Monthly Archives: March 2009

What’s Sunday For?

The resurrection of Jesus inaugurated one of the most remarkable changes in human religious observance – Sunday became the day of the week for Christian worship. Up to that point in history, Sunday was just another day in the week, a day for work, commerce, and , if you were wealthy enough, pleasure. But Christians made Sunday “the Lord’s Day,” determined to celebrate the Messiah’s resurrection and humanities’ salvation. And this happens first in the Jewish context – something even more astonishing given its commitments to Sabbath and the seventh day of the week.

Naming Sunday “the Lord’s Day” connects it with the “day of the Lord”, an expression found frequently in the Old Testament. The “day of the Lord” marked Yahweh’s incursion into history for salvation or judgment. The resurrection of Jesus Messiah and his ascension demonstrated God’s new action to re-create his people. Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, is a constant reminder of God’s gracious intervention in Christ, a celebration of our new hope in Christ, and an affirmation of our expectation the Christ will return for the final “Day of the Lord.”

When Christians gathered on Sunday, they made a statement about their identity and the nature of their Messianic community. Jesus is Lord, our Lord! We are his people, his church! We are the demonstration plot of God’s Kingdom rule – chosen race, priestly kingdom, holy nation, God’s special people!

But Sunday also marks a fundamental change in the way Christians understand their lives. By making their affirmations about Jesus and their relationship to him on the “first day of the week,” Christians declare that this is the foundation for all of the ensuing days of the week. Sunday sets the stage for the entire week to become the opportunity to worship God and exalt Jesus in all that they do – in the household, in the marketplace, in the civic community. Sunday is not the end of the week, it is the beginning.

Further, by celebrating on this day, Christians declare that God’s Sabbath rest now envelopes their whole lives. Every day is Sabbath because salvation is secure in Christ, God’s Spirit is resident within, and their whole lives become a continual sacrifice to God. All of life is worship. Jesus offered “rest for our souls” and as the author of Hebrews explains, we have entered into our rest in Christ (Hebrew 4).

When believers understand this significant shift created by the resurrection of Jesus, it sets life within an entirely new frame of reference. Monday to Saturday become the setting for our “ministries,” i.e. the opportunity to be Kingdom agents for God in the workplace, our families and our communities. Sunday’s equip us and remind us of our fundamental allegiance to God and the great Kingdom project He has invited us to participate in.

What’s your Sunday for?

Washing the Feet of Betrayers, Deniers and Runaways

The foot washing scene is peculiar to John’s Gospel (chapter 13). Scholars tell us that it was a common practice to wash one’s feet before reclining at table for a meal. Normally, the host would provide guests with basins of water and towels and they would wash their own feet. Rabbinic teaching stipulated that masters could not require their Jewish slaves to wash other people’s feet, although a Gentile slave could be required to do so. Foot washing was something wives did for their husbands and children for their parents out of respect. And disciples would do for their teachers almost anything a slave would do except deal with their feet, which was considered too demeaning for a free person.

But when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he turned the world of social convention upside down to symbolize the full extent of his love for them and to give them a breathtaking example of how they were to love and serve one another.

What strikes me in this passage is everything this passage tells me Jesus knew ahead of time as he washed the disciples’ feet. Such knowledge would have prevented many a disciple from actually doing what Jesus did.

THE COST OF LOVING DID NOT STOP HIM

First, the known cost of loving didn’t stop him. "Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father." (John 13:1). The means of Jesus’ "home going" was an excruciating death on a cross. Where others would avoid the pain and suffering and the cost of loving another, thinking more of themselves, Jesus gave. He knew ahead of time that he would be a suffering and dying messiah. The cross was the expression of his determination to love "to the fullest extent" and "to the very end."

AWARENESS OF HIS IDENTITY DID NOT STOP HIM

The next thing John tells us that Jesus knew was that "the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God." (John 13:3).

Standing and authority are often the biggest road blocks to service. Who we are and what we have relative to others are exemptions from serving because it is beneath our station to serve "downward." There must be a pecking order, we claim.

The fact of a pecking order may be true for chickens, but it shouldn’t be for the saints.

