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Archives for July, 2017

Renewal in your church

New Testament scholar Dr. Kavin Rowe, along with Dr. L. Gregory Jones, recently released a small book entitled Thriving Communities: The Pattern of Church Life Then and Now.1 Utilizing his scholarly knowledge of Acts, Rowe offers some remarkable and convicting observations about the life of the early church, particularly in light of the tension between the church and the larger culture. He says that Luke’s story is that God “aims at nothing less than the construction of an alternative total way of life – a comprehensive pattern of being – one that runs counter to the life-patterns of the Greco-Roman world.”

What might Rowe’s observations mean for us as Christian leaders today? Let’s take a look at seven big themes in Acts:

  1. The early church constantly built and nurtured networks of disciples and communities.
  2. The early church did not remain hidden but made sure there was public witness to the gospel – whether at the temple in Jerusalem or in the pagan temples in places such as Ephesus and Athens.
  3. The early church cared for persons at the margins; the Grecian widows in Acts serve as an example.
  4. The early church taught and articulated faith as a living reality that gives life.
  5. The early church understood conflict as simply a way of identifying what was really important.
  6. The early church recognized that suffering is part of the journey.
  7. The early church engaged in prayer as a fundamental practice.

These identifying markers of the early church as observed in Acts might be worth consideration for leaders and congregations today by asking these questions:

  1. Are we actively forming and nurturing groups of disciples through Sunday school or small-group ministry?
  2. Does our church find ways of making the gospel message public in our community?
  3. In what ways are we caring for persons at the margins?
  4. Does our church teach the core fundamentals of the faith in a way that gives life and meaning to our congregation?
  5. Are we willing to explore conflict as a path to our future (or do we avoid it)?
  6. Are we prepared to suffer or to relinquish strongly held ideas, possessions, or status for the sake of God’s will?
  7. How well do we practice prayer as a way of life in our church?

I will be the first to admit that these are hard questions. But I also think they reflect well the witness of the early church as seen in the book of Acts. Maybe asking such questions and engaging in a close reading of Acts might well be a useful exercise for leaders in your congregation.

Renewal begins with God’s work. And in many cases, God is simply waiting for a church and her leaders to get serious about seeking a new and vibrant day. I can’t think of a better thing to do than to let the witness of the early church guide us.

Blessings on your work of leadership!

Carson


[1] C. Kavin Rowe and L. Gregory Jones, Thriving Communities: The Pattern of Church Life Then and Now, ed. Alissa Wilkinson (Durham, NC: Duke Divinity School, 2014), Electronic Format.

NEWS & NOTES

A glance at 2016-17

The Siburt Institute is excited to share with you its 2016-17 Year in Review. The institute’s team members cherish the many opportunities afforded them to serve and fellowship with congregational leaders across much of Texas and the nation. The Year in Review highlights new initiatives such as the Congregational Health Assessment launched in 2016; long-standing traditions, such as the ElderLink events established in 2000; and so much more, including the second year of the Contemplative Ministers’ Initiative. While there’s no way to tell all the stories and experiences that constitute the Siburt Institute in just a few pages, the document will allow you to meet a few of the people who serve and are served by the work to the institute.

A witness to leadership

In his latest CHARIS article, “I Saw a Captain in Action,” Steven Brice reflects on his experiences at Oak Gardens Church in Dallas, Texas, where he recently completed his tenure as the spiritual formation pastor. He speaks of the church’s journey through a time of transition that could have easily been very choppy waters had it not been for the skillful and thoughtful leadership of the congregation’s senior pastor, Dr. Paul Day. Brice highlights lessons learned along the way as he witnessed Day embrace, share and actualize a vision for Oak Gardens “to become a safe church for the unchurched.”

Siburt Institute matching gift challenge

The Siburt Institute for Church Ministry recently launched its first-ever major fundraising campaign when a generous donor couple offered to match up to $50,000 for any amount raised by the institute. The first five years of operating funds were graciously covered by a few donors who believed in the mission of the Siburt Institute from its inception in 2012. The challenge grant campaign now opens the door for everyone who wishes to see our efforts to resource and support congregational leaders across the country continued. If you wish to partner with us, we invite you to make a gift at acu.edu/give-siburt and your gift will be matched 100 percent!

