Posts tagged Evangelism
5 Beliefs That Kill Local Church Mission
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Last week, pastor Mike and I sat down for an interview titled, “How to Free Your Local Church from Last Generation Theology.”

The episode has quickly become one of the most popular for The Story Church Podcast which prompted Mike and I to agree to a follow up! That followup will be published next week (I hope), and for this week I do a follow up of my own by addressing 5 beliefs that kill local church mission in the Seventh-day Adventist movement.

Those 5 beliefs are:

  1. The belief that the law of God is an imposed legal construct.

  2. The belief that sin is a choice and not much more.

  3. The belief that we must become perfect to be saved (or for the Great Controversy to end).

  4. The belief that we alone have the truth (no one else!).

  5. The belief that our job is to warn the world about all the bad stuff.

Of course, there are other unhealthy beliefs that damage our capacity to do mission as local Adventist churches, but these 5 are the ones I highlight this week.

Check out the episode below! Don’t forget to subscribe, comment and share!

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Is Your Adventism Beautiful?
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Jewelry.

It’s a word that ruffles lots of feathers in Adventism. Some Adventists believe you can’t possibly be Adventist if you wear it. Other Adventists believe there is nothing wrong with it. And others still take a functional approach that supports the use of jewelry (like watches, tie clips, wedding bands) while rejecting jewelry that only serves adornment purposes (like ties I guess?). But to be honest, I kind of don’t really care. In fact, the whole debate pretty much bores me. But there is an angle on the whole theme of adornment and jewelry that I never hear during these debates, and its the one that I happen to find really interesting.

In Isaiah 61:10 the Bible says,

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Now notice the imagery here. The text is saying that God adorns us like a bride adorns herself in jewels. Picture that for a moment. A bride getting herself ready for her wedding. She is careful to comb and braid her hair just right. Her skin is brushed to perfection. She hangs a necklace around her neck and earrings that match. The jewels themselves can’t be just any old jewel. They have to be just right - not so strong that they steal the show and not so weak that they look out of place. They have to compliment her eyes, her dress - even the shape of her jaw and the length of her neck. It’s a work of art intended to enhance her beauty and draw attention to her joy.

The Bible says that this is what God does for us. He adorns us. He clothes us in his promise of salvation, in a robe of his perfect life and love. The picture Isaiah is painting is clear. God isn’t interested in dragging us into a religion full of rules and weird standards. The exact opposite is happening. God courts us romantically and then, the day we embrace him, he adorns us in all the beauty heaven has to offer.

In other words, God wants us to be beautiful.

David put it best in Psalm 90:17 when he wrote, “let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us…”

In other words, its not simply that God adorns us with his grace and forgiveness. According to David he adorns us with himself. He is like a jewel that enhances our beauty and draws everyone’s attention to his heart. (Too bad this amazing point is often absent in our silly debates over jewelry.)

But it goes deeper than this. God is not simply an adornment upon you and me that others see when they interact with us. Instead, the Bible paints an even crazier picture. Notice what Isaiah says in chapter 62 verse 3.

You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us!

Did you catch that? Not only does God adorn us with himself, Isaiah goes so far as to say that he adorns himself with us! Imagine God placing a crown on his head, or a royal ring upon his finger. That crown and that ring represent you and me. It’s not that God needs us to make himself more beautiful because he is the height of beauty. However, in some weird way I don’t fully understand God still describes his people as jewels he wears upon himself. I would suggest that because the great controversy is a battle over the character of God - is he good or not? - then the biblical picture of God wearing his people as jewelry has theodical significance. In other words, when we live beautiful lives we beautify God in the eyes of people who think he is ugly. Our lives are the jewels that catch their attention and enable them to see the true beauty of his heart.

Zechariah also captured a similar picture when he wrote, “The LORD their God will save his people on that day as a shepherd saves his flock. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” (Zech. 9:16) and speaking through the prophet Haggai, God said to Zerubabbel, “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you…” (Haggai 2:23)

So let me ask again. Is your Adventism beautiful? Is your faith like a jewel that God would want to wear? Because buried beneath endless ping pong battles over whether jewelry is cool or not lies a narrative significantly more meaningful and important for us to ponder. I have never met a lost person who rejected church or Christians because they wore too much jewelry. But I’ll tell you what I have met - countless people who have turned away from God because supposed believers live lives that make God look ugly. Judgmental, arrogant, disconnected, sectarian, holier-than-thou, argumentative, critical, fault-finding, condemnatory, negative, obsessed with rules, traditions and mindless customs, tossed around by conspiracy theories and full of hatred toward those different from themselves. That’s the sort of stuff that makes God look ugly. Not your necklace or wedding band but your character.

So my question today is, is your Adventism beautiful? Is your life beautiful? Are you adorned with the character of Jesus? Are you kind, fun to be around, and encouraging? And on the flip-side, if you were a jewel would he put you on? Would your life be filled with care for the poor, the vulnerable and the lonely? Is it the kind of life that would make others say - “wow, God really is beautiful.”

The answer to these simple questions is the difference between a life of missional effectiveness and failure. So today I want to invite you, regardless of what your convictions on jewelry are - stop and think if you are adorned in the beauty of God and if, in turn, God would adorn himself with the beauty of you.


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My Top 3 Frustrations as an Adventist Pastor
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I have been in full-time ministry now for four years. However, I have been involved in volunteer ministry for well over a decade. I started preaching when I was 17, and since then I have also done youth ministry, worship ministry, health ministry, evangelism and outreach. So while I have titled this post, "My Top 3 Frustrations as an Adventist Pastor" what I share has been on my mind long before I became one.

At the moment, our church is hashing it out with various issues that impact us worldwide. There is lots of heated debate on the union and conference levels over things like authority, ordination and hermeneutics. And while these massive debates can be frustrating, the truth is they are not anywhere near my top 3. Rather, those spots are reserved for issues that are much smaller, and yet arguably more important. So here are my top 3 frustrations as an Adventist pastor:

1. Our desperate need for a giant caffeine overdose.

No, I don't promote the use of coffee but don't miss the point. While coffee isn't exactly good for you, sometimes I wish I could spike everyone's potluck juice with two or three Allmax caffeine tablets. Maybe then we will find the energy to actually get up and do something?

OK, so maybe that's a bit polemic, but hear me out. At nearly every church I have ever been to, the pattern is identical. Eighty percent of people are mere spectators while twenty percent invest themselves year after year in service and mission (this is why no one gets excited about being in the Nominating Committee). And I'm not the only one. Most of the pastors I talk to have the same drama. And no one seems to know what the solution is. It's like many of us are super content to just show up, watch the church leaders do their thing and then go home. With that kind of culture, there is just no way the church can ever grow.

However, I have concluded that the current state of member involvement has less to do with the members themselves and more to do with a church structure that doesn't encourage involvement on any level. So it's not simply our members who need an Almax, our leaders need a double dose themselves. Maybe then we will find the energy to finally recreate our church structure into something more empowering? 

Solution:

Adventist leaders need to stop pretending that the 80/20 principle is normal. As already mentioned, I personally believe it is the result, not of lazy Christians (though that's there too) but also of a system that is designed to encourage passivity. We need to restructure the way our churches operate to encourage and reward involvement. 

For a simple approach to restructuring your church for missional success, check out the 7-day video course "The Church Optimizers Online Course." To gain access, subscribe here.

2. Our Forgotten narrative.

Adventism has the most beautiful theological system I have ever encountered. And believe me, I have studied many of them. Calvinism, the Westminster Confession, the Second London Baptist Confession, Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology, Arminian-Wesleyanism, Catholicism and on and on. And in my estimation, none of those theological narratives are as compelling and beautiful as Adventism. But most of our members seem to be totally unaware of this. It's like they have forgotten, or perhaps never really known, what our story is.

On the other hand you have those who haven't forgotten what makes us unique, but have taken that narrative and divorced it of Jesus. This results in the imbalanced and repulsive theology so prevalent in many Adventist circles. And what do you get when you have a group of people who have forgotten Jesus in their story? You get a bunch of bored folk who argue and bicker about all kinds of dumb stuff. When we lack vision, we perish.

Solution:

I wrote a book on this titled "Why is Adventism So Weird?". You can download it here, read it and share it's challenge with your church family.

3. Our Severe lack of excellence.

I don't know if this is just a Sevvy thing, but boy do I see it a lot. Somehow, there is this cultural pattern among us that settles for mediocrity. Our churches look atrocious. Our services are boring. Our ministries are vague and uninteresting. Our Sabbath Schools are irrelevant. Our corporate worship vibes are substandard. Our websites, if we even have one, look like they were designed in the 90's. And if you ask me how many churches I have been to with a carpet that was laid in the 70's I honestly can't remember. I have lost count.

Sometimes we try and baptize our lack of  excellence with religious platitudes. "It's all about the Holy Spirit" or "All we need is the truth, not these other things" etc. etc. And I agree that those things are most important. But since when did they become excuses for mediocrity? If anything, they should be motivations for a greater commitment to excellence. After all, it was the Holy Spirit who enabled artists to design one of the most compelling ancient works of art - the Hebrew sanctuary.

Solution:

If you iron out the first two points made above, a commitment to excellence will follow naturally. Church members need to come to the realization that we are not there for ourselves. This can only happen if we restructure our local church to promote a missional culture and begin celebrating our narrative in that process.

So there you have it guys! Top 3 frustrations as an Adventist pastor. Do you have any (with solutions)? Share them below!

How to Become a RELEVANT Church
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What does it mean to be a Relevant church?

Is it all about having an edgy building, slick graphics on all your designs, a pastor in skinny jeans with tattoos and a cool band? Or does Relevance go way deeper than all of this?

Is "Relevance" reserved only for big, wealthy churches? Or it possible for a small Adventist church with outdated facilities and limited budget to become a Relevant church? If so, then how? What is the secret?

These are the questions we tackle in this months Pomopastor Podcast interview with pastor Ben Tavao, a leader and practitioner in the pursuit of relevance for Adventist churches..

Listen below!

3 Ways Adventist Churches Fail Parents
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Are you a parent?

If so, I dedicate this weeks blog to you. Because I too am a parent, and I have to admit - it's not easy.

But let me start with a quick illustration to set the foundation for what I will say next. When I was in Army basic training I noticed something interesting. The training itself wasn't actually that hard. I had been a wrestler in high school and when it came to physical training, I found that ten times harder. And yet, basic training remains one of the most difficult things I ever did. The reason is simple: sleep deprivation. Somehow, everything gets 20 times harder when you are sleep deprived. Tasks that you would normally be able to do with relative ease, become nearly impossible.

But basic training isn't the hardest thing I have ever done. Parenting is. Because now you can add emotional deprivation to your sleep deprivation and suddenly, the simplest tasks become overwhelming. As Emily Morrice noted in her article, "Moms with Hands Full Need the Church"

With young children, everything is more difficult. 
— Emily Morrice

That includes church. If something as simple as leaving the house or getting inside the car becomes ridiculously difficult with kids, can you imagine going to church? If you are a parent, you don't need to. You already know - its insane.

