Stop Evangelizing?

July 26, 2011 at 8:33 am

In a recent, provocative piece, Carl Medearis urged Christians to “stop evangelizing.” In making his point, Medearis asks:

What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?

Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?

Medearis adds:

When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”

Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.

Just because I believe that evangelicals should stop evangelizing doesn’t mean that they should to stop speaking of Jesus.

I think I understand his point. Medearis. In clarifying, he adds:

I’m no longer obsessed with converting people to Christianity, I’ve found that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling.

Many Christians are discouraged by the constant pressure to “evangelize.” For many, this means that you must tell someone the full “Gospel message” as soon as possible, even if it is not in the context of real relationship. In this model, discipleship is separated from evangelism. Evangelism is simply the specific point in conversation where we pressure someone to “make a decision for Jesus.” While I do believe that conversion requires professed faith in Jesus and repentance, I, with Medearis am uncomfortable with what this does to actual relationships with people. Relationships simply become an avenue through which we can evangelize, and if someone doesn’t “accept Jesus into their heart,” then the probability of continued relationship is usually slim.

But, as Medearis points out, we have actually been called to “make disciples.” Discipleship actually begins at the point of relationship, not conversion. As we share life with those who don’t yet believe, they are challenged by the way we live, and if we’re naturally talking about Jesus in life, then there is no need for an awkward “bridge to the Gospel.” Evangelism is part of discipleship but it cannot be separated from discipleship.

What might change if we emphasized a life of discipleship rather than “evangelism.” Is this an accurate or even worthwhile distinction?

Chili’s, Church-Planting And You

July 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

As a planting pastor, I think a lot about the idea of “church” and how to engage our local community, not only outside of the building walls, but inside them as well. Our worship gatherings should be both attractional and missional and that’s not always an easy balance, and many churches go after this in many different ways. That’s one of the beautiful things about local churches; we can contextualize for our community without sacrificing the Gospel. A local church in rural Kentucky will not and probably should not look/feel the same as a local church in suburban Peoria, AZ. Local churches should be encouraged and equipped to develop their own “personality.” Not every church will have the same approach or “feel” and that is a good thing.

The reason I say all of this is because I think a lot, not just about church planting but church planting in a suburban context. I grew up in the suburbs and moved back to the suburbs to plant Church of the Cross (don’t ever tell God you’ll “never” do something!)  Planting in the suburbs presents a lot of issues to consider. We are surrounded by strip malls and chain restaurants where people can reasonably expect a certain level of customer satisfaction. I personally think the Olive Garden is incredibly over-rated but you know what to expect and you will leave generally satisfied even though you just paid way to much for chain-restaurant food. When you go in to any Chili’s restaurant, you know what to expect.

One philosophy of suburban church planting is that we must learn to mirror the approach of the slick chain restaurants because that’s what suburbanites are used to. We must (“missionally”) provide people with a well-run, slick consistency because suburbanites have come to expect a certain level of customer service.

And yet, tucked away in nearly every version of suburbia is that little “hole in the wall” restaurant that is independently owned; it may be a little eccentric, it’s probably a little more casual than the chain restaurants and they probably put a slightly different spin on things. Many of these “mom and pop” restaurants become fixtures exactly because they’re usually a bit different than the chains. There’s a reason Chino Bandido is an Arizona fixture. The chains flourish because, in many ways, they appeal to the lowest common denominator, solid, non-challenging food that can be reproduced on a mass scale.

All of which leaves a suburban church planter with the question of whether to pursue the mass-produced, slick consumeristic model of “do everything with excellence because that’s what suburbanites expect” church planting, or the slightly unique “mom and pop” approach. It’s interesting because those in the slick mindset often say that the “authentic” church plants are sloppy and “authentically bad” while the “mom and pop, unique” church plants criticize the chain church plants for being too-slick and performance-centered.

The question is not (or at least should not) simply be one of preference. If one of (if not the) church’s goals is to make and grow disciples, we should be asking what best facilitates this process. Ed Stetzer, recently profiling Neil Cole noted that “Neil– and everything Neil shapes– is “anti-slick.” Stetzer adds:

Neil’s simple approach is not because he lacks money (although he does and you should send him some). It is because he has passion: a passion that the best way to propagate the gospel is with the idea that the church can and shoulHe does not want a quality church; he wants a transforming one. He explains, “We must lower the bar of how we do church and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple.” simpler and more organic– like Neil. Like Jesus. Everything Neil does (quoting him here and throughout) “is not bound by a large gathering or service we could reproduce quickly.” That’s the point– church should be simple and easy to reproduce. Normal people, with small messy offices and threadbare couches, should plant and model planting churches led by ordinary people.

