Paradigm Shift: The Problem With Books on Evangelism

I probably have a dozen books on how to do evangelism on the shelf. About five years ago I tried to teach a class on evangelism from some of these books and what we ended up with was a whole lot of information without much visible action or change. Some of them have hundreds of principles on hundreds of pages. We got a lot of facts, strategies and styles in people’s head but we couldn’t tell that they were doing any more outreach than when we started. Looking back I can’t help but think that was because we were teaching “About” evangelism and not actually doing it. We taught principles and how to have a conversation and what things to say or not to say or how to tell when it was time to leave someone alone but at the end of it all what it lacked was a real pairing of people who want to outreach with people who need reached out to.

I have already talked Church Steps here until I am blue in the face but what I am most thankful for is that we aren’t teaching about anymore. We are equipping and sending people. Guess what? They will figure out most of what they need on how to do it when they do it and when the process what happened. Think about this

We can spend 13 weeks filling up someone’s head with what could happen or we can send them and then
teach them through processing what they actually experienced. Which do you think
is a more effective teaching and learning strategy?

Problems with Missional

There have been some posts addressing the problems with the missional movement. Here are a few you may want to read:

Scot McKnight’s post Test Your Church. Scot’s post is not so much a slam on missional as a whole, he endorses much of what is good about missional church. In the process he does offer some critique of those who talk more mission than are actually engaged in any form of mission.

Mike Breen’s Why the Missional Movement Will Fail (HT: Eric Brown). Breen says the problem with missional is that it is like a car without an engine. You are trying to spin the wheels without anything powerful pushing the process along. He says the engine that should turn the wheels is (as would be expected from Mike) none other than discipleship. He says this,

If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples…

If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always.

We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King….

Look, I’m not criticizing the people who are passionate about mission…I am one of those people. I was one of the people pioneering Missional Communities in the 1980′s and have been doing it ever since. This is my camp, my tribe, my people. But it has to be said: God did not design us to do Kingdom mission outside of the scope of intentional, biblical discipleship and if we don’t see that, we’re fooling ourselves. Mission is under the umbrella of discipleship as it is one of the many things that Jesus taught his disciples to do well. But it wasn’t done in a vacuum outside of knowing God and being shaped by that relationship, where a constant refinement of their character was happening alongside of their continued skill development (which included mission).

The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style…it’s the call to come and die; a “long obedience in the same direction.” While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.

This is the crux of it: The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples. Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable.

I can’t think of any better way to say it. I had a hard time knowing when to cut off this quote because I just kept saying, “Yes, yes, yes” through his whole post.” Also see his followup post, “Why the missional movement will fail Part 2”.

Jason Coker’s “The Problem with Missional. He points to several problems in missional movements including: too much decentralization, too much branding and marketing of missional as a cookie cutter or overlay to put on top of existing churches (I would add without addressing the underlying issues that run counter to the very missional culture they are trying to foster).

Coker believes missional is “fading fast” due in part to a cultural shift in America that just isn’t interested in what new flavor is being taste tested at the local church. What is more Coker says that our approaches to discipleship appear weird to outsiders and that the solution is to speak to what “irreligious people” care about the most…

What regular, irreligious people care about passionately are their families and friends, their recreation and entertainment, and their dreams and goals for a better life. They also care about the local issues, institutions, and policies that make their lives more difficult. Beyond that, if there’s time to think about it, most people care about the turmoil in the world too – most just don’t know what to do about it.

Here are some specifics about how he sees that conversation taking place that includes a radical change in how we see “church”,

Here’s one idea: what if we stopped seeing our pet versions of church and the gospel as products to sell, and embraced “church” as a social strategy instead? The gospel would become the message about who we are and what we’re doing and the church would become the means of organizing. We wouldn’t be constantly strategizing about how to get people in to church and how to keep them in church – because the church becomes the strategy for affecting radical social change. This would allow for churches of all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of short-term and long-term of missions, full of people with all kinds of beliefs. Some of these church would intentionally end after a period of time, other would likely last a lifetime. Some might be locally rooted, others might transcend location.

