Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On Mission by Darrin Patrick

Darrin Patrick is a founding elder at The Journey in St. Louis, MO. He has this great essay on their site at

On Mission
Jesus of Nazareth came on a mission. He was not looking for the well, the found, or the righteous. His mission was not about starting a ministry that would produce programs to be consumed by nice, attractive, middle-class, white, suburban, couples with 2.5 kids. It wasn't a country club with nice, painted, iron gates that Jesus inaugurated. It was a church that Jesus founded with its calling to storm the gates of hell. The church he founded was not a place for people to get fed and fat, but a place to be equipped and sent. Church is not a building or destination, but a people who are on mission: to join the Savior in seeking and saving those who are lost.

Evangelism, or mission, is not just another program that the church carries out. It is not some peripheral activity. The church is mission. Yes, the church gathers as people being called out (ekklesia) of the world. But the church is at the same time being sent out (apostolos) into the world. The church certainly must be called out from the world, but it also must certainly go back into the world. We are to be holy, set apart and different in our character than those who do not know God. But, we should also refuse to believe the lies the "churched" culture tells us: avoid hanging out with the people in the world because you will be corrupted. We also need to reject the lie that we have to create our own Christian sub-culture and insulate ourselves from the big, bad world. Mission demands that we follow Jesus, friend of sinners, by being immersed in relationships with those far from God, and thus, bring light to lost people in dark cultures. We are called out, but we are sent. It is only in the context of being sent do the metaphors "salt of the earth," "city on a hill," and "light of the world" make sense in describing the church. We are to be people who have been encountered by God through the gospel, and then we are to enter the world with the gospel.

Mission is intrinsically connected to community. In the gospel of John, it is said that the unity of the church is vital if the world at large is to believe and experience the Christ sent from God the Father (John 17:21-23). Further, he said that we, the church, would be identified as followers of Christ only when we are sacrificially loving one another, which is another way of true Biblical community (John 13:34-35). It seems that the gospel of John points us to a reality that is both awesome and frightening: The believability of the gospel which the church proclaims is directly linked to the "realness" of its community. Could it be that many times, the gospel cannot be fully comprehended outside of this kind of real community?

Living the gospel, ie - being on mission, can take many forms: explaining the gospel to a friend or stranger, carrying out acts of compassion, or by being faithful to sacrificially love those in your church. The challenge is for all of us to stay in "mission-mode" and not to default to "maintenance-mode." When it comes to being missional, it is easy for Christians and local churches to be content in our bible studies, worship services and small groups and to forget the world. We do not drift toward mission, we drift away from it. It is not easy to be missional, it is hard work, it takes intentionality. It is much less stressful to hang out with people who look the same, smell the same and believe the same things we do. It is uncomfortable and challenging to intentionally spend time with people who hold differing world-views. But we must push through this discomfort because we are the church. We are the church, the called-out ones. We are the church, the sent-out ones. We are the church, on mission for the sake of the world.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Dangers of Pragmatic and Moralistic Preaching by Tim Keller

Here are a few thoughts on both pragmatic preaching and on moralistic preaching from Tim Keller. You can click the title of this blog entry to read the whole article. Sadly, this is the kind of preaching I have been hearing in the churches lately. And worse, these are the kinds of sermons I have been preaching for years!

On Pragmatic Preaching
...Today's preacher must argue against the self-serving pragmatism of postmodernity. The gospel does say that through it you find your life, but that first you must lose your life. I must say to people, "Christ will 'work' for you only if you are true to him whether he works for you or not. You must not come to him because he is fulfilling (though he is) but because he is true. If you seek to meet him in order to get your needs met, you will not meet him or get your needs met. To become a Christian is not to get help for your agenda, but to take on a whole new agenda—the will of God. You must obey him because you owe him your life, because he is your Creator and Redeemer."

On Moralistic Preaching
...Deep weariness etched every line of Joan's face and body. "I just can't do it any more," she said. "I can't live up to what a Christian is supposed to be. All my life I've had people telling me I had to be this or do that in order to be accepted. I thought Christ was supposed to bring me freedom from that, but instead God turns out to be just one more demanding taskmaster—in fact, he's the worst of them all!"

That conversation underscored for me that Christian moral teaching is both similar to, and very different from, that of other moral and ethical systems.

At the end of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis demonstrates how the major religions agree on certain moral absolutes. Christians find that in today's culture wars, they often are on the same side with believing Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. The Christian preacher seems to be saying, "Be moral," along with exponents of other philosophies.

