IVP - Online Pulpit - March 2012 Archives

March 23, 2012

Letter 1: The Ideologizing of the Church

In his letter David Fitch makes a plea for us to expose our ideology, our “false consciousness” of identifying ourselves by who we are against. He suggests that we should abandon the cycle of the ideological church by “going local.”

Unfortunately, the church in North America is now defined more by what we are against than who we are or what we are for. This kind of ideology happens all the time in our churches. We notice it when someone says “Oh that church is the Bible-preaching church—they believe in the Bible,” implying the others don’t. Or “We’re the church that believes in community.” The others somehow don’t. “That church? They’re the gay church and that one is the church that is anti-gay. We’re the church that plants gardens and loves the environment,” and “Oh, by the way you’re the church of the SUVs.” On and on it goes as our churches get identified by what we are against.

We get caught up in perverse enjoyments like “I am glad we’re not them!” or “See, I told you we were right!” In the process we get distracted from the fact that things haven’t really changed at all, that our lives are caught up in gamesmanship, not the work of God’s salvation in our own lives and his work (missio Dei) to save the world. This cycle of ideologization works against the church. It is short-lived and it breeds an antagonistic relation to the world. In the process we become a hostile people incapable of being the church of Jesus Christ in mission.

And so today, this week and in the months that lie ahead, we must join together as Christians to break this cycle of ideological church. I suggest we can do this by “going local.” We can resist the ideologizing of the church by refocusing our attention on our local contexts. In going local, we inherently refuse to organize around what we are against and instead intentionally gather to participate in God’s mission in our neighborhoods, our streets, among the peoples that we live our daily lives with. Here we gather not around ideas extracted from actual practice in life that we then turn into ideological banners, but around the participation in the bounteous new life God has given us in Jesus Christ and his mission.

We participate in his reign, the kingdom, by actually practicing the reconciliation, new creation, justice and righteousness God is doing and made possible in Jesus Christ. Here we become a people of the gospel again. It is only by doing this that God breaks the cycle of ideological church.

Read David’s entire letter here.

Get involved and write your own letter here.

lettersOP.jpgWith open letters from Andy Crouch, Ron Sider, Shane Claiborne and more, Letters to a Future Church paints a portrait of the world as we have it and the mission we have in it. You may find your calling in this book; you may even find your own voice.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 8:51 AM

March 16, 2012

Letters to a Future Church

An introduction from Chris Lewis

I first met Steve, Nathan and Darryl at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto. We became fast friends and ended up spending a lot of time together; whether studying for exams, hanging out, playing for the school volleyball team or serving together on the student council.

After a year or two of friendship we suddenly realized that we had almost the same experience growing up in church, which is to say that we were learning things in school that we hadn’t while growing up in the church. Like any keen, young, white evangelicals, we decided to start an organization, which we called Epiphaneia (the Greek word for epiphany), and began to plan what became a series of annual events meant to challenge the church. We wanted the church to consider some of the ideas we were learning in school. Things like justice and the kingdom of God and sharing.

However, after a few years of planning those events we felt we’d grown a bit stale. We needed something different to get excited about. After a few hours of conversation the idea came to us—what if, in the tradition of Revelation, we had people write their own letter to the church in North America? We would organize an event called Eighth Letter around this concept and put the question to everyone: In fifteen minutes or less, what is your most pressing message to the church?

Once we launched the initial campaign we had letters rolling in daily. We received submissions from all over the continent, and felt honored to be listening to people’s pleas for the church and catching a glimpse of their joy and their pain.

We took some of the best letters and invited those authors to share at our event. We also invited some more well-known authors to share alongside of these people. The event was filled with remarkable ideas about who we are as the church and what we hope the church will become.

The highlights for me were watching two friends share their own thoughts at Eighth Letter. Janell Anema’s painful journey inside the church seemed to be redeemed before my eyes as it became clear that her story was our story. A standing ovation was the only appropriate response. The second highlight came from a masterful piece of music-as-letter by a lifelong friend whose journey with the church has been a vocational dream at best and vitriolic nightmare at worst. If nothing else were to have come of Eighth Letter, those two moments alone made all the work worthwhile.