Just one idea. Maybe it could work. After all, the Christian ecclesia – gathered in response to a herald of Christ’s new commonwealth and empowered by faith in the same – has been the single most dynamic and effective means of positive social change in history. Maybe it would be smart to get back to that.

Whatever the solution, if the American Church is going to thrive beyond the next generation, we’ll need a coherent translation of the gospel that captures people’s imaginations about what’s possible in and around the issues they care deeply about. But to do that, the gospel itself will have to be liberated from it’s own Modern cultural and sectarian moorings (and some of our Christian mores too).

Will that change come through the mission church? I hope so. Probably not. But one way or the other I suspect most of us will live to see the utter decimation of the American church in its old form and a breathtaking resurgence in a new one.

I think Coker is on to something here. The first is that our definition of “church” is changing and the definition you assign to that term will play a huge role in how you move forward. Do you view church as static or dynamic? Are we to be stuck in the 1st century or have the freedom to be Christ’s community in the 21st century? Is it about a facility and a specific hour each week or about a community? How we define church and what flows out of that definition is vitally important and it is imperative that we allow scripture to inform our definition. Second, I agree with Coker that “church” as past generations have understood it is being “decimated” and believe something more biblical and powerful is going to arise from the ashes. Young people today have a great zeal and will do some crazy things for God…they need to balance that boldness with wisdom and knowledge of God and His Word.

Where I have some disagreement with Coker what drives the content of our conversation. I agree that we have to be answering questions people are actually asking, I don’t believe that our talking points need to be based on what people in the world believe are most relevant to their lives. Now, I am all about relevance and think you have to be relevant but I am also keenly aware that non-Christians don’t know all the things that are most relevant or needed in their lives. The Gospel is entirely relevant but it often runs counter to the thoughts and ways of the world (appearing even as foolishness, Paul would say). My only point being, what is more relevant to lost people won’t always be received as relevant at first but that can’t keep us from talking about what they most need to hear. Words like sin, right/wrong, and moral absolutes are not always popular…but they are biblical.

Last, my fear for the missional conversation is that it will run the route of the emerging/emergent conversation (when was the last time you discussed that with anyone?). The nail in the coffin of that conversation was the lack of a unified definition. Everyone defined it however they wanted to such an extent that the conversation came to a screeching halt because there wasn’t a unified vision for what was even being discussed. Seems to me that is what is happening with missional to some degree.

For a third post on this see David Fitch’s Is Missional Doomed?

This is Discipling – Video by Foursquare

This is Discipling from The Foursquare Church on Vimeo.

HT: Eric Brown

I wonder if we don’t make things too complicated.

The Mission In Our Own Backyard

The very last thing Jesus said before he ascended into heaven was this, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). I think too often we get so focused on the ends of the earth that we don’t give much thought to all the space between here and there.

We were talking about the mission of the church in our Sunday morning Bible class yesterday. Someone mentioned a relative who had done a mission trip in their own hometown. That really got me thinking about how we think about mission work. The traditional model of short term missions is to spend a week or two in another country. You raise support to cover costs and then you go. After a short amount of time you return home where life typically settles back in to the normal routine.

Now, back to the mission in our own backyard. What if we raised money (or even spent our own money 😉 helping people in our neighborhood or city? In September our congregation is going to paint some homes in our community. If this is actually a mission, which it is, why not raise support to get as many needs met as possible? We do it overseas, why not do it in our communities and let our lights shine with those who live nearby and that we can continue to reach out to months and years later? Why do we disconnect missions overseas and our mission in our own backyard? Why do we raise support for one but not the other? Why are we willing to personally sacrifice our time, talents and resources for people halfway around the globe but not for people at home? How much more effective would we be at reaching non-Christians if our perspective on this changed and we really started investing in those around us?

