Category: storytelling

2016 Rewind: How to be a Saint

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A snarky take on sainthood

Snarky Faith 11/29/16

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As 2016 moves towards it’s end, we’re giving you the best of Snarky Faith this past year in a rewind episode…

A rundown of the process of sainthood. With Mother Teresa set to be canonized, we talk through the steps of how to become a saint. Also, for kicks we lay out our own snarky path for a particular version sainthood. Are we right on or simply heretics? Tune in to find out.

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 4

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{continued from part 3 or start at the beginning}

THE SOLUTIONS:

Survival Lesson #4: KEEP MOVING, KEEP LOW, KEEP QUIET, KEEP ALERT!
(Learning to be Transformational)

“Do not investigate any strange noises or lights in the distance. Just get out. Every side trip, every pause in the journey, increases the odds of being found and devoured.”  Brooks (p. 95)

Striving to remain alive in the face of a zombie outbreak is difficult, but it also brings with it clarity and a glorious simplicity to your everyday existence. Faced with a struggle to live a prioritized life in a way where survival is paramount. There is no tomorrow unless you live well today. You learn to become truly alive and cherish every moment when death is possibly around the corner. It brings about an incredible amount of focus to your world.

In our times as well, this new reality is bringing about a wave of clarity to our existence as Christians living in the shadow of an empire. It is in this place of simplicity that transformation is possible. “The Christian movement must be the living, breathing promise to society that it is possible to live out the values of Christ – that is, to be a radical, troubling alternative to the power imbalances in the empire” (Frost Exiles p. 15). Armed with only the power of the Gospel, we are called to engage in the work of the incarnational way of Christ.

Transformation becomes possible when we let go of our past assumptions of church. Old symbols of power, like big buildings or elaborate services belong in the past age. New movements involve community and helping the marginalized in society. Demonstrations of money or power no longer impress this new culture. Power comes through influence, and influences are only brokered through acts of redemption. “Redemption is the beginning of our participation in God’s work of restoration in our lives and the world. Understanding that one idea literally changes everything” (Lyons The New Christians p.53).

Taking a page from our brothers and sisters in the south, we are seeking to embody a faith that is “marked by a culture of poverty, an oral liturgy, narrative preaching, uninhibited emotionalism, maximum participation in prayer and worship, dreams and visions, faith healing, and an intense search for community and belonging” (Escobar The New Global Mission p.15). We are called to exude imagination as a church that tells new stories and reveals new narratives. Our faith is grounded in the past, but it is also unfolding in the present. In our new faith community, it is our call “for Christians to exhibit confidence in the lordship of Yahweh as the truth of our existence and in particular of our community” (Newbigin Community of Character p.86). Living like this, driven by faith, changes the lives of those with whom you journey with. The Gospel begins to pour out on to the community as we journey together as the hands and feet of Christ. This is a walk of meekness and compassion. It is one of downward mobility that seeks to serve rather than be served. It is through this existence that leadership is redefined into the mold of Christ. It is also through living in this way that we become more awake to God’s presence in our community. This is the starting point of being transformational.

Where does it go from here? That is not for me to say. Our church will follow the Lord and begin with service. He will guide us to the rest. “To suffer joyfully for the gospel, and to forgive and serve those who inflict that suffering, is to be taught by Christ to walk the way of the cross. It is only such a church, radical in its obedience, that makes known the beauty, truth and power of the Christian message to the world“ (Ramachandra Faiths in Conflict? p.171).

