reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 48 : May we repent of making everything manageable.

imageMANAGE. Be in charge of, administer, or regulate.

When something is well-managed, people say things like, “That’s a well-oiled machine.” “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” “Tidy and clean and safe and running smoothly.”

Is this something we want said about “church?”

In some ways, maybe yes. For example, if a church family gathers weekly and has a kids ministry, parents appreciate a well-managed kids ministry. Another example might be when a team is sent to serve with mission partners. Those connected to the ones going to serve appreciate knowing that all logistics are well-taken care of.

Don’t take this suggestion in dualistic fashion. It’s not an either / or kind of thing, because some elements of how a church family functions need to be managed well for effectiveness and purpose sake. However, do we need to make everything manageable?

The problem with making everything manageable is that it leaves little room for the mystical.

Before you freak out about the use of the word “mystical,” think about it. Wanting who we are and how we are functioning as the “church” to be described as mystical simply suggests that as we are functioning as Christ’s church, we relate with and experience the supernatural, resurrection-power, beyond-human-effort, only-explained-by-the-movement-of-the-Holy-Spirit, ever-present living God. Don’t you want that?

Here are two vital ways that we should want mystical rather than manageable:

  • in how people are learning and living the ways of Christ
  • in how people are making disciples as they go

Do we want how people are learning and living the ways of Christ to be limited to what human leaders can manage? I don’t!!! We must not make disciples of ourselves. We want to point people to Jesus as their teacher, the same teacher that the leaders themselves have.

And do we want to limit how people are learning and living the ways of Christ to a specific space (a church building) at a specific time (once a week)? I don’t!!! People growing in Christ is hopefully a 168 hour a week experience, which necessitates a process beyond what human leaders can manage.

Most transformational conversations and experiences in the lives of Christ-followers happen between sermons and small groups, not just inside of those times and events.

Furthermore, if someone is learning and living the ways of Christ, i.e. growing as a disciple of Jesus, then they WILL be compelled to invite others along with them to learn and live the ways of Christ, i.e. make disciples of Jesus.

Do we want how people are making disciples of Jesus to be limited to what church leaders can manage? I don’t!!! If that were the case, then all disciple-making would be limited to the schedule and the teaching and the learning and the relationships of a small handful of people rather than a collective of the entire church family.

Wait. Wait. Re-read that last sentence. Isn’t that the norm for most of those who consider themselves “churched” today? No wonder we don’t see a movement of disciple-making!

“Church” MUST be more than something we invite people to! It is, according to the New Testament! And do you know why it is? Because “church” is not what we are trying to get people to. Christ is.

I understand that “church” is a way people can meet Jesus. However, the New Testament never, ever refers to “church” as a place or event. Therefore, people cannot be invited TO church. They can only be invited ALONG with the church.

This is vital. Why?

Because people best discover Whose they are in Christ by being invited along with others who have and are continuing to discover Whose they are in Christ. While we ourselves are continuing to believe our God-given identity and grow in our Christ-given security and live out our Spirit-directed purpose, we invited others along in hopes of also believing and growing and living in Christ.

That is not easily managed, because it is not manageable. When many Christ-followers are growing as disciples of Jesus and making disciples of Jesus in their daily rhythms and everyday relationships, the learning and experiencing and discovering and loving and living and transforming and sending that happens is not manageable by a small group of leaders.

It is, rather, by those leaders, encouraged and equipped for and related with and released beyond personal control.

We need to hope for the Spirit’s mystical involvement in the everyday, purposeful, intended functioning of the church! And if it happens, manageability will be next to impossible.

We may need to repent of trying to stay a step ahead of the Spirit and instead try to keep up with the Spirit. We may need to repent of trying to move something ourselves and instead live wind-blown by the Spirit together.

When the church is functioning as Jesus intended, we are not like suburban landscaping. We are not tidy and well-manicured and low-maintenance and chemically-controlled. We are messy and unfinished and interdependent and Spirit-controlled.