But here's the thing - even though life is difficult with kids there are ways to make things easier. There are all kinds of tools and resources to alleviate some of the stress. Nowadays, there are even barber shops designed just for kids with airplanes and fire engines for them to sit in during their hair-cut. It's genius! But in my estimation, when it comes to making worship meaningful for the family, the local Adventist church is generally way behind. Here are 3 ways in which we fail our families and what we can do better.

1. Stares and Comparisons

There is nothing worse for a parent than a kid throwing a tantrum in church. Oh wait, yes there is something worse. A kid throwing a tantrum in church with everyone staring and no one offering to help. Yep. That's definitely worse. And it happens all the time.

But I can also think of one other thing that's worse. Parents asking church leadership to think of ways to make the church experience easier only to be met with "Well, when I had little children we did it like this" or "My kids never acted like that". The message behind these comparisons is clear: "You are not as good a parent as I was because if you were you wouldn't be having any problems." But this is nonsense. Kids are different, some high energy and others low. And parents are different as well and have different stress limits. Comparing is a sure way of saying, "We don't really care about you."

The solution to this is a cultural shift and cultural shift only happens in conversation and relationship. Many of our churches lack in relationship (In Natural Church Development surveys, Adventists consistently score low in the "relationship" side of things) and this is the only real way to change culture. But this is a long journey. In the meantime, I encourage pastors to find ways of speaking possitivity into this space either through sermons, comments or a church email newsletter. I also encourage churches to create a space for parents to gather and worship together and to find an advocate for those parents who can develop ways of making life easier for them. This can be either an individual or a committee specifically assigned to that task (if the situation calls for it).

2. Substandard Parenting Rooms

I don't know how many Adventist churches I have been to with substandard parenting rooms. Whether they are way too small, under resourced, isolated from the main service or difficult to enter and exit with a pram the message these rooms communicate is "you aren't that important to us".

Churches, especially the older ones, need to prioritize a renovation budget and plan for their parents room and make it a space that nurtures the parents church experience rather than hinder it. If a renovation is out of the scope of reality, there are still other things that can be done. The bottom line is this: Most local SDA churches don't have a lot of budget invested in the children's department and yet, these are the ages where kids are already cementing their decisions for Christ. For example:

The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%)...
— Barna Research

In light of this, we need to invest way more in our kids ministry than we do anywhere else.

3. Lack of consideration

I don't know how many times my wife has said to me, "why do I even come to church?" The kids don't listen, act up the whole time, which means she cant listen, worship or do any church thing. She either ends up sitting in the substandard parenting room or takes the kids to the car and sits there until I'm done preaching. Grant it, part of the problem is she doesn't always have my help because I have to preach. But I have spoken to many other parents who tell me the same thing. Some go to Sabbath school, and then leave right after because, whats the point of even trying to go to the main service?

At this point some people pipe up with the old, "If you don't take them, how will they learn to sit in church and behave?" Let me tell you why I absolutely despise that argument: because its d.u.m.b. 

I have seen plenty of people come to church for the first time ever with their nine or ten year old kids, and the kids sit perfectly still. They had no practice or training whatsoever. But hey, they were so well behaved! Know why? Because they are old enough to sit still. This whole, "you need to drag your 3 year old into this horrendously boring experience every week and then get mad at them and tell them off for not doing something a 3 year old is not meant to do anyways so that they can learn to do it" is utter nonsense. The real problem is our church services are never designed with kids in mind. They are designed to meet the needs of adults who favor a verbal-logical learning style (ignoring other learning styles such as visual, aural, physical and social). As a result kids, as well as teens and youth, tend to get bored. But for me, the worst part is seeing young moms who are single and seeking God come to church and have to leave early because their kid threw a tantrum. So this isn't simply an inreach issue, its an outreach one as well.

My suggestion is, we need to develop worship gatherings that can speak to every learning style and make life easy for parents with kids. A church designed exclusively for the verbal-logical doesn't have room for kids. They are a nuisance because they are loud and don't sit still. But a church gathering designed to incorporate movement, visual art, social interaction and sounds is a good place to start. Alternatively, a children's church running alongside the main service can work as well. But my main point is this - make the incorporation of children in worship an active and intentional part of your worship planning. If you take that first basic step, you will find and develop solutions that work in your local context.

Comment Questions

What other ways can local Adventist churches make church more meaningful for parents of young children?


Sources:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/moms-with-hands-full-need-the-church/

https://www.barna.com/research/evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids/

Top 3 Adventist Church Growth Myths
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Click here for video version.

Click here for audio version.

Do you want your church to grow?

I hope your answer to this question is a resounding "yes". Because if it isn't, seriously - what gives?

Of course, you may be skeptical about the church-growth movement with its "seeker-sensitive" approach and that's OK. You don't have to like that model. But you should still want your church to grow - not for the sake of measuring numbers like some corporate entity, but because God himself wants this. The apostle Peter makes this clear when he said, 

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
— 2Peter 3:9

God wants to save everyone! So should we.

But here is where things get weird. Regardless of how Adventists relate to "church growth" there seems to be a set of myths that accompany us when it comes to this topic. So in today's post, I want to talk about the top 3 I encounter in the many conversations I have on this topic.

Myth #1: God doesn't care about quantity, he cares about quality. 

The idea behind this myth is that God isn't interested in numbers joining the church but in true disciples who are walking with him. While this is true, the main problem with this statement is that it posits an "either-or" mentality. The truth is, God is interested in numbers as well! In fact, as we saw above he wants to save everyone. And the Bible uses growth language repeatedly to reflect this:

  • Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)
  • The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
  • But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. (Acts 4:4)
  • After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

Of course, God doesn't care about numbers in the sense that a corporate marketing department does. He cares for each of us personally. We are not metrics to him, but family. However, there is a sense in which he cares about the growth of the church and celebrates it. So here is the truth: God cares about both quantity and quality. So should we.

Myth #2: My church can't grow because its too traditional.

This myth is often accompanied by a series of other myths such as:

  • We need a contemporary church service or we wont grow
  • The people in this church are too conservative. Until they change the church will stay stuck.
  • If only we could modernize our music and service style, the church would grow.
  • Our youth are leaving because they find the service boring. We need to make it more hip.

You get the point. And here is the problem with this myth. First of all, after reviewing lots of different surveys conducted by Barna Research and Natural Church Development I have found zero correlation between contemporary music and church growth. Youth retention studies have also found that the issue of music doesn't even make it to the top ten reasons why youth leave or stay. Seriously, you don't need a contemporary church service to grow. There is no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that (and this is coming from a guy who loves contemporary worship).

The other problem with this myth is that it creates a practically unsolvable problem. Unless we can somehow convince every single Adventist on the planet that they need to be contemporary then we simply wont grow. If we tried that approach, the church would be locked in ideological warfare for the next 100 years. Seriously, the worship wars of the 90's are so over. Contemporary worship is nice, but it's not a hill worth dying on. You can grow your church without it.

I am currently pastoring two traditional churches. While the work there has only just begun both churches are showing signs of revival and growth. And we haven't changed a thing about their traditional culture. Instead, we have focused on what really matters: peoples lives. So here is the truth: When you focus on developing a positive and inspiring culture that impacts the lives of people, your church will awaken and grow.

Myth #3: All we have to do is be faithful to the truth and God will take care of the growth.

Yes and no. Yes. We have to be faithful to the truth. But no, God will not magically grow the church just because we are being faithful to the truth. I don't know how many Adventist churches I have been to with this mentality and rather than growing they are dwindling. 

The fact is, God gave the administration of the church over to human-kind. He blesses it, leads it, guides it and empowers it. Without him at the helm, we can do nothing. But when it comes to administering our resources and reaching the lost - he gave that task to us. We are the ones that have to plan, devise methods, develop strategies and put in the hard yard to get the work done. Yes, be faithful to the truth. But do more than that. Develop a simple and effective plan for how you are going to reach your community and get to work. Here is the truth: God is not going to administrate the church for you, that's your job. Your church clerk is not going to receive an email from heaven with a detailed community outreach plan for your church. You have to do it. And if you don't, get ready to age and die.

These are the top 3 Adventist church growth myths I have encountered. What myths have you encountered? Share them in the comments below.

Replacing Tradition with Creation
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When it comes to the conversation of Adventism, the church and our struggle to fulfill the great commission one word comes up more than any other:

TRADITION

Yep, that's right. I said the "T" word. A word which, in some sectors of Christianity is almost a cuss-word. A word which invokes emotional responses that vary from warmth and appreciation to disgust and aversion. I have concluded that no conversation on mission can ever occur without a season of wrestling with the "T" word.

Now here's the thing I have learned. Tradition is not a bad thing. Everyone likes it. Traditions are nice. They help create artistic and meaningful expressions of faith that we can celebrate. The problem emerges when tradition morphs into commandment. When the church comes to the place that it is unwilling to change, adapt or evolve on a non-essential simply because we have "always done it this way". And the end result of this attitude is missional ineffectiveness.

Don’t be a traditional Adventist. Be a creational Adventist. 

The only solution is to replace tradition with the powerful, theologically intense foundation of creation. If we, as a church, model our ministry and culture after God's creative heart we will be constantly creating new traditions that are meaningful to emerging generations and cultures. Its not about doing away with tradition, its about subverting it to a theological commitment to creation.

In other words, don't be a traditional Adventist. Be a creational Adventist. 

The best part is, there is already a huge movement of creational Adventists sweeping the church. This month, I interview a young, up-coming millennial pastor at Avondale university on  his vision for the future of Adventist evangelism and how creativity can restore missional effectiveness to our church. Check it out below!

To check our Lachland Harders project on creativity, visit The Worship Collective.

5 Types of Adventist Churches that Need to Go Extinct
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If you have followed my blog for any number of months you probably found it hard to miss the fact that I am freakishly in love with Adventism. That doesn't necessarily mean I am a fan of the local SDA church through. Adventism is a story and the local SDA church is the organization that is committed to telling that story. The story I love. The organization - not always.

Now allow me to clarify. I am not one of these anti-institution people. I do believe that institution has its place and I like it so long as it stays in its place (a dif topic for a future post). But sadly, the institution can, at times, step into a lane it doesn't belong in and when it does the story gets muddled. Below are 5 kinds of Adventist churches that get in the way of Adventism.

1. The "We're It" Church

Ever been to a church where the people feel like they are the only faithful Adventists left? "We're it" is the message you get when you go there. This kind of mentality breeds big heads - people who think way more highly of themselves than they should. It also breeds lots of complaining and whining about "those other churches", conspiracy theories about pastors and church leaders and unhealthy seperationism. The problem with these churches is they are so caught up in how right they are (and how wrong everyone else is) that they don't have the capacity to be missional.

