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Top 25 Multiplying Churches Thursday, June 28, 2007 |

Now this is a "Top Whatever" list that I can get in to... Check out the article in Outreach Magazine about the top 25 multiplying churches in America.


HT: Bob Roberts

A small marker on the road of blogging Sunday, June 24, 2007 |

I told myself that I would post when my blog got over 10,000 hits. Not a big deal, but at least it's a little marker on the road of blogging. Here's the pic from my ClustrMaps map:









Running total of visits to the above URL since 12 Jun 2006: 10,014

Book Review: Ministering Cross-Culturally - Lingenfelter & Mayers |

In the Preface, the authors make it clear that “the subject of this book is the tension and conflict that missionaries, pastors, and laypersons experience when they attempt to work with people who come from different cultural and social backgrounds” (p. 9). As a pastor and mobilizer, it is my heart to equip people to be missional, and that means that they will need to work with and love people with different backgrounds, cultural assumptions, and belief systems. This book is a helpful tool in realizing the equipping that is needed to accomplish this task. The main tool or model for understanding these differences “was developed by Marvin Mayers” and “grew out of his experience as a missionary” (p. 9). The book begins by diving into the context and metaphor for ministry, namely, the incarnation of Jesus Christ (p. 13). It then walks through the Mayers model of basic values, and continues on by looking specifically at several tensions that we face in the conflict that arises when people of different cultures interact – tensions of time, judgment, handling crises, goals, self-worth and vulnerability. The book ends with an entreaty to realizing and assimilating this understanding of difference, and using the model as a tool for healthy interpersonal, and inter-cultural, ministry.

My review of this book led me to ask the following questions:

How can the Mayers model be applied to my current context?

We are a missional church who want to be full of missional people who are redemptively engaging the cultures that surround them. Whether that culture be the culture of a business like Dell, or the culture of a Hindu neighbor from India, our people are surrounded by unique opportunities to live out the gospel in their spheres of influence. Mayers model of basic values (p. 29), and the assessment that goes along with it in this book (p. 30-34), provide a great framework with which to build an understanding and awareness of the ways in which we value different things like time, events, relationships, tasks and status. A keen cultural self-awareness as well as an awareness of another’s culture is paramount in understanding the bridges for the gospel, especially in our pluralistic society. I will definitely be using this assessment often as I train others to be missional.

What in this book is reproducible for leadership development?

“If we are to follow the example of Christ, we must aim at incarnation!” (p. 25). These words express one of the most reproducible elements of leadership development – that of releasing ourselves from attachments in order to fully model Christ for an emerging leader. Since ministry revolves around relationships, this book helps in understanding “principles on which we can build more effective relationships and ministry within and beyond the boundaries of our homogenous churches and communities” (p. 15). This is crucial as the book lays out several of these principles in the latter part of the book, including the tensions created when cultures collide in regards to assumptions about time, events, tasks, and worldviews. Also, one of the most significant facts “about the incarnation is that Jesus was a learner” (p. 16). Leaders are learners, and in order to lead well, emerging leaders must have a lifelong learner attitude. Jesus typified this in the incarnation, and I would do well to model it to my emerging leaders.

What is the biggest tension that people in my context will face and how does this book address and equip them for ministry within this tension?

One of the main areas that we as Americans can grow in is the tension that is created with other cultures in regards to goals. Many times it is easy for us to value task orientation more than people orientation. People, like many of us in the U.S., find satisfaction in achievement, while, on the other hand, other cultures may find satisfaction in the interaction that a gathering of people affords (p. 79). As we equip our people for mission, we should equip them to realize the importance of interaction in daily life, especially when they will be crossing into other cultures who may have a much higher regard for personal interaction. “It is for task-oriented people to recognize that their striving after objective goals is a character flaw if the compulsion to work becomes obsessive” (p. 84). Yes, missional activity pushes us out of the nest to reach people for Christ, but “if we are not meeting people and loving them through interaction, we have lost sight of the Great Commission” (p. 84).