Lord Jesus, please do something among Your church that moves beyond our control and can only be explained by Your presence in the everyday of our lives.

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reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 44 : May we repent of poor, personal financial stewardship & its effect on our attentiveness as disciple-makers.

imageThose who consider themselves “churched,” possibly more than ever before, have a chance to make Christ known through wise stewardship and extreme generosity in a season of history when financial crisis plagues the globe.

When I suggest that we need to repent of poor, personal financial stewardship, I am:

:: NOT suggesting we have complete control over our financial circumstances, because we don’t control financial collapse around us nor do we control every financial crisis of our own.

:: NOT suggesting if we would just budget better we would have everything we need, because unexpected issues can wreck even the best-managed budget.

:: NOT suggesting our functioning as the church as Jesus intended depends solely upon our personal financial stewardship, although the Scriptures reference money and wise management of it over 2700 times.

I AM suggesting that poor, personal financial stewardship can affect our ability to pay full attention to His leading us as disciples who make disciples.

If we have managed our finances poorly, we will likely:

:: be limited in our ability to say yes to Jesus as He invites us along on mission with Him, because debt as well as obligations due to indulgence can hinder our openness to surrendering to follow no matter the cost.

:: be less attentive to the needs of others, because we are so concerned about our own situation.

:: be unable to give resources into the needs of others, because we are giving resources into our own wants.

:: without realizing it be thinking about and acting like our money is our own rather than having been entrusted to us.

The purpose of wise stewardship, according to the Scriptures, is not for individual comfort and personal gain. The purpose of wise stewardship is for beyond-me compassion and others-first generosity. When we are wise with what we have been given, we can give to make known the One who is wise. He gives that we may give. We give because we have been given to.

If we focus on wise stewardship for personal financial security, then we are not fully trusting the security we undeservedly have in Christ. If we fully trust the security we undeservedly have in Christ, then we will not fear managing our finances in a way that enables extreme generosity. In other words, we will not be afraid to give whatever God’s Spirit might lead us to give. We will open our hands and hearts freely, just like Jesus opened His heart and hands for us.

The key to all of this – two things.

1 – confessing our selfish ways with money to the selfless One who is the giver of all good things. Without Him and His presence and His Spirit with us, we cannot even come close to being wise stewards of personal finances. With Him, and with His help, we can think about and live like money is not ours personally but a gift we have been entrusted to manage.

2 – actually believing that what was posted in suggestion # 43 is important and actually applying it in ways that enable giving like we have been given to.

Paul David Tripp wrote in his book Sex and Money:

The big question of money is never, “Can I afford it?” No, it is always “How can I invest what I’ve been given in a way that gives honor to the One who has entrusted it to me?”

Those who consider themselves “churched” too often disable their function as the church because of how they think both of church finances and personal finances. May we beg Jesus to help us think of our finances in an “on earth as it is in heaven,” “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done,” grateful-You-have-provided kind of way.

Thoughts???

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 41 : May we repent of not valuing the older people among the “churched.”

imageWith regard to those who consider themselves “churched,” there are some who wish to see something “new” and fruitful and alive again. Among them, there is a tendency that is both unhealthy and unwise. Passionate leaders who want to move in a new direction often do not value the important role that the older generation is to play. Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, actually mentions their vital part in God’s redemptive and renewing mission:

And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 
(Acts 2:17 HCSB)

I want to suggest we need to repent of not valuing and not involving the “older” people among the “churched” like we should. Part of this, however, in my opinion, is to blame on the passionate leader, while part is to blame on the older generation themselves. Here’s what I mean.

To the passionate leader – no one is as passionate about the vision you have as you are. Let me encourage you with a few things. Pray and ask Jesus to:

  • filter your vision for “the movement you want to start” to actually reflect and to fully participate in the movement Jesus started.
  • give you wisdom regarding the strategic way you will equip followers of Jesus OF ALL AGES to be disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus in their daily relationships.
  • help you not just to use people for the vision you have but to help lead and encourage people to discover God’s vision for how their stories fit into His grander story.