Launching Missional Communities – Creating Effective Space for Ministry

“Missional” is one of the biggest buzz words in contemporary Christianity. There are a lot of books on theory but very few guides that actually lay out the nuts and bolts of how our faith can be lived out in missional communities that go beyond the Sunday morning experience. Mike Breen and Alex Absalom have provided us with such a guide that lays out the mission of the church, asks how it is being done via the institutional model of congregational life and then gives a strategy for how to get Christians more invested and involved in the mission of the church as laid out in scripture. Their book is called Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide and it is a must read book if you work with small groups or oversee missions in your congregation.

Based on who they site and how often they bring in outside resources in making their points, these guys have really done their homework. This book is well researched from the theory side and that knowledge is balanced in practice as this book is the culmination of many years of work trying to construct a model that worked. But what is most important in all of this is their concern for scripture. Just because two or three scholars say the same thing doesn’t make it so. What I love about this book is that their conclusions as to what the very best model for congregational life should be like and what is most effective is the biblical one!

In section 2.3 Breen and Absalom talk about why they didn’t use the traditional small group model of the 6-12 personal ideal. While that model of small groups is often touted as biblical (and it is) it is not always mentioned that many house churches were actually quite a bit larger than that and could accommodate 50 people or more within one house church. Their model uses groups of 20-50 people to build missional communities. In doing so they avoid some of the common pitfalls that often plague the traditional small group model including (from p.42):

  1. “They often refused the call (to be more missional) and continued to stay inwardly focused, or
  2. There was never enough momentum due to the size, and burnout soon ensued.”
  3. Groups can typically only multiply 3 times and then they don’t want to go through it again. So the small group model, if done as effectively as possible, has a short lifespan before it naturally slows done and may lose part of its purpose of being out-focused.

They point out that the small group model that so many of us have been a part of focus on getting things more spiritually intimate. What I mean by that is having discussions on a deeper level so that we can really impact the lives of those in the group in a way that just can’t happen in an auditorium full of 500+ people on Sunday morning. They point out that just as a married couple needs to have more than private intimacy to have a healthy relationship, Christians also need more spaces together than just intimate environments to grow. We don’t always have to be talking about deep, heavy, or private matters in order to grow our relationships with each other.

They focus on four areas or spaces they believe are important in the life of a missional community with each space getting progressively closer in contact or distance than the last: public, social, personal and intimate space. They believe these four spaces are found in scripture and should be reflected in the life of the church. Each space serves a different purpose and each has a different outcome expected of it. When these four things work in unison the outcomes can be powerful. No one space is sufficient to meet all of our diverse needs as human beings. And yet, many churches get focused on one or two to the neglect of the rest.

Alex gives one example from his experience visiting a church where the values of the different levels of space were confused. He talks about walking into a church for the first time and getting hugged by all sorts of people in the lobby before he ever got into the auditorium. He says that was not a “wise course of action in a public space.” It would be perfectly appropriate in a more personal or intimate level of space with a smaller number of people who have already built relationships with each other on some level. The point is, we need to have room for all levels of interaction so that we can accomplish important aspects of our lives as Christians on a wide spectrum of depth with each other.

More on this book in several upcoming posts. If you would like to read more about Missional Communities have a look at Mike’s blog or Alex’s blog at the links above.

Launching Missional Communities – Thinking UP, IN, OUT

In their book Launching Missional Communities, Breen and Absalom point out that

Jesus had three great loves and thus three distinct dimensions to his life.

UP: deep and connected relationship to his Father and attentiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit

IN: constant investment in the relationships with those around him (his disciples)

OUT: entering the brokenness of the world, looking for a response individually (people coming into relationship with Jesus) and systemically (systems of injustice being transformed).

This three dimensional pattern for living a balanced life is evident throughout Scripture and needs to be expressed in community life as well. Because of this we believe missional communities need a balanced expression of UP-IN-OUT in order to be healthy, growing communities.

