Suffer with the suffering


I notice that Shane Claiborne has been in London this week speaking at the Pentecost Festival 2010.

In case you don’t know who Claiborne is, then here is his bio from the Pentecost Festival website (here):

“….Shane Claiborne, (is) a prophetic Christian activist. Having spent 10-weeks working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta and three weeks in Baghdad during the war in Iraq with the Iraq Peace Team, he sees the Christian message from a fresh perspective. His best selling books (The Irresistible Revolution, Jesus for President, and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers) paint a radical new vision for social action, peacemaking and community. His passion is found not only in his words but with The Simple Way, a faith community that he has helped pioneer in inner city Philadelphia. Shane’s take on Jesus’ instructions that are illustrated by his profound and often hysterical stories are causing a revolution… a revolution of ordinary radicals ready to change the world with little acts of love.”

I read The Irresistible Revolution a year or so ago and thought it was a profound book – and one that all of us should read!

With this in mind, I saw an article on the Christian Today website about the talk he gave last Friday, which really spoke to me:

Speaking to around 1,000 Christians last night, he (Claiborne) said it was time to rethink the church and what it meant to be followers of Christ in today’s world.

He encouraged Christians to be counter cultural and join in the suffering of the people living in their communities.

“The love [of the Bible] is not the love of storybooks and fairytales but it is the harsh love that keeps us up all night,” he said.

Claiborne pointed to the lesson of Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus – the rich man may have been rich during his life on earth but in the end he robbed himself of compassion and died lonely and separated from God.

“[Love] is something that first begins with us connecting with the suffering of the world when everything in this world teaches us to move away from suffering, to move way from neighbourhoods where there’s high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us. But Jesus moved into the neighbourhood,” he said.

“So many of us find that as we buy into the values of our culture that teach us to separate ourselves from suffering we find ourselves lonely cos we are made for compassion, we are made for justice, we are made for love.”

He argued that building community among believers was the key to forming disciples, as he joked about the irony that the number one priority of megachurches today was to get members of their congregations into small groups.

He contended, however, that the unity God wanted did not necessarily come through doing the big things, like the tower of Babel built by human hands, but rather through the small things done by Christians living like salt and yeast in the world.

He said: “If we lose a generation in the church it’s not going to be because we didn’t entertain them. We need to raise up a new generation in the church who don’t just ask ‘Am I going to be a teacher or lawyer or doctor?’, but ‘What kind of teacher or lawyer or doctor am I going to be?’ We need to make space in the church for those kinds of questions.”  (Bold added by me for emphasis)

The sentences that really hit me were, “….He encouraged Christians to be counter cultural and join in the suffering of the people living in their communities”, and “….Building community amongst believers is the key to forming disciples”.

You know, he’s right! 

Without true community we can’t expect to develop true disciples.  The two go hand in hand.

By it’s very definition, a disciple is someone who learns from someone else through close contact – they learn to do what the teacher does by observation, conversation and emulation, becoming more like the teacher every day.

In the Christian life we are disciples of Jesus, learning from him through the Holy Spirit working in us and through others around us.  This by itself is unbelievely profound, but what makes it even more mind blowing is that it is all impossible without community.  Without a true and living connection with others, and a personal and corporate connection with God himself in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, we can’t possibly hope to live a life as a disciple!

Are we forming disciples in our churches?  If not, then could it be that we aren’t building true community?

And what does true community involve – connecting with those who are suffering – not only with those in our immediate church family but also in love and compassion with others outside it in the world around us.

This is hard stuff, but it’s got me thinking!

Read the full Christian Today article here.


Seven Habits of Highly Evangelistic Christians

I say this on Jeremy Berg’s ‘Daily Illuminations’ blog here (referencing Kevin DeYoung’s blog here) – and thought it was worth repeating 🙂

Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway, argues that the secret to being an evangelistic church “is really no secret at all. Ultimately evangelistic churches see more persons become Christians through the passionate efforts of highly evangelistic Christians.”

And what characterizes these highly evangelistic Christians? Read on (bold type added for clarity).

1. They are people of prayer. They realize that only God can convict and convert, and they are totally dependent upon Him in prayer. Most of the highly evangelistic Christians spend at least an hour in prayer each day.

2. They have a theology that compels them to evangelize. They believe in the urgency of the gospel message. They believe that Christ is the only way of salvation. They believe that anyone without Christ is doomed for a literal hell.

3. They are people who spend time in the Word. The more time they spend in the Bible, they more likely they are to see the lostness of humanity and the love of God in Christ to save those who are lost.

4. They are compassionate people. Their heart breaks for those who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They have learned to love the world by becoming more like Christ who has the greatest love for the world.

5. They love the communities where God has placed them. They are immersed in the culture because they desire for the light of Christ to shine through them in their communities.

