Monthly Archives: October 2012

Update: Deep & Wide

Well the third fifty pages has proven faithful to the pattern of the first two. A few things Stanley has said come off as completely arrogant and angered me to no end. But then again, most of what he said resonated pretty deeply with my ministry experiences. On the positive side, his approach to spiritual formation is not about a system of classes. It’s about creating an environment where people have the opportunity to grow in faith. He zooms out to a bigger picture than most people writing about spiritual formation. The most fascinating element of his 5 Faith Catalysts is the last one: Pivotal Circumstances. He shares that life-altering circumstances are always opportunities for faith to grow or shrink. The difference is how we interpret them. I’ve found this to be true in ministry. As a result I am often trying to help people develop a way of looking at their circumstances through the lens of Scripture. But for many years I tried to do this as people were walking through life-altering events. I eventually figured out it’s often too late. Either they were ready for it and able to draw near to God for strength, or they were caught off-guard and rarely able to recover gracefully. But Stanley is the first person I’ve seen bring this issue right out onto the table as a ministry focal point. I like Stanley’s approach and I’ll urge you to read it and take it to heart. His example with Jesus and John the Baptist is just excellent! It’s worth the cost of the book. All 5 of his Catalysts have value and I like the way he makes it clear that a cookie-cutter approach is too simplistic. This section is very worth reading.
In my humble opinion (and people are almost never actually being humble when they say this, but I’m trying to be) I think when Stanley talks about culture he’s at his weakest. He goes too far. He says people are far more interested in what works than what’s true. Andy often sets up these kinds of either/or conundrums when he knows there isn’t an obvious biblical or theological principle involved. And what’s more, he almost always says, take it or leave it. You’re living in a fantasy world if you don’t fully buy-in to his view that the wants and desires of people should drive the packaging of our truth. He even hijacks the Beatitudes to do it. I don’t buy it. When it comes to preaching over the long haul, if we always start with what people are interested in and then try to make the Bible relevant we are fighting an uphill battle we will never win. Not that we should never do it. But if we always do it the price might be too high. The implication would be: ultimate reality is defined my experience and curiosity. The Bible then remains an interesting secondary reality that might “work” for me or might not. We think we know what is broken in our lives, but the Bible shows us that it’s actually much more serious and only God can help us. So at some point we have to help people submit their desires and dreams to what’s really true. The longer we wait, the harder it is. Of course, nothing works long-term that isn’t true. So it’s a false dichotomy. That’s my opinion. Start with the Bible and encourage them to discover their story in its’ pages. It works with what’s really broken. The Bible is good stuff. Interesting stuff. Sometimes even sexy and exciting stuff. We don’t need to apologize for it or dress it up like a clown.
I tend to think people are pretty smart. If they make it to church they are usually looking for something true. We should give it to them. Not in a boring package, not without handles, and not without next steps to put it into practice. But all the time helping them see that what is true is what works. On these last parts I’m fully agreeing with him, just not that we should always start our sermons one way.  I always start informal conversations with people with what they’re interested in and curious about. But preaching should be different. Not boring but helping us make our lives relevant to ultimate reality, not the other way around. Sometimes even the order in which we talk about it communicates a lot.
I hope I’m hearing it wrong, but what I possibly hear him saying on page 115 seems arrogant and ugly, implying that the only two options are his way or zero impact on the world. Such a scenario might exist, but many who disagree with his priority have much more impact than he implies. And to me he’s too crass in how he says it.
So I love 90% of this section of the book. It’s deeper than some would give him credit for. It has some fresh insights and good wisdom. If he would rewrite pages 113-115 I’d love it all. I’m going to keep reading. But I may Tweet him about page 115…

