The Prophetic Voice

The prophetic ministry is one area of gifting in the church that is controversial yet worth investigating in greater depth. From Moses to Paul, the prophetic gift was something that they wished all God’s people had. That being said, the gift of the prophetic much less that of the function of a prophet has led to a wide range of responses in the church. On one hand you have those that deny outright that such a gift even functions within the Body of Christ today. On the other hand, you have those calling for a restoration of the prophet and the prophetic that is taken to extremes with to much emphasis on prophetic words over the living Word.

Rev 19:10 states, ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Yet all too often, the spirit of prophecy overlooks Jesus for the personal, strategic or big word that makes us feel better without pointing us to Jesus or encouraging us in our growth to Christ-likeness. Granted this is an extreme among certain charismatic folk but the problem remains something not even addressed among cessationist Christians or pointed out as to why such gifts should be avoided. Ultimately, balanced prophetic words will point to the living Word, encourage us in our Christian maturity and play a part in Christ being formed in us.

1 Cor. 12-14 provides a great deal of insight into the prophetic gift and the story of Acts also provides the role of the prophets in the early church. From these two examples one can see two different types of prophetic words, the personal/corporate word and the prophetic word regarding events effecting regions or nations. The words for an individual or a church provide a source of encouragement for the building up and assembly of the Body of Christ. Such words can come from a prophet or from one having a prophetic gifting to provide the right word at the proper time. The main point in receiving such prophetic utterances is not about ‘us’ but about the formation of Christ in us and the establishment of the Body of Christ.

The role of the prophet as told in the book of Acts focuses on the future events that would affect nations and the believers in those nations such as the famine predicted by Agabus. This is probably the trickier type of prophetic word that I have not had the opportunity to see this in action. I say trickier, because of the future orientation and the often conditional nature of such prophetic words. This would seem to place a great burden on the one functioning as a prophet. The book of Acts records prophecies that came to pass. However, if the word is mistaken or does not come to pass, do we as the church allow for grace and restoration or do we quickly condemn the ‘false prophet’?

Others in recent times have spoken prophecies on a national scale. Often phrased in terms of blessing or wrath, such prophecy is problematic by its very nature. We expect such things from an OT style prophet but we are now under a new covenant; again, tricky stuff. The big question is does such prophecy have a place in the church?  I believe people (even large groups of people) should be called to repentance, but should this apply to nations as well? Under the new covenant, should prophetic words still be framed in language of blessing and cursing? Maybe the bigger question is this, if one has a prophetic function in a church, what language and character would they express under the new covenant?

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Gift of the Evangelist

The evangel is the announcement of good news.  For the Christian, the evangel is Jesus Christ. Some will say the gospel is justification by faith through grace. Others will say it is certain verses from the book of Romans. Another will say it is the 4 spiritual laws. More will say it is repentance, belief and saying  a certain prayer. These things are good but the reality of the person of Jesus Christ eclipses them all. The problem is these things make the gospel a something and not the person of Jesus Christ.

Mass evangelism – Many an evangelical is familiar with this. Fill a stadium, theater or church building, bring in a great preacher and have a time of decision. The problem is getting people to the event.

Salesman evangelism – This is the method for sharing the things of the gospel in a manner much like a (used car) salesman. The trick is to make the sale by getting the decision. Atheists, agnostics and other religious practitioners are the hard sale, i.e. brush up on your apologetics. The problem is the reduction of Jesus to a commodity.

Rude evangelism – This is similar to above but ignores the qualities of love expressed in 1 Cor. 13, e.g. patient, kind, not boasting, not rude and so on. This is similar to the cold call and we know how we love telemarketers. Why anyone thought this as an effective way to share Christ is beyond me even though I was guilty of this in my younger days. The greater problem is you ignore the love of God. The lesser problem is you look like a jerk. That often causes problems for the rest of us.

Alternatives:

Bar/coffee shop evangelism – Show up regularly to a bar or coffee shop, develop relationships, share your life (which is rooted in God’s life) with others. This takes the love of God into account by showing up and loving others. You don’t force the door open for the gospel but present the gospel in the midst of your life.

Relational/friendship evangelism – Develop friendships with those outside of the flock and provide a safe place to discuss the problems of life. We can express the love of God in friendship by being there and saying, ‘I enjoy the time we spend together and you are important to me.’ Making time for others gets the focus off ourselves, which is something all us Christians need.