SUMMARY OR SYNTHESIS

Short and concise, this book is a helpful tool in not only diagnosing where potential cultural landmines may lie, but it also helps dismantle those landmines and turn them into assets for ministry. I appreciated the emphasis on the model for incarnation in Jesus, and the ministry of incarnation that we now fulfill. I am certainly a task-oriented person, so this book was a healthy reminder that “the life of Jesus furnishes powerful evidence of the importance of persons in the kingdom of God” (p. 85).

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Book Review: Incarnational Ministry - Hiebert & Meneses Thursday, June 21, 2007 |

“Our response to human cultures must be an ongoing process of critical contextualization” (Hiebert: 19). With these words in the introduction of the book, Hiebert casts the die of the mold for the heart of what this book addresses – critical contextualization, the different types of cultures, and how these affect Christian ministry. In playing a role in the advancement of the gospel, we have to make sure that we understand how we do what we do affects others, especially those in cultures different from our own. This book helps explain those differences and how we can adjust in order to not create more barriers for the gospel. We must see that “transforming a society is a process” (p. 19). My review of this book led me to ask the following questions:

What makes Urban Societies specifically unique?

Hiebert asserts that “the sheer size of modern cities makes it difficult for us to understand them” (p. 260). This gives rise to large and highly complex socio-cultural systems that can become difficult to understand. The key to this is to look at both the macro and micro level of social interaction. At the macro level is the city as a whole – its infrastructure, systems, etc. At the micro level is the peoples at the street level – groupings, families, interactions, etc. “We must constantly remind ourselves that cities are not a single, uniform organization” writes Hiebert (p. 262). Cities become the center of power, wealth, and economic and political interactions. They usually have a great diversity among ethnicities, classes and even the locations of where these diversities live. There is a greater need for specialization, hierarchy and change.

Hiebert also notes that relationships are vastly different as well. “Family and kinship groups… take new shapes under the pressure of the city,” sometimes splitting public and private life and even inadvertently emphasizing the nuclear over the extended family (p. 276). Mobility, individualism and freedom erode stability. Hiebert goes on to observe that “the dominant social structures of public life in cities are associations and institutions” (p. 279). These are all important observations especially as our church is located in the city, and has a desire to reach the city.

What does the church look like in an urban society?

Hiebert asks the question, “How can the church not only survive but also thrive in the city?” (p. 325). What was encouraging in reading this section of the book was that he notes that “the early church was an urban movement” (p. 325). Paul’s church planting and evangelism strategy was an urban one. Because of the diversity in cities, Hiebert makes a great observation about churches:

“One thing is clear. There will be no one form of church that serves as the model for all the others. There will be house churches, store-fronts, local congregations, and megachurches; ethnic churches and integrated churches; churches that stress high ritual order and those that emphasize informality. No one of them can serve the spiritual needs of all people.” (p. 328)

He notes that mobile people will have a more difficult time building the necessary community because “commuting prevents their members from developing the multiplex relationships necessary for intimate fellowship” (p. 334). This is important to know and appropriate for our context since our church is a “regional” church which pulls from people all over the city.

What is the role of incarnation in contextualizing the gospel?

The principle of incarnation is crucial in understanding how to truly contextualize the gospel. As Hiebert points out that “mission is more than a text. It must take flesh in human context” (p. 369). The revelation of God through His word must take on the unique attributes and qualities of the different peoples, languages and cultures. Hiebert notes that “we must incarnate our ministry in the contexts of the people we serve” (p. 370). This happens through both social and cultural contextualization. The goal of incarnation is transformation.

SUMMARY

Hiebert’s analysis of the many different facets of contextualizing the gospel as we seek to reach out to other cultures was helpful and fascinating. I have always enjoyed the depth and detail of Hiebert’s work, and this was a book I have not read before. It was enlightening to have his help in looking at the different opportunities and barriers that we face as we seek to be on mission with God to seek and save the lost.