A peek into the world of refugees

The Summit 2017 team invites you to a special exhibit at this year’s event designed as a small window into the lives of the nearly 65 million refugees in the world today. The Global Refugee Medical Mission experience will provide images and pre-recorded narration that reflect what many refugees might encounter on any given day.

To view, go to Room 115 in the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building on Sept. 18 or 19, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; or Sept. 20, 9:30-10:30 a.m. A host will provide instructions about the self-guided exhibit that’s expected to take about 15-20 minutes to complete.

Summit 2017 will be Sept. 17-20 on ACU’s campus. Registration is free and highly encouraged, allowing the Summit team to appropriately prepare for your arrival. For more information, visit the Summit website.

Theres still time to register for Randy Harris events

  • Summer Weekend Intensive Bible Course, “Christian Ethics in a World Gone Mad: How to Cope and Even Thrive,” Aug. 4-5, ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center. Registration is $60 and includes meals. Register by July 31.
  • Ministers’ Lunch Hour With Randy Harris (A Lunch and Learn Event), “Does the Church Matter?” 11:30 a.m., Aug. 29, ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center. The cost is $15 and includes lunch. Register by Aug. 22.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

“The word vision and the word see are related. If people cannot see, there is no vision. One of the best things any leader can do is to create simple pictures of organizational dreams and goals. But the leader cannot create these dreams and goals if they are not first pictorial in the leader’s mind. Without clearly drawn maps to the future, the organization remains hamstrung to the past.” – Dr. Calvin Miller, The Empowered Leader: 10 Keys to Servant Leadership

“People do not follow programs, but leaders who inspire them. They act when a vision stirs in them a reckless hope of something greater than themselves, hope of fulfillment they had never before dared to aspire to. And hope is passed from person to person. God-given visions of hope are shared, shared by leaders who see the vision with people who don’t. But sharing is more than talk. Hope bursts into flame when leaders begin to act.” – Dr. John White, Excellence in Leadership: Reaching Goals With Prayer, Courage & Determination

It was the Sabbath day in a synagogue in Galilee. The crowd had gathered for worship as usual. Some Pharisees were there…they had been keeping tabs on Jesus for some time. Ever since Jesus had spoken “blasphemies” in forgiving a paralytic, they had been counting up their charges against Jesus. A few Sabbaths back they had caught Jesus and his disciples plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. When confronted on this, Jesus said something that offended them even further, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28).

It wasn’t looking good for Jesus’ future…blasphemers and Sabbath-breakers didn’t have long lifespans in Israel.

Just as they had hoped, Jesus walks in the synagogue. Noticing a man with a shriveled hand Jesus said to him, “Stand up in front of everyone.” He continued, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” Not a word was said in reply.

Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand and as he did, he was healed.

Jesus’ two questions get to the heart of two things: the Law itself and the traditions that had been created to buffer the law. The intention of Sabbath in the Law itself was not only to save life but to to good for mankind. The traditions of the elders made provision for saving life but not for doing good for others…that could wait until Sunday.

Jesus heals the man in compliance with the Sabbath regulations in the Law of Moses but out of line with the traditions. Then, irony of ironies, we get this, “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

They plot to kill Jesus on the Sabbath! They are violating not only the Law but the traditions they accuse Jesus of violating!

It seems to me that the Pharisees lived lives that had a lot to do with control…control of self and control of others. If you know much about control it is often fear-based. Maybe they feared losing influence. Maybe they feared being seen as insignificant in the eyes of the people. Maybe they feared their Pharisaical mission of ushering in the Messianic age via ritual purity to be at risk. That’s just it…when you view the world from a risk avoidance perspective you are viewing the world from the perspective of fear, control and reactivity.

What they failed to understand was that God and Jesus didn’t live from a perspective of scarcity and self-preservation or risk avoidance. They live and exist from a perspective of abundance (God can always make more). If one understood the Sabbath in its original context, one would not struggle to understand this nor would they create traditions (that later calcified into informal little “l” laws) that undermine the very laws they set out to protect, which was a smokescreen for self-preservation, preserving one’s own little kingdom.