But when we ask, "Why be moral?" the other systems say, "In order to find God," while Christianity says, "Because God has found you." The Christian gospel is that we are not saved by moral living, we are saved for it. We are saved by grace alone, but that grace will inevitably issue in a moral life.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Religionless Spirituality by Tim Keller

Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. The church today is calling people to God with a tone of voice that seems to confirm their worst fears. Religion has always been outside-in—"if I behave out here in all these ways, then I will have God's blessing and love inside." But the gospel is inside-out—"if I know the blessing and grace of God inside, then I can behave out here in all these ways." A woman who had been attending our church for several months came to see me. "Do you think abortion is wrong?" she asked. I said that I did. "I'm coming now to see that maybe there is something wrong with it," she replied, "now that I have become a Christian here and have started studying the faith in the classes." As we spoke, I discovered that she was an Ivy League graduate, a lawyer, a long-time Manhattan resident, and an active member of the ACLU. She volunteered that she had experienced three abortions. "I want you to know," she said, "that if I had seen any literature or reference to the 'pro-life' movement, I would not have stayed through the first service. But I did stay, and I found faith in Christ. If abortion is wrong, you should certainly speak out against it, but I'm glad about the order in which you do it."

(Click on the blog entry title to read the entire article.)

In Search of Jesus part 4

We went to a presbyterian church this morning. We ran a little late and had to park a couple of blocks away missing the first 15-20 minutes of the service. It's been a while since I've been inside a traditionally designed sanctuary. I was surprised at how the stained glass and bronze memorial plaques had an impact on me. Something connected within me when I saw the colorful art of the large stained glass windows adoring the walls of the church. The choir did a really good job with the anthem. I don't know who the composer was but the only lyrics were "Alleluia." And no, it was not the Hallelujah Chorus!

When the announcements (aka. inimations) were made by one of the ministers (pastors), he seemed really nervous. Though he seemed to have a script (list), it seemed like he really didn't know what to say about the church members he was talking about. I think this minister just came on board and didn't know the congregation very well.

After the announcements, the minister called a "lay person" up front to read some passages of the Bible from the New Testament. She did a pretty good job. I remember thinking how much I appreciate the public reading of the Word of God. I thought it odd to think that since I really am not much of a traditionalist.

When it was time for the sermon, I was surprised to find out that it was the same minister who gave the announcements that was going to give the sermon! He started out very promising by getting right into the passage (Ephesians 1). I thought that he was going to do an exposition on that passage of Paul's epistle. But then everything fell apart. I tried really hard to listen but I could not comprehend what he was saying! It seemed to me that each sentence he spoke was not connected to the previous one nor to the sentence to follow. And I could not figure out what he was driving at. What was he trying to communicate to the congregation? It really was a mystery to me as he seemed to end abruptly as well.

Well, when I do these critiques and share my observations, it is with the perspective of a lost/unregenerate person. And I must say that I came away just confused. I am looking for the answer to these 3 questions when I visit churches:

1. Who is Jesus to this church?
2. What is the gospel according to this church?
3. What is the mission of this church to the city/nation/world?

I'm sad to say that I could not find the answer to these questions in this church experience. So for about 60 minutes this morning, nothing was said about Jesus, the gospel, or the church's mission to the world. I feel sorry for the people who took the time to dress up and attend this service.

Not wanting to end this on a sour note, I must say that the closing hymn was awesome. Rejoice the Lord is King is one of my favorite hymns. I had a tear in my eye when we sang the last stanza.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Discovering Contentment

Moving from Manila to Ottawa was a big risk for me and Beth. We had no promise of employment. No financial support from the church we had been leading for the past 8 years. It's been 3 months now, and we still have no source of income. It's hard for me to have to rely on others to meet our needs. It's an uncomfortable time in our lives now.

Paul's letter to the Philippians can be compared to a missionary's letter to his prayer partners and supporters. Early on in the letter, the apostle calls the Philippian church his "[partners] in the gospel from the first day until now (1:5)." The life of a apostle/missionary can be a life of sacrifice and hardship. Someone once commented that the hallmark of an apostle is a willingness to suffer. Paul's life is defintely a clear example of suffering for the sake of Christ and his Cause. And yet he could say that he was content.

