Tuesday, January 30, 2007

An interesting couple of weeks

Greetings All,

Okay, a bunch of you have e-mailed me about my silence the past couple of weeks, and I apologize. Here's the story.

My parents came into town two weeks ago and I ended up spending a lot of time with them because I don't get to see them very often. While they were here I started to feel pretty sick. That feeling soon turned into strep throat. Soon after I developed a sinus infection on top of the Strep. Just as I was beginning to recover from the whole mess, I had a couple of speaking engagements, right in a row which required a lot of study time. Sunday morning I woke up and my throat was hurting again even after a week of antibiotics. I returned to the Doctor to find that I now have bronchitis!!! I"M A MESS!

Anyway, being the intelligent man that I am, I attempted to continue working through all of my issues. Needless to say, this was a bad idea! Now....I'm even sicker.

Long story short, I'll get back to blogging A.S.A.P.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Conversation: Part Two

On small groups:

Rachel: “From the time I was 11 or 12 I have been involved with two different branches of what one might consider a “mainstream” church. It follows the common liturgy and has regular small groups, but it also encourages genuine fellowship, both with God and each other. My impression of small groups (and still is) that they are not at all a “church growing” tool, but a more in depth and personal form of fellowship aside from the main congregation. I feel that small groups remind us that we are a family and can be very powerful tools to effectively prepare the church to reach out.”

Joshua (Me): I believe in small groups. I too have been in the mainstream church for most of my life (since the sinful age of four). I’m a third generation pastor, and my family (Dad, uncle, brother, grandfather) has always been at the forefront of the mainstream movement in some regard. I’ve led small groups, helped build small group ministries, and attended countless groups, so please understand I truly have a heart for small group ministry.

Clearly there are thousands of amazing small groups just like yours across the country which are functioning wonderfully. I believe this is due in large part to the hearts of those involved in the groups, and has almost nothing to do with the strategy of the institution. However, it is very difficult to separate the two these days.

In my years of ministry there are few things which have remained the same, but one of the things that has remained consistent is this; small groups grow churches, and the primary purpose of small group ministry is church growth. One would be hard pressed to find a small group strategy launched by a church institution which was not first intended to grow the institution. Although small group ministries are presented to the congregation as fellowship gatherings, almost without fail, they are implemented by the leadership for growth. I can honestly say I have never been involved with a small group ministry that was launched for any other purpose. Fellowship, although a valued result of small groups, is a secondary concern to the institution.

I believe small groups are beneficial because they foster true interaction and relationship development. I believe small groups are great for the encouragement of the saints and I believe small groups are an essential part of spiritual growth. But, my heart is broken by the intentions with which they are frequently established, and at its roots this is where I see the problem.

What is the purpose of a small group? Why are small groups seen as supplemental to the “main gathering?’ I can’t help but wonder why the institution has to present small groups as secondary to the main service. Are small groups not “church?” In my opinion, small groups are presented as supplemental because they can be dangerous to the bottom line of the institution if not handled correctly. If small groups are presented as legitimate church services, countless people would never attend the big service. Why? Small groups are places where the church has the opportunity to be the church. They are intimate. They encourage interaction with the text, they allow for questions. Friendships are made, and lives are changed. Bottom line, it’s biblical and God blesses biblical. I’m not saying it’s the only way to do things, or that we should do away with big services, but doesn’t it seem that the paradigm is flipped around some how? Shouldn’t the big production services be designed to funnel people into small groups? There is a place for large Sunday morning gatherings, but in my opinion they should be secondary.

Unfortunately, if the institution allows the small groups to be seen as “church” the need for big organizations goes away. The results would be profound. Subsequently, small groups are billed as supplemental gatherings that help to keep people going through the week until the return to “CHURCH.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Conversation: Part One

I’ve started a conversation with a new friend on the “Christianity vs. Christian Spirituality” series I posted. I thought some of you might be interested in the dialogue. My new friend has some great insights into the subject and the conversation is thought provoking. Let me know what you think on the subject.

On the post-modern problem:

My Friend: “I also understand your position of starting a place like Tapestry Belltown, because many are repelled all together from the mainstream church. Sometimes the best way is to start over and lead by example…but I also get frustrated at the post-modern views that the western church has it all wrong. I think both sides have something to bring to the table.”

Joshua (Me): Although it may be hard to believe, I mostly agree with you on this issue! I do not advocate separating from the “mainstream church” in every situation, and I’m not a fan of the post-modern movement. In my opinion, the post-modern movement is nothing more than mainstream Christianity with a paint job. They paint the walls neutral tones, offer emo worship, light a few candle, curse a bit more, and use real wine for communion then call themselves post-modern. In addition, I don’t agree with, or appreciate their desire to through out the tradition church. However, I do believe the that the western church has lost sight of Christ’s heart.