Update: Deep & Wide

The 2nd 50 pages have been full of surprises as well, but I’ve found more common ground with Stanley.
I like and have used the image he borrows from The Gospel of John “full of grace and truth.” John uses it in chapter one to wrap up the Logos passage in describing the essence of Jesus. Stanley uses it as a mantra for ministry decisions. He says they are not driven by policies. Instead they have nearly endless conversations with people and make decisions. I have to say that those who advised me to setup policies so we don’t get bogged down and criticized for decisions were not as “right” as I thought. Often the broken and messy situations in the lives of real people are our best opportunities for ministry. We need to get bogged down in the details. We need to engage with them where they are. I used to go by policies. Now I get involved.
I’ve gone to court to get someone released without bail. I’ve listened to couples describe situations they never taught me about in school. I’ve been lied to, used, rejected, and blamed. I’ve also been loved. Most importantly I’ve learned to do better at making sure people see the fullness of grace and truth as we understand it. I’ve tried to teach our leaders the same and they’ve reminded, challenged and taught me as well. And this was quite a process o transformation. It’s still a work in progress.
So I really resonated with Stanley’s big picture here. He’s done a far better job on a bigger scale of developing a place that lives with these real ministry tensions, especially on issues of homosexuality and divorce.
But then he throws out his procedure on baptism and frankly it’s just wrong. He says on page 81: “You have to allow us to video record a three-minute version of your story to be shown on Sunday morning in order to be baptized. No video, no baptism. We don’t have any verses to support that. But baptism is central to our worship and arguably our most powerful evangelism tool.”
It’s this kind of stuff that keeps popping up. Stuff where even the sacraments must submit to promotional convenience. And all his talk of messy truth gets undermined. I’ve done video, audio, written and live testimonies. We’ve worked hard to let the reality of the person’s story and of the gospel dictate the format. Public? Yes. Profession of faith? You better believe it. But some people have aspects of their journey which make video a personal challenge too great to overcome. And it basically weds baptism to a certain technology. I’m an early adopter of tech, but I can’t swallow this one. I loved his example stories. Some of them were incredibly similar to ones I’ve had the joy of participating in. But too many stories are edited out for non-biblical reasons. This causes me to question a lot. Can you tell I’m stoked by this one?
But…still it’s only 100 pages in. Now we’re arriving on the doorstep of Spiritual Formation. This is what I came for. I’ll extend grace and get off my high horse to see what I can learn in Section Three: Going Deep. Rethinking Spiritual Formation.
Thanks for reading.

Deep & Wide

I received a copy of Andy Stanley’s new book: Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. There’s no doubt he’s an excellent communicator of biblical truth and all of us have a lot to learn from him as a strategist. He has built teams and developed vision for life-changing ministries. It seems this is his “everything I’ve learned so far” book. I’ve read the first 50 pages and if you’re connected to ministry in North America the story is a page-turner. Like many of my generation, Andy is someone I watched grow up in the spotlight of his father’s ministry. I’ve had opinions of various shades from gushing to sincere appreciation to doubts. Reading so far I’ve experienced all three again. Quite a bit of what I’ve read confirms what I’ve intuited from afar. There’s complexity and I’m not sure everything adds up as he explains it. But I came away with greater appreciation for his Father and for the support my wife has always given to my ministry. He takes a jab back at his critics who call his model “attractional” and point out its flaws. Instead of embracing their critique he fires back, using their preferred term “missional” somewhat sarcastically. This is unfortunate. But hopefully later in the book he’ll be a bit more balanced and positive.
I’m intrigued to read more and will eventually have a full review. I’m most interested in his take on spiritual formation, which apparently contains attractional elements.

