Monday, August 31, 2009

Words of Confirmation and Encouragement

My announcement last week has caused more than a little stir among the people we know (and I'm sure some raised eyebrows) ... here in Charlotte and across the country. For the record I first want to say that I am in a place of peace, freedom, joy and anticipation as we enter this new season of our lives. I am not full of disappointment or at a place of mourning. The Lord has released us to freely worship Him and build His kingdom, without the encumberances of stubborn structures and religious bureaucracy. We're eager to get on with... LIFE! And what is life but "knowing Him and making Him known"?
I will lay out more details on the vision the Lord has put upon my heart in the coming days, weeks and months. But today I'm anxious to share a message a longtime friend sent to me today on facebook. I've known this friend since high school. In fact, he was a co-conspirator who helped to start a Friday night student fellowship and a daily bible study at our school. Today he's serving in full time ministry, and I'm betting what I'm about to post here is the cry of many other men serving as he is. I'm not using his name for obvious reasons, but please listen to his heart as you read. And I'd love to get your feedback on his remarks, whether you are a pastor or member of a traditional church.

A little background: he begins by addressing my transition from one church planting ministry to another back in 2008, before speaking of where we are now:

Hey, Ed! Very interesting!!

Actually, I wondered a bit why the move just to a new denomination/ movement. You're more radical than that!:) No, it takes a lot of courage to do what you're doing, but I believe in it with all my heart. My desire is not to start a new denomination/group/whatever, but as you say, to return to the organic New Testament church. Love that word, too. Being the living body of Christ rather than doing church.

Here's where I am, and I'm torn. I believe God called me to pastor, and I believe I've followed the path He's laid out for me, the best I understand it, so far. But there is the tension with, even in good, loving, ministering churches like the ones I've served, the pressure you feel to do programs and come up with attendance strategies rather than just developing the relationships God has called us to and seeing lives redeemed and eternally changed by the power of Christ and Him alone. Do I still feel called to be where I am? Yes! Do I believe God will always have me in a "professional" pastoral position (even though I refuse to consider it such, I realize the world sees it that way)? I'm not at all sure. Do I pray (and hope you and others will pray with me) that this church will find the ministry God has called it to and begin to see lives changed in powerful, miraculous ways? Absolutely! But do I also want you to pray that God will show me how to follow the passion I have for organic body-life if there's a better way to do it? CERTAINLY!!!

I do appreciate your prayers and look forward to seeing how God carries you on your journey. PLEASE give me all the details you can share. I am ever open to God's leadership to be a part of His church in a more authentic, Scriptural way. I would be surprised if I did not spend the last years of my church life in house churches with no ambition of building a building or becoming recognized by any earthly organization, but God is often full of surprises! So my path right now, the best I can understand it, is to give all I can to this body and to pray and work to lead it to be a truly organic "house of love" for the local community and beyond. But I'll be watching you! (No, not like the old Police love/stalking song!:) I look forward to learning more about how God leads you, Brother. PLEASE keep me up to date, and I'll be praying for you and for your family as you follow this new path. God's richest blessings to you all!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Restart", and What is Simple Church?

It was good to fellowship again with people of God who are hungry for Him and excited about resuming our path together in an organic way. Right now a good part of this is learning what this really means. So it was especially comforting to have Don and Barbara Atkin with us for our time of food, fellowship and worship. This wonderful couple has spent years building churches by building into people's lives.

Don shared a few thoughts this evening and answered a few questions. Here are some of the highlights:

The organic movement honors the fact that there is "One church" of which we are a part.
The church is a family, so the Lord's prayer appropriately begins with "Our Father", not "Our General". Don spoke about how many of us behave toward the Lord as if we are slaves rather than children of a loving Heavenly Father. And yet because of "sires" who have marred the image of fatherhood in this day and age, we have to be careful to go to scripture to understand Him and effectively communicate His heart to the world.

On leadership: Don spoke of authority as something we give to leaders. And true Christian leaders don't oppresively exercise authority as "Gentiles". True spiritual authority is influence, not control or ownership. Ministry is the supply of Jesus Christ to the body. Hierarchy comes from Egypt, the product of misunderstanding of scripture or simply human ambition.

On structure: Our common values, vision and mission should shape the structure, not vice versa. We should never let structure compromise vision. Church is not what we do, its what we BE! We always start with life. We must be bold enough to love and humble enough to serve.

If you are in the Charlotte Metro area and eager to pursue organic church with us, you can contact us at the email address on the right of your screen. For now, I'll leave you with a video link Don sent along that sheds more light on what the Spirit of God is prompting us and others around the world to do.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paradigm Shift

Those of you who regularly visit this site may wonder why the postings have been so infrequent lately. There is a big reason for that. My family is in the middle of a huge transition.

For the last 19 months, we’ve devoted our lives to build something new… a church plant here in Charlotte. These many months have been filled with lots of adventure and blessing. But our involvement has clearly run its course. Last night we ended that relationship as the Lord is moving us on.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in how we arrived at this season in our lives. The most important element: The Lord has been showing me that my view of restoration truthfully is not radical enough.

