Big shout out to my peeps, my little peeps that is. My kids each performed in the Burley School annual Holiday Hoopla.
That's Tyce rockin on the recorder--a much maligned (by me) instrument. Excellent tone quality my boy. You let those fingers do the talking!
And there's Lena on the percussion instrument that has the ridges that you rub with a stick to make that cool noise--you go girl!
And Olivia there in the flashing reindeer nose and antlers singing Rudolf--listen to your mama clap.
And big sister Jaley, first year in band, taking the clarinet to whole new levels. You and Isabel were maestro's in your duet and the band sounded better than I've ever heard. Great jerb!
And while I'm on the subject: big, loud, hand-waving cheers to the new band director who really prepared the students in both the beginning and advanced band incredibly well. This guy is awesome, on a band director scale of awesomeness.
My wife and I, both former band nerds from fifth grade through high school, are very excited to see the kids start tooting their own horns. Next year--Tyce on the slide trombone.
Some of the dialog on dechurchification over at ThinkChristian.net a few weeks ago centered around the Western church's over-dependence/over-emphasis on buildings. I believe that those who have reacted strongly to my comments about
the loss of church buildings are reacting against macro-impressions of
“the church in America” or “the church in the West” and its use of
The over-riding concern seems to be against "empire building"--this idea of pastors and churches seeking to build a name and an empire for themselves in this world. While I may agree with some of those macro-impressions, they
don’t mean that every building is a compromise or that every church
should rid themselves of their buildings to be “more faithful”.
I choose to react circumspectly to “building abuse”. I don’t believe
Jesus’ words New Life are presently,
“sell all your buildings and give the money to the poor”. We’ve seen
miraculous movement of church property into our hands without our
pursuing it. We choose to use the property we have for the
transformation of people and communities—they are “transformation
centers” (sounds kind of new-agey, right?). For us its not buildings OR
authentic discipleship. Its buildings AND authentic discipleship. Not
buildings OR love the poor. Its buildings AND love the poor. These
issues are not mutually exclusive.
There needs to be a balance in our zeal to see a holy and faithful Church so
that we don’t overreact to the failures of some churches by refusing key
resources in the name of being faithful. The seed of empire-building in
the hearts of people will not be rooted out of the Church by throwing
away all of its existing buildings.
Renewal. With the completion of the wall and the city systems being restored, the peoples' attention turns to rediscovering the God who performed this great miracle through them. What does grassroots renewal look like? We'll look at Nehemiah chapter 8 this week and finish it on December 30th. (12/16/07) Download rebuild9.mp3
Its a fact--during the winter snow season, you have to stay on top of shoveling or soon you could find yourself in the ER with a clutcher or at least on the couch with a terrible backache. A little at a time, even during heavy snowfall, makes the overall work of shoveling a little easier. I've learned that email is like that for me as well. Not staying up with it means making a titanic effort to recover a clean inbox. Since I manage about 60% of my to do list through my email inbox, a full one can feel like a mountain of undone work. I've also learned that all of my ministry life seems to flow better when I have a clean inbox. I feel like I'm on my game, alert and staying ahead.
Today, I took the time to go from 50 to 14. Good feeling. Now back to shoveling. Email replies seem to breed more emails. (Next edition--how emails are like bunnies? Hmmm.)
In Nehemiah 7, days after the completion of the wall rebuilding project, Nehemiah begins placing structure into this city that is in the midst of renewal. In the process he demonstrates how to channel big victories into longterm progress. (from 12.9.07) Download rebuild8a.mp3
I've read a couple books recently. Thought I'd pass along a one sentence review for each:
This is the most readable, engaging, eye-opening, emotion-generating dissertation you will probably ever read--it should be redeveloped into an academic training book for urban ministry students. (Okay, that sentence was pretty much two sentences with bad punctuation but leave me alone.)
The only truly "nuts and bolts"-practical guide to starting a church from scratch that I know of and it is written in a humble and fun way--and a quick read. (Thanks to Pastor Mark Jobe for passing it along to me.)
The value of this book is primarily found the stories Lupton tells from his own extensive urban ministry experience.
I'm still tracking the dechurching that is happening in our city, the city of Chicago. It gets me hot under the collar to see a closed church building. The other day I gave my daughter a laugh with all my spitting and sputtering about it as we were driving home from her dance class. I believe its important to raise awareness on what is happening silently and invisibly to the spiritual landscape of the city.