6. They are intentional about evangelism. They pray for opportunities to share the gospel. They look for those opportunities. And they see many so-called casual encounters as appointments set by God.

7. They are accountable to someone for their evangelistic activities. They know that many good activities can replace Great Commission activities if they are not careful. Good can replace the best. So they make certain that someone holds them accountable each week either formally or informally for their evangelistic efforts.

How are you doing? I know I have work to do – how about you?

Frustrated with ‘comfortable’ Christianity?

Looks like Francis Chan has been causing a stir this week by voicing his frustration about ‘comfortable’ Christianity, as the Christian Post reports:

Speaking at the Christian Resources Exhibition Thursday, Chan said he had experienced resistance to the radical extent of his service for Christ, not from non-believers but from fellow believers.

He said that all Christians were called to live like the early church believers who denied themselves, took up their crosses, sold their possessions (to give) to the poor, and shared everything they had.

“To me it’s crazy to live any other way than a completely radical lifestyle,” he said.

“It wasn’t just for the apostles. It wasn’t just for the early believers. It’s for us today.”

He lamented that Christians were too often “missing it” – the level of commitment and passion to spreading the Gospel demonstrated by the early church.

“You go to church these days and you stare forward and sing a couple of songs and listen to the message and go home,” he said.

“Haven’t you wondered how come everyone’s so content and everyone acts like this is the norm and this is okay when in your heart it’s driving you crazy and it doesn’t square with Scripture?”

He said it was easy for Christians to say “Amen” to sharing in the fellowship, resurrection and glory of Christ, but not so easy for them to say “Amen” when it came to sharing in His sufferings.

Even though it could be difficult, Chan told Christians it was in the midst of the danger and conflict that came with going out into the world and making disciples that the real peace of Jesus could be experienced.

“I feel very concerned for those people who walk into these buildings we call church and think they are Christians because they said a prayer and made a decision,” he said.

“Saying a prayer means nothing if there’s no follow through.”

He continued: “Where’s the obvious truth and where’s the obedience because I think we’ve missed some obvious things and created a system that doesn’t really make sense and we’ve done that because we don’t really want to live out Christianity, we don’t really want to become like Christ.

“Do you really want to be like Christ – rejected your whole life, spit upon, crucified? … We don’t want that part of Christ and yet it is those times when we are rejected for the Gospel that we really feel the peace and come to remotely resemble Jesus.”

Read the full article here.

Missional misfire or missional challenge?

It seems that Kevin DeYoung is not taken with Reggie McNeal’s recent book Missional Renaissance, and his three part review of the book last week is starting to cause a stir in the missional community.

To start off with, have a read of the introductory exerpt from McNeal’s book here and read a couple of favourable reviews here and here – just to give you a flavour of what it’s all about.

Then read DeYoung’s review and comments, Part 1, Part 2, Part 2 Addendum and Part 3.

Then read Bill Kinnon’s reaction here.

I know it’s a lot of reading – but all good stuff that will get you thinking about missional issues.

Personally, I think the whole missional, organic, emergent thingy going on at the moment is brilliant, because it’s making the established church rethink its praxis.  However, the reaction of some is to hold on tighter to what they’ve already got rather than to take the opportunity to critically question how to make things better!

The result is heated discussions which seem to polarise the situation – and we the readers are then asked to choose – established, traditional church or missional, organic church – the impression is that there is no half way house, that it is one or the other, that they are mutually exclusive and cannot thrive together.

Well, I refuse to choose – sorry!  Why can’t we have both – the traditional church revived by organic, missional and emergent expression?

In this instant I feel justified in nailing my colours firmly to the fence – because I think this is where the church needs to be!  Seriously.

I’m going to keep an eye on developments in the blogosphere over the next few days – it will be interesting to see who else wades into the discussion.

Any thoughts after all that?

5 Strategic Fails of Making Disciples


I saw the following on Bill Reichart’s ‘Fresh Ministry Ideas’ blog (here) – reflections on the top five strategic fails of making disciples:

Information doesn’t guarantee transformation. Information alone doesn’t change people. If it does, what’s our excuse? (Because never before in the history of the church has it been sooo resourced.) There’s been a big disconnect between the head and the heart. Discipleship isn’t merely about information download. Too often we have treated discipleship like a classroom. But Jesus didn’t disciple in a classroom. It was life on life. With life on life spiritual investment comes true, meaningful and real spiritual transformation.

Never equate longevity with maturity. It is possible to be in the church a long time but not have increasing evidence of Jesus’ indwelling. Any congregation can become a spiritual club, where graytops are merely infants in diapers. I heard a friend say that too many people in the church suffer from the Sponge Bob problem – they just come to church to sit and soak. If that is all people do, they will never grow. Spiritual transformation is never passive.

