Wednesday, August 31, 2011

172. Jesus, Galilee and a Missional Hermeneutic

This week I have been reading through the gospel of John with two questions:

1. How does the Person of Peace strategy show up?
2. What are the geographical patterns of his ministry?

I had an epiphany in regard to the second question this morning, so thought I would share. Jerusalem is obviously a pretty hot place in the gospel of John. Several major blocks of teaching take place there as a result of conflict with the Pharisees. However, another place that features regularly in John (as well as the other gospels) is Galilee. The question is...why? Why does Jesus spend so much time in Galilee?

Well, there is a good amount of conjecture here on any ones part when it comes to answering this question. I want to jump in the party and con-ject something of my own; propose an idea.There is some talk these days of developing a missional hermeneutic which basically amounts to reading the Bible through the lens of the Missio Dei, the sent nature of God, and therefore his people. In essence, what this missional hermeneutic is aiming for is an apostolic reading of the text, which is, linguistically and etymologically, the same thing as reading the text missionally.

So how would a missional hermeneutic answer this question? SWell, just like in the movie National Treasure when Nicholas Cage pulls out the ocular device that has different colored lenses to see the writing on the constitution, we have to acknowledge that we all tend to the read the text with glasses on. So what would it be like to read the text from a missional (apostolic) lens? I want to suggest one answer in relation to the place that Galilee occupies in Jesus ministry.

Here is a go at it. What if Jesus spent a lot of time in Galilee in order to lay the ground work for an easy North West expansion of the gospel outside the boundaries of the Holy Land after he left? This is the trajectory of the churches expansion according to the book of Acts. What if Jesus, among other reasons, spent time in Galilee because it was a portal through which the church would need to travel in order to go global. What if Jesus, in view of his vision for the movement to transition form local, to regional to global (Acts 1:8), strategically spent time in Galilee to ensure the optimal environment was in place for the gospel to make it outside the boundaries of the Holy Land and into the North Western parts of the world?

Galilee, while still being a part of the Holy Land was truly at the edge. It was surrounded by three different foreign territories. Jesus' time in Galilee undoubtedly laid a foundation that was later built upon by the twelve, Paul and Barnabas, and those in Acts 8 who scattered beyond Samaria to Antioch. (Side note: Antioch, btw, was the gateway out of the holy land into "pagan" land from a Jewish nationalist perspective, which is why James, the nationalistic leader in Jerusalem is so territorial with it in regard to kosher, table-fellowship and circumcision as discussed in Galatians 2).

Looking at the significance of Galilee for Jesus is typically done from a more prophetic angle: Jesus engages the poor, marginalized, and and common people, away form the centers of power in Jerusalem.  Like most interpretations, I think there is a lot to this prophetic angle on Jesus' preoccupation with Galilee. Evangelistically, it could be argued that Galilee was a lot more receptive to the good news of the kingdom than the other regions. This would be an evangelistic hermeneutic at work. From a missional (apostolic) perspective, I think he could have been doing strategic groundwork for the gospel to travel across this landscape and break into the northwest regions of Europe more readily.This is the trajectory of the extension of Christianity after all. It wold square well with Jesus own words in John 4 when he says:

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

In the book of Acts, when it comes to the extension of the gospel outside of the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem, the church is quite literally entering into a harvest in which they have not worked for. This work was done by Jesus in Samaria and Galilee during his ministry, and the church reaped the reward for it form Acts 8 onward.

So some personal application here to apostolic ministry. Some apostolic ministry will be more foundational in nature. It will lay the groundwork for movement to take place, but that movement may not come to fruition in their season of work in that area. The movement may be catalyzed later. The thing about foundations is that you can not see them, but they are critical to the building project. No foundation, no sustainable building.