Eighth Letter was the event we were waiting to create. With the reading of each passing letter it became increasingly evident that we were eavesdropping on weighted prayers, on the personal hopes and fears that we collectively shared about the church we all care about.

lettersOP.jpgAnd now, just over a year and a half later, Eighth Letter has become Letters to a Future Church. I’m excited to begin the process of releasing these letters to a wider audience, a venture that begin here at the Online Pulpit, where the next few weeks will feature content from some of the letters.

Chris Lewis is cofounder of the Epiphaneia Network, a movement in Canada to equip and inspire Jesus followers in kingdom ministry. They have organized a variety of influential gatherings of thought leaders and ministry activists, including the Evolving Church Conference and the Eighth Letter Conference.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 8:41 AM

March 2, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 3

If churches wish to embrace the profound truth that God is primarily concerned with what each person is relationally and seek to honor the wisdom of the elders in their midst, what kind of practical changes will the congregation and larger community see?

Encouragement in a healthy lifestyle. Christian teaching maintains that the Holy Spirit truly inhabits the believer, including the body, which is why Paul calls the body the temple of the Holy Spirit. The church can and should be a place of education on healthy lifestyles—that, for example, it is never too late to quit smoking or lose weight. Churches do not often partner with or participate in health-related initiatives, but doing so can being a dual benefit: taking the church out into the community as a caring entity and increasing the health of its members.

A heart for those (of any age) with disabilities. While it is appropriate to strive for “successful aging”—that is, a lifestyle that keeps our bodies and minds sharp for the tasks God has given us—to have failed to age healthfully is not to have failed at being human or fulfilling our calling from God. After all, lifestyle choices rarely contribute to physical and mental health challenges that affect many young people: autism, many cancers, traumatic brain injury, and degenerative diseases. Such ministries often draw in families whose beloved children face such challenges and they teach church members to see the inherent value in each person. Those whose faculties have been compromised by Alzheimers or dementia can be seen in a new light as well.

Support of caregivers. My instinct tells me that churches are already a major source of informal support for adult children, based upon the number of prayers I have heard offered in small groups and church services for people in this situation. But most churches have not drawn upon the many community resources and support opportunities offered in the larger community, nor have they considered the stress of caring for adult parents a need for which their community could use faith-based support and encouragement.

Intragenerational relationships. The paradigm of age-graded Sunday school does great disservice to the development of intragenerational relationships. Likewise, church-related small groups tend to develop by life-stage boundaries. While some intragenerational sharing is healthy and supportive, often the younger members suffer the lack of perspective on their particular struggles. When church leadership encourages the formation of small groups (or life/connect groups) that transcend generational boundaries, they place older members in a position to be able to share their wisdom and experience but also to be loved and cared for by members whose skills can benefit them—for example, younger persons who will help an older church member set up and learn to use their email so they can communicate with their grandchildren.

Capturing the stories of our elders. When a church prioritizes inter-generational relationships, members naturally develop an interest in the unique life stories of their elders. Gifted—or even average—writers can be of invaluable service to families by recording memorable moments in the lives of various older church members. My uncle, a gifted and creative pastor, wrote numerous stories and poems for my grandparents about their childhood, courtship, and experiences in World War II. As a child I was mildly curious about this pastime and enjoyed the stories well enough, but the other day I stumbled on one of them tucked away in a children’s book my daughter had picked up. I had forgotten so much, and was incredibly thankful to have stories of these people I loved, people my daughter will never remember but whose legacy she can continue through hearing their stories.

I fear that many churches fail to take on such ministries because they don’t see an immediate “gospel impact” in them—where are the conversions and baptisms? But talking on such ministries sends a lived theology into the community: God cares for, and therefore we care for, individuals of all ages. God’s word gives a vision for the aging populations in our churches and communities, therefore we follow God even in this.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:23 PM