Category Archives: emerging church

Speak to the Pilgrim

winding-roadBeing the pastor of a church that was created to reach people who have given up on or don’t like church, I have to speak differently. I can’t assume Bible or theological knowledge, and even more so, I can’t assume “buy in.” People are skeptics or at least questioning. And since we aren’t just trying to get a batch of those folks in and up to speed so that we can  move on this is a permanent, not temporary, mode.

Here’s the question I get asked and struggle with a lot: How do you create a worship experience, especially the teaching/preaching part, that meets the needs of those totally new and even outside faith, and those who are now in and ready for more? Can you speak to both at once?

My answer: Yes you can, and here’s how. The temptation, and even the downfall, of many established churches full of established believers is to speak to where people are in their faith, and that creates a split between the different places people are spiritually. Lyle Schaller says this is what we call “preaching to the choir.”  Think about it… faith is process, it is either growing and changing or dead. In reality there is little difference between the person who is new to faith and the one who has a long history. We all have a long, long way to go.

I aim at the movement of my target; flying, not sitting ducks. I don’t preach to where any one (seeker or believer, if you want to use that language) is, but to the movement within them. We are all on a winding road that takes attention, practice, skill and grace. None of us can see down the road too far, and it should never be an option to stay where we are right now.

Preach to the pilgrim, the sojourner, the learner, the restless within each person and yourself. That is what we all have in common, it binds us together, and it is the place that God’s Spirit is most at work.

I’d love to hear the reactions of people who hear my preaching. Is this a concern or a frustration for you? What works or doesn’t work for you? I’d love to hear!

Other preachers… what do you think?

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Baby Jesus with a full set of teeth

dangersignOn Sunday, Dec. 14, at Jacob’s Well I was exploring what it meant that the magi (or kings or wisemen) – a bunch of outsiders – knew that “the king of the Jews” had been born, but no one inside knew it.  [Read Matthew 2] Interesting… in fact Herod not only didn’t know, but when he caught wind of the possibility he used that information to try to stop it.

I commented that, at its worst, the church does the same thing. The institutional church is humanity’s plot to acknowledge God, because it can’t do otherwise, but to de-claw and render God harmless. It doesn’t want God upsetting what it has going.

Then I shared that it is the hope of Jacob’s Well, and the need for every person who is part of it, to make sure that God is allowed to be dangerous. To let the pregnancy of God’s advent turn our world upsidedown and never leave things the same.

The infant Jesus is a beautiful and gentle sign, but it is important to remember that he had a full set of teeth. He meant and still means business. We want to be the kind of church that lets God be dangerous.

Discovery

Another eye for beautyPreaching is always autobiographical for me. Not that I talk about myself, but what I’m talking about is something that I am struggling with. I guess that if I don’t find the content for my message personally engaging and at least somewhat troubling, I keep looking for something more worthy of all our time. Sometimes when i’m preaching I get caught off guard by how personal what I have to say is for me. It happened today.

Our service at Jacob’s Well was starting off a series preparing for Christmas called “Missing God.” I am convinced that to know the heart of God is to know poverty. Not just people in poverty, but poverty in you. Obviously not just economic poverty either, but that fundamental condition of humanity of being in want.  Poverty is good, in fact beautiful, but that’s another blog entry, or perhaps listen to the message ( 11.30.2008 ) on our site. Our neediness is our open door for God. It is acknowledgement that there is a hole inside that someone else must fill for us. At the end of the service we invited people to write what was missing in their life, what was in want, on a sticky note and then to come forward and stick them on a big box.

I had to do it too, of course. I was surprised, at first, that even though I’d talked about this so easily and thought about the concept so long, that I really didn’t know what I would write on the note. But then when I began to put the pen on paper my poverty was so clear. I really didn’t have to think. It was clearly more obvious than I wanted it to be. God showed up. For me. I wonder why I find that surprising… shouldn’t I assume God will? I do, I guess, but it still amazes me when it happens.

Was that really Communion?

communion - saltines and grape juiceOn Sunday (November 30, 2008) Jacob’s Well gathered at the Urban Hub of Urban Ventures, one of our strategic partners in serving the community. If you were there you may have been surprised by how we shared Communion. Some people were actually offended by it. That was the point…It was supposed to be! Let me explain. If you weren’t there our service was called “See hope. See hope run.” It was about putting action into our faith so that it makes a difference in the lives of others and brings hope. We focused particularly on homelessness. Communion happened with no fanfare and little explanation. It was unremarkable to say the least. Saltines were passed down the aisles and paper cups of grape juice. The body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for us.

Here is what I tried to convey at the time and I’ll try to capture again here.

Question number one: Is it still the body and blood of Christ when it is just a saltine and grape juice? When we don’t have special music and the mood isn’t set to be reflective? Is it still the presence of Jesus when all we know is that Jesus’ promise to be with us always is in the ‘bread and wine’?