A word of encouragement to the apostle who is laying foundations, but not seeing the kind of movement you would like. Lay the foundation well. It will be used and built upon later later by others. This foundation will determine the parameters and capacity of the superstructure. As Paul says in I Corinthians 3, be a wise architect (master builder) and lay a good foundation, girded and anchored in Jesus, the greatest leader of the greatest movement ever.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

171. Apostolic Ministry and Discipleship Part Three

Karl Weick, in his book Making Sense of the Organization, says, “…whenever you have what appears to be successful decentralization, if you look more closely, you will discover that it was always preceded by a period of intense centralization where a set of core values were hammered out and socialized into people before the people were turned loose to go their own ‘independent, ‘autonomous’ ways.” p. 341 

Weick is pointing out an important ingredient here when it comes to de-centralizing the church for missional ventures. If we look at the ministry of Jesus, this period of centralization that took place before de-centralization for mission is the 3 1/2 years in which Jesus discipled the twelve in how to live into a covenant relationship with the Father and represent the King. The church was decentralized movement for sure, but this decentralized movement was preceded by an intense period of centralization where Jesus invited the 12 into a relationship where they would learn to imitate the patterns of his life. 

Trying to catalyze a decentralized movement without laying a good foundation of discipleship, where, as in the words of Weick, the core values of covenant and Kingdom are not hammered out into the lives of those we are leading, is just trendy new-speak. In fact, if you try to decentralize without first going through a period of centralization, you will not end up with movement at all. You will end up with a fragmented, chaotic blob. To put it another way: Decentralization before discipleship equals dissipation. Decentralization after discipleship equals movement. 

Now here is where the rub is. Most churches are stuck on centralization, but it is a faulty model of centralizing around information. They centralize people in order to pass on information, and then, if they have some mission minded leaders, they will challenge the people in the church to go and do ministry or mission outside the parameters of their centralized mechanisms. In essence, they want the people to practice innovation.

The only problem with this approach is that people tend to do what you model for them. So if you give them information, then challenge them to do mission, they will most likely go out and give people information...about the centralized gathering where you receive...thats right....more information.

My friends at 3DM use this triangle to illustrate the proper relationship between information, imitation (discipleship) and innovation.

It starts with information, then leads to imitation, and finally moves into innovation. Centralization takes place during the first two phases. Decentralization takes place as you move towards innovation. The order is really critical if you want to see a decentralized movement of disciple making and missional communities. The missing component, for most church plants, is the phase of imitation where the apostolic leader invites people into a relational process where they share their life and give people the tools to be disciples of Jesus. The apostolic leader is aiming for decentralized mission where people move towards the edge and innovate new expressions of ecclesia within every nook and cranny of their context. But you cant get there unless you follow the pattern of Jesus, the great apostolic leader who catalyzed a global movement.

Once again, it seems that we can't get away from discipleship when it comes to apostolic ministry.

Friday, August 26, 2011

170. Apostolic Ministry and Discipleship Part Two

I often had this nagging thought in my head about discipleship when it came to Jesus and Paul. It actually echoed some schools of thought in how Paul's writings relate to Jesus' teachings and the gospels. Some in the world of theological academia put a wedge between Jesus and Paul as if to say that Jesus was about proclaiming God and Paul ended up proclaiming the proclaim-er. N.T. Wright deals adequately with this false construct, so I will not go into deconstructing that here.

However, in the past, I have often thought of Jesus as the discipler, and Paul as the church planter. In other words, it often appeared to me, at a glance, that Paul does not do or say much about discipling. I used to think that you go to Jesus and the gospels to learn about discipleship and the ways to be a better discipler. Then you go to Acts and Paul to retrieve lessons about church planting and evangelism.

Well, the fact is, Paul's writings and historical records in Acts are loaded with imagery, language and conceptual gear for discipleship. In fact, I would say that Paul could not have achieved what he had achieved if he had not had discipleship at the core of his paradigm and ministry.

If we understand discipleship primarily through the lens of imitation, then we have a starting point to comb through Paul's letters and see just how often discipleship makes a showing in his language and thought process. In fact, I decided to go through Paul's letters and make a list of all the times that he explicitly engages the issue of discipleship through the concept or language of imitation. So here is the list.

