“But all this prompts a very important question: Can we really seek Jesus all by ourselves apart from the practices of the church?”
Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3232-3233). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.
I have been challenged, frustrated, and mostly thrilled by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw’s new book Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. The book picks up a conversation that has gone on for a decade or more and been brewing for about 2,000 years. You can read other posts in the Blog Tour series which began here and continued here, here, here, here, and here. It has been a great conversation already and I’m excited to join in. I was interested in the early Emergent conversation because key theological themes were actually being discussed in light of ministry today. Ancient sources were being accessed and discussed in dialogue with contemporary theologians, philosophers, and ministry leaders. It was exciting. But I lost interest in Emergent a few years ago when I stopped recognizing the Church as we find it in Scripture, history, and contemporary life in that conversation. Enter Prodigal Christianity. A book that seeks to refresh this conversation on missional terms: terms directly related to building/experiencing the Kingdom of God through the local church.
I’m a local church pastor and teacher of preachers. I find the combination inspiring. One thing I have become convinced of in the last twenty years is that worship (including preaching and the sacraments) is the key focal point for discipleship, evangelism, and mission. In fact, preaching and the sacraments are foundational to what it is to be the church. Forms and styles of worship aren’t really the issue. Worship in community feeds living the missional journey in community. The Communion Table, where we experience the Eucharist (often in response to proclaimed Word and as the culmination of worship) is the place where the Gospel collides with the Church (real people) and Grace empowers our mission. It is where we understand what God has done for us, what God offers us, and the fullness of Kingdom life, which God invites and empowers us to live. This is no place for “me and Jesus” theology or practice. We come to the Table together in obedience to Jesus’ invitation and we receive the Grace of God for mission. We are conscious of each other, our connection to believers around the world, those who have gone before us, those who will follow, and those who are not present but could be.
So for me, any conversation about the Church separated from local church practices, centered in worship, is an adventure in missing the point, to quote an early emergent author. That’s why I’m thrilled that Prodigal Christianity includes Signpost 7!
“The church is not merely the product of mission. Rather, the church is mission. In the same way that Jesus’s incarnation both proclaimed and made present the kingdom of God, so too the church proclaims and makes present the in-breaking of his kingdom. The church is nothing if not local, incarnational communities practicing the kingdom.”
Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3257-3259). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.
Another key quote:
“These practices— the Lord’s Table, proclaiming the gospel, reconciliation, being “with” the least of these, being “with” children, the fivefold ministry, and kingdom prayer— have defined the church in the past. Unfortunately the church of the past has sometimes turned them into mere maintenance functions (or programs) for existing Christians. But as we hope to show, these inherently missional practices can be recaptured. In them, the kingdom becomes manifest visibly as a foretaste of the future. They shape us as Jesus’s body in the very middle of his mission.”
Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3266-3270). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.
I encourage you to read this book and dialogue with the authors. More importantly, wrestle with these epic theological questions in our present age. You will not agree with everything you read so you should discern God’s leading in community as always. But the authors point us to the right questions and more sustainable answers for our missional future. There is much at stake, but so much to be gained where we faithfully live our mission together by the Grace of our Ascended Lord.
Wow. A lot of thoughts swirl through my mind. Then I’m speechless. Then I’m theological. Then I’m sad. Then I’m judge and jury. Then I imagine how his family and the young girl and her family feel and the cycle starts again. Who is Pastor Jack? How do you go from called to preach to sneaking into other states with an underaged girl? (I don’t actually want to know!)
But as I prepare a previously scheduled sermon on the Lectionary passage of 2 Samuel 11, I’m amazed by the timing. I was scheduled to preach the first half of the story last week, but felt led in a different direction at the last minute. (A fairly rare thing for my ministry). But this story reads like a modern parable on David’s sin. And the Sandusky and Philadelphia scandals cry out for this passage to be unpacked. So perhaps the Lord didn’t want me to begin until this bit of news broke.
I don’t know Jack personally, so I have no starting point to judge his case. But if what has been alleged is true, every church and pastor will be somewhat affected. I’ve had my doubts (since the 1980’s) about how Hammond First Baptist has operated. I have to be honest. Yet, I also have often pointed out that they have a homeless shelter and good people do amazing good through several of its ministries. Pastor Jack helped a lot of really good things happen. But he apparently lost his way in a devastating way and is alleged to have taken actions no one can condone. The temptation is to judge harshly and distance oneself from “guys like him” with angry words, maybe even gloating a bit. But these are dark temptations in themselves and would be a mistake. Stone throwing? Nope.
There should be no joy here. There should be much prayer for all involved. Every church should re-examine procedures and policies. Christian leaders should examine their own hearts, seeking to be filled with more of God’s holy love and less of the world.