Paul puts the point poetically when he writes at Philippians 2:6-8 that Jesus, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Indeed, his self humbling–symbolized at John 13 by washing others’ feet–was massive. The son of God died on a cross for humanity!

DISAPPOINTMENT DID NOT STOP HIM

The final thing John tells us Jesus knew ahead of time was "who was going to betray him…." (John 13:11) The devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus, John says. 

For most folks it would be exceedingly difficult to find it in their heart to be generous in the face of a deep hurt or betrayal from the one they were pledged to love. After all, if it didn’t actually justify retaliation, couldn’t we claim an exemption from serving another? FOOT WASHING

What did Jesus do? John says Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet–even Judas’! Within hours of the meal, Judas had carried out his betrayal of Jesus to the authorities. But so too, within hours, Peter had denied Jesus several times! And within hours, all the rest of the twelve had run away!

Not only were the disciples, to a man, merely human and not divine like Jesus, but each one in turn had shown themselves less than faithful and entirely unworthy. Yet, Jesus loved them, one and all, to the uttermost.

He washed the feet of the betrayer, the denier and the runaways.

WE LOVE BECAUSE…

What would have stopped others from serving and loving did not stop Jesus. He knew the supreme cost that love would call from him. He knew exactly who he was, but he stooped, nevertheless, to the level of humanity and died in their place on a Roman cross. And he loved against the shocks of human ignorance, ingratitude and hostility.

That kind of love is the pattern we are to imitate. Jesus advised, "now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14, 15)

That kind of love is the proof of our discipleship. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:45)

That kind of love is traceable to its source and therefore a powerful witness to the great Lover of our souls and the Example extraordinaire: "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Gird Thy Loins With Truth – Ephesians 6:14

I’ll freely confess that I had serious hesitation about add this bit of news to the weblog. It’s not as if there isn’t enough bad news circulating around to cultivate a sense of cultural anxiety and spiritual nausea. But, just when I’ve been tempted to just turn off the news, I got the latest survey data from George Barna.

Since 1995, the Barna group has been monitoring the level of "Biblical Worldview" held by adult Americans through an exhaustive nationwide survey. When I read the results of his first survey, I was depressed. The latest results have taken my depression to a new and lower level.

Why? What’s the big deal? The reason, as Barna wrote in 2003 [Think Like Jesus, p. 56] is that "you become what you believe." Expand that axiom to a larger level, and the cultural consequences are staggering. We are becoming what we generally believe, and bit by bit, the data shows that the mind of Believers is being torqued in dangerous directions.

Consider some of the findings [you can read even more at: www.barna.org – March 9, 2009]:

The survey found that:

  • One-third of all adults (34%) believe that moral truth is absolute and unaffected by the circumstances. Slightly less than half of the born again adults (46%) believe in absolute moral truth.
  • Half of all adults firmly believe that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches. That proportion includes the four-fifths of born again adults (79%) who concur.
  • Just one-quarter of adults (27%) are convinced that Satan is a real force. Even a minority of born again adults (40%) adopt that perspective.
  • Similarly, only one-quarter of adults (28%) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior. Not quite half of all born again Christians (47%) strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds.
  • A minority of American adults (40%) are persuaded that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life while He was on earth. Slightly less than two-thirds of the born again segment (62%) strongly believes that He was sinless.
  • Seven out of ten adults (70%) say that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today. That includes the 93% of born again adults who hold that conviction.

Differences among Demographic Segments

The research data showed that one pattern emerged loud and clear: young adults rarely possess a biblical worldview. The current study found that less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., those aged 18 to 23 – have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults.

The challenge facing an authentic, unapologetic, Biblical, Christlike ministry is immense, and imperative. The Gospel is more than a private affection. It is, in Jesus’ words, light and salt. And, I have to believe that it is the only reliable element standing in the way of "the complete demise of our culture, the loss of meaning and purpose in life, and the rejection of all that God holds dear and significant. [Think Like Jesus, p. 57] So, I take those thoughts to heart, and "gird my loins."

Grateful for God’s Protection

The following story, incredible as it sounds, is true. I share it as testimony to the protecting power of God and the tremendous benefit of belonging to a community of God’s people.

