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The gospels, at their best, haunt me.

What I mean, is that they have this way sometimes of lingering after I’ve read them. They echo around in the back of my head. They seem to point to something just outside of my field of vision, as though I could see it clearly if I just turned my head quick enough. The gospels nag me.

One haunting text that has nagged me for some time is in Luke 19:41-44, lodged right between Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his temple-cleansing action.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41–44 NRSV)

The text invites the reader to join in Jesus’s distress, evoking emotion as Jesus weeps over the old city of David. His “If only” cry speaks to our own experiences of “what might had been”. Adding a bit of historical context sharpens the blow, as we see what Jerusalem will soon suffer at the hands of Rome, and indeed how the city had already suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Seleucids. “If only you could see!” Jesus cries, and I can almost hear it.

Further though, the text invites us to only to lament the ancient disaster, but see its root—the failure of Jerusalem to recognize “the things that make for peace.” This is the bit that haunts me.

I think, given the rest of Luke’s gospel, that “the things that make for peace” probably mean things like God’s willingness to subvert power and honor the humble and lowly (Luke 1:51-53). I think it probably includes things like turning the other cheek and loving our enemies (Luke 6:27-29), or a willingness to repent or to extend forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4). I think it probably is a way of summing up the whole of Jesus’s way of life that ran counter to those who would be power brokers for the future of Israel.

What haunts me about this story is my own blindness to “the things that make for peace”. I can recognize the abstract ethics of peace, but am at a loss for how to bring a moment of it about in the real world. I’m not the only one either, of course. The air is full of violent rhetoric and shows of power, and the anxieties that beg for them are present in the church as well as in the neighborhoods in which we live. I’m at a loss to know how to deal with the spirits of fear, power, and conflict. This is how the gospel of Jesus is nagging at me today.

Of course, in the text, the “thing” that makes for peace ends up being a person; Jesus himself in all his simple glory. Often, I feel like those who met him on the road to Emmaus, whose eyes were opened for an instant, so they could just recognize him for a moment—before he vanished from their sight! I see a glimpse of the Lord, but the image vanishes before I know how to follow. In the end, I pray that the spirit will increase my capacity to recognize him, and teach me how to follow his trail. In that hope, I will immerse myself in his story until I can recognize his call to peace above the din of war. I will immerse myself in his story until I can see him touching the lepers or dining with Zacchaeus. I will immerse myself in his story until his gentle word of grace to the broken sinner drowns out the boasts of the Pharisees at the table. I will immerse myself in his story until I can see his cross in the hands of those grasping for power. I want to be able to see him, everywhere he is at work. I want us all to be able to recognize the peacemaking one.

If nothing else, maybe someday we’ll hear his quiet weeping over us. Perhaps a day will soon come when our eyes will be open and we will see his tears over our addiction to power and fear, and the spirit will move us to join in his lament.

Maybe that will be the start of something new.

Do you remember being a kid and using your imagination? Maybe you were climbing a tree but you were pretending you were climbing up a dinosaur’s leg or when your mind’s eye turned that back patio into a pirate ship.

In those moments, failure wasn’t seen as the end of the game. Failure was just one more opportunity to improvise because the adventure had to proceed. If you threw that rope and it didn’t catch but instead fell in the lava to disappear….you had to get to the island without the luxury of a rope. Maybe you found some anti-lava shoes on the corner or used something else for a rope or threw something down across the gap and balanced beamed across but somehow you got there…

When we become adults, failure isn’t looked on as an opportunity to improvise anymore. We get locked into paradigms where you succeed or fail and get stuck without being able to see outside the situation or conventional means of moving ahead to find the innovation to get “unstuck”. Maybe this is because we no longer have the sense that we are in an adventure of sorts and that it is all going somewhere and maybe we ought to have a smile on our faces when things get a bit messed up and mixed up.

Part of our reason for this is as adults we lose our sense of adventure and imagination which kills our ability to improvise and convert tragedy to triumph. We don’t have to go back to being kids…this is not about pretending to be someone you aren’t. Instead, we can realize we are on a grand adventure that often calls for our burned up ropes to help us look for lava proof shoes to get to the other side. Innovation and improvisation put a comma behind failure or maybe a semi-colon instead of a period.