2. The "Way-too-Faithful" Church

I once belonged to a church (that shall remain nameless) that was obsessed with being faithful to God. Now, allow me to be really clear here. There is no way to be "too faithful" to God. All Christians should aim to be radically faithful. But this church was different. It wasn't simply being faithful to what God had said. It wanted to go beyond what he had said. It would be like a husband telling his wife, "I will always be faithful to you and never run off with another woman. In fact, I will never speak to any woman ever again!" That's what you call being "way too faithful" which in all honesty, is not faithfulness at all.

Sadly, most western Adventist churches I have been to are like this. This is the result of two things. 1) The natural human inclination to focus on our own works and, 2) The work of independent ministries who market directly to peoples fears and insecurities. These ministries, all competing for the same churches to bring them in, have to develop unique selling points that appeal to the minds of people. So most of them operate off a "warning message" kind of marketing that makes people feel that there is this new spiritual danger lurking around that they need to be warned about. The end result is a culture of distrust that stunts the church's missional capacity.

3. The "By the Book" Church

This is the kind of church that is so committed to doing things by the book they could care less about anything else. Are the youth leaving? Have we baptized no one in 3 years? It's all good. We are sticking to the book and that's all that matters.

If you try and raise a discussion about adapting or innovating the way the church functions in order to facilitate discipleship and mission you get shut down quick. There is no flexibility. "We must do the right thing even if everyone leaves" they will say. Sadly, 9 times out of 10, the things they are being so rigid about are nowhere to be found in the Bible. These churches would do well to redefine their culture with Paul's words: "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15:19).

4. The Nostalgic Warriors Church

A few years ago I was part of a nice and friendly church that shall also remain nameless. They spent years raising money for a new building and when they finally got it everyone was excited. The building was modern and had plenty of growth potential. But despite the new building, everything else remained exactly the same. The culture, structure and function of the church was not adapted in any way to facilitate growth. An ancient lectern was placed at the front of this modern church building that I feel captured the ethos of that community well. They were too in love with the way they had always done things and nothing was going to get them to change.

5. The "We're So Tired" Church

These churches come in two flavors. The mission-less flavor and the missional flavor.

The mission-less flavor kind are the ones that invest all of their time, energy, resources and focus on in-reach. You look at their yearly calendar, scan through the treasurers report or simply hang out with them for a week and you will discover these people place 99% of their church emphasis on themselves. They are tired of evangelism, outreach and mission. So they stop talking about it.

The missional one is different. It tends to be a reaction to all these other churches. Rather than recover the beauty of Adventism for everyone to see, these churches tend to assume that the problem with all the other churches isn't simply their structure but Adventism itself. They are so tired of the legalism and rigidity that they conflate those experiences with the Adventist worldview and then take the doctrines they don't like very much and store them away in the basement. The ones they do like they emphasize till they are blue in the face. The problem with both of these churches is that they are ineffective when it comes to the mission that gives Adventism its identity.

All of these churches, in my estimation, need to go extinct. Some will probably die a natural death since they have no life in them anyways. But if we are not careful, the cycle can repeat itself with different colors. Satan doesn't want the church to succeed and he has a thousands tricks up his sleeve to stop it. And the only solution is for the members, leaders and pastors of the local Adventist church to focus on Jesus and the mission he has given us at any cost to ourselves.

Rather than dying on the hill of tradition, live on the hill of innovation. Enter into eternity knowing you did everything so that by all possible means you "might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Why is Church So... Blah?
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Have you ever felt like church just doesn't seem to matter? I mean, its cool and all. It's not like you are angry at the church or with anyone in particular. It just seems as though the only major thing that would change if you stopped going was how you spent your Sabbath morning which is quite often kind of, well, blah...

If you have ever felt that way, consider yourself totally non-weird. Many people, especially in today's generation, feel that way. In fact, many pastors feel that way and I am definitely one of them. I'm not a huge fan of "church" and there is so much about it that I simply don't connect with.

However, there is something weird about all this. Whenever I read about the church in the New Testament I get stoked. I especially love the book of Acts which chronicles the journey of the early church. But for some reason that sense of excitement hasn't always transferred into my local setting. It's almost as if there is a big difference between the church in Acts and the church in my city. One is pretty cool. The other is... blah?

But why do we feel this way? Is it because the Acts church was perfect? Not at all. They were messed up. In fact, the New Testament testifies to how messed up the early church was (one church even had a guy hooking up with his stepmother!). They were certainly far from perfect. Is it because the Acts church was trendier? No. There were no hipsters then. They didn't even have a Snapchat account.

And yet, when I read about the church in Acts one thing is clear. They lived and died for the kingdom of God. They impacted the world around them. They were a force to be reckoned with. If you left the church, it wasn't just your Sabbath morning that changed, it was your everyday life that changed. Church wasn't simply a tack on to the week - a religious ritual to adhere to. Church was a movement, a way of life, identity, purpose, and the force that was responsible for ushering in the kingdom of God. Perhaps few have said it as well as Francis Chan:

Church today has become predictable.... You go to a building, someone gives you a bulletin, you sit in a chair, you sing a few songs, a guy delivers maybe a polished message, maybe not, someone sings a solo, you go home.

Is that all God intended for us?
— Francis Chan

I think that closing question is one all of us can relate to. And yet, here is another question. Is there hope? Can the modern church go back to its roots? Can we restore what it means to be the church?

I believe the answer is Yes. However, it will never happen if we all sit around and wait for the leaders to do it. Leaders are amazing, but they also have a lot on their plate. The typical pastor is dealing with interpersonal tensions in the church, administration challenges, families going through crisis and theological controversies threatening the church's unity. If you think you can just tack on "church revival" to his or her list of things to do, then make sure you get a comfy chair. You are going to be waiting a while. 

My belief is this. Pastors need to commit to church revival yes. But it begins with the everyday church member. You are the one with the power. Most pastors will support any initiative for church revival and optimization if they know there is a core group in the church already working in that direction. But if they are the ones who have to initiate and run the entire thing, its often impossible.

So I want to challenge each of you to go against the current. I want to challenge you not just to be counter-cultural in this sinful world but to be counter-cultural in the church. Stand up and make a difference. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Don't be discouraged. Yes, the church is quite often comfy and doesn't want to do much but that should not surprise us. Jesus told us the tares will remain with the wheat until the final judgment and the book of Revelation also predicts the Laodecian phase of the church. It's to be expected so don't let it wear you out. Fight for change knowing that God is on your side. 
  2. Don't complain. Do something! Leaving the church because its dead, or gripping about what is wrong with it wont do a thing. Instead of criticizing the church lead the church. Critics may have good points but they are all yap. Leaders on the other hand zip their lips and get to work. 
  3. Find your passion in building the kingdom of God and milk it for all its worth. Get books on it. Watch videos or read stories of other people who are doing the same thing. Get stoked! And get to it. 
  4. Surround yourself with people who feel like you. Yes, they can be hard to find. I get that. But the beauty of the modern age is, if you cant find anyone locally you can still connect with people who share the same burden all over the world. Join a Facebook group! I currently host a group with over 300 members called "Adventist Evangelism & Church Optimization Group" where we share, inspire and challenge each other. Join us here!
  5. Start a ministry. Anyone can do this. You don't need permission. Start it and get people plugged in. Take advantage of the networks you built in step 4 to gain wisdom, insight, and encouragement. On the other hand, consider joining an existing ministry if you have the chance. 
  6. Remember your circle of influence. God hasn't called you to change the entire world. He has called you to be faithful to your particular circle of influence. So stick to that or else you will burn out. 
  7. And lastly, keep yourself entirely connected to Jesus. After all, its his kingdom we are building not our own. 

If each of us where to do this we can begin to restore a sense of relevance, purpose, and fire to our local church. It's certainly not easy but nothing of value in life ever is.

Note: This article was originally published at www.livingstonsda.church/livo-blog

12 Ideas for Reviving Your Local Adventist Church
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One of the most common complaints I run into from Adventists who want to see their local church do amazing things is this: "No one cares."

In other words, optimizing the local church is exhausting because they are the only ones who are pursuing this goal. Everyone else is content to just sit there and do nothing (best case scenario) or constantly get in the way of progress (worst case scenario). Over time, these passionate Adventists burn out and give up. It's just way too hard.

But allow me to give you a bit of perspective. Before I do I have a question. If you lived to be 80 years old, how many weeks of life do you think you have left? Think about it. Say the number out loud. Or write it down.

According to Facebook Analytics, the vast majority of Adventists engaging the conversation on church optimization are millennials. So lets go with someone 28 years old. If they lived to 80, that's another 52 years of life (even if they lived beyond 80, a persons influence usually starts to drop significantly by then). Now multiply those 52 years by 52 (the amount of weeks in a year) and you will arrive at 2,704. 

In other words, if you are 28 years old today, you only have 2,704 weeks of life left. Half of it is spent sleeping. 

Go back to your original answer. Was it anywhere near close? Maybe, maybe not. But here is the point. You don't have a lot of time. If you are older than 28, your have less weeks. And if you are younger, you don't have significantly more. In fact, a baby born today will only have about 4,000 weeks before they turn 80. Our life is, as the Bible says, "a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14).

The question is, what will you do with that time? How will you invest your vapor of a life? Will you make a difference in God's kingdom? Or will you allow the negative attitudes of others to stop you from doing what you have been called to do?

I hope you choose the first option. However, here is where I need to introduce a challenge. When I joined the Army at 18 years of age, I quickly learned the following phrase: "Work smarter, not harder." Solomon the wise put it this way:

If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.
— Ecclesiastes 10:10

Sadly, many church members and leaders I know who want to optimize their churches do not know how to work smart. They have a passion to see God's church grow into a relevant and world-changing movement and they go in, full steam, only to be met by opposition. So they tackle and blitzkrieg their way through. Sometimes they succeed. Most of the time they fail. All of the time, they burn out.

As church optimizers we need to learn how to work smart, not hard. We have to sharpen our axes so that cutting the tree down requires less strength. Below are 12 tips I have picked up along the way that have enabled me to make a difference in the churches I serve without burning out.

1. Find the Pain-Point

Here's the thing. Everyone has a pain point. Its human psychology. All of us have one. And the number one way to find support in a local church is to find the pain point of that local church. What is it that hurts so bad they are willing to do anything to fix or prevent it? You can tell a church "change or your youth will leave!" or "change or the church will die!" and they wont even bat an eye. So you assume these people just don't care. Not necessarily true. The problem is that "youth leaving" and "church dying" are your pain-points not theirs. Those are the things that motivate you to act. But they don't motivate them. So if you want support, you have to start with their pain-point, not yours.

How do you do this? You have to sit down with people and ask them the right questions. Listen to their stories. Ask them how they became Christians. Ask them how God has led them. And ask them what they fear the most for our church. That final question will give you an insight into their pain point. Then, after you have heard a few stories, craft your invitation to church optimization as a solution to their fears and pain-points. Not yours. 

