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The Gospel and Western Culture

February 18, 2012 Leave a comment

I have begun reading a book for one of my seminary courses, Foolishness to the Greeks, The Gospel and Western Culture by Lesslie Newbigin.  I have just begun to read the book, but it has already raised a good deal of questions in my mind.

The western world has come so far in science and reasoning that we find ourselves living in a society where facts rule the public arena and we relegate values to our private lives.  We no longer need to seek new knowledge for ourselves; we just listen to the experts and trust them to tell us what is true and what is not.  Furthermore, because of our advanced understanding, each individual has the right to determine what is right or wrong, to determine his or her values and worldview.  We can believe whatever we want, just as long as we keep it to ourselves and not try to impose our values and beliefs on others.

But try to take our beliefs into the public square and now we are preaching heresy in a world dictated by facts.  How dare I try to impose my values on others?  Have I not read the latest issue of so-and-so magazine that says religion is only for those who are weak minded and cannot think for oneself?  Oh, how ignorant of me to think that we should live in a society of common norms and values.  That would be imposing my religion on everyone’s right to live his or her own life.  Society cannot tolerate such thoughts.

Is it any wonder that Christianity is losing ground in the western culture?

Categories: community, discipleship, faith

Disciple-making in the local church

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Thom Rainer writes about disciple-making in the local church in a recent article in Facts & Trends (you can read it online at http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169885).  Many pastors, including me, are frustrated at the lack of participation in Sunday school and small groups.  He writes, “There was a day for most churches when the solution to this dilemma was to turn to some organizational entity, such as a denomination, and get the needed programs to meet the needs of the church… Not so today” (Rainer, 2009, p. 4).  In the past, a new denominational program was all it took to generate interest, but somewhere along the line, many churches have lost sight of the purpose of these programs – making disciples.  Rainer continues to show what effective disciple-making churches are doing to reverse this trend.

What Rainer has found is those churches that have high expectations of its members are more effective in making disciples.  These expectations are established in “an entry point class that all new members attend.”  Some of these expectations are:

1)      Members are expected to attend an open group Bible study

2)      Members are expected to be involved in one or more deeper studies throughout the year

3)      Members are expected to attend a corporate worship service each week

4)      Members are expected to be involved in at least one ministry or mission activity a year

5)      Members are expected to read and study the Bible daily (Rainer, 2009, p. 5)

As Rainer expresses, many leaders’ immediate response is that people will not expect such high expectations and flee from the church.  I have heard this from the leadership in my church, too.  But I agree with Rainer.  Setting high expectations adds value to being a member of the church.  It also adds significance to each member of the body.  Rick Warren wrote of similar expectations in his book, The Purpose Driven Church

We should not be afraid of setting such high expectations.  Jesus commissioned all of us to make disciples and to equip the saints (Matthew 29:20 and Ephesians 4:12).  How can we accomplish such a great task if we are unwilling to place expectations on our congregations?  We need to be bold and courageous in our work for our Lord and Savior.  After all, we are in the business of building disciples, not entertaining churchgoers.

Is a community of believers the answer we should seek?

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the challenges many church leaders face is developing communities of believers within our churches. It is the topic of many discussions. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation revolving around this topic. We talked about a couple of books that discuss doing church as described in the book of Acts. As I continued to ponder this throughout the day, something came to mind. Is it possible to do church in the same fashion as it was in the first century? Since there are a few modern-day examples, I used to think so; but it does not seem to be the norm. Now I am beginning to question this idea.

In today’s society, people are busy. Some would say that we are too busy. We spend a great deal of time away from home working at our jobs. Add the fact that many people commute 50 or more miles to work each day, and the workday can be 12 hours or more. When we get home, many of us spend our evenings chauffeuring our children around to different activities such as soccer practice, baseball practice, youth group, scout meetings, and other similar activities. By the time we get home from all of this, it’s time to retire for the evening so we will be ready to begin again the next day.

In my neighborhood it is not uncommon to see people drive down the street toward their homes, watch the garage door open as they pull into their driveways, and then close once they are in the garage. I never see the person. I would be challenged to recognize many of my neighbors if they were to walk up to me and say hello. I used to frown on this when thinking about how churches can reach people in our neighborhoods. After reflecting on it a bit more, it is easy to understand why churches struggle with building communities when people find it a challenge just to spend time with their immediate family. Many people simply do not have the time to be a part of a faith community, much less doing so in a similar manner as described in the book of Acts.

When describing most churches, we see people gathering for an hour to an hour and a half every Sunday morning. They arrive at church and greet one another as they find a place to sit. During the worship service, it may be customary to have a time when everyone stands to say hello to those sitting near them. After the service, they may have a couple of brief conversations as they leave the church to return home. All in all, many people spend only a few minutes actually interacting with other people, yet we expect to create communities of believers under these circumstances. Is it any wonder people feel uncomfortable when placed in small groups where the only thing they have in common is the initial of their last name or the zip code in which they live?

When we look at the community as described in Acts, we see the people of the church eating together and spending time in fellowship. In the first century, people lived, recreated, and worshipped within walking distance of their home. Everything was located nearby, and people rarely ventured more than a mile from our home. It was much easier, and some would say necessary, to be a part of such a fellowship. People today no longer live in organic communities as the people did in the first century.

So what is the answer to building a community of believers? I am beginning to wonder if we are seeking the wrong answer. Perhaps the answer is not to build (dare I say) artificial communities of believers within our churches. After all, they barely know one another. Perhaps the answer is equipping and encouraging the people of our churches to bring their faith and beliefs outside of the church into the community in which they are already a natural part. Hmm, sounds like discipleship is the answer we should be seeking.

Do we practice the doctrine of “easy believism?”

July 20, 2009 Leave a comment

In the introduction of his book, Spiritual Discipleship, J. Oswald Sanders discusses the meaning of the word discipleship. He gets right to the heart of the matter when he says, “It is one thing to master the biblical principles of discipleship, but quite another to transfer those principles into everyday life” (p. 8). In other words, there is more to discipleship than just knowing God; we must live what we know. “It means living with the purpose to obey what is learned. It involves a deliberate choice, a definite denial, and a determined obedience” (p. 8); otherwise, we are only practicing what Sanders refers to as the doctrine of “easy believism.”

Jesus Christ is looking for disciples who will commit to a lifelong walk of learning, loving, and living the teachings of Jesus Christ. Are you willing to make such a commitment? It is not always easy, but the rewards are eternal.

Over the next few days, as I read Spiritual Discipleship, I will share with you my thoughts and comments of what he writes in this book. The first chapter is “The Ideal Disciple.” Until then…

Sanders, J. O. (1990). Spiritual discipleship: Principles of following Christ for every believer. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute.

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