I'm not a fan of "problem raising" without solution-proposing. People who see problems and don't suggest solutions are as common as potholes in March in Chicago. Its commonly called whining. I've been a whiner before. I've repented. I've been whined at before (too often). It's nails on chalkboard.
And the reality is that problems, all by themselves, don't raise faith. Vision raises faith. Problems focus vision and give it its punching power. But vision is what moves people to attack problems and build something good in their place.
Dechurchification is simply an opportunity for Rechurchification. Our city needs to be reintroduced to Jesus. He's the Jesus that most people never knew. The Jesus they think they know is impotent and irrelevant--he dwells in empty church buildings with a few gray heads muttering prayers.
Rechurchification is a movement that reinhabits communities with spiritual life.
It swims against the stream of materialism, individualism, addiction and technologically-induced loneliness to bring Jesus into your living room, your cubicle, your bedroom, your car, your Starbucks, your home office, your bank account, your pleasure, your park, your backyard barbecue, your school and your mailbox and all your other yours.
When I see a community dechurched, I see a community that is primed for being rechurched. Community, meet the Jesus you never knew. (Thanks, Phil Yancey.)
I believe Jeanne Assam was a hero on Sunday. She saved lives by shooting the shooter at New Life Church [no relation to New Life Community Church here in Chicago] in Colorado Springs. I also believe that the church acted with foresight to have security. Behind the scenes they had probably been threatened and they took those threats seriously. Scandals can attract a lot of attention from imbalanced people with guns.
(And as Bill Cosby says, "that's a heavy but...") ...the quasi-spiritual language Ms. Assam used to describe the hand of God upon her in this experience made me more than a little squirmy:
"I give the credit to God. And I say that very humbly. God was with
me and the whole time I was behind cover -- this has got to be God,
because of the firepower that [the gunman] had vs. what I had."
"I did not run away and I didn't think for a minute to run
away, I just knew that I was given the assignment to end this before it
got too much worse. I just prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide me."
Now admittedly, I'm conflicted; compromised. My favorite character in Saving Private Ryan is the praying sniper. I find his quotations of the Psalms in the discharging of his duty to be inspiring.
But in a non-wartime situation, in front of a watching world that is pretty skeptical of Christianity, I wish Ms. Assam had expressed greater regret at the need to shoot this troubled young man and less "God-helped-our-team-win" talk. I wish she had said something like, "I did what my law enforcement training required of me but I wish there had been another way to handle this terrible situation. No one is a winner in a circumstance like this. I just did what was necessary in the face of potential further deaths."
Now in Ms. Assam's defense, I didn't see the entire interview she had with reporters (insert: "I was miquoted" here) and she did not ask for cameras, microphones and publicity. But I do think the church needs to clarify its stance publicly, letting people know that while they do not regret employing volunteer armed security nor the actions of Ms. Assam in saving lives, they do regret the taking of any life for any reason.
Maybe I'm over analyzing here. And I don't normally comment on news. But this one just kept bugging me.
Friday night I joined 6 other New Lifers at Emmaus Ministries in Uptown to prepare for an "Immersion Night". (Since you can read their website to understand "Immersion Night", I won't explain it here.)
After a brief orientation at Emmaus' ministry center, the seven of us grabbed a train for Boystown about 8:45pm. My partner Josh and I exited at Addison and headed toward Halsted. Our assignment for the night was to be a learner and observer. After walking around the neighborhood for a bit (a cold experience to say the least) we went into Roscoe's. This was my first experience in a gay bar and I'll admit that I was pretty intimidated.
Once inside Josh and I grabbed some cokes, sat down at a bar table and talked, while at the same time taking in the crowd at this dance bar. The crowd was 90% men, very diverse in every sense of the word and quite sexualized. Video monitors on the walls pulsed along with the music and we avoided them since they were overtly sexual. We stayed for a while--40 minutes? Not finding any significant conversations there, we decided to leave and walk around the neighborhood a bit.