As Neil Cole sees it, there is a clear distinction between focusing on “doing church with excellence” and real disciple-making. What do you think? We have worked very hard at Church of the Cross to do things well while not letting Sunday morning become a performance. Prayer is talking to God, not a time for the band to magically appear so that everything can stay on schedule. We strive very hard to create an atmosphere where people can live as family rather than attenders. This means that we will probably never be as “slick” as some other churches but that also doesn’t mean that “slicker” churches can’t make disciples, their  approach just makes it more difficult because people’s consumeristic tendencies are often tickled rather than challenged.

What do you think about Cole’s assessment? Should suburbanites reasonably expect  the chain restaurant experience from church? Does one model or another facilitate better discipleship opportunities? Should Sunday morning be the primary point of a local church’s life? If not, what is? Should Sunday morning being done well mean that it is a performance?

Together For Adoption Early-Bird Registration

July 25, 2011 at 8:06 am

My wife and I recently began the process to become licensed as foster parents in the state of Arizona. This flows from a deep sense of gratitude that God adopted us as his children. According to many reports, there are approximately 10,000 children in the CPS system in Arizona. There are also approximately 10,000 churches in Arizona. Think about what a difference we could make if only one family from every church in the state would open up their home.

I am so excited to see so many Christians begin to think seriously and theologically about adoption and foster care. While I recognize that foster care is rarely a long-term solution to the problems many children face, I’m also convicted that, if Christians can open up their homes as safe, secure and loving places, it can make a real, lasting impact.

I am also very excited to be included as one of the bloggers for the Together For Adoption conference, here in October. This is going to be a fantastic time of considering the Gospel motivation of orphan care. The super-early-bird registration has just opened, so if you’re considering attending this great conference, now’s the best time to register! While “normal” registration for the conference will be $109/person, this week only, you can register for $75!

Hope to see you there.

  • Register now for the Together For Adoption conference, October 21-22 here in AZ.

What We’re Against; The Troubling Paradox Of Christians Being Viewed As Unloving

July 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

I have strong Christian convictions. But the more I explore and try to live out these convictions, I’ve come to regret how it is that so many Christians come across to those who don’t yet believe. Stereotypes about Christians abound and sadly, some of them have roots in at least a seed of truth. We’re known as anti-certain people, we’re known as judgmental, we’re known as buzzkills, we’re often viewed as somehow opposing science. But what troubles me the most is that many have come to view Christians as unloving.

I recently came across this quote:


“War. Rape. Murder. Poverty. Equal rights for gays. Guess which one the Southern Baptist Convention is protesting?”


Wow. That really struck me. You may say that it doesn’t apply to you because you’re not Southern Baptist, but that would be an exercise in missing the point. The point is that, to a large segment of the population, Christians are seen to be so focused on a few social issues (yes, I understand the importance of issues like marriage and abortion, so please don’t think I’m minimizing those) that we don’t care about the radical injustice of the world. How in the world have we come to this?

After all, shouldn’t we, above anyone else, be marked by love and compassion? It seems that, somewhere along the way, in our well-intentioned pursuit of holiness, we withdrew from society and actual relationships with anyone outside our immediate socio-economic sphere, that, when we decided that we did want to engage in meaningful issues, we could only do so from a distance which means that the “political hotbutton” issues get more of our time and energy because those are largely “conceptual.” You don’t have to know anyone who has had an abortion to have an opinion. You don’t have to know any homosexual people to have an opinion on whether or not they should be allowed to marry.

But many issues of injustice require us to get involved. They challenge our comfort and condemn our complacency. How is it that we, who should be known by our love have come to actually be viewed as lacking compassion? Shouldn’t we be leading the way? Isn’t “justice” an implication of the outworking of the Gospel in everyday life? Shouldn’t we be actively, intimately involved in working against the effects of the Fall? Shouldn’t we be known by our love?

  • Read Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller
  • Read Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, And The Mission of The Church by N.T. Wright

Music: 2011 So Far

July 18, 2011 at 7:40 am

I meant to do this in June, when the year is technically “half-over” but I just didn’t get around to it (I’ve been having some health issues on top of being a husband, Daddy and pastor, so real-life has gotten in the way of the blog quite a bit this year; so sorry).