2. Get an influencer on board

As you work to discover the pain-point in the church, identify who the main influencers are in that church as well. You don't need everyone on board. You just need the main influencers. If they buy into the church op. process, everyone else will follow. So make sure you get close to them and build strong relationships with them. Once they are on your side, the rest of the journey is super easy.

3. Become a sniper

Snipers are some of the deadliest and most feared combatants in the modern battlefield. They can take out an enemy a mile away without ever being spotted. The job of a sniper is simple, to take out one target at a time. They are never focused on more than one. They focus, shoot and then move on.

If you want to optimize your church you need to become as focused as a sniper. Dont try and do too many things at once. Develop a road map. Put your end-of-the-year goals down under December and then work your way backward. How will you achieve those goals? Every month of the year should have no more than 3 goals that will lead you toward your main goals at the end. Focus on those 3 goals month by month. Sort them out, and then move onto the next. Do not try and do too much at once. At times you will feel like progress is slow. But trust me, slow is good.

4. Ask them why

This one is easy. Try and have a conversation with everyone at your church. If it is a large church, aim for those most central to the movement of the church. If it is a small church, aim for everyone. Ask them this simple question, "Why does this church exist?" And write down their answers. Once you have visited everyone you will realize that 1) no one agrees on why, 2) if they do say the same answers they tend to be cliche and 3) most people will sit there for a while and think before answering which means they are basically making it up as they go. Make sure you record those answers. 

Once you have all the answers, present them to the church or leadership team. Show them how no one knows why the church is there. Create charts from them if you like (10% say this, 20 % say that) and stress that if we don't know why we exist, there is no way the lost people around us will know either. This will motivate the church to develop a clear and simple mission focus they can all unite on.

5. Ask them to grade themselves

Present the following quote to your church:

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”
— Ellen G White

Every Adventist loves this quote. Next, break the quote down into its verbs:

Reach (Evangelism) > Mingled (Fellowship) > Showed (Worship) > Ministered (Ministry) > Bade (Discipleship)

Ask the church to grade how they, as a local church, do in each of these areas using a scale of A to F. If they are honest you may end up with a pretty shocking grading scale. Ask them if this is OK. Once you are done, invite them to enter a season of prayer repenting before God for the way in which they have failed to fulfill his will for their church.

This step is not to be taken lightly and it is not to be treated as some gimmick. This is real, heart-wrenching stuff and only through the agency of the Holy Spirit can it be accomplished. So pray. A lot.

6. Get your ducks in a row

One of the worst things I have witnessed in church is when young people passionate about moving the church forward come up with an idea and present it to the board without having their ducks in a row. Church boards have a lot of stuff to handle, so if you are going to pitch an idea to them, it needs to be well thought through and ironed out.

Start by telling them how this idea will benefit God's kingdom. In other words, "What is in it for the Kingdom?" and make sure you get your main benefit across from the get go. Then, add a personal story that highlights why its important to you followed by a brief description of your project. The #1 thing you want to do when you describe your project is address their fears. For example, if your church is really scared of new trends that they fear will lead the youth astray, stress your commitment to the Bible and the values of your local church. Alleviate their fears and answer their questions before they ask. Finally, transition by addressing finances. How much will this cost? And how will the money be managed? This needs to be well thought through. End by confirming the value of your project and highlighting how it will positively benefit the local church.

Most board pitches I have seen start with a personal pain-point the board doesn't feel, and then proceeds to offer some solution that raises more questions than answers and ends by asking for money. This might work in some churches where the joy of seeing youth involved outweighs everything else, but it wont work in all of them. The sad part is people walk away feeling that the church doesn't support them, when in reality they simply made a proposal that caused more fear than hope. Whenever you pitch to the board, pitch hope.

7. Go with the flow

Remember that the SDA church has a structure for governance. The most powerful meeting at the church is the business meeting. So if you want to make a massive difference, make sure you have followed at least steps 1-5 above and then present your ideas at the business meeting. If you have gained the confidence of your church, you wont have any problems. Recall also that officers are elected via the selection committee which appoints the nominating committee which in turn nominates the new leaders. If you posture yourself as a leader, chances are you will be nominated for a leadership position. So go with the flow. 

8. Light a fire

The best way to light a fire in a local church is to start a small group. Find those passionate about church op. and gather together. Start a Friday night program or mid-week meeting and use it as an opportunity to read through a book or do some training on how to revive your local church. Be careful not to allow a negative spirit to dominate the group. Some complaining may be healthy as people get their disappointments off their chest, but quickly turn to solutions and the hope that we have in Jesus.

As you do this, the members of the group will light up and the fire will spread.

9. Create Memories

The key to intimacy in a church is the same as everywhere else: memories. You have to create memories. That's how people grow close together. So organize events, camps, leadership retreats etc. Have birth day parties for your older members, baby showers for the new moms etc. Making memories is the key to crafting an intimate church family.

10. Preach deep

If you have the opportunity to preach, go deep. Seriously, Adventists are a people of the book. It is in our DNA. Our tribe will never be compatible with the "motivation speech" or "positive thinking" approach to preaching. That stuff can be in your sermons. But make sure they are not the center. Adventism is about pursuing God's heart. And if you go deep, people will respect you.

11. Add, don't subtract

Never see your work as subtracting from what previous generations have done. See it as adding to their legacy. They have gotten us this far and its time we built on their foundation. You are not there to subtract. You are there to add.

12. Plant

All of the above tips will only work in a church that is relatively healthy. They may be dead or dying, but the people are still courteous and reasonable. This stuff wont work in a church hijacked by fanatical leadership and ideologies. If that is your case, check out episode two of the podcast here for some tips. If that doesn't help, you may want to consider moving on. If you have gathered a support group then explore the possibility of planting another church.

Whatever you do, don't give up. You only have about 2,000 weeks to work with. Make them count.

3 Must Have Elements for a Thriving Adventist Church
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In my last few years in full time ministry, first as a youth pastor and now as a senior, I have discovered that there are three must have elements to having a thriving church. The first two, I am sure you have all heard of at some point but the final one I honestly have never seen anyone address before. So, I would like to take some time to do so today. 

So here you go. The 3 must have elements for a thriving Adventist church:

1. Inter-Generational Worship. 

Inter-generational worship aims to foster intimacy and unity between all the members in the church regardless of age/ generation. Its about allowing the gospel to knock down those "baby-boomer VS millennial" walls by bringing us all together to nurture and empower one another.

Growing up, my church always felt like it lived in a perpetual state of "youth VS adults". Any church that has this kind of culture simply cannot thrive. However, there is hope! Research has shown that "warm intergenerational relationships... involving young people in every ministry has allowed... churches to thrive."[1] So how do you achieve this? Kaleb Eisele, founder of Humans of Adventism and social media manager for the Orangeburg SDA church, shares how his church worked to foster this inter-generational connection:

We started out by addressing the age gap first. We dedicated several sabbaths to exploring each living generation and what formed them, then had a Q&A where we got to talk with the members that belonged with each about things we didn’t understand. It was all about understanding each other better, not about who was morally superior. That opened up a ton of dialogue and relationships.

[We had five gatherings], each dedicated to a different generation: Silent, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. We used available statistics from Pew Research and the Barna Group, and a few books like James Emery White’s “Meet Generation Z.” There was a section for each on historical events that happened as they aged, a second section on trends and tendencies (political views, income trends, employment trends, religious affiliation, etc.). The last section was an open discussion...

The real key here was that it was intentionally open to the value of each generation and their skill sets. We went into this with the mindset that we wanted to work together as a church, but didn’t know how to do that effectively. In the end, a majority senior citizen church decided to support a lot of newer methods, even though they didn’t themselves want to carry them out. That support changed a lot for us.
— Kaleb Eisle

2. Multi-Cultural Community

Multi-culturalism in the church is also about allowing the gospel to break down the cultural walls that divide us. It's about people from all over the world being able to gather together and love one another unreservedly regardless of their diversity. Africans can worship with Asians, and Asians with Middle Easterns, and they in turn can worship with Europeans, Australians, Latinos and so on and so forth. While all of these cultures are diverse multi-culturalism in the church means that we can celebrate our diversity and honor the flavors we each bring to the family of God.

Before I move on allow me to say something I believe is important. A Multi-Cultural church is NOT the same as a Multi-Colored[2] church. Multi-Colored churches happen when a bunch of different cultures exist in one church and tolerate one another. In these kinds of churches, the diversity is not celebrated it is simply endured. Most of the time, the dominant culture ends up setting the tone for everyone else and you are considered a good member if you comply with that dominant tone. This is cultural negation at best, and the residue of colonialism at worst. Multi-Culturalism is about celebrating one anothers diversity, not tolerating it. Churches that are mono-cultural or Multi-Colored will never thrive because they are driven by a sense of cultural supremacy that has no place in the family of God.

Ashlee Holmes wrapped up the value of a multi-cultural church best when she wrote,

Though uncomfortable at times, the pursuit of multiculturalism in the Church isn’t just nice—it’s necessary. We ultimately develop richer, more wonderfully complex views of God and a deeper love and appreciation for one another when we choose to actively participate in one another’s stories that are different from our own, that originate from different places.[3]
— Ashlee Holmes

3. Poly-Expressional Culture

Remember what I said above about the one element that often gets ignored? Yeah, this is the one. So what exactly is it?

Every culture has subcultures. For example, in the USA where I am from there are a myriad of sub-cultures. There is the preppi, upper class culture, street culture, country culture, back woods culture, beach culture and on and on. Here in Australia there are the bogans, the bikies, the surfies and on and on. The point is that each of these subcultures express themselves in diverse ways. They may be from the same overarching culture, but they express themselves differently according to their sub culture. Those subcultures are what I refer to as "expressions".

Why does this matter? Because I have been to churches that have amazing inter-generational worship and are as multi-cultural as they come. It's amazing. The youth groups are strong. The worship service is inspiring. Everyone loves it! Unless...

Unless you are the young emo girl with black lipstick and piercings and people at church keep their distance because you are weird. At that point your multi-cultural and inter-generational gathering becomes exclusive. "You are welcome here, so long as you aren't too odd". Is the message that this girl receives.

Last week, I sat down in McDonalds with a bikie. He wants to follow God and loves the Adventist message but has stopped coming to church. When I asked him why his answer was clear, "I don't fit in". People at church were nice to him, but he was a bearded, tattooed guy with piercings all over his face and hair as long as Rapunzel (OK, I'm totally exaggerating but you get the point). But the real issue is that he came from a totally different world unfamiliar to most Adventists. He came from a world of drugs, women and violence and when he left church in the morning he was looking at another six days of that kind of environment. He eventually concluded that, while church was nice, he just didn't fit in with all those nice people.

Sometimes I feel like our churches are designed to assimilate anyone who is middle class and belongs to a sub-culture that is not too left of center. But the moment someone is, they no longer fit in.

A poly-expressional church is a church that is intentional about embracing and loving on anyone, regardless of their subculture. The preppies don't sit in one corner with the other preppies while the geeks sit in the other side of the room and the hipsters in the sound booth. The bogans don't hang out in the back row while the seasoned Adventists sit at the front. A poly-expressional church breaks down the dividing walls of sub-cultural expressions and makes everyone feel valued, welcome and loved not just "allowed".