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opprotunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13

Paul learned the secret to being content in whatever his circumstances. The active word here is "learned." The Greek word is "mathano" which means "to learn by use and practice." Contentment isn't something that comes easy. It's something that is learned and developed. Mathano is also a derivative from the Greek word "mathetes" which is the word for disciple. Paul was a disciple of contentment. His life experiences taught him about being content even in a time of need.

What keeps us from being content?

Too often we are not content because we see our friends, neighbors or other family members possessing things that we ourselves wish we had. We dream of what it would be like to have that car, that house, that barbeque grill, that job, that lawn, that wife! Our misguided fantasies create discontentment in our hearts.

I can point to the specific issues in my own lilfe where I struggled with envy as a preacher/speaker. I remember envying my pastor friend's prophetic anointing or another colleague's connections in the national church network. Years ago, as a young church planter, I recall the envy in my heart towards those who had more and more people attending their own church plants. I remember attending a leadership conference in one of the U.S.'s major megachurches and feeling so intimidated by the sprawling campus, brand-spanking new audio-visual equipment, multiple lcd projectors, and humungous cafeteria/atrium. I think I must have glowed green all weekend at that event.

Many of us are driven by greed. Our lives are all about accumulating things. Something deep in us convinces us that our lives amount to how much we can get. Our self-worth is based on our net worth. The size of our bank accounts, the number of cars parked in our driveway, gtetting the latest gadgets become the driving force in our lives. The Bible calls greed idolatry. Greedy people are always discontent. Someone once asked a billionaire Howard Hughes, "How much (money) is enough for you" His answer was, "Just one more dollar." Never content.

Complexity of Life
The complexity of life can make us feel discontent. We may be overwhlemed by the demands of life. The truth of the matter is that life is hard, life is unfair, and life is demanding. Though we wish we could put the demands on our lives in a waiting line and deal with them one at a time, the reality is that they come at us from every direction. A life like this not only brings increasing stress but also increasing discontent.

Our wants can cause us to be discontent. There is a distinction between our wants and our needs. God promises to meet our needs when we put him first in our lives (Matthew 6:33). But God does not promise to give us all our wants. The myriad of choices available in the world can cause a lot of discontentment in our hearts.

Isn't it so frustrating when you buy a computer and 6 months later a better, faster, smaller and improved version comes out at the same price? It seems we can never keep up with technology. Technological discontentment. I bought an iPod a while ago. Within a year or so, Apple came out with the iPod Nano with video! Last year, I bought an iBook G4. A week ago, Apple released the new Mac Book! Arrrrrrgggggh! iDiscontent!

Envy, greed, life complexity, and wants are all factors that war against our sense of contentment. They conspire to ensure that we never feel satisfied with our lives. So how do we learn to be content?

Learning to Be Content

1. Hang on to the goodness of God. Being a disciple of contentment means that we first and foremost become learners of God's character. Don't reduce God to be the Great Big Vending Machine in heaven. Some people will take God's goodness and pervert it to mean that God wants them to have everything they desire. By doing this, they justify their greed. God's goodness means that the things in your life -even the really crappy situations- are there to eventually do some good for you. Romans 8:28-29 tells us that ultimately every circumstance can be used to shape our character closer to the image of Christ. Being conformed to Christlikeness is the ultimate good.

2. Cultivate thankfulness. Discontentment is driven by a spirit of ingratitude. The foundations of contentment begin with thankfulness. Be thankful for God's goodness. Be thankful for what you do have. A grateful heart has no room to be discontent.

3. Recognize what is essential and what are the extras in your life. We were recently informed that the developer who designed and built our community will be making repairs to our house and property. Unstable soil movement has cause problems with the foundations of our house. And so, we have to pack up and move everything in the basement and in the garage into storage. This has caused us to realize how much we really have accumulated over the years. When we move all of our stuff back into the house, we're gonna have to determine what things are essential and what things are extras. Hopefully, this will put order to our domestic clutter. When we can accept what our essentials are and how God has provided for those essentials, we will be able to simplify our lives and discover the peace of contentment.

Returning to the Cross
When all is said and done, it is essential that we bring our discontentment to the cross. Forces like envy and greed are found in our hearts. And the only thing that can change our hearts is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the life we ought to have lived and died the death we should have died. By faith, we can return to the cross time and time again to deal with these recurring forces in our lives that produce discontentment and unrest.

The good news is that contentment isn't something that we need to work hard for. Contentment is a gift from God that can be received when we lay down our envy and greed at the cross through confession and repentance. At the cross, Jesus exchanges our greed and envy and unhealthy desires and ambitions for his peace and contentment.

