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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

June 1, 2009

Get to Work Pastor: Pray!

In his classic book Power Through Prayer, E. M. Bounds said, “Prayer is the Christian’s mightiest weapon.” Leonard Ravenhill asserted that prayer is “the highest ministry of all human offices.” I know you believe this, pastor. We know—maybe better than anyone—the necessity and value of prayer. We long for the special connection with God that comes through our times of prayer. We know that prayer connects God’s dynamite power to the work we do in our churches.

Perhaps the problem is churches! Congregations say they want a praying pastor, but they also demand so much from us that we rob from our prayer time. I am not sure if we pastors encourage that ambivalent “take it or leave it” attitude toward prayer, or if that attitude comes from our people and then subtly works on us. The end result however is that prayer is one of the things we talk about most but do the least.

In the Online Pulpit I have been sharing some of my observations and experiences since I have resigned as pastor of a small, rural church. Here is another: We (I include myself in this indictment) do not believe that prayer is real work. “How do you like retirement?” I am constantly asked these days. No matter how I try to explain and justify my calling to prayer right now, the conclusion people come to is predictable. I am not doing “real work” anymore, therefore I must be retired. Good for me, I am so lucky. Prayer, it seems, is considered a luxury that most people put in the category of “Hobbies When I Retire.”

Do you know what else I have noticed? When I talk to pastors about the prayer I am doing, and the wonderful sense of intimacy and connection to God that it has renewed in me, I see the longing in their eyes. They are hungry for it too. It is my own fault. I allowed my church to steal my relationship with God. How many times was I told, “You have to make the time. You have to do it for yourself. No one will do it for you.” And still I found myself in a dry and arid place, hungering for God. I read Andrew Murray’s classic The Believer’s Prayer Life, and had to own up to what he calls “the sin of prayerlessness.”

I am writing to encourage you, pastor, not to lay guilt on you. Prayer is the most important work you do in your day. So make some decisions that will once again put it in its right place.

  • Rework your daily schedule, or live by the schedule you have that allows ample time for prayer.
  • Let your elders or church board know of your new or renewed commitment to prayer. Have them or a trusted colleague hold you accountable.
  • Take the time to pray beyond your usual habits (e.g., “laundry lists” and one-sided conversations). Take time to listen to what God might have to say to you.
  • Include fasting in your prayer times. This allows you to pray with your body and your spirit.
  • In addition to your daily prayer, set regular times of extended prayer at a park, local retreat center or chapel.
  • Read books—new or old—on prayer. They are a wonderful encouragement to live a life of prayer.

E. M. Bounds said, “Real ministry is made in the closet of prayer.” So get to work, pastor! Pray!

Posted by Joan Tyvoll at 10:15 AM

September 15, 2007

Brought to Our Knees - A Retrospective

On the evening of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, over one hundred people spontaneously came to my church to pray. All through the night the church was open for prayer, and the next evening another hundred people came to pray, giving up their dinner to do so! There was no announcement in the Sunday bulletin. There was no sign-up. There was no program planned.

When the World Trade Center buildings came down, the entire nation was brought to its knees. The members of my church were among those brought down. Everywhere you turned (or tuned!) people were praying or talking about prayer.

What is it about such tragedy that brings us to our knees? The horror of 9/11 made it universally clear that there is very little in life we can be absolutely certain of. Security, whether physical or financial, is very illusive. In a matter of seconds one of our great cultural symbols was destroyed, and along with it the lives of over two thousand people. It’s hard for us to imagine such loss. No one yet knows how many of the living are physically and emotionally scarred for life by the events of that day.

When our sense of security is shaken, we turn to the only thing that can be depended on—no matter what our circumstances—God. In times like these we recognize that we are helpless and that we desperately need to be connected with something—Someone—that cannot be shaken. We, who are so independent, recognize our absolute dependence on God. So we pray.

Truth is, we are always absolutely dependent on God. We just don’t recognize it all of the time. God was all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing and absolutely dependable before 9/11. It’s just that many of us didn’t acknowledge it. Political power and financial wealth were very tenuous before 9/11; but many of us didn’t admit it. We needed God’s control of our lives before 9/11; we just didnt think so.

We needed to be on our knees before that fateful day. Every day of our lives—every moment of every day—we need to acknowledge that God is God and there is no other beside him. If only we can learn from this tragedy to be God-dependent all of the time! How different out lives would be if prayer—turning to God, depending on God—was like breathing for us. Before we left the house in the morning, we’d pray. Before we talked to someone we are in conflict with, we’d pray. Before we started a task at work, or made a decision about our kids, or decided how to spend our money, we’d pray. Just imagine how different our lives might be if our God-dependence was acknowledged before things came tumbling down! We need to be on our knees all of the time.

I’m sure there were many lessons learned from the events of September 11, 2001. Certainly, this one is at the top of the list—Christians need to be praying people. Let’s not forget what we have learned. We need to openly and regularly acknowledge our absolute dependence on the Lord. Let’s see what God can do with a church on its knees.

Posted by Candie Blankman at 8:55 AM