Out on the street we passed by many men walking briskly in pairs between night spots. One bar had a set of search lights to attract people to the grand opening. While walking I also noticed several loner street hustlers darting here and there, looking around for their next "date". They were very incognito and either on the move or standing in dimlit gangways or doorways. I counted 5 or 6 young men who were hustling (prostituting) during our walk.
After a cold walk and some great conversation with Josh, weisheaded into another bar--Sidetrack. The bar was huge and wall to wall with people--again, about 90% men. Josh and I got drinks and sat in the middle of bar. Again I felt very out of place and quite uncomfortable. Josh leaned over to me after a few minutes: "man, we've got to talk with someone." That provoked me, in a good way.
I immediately slid over to the next bar stool and started a conversation with the man leaning next to it, alone. (It was such an internal barrier to start the conversation knowing that he and almost everyone in the bar was there in "pick up" mode. I had to push myself across that emotional barrier to start the conversation but I was very glad I did.) Bruce and I had a good conversation for about 10 minutes. When his boyfriend returned our conversation quickly ended and they left. I turned to reconnect with Josh.
At this point Josh was in a conversation with two men. I joined in. Shortly into the conversation I shared, when asked, that we were at the bar as part of a church group who want to get to know our community better. The men were very receptive to this. Joe asked me, "What kind of church do you go to that they would let you come here?" We all laughed together at that one.
I told him, "our church wants to get to know the people in our community--we want to serve our entire community and that means getting to know people in their own environment." Again, well-received. He asked me what I did for a living--his reaction was priceless. He kind of threw up his arms and said, "Oh well, the pastor, great! Okay, well what do you think of Reverend Phelps." I had no idea who he was talking about. I stared blankly for minute. Then he identified Rev. Phelps as the guy who holds the "God Hates Fags" signs. Gotcha. "Rev. Phelps" is a supposed baptist minister and with his vitriolic approach to communicating, was the most immediately identfiable "Christian pastor" Joe could think of. I was grieved and angry at the same time.
"Joe, Jesus always had his harshest words for religious whack jobs. What Rev. Phelps teaches does not reflect the words of Scripture or the heart of God. We distance ourselves from that kind of speech and attitude." Joe seemed relieved and intrigued that there were other kinds of pastors/christians than Rev. Phelps. He confessed that he was a "recovering Catholic". I told him that we were unapologetic about teaching the Bible, pointing people to Jesus and letting people decided what to do with that.
All told Joe, Mike, Josh and I talked for over a half hour and had a genuine sense of connection and mutual respect throughout the conversation.
For me the entire experience took the terms "boystown", "gay bar" and "gay man" out from the realm of stereotype and into the realm of real humanity, members of my community, people needing authentic relationships with authentic followers of Jesus. I haven't been that far out of my comfort zone in a long time. Frankly, Africa was much more in my comfort zone than my "Immersion Night" experience.
I'm walking away from the experience impressed with the incarnational approach to ministry displayed by Emmaus, feeling more connected to the people group in my community that identifies itself as gay, and asking God for clarity on what to do with it all as a church leader.
I want to say thank you to Mindy and Kiki at Emmaus for facilitating the Immersion Night. And "thank you" also to the New Life team who I ventured out with.
Ryan Zoghlin is the father of two of my childrens' friends. Recently, Ryan's unique photography process was featured on a local TV show, 190 North. Ryan works extensively in Chicago and Illinois is a very humble and very talented photographer. His photographs of the city are totally unique and real. Its pretty cool for me to be able to share a little slice of his work with you...
If you are a parent and you regularly tuck in your kids, you've probably struggled at times to find good conversations starters with your kids. I add to that my problem that laying down in a dark room next to one of my kids is a recipe for immediate sleep. Its like napping under the guise of "I'm tucking in the kids". Unfortunately my wife is hip to my tricks so I have to actually do something meaningful for tuck-in.
One spiritual conversation starter I've used recently with my older kids is, "tell me one thing that Jesus taught, or a conversation he had, or a statement he made." Then based off of what they bring up, I help them think through the entire encounter that Jesus had and what he was teaching through it. Last night Jaley mentioned Jesus' command to Peter to come to him on the water. It lead to a good discussion about faith and the necessity of constant attention on Jesus.