Last Friday my wife and I received a disturbing midnight telephone call from our 18-year old son who is temporarily working in London, England. Kirk was in his bed late at night watching a movie on his computer when three masked men broke into his apartment and began to threaten both him and his room-mate. These were serious Eastern European "mafia" type criminals looking to take captive someone named Kevin, presumably a previous tenant of the apartment.

Kirk and his friend had only been in the apartment for about two weeks and had no idea who or what these men were talking about. It took some time for the intruders to realize that the person they were looking for was not in the apartment. At that point the intruders became angry and decided to turn things into a robbery. My son and his friend were bound, gagged, and held in separate rooms while the thieves ransacked the apartment, destroying the carpeting, the furniture, and taking with them everything of value. At one point, they held a knife to Kirk’s throat, demanding the PIN numbers for his bank cards. Eventually, after afflicting a full hour of terror, the intruders left. Kirk was able to work himself and his room-mate free before quickly summoning the police.

After returning from several hours at the police station, Kirk called us on a neighbor’s borrowed computer. Unfortunately, the call was dropped and he was unable to re-establish a connection. All we knew, here in Canada, was a basic summary of the incident and the knowledge that he was physically unharmed. We spent the rest of the night trying to re-establish contact.

We first tried calling the London police but we could not find a number that would allow an overseas connection. We tried the local police here in the hope that they might have a way of connecting us. They suggested calling the Canadian Foreign Affairs department in Ottawa. We did, but given that it was the weekend, they were only willing to take a report. We tried to find Kirk’s employer, but as he works for a very large franchised company, we were unable to find him by that means.

A few hours hours later, my wife noticed a pen from Hillsong, the church that Kirk has been involved with while in London. "We could call the church," she said. We did and were immediately assured that the church knew about the incident and had been actively involved in supporting the boys. Within ten minutes we were talking to our son. Where the government and the police couldn’t help us, it was the church that was able to give us the help that we needed.

Of course the church helped in many further ways. Kirk was given some emergency financial assistance. Church members have helped with the apartment clean-up and restoration. Kirk was able to indefinitely borrow a computer from one church member and a phone from another, making communication possible again. For all this, we are truly grateful to the good people at Hillsong London. The community of God’s people are a tremendous resource in a crisis.

Most of all, we are grateful to God for the courage and the protection that he has given to our son. Kirk is doing reasonably well. He has been able to sleep. He tells us that God gave him the ability to remain calm as he was praying throughout the ordeal. "I always knew that God was with me," he said, "and that I was going to make it through."

I can’t tell you how gratifying it is as a parent, to see one’s son responding with maturity and wisdom in the most trying of experiences. Under severe pressure his faith held up and God proved himself faithful. Praise be to his name.

I want to thank all of you who have been aware of these circumstances and who have been praying. We are grateful to God for all of you.
 

Leading Without Blinders

Churches grow and diminish; educational institutions thrive and then fade; missions burn fervently and then stagnate; denominations ebb and flow. People express considerable curiosity about the factors that cause human institutions to flourish for a time, but then, it seems inevitably, begin to falter or at least lose their initial momentum.

E.Gibbons wrote The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, seeking to isolate the key element that led to the disintegration and collapse of that Empire whose power for centuries seemed immutable. In our time we have observed the disintegration of the Soviet domination and people speculate whether the leadership of the United States similarly has peaked. Will the 21st Century be China’s Century?

These issues also apply to religious institutions. Will the Willowcreek Movement, when Bill Hybels retires, retain its vigour? What happens to the influence of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association when Dr. Graham passes away? What happens to a thriving church plant when the initial church planter moves on? Or what about the church that has surged in growth to 500 or a 1000 through the leadership of a really competent, godly pastoral leader — and that leader, for whatever reason, no longer is present? WIll it sustain its vision and momentum?

Within the ACTS Consortium of which Northwest Baptist Seminary is a member we have been pursuing a course of renewed vision. Several leadership changes have happened.Membership in the consortium is changing. Educating ministry leaders is experiencing serious, deep change. Economic challenges limit our choices for renewal. The energizing times a decade ago, when every year saw growth, have been replaced with a pattern of enrolment decline and budget retrenchment. Twenty years into our collaborative vision, we are working hard to discern the way forward to renewed vision and vigour.