So how do you foster this kind of culture in your church? I believe its the same way you foster all the other ones - intentional conversation. You have to name the elephant in the room and have healthy discussion on it. Host a series of afternoon talks on how to build truth seeking relationships with a diversity of subcultures and even highlight some of them and explain what their value structures are. That way people are informed and its no longer the unspoken thing floating around.

These 3 elements I believe are must-haves for any Adventist church that wants to thrive. I pray we can all have the conversations necessary in our local churches to foster this kind of space.

Questions for the Comments

  1. Which of the above is your church doing the best in? And which one needs more work?
  2. If your church has succeeded in one of the above elements (or more) tell us how!
  3. What do you think about the Poly-Expressional element? Do you agree that it is important? Or disagree?

[1] Embree, Christina. "Why Intergenerational Worship? And Why Now?", [Web: https://refocusministry.org/2015/08/17/why-intergenerational-worship-and-why-now/]

[2] Holmes, Ashlee. "Why Multiculturalism Is a Must for the Church" [Web: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/church/why-multiculturalism-must-church]

[3] ibid.

Quote by Kaleb Eisle: Posted as a comment in the Facebook Group "Adventist Evangelism & Church Optimizers Group" [Web: facebook.com/groups/pomopastor]

The One 'Success-Packed' Truth Every Adventist Church Needs

Did you know that there is one secret to building the kingdom of God? This one secret is the only thing that Christian's need to know to build God's kingdom. What is this one secret? First I want to give you an illustration.

One of the military's best land weapons was the infamous tank. Everyone is afraid of the tank. The combination of powerful weapons and thick armor makes it impossible to stop with traditional weapons. So when a tank shows up on the battlefield you run. And you run really, really fast.

The only way that you can effectively stop a tank and make it semi-useless in combat is if you somehow destroy the tracks/road wheels underneath. If you destroy those the tank will still be functional up top, but it will be unable to move and that in many ways renders the tank useless.



Now let's get back to the one's secret to building the kingdom of God. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a really effective worldwide ministry. We have a General Conference that's made up of divisions all around the world. Divisions are made up of regional conferences which are in turn made up of local churches. This system has enabled Adventism to move into the world with a worldwide mission and narrative that many other denominations can't even dream of. So in a sense, its an amazing and powerful system designed to be a universal voice and it has worked really well. (see video below)



However, when you think about this system it's kind of like a tank. The conferences and divisions are like the big bulky weapons and armor at the top. This is where most of the administrations takes place. This is where most of the legal issues are resolved. This is where a large percentage of our resources are financed and developed. And this is where personnel, finances, real estate and ministry departments are managed. The big bulky conferences and divisions are extremely useful and have served the church well. However, (and here is the clincher) everything the divisions and the conferences do is missionally useless if the local church is not functioning properly.

In other words if Satan wants to put a stop to the Seventh-day Adventist tank the only thing he needs to do is destroy the tracks/road wheels (local churches). If he can get the local churches to stop functioning, if he can prevent them from being successful and from optimizing their ministry to their local setting he succeeds in making the entire tank practically useless in the battle between good and evil.

Sure we can still produce resources like Sabbath school lessons and media of all kinds. We can still hire pastors and administrators, have a very strong legal support system and fantastic human resources running the background business of the church, but if the tracks are not spinning - if the local church is not moving -  then the mission of the church comes to a stand still.

In Ephesians 1:9-12 Paul reveals this: From the beginning of time God has had a secret weapon he would use to defeat evil. That secret weapon is the church. Not the institution we call church (top heavy stuff), but the gathering of broken God-lovers. This secret weapon is made up of messed up people who have tasted the grace of God and are in a transformation journey of love. And it is through them that God seeks to build his kingdom. An institution could never replicate such a thing. The beauty of this secret weapon can only be experienced in the local church. This is why the local church is the most important part of any denomination, especially the Adventist Church. As a worldwide movement we have the temptation to underplay the importance of the local church. Some may depend on the conferences, unions, and divisions to do the work of evangelism. Others sit back and expect the conference evangelist or some other "bulky initiative" to do the work of Kingdom building. Many more depend entirely on the local pastor. And while local churches are certainly expected to take advantage of all of these resources at their disposal, if we are not optimizing our ministries and aiming to be successful then we become stagnant and irrelevant. And its not just our local church that suffers. Once Satan has succeeded in neutralizing the local church then the whole Adventist tank becomes less effective. And the research-data that is coming to us shows that Satan has so far done a very good job.
The one "success-packed" truth every Adventist church needs to know is this: Your church matters infinitely both in its local work and in our global work. It's time we lived like it. The main avenue to build his kingdom is not through the avenue of the top heavy stuff. When it comes to movement and growth it's all about the local church. And while there is some bad news, the good news is this: If we revive our local Adventist churches, it's not just us who will benefit. The entire, worldwide Adventist tank will become more effective at demolishing the empire of Satan and building the kingdom of God.

How cool is that?

___

Quote: As quoted in: Zahid, Adrian. "Beyond the One project: The War Over the Local Church (5a)":https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/beyond-the-one-project-the-war-over-the-local-church-5a
     ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
Church is Not for Saints



How can we create a sense of connectedness within a church and between a church and its community?

One of the main stumbling blocks for many believers is that we have come to see ourselves as insiders to a certain club and everyone else as outsiders. While it is true that there are lost and saved, the idea that there are the insiders and outsiders does not follow. The tragedy is that for many being an "insider" leads them to see church as a place that exists solely or primarily for those with the "insider" card. Any talk of making the church relevant for "outsiders" is interpreted as a threat to Biblical faithfulness and orthodoxy.

In this mindset the church is an institution or a club where only a certain class are fully welcome. This picture of church is exclusive. So long as you fit the role perhaps you will be embraced. But if you don't fit the role, then your chances are better off elsewhere. In the best of cases, if you don't fit the role then so long as you make all the necessary changes to fit the role you can be allowed into the club. Unbiblical as this concept may be it is an accurate picture of what church has become for many. Over the centuries Christians have transformed the church into a citadel for saints. As such, we have become defensive about anything that appears to threaten the sanctity of this most sacred of places.

The Bible leaves little room to argue about what the church is. The Greek word church (ecclessia) literally means "community" or "group of people". Not once in the NT do we get the impression that church is meant to be an exclusive club that exists for the benefit of those who fit a certain criteria. Instead, the church is commanded to grow and embrace people of every nation, tribe, tongue, and culture (Matt 28). As such, this community of people exists for more than nurturing itself. It exists to embrace the "other" with intentional passion.

Likewise, not once in the NT do we get the idea that the church is a building. The NT uses repeated metaphors of the church such as "body of Christ", "bride of Christ", "pillar and foundation of truth". Only once is it described as a building and guess what? The stones that make up the building are people not slabs of carbon carbonate and granite (Eph 2:19-20). So this is not a literal building but a metaphorical one. Thus the church is not a place, it is a phenomenon. It is a people. And take a moment to think about that phrase "body of Christ". Why is the church referred to as the body of Christ? Well, what is the body of Christ known for in the Bible? It is known as that which was beaten, bruised, tortured, scourged, crucified, and killed for the salvation of humanity (1Corinthians 11:24). So if the church is the "body of Christ" I wonder, Should we be seeking to simply nurture ourselves? Or should we be seeking to become bruised and wounded for the salvation of our communities?

So if the church is not a fortress for saints or a physical building, then what is it? Clearly it must be a community for people on a journey with God. And note this: When it comes to seeking God we are all outsiders. None of us is on the inside. That's because none of us seek God (Rom 3:11). We are believers only because God has sought us (John 6:44). If there really is an "inside" you are there by virtue of Jesus' perfect life, death, and resurrection - not by virtue of your own character. In other words, I - a pastor - am as much an outsider to the family of heaven as is the militant atheist or the heroin supplier. The only reason why I am on the "inside" is because of the grace of God. But if it were not for that grace, I would be further on the outside than anyone I know.

So back to our initial question: "How can we create a sense of connectedness within a church and between a church and its community?" I would begin by rejecting the notion that there are insiders and outsiders. Sure there are saints and sinners. Found and lost. Redeemed and rebels. But there are no insiders and outsiders in the sense in which we use those terms. In reality, we are all outsiders. And those of us who are saved are saved simply because we responded when God sought us and pulled us out of our mess. However, if it were not for his atoning sacrifice we would have nothing within ourselves which we could offer as a qualification for heaven. It is Jesus-only that qualifies us and in the words of Billy Graham, "Christ belongs to all people. He belongs to the whole world."

And this is what the mission of the ecclessia is all about. God calls his family - those of us who have been adopted by his grace - to become his hands and feet toward those whom he is still chasing. To be the community for those whom he is seeking. To be the church for those whom he is pursuing. So if we want to hold on to the "insider/ outsider" concept I would argue that the church exists for the outsider. In other words, the church should not function merely for the nurturing of Christians. Instead, it should seek out every possible means by which it can make the journey of a seeker as simple and encouraging as possible. Surrendering the heart to Jesus is hard enough. We should not make the journey harder by creating a culture that only speaks to mature Christians. Instead, church should be a community that exists to aid in the repentant journey of the sinner rather than over-complicate it by catering only to those with the access card. As Paul so eloquently put it, "[W]e should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15:19).

Nevertheless, there are still people within this community at different stages in their faith journey. How do we help those who are further along without ignoring those who are just getting started?

First of, I would say that the greatest need of those who are further along is to be actively ministering to those who are lost. If you want to grow as a Christian go reach someone who is not a Christian. Sadly, many of us (myself included) have developed this cognitive approach to Christianity in which spiritual growth is related exclusively to theological knowledge. But such is not the case. You can be a knowledgeable Christian but that doesn't make you a growing Christian - it just makes you a smart one.* So if you are a believer and you want to grow in your faith then make your life's priority about reaching others.

But what about growth in theological knowledge? While my next two paragraphs would require an entire article all on their own, allow me to say it anyways: I grow increasingly skeptical of the idea that theology is meant to be split between newbies and old timers. The only reason why we do this is because us old timers often assume that newbie theology is all about Jesus while oldie theology is all about "other stuff" like prophecy or end time events. Sorry to start on something I wont be finishing here - but I just don't buy it. There is never a time where we ought to graduate from Jesus. Jesus should always be the center of everything we do and say. As such, I'm not convinced that Daniel and Revelation was written exclusively to help Jesus-veterans grow. In fact, God says he predicts the future to prove he is the one true God (Isa 41; 45:21). Sounds like something a newbie needs!

So what am I saying? That the theological bifurcation we often promote (Jesus for the newbies, Prophecy for the oldies) is lame. If Jesus is the center of everything we do then theology reclaims its role as the story of God - a story which puts broken lives together again. And everyone, both newbies and old timers should be constantly basking in the light of that story. Newbies don't need neutered theology and oldies don't need Christ-less discourse. All of us need the whole story as seen in Jesus-only.