To the older generation among the “churched” – we can’t thank you enough for years and years of giving and serving. Let me encourage you with a few things. Pray and ask Jesus to:

  • remind you of His purposes and how you yourselves continue to fit into His purposes.
  • help you to think more about His mission than you do about the church budget and more about mentoring than you do the style of worship in Sunday gatherings.
  • give you wisdom regarding how to take the initiative to mentor and encourage and support the next generation, recognizing they also have a sober desire to see the work of God alive just like you do.

The older generation is vital to the mission of and the health of local churches. But their purpose is clear in the New Testament. They are not to be coddled and catered to. They are not to be appeased. Rather, they are to be reminded of Paul’s clear directive to Timothy and to Titus:

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 
(2 Timothy 2:2 HCSB)

Older men are to be level headed, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered. 
(Titus 2:2-5 HCSB)

What aches my heart is when I hear the older generation among the “churched” cry out to be “fed” and to be cared for. What aches my heart is that they are missing the very significant fact that when they take the initiative to care for and mentor and teach the younger generations the ways of Christ, they will be “fed” and cared for by the very young people with whom they build disciple-making relationships.

What aches my heart is when I hear passionate leaders do nothing but complain about the older generation. They are not a problem!!! They are a purposeful part of the solution of what is needed most for the church to function as Jesus intended. What aches my heart is when I hear passionate leaders dismiss the important purpose older leaders play in the ongoing mission of Jesus.

May we repent of not valuing the “older” among the “churched.”

Lord Jesus, please help leaders to see the value of the older generation. And please help the older generation to see the life-generating value of giving themselves away into the young. For Your Gospel’s sake and for Your glory. Amen.

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 40 : May we repent of preservation as an emphasis among the “churched.”

imageI often wonder if we have misinterpreted the Parable of the Wineskins. At least as I have typically heard it taught. I am not sure it has anything to do with giving up old ways to try new ways OR change and tradition not being able to exist together OR older people needing to make way for the preferences of younger people.

I wonder if it has to do with fulfilling God’s purpose in our intended season. I wonder if it has to do with the ongoing restoration of our King making all things new.

If this is the case, then preservation of what we have held as priority of purpose may need to surrender to prioritizing the Purpose that has always been preserved.

God’s purpose, to be exact. Not what the church has always done, but rather what the church is to always be doing.

It is not as simple as “same old message told with some new methods.” In line with the very purpose of this blog, implementing new “church” methods results in nothing but new “churched” forms, unless the intended function of the church is emphasized and lived.

But in too many cases, the “churched” fight to preserve “church” as they have known it. That’s not quite what Paul meant when he told Timothy he had fought the good fight. The “good fight,” or more literally translated “the good struggle,” is exactly that – the struggle that comes when those who live with Jesus on His good mission to declare His eternal love to His estranged beloved struggle against the evil forces who strive to undercut that mission by destroying God’s beloved before they believe they are loved.

When we fight to preserve “church” as we have known it, like it’s some self-absorbed experience or event intended for the “churched,” then we become agents of the evil forces striving to undercut the good mission.

Erwin McManus asserts one important point that we tend to overlook in his book Unstoppable Force. He suggested that the church as an organism rather than an organization tends to act more like an organization rather than an organism. One way the church does this is by trying to preserve church as an organization. This was never intended. Church is an organism. Organisms die.

Now, all metaphors break down. This one breaks down at the point of “the church dying” in the sense of ceasing to exist, which according to Jesus is not going to happen. But that was not Erwin’s point.

Like a seed that is planted dying to become the fruit-bearing plant it was intended to be, the church must always die to themselves to become the fruit-bearing people Jesus intended us to be. The moment we begin to exist for ourselves is the moment we quit functioning as Jesus intended.

