Archive for November, 2012

The bibliographic material in this book was scant.  The purpose of the book, however, does not dictate that there should be a wealth of resources.  It is mainly a reflection of what North Point pastors have found to work best in their context and how it can possibly be helpful to other churches.  As such, it is predicated on their experience, rather than built upon research of others.

Overall, I thought the book was helpful in a number of ways.  The “parable” at the beginning related everything to baseball, which helped to elucidate the material before delving into it a little more deeply in the second half of the book.  Essentially, as the title suggests, there are 7 practices that guide effective ministry: clarify the win; think steps, not programs; narrow the focus; teach less for more; listen to outsiders; replace yourself; and work on it.

“Clarify the win” orients people toward the goal of the organization.  If people do not know what the goal is, they will make up their own or they will exit the organization.  “People love to win.”  Set them up for success.  Clarifying the win keeps everyone moving in the same direction.

“Think steps, not programs” was a significant one for me.  It asks the question: “Where do we want people to end up and how will we help them get there?”  This frees up the organization to get rid of programs that are not in line with the direction that the organization is happening.  It also breaks everything down into manageable steps that guide people along the journey.

“Narrow the focus” is another way of saying “simplify the organization.”  That does not mean that it needs to be simplistic.  However, by saying “no” to some things, it allows us to say “yes” to more important or better things.  Trying to do too much can often leave the organization stretched beyond what it can manage.  This typically leads to doing a bunch of things that may not be done well.  By focusing on a few things and doing them well, you significantly increase the quality of what you are doing.  And, this increases the probability that this will more significantly shape the people you are trying to reach.

“Teach less for more” means that you don’t have to communicate everything to everyone.  Communicate, instead, only what is important to the people that most need to know it.  In baseball scenarios, it’s not important for the pitcher to know everything about the organizational structure, he just needs to know what is essential about pitching.  By concentrating the information that you are feeding individuals, you help them be more successful because they can focus on what they are doing and how they are doing it.

“Listen to outsiders” keeps the organization from becoming self-focused.  Once an organization becomes self-focused, its death may be a foregone conclusion.  Listening to outsiders can help you see whether or not the organization is relevant to the needs of those it is trying to reach and serve.  Furthermore, it can help the organization to push past faulty assumptions about what it should be doing.  In order to reach your audience, you have to know your audience.

“Replace yourself” is self-explanatory.  In my experience, this is vital, especially within the Church.  This is really a matter of discipleship.  Helping others to grow to be able to do the things that you do does not make you less important.  But, it does help the ministry sustain itself beyond a single generation.  Good leaders know how to pass on what they have been taught themselves.

“Work on it” is the final practice.  Nothing will go perfectly.  Making changes takes time and effort and patience.  Creating an environment where you can ask difficult questions and remain committed to one another is essential if an organization is to continue growing and thriving.  These 7 practices are a continual cycle of renewal.

To conclude, I really thought the book was helpful overall.  I wasn’t crazy about some of the business language that creeps into the book.  I don’t think people are consumers and Christ is the commodity while the Church is the marketplace.  However, the book provides very practical insight into ways that organizations can continue to thrive and adapt to a constantly changing culture, while not compromising the Gospel message.  Finally, as the book mentions, none of this is important if the Holy Spirit is not in the process.  Ultimately, it is God building the house, we are simply called to respond to God’s directing.

Liturgy literally means “work of the people.” Many people think of liturgy as formal rituals. But, it’s more than that. Even churches that are not “formal” in style have a liturgy. Liturgy is the community of faith‘s response to God’s grace. And, it’s how a church orders itself and works together. Every church has a particular rhythm and pattern of life and worship together (not just the services on Sunday). Liturgy is the practices that shape and inform faith. This can be on a bigger scale, too. There are liturgies that are unique to particular denominations (i.e., not drinking alcohol) and liturgies unique to all Christians (i.e., communion and baptism).

