If I Open My Window, You Open Your Door

It’s a nice church, but it’s not somewhere I feel that I could really bring my friends or colleagues. It’s over their heads, they’ll get bored, and they may even walk out. I don’t think I want to risk all the awkwardness.”A window from the local village of Polcenigo

What a frequently painful comment to hear about a church. And yet, it’s an accurate comment albeit a general one. I have heard this expression in numerous places that I have been, have you? (members of Serenissima are not permitted to answer that!)

How did we (the church in general) get to the place where our own people would not want their friends, colleagues, and neighbors to share in the joy that has transformed their lives? Jesus basically said the world will know that he is God and sent by the Father just by how we love one another, but many don’t even want others to meet their church family.

When a congregation arrives at that point, whose fault is it? Is it the pastors’ fault? Or the people’s fault for thinking like that? I think it’s both and I offer a start to reduce the emphasis on this over-emphasized clergy-laity divide where we should all be living missionally in our respective roles:

Pastors’ Fault!

I was listening to a pastor’s consultation held in England a few years ago. Tim Keller was speaking along with many others about how our preaching needs to be missional. In other words, is our teaching only for the faithful? He said something timely along these lines, “You should preach to your congregation as if your city is listening-in through the windows and one day they’ll be in the seats.” At the very least, this begins to evaporate an us vs. them language and mindset. The truth is that as we gather in our congregations, it’s an all-of-us before God reality.

One of my personal preaching questions is, “What if I were sharing this message with my entire province? — because I am. Is it clear, faithful, applicable, and grace-full? Will they be able to see & start to understand Christ in their current cultural ways of thinking?” Asking this question among others is me learning how to open the windows. And I live in Italia… hello, this is not an easy question to answer! However, we really must strive to speak both to our people and their friends. If we preach with closed windows (the “us”, the faithful), our people will simply not be missional and we’ll just stick them into “small groups” without ever mentioning that we even have small groups. What we as preachers are really communicating is that we hope our people will just magically understand and “get it.” Then, they will turn into sacrificial, missional Christians and we will be able to say, “See, we told you all along.”

People’s Fault!

And yet, Gospel-listeners must be diligent actors or the sum-total of their Christian maturity will be sermon-tasting. One of the greatest apologetics that we have to show the power and reality of King Jesus is the compassionate treatment of one-another in his name. Jesus said it this way, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

So, there is our mandate, our new commandment. Be around one another in such a way that people who haven’t met Jesus yet can clearly see him. And the best place to do that is in the place where you are who you are the most — your home.

Frankly, people will taste more of what it means to be a Christian through our homes and how we live our lives than in a formal church meeting. Are our doors open? Do we allow our homes to be the church so that people can meet Jesus? If we live with closed doors, then the preaching we hear will turn into information-passing because people will never be able to experience the reality of the church as they can’t see it being lived before them.

Can you see the sad cycle? Pastors who preach with closed windows point the finger at the people with closed doors who have come to expect pastors to teach comfortable, closed-up messages — and thousands of people neither hear nor see the King of all while we blink at each other.

So, if I open my window, then you open your door.  Deal?

With love,  Portiere Rob

Stir the Beans – Pray Together

Sherlock Holmes “had his man” and was just about to reveal to Watson who the culprit was when he froze, literally. My wife paused the YouTube movie and exclaimed, “Hold that thought, I gotta’ stir the beans.” The delicious perfume of what proved to be a high-octane, bean soup was wafting from our kitchen through the city. One minute longer, and the aroma would have ceased to be a pleasing perfume. Are you catching my drift? In every good minestra, you have to stir the beanseven when murder hangs in the balance!

When cooking-up church life together, it holds true that we will neither have mission nor discipleship without prayer. Prayer is missional and to be missional means praying. Discipleship is also soaked in prayer.

Serenissima Prayer Wheel InitiativeFrom the above illustration, it follows that sitting beans are burnt beans. So, my challenge is simply mix-it-up and release the flavors. Whether in triads or small teams or through prayer initiatives as a corporate body, strive to practice various and creative times of communal prayer. Try to pray as much with others as you do alone.

Right now at Serenissima, our ministry is holding one of our annual prayer initiatives. It’s called The 10 Days of Prayer (more info here) and lasts until the 27th of May. Basically, we as a church body cover the clock in prayer; 24 hours each day for 10 days. We do this by having people volunteer to pray for 1 specific hour of their choosing for each day. We also provide a prayer guide which is full of requests and helps for prayer.