Penn State. First Baptist Church. Both great institutions with great potential where things that could happen anywhere started to happen a while ago, but an environment of tight control ironically unleashed chaos. Rather than looking down our noses, we should hit our knees and look up to heaven. What changes could be implemented to decrease the likelihood of a leader to stray? Are there helps that could be put in place to help struggling leaders overcome temptation? What safeguards should be revamped to protect innocent children more? How can we cultivate environments where only holy love is shared and where purity of heart wins the day? I’m glad the congregation I serve has always taken child safety seriously. But you can bet we’ll be reviewing all of the above for improvements! Lord, may your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.
Our series on David just became strikingly relevant. I’m sad for the circumstances and pain but thankful I know where to turn to find direction. (Even more glad I was already turning there.) Through it all, God is amazing! Young preachers, take note that the Lectionary can sometimes be amazingly relevant. (Even if sometimes, not!) Take note also that you should listen when the Lord guides you in various directions to override your plan. Take note finally that everything you build under God can go down in flames in an hour if boundaries and safeguards are neglected.
Today’s Ashes to Fire readings included the following from 1 Corinthians 9:10b, 14:
It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop … In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
This serves as a reminder of the inherent value of preaching the gospel…May preachers, congregations, and seekers never take it for granted. Any time the Word of God is opened and proclaimed by one who has prayed, studied, and prepared it is a supernatural event. I’ve told my preaching students: as preachers we want to remove all barriers to clear communication, being stewards of the Lord’s message and servants to our people. But we should not become arrogant so that we notice the flaws and mannerisms of other preachers rather than being in awe of the Word that is being proclaimed. May preachers count it a sacred privilege both to proclaim the gospel and receive it, whenever possible. May we study to show ourselves approved and rightly divide the Word of truth. And may we preach the gospel every week, not just isolated sermons on passages. Let the passage of the day be set in the context of the whole good news: the radical optimism of grace. May it provide food for souls and energy for kingdom living.
In the same way, may congregations never view preachers as hired hands who do religious tasks or run spiritual errands for them. May the preacher be paid. But may the preacher’s highest priority be to faithfully study and proclaim the gospel. This gospel must be proclaimed in a way that creates an environment for disciple-making. And may the life of the congregation be shaped around the disciple-making mission created by that good news. And may preachers lead the way in making disciples.
The passage above mentions paying preachers enough to make a living. Pastors can do their best work when the church feels a burden to take care of their needs. In this way the gospel is honored. And honor is important. When finances are slim, churches can be creative; finding ways to share the sacrifice and support the ministry.
The gospel is the foundation of our salvation. It is the very form of our life together. May all who preach proclaim it faithfully. And may the church always honor those who give their lives to it as God receives all the glory!
Click the above link for access to awesomeness! (It helps if you know who the Old Spice guy is…)
I’m indebted to my preaching student Matt Upshaw for the link!
So what makes preaching, preaching? We have a lot of different styles: narrative, inductive, deductive, affective, cognitive, expository, prophetic the list goes on.
But what makes them all “preaching”? I’d like to hear from you! If you regularly listen to a preacher, why do you do it? If you don’t, why not? If you are a preacher, what is the essential thing that must be present for something to be called preaching? Is it a form of speech (the structure)? A manner (the voice & mannerisms) of speaking? A physical arrangement? The character or training of the person speaking? The character of the community? Is it the spiritual presence of the communicator? The topic of the speaking? This is pretty wide open. Finally, is there any room for dialogue, or is preaching always one-way? Go ahead, share your view right here. Click on comments below!
I’m indebted to Shane Raynor for the above link. Although it’s aimed at United Methodist preachers, there’s something here for all Wesleyans, including Nazarenes. The author shares some of the history of early Methodist preaching, which revived nations and helped shape American pop culture.
Wesley was a scholar extraordinaire, but in the preaching moment he lit up like a Christmas tree and thousands gathered to watch him burn with holy passion.
Among the more interesting observations is that Wesleyan preaching was/should be more heart-to-heart than head-to-head. How it had/can have a decision or transforming experience as its goal. He also shares how Wesley & others might focus on a single phrase from Scripture, but bring it right into the daily experience of people.
This contrasts with the image many have had of Wesley and it’s worth reflecting on. The author also shares practical preaching insights from Henri Nouwen (not a Weleyan), which provide excellent ethical questions for preachers.
All of the points add up to greatly valuing the experience of the listener. Maybe our pulpits and furniture arrangements and bookshelves have shaped an academic, preacher-centered view that misses the mark in the pew-chairs: transformed lives. Can we reconsider our whole approach? Should we watch some video of ourselves to discover the dull patterns which need refreshing? If we’re going to keep preaching, why not invest our hearts and our bodies fully into those moments? What would it take to rekindle a fire in us people would want to experience for themselves?