Book Review: The Open Secret - Lesslie Newbigin Sunday, June 10, 2007 |

Newbigin’s “introduction” wrestles with the vast and complex nature of the theology of mission, specifically in regards to the “missionary nature of the church” (p. 1). With the West having undergone, and still undergoing, such vast cultural and systemic shifts, he is understandably both engaging the shift through a trinitarian lens of how the church proper can engage the changing culture, but also how the church can engage in a holistic way. The dichotomy of justice verses conversion must change, he adds, and that the “first need” of these dichotomies “is for theological understanding” as well as a “restructuring of structures” (p. 11). He continues to assert this holistic perspective of mission by pointing out the implications of the confession of “Jesus as Lord.”

This confession, he adds,

“implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world – its philosophy, its culture, and it politics no less than the personal lives of its people. The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all” (p. 17).

He then gives a framework for this Christian mission – a Trinitarian framework, no less. He looks through the lens of mission with three filters – “as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the Son, and as bearing the witness of the Spirit” (p. 29).

The introduction really serves as an overview of the book’s seeming intent, so my review of this book led me to ask the following, more specific, questions about the Trinitarian nature of mission:

What does Newbigin mean by “mission as faith in action?”

Newbigin’s view of mission as faith in action is firmly rooted in the proclamation of the kingdom of the Father. “The announcement concerns the reign of God,” he states (p. 30). This faith is firmly rooted in the reign, or kingdom, of God. Interestingly enough, Newbigin points out that the “supreme deed by which the reign of God is both revealed and hidden, is the cross” (p. 35). He goes on to say that the proof for the cross as supreme act of kingdom victory, is the resurrection (p. 36). Newbigin asserts that “God is indeed active in history” (p. 39). But how is this activity manifest in regards to mission? He goes on to answer this important question when he says that God’s “action is hidden within what seems to be its opposite – suffering and tribulation for his people” (p. 39). It is by faith that we proclaim the reign of God, and it is by faith that we endure suffering for the sake of this reign, this kingdom. That is our mission.

What does Newbigin mean by “mission as love in action?”

What made the kingdom of God so relevant to the first century was the fact that the kingdom now had a face. “It now had a name and a face – the name and face of a man from Nazareth (p. 40). This is the tangible expression of mission that Newbigin is explicating here, however obscure his observations seem to be. It was difficult to make the connection based on his material in this chapter for the case that mission is certainly love in action. There are instances in which he certainly makes the case for the presence of Jesus as the presence of the kingdom of God (p. 42), but it was still difficult to make specific inferences to the “presence of Jesus” as “presence of the Kingdom” perspective as a viable apologetic for love in action. At least Newbigin did not really make that clear enough as an argument. I can personally make those inferences, but I am stretching his stated words and conclusions. The best explanation of this love, however, comes from Newbigin in a later chapter when he says that “the church, by inviting all humankind to share in the mystery of the presence of the kingdom hidden in its life through its union with the crucified and risen life of Jesus, acts out the love of Jesus that took him to the cross” (p. 65).

What does Newbigin mean by “mission as hope in action?”

Concluding this Trinitarian perspective of mission is the view of mission as hope in action. This is a specific reference to the work and person of the Holy Spirit. Newbigin is quick to point out that it is “by an action of the sovereign Spirit of God that the church is launched on its mission” (p. 58). This grounds the mission of the church, according to Newbigin, in the sovereign activity of the Holy Spirit. But what does he mean by “hope in action?” He means that “by obediently following where the Spirit leads, often in ways neither planned, known, nor understood, the church acts out the hope that it is given by the presence of the Spirit who is the living foretaste of the kingdom” (p. 65). This is probably Newbigin’s best definition of hope in action.

SUMMARY

I have dealt specifically with Newbigin’s theological framework which is deeply embedded in the Trinitiarian perspective of mission as faith, love, and hope as a reflection of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the ensuing chapters, Newbigin goes on to discuss the more practical problems and issues that arise out of this framework as the church does take hold of her missionary calling. He does this in part by dealing with the false separation of justice and preaching (p. 91), and by taking to task the church growth movement and its weaknesses (p. 121-124). As enlightening as these discussion are, they are out of the scope of this review, but are worth the read as practical handles for the implications of a Trinitarian perspective of mission.