Jesus was the embodiment of contentment. Not the contentment found when you empty your mind and your heart of all ambition and care (like Buddhism). Rather, Jesus was content because he trusted his Father in heaven. Jesus was content because he was more concerned about fulfilling his purpose than measuring his possessions.

When we recognize and admit that there are specific personal forces at work in our hearts that cause us to be ungrateful and discontent, we can repent (change our minds) and come to Christ in prayer and surrender our envy and greed to him. Those personal forces then are killed at the cross and Jesus gives us his life. From Christ, we receive the ability to appreciate God's goodness, cultivate thankfulness and simplify our lives. Beyond that, we can discover our purpose in Christ which becomes the great organizing factor of all we are and do. And this is why we can say with the apostle Paul, "I can do everything through him [Jesus] who gives me strength."

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Gospel According to Ottawa

So far, here is what I understand about Canadians in general and Ottawa/Orleans in particular:

1. They generally feel that religion is a private matter.
2. They are reluctant joiners.
3. They stay away from Americanism.
4. They value their freedom first and foremost. Next to freedom they value their friendships/relationships most.
5. They are sexually liberal. Orleans (east Ottawa) is considered to have the highest number of swingers in the area.
6. They have more confidence in religious leaders than in politcal leaders.
7. They value being loved and appreciated.
8. They see themselves as spiritual in a personal and private way.
9. They are spiritually open.
10. Their questions on life and death have not been addressed by the church.

With this in mind, the gospel must be contextualized to the Canadian mindset/culture. I propose the following approach.

The gospel must be presented as the power of God to address deeper heart issues. Canadians must be shown that the roots of personal and social damage is found in the hearts of men and women. And that the only solution to healing those roots is the cross of Jesus Christ. Sin must be presented not only as something to take responsibility for but also as a destrutcive force that other people and social systems have enacted against them. In other words, the gospel must also be the solution to the sins committed against them as well as the solution to the sins they themsleves have committed.

Sin must be postioned as spiritual choices made personally and by others that hinder their deepest personal freedoms and stunt their personal development. Canadians must be made to understand that there is a social dimension to sin; that sin damages culture a well as individual souls.

The response to the gospel must be threefold: personal, public, and purposeful. This is to say that Canadians must be called to personally follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And that following him means entering into intentional community with people in His church. But that intentional community and personal faith has a missional purpose which calls each Canadian to go beyond their cultural comfort zones and influence others for Jesus Christ.

This Canadian gospel must be communicated through at least 2 primary means: public proclamation where the cross is central to every message (see my entry on Christ-Centred Preaching) and through the practice of missional hospitality/friendship-building with disconnected people.

In Search of Jesus part 3

I want to put a disclaimer in this 3rd installment of In Search of Jesus. We have been visiting churches in our part of Ottawa, Canada to get a better understanding of what the Church (capital C) has been offering to the city. In no way do I want this to be misconstrued as sitting in judgment over these ministries; only the Lord Jesus has the right to judge anyone. My intent is to confirm something I have been suspecting about the Church. I suspect that the Church has been preaching morality rather than the gospel and that the cross is not central to the message of Jesus' Church. I have undertaken this personal project because I myself have erred in much the same way that I have written about regarding these churches. Having said that...

We went to a Baptist church yesterday. I appreciated that the service was at 11am. We got to sleep in a little and didn't have to feel rushed. Nice. There were just under 50 adults in attendance. Here are my observations.

Overall, I felt that the musical style, Bible version (KJV), and preaching style created a big DISCONNECT on a personal and cultural level. The congregational singing was accompanied by a piano and was led out of a hymnbook. They sang old Gospel hymns like the type you would hear in the US Midwest. The choice of songs had nothing to do with the message and the lyrics were outdated. Unfortunately, the pastor read the Bible passage he was preaching from out of the KJV. I don't think anyone could have possibly understood the story as he read it.

As for the pastor's preaching, I appreciated that he taught the Bible as an exposition. This did not happen in the 2 previous churches I had visited (see In Search of Jesus 1 and 2). Unfortunately, the pastor had a habit of scrunching up his face quite often giving the impression that he was angry or disgusted. This happened a LOT. He did not give us background or context of the passage he read from so we didn't know where the story fit in the big picture. The pastor had way too many references to other passages that really distracted from the main passage he was teaching from. He referred to several obscure passages assuming that the congregation was familiar with them. He also used a lot of "christianese" like judicial forgiveness, gloriously saved, born again, remission etc.