Engage the Word: Genesis 37 Family Disaster

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In today’s reading the family dysfunction continues. Favoritism toward children is handed down to the next generation. Jacob favors Joseph and this does not work to Joseph’s advantage in the long run. His brothers hated him for it and they couldn’t wait to get the best of him. Joseph doesn’t help himself by appearing arrogant in the way that he shares his dream. Jealousy overtakes the brothers and they plot to destroy Joseph.
Why does this stuff happen in believing families? We should be a willing to trust that God is in control. God will take care of us. We don’t have to worry about someone else getting an advantage over us that God cannot overcome. Jacob should have learned from his own experience that favoring a child leads to so many problems that are so difficult to resolve. Nonetheless this stuff still happens on a regular basis even in Christian families today. Sometimes home is the hardest place to learn new patterns of living.
The good news is that God was creative enough to work out his plan and even bless Joseph beyond measure despite this bad beginning. Has your family experienced brokenness in relationships? Reflect on the unique role that you may have played in your family dysfunction. Ask God to show how you might be part of the solution going forward. Commit to obeying his leading. The Biblical story shows how difficult it can be to work out family relationship complications. But nothing is impossible when everyone cooperates with God. Sometimes others may refuse to cooperate and still give us a hard time. Sometimes that’s because trust is low based on past experience. We can have peace knowing that we have done all that we can. We may need to be patient with others praying for them and for opportunities to show our love to them. Given time, it’s amazing what God’s love can do. Always remember that. God can show you how to live with integrity and do your part to avoid these entanglements in the future. This allows you to make the most of your present and future despite the failings of the past. This brings peace as well. In the end, God’s love can redeem every broken place in our lives. And that is good news.
If your family has mostly been free from this kind of problem give thanks to God. Let the strength of your family be a blessing to all those around you!
Pray. Read. Reflect. Respond! Engage the Word today! And don’t forget to celebrate on Sunday at 10:30 AM at NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene!

Engage the Word: Let’s Make a Deal!

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Today’s ETW reading is from Genesis 27 & 28. In it we follow the sad developments in a dysfunctional family. Rebekah wants the best for her son and she’s willing to betray her husband and his other son to get it. The Brady Bunch this ain’t. Jacob follows his mother’s lead and deceives his brother, stealing a blessing meant for him. What a shameful act. How sad when family members begin to see each other as a means to an end.
Jacob misinterprets his apparent “success” and continues on with the pattern of selfish manipulation, even in his just beginning relationship with God. The truly amazing thing is how God chooses to work through this mess to bring about good things. God chooses to work with Jacob as the blessed son and comes to him through a dream. It is a glorious sight: a great ladder or staircase going up to the sky with angels ascending and descending on it. If this isn’t awesome enough, next the LORD is standing right next to Jacob! If you’ve studied the Bible all your life you notice a lot of theological things going on here. Jacob was no theologian. If you have developed a deep reverence for God as holy and worthy of worship for his own sake, regardless of what he might or might not do for us, then you see this as a powerful vision of God’s faithfulness, a deeply reaffirming blessing. You would be filled with awe and realize how significant it was for God to visit you in such a personal way. You would feel unworthy but thankful and mark this down as one of the great moments of life. Feelings of doubt would melt away. But if that’s you, Jacob isn’t like you. Not yet.
Jacob’s latest adventure in missing the point is to think it’s all about the place where God appeared. Truly it becomes sacred because God was there, but Jacob thinks it’s the ground itself. And instead of a deep and maturing appreciation for the holy, Jacob thinks that his obedience is up for the bidding. It’s almost like: “Well, God, I see that you’re really interested in blessing me and for the most part I think that’s really cool and all. But let’s not be too hasty here. I’ve got some really important things going on right now. The most important thing is me surviving and being comfortable. Sooooo…if you’re really interested, keep me safe on my journey. Make sure I’m well fed and clothed. And IF you manage to get me back to this place, I will make you MY God. I’ll even start putting you first financially. I’ll tithe. See there, God. I’ve made you an offer you can’t refuse!”
Do you try to cut “deals” with God in times of crisis? At the time we probably don’t realize how foolish it looks. But it’s about as selfish as it could possibly be. But our God is so gracious, so determined to work out his ultimate plan, that he sometimes works with us and our ridiculous manipulative ideas about him. Jacob’s schemes catch up with him. God doesn’t shield him from that. But he also gets an opportunity at redemption. He gets an opportunity to grow up, make things right, and truly be blessed. Jacob learned some important lessons the hard way (See Genesis 29-33 for the full story). But we can learn from him that God does not exist to make us comfortable. We exist to experience the joy of loving relationship with him. If we finally lay down our schemes and accept the grace he offers us in the way he offers it to us, we will find the peace we seek. Let God examine your heart. Come just as you are, admitting how much you need God. Confess and turn away from old manipulative ways. Receive forgiveness. Enter into holy friendship with God. Begin to live in new ways in the strength God provides. God says, “Yeah, let’s make a deal. You give me all your sin and selfishness. I’ll give you a new heart and show you a new way to live and change your world.”

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