Let us never lose our spirit of adventure. Let us never see failure as a stopping point, rather as a means and motivation for innovation. Let us always treat us each other love and grace. Last, let’s have some fun along the way!

What affect would this have on our churches and ministries to see things this way?

black frameBook, chapter, and verse was a phrase that I often heard our ministers and Bible class teachers say from the pulpit and in our Bible classes. We needed to have a verse for everything, because, we would often say if God commands it then that settles it. The men and women who helped form the foundation of my spiritual life spoke with assurance about the authority found in God’s words.

In 2004, I enrolled in a hermeneutics class taught by Henry Virkler, who just happened to write the text-book we were using in class. Dr. Virkler used a lot of the same words and seemed to have the same ideas about how to read and understand the Bible that my preachers and Bible School teachers presented when I was younger. He explained that hermeneutics is how we interpret the Bible and that we use different interpretations when we are looking at different literary forms. For instance, we don’t treat a parable in the same way that we treat an apocalyptic writing like we would find in the book of Daniel. Once again, I was struck by the logic and reasoning behind his words.

Even if you are not familiar with the process of hermeneutics, it is a process that you use every time you read the Bible. You use hermeneutical principals when you make decisions about how to apply what you have read. We know we are to read the Bible with an understanding of who wrote a specific scripture and to whom they were writing. We treat Jesus’ words in the gospels differently than we treat the book of Revelation or John’s praise for those who went out and did not accept gifts from the Gentiles in 3 John 7. While we try to be as honest as possible, one of our dirty little secrets is that we still pick and choose what scriptures are commandments and which ones we like to explain away.

Let me unwrap that a bit. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist is in prison and the text says that John sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus really was the Messiah or if there was someone greater who would come later. While John was expecting Jesus to fulfill those passages from Isaiah 11 and 61 where the prophet declares that God would pour out His vengeance, Jesus pointed John back to Isaiah 35 where the prophet declared Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.

The next scene in chapter 11 we see Jesus talking to the crowd about John. He says the people were not happy with John who lived a life of self-denial and they were not happy with Jesus because He ate and drank. John the Baptist was not the only one to struggle with Jesus. Like John, the crowd anticipated a Messiah who would come on the scene and use His might to make the world right again. As the chapter closes, Jesus explains to the crowd that it is not just the mighty or the wise who are welcome in the Kingdom, rather the invitation is greater than that. Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” While we read this text and agree that Jesus is calling people who are tired and seeking rest, it is that little word “all” that gives us pause.

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful privilege of eating a meal with some friends. At that meal, we were joined by some friends of friends and that’s how I had the opportunity to meet Caleb Kaltenbach who wrote the book Messy Grace. Over lunch, he shared the story of how as a young boy he joined his mom and her partner at a gay pride rally. It was at that rally when he encountered a group of Christians who spit and threw urine on him. Apparently these christians didn’t think that homosexual couples were included in that little word “all”.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was attending a congregation where a man tried to place membership. The problem is that he was a convicted child molester who had spent time in prison. The church refused his membership because they did not believe that child molesters were included in that little word “all”.

We could tell story after story about people who were not comfortable around prostitutes, drug addicts, divorced couples, people of different races, women who aborted children, or whatever designation we want to use to limit that word all. These are the very same people who would tell you that every word in scripture holds the same weight, but their lives tell something very different.

I fully understand the need to be vigilant, I would never suggest a child molester be the deacon over the children’s program. I understand that there are people who sin differently than I do; they sin in a way that holds no attraction to me at all or makes my skin crawl. I understand we all have a desire to be with like minded people who share our racial, social, and economic situations. But more than anything else we are called to follow our Savior who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). When Jesus called “all” that includes the ones who sin like you and the ones who sin differently than you do.

In Matthew 11, John wasn’t sure that God was going about being the Messiah in the right way. The crowd that gathered assumed that John wasn’t the right one to announce the Messiah and they assumed that this couldn’t really be the Christ. They had grown up with the Torah, they were sure of what the prophets had said, and Jesus didn’t look like what they expected. Almost 2,000 years later we still aren’t sure that God knows what He is doing. We read that Jesus said “all” are invited to come, but does all really mean all?