In all fairness, of the 3 pastors whose churches we've visited, this pastor was the only one who tied in his teaching to following Jesus as a disciple. That in itself far outweighs all of the negatives I listed far as I am concerned.

When I visit churches I have been asking 3 questions:

1. Who is Jesus according to this church?
2. What is the gospel according to this church?
3. What is Jesus' mission in this city according to this church?

This is what I discovered in this Baptist church:

1. Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross as the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.

2. The gospel message (according to a tract they give to every visitor) is about having one's sins forgiven by trusting in Jesus Christ. Nothing else is mentioned about the benefits of the gospel except forgiveness of sin.

3. Nothing was ever communicated about the mission of Jesus or the Church in the city.

Though I truly appreciated that this church taught the Word of God, Jesus and the cross were still not central to the message of this church. They were relegated exclusively to the beginning of the Christian life. This is something I suspected that most churches were doing. In visiting other churches, I have been confirming this suspicion.

Are 3 churches enough to make this conclusion? A Seeker church, a Baptist church, and a Pentecostal church. Hmmm....I think we will visit an Alliance church next.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Decoding Culture part 4

Here's are excerpts from Alison Johnson's Harvest Field Research Initiative: Summary of Findings Religion Data (August 2003). This is based on 2001 Canadian Census data. You can read the full report here.

Our greatest challenge in Ottawa-Hull is not with those of Other Faiths or those with No Religion, it is with the vast majority of people who associate themselves with the Christian Faith, but are not active disciples. The challenge is how to reconnect with these people.

If we describe ‘Unreached’ people are those who have not made a positive connection with the gospel as evidenced by lack of regular participation in church services (yearly or never). It is our focus to connect with these people through various means to share the whole gospel and connect them with a church family where they can be discipled. Unreached people represent 69% of the Ottawa-Hull population. 68% in Ottawa and 72% in Hull.

Despite limited involvement now there is a growing trend to affiliate with a religious group for life events such as weddings, birth-related events and funerals. Also the vast majority of Canadians believe that God exists and pray privately. There is a hunger for spiritual things and 41% of Ontarians and 57% of Quebecers say that they have experienced God’s presence.

However, the Church is not meeting their needs. The No Religion group is the religious group which grew the most between 1991 and 2001 in Canada and Ottawa-Hull. Most of these people are younger.

Religion of Children
Judeo-Christian religious groups tend to remain dominant in Canada despite intermarrying between religious groups. In the Judeo-Christian family it appears that the mother’s religion is the strongest indicator of the children’s religion

Confidence and Values
• Canadians are more confident in religious leaders than in government leaders. More than half of all Canadians (56%) believe that ministers should be addressing social, economic and political issues, including 51% of those who say they have no religion.

• Top values for Canadians are: freedom, family life, being loved and friendship which can be summarized as freedom and relationships. These are followed by a comfortable life, success and creativity. Religion and spirituality are important to those already involved in religion.

• Canadians' questions about life and death are not being addressed.

• There was little difference by generation in expression of spiritual needs or in the belief that one is spiritual. More than half of Canadians see themselves as spiritual, and a solid majority say they have spiritual needs. Despite this most keep it to themselves. The less often one attends religious services the more likely they are to keep their spirituality to themselves. 60% of yearly attenders and 80% of nevers, keep their spirituality pretty much to themselves as opposed to sharing it outside a religious group.

• There is a stirring among large numbers of people outside the churches who are pursuing answers about life and death and spiritual needs with more openness than at perhaps any time in our nation’s history.
• 3 in 4 Canadians are talking to God at least occasionally. 2 in 4 Canadians think they have actually experienced God’s presence.
• 55% of adults who are currently attending services less than monthly say they would ‘consider the possibility of being more involved in a religious group if they found it to be worthwhile for themselves or their families.’ What would make it worthwhile varies. Here are Bibby’s conclusions at this point although he indicates that more research is required:
o ‘Nones’ may need to be convinced that their needs can be met;
o Catholics that the Church is capable of change, openness and flexibility;
o Mainline Protestants that particular emphasis to the children, partner, and friendship networks will be given.
• ‘All is well on the demand side. It’s the supply side that poses the problem.’ The belief systems and programs offered by churches and other religious groups are simply not connecting with the people who need them or think they might need them at some point in the future.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Church Keeps On Growing and Growing and...