Making the decision to plant a church has become one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I have wrestled with doubt and fear. I have also felt a deep call within my heart to passionately take a leap of faith. While reading the book A Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards, one line struck me. “Beginning empty-handed and alone frightens the best of men. It also speaks volumes of just how sure they are that God is with them” (Edwards p.69). Transformation can only take place in the presence of God.  I believe that as a pastor and leader, I could never expect my faith community to do anything I was not willing to do myself. As my family is preparing to pack up and move across the country to plant a church, I’m beginning to learn that transformation only happens when we step out and take a risk. We take the step of faith the Lord uses the process to transform us. To be a church that is transformational, we must be dreamers and people of great faith. We must also be willing to pray earnestly and take great risks. The new way of live flows easily into our next solution for the church in the 21st century: learning to be missional…

{continued in part 5}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 3

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{continued from part 2 or start at the beginning}

Survival Lesson #3: BLADES DON’T NEED RELOADING.
(The Reality of Globalization) 

During the Qin Dynasty, all books not relating to practical concerns such as agriculture or construction were ordered burned by the emperor to guard against “dangerous thought.” Whether accounts of zombie attacks perished in the flames will never be known.– Brooks (p.168)

When living in an undead world with its devastated landscape and limited supplies, you must adopt new rules for survival. For instance, when thinking of weapons for defense, conventional items like guns are no longer your best choice. In a pinch they do the job, but typically they are too loud and attract other zombies. They are also in a constant need of ammunition. Think about axes or machetes. They don’t need to be reloaded. In this new existence, old conventions must be rethought in order to succeed in this new reality.

In a similar shift, globalization is taking over our world with an unprecedented fury. “The shift in global Christianity has already occurred. The shift in American evangelicalism is well under way” (Rah The Next Evangelicalism p.191). Not only do we find ourselves living in a post-Christian nation, but globalization is also impacting the face of culture and, vicariously, Christianity. The face of Christianity is experiencing a movement towards the global south. This means that the Western influence of Christianity is waning in the wake of the rise of the Global South (Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania). The world is changing and the way we engage ministry must change with it. We are no longer the Western Church; we are now the Global Church.

“Globalization and the emergence of the worldwide theater has torn down geographical boundaries” (Lyons The Next Christians p. 20). Missionaries are now coming from around the world to evangelize the lost in the United States. There are no longer foreign missions; the world itself is now a mission field. You no longer need to travel far distances to experience foreign peoples; they are now living in our neighborhoods. “The majority of the world’s non-Christians will not be geographically distant people but culturally distant peoples who often reside together in the shadows of urban spires in the metro areas of every continent” (Bakke Theology as Big as the City p.18). Missions now happen as we reach out to our neighbors in and around our cities.

With the growing impact of globalization, many things change, but our desire and need for relationships remain and, even quite possibly, escalate in this new globalized world. Relational intimacy is quickly becoming the new world equity. Institutions no longer hold the power and if we hope to make change and spread the gospel, it will happen one relationship at a time. This is the core of influence now; it is no longer about wealth or power. In the West, we must learn to listen more to others from around the globe because of this is a paradigm shift. We no longer have all of the answers, and our old ways are no longer working. There is a learning posture that we must take up as evangelicals because “the Gospel speaks to people of every culture and is translatable to every culture” (Escobar The New Global Mission p.12). This learning posture will lead us to engaging in cross culture ministry reaching out to people in our own context. We must approach others with open hands. Philip Jenkins spoke of the churches from the Global South as being characterized as, “churches [that] preach deep personal faith and communal orthodoxy, mysticism and puritanism, all founded on scriptural authority” (Jenkins The Next Christendom 3696). To Western churches their approaches may seem simplistic, but there is a power to a faith that travels light. This new face of Christian spirituality centers around a God that of the present and meets the needs of today as opposed to a God is only focused on eternity.

Diversity is not a word I would use to describe any of my experiences in ministry, much less put the word global in front of it. I have worked for predominantly white churches and ministries. They have been focused domestically where most of the informed practices we followed were from older traditions that were shaped over time in a small community. Entering into the MAGL program, I was ecstatic to have the honor of being classmates and friends with varied pastors and missionaries from around the world. Seeing ministry and theology from their perspectives has changed and enriched mine. This new globalized Christianity makes more sense to my heart than the institutionalized version I had grown weary of.