We see this in some circles today. We see a theology (how we view God) and ecclesiology (how we view church) that operates out of fear of losing control of one’s small corner of the theological discussion. Because it is fear based rather than Spirit based…tradition based rather than scripture based…we find mean-spirited, reactive, vindictive approaches being used because that is the weapon of the fear-based army. We find those who do harm rather than good…who kill in their hearts rather than work to bring life to others. Those of this perspective don’t know anything else. They don’t operate out of an ecumenical abundance…that God is doing something with “them” as much or more than he is doing with “us” because they cannot conceive of anyone else being in the inner circle with God other than themselves and so you fear anyone else “making it” because you can only see them in relation with yourself rather than seeing them in relation with God.

In Christ you don’t have to live in fear. You don’t have to live a reactive life. You don’t have to “win” the conversation as if “losing” it will cost you some of your hard fought territory in the Christian conversation. God has a handle on things well enough without our help.

So let us let go of our pathological need to control. Let us stop being reactionary and embrace a life of patience and intentional love for all. Let us speak the truth, yes, but not in ways that counteract the message of the very truth we speak. Most important – let us not live in fear and scarcity but in shalom and abundance. When you do, you will experience Sabbath every day.

ACU Summit 2017 is pleased to welcome various distinguished speakers to campus.

Returning to campus is Landon Saunders, who will present “From Memory to Hope,” based on Deuteronomy 1:1-8 and 4:1-40, on Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. at University Church of Christ. Just as God’s history with Israel informed his promises for their future, God’s past mercy and faithfulness awaken our love and commitment today. Landon Saunders will speak to us about how today’s church is situated between the past and the future. For more than 50 years Saunders has worked with churches and individuals around the world. In 1969 he found radio program Heartbeat, which was heard weekly by millions of people on NBC, CBS, and other networks. He remains the president of Heartbeat. He blessed us at ACU Summit 2016, and we are thrilled to have him provide the opening presentation.

Monday we welcome Sean Palmer, a minister who focuses on the church as a beloved community. Sean’s message, titled From Grace to Torah,to be presented at 11 a.m. in Moody coliseum, is inspired by the Ten Commandments found in Deuteronomy 5. The Ten Commandments connect behavior to the nature and actions of God and the Law, rooted in grace, brings joy to God’s people. Sean Palmer will explore the way that God’s grace compels us to action and transforms our very existence.

James K.A. Smith, award-winning author and philosophy professor at Calvin College, will be a special guest during the week. He will be conveying the message of his recent book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of HabitHis book explores his belief that whatever we choose to adore and worship alters our hearts; therefore, our bodies and minds alike must actively honor God as an act of worship. Smith will speak Monday morning during two classes as well as at the 11:00 a.m. featured  session in Cullen Auditorium.

Josh Ross, author of Re-Entry: How Pain, Roots, and Rhythm Guide Us from Darkness to Light and Preaching Minister at Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, TN, will share his thoughts on the foundational commandment, the Shema, Monday morning. His message,  “From Love to Love,” will concern the ways the story of God’s love for Israel exemplifies God’s commitment and love for the nation and for us today. Our only response to God’s love can be love; we love because he first loved us.

Thema Bryant-Davis, a minister, psychologist, and associate professor at Pepperdine, will bring her richly varied background in theology, psychology, and theater to her topic, “From Bondage to Appreciation.” Tuesday morning at 11:00 a.m., she will draw on her passion for serving marginalized persons and focus on the ways Israel’s experiences in slavery shaped the way God requires us to care for ourselves and treat others with love.

Tuesday evening, Chris Seidman, senior minister at The Branch Church in North Dallas, will address the topic From Oppression to Blessing,” drawing on Deuteronomy 11:26-32. God promises to bless his people if his name dwells in their land. Like the ancient Israelites, we are called to be a holy, set apart people today. Chris Seidman will remind us of the glorious blessings in store for those who follow God faithfully as well as the devastating consequences of human sin.

Summit’s final session will be led by ACU’s own Jeanene Reese, associate professor of Bible, Missions, and Ministry and the director of the Center for Women in Christian Service. Jeanene will discuss From Death to Life,” from Deuteronomy 30, Wednesday morning. In this text, blessings and curses are laid out before the people of God as choices. To choose to follow God is to choose life, and to choose to disobey is to choose death. Reese will explore the ways in which all people are continually offered this choice between life and death.

