Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bookin' It

So, my publisher, who lives in Boise, told me he was picking up my book from the printers and that I would have my first copies by the end of the week. I should be ecstatic. I should be jumping up and down. But seeing as how the book was accepted for publication a year and a half ago, the fact that I will soon hold this thing in my hand called "my book" seems as difficult to conceive as the moon being made out of cheese.

So, instead of jumping up and down (I already did that when I first got the phone call that the book had been accepted for publication), I am walking around in a state of nervous intensity. It's sick, really. Last night, I was up at 1 a.m. making a guest list for the signing party. Yesterday I spent 200 hours trying to figure out how to put a Paypal button on my book website (I finally did). Before my first attempt at falling back asleep last night, Robin was on the other side of the bed saying we need to make sure our signing party hostess, who has a pool, keeps the gate locked. How does she think of things like that when it is after 12:30 in the morning?

I imagine the feelings I have are shared by high school girls who are about to go on their first prom date with the cutest guy on the football team (we'll call him "Biff"). She waits by the door for the sound of Biff's sports car. Nothing. She crosses to the mirror to give her makeup one more check. Suddenly, she realizes that she hates her dress. Something tells her it's all wrong, but it's too late to do anything about it now. The phone rings. No doubt, it is Biff calling to say he changed his mind or that his sports car was crushed by an 18 wheeler or that he was being abducted by aliens. Wait...was that the sound of Biff in the driveway? Are those the lights of his Alpha Romeo? Does Biff even have a car? Is there really a prom at all? She can no longer say....

So, here I am, obsessively blogging about my book. What: you expect me to write about swine flu or Obama's first 100 days or the meltdown of General Motors? No. It's the book. The book. The book. I should probably split town for the rest of the week until the book arrives (is there really a book? What if it doesn't get here in time for the party on Sunday? What if swine flu afflicts all of those in the parcel shipping industry and the book gets stuck somewher near 29 Palms?).

I should probably go to Rwanda and help people or climb Mount McKinley or meet a world leader or temporarily become a Deadhead and live in a psychadelic bus. But I won't do any of these things. Instead, I'll take care of the people and things I am supposed to take care of this week and, in between it all, I'll obsess about "the book". Finally, once it does arrive, I'll pick one up, hold it in my hand, and suddenly realize that I really should already have another manuscript sitting with the publisher so I can do this all over again at the end of 2010.

If you live in Southern California, you're invited to the signing party (it's on Sunday -- details at http://www.howhealed.com/). Look for me. I'll be the guy with the glazed over look that comes from not enough sleep, too much baklava and that well-documented pandemic known as "book fever".

Friday, April 24, 2009

Church Leadership and Our House Church Network

The move from solo traditional church to a house church network has required me to rethink issues of church leadership. In short, I am attempting to negotiate a new identity from "Pastor Bill" (the "senior pastor" of a local traditional church) to Bill, the Director of a church network. The latter is a much more apostolic role -- i.e., it is much more about leading leaders who empower the people they directly influence than it is about me pastoring the entire flock in the manner most familiar to a traditional church structure.

All of us in VCMN are adjusting to this shift in various ways. I remember a conversation I had with one of our house church host couples who, after finally sensing the call to open their home, asked me who I would be sending to act as the group's leader. I wasn't sure. I began to think of people I could send to the group to be the leader, but I had a nagging feeling that this was the wrong way to approach things and the wrong precedent to set given our network formation. Eventually, the couple came back to me with a new message: they had figured out on their own that they were called to lead the group they were hosting. I heartily and instantly agreed that this was right. Up to that point, we had been trying to simply reproduce traditional church in a home format -- sort of a miniature church. But that is not a reproduceable or empowering model. The fact is that this couple -- like thousands upon thousands of people sitting in the chairs or pews of traditional churches -- were PLENTY qualified to care for a house church group. They had been Christians for YEARS, had been involved in church and missions ministry, have adult children in full-time ministry but, even then, we all stumbled for a second over the issue of whether they should "lead" the group they would host.

How many churches are stacked with leaders of all ages who (as my friend Charity put it) are in a college from which they never really graduate? They hear sermon after sermon, sing song after song, maybe even find a niche of service in the church, but if you asked them whether they were "leaders", you would likely get a puzzled look in their face. "Oh, we're not qualified to be leaders", they might say -- but they'd be wrong. I am convinced that the corporate church notion of leadership is stifling kingdom ministry in everyday places and causing multitudes of perfectly good and qualified leaders to remain blind to their gifts and opportunities.

As house church leaders, my friends are responsible to make decisions about the spiritual direction of the group they lead (in collaboration, of course, with their group). They are called to provide basic spiritual care and support and have backup in people like me should higher level or thornier issues of pastoral care come up. They are true leaders, truly leading a small group of people who are discovering their mission, growing in faith, managing challenges -- all without being told what to do or how to do it by their "upline". This model is endlessly reproducible and will support untold numbers of new community-based ministry outlets if we will trust the Holy Spirit to organize leaders, groups and their ministry focuses in ways that express God's timeless mission instead of everything needing to be highly centralized or heavily "top down".