Servant evangelism – Serving the poor or those in need with no other motivation than to love the least of these. You come along side of them in their time of need and share in their suffering. This reflects the quote, ‘Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’

The future of evangelism will take seriously the notion of going into the world. This reflects Bonhoeffer’s view for the future of Christianity: Pray and help those with the problems of this age and enter into their suffering. Can you think of other examples that reflect such an approach to sharing the gospel? How can we share the good news of Christ in the midst of a postmodern culture?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Teachers in Church Life

Next up is the role of teacher in the church; how this works out traditionally and possibilities in an emerging/organic context. Teaching is oft associated with transmitting knowledge, from teacher to student via facts, figures and later evaluation (read here, testing). The teaching that occurs from kindergarten to high school and on is of this sort. Granted the higher one goes in education, the more one has to show and defend independent thought and research. Yet teaching in the church is more than just passing along knowledge but also the passing on of wisdom. Wisdom is that richness of life experience that has put the knowledge to work by discerning the why and how. I like to think of it as knowledge tried by fire.

The church passes along her wisdom in a variety of ways. Need we look further than Sunday School? Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church, Sunday School was the morning preface to the worship service. Bible stories were taught to the children, (often sanitized for safety reasons) while teens and adults ventured deeper into the text. Application and theology come together though not at an academic level.

The teaching for those called to ministry takes a different turn. The place of Bible schools, Christian colleges and seminaries is a ministerial rite of passage for many churches and denominations. Considering the disciples in the 1st Century, not all were as educated as Paul. Yet most denominations require an M.Div for ordination. Is this necessary for those called to ministry? What of the many called in developing countries who neither have the education nor the finances to pursue such education? This may be an oversight that Western churches need to rethink. Above all else if the academic work has no traction in the real world of practice why continue on such a path? Must we preserve the ivory towers?

Teaching in an emerging/organic context might look a bit different. First, the teaching will be practical, modeled and illustrated in the life of the one teaching. Next, the teaching may not even look like ‘traditional’ teaching but more like a conversation. Openness and participation are common requisites in such a faith community. Third, teaching can be more inviting for those on the fringes of the flock. Having an open time of discussion regarding scripture, doctrine or theology over coffee, beer or cigars could reach people who would never darken the door of a church house. The leadership expressed in the work of a teacher is that of influence and friendship along with the shaping of the concepts, ideas and language of the faith community.

Whether academic or fiercely practical, the teaching of the church should reflect the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Teachers likewise should reflect the character and style of the Rabbi Jesus. Above all else is the need for utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in teaching. That Spirit leads us to all truth, the fullness of Christ.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pastors, Shepherds and Leadership

Over the next week or two, I’ll examine the functioning roles within a church. In this context, I’ll look to the 5-fold ministry of Ephesians, that is apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, along with deacons and elders and maybe bishops. Mind you, I’ll look at these from a slightly different perspective than the traditional/institutional church. I’m not knocking these men and women of God. They work hard and long for the church and are often facing burnout because of it. I primarily want to say that there is a simpler way and a different way.

First, I want to look at pastors and shepherds. The modern understanding of a pastor has little grounds in the NT narrative. What often passes for a ‘pastor’ these days is nothing more than a sanctified version of a CEO. Granted this is not always the case but this is what is often expected. Many a church runs like a private or publically held corporation at worst or a non-profit organization which most are. This approach toward guiding sheep in the church has its share of difficulties. For many pastors, taking care of business often over rides care for the sheep. Preaching a sermon is looked upon as feeding the sheep when the shepherd should be practically guiding the sheep to the feast found in Christ. The care for the sheep is focused on the ‘pastor’ who runs here and there instead of equipping those other saints in the church with the pastoral gift to share the burden. Is it a big surprise that so many pastors are facing burn out?

So how can the pastoral ministry be done differently in a traditional church? Allow the ‘pastor’ to say, ‘no.’ This one thing can help greatly to prevent a pastor from being overextended. Free the pastor by letting her/him to equip others in the community, with a pastoral gift, to share in the work of service. Let the pastor seek sheep not of this fold, that is, let him develop friendships with the lost sheep beyond the edges of the flock. Above all, encourage the guidance of the sheep to the true Shepherd. Ultimately, any pastor should reflect this characteristic of Christ. Likewise, remember, these people we see functioning as pastors/shepherds, these brothers and sisters in Christ are also frail and broken like the rest of us. Mistakes are made and we should be hesitant to throw stones, cast judgment or gossip. I do not condone the overlooking of moral lapses but when they occur, be quicker to forgive, love and restore.