So here is my summary. The church is not an institution. It is not a club. It is not a coterie, clique, inner circle, gang, band, clan, league, or alliance. There should be no in-crowd. There must be no access card. The church is not a place. It is not a location. It is not a site, spot, scene, setting, point, area, or region. The church should not be a building. It must not be a thing. Let it be a community for those seeking God. Let it be the body of Christ which was sacrificed on behalf of sinners by sacrificing itself constantly for the salvation of our fellow "outsiders" where we would all rightly be were it not for the cross. In short, let's stop adding our own agendas to what church is. Instead, let us simply allow it to be that which God intended it should be.

__________

*Thanks to Andy Stanley for this insightful concept in his book Deep & Wide.

     ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
Some Thoughts on Evangelism and Colonialism


Evangelism and Colonialism are not the same thing. Evangelism seeks to redeem a culture. Colonialism seeks to erase it. Evangelism is based on the idea that Gods common grace is active in every culture, thus no culture is 100% depraved. Colonialism is based on the idea that the enlightened culture is superior and is responsible to change all the other evil cultures around it which it views as 100% depraved. Evangelism is the naked gospel. Colonialism is cultural elitism. Evangelism says "Jesus is the only way. Follow him." Colonialism says "Western European values are the only way. Adhere to them." When we mix these two what do we end up with? Sermons on how other cultures are evil, books on why Hymns are the only "godly music", attacks against styles of music and dress not rooted in eastern European thought, the insistence that Western high culture is somehow holier than every other culture (ex. classical music is somehow holier than every other kind of music). What this does is erode a cultures uniqueness and beauty. It ignores the complex development of their customs, values and practices. It narrows everything down to "demon worship" or "savagery". It forces indigenous people to wear suits and ties in order to worship God and to adopt expressions of worship so foreign to their minds that in the end we have not simply converted them, we have subverted them as well. As a Latino I often wondered, why do we sing hymns and demonize our own cultural music? Don't get me twisted. I love hymns. But what happened to the music of my island? Was it not good enough? The only answer I got was that it was carnal music with roots in African pagan worship whose entry into worship reflected a moral decline and was evidence that the "world was coming into the church". In other words, my culture was 100% depraved and thus needed to be subverted by the holier "Western high culture". It wasn't until I got older that I learned that it wasn't only the church that thought this way.

Negermusik ("Negro Music" also referred to as "degenerate music") was a pejorative term used by the Nazis during the Third Reich to signify musical styles and performances by African-Americans that were of the Jazz and Swing music genres. They viewed these musical styles in a racist fashion as inferior works belonging to an "inferior race" and therefore prohibited (the Nazis promoted German composed classical music such as Beethoven as "good music"). The term (Neger/Degenerate music), at that same time, was also applied to indigenous music styles of black Africans.[1]

So I have begun to wonder, is the combination of colonialism and evangelism the true entry of the "world into the church"? Is the current cultural rejection of the church - oddly combined with an endearment to the person of Jesus - the results of this unholy union? Is the perpetual racism that exists among us rooted in this deeply entrenched mental grid we have come to view as normal? And how do we demolish this grid without swinging too far in the other direction?

Degenerate Music: A reckoning by state council H. S. Ziegler, PhD

The gospel never accommodates culture. It challenges it. And any element of a culture that is contrary to the way of Jesus is something that culture will have to wrestle with and put away. But that's much different to colonialism which assumes that because an indigenous culture worships some god or idol then they are 100% depraved. What many westerners don't realize is that our culture is also idolatrous. Only our idols are far more deceptive because they are ideological idols. Western culture worships individualism, consumerism, elitism, and intellectualism. Not to mention we have been deeply formed by the culture of Romanism. So if African idol worship results in - say - a particular style of drumming that must be rejected by believers how does western idol worship play into this? Does it impact the way we do classical music, architecture, education, community etc.? I'm not an "everything goes" kind of guy. But what I have observed is that Christian culture and Eurocentric values have been conflated almost to be the same thing and if you want to be a good Christian you have to be a European first.

Some suggest that the way to go about cultural evaluation is to look at the "fruit" of a particular practice to determine if it is good or not. I think that's a good approach but still a bit dangerous. The reason being is human bias will always be willing to see negative fruit in a cultural practice that is not its own. For example, lets talk about rap. I'm not a fan of rap music but non-urban cultures tend to view rap music as "criminal" or "thug" music. And while much of rap music certainly glorifies this kind of stuff seeing it as criminal is a gross oversimplification. When you study the history of blacks in America you'll find that when slavery ended one of the first things that took place was the criminalization of blacks in the broader culture. They were pictured by the media as being inherently decadent and dangerous. The Jim Crow era and other institutional policies made it impossible for blacks to get a home loan so the ghettos grew. Because of the low socioeconomic structure of their neighborhoods, schools had little funding and resources which resulted in poor education. With poverty, bad education, and overall cultural mistreatment came the rise of crime. Rap, which was a lyrical style that gave blacks a voice in a country where they didn't have one, came to reflect the experiences of its artists - most of which was crime and poverty. To non black/ urban cultures rap became associated with crime. But as you can see the story is much deeper than that. Rap is just a lyrical approach to poetry that gave blacks a voice in a society that marginalized and oppressed them[3]. But now we just associate it with crime and think its evil. So this is why even the fruit approach has to be done with caution. Again, an outside culture doing the "evaluating" will always be more willing to see negative fruit in something without looking at the whole picture.

Now of course, there is a danger in that in reacting against cultural subversion we end up in the opposite ditch which means we refuse to thoroughly and honestly assess a cultural practice and deem it automatically valid in the name of diversity. That I perceive could lead to even more problems. I use music as an example because it tends to be the aspect that is most clearly seen. However, there are many others. For example, cultural elitism has kept the western church from truly recognizing its own spiritual lack. Many Eurocentric congregations would be quick to demonize something in another culture they deem unholy (like rhythmic music), but would never imagine demonizing the individualism that has led to the break down of true community in so many modern Western churches - for example. So I offer this, not as an Achilles heel to these conversations but as an oft ignored aspect. I like Tim Keller's advice in his book "Center Church" where he says that Christians should approach culture with cautious and critical enjoyment.

I'll be doing more research on this in the coming years. In the meantime, I have no interest in finding some sort of argument to excuse anything and everything. I think all cultures are depraved by sin but I also believe that God's common grace means they are not 100% depraved. So that impacts, to some degree, how I view diversity in the church when it comes to things like dress, music, architecture, social structures, family structures etc. To say that we should just leave culture alone is silly. In the Latino culture there is a lot of superstition and the men tend to be very sexist and male dominant. Should we just shrug our shoulders and say "hey that's just their culture"? Other cultures marry girls off as young as 11 or 12 years old. Should we just ignore that? Some cultures use music to enter transcendental states. Should we ignore this? Of course not. What I am suggesting is that the solution is not "just embrace Eurocentric values and expressions and you will be a truly holy christian". We need to challenge culture with scripture but allow the Holy Spirit to mold their practices toward heavens culture (which is not the same as Anglo-European culture) rather than impose our Western ideologies on them.

For example, I am a Puerto Rican from New Jersey. I grew up inner city during a modern to post modern transition. My culture is urban not country or Euro or suburbian. When I gather with believers who have this Eurocentric vibe where true worship can only be done with chellos and violins I enjoy it because I love diversity of art but I also feel out of place - like I'd never fit in there because that's just not my culture. Some may say my taste just needs to change, but why? Is my taste unholy just because it isn't Eurocentric? This is where things get hairy and the implications are huge when it comes down to a united mission and evangelism before the final crisis.

So those are my thoughts.

Keep digging.

_____

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negermusik
[2]image source: ibid
[3]https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/rap.htm
The Problem with Reconstructing Christianity (Bricolage? pt 1)

Several years ago I spoke with a friend who had just spent the night partying and clubbing. He was disappointed in himself and felt that his life was heading in the wrong direction. God, he felt, was calling him to himself, but my friend was headed the other way. With a look of remorse on his face, he told me he didn't want to live the party and booze life but the God-honoring one instead. I was stoked about our conversation until the next day when he got on the phone and spoke to one of his friends. For some strange reason the remorseful "I-want-to-follow-God" person was replaced by the "I had a great time at the club last night" person. At first I was blown away by the change in his story until I remembered that my friend was helplessly addicted to being the center of attention. This internal motivation led him to do and say whatever he could in order to get noticed. If telling a Jesus-follower that he was repenting of his sin got him attention, he would do so. But if telling his secular friends that he was enjoying his sin got him attention he would switch his story. In short, he would do anything and say everything just to get noticed. Perhaps, in the words of Chris August, he felt "alone and undiscovered"[1] and was willing to play moral, ethical, and personality bricolage so long as he got the attention he was craving.

Most of us have done the same thing in our lives. At the very least, we know someone who we can easily identify as the proverbial people-pleaser. They are willing to tinker with their personality just to be accepted and liked. People who live this way are often referred to as phony, fake, wanna-be's, spineless, chameleons, untrustworthy and  the list goes on and on. At the end of the day people who catch onto their game lose respect for them. The saddest part is this: Phony people may feel as though they are gaining popularity, but ultimately they damage themselves. Our likes and dislikes, our fashion, our morals, our values, our ideologies and beliefs, our personality and uniqueness all makeup who we are. Seen together all of these tiny elements are like paragraphs and chapters which together make up the story that is you. But when a person tinkers with these elements for the sake of popularity they damage their story, their authenticity, and their identity.

In 1941, a German theologian by the name of Rudolf Bultmann proposed a theory known as demythologization. Although the theory did not originate with Bultmann, this was arguably the first time it was popularized. Bultmann's basic contention was that mankind had become too enlightened to believe the miracles in the Bible and that if Christians were to succeed in spreading their faith they would have to demythologize (erase the myths) from the Bible (ie. Noahs Ark, Miracles of Jesus, etc.) in order to make it more appealing to modern thinkers. 