Now that’s some pretty good stuff. First of all, its biblical. Second of all its not properly balanced in many churches today. I asked that question in an earlier post when I asked what the balance in your congregation was between IN and OUT. It would have been better if I had included UP as well. Obviously some things have overlap but we do need to make sure that we are providing specific environments or activities that foster each of those three components of Jesus’ ministry within our churches.

I have to say that I am very excited about our young people and the prospects for the church over the next 20 years. Some things worry me just a bit but overall I think some really good things are underfoot. Much of this is happening because people are really seeking out God and to really make a difference in the world. That means more of our young people are getting focused on OUT and UP and less on IN. That is a good and healthy move as many churches today have been doing the IN thing very well for many, many years almost to the exclusion of the other two. My point is, I hope we are getting closer to achieving balance of the biblical principles of ministry and can really live out the mission that is outside the Sunday morning walls.

I appreciate the balance that this book tries to bring into the discussion to get people to start thinking more in terms of UP, IN and OUT.

Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide

I received a free copy of Launching Missional Communities by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom. This is probably the most practical book I have seen since Willow Creek’s Leading Life Changing Small Groups which was their Small Group Leaders Manual. This book is all nuts and bolts of creating, maintaining and growing missional communities, even out of a traditional congregational model. I am going to be blogging about this book in the next few weeks but I wanted to go ahead and put the word out there that this is a solid and practical book. I can’t find a single page after the table of contents that doesn’t have practical and relevant information on it.

The reason I think this book is going to be so important (if people will become aware of it) is that many of us know what we grew up with or what we have inherited that doesn’t always address the world from a 21st century point of view and can be ineffective at outreach. The community we have known is what meets Sunday morning or at best in a small group. For most of us it is very hard to move beyond fellowship. It just doesn’t come naturally and we feel ill-prepared to come up with something different and effective. We know we are supposed to reach the lost but practically we don’t have anything in place to accomplish that. We know we are to reach out to the poor but it is usually little more than a line item in the budget. We know we are supposed to serve others and we hope members do that in their lives but the church doesn’t offer much structure or opportunity for that. This book can certainly give us some basics to change all of that and put wheels on our faith so we can back it out of the driveway that has typically been the Sunday morning assembly.

If you are in ministry or an elder please pick up a copy of this book. It is 29.99 available through the Missional Communities website. Click here to purchase. I get nothing out of your purchase other than knowing that you just made a good decision 🙂

You Can Put Bibles Back in the Schools…Read How

I was talking with Jerry Starling of Eastern European Missions this past Monday, specifically about their efforts to put Bibles in schools in Eastern Europe and the upcoming “Million Dollar Sunday.” Below is a blog post from Jerry about their efforts. If you feel this is something you can help with in ways big or small please take whatever action you feel is appropriate. A few action items to consider:

  1. Help it “go viral” by reposting this on your blog
  2. Help financially on a personal level.
  3. Present this need to your elders/congregation. See this link for promo materials.

On Sunday Oct 31 churches will be taking up money to help fund this effort. This is the “Million Dollar Sunday” I mentioned in a post yesterday. This post is more of a grassroots effort to get even more people and churches on board. It is very infrequent that I post a need like this on the blog but I think this is pretty special. Will you help it go viral by linking to or reposting Jerry’s initial post?

From Jerry…Million Dollar Sunday

“What do you think would happen if the Secretary of Education in Washington said we could put the following books in every public school in America – and that we could expect the schools to use them as a part of the regular school curriculum?

  1. Children’s Bible Story Books (if they were true to the Bible)
  2. Middle School Bibles (that are like a Bible Story book with the text of the stories coming from a modern translation of the Scripture)
  3. Full Bibles
  4. A Newcomer’s Guide to the Bible (that helps introduce people absolutely ignorant of the Scripture to the story-line of the Bible)
  5. Curriculum guides to help teachers use the other books to help develop character and morality among the students.