Globalization has broken down the walls and doors of the mission field. It not only changes where we do ministry, but how we do ministry. This past summer I was sitting down with Joel Sengoga, a Rwandan pastor, speaking to him about my journey with church planting. I had become overwhelmed with all that needed to be accomplished and he quickly stopped me, saying, “Stuart, you Americans over think everything. It’s not always about planning. Faith is simply taking the next step God has in front of you.” Joel’s way of looking at ministry was so simple, yet profound and deeply biblical. I had become caught up in organizational minutiae and lost God in the process. The truth of the Gospel exists in its profound simplicity. I was reminded that we must be a part of the “rediscovery of the original genius of the teaching of Jesus and the missional practice of the earliest Christians all lived out boldly on the soil of a post-Christian empire” (Frost Exiles p.26).

So we are caught in a world that is both globalized and post-Christian. This may seem like a problem for many, but these two new realities are creating resurgence towards the raw power of the Gospel – people moving in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. As it was said before, people do not fear change, they fear loss. Loss is happening, but it is nothing compared to the exponential gains that are waiting for us. The power lies in what happens after we come to grips with this loss. Things are not what they used to be, but there is hope that tomorrow is vastly better than yesterday. These new realities bring with them new possibilities. It is because of this, that I am excited about my endeavor into church planting. I’m beginning to see the sheer simplicity and power of the Gospel in new ways. I am learning to now be awake to God’s presence and the possibilities that are springing up around me as I take that next step of faith. It has brought about a new sense of clarity.

With these new realities in our world today, how does the church thrive in the face of a post-Christian and globalized world? The church must learn to become transformational and missional, not to merely survive, but to thrive. The days of striving are gone. There is hope for what is around the corner, and there is great excitement as we begin to look at the solutions…

{continued in part 4}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 2

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{continued from part 1or start at the beginning}

Survival Lesson #2: THEY FEEL NO FEAR, WHY SHOULD YOU?
(The Reality of the Post-Christian World)

“It may be impossible to know how many zombies are out there, if a bridge is down, or if all the boats in a marina are gone. So know your terrain. At least that factor will not change with an outbreak.” – Brooks (p. 96)

When setting out to look for supplies in a zombie-infested area, you need to understand your environment. What does the surroundings look like? Looking at the landscape of the Western Church, one key question arises: Why is it difficult for the church to connect and attract people today? Has something shifted? Is this change about issues of methodology, approach or has something greater happened. How widespread is the outbreak?

In the Western world, the Christian church has experienced a massive decline in its influence and impact on culture. Instead of responding with clear eyes and learning posture, the church seems to have adapted its approach to that of an ostrich. It has simply put its head in the sand and ignored the problem. “Christianity moved from being the dynamic, revolutionary, social, and spiritual movement to being a static religious institution with its attendant structures, priesthood, and sacraments” (Frost Exiles p. 5). This shift has brought about a virtual rigor mortis in the church; it has become rigid and lifeless.

Western Christianity is still grappling and grabbing for the way it used to be. The only problem is, its influence upon Western Society has long been shifting from the center of culture onto the margins. The sober reality is that the church’s time of prominence is long gone and it’s not coming back. “Religious faith is no longer a primary and ethical guide” (Frost p. 6). Instead of embracing this change, Christians are by in large, resisting it. This resistance further alienates them from the unbelieving masses that they are called to reach out to by the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-12). How can you reach those that you have taken intentional steps to be separated from?

As we have seen when dealing with zombies, being loud and causing a stir rarely helps you, it only attracts the enemy and death. In an attempt to regain its place in society, the church has often resorted to age-old tactics of “shock and awe.” We loudly and judgmentally proclaim our beliefs as loudly as possible in the media, with bumper stickers, over blogs and also through our callous actions in the face of the watching world. The church has adopted a mentality that is driven by the core belief that we don’t have to be kind as long as we’re right. Being right, as they see it, is the most important thing. As a result, Christians are seen in contemporary culture as, “judgmental, hypocritical, too political, and antihomosexual” (Lyons The Next Christians p. 4). There is a gulf that must be dealt with if the church is going to exist in the 21st century.