Grandparents love their grandchildren. My dad listens to Lecrae because his grandchildren want to while they ride with him. They, in turn, listen to Willie Nelson because their granddad wants to. Maybe not as often, but still, you get the point.

The Grandparent lives to give life to the grandkids. We as the church must do the same.

That’s why making disciples of Jesus must remain the only purpose of the church, defining all programs of the church, never just an add on to church activities.

Lord Jesus, help us not to preserve what we have but to join You to give away what we have been given.

reFUNCTIONation suggestion # 38 : Technology is helpful, but it has hurt our function as the church in certain ways.

image“What did we do before smartphones?”

As much as I hear that question, I would suggest it affirms that technology is now central as well as essential in our culture. If the shockwave from the sun hits as some scientists suggest, we are in for a whirlwind of discomfort because of how much we rely on digital technology today.

I really, really enjoy technology. From computers to smartphones to tablets to smart-TVs to the web to social media to automation to AI robotics to advancements in forecast systems to car sensors to the many apps we all use and more, technology is useful and fun and informative and helpful. But is it hurtful, too?

Let’s not ignore the potential ways technology has hurt our function as the church. I would suggest four specific ways that it has hurt our functioning as the church as Jesus intended:

(1) Self-glorification.

Just the fact that “i” is the first letter in a lot of our favorite technology is telling, isn’t it? Social media itself carries with it many temptations to promote self. This blog, even, could be criticized as nothing more than self-glorification, although my prayer is that Jesus makes much more of it than that (since I sincerely felt a leading to do it). But I confess that it is a constant temptation to want more people to read it or tweet about it or at least be provoked to think about their function as the church because of it. Technology can be used to encourage and equip and challenge people toward growth in Christ, bringing glory to Him and making Him known. But it can also be used to highlight self and bring glory to self and make self known. Of that we must be prayerful and cautious.

(2) Self-gratification.

Technology can be selflessly purposeful, but it can also be very self-indulgent. We can get sucked into using technology to gratify our own desires and wishes. We want a flashier Sunday morning gathering, but are we forking over big bucks for better tech that may have a wiser kingdom investment? We want to be the cool church in town with the app, but is it a tool for equipping, or does it take more attention to create and maintain than actually equipping people? We feel justified to read articles for personal growth or look at images that temporarily satisfy an indulgent craving, but are those things connecting me closer with Jesus and my neighbor or hindering my connection? Regarding these we must beg for wisdom.

(3) False sense of Community.

Friends and followers in the virtual world do not always translate into disciple-making friendships and Christ-followers in the actual world. We can even become more attentive to how many followers and friends we have technologically speaking and ignore taking initiative to befriend and walk along with the lost and lonely. It gives us a sense of community to interact using social media and texting and web meetings, but is it resulting in authentic community and closeness and unity around Jesus? We need to be aware of these snares and allow tech to enhance relationships, not replace them.

(4) Individualism.

Eugene Peterson has written and taught about the fact that the printing press and now the internet have been both helpful and hurtful tools for the church. While the printing press and the internet made the Bible and Biblical teaching and Biblical resources more available and accessible, have they also made us as people less available and less accessible? For example, as Peterson has pointed out, the printing press moved people from reading the Bible as an “us” to an “I,” because people were required to gather in close-knit community to even be able to study the Scriptures before individual Bibles were available. The same could be said for the internet. LiveStreaming and Podcasts have certainly been tools God has used to propagate the Gospel by means impossible prior to their invention. However, now that they are so common, people are less likely to see their need for a local body of believers with whom they can actually learn and experience the Gospel of Jesus. May we use these tools well, but may we remember the necessity of relationship.

Tech is helpful and tech is hurtful. The same can be said of most anything, I guess. The point is that we need not use technology without prayer and thought and intentionality and boundaries, or else it may well disfunction us from the function Jesus intended for His church.