The government, however, would not purchase the books. The churches must donate them.

Would your congregation want to help?

What if your contributions were under budget and you were dropping other works of the church? Would you consider having a special contribution to help provide those Bibles?

The above, of course, is a hypothetical situation. It is not happening – and will not happen unless God intervenes to change some things here in America.

Well, God has changed some things in Eastern Europe and something very much like the above scenario is happening.

Parts of the former Soviet Union have asked Eastern European Mission (EEM) to put the above Books in the public schools – entire “states” (sometimes called regions or provinces) at a time.

The first time this happened (in 1998), EEM’s first reaction was, “We don’t have the resources.” The Russian asking for the Bibles responded, “Find them!”

After days of prayer and discussion, the first EEM “Million Dollar Sunday” emerged. EEM leaders decided to accept the challenge of the opportunity God had opened by asking congregations to have a special contribution on a set day to try to raise the funds needed to put the Bible in the schools of that one state of Russia. As a result, the money came in and the Bibles were delivered to the schools as requested.

Since then at irregular and unpredictable intervals, four more states have requested – and received – Bibles for their public schools. Three of these are in Russia, and one is in Ukraine. Since that first Million Dollar Sunday EEM has had four more – in 2001, 2004, 2006, and 2008 to fund those major projects.

This year October 31 will be our sixth Million Dollar Sunday. This time, we received two invitations from two entire states – Krasnoyarsk in Russia and Ivano-Frankovsk in Ukraine – to put Bibles in their public schools. Again, we do not have the resources to do this without requesting congregations for a special contribution for this purpose.

In addition to those two entire states, we received a request for 40 schools in Crimea, another region of Ukraine. These 40 schools are in an area with a high proportion of Muslim residents. We did not expect that request and did not actively seek it. Yet God worked in His goodness to open this door as well.

Will your congregation help?

For more information, you can go to www.eem.org for general information about Eastern European Mission or here for more about the Million Dollar Sunday. This ministry, begun in 1961 to smuggle Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, is now under the oversight of the Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas. Today, our work is to provide Bibles and other spiritual literature to missionaries and congregations of the churches of Christ in the former Soviet Bloc of nations. There are 26 nations speaking 20 different languages in our service area.

In addition to providing these things for the churches, we also do the following:

  • Place Bibles in Public Libraries, Hospitals, Prisons, and Nursing Homes as God opens those doors for us.
  • Recruit, organize and train teams to teach Bible in former Communist Pioneer Youth Camps.
  • Support T.V. and Radio ministries with Bibles and other literature – that are resulting in scores of new congregations forming each year. (You can read about one of these here. You can read more about the leader in that work and how he came to know Jesus here.)
  • Work in many orphanages of Ukraine to provide not only Bibles, but also a monthly “Weekly Reader” type publication for each orphan.
  • Sponsor an annual church-planting seminar attended by about 500 each year – half of whom are “new comers” and the other half are actively engaged in starting and building churches in their home towns.
  • Help to develop leadership for these new congregations.
  • Help provide training in universities and teacher training schools for ethical instruction for the next generation of business & professional leaders and teachers.
  • Continue to look for open doors to provide Bibles and Christian literature to the people of Eastern Europe.

These are things in the annual budget that Eastern European Mission sponsors and/or assists others to do. Our budget is stretched almost to the breaking point by these things. It is not possible to “budget” for irregular opportunities the size of a request to put Bibles into the schools of one or more “states.”

That is why we have a Million Dollar Sunday when one of these large opportunities comes along. That is why we keep coming back to the churches for help. That is why we need your congregation to partner with us so we can continue to partner with the peoples of Eastern Europe to provide God’s word there.

Will you do for Eastern Europe (our one-time “enemies”) what you would cheerfully do if we had the same opportunity here in the USA?”

Million Dollar Sunday

Just a simple poll. This is for a future post.