If prayer, effort, energy, and creative thinking have anything to do with it, then ACTS and its member seminaries will experience a resurgence. We have examined carefully what has caused our loss of momentum. Collectively we have gathered our best wisdom internally and externally to discern what our future pathway must be. Plans are being implemented to initiate these new ideas. We are ready to risk, ready to move forward, ready to try again, because we care about the mission God has given to us and we desire to serve God and his church.

To get to this position has required us to adopt an attitude of institutional humility. Admitting that we may not have got some things right or acknowledging that what once worked well, no longer is effective — these are hard things. Being willing to listen to other voices than our own and take seriously the wisdom they offer requires gracious submission to God’s Spirit. We have to trust new leadership and after careful deliberation take new risks. We have to fashion new clay vessels within which to carry the valued goods of ministry leadership training.

I think for me the most significant lesson I have learned as a leader throught these past several years is that we started the process for ACTS’ renewal too late. We failed to re-invigorate our collaborative work soon enough. We failed to see some of the warning signs and respond with sufficient vigour and energy to deal with them.

Hindsight is always wiser. However, if we do not learn from our experience, then we probably will repeat the same mistakes. I think this is the burden of leadership — to keep learning from our experience and innovating for the future, while energetically maintaining effective mission and ministry in the present. Incompetence in any one of these three will result in significant damage to the ministry you lead. Paying attention to one more than the others can also jeopardize achieving outcomes.

Are churches ready for Significant Conversations?

I have done the introductory workshop for Significant Conversations (a grassroots approach to evangelism) in a number of churches during the past year, with far greater interest and response than anticipated.  The workshop was initially designed for church boards so that they could evaluate the approach and decide whether or not to present the concept to the congregation.  Three churches in a row were so comfortable with the idea that the workshop was opened up to anyone interested.

At the first church we set up three tables expecting 3-4 extra people besides the board members: over 25 showed up.  The second church phoned three days before the meeting, “We heard that [the first] church opened up the meeting to the whole congregation.  Can we do that as well?”  Once again, we set up one row of tables, expecting maybe 10 other people who would be interested, and for a second time, over 25 came including some young people who interacted with the material reflecting their own conversations with friends at school.

Some people learn and take corrective measures.  The rest of us ignore the obvious.  At the third church, anyone who was interested in Significant Conversations was invited to remain after the morning service for lunch and the workshop. We ran short of pizza and had to rearrange the tables and chairs to accommodate the 30+ people – nearly half the congregation – who came and interacted with the grassroots evangelism concepts.

Why this interest?

Why this interest?  It may be that believers are anxious to find a way to interact on a deeper and more significant level with their friends, colleagues and relatives.  I suspect that people want to know how to talk to the people in their lives about important issues.  Although I cannot speak definitively, here are some reasons for the unexpected interest that resonate with me.

1) It is difficult in Canada to talk about spiritual things.  Religion and faith are taboo subjects.  A fellow believer involved in Significant Conversations made friends with his neighbor.  The neighbor laid down conditions for the relationship: “No discussions about religion or politics.”  After a year of interaction, the neighbor is only now showing signs that he would like to compromise on that rule.

2) The spiritual environment has changed over the last few decades.  In previous years a question such as “Do you believe in God?” would be met with a straightforward response, “yes” or “no.”  Now the answers are far more complicated, “Which god?”  “I have a spirit-force to help me,” “God is in us all,” “All paths are God’s paths.” Believers want help to navigate the complex worldviews they are confronted with.

3) People feel alone.  There has been an unspoken expectation in churches that once a person leaves the four walls of the church, they are on their own.  But many want the prayer, support and guidance of other believers.  They feel daunted by the thoughtful questions they face and want to be equipped to respond in ways that will continue the conversation and reveal the hope that we have in Christ.

4) We live in a multicultural environment.  The ethnic mix of the surrounding neighborhood is changing, while the ethnic makeup of the church tends to remain constant.  People are unfamiliar with the cross-cultural dynamics of outreach and would like guidance.

Interested? Check out the Significant Conversations webpage or contact Mark via the form below.
 

