ChurchETHOS

Spiritual Discipline

Posted in christian habits, discipleship, spiritual disciplines by Nathan Creitz on September 23, 2009

a-prayer-for-times-like-theseSpiritual discipline doesn’t sound very exciting. Many Christians shy away from the disciplines because it sounds like work at best and legalism at worst. However, spiritual discipline is simply a name for the spiritual habits that a true follower of Jesus forms as he or she becomes more like Him. We want to follow Jesus and we know that He meditated on Scripture, spent time in prayer, and shared the Gospel with others, just to name a few. There are other disciplines that we can glean from the Bible that are important to consider as well.

But for the most part, these disciplines go neglected by the majority of church attenders. Does that make their Christianity suspect? No, it probably means that no one helped them to see the positive aspect of a disciplined life of faith. When we form regular habits, we need accountability. It’s the same thing when we form spiritual habits.

As a child I learned that I needed to brush my teeth, make my bed, not eat dirt, etc. No one would think my parents unfair or cruel for making me obey. Those were habits that my parents helped me form when I was a child. The disciplines are habits and we need help forming them in our lives. Not too many people have the inherent motivation to form a strong habit for themselves. As a child we had our parents help in showing us the habits that needed to be formed and the habits that needed to be broken. In our spiritual habits, we have the Body of Christ to help us but it takes initiative and responsibility on our part to come alongside immature believers and help them move toward spiritual maturity.

Pastors play a large role in equipping the saints and part of the equipping process should be the formation and spiritual growth of new believers. In order to be effective at fostering a Biblical understanding of the disciplines, the church leaders should first of all teach about them in a positive way. Secondly, leaders should model the disciplines and coach others in the process. Third, we should encourage accountability and fellowship in the Body so that there is a consistent venue for people to talk about their progress or lack thereof in a safe and open setting. Finally, we need to talk about the perils of not engaging in the disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the cost of NONdiscipleship (rather than Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship’). When we reject the foundational habits and activities of the Bible, we forsake the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.

So, we need to talk about spiritual disciplines, model them, hold people accountable to do them, and contrast the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined spiritual life so that people can understand that these are not legalistic endeavors, but that they are helpful and fulfilling as we diligently follow our Master.

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Social Languages for Transformation

Posted in book review, church leadership, ChurchETHOS by Nathan Creitz on May 11, 2009

511kjbb76klIn my last post I began a book review of How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work by Kegan and Lahey. What an incredible book about transformation, leadership, and interpersonal relationships. This book has important implications for church leaders, which is why I decided to review it here at ChurchETHOS. Our churches are often slaves to bad habits and destructive tradition and if you’ve ever wanted to change things, this is the book you need.

Internal Languages for Transformation was the first post in this series and it described the languages that help us move from complaint to commitment, from blame to responsibility, from resolutions to competing commitments, and from Big Assumptions to assumptions we hold. Ultimately, the goal is to discover what you are commited to that needs changing, accept responsibility for that change and discover the road blocks that are keeping you from the change that is necessary. The book is written by educators and they are great at making this not just an easy read but a workshop where you can sound out your own complaints and turn them into commitments.

This post will focus on the final three languages: the social languages. These languages are external. They help you work with others to bring about change in a group or a company or a church (in our case). I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts about these languages.

THE SOCIAL LANGUAGES:
From the Language of Prizes and Praising to the Language of Ongoing Regard

The authors write, “We all do better at work if we regularly have the experience that what we do matters, that it is valuable, and that our presence makes a difference to others.” Nowhere is that more necessary than in the church. As leaders in the church, we look to God to ensure we are glorifying Him and advancing His Kingdom. However, we need feedback from others too.

It’s easy to praise someone publicly. “Great job!” “You’re a value to this team!” “Let’s give Fred a round of applause for his contribution!” Those sorts of praises feel good, but they have a tendency to puff us up. Instead, the author’s encourage the language of ongoing regard. They want you to genuinely experience the value of a coworker’s behavior and then share with them why their behavior meant so much to you.

