Core values — Local Church

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In our “Who or What is the EFCC?” brochure, we list 8 core values – things that are important to us as “EFCCers”. In my last blog post I highlighted the first value, “the gospel”. We are evangelicals – gospel people. In this post I would like to focus on another core value, “the local church”. While we are gospel people and believe that the gospel saves individuals, we also recognize that throughout history God has chosen to gather together those He has redeemed, to worship and serve Him in communities of faith – local churches. In our individualistic society, this is easy to overlook. Additionally, the ongoing critique of the church can lead us to downplay the importance of the local church especially when it comes to carrying out His mission; making disciples and even in the development of real, authentic relationships.

First, let’s admit that the local church is imperfect! It is imperfect because it is composed of flawed, weak human beings: recovering sinners, saved by grace but with more than enough baggage to undermine the most perfect of structures! My bookshelves are full of books decrying the problems with the church and proposing solutions: Deep Church, Simple Church, The Deliberate Church, The Connecting Church, Church on the Other Side, The Purpose Driven Church, Re-Thinking the Church, Viral Churches, The Essence of the Church…and another dozen or so books about the church, but without “church” in the title! I appreciate almost all of these books. They raise good corrective points and they urge us to do “church” better. And I desperately want to do church better because I don’t think God has any other strategy for reaching the world. Jesus and His Church are the “hope of the nations”. The real enemy of the church is less constructive critique and more apathy. It is so easy to become cynical and just throw the church under the bus; to give up on it, to look to para-church or gifted individuals and ministries to stand-in and carry out the roles we used to think the church was responsible to fulfill. However, with Kevin DeJong and Ted Kluck I must declare, “I love the church and the Free Church in particular”! I recommend their book, Why We Love the Church for those of you who are losing patience with the church.

Now I should clarify something. Church doesn’t have to look like we think it does. Many of us assume that every local church must look like our church. After all, my church building, program, Sunday morning service, leadership structure is the perfect reproduction of an Acts local church, right? Wrong. In fact, I would suspect that if we were honest, we would find that there are a number of things about our church that are…well…uh…extra-biblical if not unbiblical. Much of what we do and how we organize and program our local churches is cultural. This is why there are a myriad of church structures, styles and programs in North America today, not to mention the endless varieties of church in different times, places and cultures. So, is there only one biblical way to structure your leadership or run a worship service? I don’t think so.

Are there biblical principles that can help us? Of course!

Does God expect us to work those principles out in different ways? Of course!

I am blessed by attending different churches within our own movement. We have cowboy church and Journey Church, churches with contemporary music and traditional music, churches with elder boards and deacon boards and ethnic churches. And I pray we will plant many more kinds of churches! It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people and God loves diversity which is another EFCC core value we will consider later. Nobody I know complains that Baskin-Robbins has over thirty flavours of ice cream. Neither should we be ashamed of having different flavours of local church!

We need local churches that are dynamic, spirit-driven communities of people, living life, multiplying disciples and leaders and carrying out mission together. Sometimes I wonder if we think that merely gathering people together at a certain time and place on a Sunday morning means we are automatically a united body; a church.

I was at a trans-denominational, inter-church event on New Years’ Day. The pastors went on and on about how this gathering of local churches into the “One Church of Langley” was such a model of biblical unity. I am all for inter-denominational/church cooperation but please! — do we really think that proximity equals unity? Whether it is one church or a gathering of one hundred churches, unity is not achieved by sitting in a chair beside someone. The world needs to see communities of faith that lovingly live out the messiness of following Jesus and carrying out His mission together. As a result we in the EFCC, labour to build environments within the movement where local churches can be healthy, missional and viral, multiplying disciples, leaders and churches. We long to see local churches with Jesus as Head and Lord of all, drawing lost sinners to our supernatural God who redeems, transforms and sanctifies.

We exist as EFCC Districts, Home Office and EFCCM to serve churches – not the other way around. May we have the joy of becoming known as a growing family of local churches that, while engaging in the messiness of new birth, community and mission, see God supernaturally intervening in ways that cannot begin to be explained by anything other than the fact that Jesus is the Head and Lord of all!

Serving with you,

Bill

Scandal of the Evangelical Imagination

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Here is a blog post that was recently shared with our pastors. It’s certainly thought-provoking!

Scandal of the Evangelical Imagination

If this inspires thoughts that you want to share here, please feel free!

God is Our Great Trailblazer

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“As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it.  Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length.  Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Joshua 3:3-4

I love the story of Joshua!  Imagine following a “legend” like Moses and having to lead a group of people into the promised land after they have wandered for an entire generation because of their fear/disobedience!  I especially resonate with the above verses – since the Israelites have never “passed this way before” they are to follow the ark of the covenant.  In essence, God will lead them into the great unknown (with a little help from their spiritual leaders, the Levitical priests).

In some ways, the EFCC is crossing the Jordan into new frontiers – and we are counting on God to lead us because we “have not passed this way before”.  A few weeks ago, I joined Superintendents Don Harder and Tim Seim, in Lacombe, Alberta, where we oriented 33 new pastors.  What a joy to interact with young leaders who love the Lord, appreciate the Free Church and want to join God in His redemptive mission.  The next day, Charlie Worley joined us and trained a number of church planter assessors.  The day after that, the newly trained assessors had the privilege of applying their new skills by interviewing a sharp young couple who are praying about planting a church.

We have approximately 20 church plants in planning or process – God is bringing planters and groups of people to us, and we are scrambling to put the systems in place that will help these plants/planters succeed!  This fall, Charlie will train coaches in each district, so we have people who can encourage planters in their mission.  This is exciting, but the fact remains that our generation “has not passed this way before”!