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Stray Cats and Tax Collectors

 Andrea was frantic. Freddie, her beloved cat, was lost! That may not have been Freddie’s sense of things, but that’s the way Andrea saw it.  They’d adopted the black cat from the Humane Society animal shelter. They searched for Freddie in all the usual places–and the not so usual ones–around the house, in the yard and throughout the neighbourhood. Everyone knew Freddie to see him, but there was no Freddie to be seen!

It took some time to find Freddie; in fact, three years!

Freddie was picked up as a stray and returned to the animal shelter where personnel, as part of the processing, discovered that Freddie had had a microchip  implanted under his skin at the time Andrea’s family first adopted him and took him home. The shelter was able to contact Andrea’s family, who’d moved in the meantime, to let them know that Freddie had been found.

After three years, Freddie and Andrea were finally reunited!

In the nineteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives us his expressed mission statement: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10) There is a strong emphasis in Luke on "lost and found" things and persons (see especially Luke 15). But Jesus’ mission statement occurs in the context of a controversial dinner engagement in Jericho.

The "stray cat," in this case, was a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus. 

One might have thought that Jesus would not have had time for a man so roundly hated in the community for the extortionate way he earned his living and how badly this hurt people. Zacchaeus was a religious write-off, unworthy of Jesus’ time and attention as far as the community was concerned.

The fact that Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house raised tension in the community toward Jesus himself. "What’s Jesus doing, hanging around with the obviously-wicked?" people thought. "At the very least, it shows a very poor sense of judgment."

 

ZACCHAEUS–A DIVINE POSSESSION LOST

The challenge in the community’s "othering" of Zacchaeus was that it ignored a very important reality. One that the Christian community needs to reckon with too  when thinking about and relating to the lost.

Zacchaeus the stray was lost, but he still belonged to God!

The signs of that possession in the text are plain to see. First, there is Zacchaeus’ name; it’s a variant of the name "Zachariah" which means "the righteous one." Zacchaeus had been born under the covenant of God and raised by a Jewish family to see himself as part of the people of God and God’s possession.  His name suggests a parental hope for his highest and most godly aspiration. Second, he showed the sign of being God’s possession by his intense curiosity about Jesus. Luke relates, "he wanted to see who Jesus was." Perhaps Jesus’ reputation as a "friend of tax collectors and sinners" had created the interest.

These were all divine "microchips" embedded beneath Zacchaeus’ lost exterior. They’re like the divine "microchips" of possession embedded in Zacchaeus-types all around us.

Sadly, Christians over-frequently forget that the lost also belong to God–whether they acknowledge it or not!Stray Cat

As far away as he was from God, the signs of divine ownership on Zacchaeus were there to be seen–if one cared to look! Like the lost sheep of the shepherd, the lost coin of the woman, and the lost son of the father, Zacchaeus was still a treasured possession, but out of the hand of God. Zacchaeus had lost his way through involvement in the Roman taxation system, buying contracts to collect taxes and then sweating, gouging and cheating his fellow Jews to make a huge profit. There was no room for faith, fellowship or friendship in any of this enterprise. He’d traded them all away for the love of money.

Zacchaeus was lost to God. He had no comfort. But something was drawing him and someone was drawing near to him.

 

JESUS–SEEKING AND SAVING

Jesus’ mission from God was to "seek and to save what was lost." Jesus has made it our mission too (Matthew 28:18-20).

But what does it take to "seek"? It takes time for one thing. Jesus was certainly spending time on Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was one important reason why Jesus was in Jericho. Whether it was divine insight, good planning, or something else, he was why Jesus looked into the sycamore-fig tree (vv. 4 and 5: Zaachaeus wanted to see Jesus, but probably not be seen), called the tax collector by name, told him to climb down, and invited himself over for a meal.

Jesus’ intensity and initiative with Zacchaeus was unashamed, purposeful, and persistent.

Obviously, more than hospitality took place between verses 6 and 8 in the narrative. Like the meal with another tax collector named Levi (Luke 5:27-32), there would have been spirited conversation, and in that context there would indeed have been intense and very direct positive engagement from Jesus on the subject of who Zacchaeus ultimately belonged to and was resisting–that he needed to return.