I love music and I love year-end lists. So I wanted to pick my top five albums at mid-year and then compare with the end of the year and see if those five albums were still at the top. So, in order, here are my top five favorite albums of 2011 (so far):

Josh T. Pearson: Last of The Country Gentelmen

This is admittedly a difficult album. Gone is the driving anthemic space-rock of Lift to Experience. Last of the Country Gentlemen is a hushed, painful affair. With most songs stretching out over 10 minutes with minimal accompaniment, a wave of acoustic guitar here, a splash of piano there and a dollop of violin to add spice, the center here is Pearson’s plaintive voice, whispering about heart-break and too much drink. Yes, he does use some “bad words,” so be warned if you’re sensitive about that in your music I wrote about that here). Pearson channels an emotional rawness missing in most music.

Here he is with pianist Dustin O’Halloran performing “Country Dumb:”

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues

This album actually caught me a bit by surprise. I like Fleet Floxes but this album has helped me love them. The soaring harmonies, the deep melodies, the sound of sunshine longing:

Here is the official video for “Grown Ocean”

Bon Iver: Bon Iver

This album will most likely move up the list as I’m able to spend more time with it, but for now; wow. Just when it becomes difficult to imagine how Vernon could follow up For Emma, Forever Ago, he expands on the minimalistic palette and makes and makes a “band” album that does not detract from the rawness of the previous album but simply adds lush textures to it, expanding.

Here is the official video for “Calgary”

Seryn: This Is Where We Are

Beautifully balanced harmonies, poetic lyrics, master musicianship, great hooks, phenomenal live presence, what can’t you say about Denton’s Seryn? Though it’s their debut album, Seryn has emerged with a fully formed presence; a sense of self that frees them from the notion of wearing their influences to visibly. With hints of rock, folk, jazz and even modern classical, Seryn truly forges an identity of their own. Can’t recomend this album enough.

Here is Seryn in my living room performing “So Within”

Chris Bathgate: Salt Year

Just when I didn’t think anyone would top Seryn this year, I heard Bathgate’s Salt Year. The title is a reference to a difficult year in which Bathgate shed more than a few years, and that emotional depth shines through in every song. Probably classified as “alt. country” to most, Bathgate’s lyrics show a broken heart and the music only accentuates this; weeping steel guitar, soaring violins and always at the present, Bathgate’s lyrics. Truly a wonderful album.

Here is Bathgate performing “No Silver”

Discipleship: What’s Missing?

July 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Through the Surge Network, I recently had the chance to hear from Randy Pope, from Perimeter Church in Atlanta, GA. I had never heard of Pope before so I didn’t know what to expect from his talk. I was very pleasantly surprised as he emphasized the importance of disicpleship in the life of the local church.

I’m afraid that “Discipleship” has become one of those “Christian-ese” (language specific to the Christian sub-culture) words that we use a lot but when pressed, we’re not really sure what it means or what it should look like. We know that Jesus commanded that His followers reproduce themselves (Matthew 28-18-20). For some, this has simply meant “evangelism”; sharing the Good News about Who Jesus is and What He has done. For others, it has come to mean lots and lots of studying the Bible. Still for others, it has meant getting together to talk about our struggles.

And, while none of these are wrong, they don’t seem to be complete. In fact, if we had to measure how well/poorly the typical North American church has done at making/growing disicples, it doesn’t look too good, does it? We typically organize ourselves around a Sunday morning gathering and spoke all of our ministries from there (with the implied intent that when/if those other ministries reach people, it is to filter them back into Sunday morning because we measure success or failure in ministry by the very pragmatic notions of the 3B’s; butts in the seats, budget and building). It is not uncommon in many large churches for literally hundreds of hours to be poured into making sure Sunday morning is “excellent.” This has led us to people like Perry Noble saying that, if you have to get up during service, don’t come back in because you’re now a distraction, but has it really produced/nurtured/matured disciples who lay down their entire lives for Jesus?

Pope mentioned how influential the work of Ken Blanchard has been to his understanding of discipleship; particularly the notion of “situational leadership”. I was only familiar with Blanchard as a business/leadership guy, so I was intrigued by Pope’s statements. He then asked us to imagine the following diagram:

Start in the bottom-right corner with “Directives.” When you start a new job, the first thing they typically do is dump a bunch of information at you; what’s expected of you, your duties/responsibilities, etc. Then, a trainer will oftentimes let you shadow him while you gradually begin to take on the responsibilities for yourself. Gradually, the trainer will withdraw and move into a support role. They are available for questions and assistance as needed, but you are beginning to take on more and more of the responsibilities yourself. Finally, the responsibilities are delegated fully to you and you are on your own in the workplace.