Not only are homosexuals, gender confused, those who aborted children, embezzlers, alcoholics, molesters, addicts, racists, gamblers, bigots, misogynist, atheists, rule keepers, and rule breakers loved deeply by their creator, they are included in the invitation open for all. This is not a new idea that Jesus mentions in Matthew 11; this seems to be God’s pattern even in the Old Testament. God has always welcomed people with a checkered past to find a place among His people and to eat from His table. The writers of Scripture included the stories of Rahab a lying harlot, Moses a man with an anger problem, Judah who got his daughter in law pregnant, Esther who spent one night of passion with King Xerxes, and a cold-blooded murderer named Saul were all people who many of us would have a difficult time including in that word all. But God not only welcomed them, He used them to bring about His will. That’s what God was doing in the Old Testament, that’s what He was doing in the New Testament, and that’s still why He calls “all” to come to Him today.

What we need to decide is are we willing to take God at His word? If we are willing to believe that God means what He says then we will welcome “all” into our lives, around our table, and into our community of believers?

You can get a summary of the findings in these two videos or read below:

It is vitally important for us as a movement to understand what is happening in our fellowship. We live in a time where information travels quickly and sometimes, it seems, misinformation and speculation, travel even more quickly! Reality may not be as engaging as speculation but it is more helpful and beneficial to the body of Christ to speak from what information we do have rather than guess.

This report is intended to be a snapshot in time. It is an attempt to allow people to be well informed on the facts of what is actually happening in Churches of Christ when it comes to changes in women’s roles. This is also the first of several studies we are going to do at Wineskins as we continue to address important topics and help have a conversation about what is going on in Churches of Christ.

There were a few reasons I decided to dive into this topic including its relevance to our fellowship today and the lack of hard data that has resulted in people speculating and treating that speculation as fact. I don’t know about you but I like to speak from knowledge rather than from rumor and assumption.

So I set out to get some data on what Churches of Christ are actually doing in regard to women’s roles in order to take a snapshot in the history of Churches of Christ at this moment in time. This is not the end all, be all study on this issue. As the study progressed more and more issues of interest arose that could be tackled in a future study. As with any study, this has its limitations and should not made to say something it doesn’t. My goal in this was to be an observer, recorder and a reporter more than anything else. So in what follows I am going to give you the information I found out in the process as objectively as I can, trying to help you understand what you are reading along the way. Stats can be confusing and the last thing I want to be on this is confusing. If you have any questions, please email me – matthewdabbs@hotmail.com and I will do my best to bring whatever clarity I can. I have committed to these respondents to not give out any congregation or respondent’s individual information so please do not ask for that.

What this report is not intended to be:

  1. It is not prescriptive. This is not a manual on instituting change. It is descriptive, describing what is happening so we can be informed.
  2. It is not theological. You will not find any scripture in this report.
  3. The purpose is not to take a particular position on the issue itself.

I presented this information in two parts at the Pepperdine Lectures a few weeks ago and you can listen to those to get some of this information on itunes University (See #’s 13 & 42 at this link after you listen to N.T. Wright, of course). There were requests for this to be put in some sort of written form because it is a lot to digest in a lecture/discussion setting. So I hope that this information is presented in a helpful way and that it is as easily understood as possible. Statistics can be confusing enough as it is!

Survey data was collected via Survey monkey and results were analyzed via SPSS. Comments have been turned off because this information is meant to be a resource, not a place for discussion on this issue.

Sample

First, who are we looking at here? This survey was not a general study of a random sample of Churches of Christ. This was a study of congregations that have actually implemented some level of change to be more inclusive of women in the life of the congregation. So the numbers you see below are not representative of any given Church of Christ or where we are as a movement as a whole at this point in time. This is representative of churches that are making changes in this area.

In order to take the survey respondents had to meet 3 criteria: 1) be responding regarding a congregation that has made changes, 2) still be in that congregation and 3) had to be a Church of Christ.

It is very important that you understand the sample. Again, this data cannot be generalized to all Churches of Christ.

87 respondents were scaled down to 78 for a variety of reasons. A few weren’t churches of Christ. A few congregations had such a large representation they would skew the results so they were scaled down by randomly selecting those who would remain from those congregations.

47 congregations were represented from 17 states and Canada at an average age of 60 years old. It is estimated that there are roughly 100 Churches of Christ that have made changes in this area. I imagine the number is a bit higher than that.