Explicit Language

I Corinthians 4:1-6
I Corinthians 4:15-17
I Corinthians 11:1
II Corinthians 4
Galatians 4:19
Ephesians 5:1
Philippians 2:22
Philippians 3:17
Philippians 4:9
I Thessalonians 1:6-10
I Thessalonians 2:8-12
I Thessalonians 2:14-20
II Thessalonians 3:6-8
II Timothy 2:2
II Timothy 3:10-12

 If we take only the above verses into account, it is a pretty thorough demonstration of how discipleship (imitation) features in Paul's ministry and discourse. It appears that discipleship (imitation) is a central theme that under girds his communication and practice. Paul, just like Jesus, used discipleship as a primary vehicle to do mission.

Now this list does not even cover the times when he implicitly brought this concept to bear in his writings. That is another discussion. The point I am getting at here is that discipleship was central to the most effective church planter we have record of, and yet we have to wonder how central discipleship is to our church planting strategies here in the West? Without getting on the soap box, I would say that discipleship is mostly an after thought at best, much less a core practice of church planting strategies. Dallas Willard says there are two questions you have to ask when it comes to discipleship:

1. Does your church have a process to make disciples?
2. Does this process work?

These are two critical questions for us to be asking ourselves, whether we are apostolic, prophetic, or any of the five vocations. Clearly discipleship was at the core of Jesus strategy for world transformation. It features in Paul's ministry with equal priority. So how do we measure up to Jesus....and Paul. If you are looking to edit discipleship out of the equation, or minimize it's role in the church planting process, you won't find much support from Paul.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

169. The missional Church and Necessary Endings

This was a great lesson from Greg Nettle about how the way we have been doing church for the past 75 years needs to come to a Necessary Ending.

God Moved Into The Neighborhood from RiverTree on Vimeo.

168. Apostolic Ministry and Discipleship Part One

We just moved into our new home at the center of town, and like most people who move, you discover things you forgot that you had.

Well, as we were emptying out the guest bedroom, we lift up the box spring from the bed frame and.... we discover our long lost work out machine.

In case you are wondering, this is not the official machine that Chuck Norris endorses and uses, but it is almost identical. Luckily, I did not pay any money for this. It was given to me by a lady I helped to move out of her house.

When I saw it, I had three thoughts go through my head:

1. Wow, I forgot all about that
2. Wow, I could have been using this all along
3. Wow, I am glad I did not pay for this form a infomercial, because then I would be one of "those people" who bought an exercise machine and never use it.

Well, this exercise machine is going in our garage now and as our YMCA membership fades into extinction this month,m we will be transitioning to the gym in our garage. yep, that's right, we will be going Chuck Norris all the way.

As I reflected in this discovery of a work out machine under our guest bed, it made me think of Paul's comments in I Corinthians 9 when he says "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

This of course applies to every disciple, but I think there is some unique application to apostles and apostolic ministry.  Apostles are entrepreneurial people who can be very driven in their personality. They are often task oriented and obsessed with pressing forward and getting the job done. This is great when it comes to moving forward, but it can pose a pretty big challenge to cultivating your relationship with God. To use an old cliche, apostles ar eoften prone towards DOING FOR God at the expense of BEING WITH God.

If there is anything associated with working out, it is discipline. It takes real perseverance and commitment to develop a weekly or daily rhythm of working out. I would say the same is true when it comes to the spiritual disciplines. I cant tell you how many times I have stopped after a fast, busy season of WORKING FOR GOD and had the epiphany "I cant remember the last time I bathed my plans in prayer or waited to listen for God."

It takes some real discipline to actually "work out" in the art of abiding (John 15). The older I get, the more I come to realize that without Jesus, I really can't bear fruit. I need to discipline my body and appetites to carve out time to "work out" and practice the presence of God. This is part of being a disciple, but it is especially applicable to apostles who are on the frontier and are easily lured into DOING at the expense of BEING. Neil Cole often says that God does not want to multiply churches, he wants to multiply changed lives. I think there is some real wisdom in this. If I am not being a disciple myself, and being disciplined about abiding in Christ, then how can I disciple other people into that? I can only lead people where I have been.

So a word of caution to all of you apostolic types out there. go to the spare bedroom, lift up the box spring, and stay in step with the Spirit and the disciplines that allow us to stay connected to the Vine.