Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There are now more licensed vehicles in America, than there are licensed drivers. The accumulation of more and more things (i.e. "the American way") has a corrosive effect - more than we might imagine. In addition to the resources that are tied up in owning, operating, repairing, running, storing, insuring and disposing things, there is an enormous "hidden" cost in diverted affection and focus. We don't have time for relationships, because we are too busy taking care of "things." Keeping stuff running takes undue management time.

A silver lining of the recession is that 32% of Americans have been spending less and intend to make their less costly lifestyle their "new normal." Nearly half of Americans say they already have what they need, up significantly from 2006. The hold of materialism is being broken. People are realizing that when you value objects less, you can value experiences and people more, and be richer for it. I have written about the church returning to deliberate simplicity. Frankly, it is much easier to make the challenge to the impersonal "church" (to a nameless, faceless organization) than it is to bring it right home to where you and I live. But I believe that is the next challenge. Are we prepared to strip away the extraneous, so that the essential can flourish?

One practical iteration of folks getting back to the "core" of life is the 100 Thing Challenge. The 100 Thing Challenge began as a blog, but now a number of individuals and groups have joined in and made it their modus operandi. The concept is simple. Pare your possessions to fewer than 100 items (a pair of shoes might count as one item, for example). A church in Minnesota took on this challenge as a group, and had so much to give to charity (boats, furniture, snowblowers) that it filled up a warehouse. The pastor went from five suits to one; from a dozen ties to two. The church enjoyed a return to basics, with less clutter and noise.

This is actually a very ancient Christian practice. The early church "sold their possessions and goods" and gave to anyone who had need. The biblical principal is this: We want to understate things so that we shout people. Last year my family went on a "rampage" and went through every closet and corner and pared "things" down significantly. It was a big step in the right direction. But Kristyn and I were just talking about new goals for this year, and seeing if we can get within the 100 Thing limit. My personal goal is to get rid of all my CDs, most of my books, and half of my clothes. I have nine pairs of shoes. I think I can get down to four. I have three watches. I only need one. Having less means less to worry about. Having less to worry about means more time for God and people.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Jesus told us to be God-centered and others centered because it is the only way to fly. Not only does being self-absorbed not work for others, it doesn't even work for you. It is much more satisfying to perceive ourselves as an insignificant character in a huge story, and take genuine interest in the other characters. Listen to G.K. Chesterton:

Are there no other stories in the world except yours; and are all men busy with your business? Suppose we grant the details; perhaps when the man on the street did not seem to see you it was only his cunning; perhaps when the policeman asked you your name it was only because he knew it already. But how much happier you would be if you only knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.

It seems to me that those in Christian leadership need to be especially reminded that "it's not about you." If you are wondering why it seems like people are not thinking about you, it's because they are not thinking about you (at least not very often). Now that you know that they are not interested in you, you can give your energy to being interested in them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The progression from ministry being done by the pastor at the church to ministry being done by believers in the world (from "doing" church to "being" church) means that the small group is the new staff meeting.

In the traditional church, the most important meeting for ministry accountability was the board meeting. This was usually a monthly meeting between the church council (perhaps called deacons, elder or board members) and the pastor. The pastor, being the primary "minister" in the church, would come under review. What was happening in the ministry? Was anyone being reached? What more could be done? How can we pray? The accountability kept the pastor on his toes.

In the programmatic church, the most important meeting for ministry accountability was the staff meeting. This was usually a weekly or bi-monthly meeting between the senior pastor and the program staff (worship, kids, music, youth, etc.). The staff, being the primary "ministers" in the church, would come under review. What was happening in the ministry? Was anyone being reached? What more could be done? How can we pray? The accountability kept the staff on their toes.

In the missional church, the most important meeting for ministry accountability is the small group meeting. This is usually a weekly meeting consisting of various members of the body (a school teacher, a construction worker, an office worker, a stay at home mom, etc.). The small group members, being the primary "ministers" in the church, would come under review. What is happening in the ministry? Is anyone being reached? What more can be done? How can we pray? The accountability keeps the people on their toes.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


David Ryser was teaching at a school of ministry. He gave a short history of Christianity that went like this: "Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise." Ryser describes what happened next....

Some of the students were only 18 or 19 years old--barely out of diapers--and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the import of the last line, so I clarified it by adding, "An enterprise. That's a business." After a few moments Martha, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. I could not imagine what her question might be. I thought the little vignette was self-explanatory, and that I had performed it brilliantly. Nevertheless, I acknowledged Martha's raised hand, "Yes, Martha." She asked such a simple question, "A business? But isn't it supposed to be a body?" I could not envision where this line of questioning was going, and the only response I could think of was, "Yes." She continued, "But when a body becomes a business, isn't that a prostitute?"

The room went dead silent. For several seconds no one moved or spoke. We were stunned, afraid to make a sound because the presence of God had flooded into the room, and we knew we were on holy ground. All I could think in those sacred moments was, "Wow, I wish I'd thought of that." I didn't dare express that thought aloud. God had taken over the class.

Martha's question changed my life. For six months, I thought about her question at least once every day. "When a body becomes a business, isn't that a prostitute?" There is only one answer to her question. The answer is "Yes." The American Church, tragically, is heavily populated by people who do not love God. How can we love Him? We don't even know Him; and I mean really know Him.

... I stand by my statement that most American Christians do not know God--much less love Him. The root of this condition originates in how we came to God. Most of us came to Him because of what we were told He would do for us. We were promised that He would bless us in life and take us to heaven after death. We married Him for His money, and we don't care if He lives or dies as long as we can get His stuff. We have made the Kingdom of God into a business, merchandising His anointing. This should not be. We are commanded to love God, and are called to be the Bride of Christ--that's pretty intimate stuff. We are supposed to be His lovers. How can we love someone we don't even know? And even if we do know someone, is that a guarantee that we truly love them? Are we lovers or prostitutes?

I was pondering Martha's question again one day, and considered the question, "What's the difference between a lover and a prostitute?" I realized that both do many of the same things, but a lover does what she does because she loves. A prostitute pretends to love, but only as long as you pay. Then I asked the question, "What would happen if God stopped paying me?"

For the next several months, I allowed God to search me to uncover my motives for loving and serving Him. Was I really a true lover of God? What would happen if He stopped blessing me? What if He never did another thing for me? Would I still love Him? Please understand, I believe in the promises and blessings of God. The issue here is not whether God blesses His children; the issue is
the condition of my heart. Why do I serve Him? Are His blessings in my life the gifts of a loving Father, or are they a wage that I have earned or a bribe/payment to love Him? Do I love God without any conditions? It took several months to work through these questions. Even now I wonder if my desire to love God is always matched by my attitude and behavior. I still catch myself being disappointed with God and angry that He has not met some perceived need in my life. I suspect this is something which is never fully resolved, but I want more than anything else to be a true lover of God.

So what is it going to be? Which are we, lovers or prostitutes?