I love it! Just got some great news from my leaders in Manila. We've almost doubled the number of simple churches in our network from when I left 3 months ago. We've gone from 10 simple churches to 18 simple churches meeting this week. And apparently, 3 more new simple churches will meet this Sunday. That makes it 21 simple churches in the NuComm Network. Awesome!

Tactical Communication

Tonight, I attended my brother's (Sonny) seminar on Tactical Communication: Improving Interpersonal Communication Skills and Diffusing Aggressive Behaviour Through Verbal and Nonverbal Messages. This is a required class for those working in the network of 12 bars and restaurants in the Byward Market, Ottawa. I was impressed by his ability to apply the materials to the service industry. He really is an expert in his field. 15 years working in the Byward Market makes him quite knowledgeable.

He ended the teaching part outlining Strategies for Conflict Prevention. The workbook lists 15 of these strategies. As I listened to his explanations, I realized that these are great guiding principles for those of us who attempt to share the gospel with people. Check them out. I will list them as they appear in the workbook but I'll add commentary in parentheses:

1. If not in clearly marked uniform, identify yourself. (This speaks to the need for Christians not to be ashamed to be identified as followers of Christ.)

2. Establish rapport as soon as possible.

3. Always begin in a friendly way.

4. If possible avoid any physical contact. ( I'm not sure how this applies to faith sharing. Maybe in the area of inappropriate touch?)

5. Utilize positive body language.

6. Actively listen ---do not interrupt.

7. Appear fair and unbiased. (Although our end goal is to eventually help people make a decision to follow Christ, in the process of sharing we should be fair and unbiased especially when you talk about other religions.)

8. Make an effort to honestly see things from the other person's point of view. (Awesome advice!)

9. If you're wrong admit it quickly. (It would be refreshing for Christians to admit their faults and failure in sharing the gospel. Most of us make the mistake of thinking we have to be perfect, successful, victorious etc. to be a convincing witness for Christ.)

10. Do not say the first thing in your mind especially if you have become angered or offended.

11. Use agreement/word re-direction.

12. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "you're wrong" re-direction of words "I see and..."

13. Get the person saying "yes" immediatley. (It's good to build common ground here.)

14. Important to remain calm and in control at all times.

15. Remember the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day!

May we all honor the women in our lives who have exhibited amazing strength and courage in raising a generation of men and women to follow after them to the best they knew how with the resources they had and the opprtunity availabe to them.

I honor my own mother, Adeluisa F. Juane, who showed incredible strength, faith, and foresight as she raised 3 boys to become responsible, courageous men...all by herself! As she proudly says, "I'm so glad that I know that none of my sons will ever grow hungry. They know how to take care of themselves." Today, she continues to demonstrate the same strength and faith more than ever.

Thanks, Ma! I love you.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Decoding Culture part 3

Belief strong in Canada, but the pews are empty: Poll shows 'there is a thriving privatized faith'

This was the headline in the online version of the National Post for April 15,2006. The article quoted Andrew Grenville, senior vice-president of Ipsos Reid which conducted a Canadian religious survey weeks leading to Easter this year as saying, "There's a huge gap between those who believe and those who belong." Reginald Bibby, a Canadian sociologist and former Baptist pastor in Canada and the U.S. has claimed that 25% of Canadians attend church on a weekly basis. However, says differently. The site claims that Canadians (and Americans) are lying to pollsters. The real figure is about 10%.

But I think one thing is clear in decoding Canadian culture. There is a definite bias towards a private faith. How does the church engage a culture that strongly believes that one's beliefs are best kept private? It behooves churchplanters to demonstrate the benefits of allowing one's beliefs to impact society. Churchplanting in Canada will be even more of a challenge because of this.

In Search of Jesus part 2 (Redux)

This morning we attended the 9am service of a popular Pentecostal church in East Ottawa. Just as I did last Sunday at the WCA church, I wanted to see this church from the eyes and ears of someone who did not know Christ. It was a bit difficult since I did know most of the people on staff at this church and several of the members who attend. But laying aside those factors, the following is what I observed:

1. The music was culturally relevant but the sound levels were so low that it was difficult to really appreciate and allow the music to inspire us. The music and musicians were great. But the level at which they were set was uninspiring.