Respondent Gender: 74% male, 26% female

Role: 56% ministers (as defined by being paid, on staff), 27% elders and 17% members.

Ministers

  • 35% of all respondents were preaching ministers/senior ministers
  • Years ministering in the current congregation ranged from 1-38 years
  • Average current tenure = 10.7 years
  • Average age = 52 years old
  • 77% male
  • 23% female

Elders

  • Average tenure as an elder = 12.6 years
  • 7% female elders
  • 93% male elders

Personal Support: 95% of respondents were personally supportive of the changes. Of the 5% who were not (4 respondents) 3 were female and 1 was male. Remember, these are people in churches after the changes have been made on some level.

So you have a sample from congregations who have made changes in this area that are overwhelmingly supportive of the changes, mostly male and mostly ministers.

For what follows I want to make sure you understand what you are looking at. This information is all self-reported from minister, elders and ministers regarding their assessment of things. So things like level of congregational support is not assessed by gathering a large sample of members from within these churches (future study material for sure), rather these numbers represent the respondents’ perception of these things based on  their knowledge and experience with the congregation since they were there through the changes. An interesting follow up study would be about members actual experience more so than what the elders and ministers believe happened (which is what this survey examined).

Changes Made

What sort of changes were made in these congregations? Listed in order of frequency:

  • Pass communion – 93%
  • Read scripture – 93%
  • Public prayer – 84%
  • Communion meditation – 77%
  • Lead worship – 69%
  • Preach – 50%
  • Elder – 16%

Of these 7 changes, the average number of changes made by the congregations was 4.82. the 2.18 left over was most often accounted for by not having female preachers or women preach in general or female elders.

14% of respondents reported being fully inclusive.
35% of respondents reported including women in every area except preaching and elder.

Future changes?

Do you anticipate future changes or has everything already been implemented? Let’s again, break this down by elders and ministers

Elders

  • 38% – Everything already implemented
  • 48% – Anticipate future change
  • 10% – I don’t know

Ministers

  • 18% Everything implemented
  • 70% – Anticipate future change
  • 11% – I don’t know

Note the differences between thinking implementation is over vs that there is more to do between ministers and elders.

Communication & Implementation

These changes were implemented, on average, 10.24 years ago.

69% made the changes gradually, over time. The other 31% made them all at once (whatever level of change they decided to implement)
There was no statistical difference in outcome based on how the changes were made (gradual vs all at once).

How long did it take to make the changes? Well that depends on who you ask.

  • Elders said 8.8 years on average
  • Ministers said 4.67 years on average

What I realized after getting that number was that this was not an apples to apples comparison because I had minister data for churches I didn’t have elders’ data for and elders’ data for churches I didn’t have minister data on. So I paired down the sample to elders and ministers in the same congregations (excluding churches that I didn’t have both an elder and minister for) and the numbers got more in line.

  • Elders = 5.25 years
  • Ministers = 4.67 years

You see that ministers still report a faster process than elders and that ministers foresee more changes ahead than elders as a whole.

Communication and decision making

84% did a study on some level

  • 72% studied with the whole congregation
  • 15% studied with a select group in the congregation
  • Average length of study was 8 months

Who was involved in making the decision?

  • Elders only – 27%
  • Elders and ministers – 46%
  • Elders, ministers and select members – 11%
  • Congregation as a whole – 13%

Who communicated the decision to the congregation?

  • Elder(s) – 57%
  • Elder(s) and minister – 20%
  • Minister – 15%
  • No communication – 8%

Method of communicating the changes

  • Written announcement/letter – 69%
  • Announcement – 75%
  • Sermon – 55%
  • Bible class – 55%

Duration of the process:

  • As stated above the average length of study was 8 months
  • Average time from first change to the last was 7.7 years.

Reported Goals of the changes

  • 48% – listed faithfulness to scripture
  • 34% – listed using gifts and talents
  • 8% – be more outwardly focused
  • 8% – more fully embody the image of God
  • 3% – enrich our worship

How effective were the changes in meeting that goal? (again, remember this is self-report by those mostly in favor of the changes) – 4.2 on average on a 5 point Likert scale (1 = Completely ineffective & 5 = Completely effective)

Attitude of the congregation at announcement vs today

What was the general attitude of the congregation toward these changes when they were announced vs today?  (asked in 2 questions and then calculated the difference)

——————————–At announcement———-Today——–Change

Overwhelmingly negative ———–4%——————-3%———— (1%)
Negative —————————— 5%——————-0%———— (5%)
Neutral ——————————- 21%—————–13%————-(8%)
Positive —————————— 55%—————–30%————-(25%)
Overwhelmingly positive ———- 10%—————–50%————- 40%

You can see the movement toward respondents rating congregational attitude as higher today than at announcement.