Last week I returned from Germany where I attended a Church Planting Europe Conference, attended board meetings for IFFEC (International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches) and spoke Sunday morning in a German Free church in Giessen.  It was great to spend time with EFCCM missionaries, Shawn and Söndi Carlaw (who are hoping to plant a church outside of Budapest), and to hear what God is doing in Europe.  For instance, our brothers and sisters in the German Free Church are on track to plant ten churches per year from 2010-2020!  We are part of a larger family that is being called to follow our God into new frontiers, with the gospel!

If you are like me, it is easy to want to run ahead of God – rather than staying far enough behind (2,000 cubits does seem like a long way behind!) to actually follow Him!  Of course, we can err on the other side and drag our feet and not follow Him at all (preferring to stay in the “wilderness” that is both familiar and comfortable)!  However, I am counting on God taking our family to some new places of mission and ministry in 2011/2012.  Please pray for us as we seek to follow Him on this journey!

Following with you,

Bill

Taming the Untamable God

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“The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory. All worshippers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship Him, all you gods! (Psalm 97:6-7)

I love this Psalm. It is one of those great Hebrew poetry pieces that mirror the key themes. In verses 1-6 our awesome God who reigns is manifested as holy, righteous, just, awesome – the judge. In verse 7 the Psalm transitions, indicating that many respond to the God who reigns by trying to tame Him – making Him in their image – boasting instead in idols. In verse 8-12 the Psalmist concludes by indicating our appropriate response as we rejoice in our God.

One of the Psalmist’s key points is to expose our foolish human penchant to tame a “wild” God by worshipping images and boasting in idols. We have a tendency to “re-image” God – to substitute and worship a smaller god that better meets our human expectations. In Mark Buchanan’s words “Your God is too Safe” (one of my favorite books of the decade, by the way).

However, I am not sure it stops with me substituting a safe version of God for the too wild version I meet in the Scriptures. Our God shines His light on us – He reveals Himself to us – in a variety of ways, but especially in His Word. I am becoming more aware of my human penchant to not only make God safe – but to re-image His Word as well. If God is too wild for me – so is His Word. And so I pick and choose the parts of His Word that support the views on life I already hold – and ignore the passages that challenge my thinking. And that’s only one of many ways I have of taming the Word – or as Manfred Brauch names it “Abusing Scripture”. Brauch reminds us that there are many ways to twist the Word to support our prejudices – many ways to look orthodox, but re-image Scripture into something that merely confirms what we already “know”.

Brauch’s book is one that all of us should read – and I am in the middle of another one making me equally uncomfortable – Scot McKnight’s “The Blue Parakeet”. Just as we keep a parakeet in a cage and clip its wings so it is tame and can’t fly away on us, so we can take the Word, clip its wings – tame it so it isn’t nearly so radical and wild. And I think I am poorer for this approach – my picking and choosing of the parts of the text I will grapple with effectively neuters the power of the Word and Spirit to fully transform my life. So, this year, I am planning to let God become unsafe again – to avoid re-imaging Him. And the same goes for His Word – no more clipping and pruning the parts I don’t like so it conforms to my expectations. Should be an interesting year…

Blessings to you as you grapple with a wild God and His unsafe Word!

Serving with you,

Bill

Christmas Wrap

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“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed”.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Well, Christmas is over, as is 2010 and a new year is upon us.  Sometimes pastors have a difficult time finding something new to say about Christmas – but this year the incarnation of our Saviour struck me in a whole new way.  Perhaps I am a bit thick – but Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus impressed upon me afresh the absolute radical nature of God’s invasion of this earth 2000 years ago!

Our EFCC motto is: In essentials unity; in non-essentials charity; in all things Jesus Christ. I am increasingly cognizant of how inadequate our Christology is. We have neutered Jesus, domesticated Him into a cute baby and then wrapped Him up in our culture as a little upwardly mobile, protestant, white male.  OK, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit…

Yet consider what this world got 2000 years ago.  First, God reached down through all the social classes, to the very poorest.  The couple chosen to birth and raise the Son of God were so poor that when they presented the baby in the temple they qualified for the pair of turtle-doves or pigeons sacrifice (see Luke 2:24 and Leviticus 12:8).  The first witnesses were shepherds (not exactly the high-class nobility present at most royal births!).  The Son of God – God in flesh – was born with perhaps more animal witnesses to His arrival than human.  This is a humble king…a king that would grow up as an illegitimate child and work as a carpenter. God levels the classes in order to draw all people to Himself!

Second, this king challenged the religious authorities of the day.  Indeed, He was “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel”; He was opposed and He did reveal what really was in the hearts of the “mighty” and the “orthodox”. Religious systems, race, nation – all these distinctions bow to this baby!  No wonder He elicits opposition!

And lastly, this baby reaches across social prejudices about gender in powerful ways.  Ancient Jewish culture held that women were morally inferior to men (temptresses to be avoided and controlled) and easily deceived (unworthy of receiving an education).  Simeon addresses this baby’s mother, not his father.  One of the first people to proclaim the hope found in this child is Anna, an elderly widow.  This child would grow up to interact with women in ways that were revolutionary, speaking to them as if they were intelligent, responsible humans to be taken as seriously as men!

Christmas reminds me that God invaded history and the phrase “In All Things Jesus Christ” is shown to be more radical than I might previously have thought.  The realities attached to the birth of this child are radical enough – He reaches beyond class, religion, race, nation and gender.  But the grown Jesus was perhaps even more challenging to all human cultures for He acted and spoke in ways that seem to call for a rejection of the kingdom of this world and the embracing of His radically different Kingdom.

Perhaps the only appropriate response is “Hallelujah, what a Saviour!” May we be faithful to make Him the centre of everything — not our tamed version of Him — but the more dangerous, more real version – the One that causes “the falling and rising of many”!

Happy New Year,

In Him,

Bill