2. There was a strong family feel in the atmosphere which included the recognition of one of the staff members retiring and the person who would replace her.

3. I was greeted by about half a dozen people before and after the service. This would have been great if this is what a visitor would experience. Sadly, this church has a reputation for not being that friendly.

4. Jesus was barely mentioned during the sermon. This was disappointing since there were some really good opportunities to bring Jesus into the talk. For example, when the preacher said that the perfect example of obedience was Jonah, I thought that he could have brought Jesus in as the Perfect example. This could have been tied in to say that even though we are inconsistent with our own obedience, Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. His complete obedience makes up for our disobedience. And through Christ, we can receive God's blessings.

I guess I'm really sensitive to the lack of Jesus being the center of our messages these days. I saw it in the WCA church last week. And I saw it again in this Pentecostal church.

Again, the Bible was the central figure in this church not Jesus. And the more I see this happening, the more I am convinced that there is a HUGE difference between being Bible-centered and being Jesus-centered. They are NOT the same thing.

So thus far, I have been able to observe 2 kinds of churches in Orleans. One was a seeker-sensitive type of church and the other a Pentecostal church. One was a small church of less than 100 and the other a large church with about 1000 or so people. Both have been around for over 10 years. And both did not seem to preach Jesus as the central figure. Both did preach the Bible. But what they communicated was a "try harder and do more" kind of message which isn't really good news at all, is it?

(I have deleted certain sections of this post in the interest of sincere love for those who may have been personally hurt by my comments in those earlier sections. I believe in freedom of speech. And I believe in the necessity of the Church to critique itself even though it may be painful to hear. None of my comments in the In Search of Jesus thread on this blog were meant to hurt anyone nor name specific names. I call them as I see them from my POV. However, in the interest of sensitivity and to maintain honor and respect to individuals who are sensitive to those previous comments, I have edited some content here. -MAJ)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Decoding Culture part 2

In his review of Michael Adams' Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, Jordon Cooper from makes this conclusion which I tend to agree with:

-The American worldview is dominating our church in Canada which may explain why the exodus of Canadians continues to move away from the church. Some may say that the people are leaving the Gospel but I don't agree. I think the Canadian church has taken some shortcuts and is taking answers from south of the border without asking the hard answers ourselves. Just as part of the country votes for neo-conservative values and feels that they can have success, the church looks around and takes comfort in the fact that "these people are listening to what I am saying" without ever thinking that the majority is looking and going, "that doesn't jive with anything I am seeing".-

This makes the job of decoding Canadian culture all the more important. What I have been observing is that rather than taking the time to do the hard work of decoding culture, the tendency for church planters is to be captivated by a model of ministry (Willow Creek, Saddleback, G12, emerging etc.) and then entering into a community and simply implementing that model. This may be why Ottawa has yet to see a significant spiritual movement and why the city does not have a single megachurch in her midst.

One thing for sure, any missional church that wants to reach Canadians must not come across as an American import.

Monday, May 01, 2006

In Search of Jesus

Last Sunday, our family along with my cousin's family decided to visit a church we had heard about in our neighborhood. It is a Willow Creek Association church which has been meeting in a French elementary school just a few blocks away from our house. I was intruigued because it was the first church in Orleans that I knew of that was connected to Willow Creek.

When we got there we saw that the service was in the gym which they had split conveniently in two so that their children's ministry could meet on the other side. Seating was around large round tables - the kind you use for fundraising dinners. It looked like our two families comprised almost half the congregation. There was a small band set up with drums, bass, acoustic guitar and keyboard in the front. There was no stage. The LCD projector was large but of good quality. There was no pulpit in sight but there were several awkwardly placed music stands for the band and for the speaker. A coffee table was set up on the side but I couldn't figure out where the coffee was on the table. Though they did have a lot of bagels.

The program started with the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" led by the drummer. This was followed by a welcome and announcements by the pastor's wife/keyboardist. She also introduced a movie clip from "The Truman Show." I didn't quite understand the point of the clip. But the theme of the day was Spiritual Spring Cleaning: Removing the Clutter. After the clip, the pastor stood up to preach. The whole setting was casual and light. I think I may have overdressed wearing corduroy pants, crew neck t-shirt and a brown, cotton jacket. After the pastor ended his sermon, the band led in a closing song.

We got to talk to the pastor and his wife. They were both very nice people. Apparently they had started the church in their home about 10 years ago. It was very kind of the pastor to sit and talk with us for such a long time since we made it clear that we weren't really searching for a church but that we were just visiting churches in the area. They both admitted that that's why they did the first few months they moved into Orleans before they started the church.