Support by age group

Remember, this is as reported by those who took the survey. A next step would be to gather responses from several thousand church members to gauge their actual level of support rather than “perceived support” from their ministers and elders. That is another study for another day.

[Likert scale: 1 = Completely against, 2 = Against, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Supportive, 5 = Completely supportive]SupportByAge

Teens – 4.62
20s & 30s – 4.62
40s & 50s – 4.16
60s & 70s – 3.73
802 & 90s – 3.47

Keep in mind 3 is neutral. Also keep in mind these are churches that made the changes, not the overall attitude of any given Church of Christ. I want to keep reminding you to remember the sample. That is key to understanding the data you are looking at – self-report by people in Churches of Christ who have made changes in this area.

 

 

Outcome

What sort of impact did this have on the congregation? In retrospect, I wish I had tried to gauge more than the typical metrics…again, another study for another day. In this study, I collected data on attendance and giving changes at multiple points in the process (pre-announcement, announcement, and actual implementation of change). The way this data was collected and calculated was, respondents were asked for attendance and contribution figures at these three points in the process. Changes were calculated from that information rather than directly asked for. In other words the questions were worded in how many were in attendance or what the contribution was at various points in the process rather asking them for the change. The change was then calculated based on the numbers they provided.

Attendance

Changes in attendance at announcement

  • 4% – gained members
  • 42% – no change
  • 54% – lost members
  • Average loss at announcement = 7.85%

That 7.85% loss was an average of all churches. Remember, some didn’t lose anyone and others gained. If you select the respondents who reported loss at announcement the loses are higher – 15.45% loss at announcement.

Changes in attendance at implementation

  • 15% – gained members
  • 34% – no change
  • 52% – lost members
  • Average across all churches (those that gained, no change and lost) you have a loss of 8.71%

Again, this is an average loss of all churches. Not all lost members. If you zoom in on congregations who lost members at implementation you find a higher number – 20%.

At announcement and implementation, the odds of holding steady (members gained + no change) are roughly 50/50 (46% & 49% respectively).

Correlations on attendance change at announcement

Attendance change at announcement correlated with…

  • How effective respondents rated the changes meeting their goals (-.399, .009 significance level). Negative correlation means as one goes up the other goes down. The more people they lost, the less effective they felt they met their goals.
  • How changes have been received by the congregation (congregational attitude at implementation) (-.324, .036 significance). The more people you lose, the worse the congregation received the changes. The more you gained, the better the congregation received the changes (again, as reported by mostly ministers and elders of the congregation…this is the perception, not an actual report by the members themselves). Congregational attitude is also positively correlated with years since the changes took place. The more years since the change the more positive the attitude and the less years since the change the less positive the attitude (.314, .014 significance).
  • Age of the congregation (.490, .002 significance). Older churches tended to lose more people and younger churches less.
  • Attendance changes and contribution changes were highly correlated – .790, .000 significance level) as would be expected.

Just as interesting as what is correlated is what is not correlated.

  • Length of study wasn’t correlated with attendance or contribution changes.
  • Length of time to make the changes was not correlated with reported congregational support

Contribution

Change in contribution from before making the changes to today

  • 43% – decrease in contribution
  • 29% – stayed the same
  • 28% – increase in contribution
  • Average change in contribution across all churches = 16% gain. Remember, the average on these churches was the last change was made 10 years ago.
  • Of congregations that lost contribution, the average loss was 24% from the start of the process to today.
  • Contribution per attendee increased after the changes. Which means attendance and contribution were related/correlated but contribution held up better than attendance. Those who remained on average gave more than before the changes were implemented. Contribution/attendee was $34.18 pre-announcement and $36.53 today. That is an increase of 6.88% in contribution/attendee.

This next stat fascinated me – attendance was better correlated with outcomes on congregational attitude and support than contribution was. In other words, losing people was a bigger deal than losing money.