Probably early in 2008, even as we began working to establish a church with a church planting ministry, I began to hear a “buzz” word circulating within Christendom: Organic. It resonated because I realized that’s how we seek to live our lives for God’s glory. As we seek the Lord and relate to people, we find ourselves connecting with other Christ followers with a kingdom vision. We also connect with people who don’t know the Lord in a way that allows them to see a glimpse of Christ in community, not by simply hitting them with a gospel message, but by opening up our home and our lives. This is who we are. So we’ve come to discover that who we are and what we do did not match up with the church system most of us are accustomed to. So we’re returning to our roots… those early days of 2008 when we met in our home for worship and meals. This is just a part of a grander vision the Lord has given us to unify His people and reach this city with the gospel.

Our greatest desire is to honor the supremacy of Christ in the church. He is the true Head, but sadly we’ve allowed Him to get lost in the temple. He gets lost in a crowded atmosphere of our structure building and religious protocols, in our consumer approach to church. While most of us would reject the idea of a single person acting in Christ’s stead, truthfully we live this way, professing a devotion to His Lordship, while living as if the true head is a human being. What does it really mean to be part of a “priesthood of believers”? I don’t know the complete answer to this, but I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of its true meaning. And I’ve come to believe that the starting place for walking out this kind of vision is for people like me who believe we are leaders to step off the stage and walk with and among God’s people.

As I’ve pondered over the years why we don’t seem to see God work in power as He does in other countries, I’ve lately been haunted by John 5:44: “ How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” This question raises many questions I will let the Spirit of God raise in your own heart. For me I’ve come to believe we as leaders make way too much of ourselves, and in the process the people we attempt to lead fail to truly connect with the true Head, in practice not just in theory. The result is the people we lead too often look to us instead of to Him to accomplish a “God vision”… something so extraordinary only He can do through us. The result is we do a lot of things even unbelievers can do and there’s little that would stir those outside the kingdom to take notice. Jesus says in Matthew 5: 13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
That is the goal of Christ in community: that the eyes of the unredeemed would immediately shift heavenward. My concern is we are way too earth bound, actually religiously bound to be this light we’re called to be. It has been said that sometimes revival doesn’t come when we get a lot of new people in, but when we get some of the old ones out. I would suggest that before we can truly carry the new wine in these earthen vessels, we need to ditch some old wineskins. And the starting place probably needs to be a complete review of everything we’re doing in the church to see if it is of God and is therefore life-bearing, or whether its simply something we’ve done because that’s what everyone does.
If you have not already, I would urge you to read the “I Have A Dream” posting on this blog, and listen to the most recent message I uploaded from Francis Chan. It will give you a preview of the vision I believe God is stirring among his people. The priority is gospel in community. We don’t begin with structure. We begin with Jesus and build relationally around Him and let the Holy Spirit shape the structure. It probably won’t look like what many others are doing. And that’s a good thing because most of what many others are doing has little kingdom impact. I will have much more to say about what the Lord has been doing soon. But for now I’ll end this with a quote from G K Chesterton: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Church of Co-Workers, Not Customers

There was an uploading issue that prevented me from making the video available for the past few days. This has now been corrected. Sorry to leave some of you disappointed. But I believe you will agree this message is well worth the wait.

My friend Doug Robinson called me on Wednesday to urgently draw my attention to yet another message from Francis Chan. Once again, it was a sermon that covered themes that have been hot topics for us in recent weeks. So after watching it with the family Wednesday evening, I've decided to post it here for your edification. By the way, I would strongly recommend Chan's book, "Crazy Love". Because I am overloaded with reading right now, I took the easy road and listened to the audio book version and it is powerful stuff. But for now, park in front of the computer with the Word and an open heart, and take in this message detailing Francis Chan's new church planting venture.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Have a Dream...

Many months ago, a friend recommended that I read "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola. A couple of weeks ago I thought I was ordering that book through Amazon or Ebay. What I got instead was "Reimagining Church" by the same author. This morning I began reading the book on a short flight to visit family, and I found myself stunned! I've only read one chapter, but I can already tell this book will be hard to put down. The author has put into words what I believe and strive to live out. One powerful section is a variation on the theme of Dr. Martin Luther King's legendary "I Have a Dream" speech. This is powerful stuff!

I have a dream that one day the church of Jesus Christ will rise up to her God-given calling and begin to live out the true meaning of her identity - which is, the very heartthrob of God Almighty - the fiancee of the King of all Kings.

I have a dream that Jesus Christ will one day be Head of His church again. Not in pious rhetoric, but in reality.

I have a dream that the clergy/laity divide will someday be an antique of church history, and the Lord Jesus Himself will replace the moss-laden system of human hierarchy that has usurped His authority among His people.

I have a dream that multitudes of God's people will no longer tolerate those man-made systems that have put them in religious bondage and under a pile of guilt, duty, condemnation, making them slaves to authoritarian systems and leaders.

I have a dream that the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ will be the focus, the mainstay, and the pursuit of every Christian and every church. And that God's dear people will no longer be obsessed with spiritual and religious things to the point of division. But that their obsession and pursuit would be a person - the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have a dream that countless churches will be transformed from high-powered business organizations into spiritual families - authentic Christ-centered communities - where members know one another intimately, love one another unconditionally, bleed for one another deeply, and rejoice with one another unfailingly.

I have a dream today...

Can't you just hear a Holy Ghost filled preacher shout these words from the pulpit with the passion and soaring oratory skill we heard from Dr. King? More importantly, is this the cry of your heart before God, and a burden you share with others? I pray that it is.