Working in ministry both inside and outside the church has afforded me the benefit of being able to see things in a unique way. It was actually my experience working in a church that drove me to work in a parachurch. I remember the moment that I officially lost faith in the institutional church. I was a youth pastor in a large church. Within the few months that I was there, our youth group more than doubled in size with around 200 teenagers attending every Wednesday. I sat across the desk of the senior pastor during one of our weekly meetings. He was not happy about the growth. “We just don’t want those kinds of kids in our church,” he exclaimed to me with conviction. By ‘those kids’ he meant, the non-Christian ones. They didn’t like the fact that teenagers that were not raised in the church didn’t act like the ones that were. That was the moment my heart for the church died. I, then, spent the next seven years in ministry working outside the walls of the church with at-risk teenagers.

I know well the gulf that exists between the church and contemporary culture and have come to the conclusion that the only way to overcome this gap is by living differently. Too often have we seen ourselves as bridge builders when some gaps are not meant to be crossed. Instead of finding ways to fix the problem, I am offering an alternative. Abandon the institutional church and go live within contemporary culture. The church understands itself to be four walls constructed to house Christians for weekly services. What if we walked away from the problem completely? In the reality of the zombie apocalypse, we must become adept at discerning what to let go of and what to hold on to. The building that we once called home before the outbreak had begun now becomes a liability to us if we are not willing to let go of it. Staying mobile and moving light are the keys to our survival. With the new reality of the post-Christian world, we must pack light because the gospel was meant to travel.

Michael Frost, in his book, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, likens the current state of church to captives living in exile under the shadow of the dominant culture. If we begin to live in this way, our outlook changes. “Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing kingdom of God” (Hirsch The Forgotten Ways p.114). Next, we must begin to understand the second new reality that the church is grappling to make sense of: globalization.

{continued in part 3}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 1

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{continued from introduction}

Survival Lesson #1: USE YOUR HEAD: CUT OFF THEIRS.
(My Journey Out of Tradition)

“Often, a school is your best bet-perhaps not for education but certainly for protection from an undead attack.” – Brooks (p.79)

Regardless of where you find yourself in the zombie apocalypse, one thing is true. You must keep your head and think clearly. It is the difference between life and death. I have yet to experience the walking dead, in the cinematic sense of the world, but after working for years in ministry I knew what a dead church looked like. They were everywhere; it was like a horror movie. Everywhere you looked, there were zombie churches. On the surface they looked alive, but inside they were long dead. After a while, you learn to survive inside of them. On the surface you smile and act like everything is fine. The better you fake it, the greater your chances for not getting bit. I had become a versatile chameleon, but living this way comes at a cost. On the inside, I was cynical and bitter. In 2010, I had been in vocational ministry for ten years. I had worked for a church plant, a church (as a youth pastor) and then was the director of a parachurch youth organization. I knew how to play the game, but frankly I was bored with ministry and my soul was burnt out. I was tired of playing the game and I was tried of faking it. I had lost my faith in the church and ministry, but not in Jesus; which is a dangerous place to be. It leads you to become a lone wolf. With Christianity, our faith is rarely dynamic when we practice it alone.

Doing ministry in a small rural town had become suffocating. Small churches meant small thinking. I knew I needed a change and wanted to be challenged and stretched intellectually and spiritually. I knew something was missing in my life; I just wasn’t sure what it was. That yearning led me to enroll in Fuller Theological Seminary’s Masters of Arts in Global Leadership program in the fall of 2010. I assumed that any change was a good change. In this situation, I couldn’t have been more right.