My wife is great at relating to the kids and praying for them at tuck-in time. The kids actually asked that I get training from Gil on how to do tuck-in last night--hah! For the little girls they love that mom plays "the food game" with them. So last night I played the food game with Lena and Olivia. It was pretty fun, in a 4 year old sort of way. And Gil prays for the kids every night no matter what. In fact, she challenges me when I try to leave the room without praying for them. My kids can be grateful that I'm not a single dad--yikes!
A few weeks ago I rebuked my two older kids for spiritual apathy when I was tucking them in. One of my great concerns as a pastor-dad is that my kids will try to just "mail it in" spiritually. To try to live off of the fumes of mom and dad's love for Jesus. I called them out--
"You can be a faker Christian or you can be the real deal. Fakers go to church and that's pretty much where it ends for them. Real Christians pray, read Scripture, serve, fast, sacrifice, give and grow and they don't wait for people to tell them to do it."
I told them I'd love them whether they were real or a faker but that I'd never let them be comfortable with being a faker. They took it well. I noticed my son reading the bible the next morning with no prompting. A good start. We'll see where things go from there.
I'm just praying that when all is said and done and we've released our kids into the world that the Grace of God covers them. Years ago my dad imprinted that on my heart. He told me with tears in his eyes, "Kevin, I am so grateful for the grace of God on you--I can't take any credit for it..." We won't be able to take any credit either--grace of God, please cover over my children.
One time, when my mentor Bob and I were in the basement of the church he pastors in Britton, Michigan, we encountered a bat. Freaked us out. But we overcame. We grabbed trash can lids, brooms and other implements of destruction and flushed the bat into a Sunday school classroom. Slammed the door. That's all I remember about our extermination efforts.
I guess those kids had the "object lesson" of their life that Sunday.
My recent post on the dechurching of Chicago was picked up on the Think Christian blog (they must have been hurting for content;-)
I was intrigued by some of the comments posted in response. I replied to the comments with some questions of my own. Here are some further comments and ideas on "dechurchification" (as my friend Bill M. is calling it.)
Church buildings are a kingdom resource. Not the only kingdom resource--far from it, in fact. Here are just a couple of "resources" that go far ahead of church buildings on my valuable church resources list:
Jesus and His Gospel are the Church's #1 ongoing, daily resource.
The indwelling Holy Spirit of God stands as resource #1a.
The Bible--absolutely mission critical.
The transformed people of God--essential, a core resource, a defining element of what "church" is.
But church property is a valuable Kingdom resource--a stewardship--something to be handled for the sake of the Kingdom.
Worshiping buildings--bad. Worshiping in buildings, even buildings we own--not bad.
Church buildings represent opportunity space. Space that can be used for gathered worship of Jesus, space to serve the community, and space that can be exploited to provoke spiritual awareness in its neighbors.
Churches can survive and thrive without owning buildings. As a multi-site church, several of our locations have spent long seasons (3-14 years) renting space for worship gatherings every week--it's familiar territory to us. Having or not having a building does not determine the ability of a church to minister to people and to grow.
But I am convinced that cities benefit from church buildings. Buildings stand in the midst of urban life and demand that people think about God. They work in concert with the living, breathing body of Christ to connect people to Jesus. Buildings provide opportunity for life-giving, life-transforming ministries to happen. Buildings express an open door to people who need God.
The disappearance of buildings from the landscape of a city--from the landscape of my city, Chicago--communicates to the people as well. As they disappear they say--
"Church isn't relevant--if it was, it would still be here after the community changes."
"Obviously, we've outgrown the need for church. Our community is fine without churches."
"Church people don't care about church so why should I?"
"Church is expendable. I don't need a faith community to connect to God."
I love my city--the city of Chicago. I want my city to love Jesus.I want my city to be unable to ignore the Church of Jesus.I want my city to be blessed by the presence of Christians and their church buildings--buildings that are used to make Chicago and its 77 different community areas a better place to live. I want to live out the mandate of Jeremiah 29:7, to "seek God for the welfare of the city."
I believe part of that vision is in revitalizing (not selling) under-used church space. Taking sacred space that has lost its influence and re-energizing it with the presence of the Church of the living God.
As the first phase of urban renewal, the rebuilding of the city wall, nears completion, Nehemiah's adversaries try to stop the work through distractions. In Nehemiah 6 we tackle the question, how do you remain focused on the work of Rebuilding when distractions arise? Download rebuild8.mp3