This has been a fabulous way to stir-up prayer in our midst! Yes, it’s important to pray on our own, continuously (1 Thess. 5:17). However, we really turn the heat up in our devotion when we are in a group of 30-50 people, all on mission, passing the prayer baton hour-by-hour, and sharing our insights and experiences. To put it simply, our church — our holy minestrone — needs this right now.

Why, it’s elementary, my dear Watson — stir the beans!

hours for prayer

What Makes Your Church Attractive? Part 1

I’d like to share a couple of minestre on how God has made the church attractive and how we can mess that up by following a bad definition of the word “attractive.” Much has been written on the subject of missional vs. attractional church, so my addition here is simply practical in nature. My approach is that we should not throw-out the word attractional, but re-define it and understand it as a function of mission. Here’s what I mean:

"Coming Attractions"

We all desire inspiration in our lives, and we ache for wonder. Inspiration and wonder are misty synonyms describing that we truly long for God himself; that clear connection with the Divine. Our natural problem (3-letter word beginning with s and ending with n), however, is that while we seek for wonder, we want to find it everywhere else apart from Christ [Rom 3:11]. Showing mankind his awesome kindness and attracting us away from destruction, God gave himself to us in Jesus Christ — the central attraction of the universe!

Then, God placed his wonder all around us in the creation (which testifies about God passively day-by-day) and also called a people from out of the world to show his “excellent perfections”¹ (the Church which testifies about God actively day-by-day) [Rom 2:4]. God chose and called the Church to be his living demonstration of his own wonder, beauties, and glories. Therefore, the Church is attractional by the nature God gives to her — to be an active, representative community of the excellencies of God. The Church is not attractional to True Wonder as a recreational or entertainment-propelled society.

Can Man Market God?

The instant we try to better our worship methods for the reason of attracting people and not for the rendering of  more beautiful and holy worship which God deserves from his people is the very moment we become unfaithful witnesses of the living God.

Psalm 50:2

We stoop-down into a marketing competition that says, in essence, be attracted to us through your appetites. We’ll sing and say what you like. It is also the moment we begin using God more than adoring him. Our focus is off in this kind of thinking and performance because we are working to put on a good show in the name of God. Presently, our western cultural forms have pushed Christianity and the serious consideration of the biblical God to the margins of society. However, winning people back is not done through techniques that try to make the all-beautiful God more consumer-friendly. Rather, God is radiant when he is celebrated and magnified as good and all-together lovely by his devoted people. More on how that looks in my next minestra…

That God’s Church, in Scripture is represented as Christ’s house or temple, and as his raiment and ornament, and as a golden candlestick, etc., is wholly constituted of those saints that are his jewels, that are the spoils of his enemies, that were once his enemies’ possession, but that he has redeemed out of their hands.²

¹ Jonathan Edwards used the description of the ‘excellent perfections’ of God on display through his church. I borrowed that word picture from him.
² The Essential Edwards Collection,  
On Beauty, p. 98

More Shared Life or Shared Meetings?

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So, you’re a part of a small group where you’re developing friendships, sharing the Word together (sometimes sweet; sometimes dry), and you may even be eating a meal together. Aaaaannnd… that’s about it. You generally know everybody’s story so you’re churning the weeks by where on one hand, you have your small group time (call it whatever you’d like) and on the other hand, you have the rest-of-your-life. And the problem is that both hands rarely come together.

So, how does a group that is more or less stuck in meeting mode go deeper and become missional?

Here are two practical tests or objectives to help a small group become a missional community that is sharing more of life together instead of just sharing more meetings.

  1. Your meeting times are one-of-the-things you do together in Christ — not the only thing you do during the week together (ie. one of two meetings you attend).
  2. When your group shares more life together outside of a weekly gathering than you do during a 2-3 hour gathering.

Shared life, therefore, is the ordinary and every-day things that you do with the purpose of including others and utilizing those times to talk about and see the extraordinary Christ in the ordinary routines of daily life.

The Fishin’ Mission

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One of the first actions that Jesus does when he enters his ministry is to go fishing. You can find him in the boat with Peter in Luke 5. Jesus was definitely a God-man on mission; the Master of the seas in carpenter’s guise. There on Galilee, Jesus draws Peter (James, John, & Andrew too) and catches them in his net of awe and compassion.