Role of Scripture

To the best of your knowledge how central a role did scripture play in the decision?

  • 90% – Majorly emphasized

When asked what their goal was in making the changes, the number 1 answer was “faithfulness to scripture” (48%) followed by gifts and talents (34%).

Role of scripture correlated with a few things:

  • How positively changes were received by the congregation (more scriptural emphasis = more positive) – .258, .026 significance
  • How effective people thought the changes were – .246, .040 significance
  • General attitude of the congregation as well as the attitude of every individual age group as listed above

Miscellaneous

Has your level of support changed since changes were implemented?

  • 53% – More supportive
  • 39% – Stayed the same
  • 3% – Less supportive

Knowing what you know today, would you have done this if you had a “do over”?

  • 90% – Yes
  • 10% – No

How would you do things differently if you had to do it over again? (open ended question)

  • Nothing = 49%
  • Move faster = 26%
  • Move slower = 1%
  • More communication = 4%
  • Include more of the church = 6%

Has there been a change in volunteerism since the changes rolled out?

  • 68% – Increased participation
  • 28% – No change
  • 4% – Decreased participation

Have you seen a change in the number of visitors?

  • 51% – Increase
  • 45% – No change
  • 4% – Decrease

Have you seen a change in participation by the men?

  • 15% – Increase participation by the men
  • 79% – No change
  • 6% – Decreased participation by the men

Respondent’s age didn’t correlate with any of the outcome variables.

Gender didn’t have a “main effect” in any of the ANOVA (analysis of variance) I ran on the data. This means that gender didn’t seem to skew or affect any of the data, rather men and women reported things very similarly.

The groups that did differ significantly on their responses were those who were personally supportive vs not supportive on the changes. Those who were not supportive tended to report worse congregational outcomes than those who were supportive of the changes. That could be said just as well in the reverse. Those who were supportive of the changes tended to rank outcomes more positively than those who were not (F = 43.059, significance = .000).

The last nugget dug out of this data is just an interesting side note. I ran an ANOVA on role in the congregation to see if preachers and elders report things differently and there was no “main affect” of role in the congregation on the data. That means we have statistical proof that there is no such thing as “preacher count”!

Bobby V & Walter B

Bobby V & Walter B

Paul said the ‘Old Testament’ is “from God and good for doctrinal instruction” and for “equipping the person of God” to every good work.

It is not an accident that Martin Luther referred to the Psalms as a miniature Bible. The Psalms represent the “essentials,” if you will, of what had to be constantly put forward to an oral based culture. So we see God’s people taught the way of thanksgiving, wisdom, commitment, repentance, joy, obedience, true worship, and the reign of God. In fact the Psalms nourish faithfulness in every dimension so that Israel might be on display before the world.

The Holy Spirit, thru the Psalms and its worship, invite us into an “alternative” reality in which we long for, prayed for, believe and seek to be a world that is radically different than that encountered on a daily basis “out there.” We can hear, (in our mind’s eye) as we tag along with that great cloud of witnesses, the Levite proclaim in a loud voice “Welcome to the REAL world!” In the midst of a world that proclaims myriads of idolatries, we gather and proclaim allegiance to the One True Creator God, his mighty deeds, and his righteous claim upon all that he has created.

Thus God’s People whether we call them Israel or the church are anchored consciously in an identity of grace. The corporate worship of God’s people sustains and reinforces this self-understanding. Biblical worship constantly reminds us WHO WE ARE.

We are created.
We did not make ourselves.
We are called.
We are elected.
We are redeemed.
We have a mission.

Worship does not only tell us we are God’s people. Worship consistently reminds us of HOW and WHY we are God’s because it tells the Story of what GOD did for us and to us. Biblical worship, Psalms declares, annihilates self-sufficiency and replaces it with God-sufficiency.

The Book of Psalms, the miniature Bible, also constantly reminds God’s people that we have a calling, we have a mission. We have a purpose for being.  We, by grace, are God’s kingdom in the fallen world. But we are more. Israel, the church, exists FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD. Genesis 12.1-4 is floating in the background shaping and framing the Psalter and the worship of God’s people.