I have an uncle who works with, and is part of the “who’s who” Christian world. He circumvents the globe multiple times a year, and consults the church at large. I only say this because he is a trusted voice in my life and in the lives of some very influence people in the Christian community whom I respect. Much of his research sits on the desks of pastors worldwide. I’ve had many conversations with my uncle and many like him about this very issue. The common theme of conversation is this; the western church is completely lost. The international Christian community is now targeting the west for missions. The church is growing at staggering rates worldwide, but is drastically declining in the west. We’re opening a couple thousand churches a year in the U.S., but we’re closing several thousand. The decline is widely attributed to poor leadership, and apathetic believers. Christians in the west are so tied to their institutions; they’ve lost sight of being the church and reaching the world surrounding them. People are blindly following leaders who are leading them to nothing.

I will never separate from the “mainstream” church, but if I have to separate from the institution to accomplish the work of the kingdom, I will. Sadly, after countless conversations with countless pastors, I don’t see much hope for the institution. George Barna recently said that he believes the majority of mainstream church institutions will close their doors in the next 15 to 20 years. I don’t know if this is true or not, but what I do know is that the numbers continue to point in this direction.

To be honest, in my opinion, there is no such thing as the mainstream church. If we were to accurately describe the situation, we would call it the “Institution of the past.” The church is simply the church. Some of the church is wrapped up in the institution, and part of it is not. I love the church, but I don’t believe the institution can be retrofitted to be relevant again. Subsequently, I think the institution will soon be replaced, and many professing Christians will be lost, because they have no home.

If the church that is wrapped up in the institution is to be saved, it will take people who are willing to remain in the institution to be voices of change. The institution will go, but the church can be saved. In fact, much of my vision for Tapestry is rooted in this belief.

Tapestry is not an attempt to start a post-modern church, it’s not about being “emerging,” it’s not about being “progressive,” or anything of the sort. Tapestry is a result of exegeting an urban culture and finding ways to reach that culture for Christ. Seattle is the most unchurched city in the country, has the highest homosexual population pre-capita in the U.S, and is home to more dogs than children or Christians. In addition Seattle is less than 7% “churched, and the Belltown district is even worse. Belltown is Sodom and we have to find new ways to present Christ in one of the only remaining pre-Christian cultures in the country. The church has never taken root in this city and Belltown spits out church planters like a trucker sucking on sunflower seeds. Because of the extreme nature of our little sub-culture we are in a prime position to help educate the church within the institution of what is headed their direction.

Tapestry is designed to be a “Trusted voice of spiritual and cultural instruction…” We are about taking Christ to an extreme culture, and educating the church on how to do the same. What happens in the urban core will ultimately end up in the suburbs and if the institutionalized church is to survive they will have to adapt to meet the needs of a culture that is headed their direction. If they don’t…….their dead.

Friday, January 12, 2007

My Problem

I seem to have bloggers block!!! What's the deal?

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Beauty and the Geek

I’m about to admit something I’m not proud of. You ready for this? Okay, here you go; I am officially of a fan of Aston Kutchers show “Beauty and the Geek.” There, I said it; I’m out of the closet!!!

If you haven’t seen the show, try to catch an episode sometime. It’s a reality show that has focuses on 16 people living in a house. Eight of the people are beautiful women; the other eight are academically inclined men. Okay, honestly they’re the absolute perfect pictures of geeks. These guys are so far gone it’s not even funny! The show forces them into situations in which they have to challenge the boundaries of their comfort zones. The geeks are faced with social issues, and the women with academic. It’s really quite entertaining.

I mention the show because the other day they showed a re-run of the final episode from last season. The final two couples where interviewed and given the opportunity to share what they had learned. Every one of them said the same thing in one form or the other. The common thought was that we can learn something about ourselves from anyone. For some reason this has stuck in my head this past week and I’ve been thinking it through a bit.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that God has purposely created each of us unique. We’re like living works of art, and although some of us look similar, much like a painting, we hold our own unique qualities that set us a part from everyone else. Billions and billions of unique paintings living life every day knowingly and unknowingly affecting each others. Each of us has had different experiences that have shaped us into beautiful expressions of God’s creativity. It’s a beautiful thing.

What if we were to start living life with this perspective? What if we actually believed there was something beautiful and meaningful about every single person we come in contact with? As I read scripture I can’t help but notice that Jesus seemed to have this perspective on people. Aside from his obvious distain for the religious legalists, Jesus truly enjoyed the presence of people.

I wonder how I would treat people if I believed they were a beautiful work of art that held information I knew could be important for my life. Better yet, what if I believed it was important to God that I treated people this way? What if I saw a piece of God in everyone? I bet my perspective on people would be completely changed.

What about you? Do you see the beauty in people?