Peter crumbles and responds most adamantly, “Get away!” because he knew he was in the presence of overwhelming holiness which had invaded his helpless little business-in-a-boat. Jesus graciously replies, “Stop being afraid…” which in this context has the emphasis of his sins being pardoned and his person being accepted before God. This is what it means to be drawn and caught by Jesus. There’s a radical recognition of who Jesus the Christ really is, which in turn causes a total surrender, which in turn leads to the realization that you’ve already been caught – by Grace himself. But you are caught for a reason.

At the end of the great catch of both fish and men, we see Jesus beginning to walk away from the scene. Following him are his catch of men who are so fundamentally altered by his word that they “leave all their nets” and all they know. Actually, they leave almost all they know. Jesus tells them why they were caught, to do what they love (fishing) for different objectives (men). “From now on, you will be fishers of men.”

So, in a unique way, the “fish” have become the fishermen. Therefore, to realize that you’ve been caught by Jesus is to automatically be on mission with Him – simultaneously. Back down to the bottom of the sea with a type of Christianity that says, “Ya, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t have or need any community.” Drown the selfish idea that fish are only good for my consumption. Walk-the-plank with the practice of church attendance alone as the sum total of Christian living. And let the scales fall off that you’re dead in the water without an active fishin-mission in your life.

Do you have any more “Sea – analogies” that would call-out the false separation of Christian identity from Christian mission? (See how I’m baiting you to leave a comment?)

Gospel-centered Church Part 2

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Below are the 7 points of being a Gospel-centered church that Pastor Keller gave the other day in Berlin. These points help us “center-in” on the Gospel like I wrote about in the last post.

  1. Gospel Renewal — utilize the power of the Gospel to change character; not psychological selfishness to try to get people to have things “go well” in their lives. The two moralistic motivators are pride and fear. Often, these two are the ones we appeal to by default in our teaching. However, the Gospel both humbles us out of our pride and then affirms us out of our fear. The Gospel changes everything in our approach and response to life. 

     

  2. Contextualization — If you over-adapt to a culture or, on the other hand, say that everything is bad in a culture, then you’re not reading the culture well enough to bring the Gospel to bear on it.
    Over-adaptation is an insecurity that desires people to like us.
    No-adaptation is a prideful superiority.
    The Gospel brings poise and helps us with the balance of humility and boldness

  3. City positive — it’s not starry-eyed about cities but understands the hard difficulties within them. It’s not comfortable but understands that Jesus made himself uncomfortable for all of us. So, the Gospel will draw you toward cities, not repel you from them. If you can’t stand the city, the Gospel hasn’t gotten ahold of you in some area.

  4. Cultural engagement — see how cultures work; to hollow-out the culture from within — neither triumphalistic nor withdrawn.

  5. Missional Bearing — The community expects the presence of non-Christians experiencing the Body. Therefore, how things are presented and talked about will be done with a sensitivity to mission and an anticipation of members of the city involved who may not yet understand or agree with the Faith.

  6. Holistic — evangelism and mercy together; sharing the good news while living the good news. This would be the sum total of word and deed ministry. They both help you go more deeply into the other when practiced. 

  7. Movement oriented — Humility to work with others for the benefit of the city — not just trying to “increase the tribe”

Spiritual Widows Do and Don’t Build the Church

Sad-eyes_2

I use the term “spiritual widow” to describe a spouse (more often a lady) whose mate shares no concern with them toward God or the Scriptures. Sometimes the non-believing spouse is simply indifferent and then we have observed others who are openly belligerent.

The believing spouse, therefore, enters our church family and experiences long seasons of up-and-down; from joy to grief. More often than not, the spiritual widow needs comfort and prayer. Simply put, they often need much more than they give. Commonly seen in their lives is a lack of godly leadership, faithfulness, doctrine, strength, and hope. If you only look at what they have to offer, you would not look to them to build the church when just coming to church is a weekly dilemma.

About 5 years ago, we only had a few spiritual widows. At last count, we now have around 17 people (including widowers) that share this deep ache for someone they love. So, the church has grown! A number of these folks are involved in our missional communities and more.

Another sign of the Gospel at work is the inclusion of the down. These precious people quantitatively have more problems in life to sort through. Their resources are often spent just trying to keep going. Their lives are messy. But these examples seem just like the people Jesus was around — and the kind of people he called to build his Church.

By reaching out to these dear friends again – and again – the efforts are seemingly exhausted in the natural realm. However, Jesus sees both their needs and our “wasted” efforts. And, if it pleases Jesus, he will build his church in the strangest of ways with the weakest of people. Spiritual widows and widowers DO build the church – because that is who we as the church are.