 

Another word for this is “tradition.” Tradition is the practices that have been handed down to us by the community of faith over time. Sometimes traditions are fairly recent (i.e., use of guitar in worship) and some have a very long history (i.e., saying “amen”). You can even distinguish between “thick” and “thin” practices or liturgies. “Thick” liturgies are the significant practices that we will always keep (i.e., prayer, communion, baptism, preaching, to name a few). We keep these because they are significant ways that we are shaped. If we stopped doing those things, our identity would be something entirely different than Christian. “Thin” liturgies are practices that aren’t nearly as significant in shaping our identity. These will usually change from time to time. This might be as simple as saying that we always have three songs before we go to a time of prayer in a service. We could change it to four songs before the prayer and it wouldn’t change our identity.

 

Ultimately, liturgy should be Christ-centered and in line with the teaching of the apostles. When it goes beyond those boundaries it’s probably a good idea to remove, re-purpose, or replace that liturgy. Tradition sometimes needs to be corrected and changed. Although tradition can be extremely useful and helpful, if it becomes the sole authority over our lives, it becomes quite destructive. When that happens it is called “traditionalism.” This statement helps me to distinguish between tradition and traditionalism: “Tradition is the living faith of dead men. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living men.” Liturgy and tradition should always point toward Jesus, not back to the tradition or liturgy.

 

Anytime you go into a new culture, it takes time to learn the language and way of life in that new community. The same is true of visitors in a church. It takes time to learn the liturgy of a church. But, that doesn’t mean that the liturgy shouldn’t be accessible to guests. Since liturgy is the “work of the people”, the people of the congregation should help guests understand what is going on and why they do the things they do together. Pastors will often help with this by continuously explaining what is happening and why it is happening. As guests become a part of a church, the liturgy becomes a part of them and they then help shape the liturgy for the future.

Here is my recent sermon on the suffering of Christ.  http://youtu.be/0fzXSJ2g9GU?t=2m30s

This really was a fantastic book.  It will likely be one that I have to read again just to fully comprehend all that Wright is putting on display concerning the bodily resurrection.  Even a short synopsis of this book doesn’t do it justice.

However, mainly for my own benefit, there were several things that really stuck out to me.  Wright combats the Gnostic, dualistic idea of a disembodied heaven.  Resurrection takes the stuff of this creation and renews it.  It is the old creation that is transformed into the new creation.  Or, as Jesus taught us to pray the resurrection initiates and implements the Father‘s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  As such, heaven is not simply a place that we retreat to after we die.  When Christ comes again, we meet him “in the air” so as to be the procession that welcomes the King’s “descending” to earth.  It is the descending of the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, that will be established on that day.

But, for now, we live in a “now and not yet” Kingdom.  The Creation is still very broken, but like a tiny mustard seed, God’s Kingdom is even now expanding and making itself manifest in the world.  We are called to participate in this work as ministers of reconciliation.  The resurrection is significant because it reminds us that the Creation is to be renewed and God calls us to work toward that end, while we still live in anticipation of the day that everything will finally be redeemed.

Some believe resurrection to be a life after death that is the soul living in some ethereal spiritual realm.  That is Gnosticism, which leads to escapism.  Or, it creates the attitude that the Creation can be used up however we want because God is simply doing away with it at the end.  But, this fails to see the vital connection between resurrection, new creation, and new covenant.

This understanding also pours into other arenas of life.  Salvation now becomes something more than the saving of the “soul.”  Tasks and works like art, justice, and evangelism are viewed in a more holistic light.  Finding ways that the Kingdom of God is already blooming in our world while working to change those dynamics that are far from the Kingdom is what it means to be a missional church composed of resurrected people.

Overall, this was a very powerful book.  It challenged some of my assumptions through strong consideration of the Scriptures, as well as, historical, orthodox Christianity.  At the same time, Wright challenges some of the underlying foundations that have become such an ingrained part of Protestant evangelicalism.  He exposes the roots of modernism and postmodernism, as well as, thinking deeply about many of the cultural traps that the Church has imbibed.  Wright concludes by discussing practices that can help us live into this resurrected life that God has so graciously given us.  I would recommend this book for reflection.