Weird as that may sound, Bultmann was not the first, and neither would he be the last theologian to propose a redefining or restructuring of Christianity in order to make it more appealing to the culture. In recent years movements such as the Emergent Church[2] have attempted to redefine Christianity in order for the secular world to notice it. Matt Slick expressed the post-modern challenge well when he stated that,
The danger of postmodernism is that it tends to deny the ability to know things for sure. It even undermines the construction of language by stating that words can be interpreted differently, that language is fluid, and that the Bible, written in ancient languages, is open to various interpretations of equal validity."[3] 
In an attempt to reach this rising relativistic generation, many emergents have proposed a redefining of Christianity. For some, it is not enough to simply rethink the way we "do" church. Instead, we must also rethink our beliefs as a whole. One proponent of emergent theology summarized it well when he said,
"We do not think this [Emerging Church Movement] is about changing your worship service. We do not think this is about…how you structure your church staff. This is actually about changing theology. This is about our belief that theology changes. The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes."[4]
As a result, many emergents have come to deny core Christian beliefs such as baptism and the sacrificial atonement of Jesus. Brian McLaren, a popular emergent church proponent "went as far to trivialize baptism as being no more than a statement of 'We are clean; they are unclean.'"[5] In his article "A Generous Apostasy", a first hand account at an emergent convention, Aaron Muth said,
After lunch, I spotted McLaren making his way to the table of the young freshman girls... that I had just had lunch with, so I made my way to their table. One of the students sheepishly asked McLaren, 'Do you believe in the blood atonement of Christ.' McLaren confidently and forcefully answered, 'Absolutely not.'[6]
Noble as their intentions may be, Christians who play theological bricolage in order to gain popularity among the secular, post-modern generations damage Christianity. By subverting core biblical truths, they are damaging the story the Bible tells about God. Much like the personality, values and beliefs of a person each biblical doctrine (teaching) is best seen as a paragraph or chapter within a book. Alone it makes little sense, but when united with every other chapter and paragraph, a beautiful, authentic, and genuine story of God emerges. This story is perfect, attractive, powerful, and experientially life-changing. And whenever limited human minds attempt to tinker with doctrine for the sake of popularity they inevitably change the story of God. And unless we are willing to suggest that we can tell a better God-story than the one God has told of himself then any attempt at theological bricolage only serves to make God less attractive, less powerful, and consequently, less experiential and life changing. In the end God becomes a people-pleaser, a chameleon, and a phony capable of altering his story for the sake of approval.

Thankfully, the emergents are wrong. The God-story of scripture does not change. "Jesus the Anointed One is always the same: yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb. 13:8).[7] David the poet said of him, "...You are the same, You will never change..." (Psa. 102:27). The seer Malachi quoted him saying, "I am the Eternal One, I never change" (Mal. 3:6). And James the brother of Jesus said, "Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above, courtesy of the Father of lights. He is consistent. He won’t change His mind or play tricks in the shadows." (Ja. 1:17). 

It was because of the truth of this unchanging God - a genuine, authentic, for-real kind of God -that Peter the friend of Jesus could say, "false teachers will rise up in the future among you. They will slip in with their destructive opinions, denying the very Master who bought their freedom and dooming themselves to destruction swiftly, but not before they attract others by their unbridled and immoral behavior. Because of them and their ways, others will criticize and condemn the path of truth..." (1 Pet. 2:1-2). John, the student of love, also said "do not trust every spirit. Instead, examine them carefully to determine if they come from God, because the corrupt world is filled with the voices of many false prophets" (1 Joh. 4:1). And Paul, the converted tyrant warned, "No matter the source of the false gospel, even if it is preached by us or a heavenly messenger, ignore it. May those who add to or subtract from the gospel of Jesus be eternally cursed" (Gal. 1:4)!

This is who God is. Consistent. Steady. Unchanging. Unvarying. Unswerving. Undeviating, Unwavering. Unfluctuating. True to type. God is not phony, fake, a wanna-be, spineless, a chameleon, or untrustworthy. He is who he is. He has revealed himself as he is. And he will always be who he has been. His story never changes. His message to mankind never alters. His word is not up for auction. His truth is not for sale. He will not lie for as Solomon the wise said, "Lying lips disgust the Eternal" (Pro. 12:22). He is transparent, trustworthy, authentic, genuine, and honest. In a word full of scams, charlatans, and liars we need a God who is for-real. And the moment we decide to play theological bricolage we take away the very thing this starving generation needs - someone they can trust.

Not only do we ruin the God-story when we attempt to redefine Christianity, but we also damage the authenticity and identity of Christianity. These elements are ruined because the God-story of Christianity is rooted in the ancient self-revelation of God known as the Bible. Therefore, any attempt to reconstruct the story must deny the reliability of this book. Inherent in this book is also the identity of Christianity. Emergents say that it's OK to question or reinterpret the book because words don't have real meanings but then they go on and publish books on which they teach their views and expect others to place their faith in those words. So words do have meaning so long as the book has been published by an emergent author. But when it comes to scripture - that we can question all we want. The self-refuting and hypocritical nature of this position is evident. Emergent's are not attempting to reinterpret scripture. Instead, they are effectively creating their own religion complete with its own set of sacred writings and practices which are loosely based on Christianity (and other religions) and heavily rooted in post-modern philosophy. This "new" Christianity cannot be demonstrated from the faith-journey of the ancients who experienced God and, inspired by his Spirit, wrote the story for future generations. As a result, to call this "new Christianity" Christianity is disingenuous and perfunctory. The story it tells does not gel with the story the ancient seers and apostles told; thus, it cannot be the same faith or even the same God. Emergent Christianity is an ersatz Christianity - a faith without foundation, roots, and identity.

But true Christianity stands firm. Its story continues to change lives all over the world for it is grounded firmly on the testimony of God-lovers who were moved by God himself to write the Bible we now hold. In the Bible is chronicled the memoirs of a God who loves so relentlessly and recklessly that he was willing to be separated from his son in order that he might reconcile a rebellious race back to himself. God made mankind, but mankind rebelled against him and was consequently lost. But Jesus Christ gave everything he had in order to win us back. Jesus himself tells the story of a merchant who found a precious pearl. When he did, he sold everything he had and purchased the pearl. The pearl was so valuable to him that he was willing to give all in order to have it. The merchant is none other and Jesus himself and the pearl is you. That pearl is me. The broken, destitute, cast aside, broken, rebellious human race. That is the central story of scripture and every doctrine it teaches adds to the beauty of this story. Thus, to change one doctrine is to damage the story. But the story is charming, delightful, graceful and satisfying. It doesn't need to evolve. It doesn't need to be changed. It stands on its own beauty as the most life-altering and propositionally experiential narrative that has ever been told.

While this post is far from complex or exhaustive I would like to suggest that, apart from all of the other more "scholarly" reasons for rejecting the reconstruction of Christianity, the damage such a reconstruction poses to the beautiful God-story of scripture and the authenticity/identity of Christianity is reason enough to avoid the temptation to play bricolage with theology.

_____

[1] Christ August. 7 x 70, Song lyrics.
[2] Note: The Emergent Church movement, as all movements, has its conservatives and liberals, its original proponents and its fanatical/ extremist wings. The ideologies I refute in this article are more often found among those extreme wings of the movement. It is not my intention to paint the entire movement on the ideas of those fanatical proponents. However, because those proponents tend to be the most influential and popular it is their overall concepts that I refute.
[3] Matt Slick. "The Emerging Church and Postmodernism", [web: http://carm.org/emerging-church-postmodernism].
[4] Tony Jones (“A New Theology for a New World.” A workshop for the 2004 Emergent Convention in San Diego) [Web: http://www.alwaysbeready.com/emerging-church?id=142].
[5] Brian McLaren as quoted by Cherie Lynn Milliron. "Student Responds to Third Way Conference," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/student-responds-to-third-way-conference].
[6] Aaron Muth. "A Generous Apostacy," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/a-generous-apostasy].
[7] All texts are quoted from The Voice Bible version
Bricolage? An Introduction


Welcome to Bricolage? In this blog series I am going to be diving deeper into the topic of Christianity and post-modernism. Unlike Enigma (which was more of a type-as-I-think series) Bricolage? is going to approach the conversation from a more systematic and practical angle. Enigma was an introduction, or to put it another way, a brain stimulator on the topic of outreach in post-modern culture. But now I am ready to dive deeper and lay out some useful concepts for post-modern apostles to consider as they seek to reach this seemingly unreachable generation.

Before we begin, allow me to answer a question many are asking: What in the world does bricolage mean? Bricolage is a French word which basically means "tinkering". Google dictionary defines it as: "Something constructed or created from a diverse range of things." And in post-modern terms it is defined as "a processes by which traditional objects or language are given a new, often subversive [disruptive], meaning and context."[1] In laymans terms, the word bricolage represents a complex and often corruptive (mingling things that are not meant to be mingled) type of change. 


Some contemporary thinkers in the Christian faith see the process of bricolage as something that should be brought into Christianity. For them a certain degree of theological tinkering is necessary in order to reach emerging post-modern generations. As such they attempt to subvert Christian beliefs in order to "create" or "construct" that new type of Christianity. Bricolage? will therefore seek to answer the following questions: Does Christianity have to be reconstructed and redefined in order to be relevant to emerging generations? Should it be left as it is? Or should it be deconstructed (as opposed to reconstructed) in order to enable its biblical rediscovery? And lastly, what does it all mean? After these questions are answered the stage will be set for some practical insights.

Before I begin it is also important that I admit my biases. I am a biblical Christian. While I do not consider myself conservative, traditional, dogmatic or fundamentalist I do consider myself a bible based believer and as such I operate from the bias that scripture is the inspired word of God and that in it we discover timeless principles for all of life's challenges. While I do not believe that the Bible answers every question I do believe that it keeps us safely within the perceptive boundaries of God's will.

Finally, it is not my intent to be original or exhaustive. These are blogs not research papers. Don't see this series as an attempt to offer "the answer" to the problem. Instead see it as a continuation of a much needed conversation. While there are a myriad of views and opinions on this issue the views that I will be sharing are views that I believe to be biblically sound, balanced, and sensible. I invite each of you to seriously consider them.

More to come.

_____

[1] http://www.onpostmodernism.com/terms/#Bricolage
The Irritating Aroma of Uninvited Religion


I am a Jesus-follower. My culture is koinonia. I was born and raised in church. This whole religion/ Jesus thing is not weird for me. I have been exposed to it all of my life. And one of the biggest mistakes I make when it comes to sharing Jesus is assuming that everyone else is as comfortable with him as I am.  But just a half hour ago I got a taste of what it means to be on the other side of this spectrum.

The doorbell rang. I thought it was Woollies delivering our groceries a little early but when I looked I saw two women - one old and one young - dressed in early 90's grandma fashion. It didn't take long for me to discover they were Jehovah's Witnesses. And while I smiled on the outside, on the inside I found myself extremely irritated. These ladies did not know me. They were uninvited to my home. And yet there they were confronting me with an extremely personal, sensitive, and emotional element of the human experience - religion. I didn't want them there, but there they were, and all I could think was how soon can this whole thing be over? They said they would come back to talk some more. I politely said "sure" mostly because I just wanted them to leave. But my mind said the opposite to my lips: I don't want you to come back and the next time this doorbell rings I am going to hide. Of course, with two super loud kids running around this house that will be impossible. This makes their future visit even more dreadful.

And then it hit me. I am a Jesus-follower. My culture is koinonia. I was born and raised in church. This whole religion/ Jesus thing is not weird for me. I have been exposed to it all of my life. And if I find the aroma of uninvited religion irritating, how much more will those who do not share my back-ground? Those who hate religion. Those who are indifferent toward it. Or those who experience anxiety every time the topic is raised. What about those who have been hurt by it? Those who have been betrayed, bruised, and ostracized by other Christians? Will they not experience the same dreadful emotions I experienced? I think its safe to say, yes.