Seeking not only called for Jesus to be daring and creative; he also had to have thick skin. Religious types criticized Jesus for "hanging out with the wicked;" consorting with spiritual losers. But he was unphased by the disapproval. Jesus knew his mission. He couldn’t seek and save the lost if he only hung out with the "holy." 

The logic seems pretty clear; but, sadly, modern day disciples somehow just don’t get it.

 

WHAT DOES "SAVED" LOOK LIKE?

It’s pretty easy to know when you’ve found something or someone physically. But what does a "found" or "saved" person look like spiritually? While people who are saved become orientated more closely to God and his people and have a growing interest in "spiritual" things, it may be that the answer to the question is a whole lot simpler and less generic than we oftentimes make it.

Perhaps the answer to the first question comes when we’ve answered a second question: "In what way(s) is that person lost?" If there is a significant change in that expression of lostness, we can have a measure of confidence that that person has been "saved."

Consider Zaacheus. He was lost in the area of money. He’d sold his soul for it and sold out his faith and community for it. The acquisition of loads of cash was his passion; it was his god. That’s a big one for people today.

What does "found" and "saved" look like? It’s when there is a transformation of Zacchaeus in the area that most profoundly expresses his lostness.

When Zacchaeus openly and publicly confessed that he had formerly been a lover of money above everything else and that he had put that all aside, it was clear something absolutely profound had occurred in him. Where before he had been a grasping hoarder, now he was a man of charity. The rabbis indicated that if one gave away as much as 20% of their possessions, this was "righteous." Zacchaeus declared that he would give away half of all he owned! Zacchaeus had formerly been a man with a seared conscience when it came to cheating others by his office; now he declared that he would repay those he had cheated plus significant damages (v. 8; cf. Leviticus 6:1-5; Exodus 22:1; 2 Samuel 12:6). In the area where Zacchaeus was most lost, that was the area where there was a demonstration that he had been found.

Zacchaeus was saved right to the very bottom of his wallet!

Jesus knew it and he declared as much: "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." (v. 9)

 

A FEW QUESTIONS

Lost. What indications are there in the people you know and want to share the gospel with that they bear the stamp of God’s ownership on them? Have you ever told them this? How have they become lost? You’ll need to be quite sensitive to observe and listen. Make this a matter of prayer asking for spiritual sensitivity to "read" people for their lostness.

Seeking. Do you and your church show the pattern of Jesus in aggressive, clear, straightforward, sharp-eyed, daring, tough-skinned and persistent seeking? Do you hang out with the lost?

Found. As you share the good news about God’s love, are you looking to see friends and acquaintances "found" in the particular areas in which they have shown themselves to be lost?

The Church Transformed

One of the names I have come to trust and respect when it comes to understanding Church dynamics is George Bullard. For years, I have benefited from his analysis of everything from denominational renewal to congregational development. In an age where people seem eager to dismiss the Church, it is refreshing to find a man of wisdom and faith treating the Body of Christ with care. One of the early Church Fathers laid out a profound principle that seems somewhat lost in this generation: "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother" (St Cyprian of Carthage) It seems as if George Bullard has made it a mission to keep the divine family intact.

Over the last few years, I have referred often to the extensive studies conducted by Bullard through the Columbia Partnership. Since the studies are frequently financed by grants and foundations, the results made available to a wide audience. During the Fall of 2008, has recently produced some interesting discoveries: Enduring Principles of Congregational Transformation.

Bullard introduced the issue by saying: Congregational Transformation, by various names, has been a focus for North American churches since the 1950’s. Over more than 50 various approaches and principles for transformation have been offered by numerous individuals and organizations. Some of these approaches and principles are enduring. Others are not.

I bear witness to the truth of this assessment. Due to a number of factors (not the least of which is the success of our Best Practices for Church Boards workshops) we have engaged in a growing interaction with Churches that are engaged in vision renewal and strategic reformation. TheFEBBC/Y Ministry Centre has initiated consultations to help congregations through the process, and I’ve researched and been trained in at least 5 of the 50 numbered by Bullard.

In light of all of that, Bullard’s Columbia Partnership conducted a survey to put the principles to test. They began with a catalog of 21 enduring principles in terms of perceived validity, strength, importance, and enduring nature. Things like: Continual transformation rather than one-time transformation, being both spiritual and strategic, balancing a focus between past and future, Kingdom growth rather than Church growth, vision plus intentionality.