Please join us for ACU Summit 2017! Registration is open at Summit Registration.

There’s a reason why Jesus told parables and not myths.

An example of a myth is “Beauty and the Beast.” In its simplest form, the story resolves all inherent problems. The tension of the drama concludes in the most ideal fashion. The beast is released from his beastliness and becomes a beautiful prince. Together with the stunning princess, they live happily ever after. The double function of myth is to resolve unique contradictions and to create a belief in the permanent possibility of reconciliation. In other words, myths project a world that is not real.

In a parable, however, contradictions and ambiguities arise. It creates irreconcilable disruption that requires change. A parable is therefore often unsettling. In O. Henry’s story “The Gift of the Magi” Jim & Della each sell their most precious possession in order to buy a gift for the other. The end of the story is of course filled with great irony and loss, yet they also discover how deep their love is for one another. There is no neat & tidy ending in which everything “works out,” but there is disruption that leads to discovery. In other words, parables embrace the real world and send us forth equipped to live in it.

A church’s story-telling must be anchored in parable, not myth. Our stories ought to be authentic reflections of the lives we live. That authenticity should allow room for ambiguity and vulnerability.

Sadly, many churches embrace myths rather than parables. Christians often prefer to believe in “happy endings” where everything is awesome and we get along perfectly all the time. Church as business wants to sell products, and what sells is myth. It may attract people for a season, but it doesn’t equip them to follow Christ into the real world.

By contrast, Jesus lived in the reality of a fear-plagued world. He told stories anchored in truth-telling rather than fantasy. And he calls us to likewise live into the authentic stories of contradiction & ambiguity.

Herbert Anderson & Edward Foley write this in their 1998 book, Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals: Weaving Together the Human and the Divine: “Parable is especially difficult for human beings because it has one natural enemy: secret keeping. When communities such as families or parishes keep secrets, the consequences are extensive both for the individuals and the communities. Whether it be by explicit decision, implicit agreement, collusion, or a combination of these, communities sometimes decide to never tell the whole story and to keep some past event hidden at all cost. As a result the community is stuck in fixed patterns of interaction, roles are rigidly defined, and stories are closely monitored in order to keep the secret safe. Such secret-keeping is deceptively mythic: prematurely announcing that reconciliation is possible without allowing participants in the story to name that which needs to be reconciled.”

Reconciling with the world and with each other is not possible without truth-telling. And to tell the truth, we must accept the fact that it will be messy and require forgiveness. Let us be people who embrace the contradictions and messiness of parabolic story-telling. Let us be a church that lives in the truth of broken, imperfect lives. Let us embrace the grace of God. Not as a mythic story that magically makes everything awesome. But as a true story that embraces contradiction, ambiguity & disruption for the sake of God’s mission.

One of the most admirable traits of the first Christians was their courage in the face of persecution and great difficulty. They were fearless. They knew what they believed and were willing to die for their beliefs. They faced ruling counsels, religious authorities, even Caesar himself and testified to the risen Lord. Their level of boldness and fearlessness was attractive to the world around them as they bore witness to their faith through great pain and persecution.

Rome didn’t worry them.

The Pharisees couldn’t phase them either.

They weren’t worried about grain futures in Egypt either.

All that mattered was that Jesus had risen and He promised to raise them too…that death, the greatest enemy of all, had already been defeated. Who or what should they fear?

They had nothing to fear and everything to gain. That is how they saw life and it is how we should see life too.

If we are trying to restore the early church, somewhere along the way I am afraid that we have missed out on restoring their fearlessness. People today are hesitant to share their faith for fear of rejection so the Gospel goes un-shared. Christians fear everything from what happens in Washington to what happens to their 401k. Our fear keeps us from our freedom in Christ and the result is a church on the defensive…wall building and insulation from the community. Somewhere along the line we forget hell had gates, not the church.

It is time we move our attitude and mindset from fear-driven to being fearless followers of the risen Lord. So let’s talk about fear this month and how we can restore in our souls, congregations and communities a renewed boldness and a sense of fearless adventure as we risk it all for the kingdom of God.