Thus Psalms shapes us as “missional people.” Creighton Marlow went so far as to say the Psalms are the “music of missions.” Certainly, Psalms does not let Israel get greedy with God’s grace. This week I have read the entire Psalter looking for references to the “nations,” or synonyms, and there are at least 175 references to the people of the world, the nations, etc. A great example comes in Psalm 67, which alludes to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6 but used throughout biblical worship,

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us –
SO THAT your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among ALL NATIONS.
May ALL PEOPLES praise you, God;
may ALL PEOPLES praise you
” (67.1-2)

The blessing upon the people of God is for the sake of the world.

Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds AMONG THE PEOPLES
” (9.11)

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, ALL THE EARTH.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory AMONG THE NATIONS
” (96.1-3)

The Psalter is loaded with this stuff. The worship inculcated in Bible tells us not only how, and why, we got “here” but what we are supposed to “do.” We are to show the world what it looks like when people take seriously God. It is as if Israel is the answer to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer.  WE are the place where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We are the New Creation FROM the future breaking into old fallen creation like leaven in a lump. We are the Salt of God poured out upon his world and the nations. We are the lamp he has lit in the darkness.

So biblical worship, as seen in the Spiritual Psalms, constantly reminds us of who we are (creatures of the Almighty King), what we are (we are redeemed by the One who loves us), and what we are to be and do (God’s future on display, God’s instrument of flooding the world with grace and shalom).

The Psalms show us that a biblical theology of worship and its implementation results in a missional people of God.

If you are looking for free Small group and Bible class curriculum on the Gospels, look no further,

I love the Gospel of Mark. Not only is the Gospel action packed but it is the Gospel that does its best to keep you from fully understanding Jesus until the time is just right. We call this the Messianic secret, which are those odd moments were Jesus tells both people and demons to be silent about his identity…to not share with others the news about Jesus (Mark 1:43-44 for instance)

This makes Mark the perfect Gospel for studying with non-Christians as it keeps the question of who Jesus truly is up in the air as the pile of evidence begins to grow via his teaching and miracles. Slowly but surely, the identity of Jesus begins to emerge from the details. His authority is demonstrated and slowly points to his identity as the Son of God and Messiah.

On one hand, Mark reads like Jesus is on break-neck pace through Galilee and Judea…going here and there and doing things in rapid succession. On the other hand, Mark paces the narrative, to allow these details that point to Jesus’ identity, slow enough to let them sink in and not rush the process of discovery. It takes Mark 8 chapters before Jesus allows his true identity to be disclosed by Peter. Now, Mark tells us in 1:1 that Jesus is the Messiah but he allows there to be 8 chapters leading up to a clear confession and admission of Jesus’ true identity. Mark spends the last 8 chapters taking that conclusion and illustrating it more fully.

This is the inductive method at its best and it is a fantastic Gospel for teaching people who don’t know Jesus about Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. It took the disciples several years to really understand Jesus, his identity and his message. Yet, we expect non-Christians to get it within a week or three or else we feel we have failed somehow. These things take time. They take prayer. They take patience to allow people to wrap their minds around the identity of Jesus without the benefit of all the teaching most of us have experienced in our lifetimes and yet still struggle, at times, with our relationship with Jesus.

A few years ago, I took this idea and wrote a 4 week evangelistic and inductive study that allows Mark to let us in on the identity of Jesus. If you would like to download this for yourself or to use to study with others you can download it here – Jesus 101.

Jesus said something in Matthew 18 that is normally reserved for conversations about conflict resolution or, more specifically, dealing with sin. I contend that what Jesus said is not just a prescription for conflict resolution and reconciliation but is also the antidote for one sin in particular – gossip.

Here is what Jesus said,

Matt18.15-20

This is the power of the small circle. The goal here is to keep the circle of those who are in the know as small as possible, not as large as possible. Gossip attempts to broaden the circle of information (usually false information but not always) to as many people as possible. It is a boundary violation that carelessly puts other people unnecessarily at risk. The damage cannot usually be fully undone because you have no idea how wide the circle goes and how to manage or reign it back in should one find out they were mistaken.

The small circle is limiting the flow of information to only those who truly need to know. The first step Jesus explains keeps the circle on a two person level. You know and they know. That is, at that moment, all who need to know. If resolution and reconciliation are turned down, the circle gets larger but still in a managed way and only to people who you can trust to not allow the circle to be increased by them blabbing about it to others. The “one or two others” should be spiritually mature, dependable and responsible people who know how to keep things private.