Flash forward to December 2012. I’m sitting across from a good friend of mine having coffee. I tell him that in the coming year, I’m going to plant a church. He bursts out laughing, “Ha, ha, but you hate church!?!” There was a deep change in me that had happened over the past two years. It surprised others and, frankly, surprised me. This paper is an amalgamation of my collective journey towards transformation that has occurred over the course of the MAGL program. Some of this personal renovation has taken place in the classroom setting. While other times, change has manifested in my personal life and ministry career. As I began to develop from within, the outward manifestation began to alter my journey and guide the path of my life into a new direction. I can honestly say that I am not the same person that I was when I began the program. I have discovered that there is life happening, even in the face of a zombie apocalypse. You just have to learn how live in a new way and survive. You have to also develop a keen eye to see life springing up, even in the face of death.

{continued in part 2}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: An Introduction

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LESSONS FOR SURVIVING A ZOMBIE ATTACK (An Introduction)

In Max Brook’s seminal book on the topic of surviving the impending undead apocalypse, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, he outlines ten easy to follow and practical tips for staying alive. The top ten lessons for surviving a zombie attack are as follows:

1. USE YOUR HEAD: CUT OFF THEIRS.
2. THEY FEEL NO FEAR, WHY SHOULD YOU?
3. BLADES DON’T NEED RELOADING.
4. KEEP MOVING, KEEP LOW, KEEP QUIET, KEEP ALERT!
5. NO PLACE IS SAFE, ONLY SAFER.
6. IDEAL PROTECTION = TIGHT CLOTHES, SHORT HAIR.
7. GET UP THE STAIRCASE, THEN DESTROY IT.
8. ORGANIZE BEFORE THEY RISE!
9. GET OUT OF THE CAR, GET ONTO THE BIKE.
10. ZOMBIE MAYBE GONE, BUT THE THREAT LIVES ON…

We are living in time of the zombie, culturally speaking. From TV shows like The Walking Dead to the up coming movies Warm Bodies and World War Z. Vampires used to be cool, now it’s zombies. So, what is behind this cultural explosion of the undead? I think on some level, it speaks to something deep within us. It’s not simply about horror; it’s about our cultural anxieties that play against our fear of the unknown and the monsters within us. People are comfortable and want the world to remain as it is. Professor Charles Fleming, while lecturing on the lifecycle of an organization once said, “we do not fear change, what we really fear is loss.”

In the same vein, the church in the West is experiencing great loss. Like the familiar motif in zombie stories, we are facing loss and must learn to survive in a new reality against monsters that closely resemble ourselves. The reign of the Western church’s dominance is over. We find ourselves in a new world and must learn to function under a new set of rules. Like zombies, there are still churches operating under the old paradigm and they are the walking dead. So to survive we must embrace change. There are many faces to the walking dead, but the ones that we will focus on here are namely traditions and biases. Each of these stalk us, seeking to feed on our souls, stifle hope, and kill the future. The church must learn to live and survive in this near reality.

In light of the above, to be transformational and missional in today’s globalized and post-Christian world, the church must begin by rethinking leadership in terms of ethnic diversity, hierarchy and spirituality. I will explore in depth what a transformational and missional church should look like and also analyze the key leadership themes that must be incorporated for these changes to be possible.

Through the course of this, we will delve into these themes as they have impacted my life and spiritual journey. They also act as a road map to guide me as I am beginning to plant a church. This will be equal parts personal process as well as a critique of the present and future state of the Western Church. The journey towards transformation is not an easy one or for the faint of heart. It is much like surviving the zombie apocalypse. You must be smart, savvy, and you cannot accomplish this alone. As you will see, this process hasn’t been easy. There has been much fought for as well as loss. The following pages detail key and signature themes I have learned in this process of survival and change. Prepare yourself because following after our savior is rarely a PG rated affair. It can get bloody. We will begin our journey with the words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to speak of his own life. In Letters & Papers from Prison he spoke in these terms,

“My life has followed a straight and unbroken course… if I were to end my life here in these conditions, that would have a meaning that I think I could understand; on the other hand, everything might be a thorough preparation for a new start and a new task when peace comes” (Bonhoeffer Letters & Papers from Prison p. 272).

It is my hope that this will all be a preparation for a new start. Let us begin…

{continued in part 1}