One of the most frustrating things you can do is give someone directives and then immediately delegate to them. And yet, for many of us, that is exactly how we approach discipleship. In sermons or Bible studies, we tell people what they should do/how they should live and then basically send them on their way saying “Now go do it!” This simply leads to burnout, anxiety and legalism.

But what’s missing in many church contexts is the actual process of helping others learn how to do what the Bible says. Jesus’ ministry was primarily to the Twelve who lived with him, ate with him, followed him, mimicked him, gradually learning to what He did (you know, as best they could not being God and all).

By no means to I claim that we do this process well at Church of the Cross where I pastor, but this is our heart, and, I pray, where we are heading. This type of discipleship seems to happen best, not on a Sunday morning or in the classroom or even in traditional small groups but in the context of Gospel-centered community living on Mission.

It is leaders equipping believers to take responsibility for their own spiritual development and for that of others (Ephesians 4:11-13). Discipleship actually begins at the point of relationship, not conversion. As we live life with one another, we learn from each other, we correct one another, we speak the Gospel to one another and live it out in self-sacrifice. I desperately want Church of the Cross to be a family where people are becoming equipped and reproducing themselves. Please pray for us to this end.

It’s (Sort of) Subjective, Isn’t It?

July 13, 2011 at 10:13 am

My wife went to CO to see her sister for a couple of days which means that I watched some documentaries. Yes, I rock that hard. One movie that I had wanted to see for quite a while and finally had the chance to watch was Exit Through The Gift Shop.

In case you haven’t seen it, it’s basically the story of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who video-tapes nearly every moment of his life. He hooks up with his cousin who is a “street artist” going by the name “Space Invader.” He basically places tile mosaics inspired by the video game Space Invaders on buildings, in public spaces, etc. Fascinated by this new, exciting and illegal world of “street art,” Guetta dives head-long, following Invader in his exploits. Invader introduces him to several of the scene’s “stars” including Shephard Fairey (yes, the guy beind “Obey” and the iconic Obama “Hope” poster) and finally, the elusive Banksy.

If you’re not hip to the jive, Banksy is an internationally known “street artists” whose iconic style often includes stenciled black and white figures accompanied by a saying. Highly political, Banksy’s identity has ben a closely guarded secret. Guetta makes himself and his (apparent) considerable resources available and gains unheard of access to Banksy.

But there’s a problem; Guetta is not a film-maker, just a filmer. He has no intention of ability to turn all of his hours of footage into a watchable movie. Banksy, realizing this, turns the table in a scenario in which the lines between fiction and reality, forcing us to consider what is or isn’t actually “art.” Banksy takes over the movie, thus guaranteeing himself not only artistic control but continued anonymity. He decides to take Guetta and move him from voyeur to “street artist” himself and, thus, “Mr. Brain Wash” (or “MBW”) is born. Guetta begins making his own marks on the streets and even launches an art show.

And, while it seems that Guetta fancies himself an actual artist, he is actually a pawn in Banksy’s scheme to challenge and question the entire “art establishment.” Banksy seems to be using MBW as a real-life art piece. In fact, many people believe that the entire affair was simply Banksy putting flesh and bones to this piece (yes, there is a “bad word” in the image).

The whole thing reminds one of Andy Kaufman and forces us (at Banksy’s will) to consider the question: what is or isn’t “art”? Can a ruse selling derivative paintings by a henceforth unknown “artist” for thousands of dollars be considered art? Is graffiti art? If so, is there a line between simple “tagging” and actual “street art.” Is music “art”? How do you know? Can something be “art” to one person but not another?

This is really part of the issue, isn’t it? “Art” does not seem to have a satisfactory definition. Applied human creativity? Tangible imagination? Does it always have to have a “point”? As a Christian, these are things I think about quite often. After all, Christians have the most to celebrate and yet we seem to make some of the most mediocre “art” out there. We not only have the most to celebrate the least to fear. Our identity is secure, so we should be the most adventurous.

The very fact that the film is labeled as “A Banksy Film” and Guetta becomes “Mr. Brain Wash” should alert us to the fact that Banksy is not only behind the film but making some pretty specific points and that’s what’s so fascinating about the movie. I don’t really have a specific point here other than to ponder aloud what is or isn’t art? Does that make this piece art?

Watch the trailer for Exit Through The Gift Shop::