The circle is always kept as small as possible. This is hard to do because our human nature likes to be in the know and likes to let other people know we are in the know. This is a fleshly desire that must be resisted at all costs. We cannot couch the disclosure of someone else’s problem or sin in the guise of a prayer request, a secret, or anything else. This is difficult to do but it is essential to keep the collateral damage as small as possible. It is not just doctors who are charged with “do no harm” Christians should abide by that as well.

Last, we have an opportunity to train people on this. When someone comes to us who has been let in the circle who shouldn’t have been we stop the communication in its tracks. Someone comes up to you and begins to tell you something about someone, your first reaction should be, “Stop. Have you told them about this?” If not, they need to go and do so and not tell anyone else along the way. If they have they still don’t need to tell you about it. Do you know how many problems this would prevent in congregational/communal life in the church? Do you know how much damage would be avoided if we went directly to people and kept the circle as small as possible? We don’t all have a right to know everything. That is harder and harder to believe in a world where technology tries to offer us everything but it is true. You are not entitled to know everything. You will be better off for that!

Last, these things take prayer. You will notice the heading the NASB gives on this and includes “Prayer” even though that word doesn’t directly appear in their translation. It does in the HCSB in verse 19, “Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.” These things take prayer and prayer makes us slow down and exhibit patience toward our brothers and sisters.

freely-10076-preview-973x649Jesus started his ministry with the end in mind. The first thing we see Jesus do is find his replacements. He did this because he knew that his time on earth was limited and that he had to pass his ministry on to those who would follow in his footsteps. We often think of ministry succession being thought of at the end of a ministry. Jesus planned for it all along. He was constantly taking his crop of recruits to new places, teaching them new things and, at times, sending them to do and say what they saw and heard him do and say.

We will all be followed by someone, whether we are a minister, elder or even a member in the congregation. Someone will fill our slot. So let us start with the end in mind and equip along the way. When you do that you will notice that ministry multiplies as you get more hands on deck from the beginning rather than at the end. You will also find transition to be easier when it is needed because everyone already knows what to do.

We can make sure class happens. We can make sure we have a song leader for Sunday. We even need to make sure someone is on tap to teach the children’s classes…but don’t ever let the urgent take priority over the most important things you can and should do. Let us involve more people in the ministry process. There will be more ownership of the ministry as well as more people ready to run with things in the event transition needs to take place. This changes our ministry paradigm from how much ministry I can do to how we can serve together.

In Jesus’ day, a son grew up learning the trade of his father. Joseph was a carpenter and you can be sure that Jesus learned those skills as he grew up and possibly even into adulthood. Jesus started his public ministry around the age of 30. In those days Rabbis usually had a second vocation because Rabbis didn’t make a full time living doing what Rabbis do. If you recall, Paul was a tentmaker even during his time as a minister of the Gospel.

Jesus had a third vocation and this one is a bit more subtle and is only mentioned one but is a profound point that John makes in his gospel. Before I go any further, I want to point to something N.T. Wright said at the Pepperdine lectures that connected a few of these dots for me. Some of the dots I had connected before but one thing Wright said made everything come together from the disjointed pieces of past study.

He said that Jesus said “It is finished” on a Friday (John 19:3). He rested in the tomb on Saturday. Jesus rose from the grave on the first day of the week. Jesus death, burial and resurrection paralleled the creation account but continued that story into a new day…a new week…a new creation.

I went back to John 19-20 and things started to click like they hadn’t clicked before. I had already noticed the Eden and Adam connection…that we learn in John 19 that the tomb was a garden tomb and that in John 20 Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener (the same vocation Adam had in Eden). What I hadn’t noticed was that Mary went to the tomb of the first day of the week while it was still dark. This is a perfect parallel with Genesis 1 where on the first day darkness was over the face of the deep.

We could go on to 2 Corinthians 5 and Galatians and 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 2:6, and Romans 4 and make more and more connections between the creation story, Eden, Adam and Jesus but that is too much to get into at this point in time. All I want to say is that Jesus carried on the vocation of Adam in a new creation way. A new day has dawned. New creation is breaking in. The curse of the serpent is growing toward complete fulfillment. Sin and death have been defeated. We, as Christians, live in this new creation as new creation beings!