The measurement of discipleship is merely obedience.  This statement by itself is false, although obedience and life transformation is certainly a part of spiritual growth.  Yes it is true that discipleship isn’t merely about “knowing”, but we must be “applying”, otherwise it falls short.  But I would add this qualifier – we don’t want obedience stemming from legalism, but rather a person whose heart and life is captured by the love of the gospel.

Personal charisma doesn’t guarantee transformation. You can be a nice guy and still be a damned nice guy. Having spiritual manners — even some spiritual sensitivity — doesn’t make you mature. Nice people are adept at fooling others. Of course it is true that external niceness doesn’t necessarily indicate internal heart transformation. People can wear masks and be posers. Discipleship demands that we are willing to delve beyond external behavior and manners and get deep into matter of the heart.

Disciples aren’t made effectively in classes. There’s no way around it: time, time, more time. Coffee, coffee, more coffee. One conversation, then another. Classes are components but shouldn’t be the main method. Disciples are made within the messiness of real life. There is no substitute for it. People want to see how faith intersects real issues, struggles and challenges in life. You can’t teach that in a classroom.

All good stuff.  Any thoughts or responses?

Ed Stetzer on Making Disciples

Below is the first part of a sermon on ‘Making Disciples’ given by Ed Stetzer at the Verge 2010 Missional Community Conference.

I think it is very challenging and well worth watching:

Here are a few quotes from Ed’s sermon that need to be taken seriously:
“I am sick of knowledgable, religious people not living on mission and then criticising those who are”

“a knowledge base needs to lead to an action life”

“any system that disempowers or demotivates the people of God is unhelpful and perhaps sinful….because it destroys the common good”

“something is wrong when an on mission serving Christian is unusual”

“when we (leaders) do for people what God has called them to do, then everybody gets hurt and the mission of God gets hindered”

“disciples do, they don’t just learn.  They do what they learn.  They don’t just listen, they do what they hear”

“there is so much dead weight (in the church) because we have taught them (the congregation) to know and not do”

“you cannot disciple people with books, you disciples them life on life”

“obedience based discipleship lead to mission shaped disciples”

“if we agree that everyone is gifted….then why are half the people in your church doing nothing”

“it has become normal for huge parts of the body to be dead weight rather than mission shaped disciples……we have made it acceptable to sit in church week after week and do nothing and call yourself a follower of Jesus, and in doing so we have hindered the mission of God”
This is all challenging stuff.  We need to listen to people like Ed Stetzer because we have a lot to learn about mission in our contemporary culture from faithful servants like him.

You can hear the second half of his sermon here.

Decline of ‘Churchianity’ Will Lead to Growth of Genuine Faith

Charisma magazine in the USA asked the Philo Trust’s J.John to answer the question: What will life be like for the (British) church in 2020?

His response is summarised on the Philo Trust website here, and repeated below:

“Heading towards financial, moral and social bankruptcy it is hard to be optimistic about the future of Britain. Yet amid the gloom, I see rays of encouragement and hope. My predictions?

The continuing decline in ‘Churchianity’ will lead to a void in which a genuine Christian faith will stand out clearly.

The current affection for hedonism, consumerism and secularism will be maintained, but there will be a growing realisation that they do not satisfy.

While the decline of the formal, traditional, institutional churches will continue there will be significant mega-churches in all the major cities that will be the new ‘cathedrals’ and a rapid rise in small, fluid fellowships.

As society becomes colder, more detached and increasingly virtual, the attraction of authentic, caring, Spirit-filled fellowships will be compelling.

As ‘book culture’ wanes there will be a loss of biblical knowledge that will leave the church vulnerable to fads and heresies. This will be balanced by a growth in Christians who will hold to God’s word with a new seriousness.

The failure of ‘multicultural’ philosophy and political correctness will produce some urban areas as no-go zones for evangelism. Nevertheless, there will a growing number of Christians, churches and martyrs. 

It’s not going to be boring! And God is still on His throne.
I think his observations are very astute, and as far as I am concerned, seem more or less spot on!

The question for me is what do we do about it?  What do we need to change in order to ensure that the church is ready?  

We need to seriously think about how we disciple Generation Web, our book shy youth, to be ready to lead the church in 2020 and beyond.  This is where my heart is at the moment – thinking about this very issue!  But we can only think for so long – at some point we need to start doing!!

What do you think?

Mother Teresa – Do it anyway!

Written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s office in Calcutta was the following:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centred

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives,

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies,

The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,

What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,

People really need help but may attack you if you help them,

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,

Wow.  I have never heard that particular quote from Mother Teresa until today.

What do you think?

Mark Sayers: Staying in the spotlight

Here is an excellent short video by Mark Sayers. As the blurb on the YouTube page says:
“Sometimes when we are confronted by a harsh truth about ourselves the worst question to ask is “what do I do now?” Real change comes through standing in the spotlight and facing our own nakedness and vulnerability before God.”
Watch the video and see what you think.