here in college and still never really heard of it. Since I have lived here Frederick has made the news nearly a dozen times. The most recent incident is that a little cessna violated Camp David's airspace yesterday. Camp David is about 25 miles north on H-15 from my house and we've driven by it a few times. Well last night apparently two F-16's escorted the plant to the Frederick airport. About a month ago the plane that violated the restricted air space above the capitol landed at the Frederick Airport.

A little more noteworthy is that the DC snipers of a few years back were caught at a rest stop in Frederick. The scary thing is that they were only a few miles from the school where my wife was teaching. During the month of nervousness I was at the exact exits where a killing took place, once the day before the other time it was within the same week.

Two years ago there was about a 20 foot sinkhole down the road from my church that made National news. I remember there being more but can't remember them right now.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I was on a rant and roll the other night and I was telling the kids what a waste of time it is to run from God and this is what poured out of the ole pie hole.

You can run from God but he'll catch you. He runs faster.

one of my students has been quoting it ever since.

Much more eloquently Rob Bell states mostly the same idea in nooma 010. His son had done something wrong and then was caught in a lie. Rather than face up to his sins he ran upstairs and hid under the covers of his parents bed. He was there for hours when Rob went up to talk with him. He found his son in a sweaty head under the covers. He was soaked in sweat and his hair matted to his head. Rob pulled the covers back and said "There is nothing you can do to ever make me love you less" Slowly and surely his son sat up and gave his father a huge wet sweaty hug. Lots of times we hide under the covers even though it's neither comfortable nor accomplishing much.

There is nothing we can do to make our heavenly Father love us less.