It's rather like a home school model. In the home school model (as I understand it) the assumption is that "non-professional" moms and dads are equipped and supported to be their children's teachers. I suppose this is because it is assumed that no one knows their kids and the their learning styles better and, if properly resourced, supported and connected with others, are perfectly capable of making eduacation happen in everyday places (homes and the like). Traditional schools, by contrast, are "top down" affairs. The assumption is that the experts know education best and they tell the teachers what to teach and how to teach it. Resources are centralized and authority is heiracrchical. No one would say these schools don't produce students and no one should say that traditional church don't make some disciples. But the explosive growth in home schools -- and the growing boom in house churches and other simple church models -- remind us that there is another way that is effective (some would say far more effective) at using kingdom resources to fulfill the kingom mission.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Building Myself Down in the Faith

Finally got around to reading the infamous Newsweek cover story on the demise of "Christian America". Nothing in it was news to me. However, it reinforced for me the reality that Christianity in the West continues to struggle to define itself apart from the institutions, structures, personalities and methodologies with which it used to be almost solely identified. To my observation, there is a splintering going on in the American Church which has given us the New Reformed, the Missional and Emerging crowd, the Post Charismatics, The House Church-ers, The New Orthodox and even some new Anglicans (witness the fascinating recent developments in the life of my friend Todd Hunter) and others. It's amazing to recall that for much of my earlier lifetime Billy Graham spoke for many, many American evangelicals and his presence in the halls of power was, for the most part, respected as an undeniable sign that we had a place at the table. Who speaks for "us" now? Rick Warren? Joel Osteen? Bono?

I, for one, think that the former order of things -- institutional church life in America -- is sinking like the Titanic. Alot of the activity and noise I witness resembles people frantically moving around the decks while the band plays on. But I've already lept into the ocean and am looking for something much smaller than a luxury liner to cling on to while the call goes up to heaven for help and salvation.

I see this as a time to "build myself down" in the faith -- to abandon my formerly comfortable and somewhat bloated notions of what supporting a Christian commitment looks like -- in favor of a stripped down, simplifed, organic and streamlined alternative. For me right now, less is more. Give me the BASICS of fellowship, Christian service, lifestyle witness and tough-minded simplicity and keep the change. It's probably a good time to go underground a bit, to retool our message and our ministry priorities, to "remonk" (as Kevin Rains puts it), to find a few key Kingdom focuses and concentrate on them. For me, they are mentoring of next generation disciples/leaders, simple and focused expressions of lifestyle evangelism, fellowship that produces "family" rather than crowds, and (perhaps most of all) empowering everyday people to take the ministry of Jesus to everyday places. Hunkering down and keeping it as real as can be may not seem impressive, but -- at least to me -- it seems vital.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wait 'Till You See What Happens in This Railway Station!

I have no idea if this is for real. If not, it should be -- and, I suppose, could be.

What I love about the video in addition to its all around appeal and "feel good" power is the way it makes me think of empowering everyday people to take the ministry of Jesus to everyday places. I love the way it speaks of an "inbreaking" that invades this everyday (and somewhat depersonalizing) environment and then transforms it and the people who are a part of it in ways that hint at the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.

In short, not only is it entertaining to watch, but those who have an ear to hear and eyes to see might just hear and see The Kingdom in all this silly fun. Give it a try! (Couldn't succesfully upload so use this youtube link instead):


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Tradeoffs

There are tradeoffs involved with empowering everyday people to take the ministry of Jesus to everyday places versus leading and doing ministry in the manner of a traditional church. There are things that need to be surrendered in order to gain the benefits of seeing ministry happen beyond church walls and through "non-professionals". Inasmuch as we just finished celebrating our first Easter as a Network dedicated to this mission, I thought I'd list a few things that must be surrendered if we are to trade the old wineskins for new.

1. Control of the ministry environment -

Doing ministry in everyday places means we must surrender the control of the "turf" we have gotten used to controlling in our typical church building-based ministry environments. Doing church at Starbucks or outdoors in a cul-de-sac (as two of our house churches recently did) defies efforts at over-programming and insulating the worship experience. And yet, this will be necessary if we want the life and ministry of the church to authentically impact everyday places. Instead of controlling and fine-tuning the ministry environment for effect as traditional churches so often attempt to do, spiritual impact must come from the raw basics of the church in action and in worship.

2. Professionalism in ministry -

Empowering everyday people to do ministry in everyday places means that "professionals" must become committed to the role of supporting, training and empowering "non-pro's" to take risks with the church's time, talent and treasure. This redefines the shepherd from the "one-call-does-it-all" professional, to more of a mentor/coach who focuses on maximizing the gifts of others.

It takes guts to buck today's image-conscious church culture in favor of raising up everyday people to preach, teach, lead, design and implement the ministry of the Kingdom, but nothing is more fulfilling than witnessing this when it happens!

3. Non-organic infrastructure

By organic, I mean the kind of infrastructure that springs forth naturally from the life of God's people while on their mission. Along the way, they encounter opportunities and challenges and must discover and implement solutions and sturctures that are truly relevant to their work and to their fellowship. At times, this will stand in sharp contrast to the programs, products and priorities of churches that seek to develop familiar infrastructure first and then figure out how to do "outreach" or other forms of ministry from that platform. To me, this has caused many churches to shed influence and struggle under unneeded burdens simply because the cart is in front of the horse.

There are other tradeoffs. Care to weigh in with a few of your own?