While the suggestions above are more for a traditional church, what about those shepherds in an emerging/organic church? In such a faith community, a greater emphasis will be on a flock mentality in contrast to a fold mentality. See Neil Cole’s blog for more on this idea. A flock follows the Shepherd, i.e. Christ, and is flexible in structure and movement. The fold keeps the sheep within the wall/fence of the fold, a discernable in/out, and restricts movement. The shepherds within a flock will point to the Shepherd. Likewise, they will reflect those qualities of the Shepherd, care, guidance and protection. In an emerging/organic context, fellow sheep will recognize those in their midst functioning as shepherds because they follow the true Shepherd. So given this view of a shepherd, what are the characteristics of such a pastor? Can a pastor care for those beyond the edges of the flock? Should they?

Freedom

Braveheart is one of my favorite movies and the story of William Wallace and the fight for a freeScotland garnered awards and praise. (A good deal of why it is a favorite is that I can easily recognize my inner barbarian and the violence in my heart.) Granted the violence inherent to many revolutionary and freedom fighting movements is at odds with what it means to follow Jesus, the ideas presented regarding freedom are what stand out to me.  The notion that, leading the people to freedom from tyranny is important, rings true even to this day.

Of course, how you do it is just as important. The violence of spiritual warfare does not entail the need for physical violence.  If anything, the spiritual warfare we engage in is a reminding of the powers that be of their defeat through the cross of Christ. It is also a reminder to the church; the cross is our example in how to engage the powers. That being said, the following quotes from the movie are not an endorsement of violent revolution but examples of how important freedom is, especially in light of the cross of Christ.

Early in the movie, we see William’s father brought home as a slain warrior in the fight againstEngland. After his burial, Williams’s father appears to him in a dream, telling him, “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” These words shape the remainder of his life.

Later, after engaging the English and declaring the freedom ofScotland, he meets with the future king ofScotland, Robert the Bruce.  In the context of rallying the nobles and the people to the cause of freedom, William tells Robert the Bruce, “And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you. And so would I…” He seeks to instill courage into this future royal.

Both of these quotes from the movie show the importance of courage in light of freedom. Granted the path of taking up the sword is distant from the way of Jesus, we need courage nonetheless to embrace the freedom we have in following Jesus. The heart is set free in pursuit of Christ. However, fear and forgetfulness will seek to stifle that wonderful freedom in Christ. We must remember, we are free in Christ and we must encourage one another in that freedom.

Often, those in leadership in the church take to feeling entitled to the position they have. If anything, the leaders should seek the example of Christ and point the way to Christ. If a leader does this, embrace and encourage freedom in Christ, the transformation of believers and the church will be nothing short of a resurrection that empowers the Body of Christ for service in the world. Will those in leadership in the church give up control for freedom in Christ? Isn’t this what the world needs?

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Going Underground

A few years ago I wrote the following as an introduction to my final paper for a graduate seminar on Metaphor in/and Theology. I was trying to paint a picture of “religionless Christianity” as Bonhoeffer put it. I’m now putting my money where my mouth is. I’m going to spend this summer in an organic house church environment. What happens after the summer is anyone’s guess.

Imagine a world in which the church buildings, cathedrals, mega-churches and other structures used for Christian gatherings are no longer, or at least less often, the places they once were.  Now these buildings are museums, community centers, homeless shelters, theaters and so on.  The people that once filled these buildings gather there much less frequently if at all.  What now occurs are smaller gatherings in homes, coffee shops and bars that are unique expressions of the Body of Christ in each particular city, culture and nation; expressions of faith that seek to express and work out what it means to follow Jesus in their specific contexts.  Large numbers of Christians have left the traditional practices and structures of going to church for the option of being the church, taking seriously the metaphors of being salt and light.   Large portions of the Christian community have intentionally gone underground, not because of persecution, but for the purpose of pursuing and modeling Jesus Christ through a cruciform life.  This cross-shaped life calls for a discipline unrivaled by some mystics but also a giving of oneself in love to share in the suffering of others.  This desire to commune with God leads to a love of the world on all levels.  An ever-expanding network of simple, flexible, mobile fellowships, with no central headquarters, that seeks to be the parable of Jesus Christ for others in the world.

Could this be a possible future for the church in America? in other parts of the world? Is the era of the mega-church over? I’m interested in your thoughts.

Enhanced by Zemanta