Now don't get me twisted. Jesus confronts us. He is not comfortable. He is not safe. He is a lion. But we must never forget that he is also a lamb and harmless as a dove. He doesn't seek to devour, he seeks to redeem. As such, we must share Jesus in a way that does not automatically awaken dreadful emotions and the proverbial fight-or-flight mechanism. If Jesus alone is challenging enough then we should not add to the struggle by sharing him in unpalatable ways. Instead, we should bend over backwards to make sure we are not making the journey to him more difficult for those who don't share our "church culture".
Enigma (part 5): Dear Method, Farewell
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Before I write today's post I want to do a quick recap of what I have shared so far with regard to the challenges and opportunities the church has in light of the post-modern affair. The first thing to note is that in order to reach this generation we cannot continue to do the same things we have done for the last 50 years. To do so would be disastrous and unwise. New methods must be introduced without redefining Christian identity or tampering with the very foundations and pillars that make Christianity what it is. Secondly, along with new and radical methods we must also (and foremost) seek a new and radical connection with God through prayer and the study of his word. Third, we must not allow post-modernism to scare us and neither should we feel helpless in its presence. Post-modern culture contains many redemptive qualities and, as history has proven, they are willing to forsake their philosophy if they discover a truth worth dying for. But how exactly do we help them see that that truth is Jesus?

I know that's what everyone has been dying to read about but I wont be going there just yet. Enigma (the current blog series) is not intended to go into "how to's". This series is merely setting the philosophical foundation for the next blog series I will be co-authoring with friend and "post-modern outreach guy" Nat Tan (sorry Nat, I couldn't think of a better title). That series will be titled Bricolage?[1] and will deal more with the how to's. But for now allow me to propose two more concepts that I find absolutely necessary as we embark on the search for the "how to's." The first deals with what blueprint or method would be most effective in reaching post moderns (today's post) and the next one will deal with the post-modern challenge and eschatology (next post).

So what method is best for reaching post moderns? How do we, as I mentioned in yesterdays post, help them see that Jesus is the absolute truth and scripture the metanarrative that is worth suffering for? Before I answer that question allow me to present the post-modern culture to you once more. In the post-modern culture there can be seen a break down of walls and distinctions that separate and alienate cultures, ethnicities, religions, and worldviews. Due to the influence of relativism post-moderns do not feel threatened by differing points of view. As a result post-moderns are very accepting of a multi-cultural society and are open to all sorts of "new" and "different" expressions of faith, art, culture etc. Thus in his paper, "Street Art as an Expression of Post-Modern Consciousness"[2] Christopher M. Suzuki could write, In this respect it [street art] is truly an expression of post-modern consciousness, drawing from all eras and all worlds without regard to traditional boundaries of discipline or taste." Suzuki then goes on to hit the nail on the head when he says, "Part of what defines Post-Modern thinking and art is the belief that all boundaries are constructions and not absolute realities. In reaction to this truth much of post-modern art is a mismatch of different styles, mediums, and disciplines."

Due to this eclectic worldview it is apparent that post-moderns are extremely diverse, random, and undefinable as a culture. While there are foundational values that all post-moderns share the reality is that there is no structure, style, or absolute framework by which one can define or even comprehend this culture. With this in mind I will now return to the question: "What method is best for reaching post moderns? How do we help them see that Jesus is the absolute truth and scripture the metanarrative that is worth suffering for?" And the answer is straight forward: there is no method. There is no blueprint. To take it further, not only is there no method; there can not even be a method. Pre-moderns were reached by a mass evangelism method that worked wonderfully. Moderns were reached by apologetics and reasonable arguments that helped them see the truth behind the faith of Jesus. But in order to reach a post-modern the church can no longer rely on a "blueprint" or a "method". Instead, we must take the foundational values that post-moderns share (authenticity, community, tolerance etc) and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the best way to reach the particular post-modern community closest to us. However, because no post-modern community is the same that one method cannot be successfully used with post-moderns all over the globe. The only solution then is for Christians to do what they are most afraid to do - leave the comfort of their homes and churches and connect in an intimate way with their community all the while seeking to discover the most Biblical way to reach that particular group. Gone are the days when we could just send out flyers and expect a huge gathering. Gone are the days were we could pay some evangelist to fly out and sit on our pews while he and the elders did all the work. That may have worked in the past but it can no longer work. The only way to reach post-moderns is to become acquainted with the culture in our immediate vicinity and ask God for wisdom on how best to connect with them. No blueprint is coming. No method will arise that will give us worldwide success if it is followed faithfully. Each church needs to discover its own method and its own way of reaching the post-moderns within their reach and this can only be accomplished by leaving our comfort zones and connecting authentically and intimately with this generation.

However, this doesn't mean that there are things that wont work and things that will. There most certainly are principles that we can follow that will work on a global scale, but the point is that there is no one blueprint that will work everywhere. Each city, town, and nation needs to connect with its own culture, speak Christ in their language, and reach them in their own unique way. 

The next post will deal with post-modernism, the book of Revelation and how what it says can influence our outreach and evangelism attempts. This post will bring Enigma to a close. We will then dive into more practical concepts in the series Bricolage?

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[1] In Post-modernism: A processes by which traditional objects or language are given a new, often subversive, meaning and context. [http://www.onpostmodernism.com/terms/#Bricolage]
[2] http://www.cejournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/StreetArt.pdf 
Enigma (part 3): The Secret to Reaching Our Culture
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc


Whenever the topic of reaching post-moderns comes up eager theologians and ministers (myself included) jump into the convo-pool with their radical ideas. One suggests that the language we use to communicate theology must be updated, another suggests that church architecture must be reinvented, then small groups, community, and relevance enter the discussion. After a few minutes of chatter the wise ones calmly remind everyone that the message can never be altered, only the method, to which everyone responds heartily. Then the conversation starts over, only now the focus has shifted toward the radical ministry of Jesus and how we as ministers need to emulate it. We need to connect with the addicted, the broken, and the ostracized. We need to have ministries at the clubs, bars, and strips. Then someone jumps in and talks about the church that meets at a club and ministers to prostitutes and how its reaching hundreds of people for Christ. The group is on fire now, everyone is excited and ready to go be unorthodox, revolutionary, and radical. Best of all, they have Jesus as their example. The stage is set. The goals are made. The vision is cast. And nothing happens.

I love the above scenario. I have participated in it many times. But none of this chatter is ever going to get us anywhere unless we discover the secret to making it all happen. Now before I continue allow me to make a disclaimer. I am not an outreach and evangelism guru. I have not had 50 years of post-modern outreach experience on which to base this from. Instead, what I offer today is what God revealed to me one evening as I prayed to him seeking an answer to the problem of reaching a lost and confused generation that does not respond to any traditional methods of evangelism. In that moment of prayer I experienced one of those rare instances when the voice of God is clear, and his message to me was this: "If you want to make a radical difference for me you must first have a radical relationship with me." 

The thought hit me like a ton of bricks, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how profound and true it was. As a pastor I always want to do something radical. I want to, in the words of Ellen White, "study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are... do something out of the common course of things... arrest the attention." I want to plant that amazing church that succeeds in reaching post-moderns. I want to preach those relevant sermons that shock the church and the culture with the glory of Jesus. Its not OK for me to do what the church has been doing for 50 years. I want to spark a revolution for Gods kingdom. I want to be radical. Yet, while its not OK for me to do the same old thing in ministry I am perfectly content with doing the same old thing in my relationship with God. I want to be radical in the church, but not in prayer. I want to shock the world with ministry, but I still read the Bible the same way I have for years. Well, Jesus burst my bubble and now I am here to burst yours. Unless you are willing to be as radical in your prayer life as you want to be in your ministry life forget about ever reaching this generation. Unless you are willing to be wild in your Bible time, then give up all dreams of being a world changer for God. As the phrase goes, "Ain't gona happen."

The secret to reaching this generation continues to be the secret that has ignited men of every generation and culture to impact their world for Christ - an out of the ordinary, unorthodox, wild, radical, and revolutionary relationship with Jesus. I once asked a professor how I as a writer could write profound things instead of shallow ones. Her answer to me was, "if you want to write profound things you must first be a profound person." And I conclude, that if we want to reach this post-modern culture with radical ministry we must first connect with God in a radical way. There is just no way we can do the great things necessary for reaching this culture of skepticism and indifference while continuing to pray and read our Bible the way many of us currently do. It's going to require a new and out of the ordinary connection with God in order for us to be ignited with the wisdom and fire necessary to carry this movement forward.

Perhaps some of you are reading this and thinking, I want to do that but you don't know how. Allow me to provide you then, with a practical resource that will get you going in the right direction. It is a small book called Secret Power by D.L. Moody, one of histories greatest evangelists. I have been reading this book this past week and so far it has revolutionized my view of outreach and evangelism.

Enigma (part 2): How To NOT Reach Post-Moderns
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Post-modernism is old. Surprising as it may sound, its true. While I am not a post-modern historian I am aware that this worldview has existed and grown since around the period following World War II. That's over 60 years ago and yet the church is still trying to figure out how to reach them. Ask anyone involved in post-modern ministry and they will most likely tell you that no one knows how to reach them. They don't respond to logic, rational arguments, or dogmatic preaching. They could care less about your proof texts, apologetic's, or evidences. Truth is not absolute for them, hence if Adventism is true for you then that's fine, but if Islam is true for someone else then it is equally true. Any disagreement is seen as intolerance and any claim to have absolute truth is seen as narcissism. In a future post I am going to present some challenges to post-modernism's worldview that I believe can give us an edge when it comes to reaching them for Christ, but for the time being I would like to share what will single handedly keep us from ever connecting with them.

While not specifically dealing with post-modernism, Ellen White nevertheless captured the importance and need for new ways to reach emerging generations. In Gospel Workers page 468 she said, "The methods and means by which we reach certain ends are not always the same. The missionary must use reason and judgment. Changes for the better must be made..." (GW 468.3). Again, in her book Evangelism Ellen White noted that "New methods must be introduced. God’s people must awake to the necessities of the time in which they are living. God has men whom He will call into His service,—men who will not carry forward the work in the lifeless way in which it has been carried forward in the past.... (Ev 70.1). Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people—surprise them (Ev 125.4). Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention" (Ev 122.4).

The message is clear, we cannot expect to reach this generation with the same methods we used to connect with the previous generation. New methods (not schemes or gimmicks) need to be devised. The way we do church and evangelism needs to be redefined in a way that connects with this generation while simultaneously holding on to the biblical beliefs that make us who we are. In a recent Facebook post I commented that "I always hear Christians whining about how we are not reaching the culture but when I look around I see us doing the same thing we've been doing for 50 years. So is the culture really that hard to reach? Or are we just slacking?" 

So there it is. How to NOT reach post-moderns: Keep doing the same thing we've been doing for the last 50 years and we are guaranteed to succeed (in other words: fail).