My answer number one: I think so. The ritual we or any church might typically follow has purpose and meaning, but rituals don’t make Jesus “really be there.” There is no incantation, no magic, no right way to do it. Just God’s promise, “When you seek me in this simple meal… I’m there.”

Question number two: How do most of the world’s people experience the love of God? Is it in nice houses, great meals, vacations and excesses from which to choose? Or is God’s love there for people despite the apparent poverty of their experience?

My answer number two: If God is truly faithful to all people, then God is doing it in ways that those of us in our western world of material wealth would find uncomfortable, and hard to perceive. God’s love – if it comes at all – comes without bells and whistles, without excess and attention to detail, without any expectation of ‘enough.’ God’s love just is, despite the circumstances.

The point wasn’t to offend or shock, but to throw us back on two very important realizations.

That God’s love is there in real and tangible ways even when we have a hard time seeing it. We need to learn that for our own good because there will be many times when our lives are going to need to seek out hope when we’ve lost sight of it.

The other is that just as we would like communion to be more of a celebration and closer to the banquet that God has in mind, so the way God’s love is experienced in the world should be more tangibly celebratory. We shouldn’t settle for billions of our sisters and brothers knowing God loves them despite their circumstances. We should be restless for them to know God loves them because of their circumstances – justice, opportunity, health, security. And that means that we who have the means need to get off one part of our anatomy and be the active arms and legs, the vibrant hearts and mind of Christ in the world. And until that day, maybe we should always celebrate God’s holy meal with mere saltines and paper cups of grape juice so that it might provoke us to the purpose of sharing God’s love.

Hmmm… we’re coming up on Christmas… How did Jesus show up? Was it, perhaps, sort of a saltine and grape juice arrival?

Jacob’s Well in Sioux Falls

I’m in Sioux Falls today (Thursday, 10.23) and tomorrow at a “Churches Planting Churches” conference. I’m speaking about Jacob’s Well as a congregation that was launched by another church two years ago (Bethlehem Lutheran Church) and as a church that is launching a new church. We are planning our establishment of a second site in 2009). But while I’m sharing some of our learnings I am mostly just trying to learn everything I can. Keep me and all these people thinking brave thoughts about birthing new churches in many and various ways. Thanks!

“Building” – A verb, not a noun for churches!

A blog I check out periodically called “Struggles with Faith” had a great posting that echoes our thinking at Jacob’s Well (see my April 2 post, “Irresistible Revolution – 2“) about the purpose of a building and WHO, not WHAT, the real ‘church’ is.  “Struggles'” posting is “Is God Done with the Church?”  Here is the link,

Two thoughts that it triggered in me that I want to add to Precarious Pastor are:

1. From both a conceptual and a practical perspective it may not make sense for churches – that is, communities who gather as a body to follow Christ – to have buildings.  Let the bricks & mortar of the temple continue to be the flesh &  blood of the sons and daughters of God.  (John 2.12-22)  I’ll throw this notion out to whoever is listening… er, reading… I’m sure to make someone mad with this…

To have a building should be the exception, not the norm.

Only churches who cannot meet the daily needs of their ministry through shared spaces should ‘resort’ to having their own.  The situation today is clearly the opposite.  Having a building is the norm and, in fact, legitimizes the church (or perhaps ‘the institution’).   I’d love to hear a congregation say, “Well, i’m afraid we’re going to have to do it… I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to build something.”

2. Churches should be 7 day a week communities.  (Anyone hear echoes of Lyle Schaller’s 1992 book, “The Seven-Day-A-Week Church”?) But the point isn’t to use your building 7 days a week (although if you have a building, I suppose you would feel like you need to in order to justify it.  Therefore go back to point #1).  The point is that the church (i.e. the people!) should be the church everyday, everywhere.  Those that claim that community as their checkpoint of growing towards God should see themselves as such all day, every day.  Not just half days on Sunday.

“Building” should be what churches do, not what they have.  A verb, not a noun.  Building faith, building character, building community, building bridges, building lives.  Building a building?  Only when you’ve exhausted all other options.

The Irresistible Revolution – 3

Is Jacob’s Well very, very new? Or very, very old?

The Irrestible Revolution

A common theme in Claiborne’s book is the echoes of the past that he feels in what he is doing.  He compares his ‘reformation’ (my word, not his) to that of St Francis of Assisi (p.65) and others – even Jesus!  I don’t think he is wrong.  But what he is doing is so future too.  He is very ‘disestablishment’ and trying to make the church speak to a new generation rather than the past.

I ask the same question about Jacob’s Well.  Yeah, we are very modern.  We use current music, video, a lot of high tech stuff (we had our trailer “stolen” once so we had to put a service on without all our ‘toys’ and we found it went just fine.  Although I think we all agree the toys add a lot.)  But I also feel like we are really, really old.  No, we aren’t part of the emergent church movement doing the ‘ancient future’ thing (google it if you don’t know what ancient future is), but we are doing the original thing.  We are taking our passion for what God is up to, and connecting it to our lives using the language and stuff of our age.

Isn’t that what the 1st century church did? This is really old stuff.