"This research is confirming some very important principles, and also informing us where principles we believe are very important for the transformation of congregations have not yet caught on," wrote George Bullard.

The preliminary results of the survey are beginning to make their way into the public record, and I would commend them as food for thought. Persons interested in a summary of the complete preliminary results and a PowerPoint presentation that contains a presentation of the results may send a request to client.care@thecolumbiapartnership.org.

At the risk of sounding like the shopping channel: But WAIT, there’s MORE! The survey is still open, and I would encourage pastors and church leaders to weigh in with their results to provide a more robust and full picture that would benefit us all. You can access the survey at:
http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal/2009/02/what-is-and-is-not-congregational-transformation.html

Oh, and while you are there, I would encourage you to visit the home page for even more resources and even sign up for the free newsletter.

Will Video Venues Kill Preaching as We Know It?

Will video venues eventually mean the death of preaching? This is the provocative idea argued by Bob Hyatt on his bob.blog.

Hyatt cites Shane Hipps in his book Flickering Pixels, who suggests that “every medium when pushed to an extreme, will reverse on itself, revealing unintended consequences.” The car, for example, eased our mobility, but too many cars results in injury, death, and environmental damage. The internet speeds communications and reduces ignorance, but too much information leads to greater confusion. “Surveillance cameras, when there are too many that see too far, reverse into an invasion of privacy,” says Hipps.

“In other words,” Hyatt writes, “what was originally meant to make us go fast now slows us down, what was meant to make us smart now increases our ignorance and what was meant to make us feel safe now makes us feel exposed.” The rule, he says, is that “technology, taken too far, creates the opposite of what it was intended to create.”

Hyatt applies this theory to preaching. Microphones were intended to increase our range. Tapes, television, podcasts, and vodcasts all serve to continue to extend the reach of our preaching. The problem, he says, is that now through technology we’re not only recording the sermon, but we’re broadcasting it so that the preaching gift of one person not only has the “ability to reach the back row, but the next town, state, continent.” “And we’re not just talking about Spurgeon publishing his sermons,” he continues, “or Schuller putting his on TV or Driscoll putting his on iTunes… Now we’re talking about not just influencing local preachers by making the ‘best’ communicator’s sermons available… we’re talking about replacing those local teaching elders.” The technology, he says, is reversing on itself.

Hyatt envisions a soon future where every city will have, among others, the Driscoll franchise, the Andy Stanley franchise, and perhaps two or three of each. “Sure, smaller churches will still exist, but in fewer and fewer numbers as dying churches are replaced not by vibrant church plants full of people forced to build a community from the ground up and so learn all the lessons along the way, but by video venue franchises – prepackaged church-in-a-box. And I’m telling you – there will be fewer and fewer men and women (most certainly fewer women) who ever learn to preach, who ever get the experience of working with others to discern what God is saying to their local body through Spirit and Word and prayerfully struggle through how they can creatively communicate that as well over the course of weeks, months and years of life together.”

“We’re talking about the death of preaching in evangelicalism by all but a small handful of Celebrity Communicators who have little knowledge about those they teach from such far distances.”

Of course, we’ve heard this kind of thing before. People have been announcing the end of preaching for as long as can remember. I suspect that the video venue phenomenon will continue and increase in influence, but I’m suspicious of this movement’s ability to completely overtake the church. As a friend of mine put it, you are I on an average day are better than the video preachers on their best day.

I don’t doubt the effect of large screen preaching by specially gifted communicators. These days, we all know the power of the big screen. What I am thinking about, however, is the pastoral nature of preaching. Whether or not we listen once a week to the celebrity preacher, we will still need someone in our midst who knows us and who walks with us.

Besides, preaching happens throughout the church, in multiple venues and many different ways, practiced by a variety of people. To say that preaching is dying, is frankly, laughable. Of course, if we only see preaching as the privilege of a single person, set apart for this special purpose, then we might as well begin connecting to the satellites and enlarging the screen size in our sanctuaries.

Preaching will never be the privilege of only just a handful. Preaching is the task of all of us. May it live long and prosper.