As I sat through the service, I couldn't help but get flashbacks when I had started our first church plant in Orleans almost 15 years ago. We didn't last one year at the time due to a lack of experience and not knowing what to really expect in churchplanting. If I had to compare what we did to what we had experienced last Sunday, I'd have to say that we were doing pretty good 15 years ago without even knowing it. Lots of lessons learned. This Willow Creek-style church really reminded me of how we tried to do it. This time though, as I sat through the program, I had a more discerning perspective.

The intention and mission of the seeker sensitive model is quite noble and Biblical: turn unchurched people into fully devoted followers of Christ. But I think I see where the holes are in the seeker approach. By seeing it like this on Sunday, I also saw where I had made grave errors.

As I observed the proceedings and listened to the message, I asked, "Who is Jesus to these people? Or who do they portray him to be?" Unfortunately, Jesus was barely mentioned except for a passing remark when the preacher quoted from the Sermon on the Mount under one of his points. This positioned Jesus at best as someone who said some things about wise living and at worst a marginalized figure in the church.

I also tried to discern what the gospel was as presented through the experience. It seemed to me that the Bible was the central figure rather than Jesus. Biblical principles were shared on how to overcome struggles with fear and worry. What came across was, if you obey these Biblical principles your life will get better. But then I thought, "Isn't this the same "do this and God will give you this" religion?

In talking to the pastor and his wife -whom I truly believe loves the Lord and have laid down their lives for the kingdom- I know that their approach to Christianity is the "Christianity is not a religion but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" kind of deal. This is the same mistake I believe I have been making for years. Oh, it's not a theological mistake. It really is about a relationiship to Jesus Christ and not religion. It is more of a missiological error.

These days, as I try to be more missional and see things from a non-Christian perspective, the whole "personal relationiship with Jesus" angle seems a little soft especially if I'm trying to reach men (the toughest audience no matter what culture you're in). It's starting to sound a little effeminate and gay when the gospel is presented as having a loving personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe it's because of our reference point. Which Jesus do you have a personal relationship with? The hippie Jesus in the gospels who walked around jobless with a bunch of guys loving on people and who got a beating for doing it? Or are we talking about the post-resurrection Jesus who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords with fire in his eyes, a sword in his mouth, and a tatoo on his leg ready to open up a can of whoop ass on the nations?

In dealing with the theme of worry and fear, I think he should have brought us to the cross. We should have been provoked to search our hearts asking, "What is the root of our fear and worry? What is going on in our hearts that causes us this distress?" And once our hearts -filled with self-centeredness, pride, unbelief and a desire to be in control- were exposed, we could have been led to the cross where these things can be dealt with. Only the cross of Jesus Christ can deal with the human heart. And only repentance before a mighty Jesus can transform fear into faith and worry into worship.

I think that in the work that we plant here in Ottawa, the message of the cross must be central no matter what topic we teach on. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." The church of Jesus Christ must proclaim Him faithfully to this culture. The cross is the only hope for any society.

Decoding Canadian Culture part 1

This is the first installment of a series of posts in my attempt to decode Canadian culture. I'll specifically focus on the kind of culture we find in Ottawa, the nation's capital.

Canadian culture is much more secular than American culture. Religion plays no major role in public life. Spirituality is something that you do personally and privately. Offending other people due to religion is a major faux pas. Here's a quote from the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Click here for the whole article.

"Canada's ceremony on Parliament Hill, after the events in New York on September 11, 2001,was telling. God's name was not uttered, and prayer, hymn singing or reading from scripture of any religion were absent. This stems presumably from the belief that, if such activities took place, someone, somehow, somewhere might be offended."
-David Horrox, Presbyterian Church in Canada

Unlike American culture where Christianity is very much a civil religion and where national roots are generally recognized as Christian, Canada seems to have more in common with post-Christian Europe. Religion is institutional. It has no place in public policy as seen with how Stockwell Day was treated when he led the Conservative Alliance party in 2000.

This will greatly impact the way we approach our mission to help disconnected people become fully devoted followers of Christ. Unlike the American church, we cannot take a direct marketing approach to promote Jesus, the gospel, or the church. Canadians are extremely sensitive to this kind of "hard sell." I believe that the practice of hospitality will be a key to reaching Canadians.