Be Direct – Don’t express your appreciation to others about someone, deliver it directly to the person.
Be Specific – “Thanks for all your hard work” isn’t enough. What was the hard work? What aspect of their role in the job was of particular note? Really be specific about what the person did to make a valuable contribution.
Be Nonattributive – Rather than characterize the person’s attributes (generosity, patience, persuasiveness), describe your experience (you learned something, you gained something, etc.). An example might be: Rather than, “Alan, I appreciate what a generous person you are.” Try, “Alan, I appreciate the way you took all that time to fill me in on what I missed. It made a real difference to me.”

When we praise people publicly it can also have some negative effects. The others in the room might be jealous. The person being praised might become prideful. Everyone might begin working for the approval of men rather than for God.

When we speak the language of ongoing regard it is an encouragement to people. It’s direct and meaninful. You are able to share with the person exactly what they did that was of value and prompts them to do more of it. Finally, ongoing regard tells the person that they are valuable to the company, mission, church, etc.

From the Language of Rules and Policies to the Language of Public Agreement

Rules and policies are to be kept and followed. Public agreement means that everyone is committed to the same thing. The language of public agreement is basically harkening back to the first language of moving from complaint to commitment. This language gets a group to discover what we are all committed to, together.

This language is not committed to a top down approach to leadership. Instead, it is “intended to create organizational integrity…from within.” In other words, it’s hard to change rules and policies that were drafted in the 50’s, but when you learn what we all agree on and then come to public agreement, when we break those we are letting ourselves down.

From the Language of Constructive Criticism to the Language of Deconstructive Criticism

The authors intentionally chose the subject of conflict for the final language. Up to this point, we’ve learned how to adopt internal languages that help us change our own behavior. We’ve also learned ways of leading group change through the language of ongoing regard and public agreement. But there are times when you need to confront someone head on.

The language of constructive criticism is common (maybe you could try improving your speaking skills), the language of destructive criticism is even more common (that sermon was irrelevant and boring). A third option is deconstructive criticism.

The problem with constructive criticism is that there is often a lack of confronting the real issue. Deconstructive criticism chooses to disassemble bad habits or behavior and help the person to reconstruct a positive habit or behavior. However, the object of attention doesn’t start with the other person’s behavior it begins with our own evaluation of that behavior.

The authors explain this language best: “The language of deconstructive criticism is about holding two simultaneous realities together: I respect myself to the extent of taking seriously that I have formed a negative evaluation, and I respect the other as an independent constructor of reality who might have quite a different picture of what is happening, a picture based on premises and assumptions that might usefully inform my own.”

Conclusion

“It must be remembered that we exercise all the languages for the purpose of making our work settings richer contexts for learning. The kinds of change we are looking for are transformational. They go to the roots. They are not about fixes at the surface.

My hope is that as we learn how to bring about change in our ministry contexts that we will, as a result, form more meaningful relationships with people and that we will begin the process of change by thinking how we might change before considering what we should do about others.

First Post in Series: Internal Languages for Transformation ::  Subscribe ::  Why Subscribe?

Internal Languages for Transformation

Posted in book review, church leadership, ChurchETHOS by Nathan Creitz on May 8, 2009
511kjbb76kl“If we want deeper understanding of the prospect of change, we must pay closer attention to our own powerful inclinations not to change.” Kegan & Lahey

I’ve mentioned before that ChurchETHOS encourages thinking Christianly about the habits and customs of the church and about our reputation with those outside the church. This review of Kegan & Lahey’s book on leadership entitled How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation, is an important book as we talk about how to change the bad habits that are often formed in the church.

Why is this book important for church leaders?

Have you ever wanted to do something but for some reason you never do it? Can you think of something that your church does that you wish were different? Or, is there some habit that you wish you could break but you just never get around to doing anything about it? This book by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey was assigned to me in a graduate level class that I took at Harvard Divinity School and I don’t know if there is a more important non-religious book for the church today.

The use of this book in the church grants us multi-faceted insight from several different perspectives. For example, both Kegan and Lahey work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education but their book is about leadership and business management. If that weren’t enough I’m reviewing it here in light of church leadership and personal transformation. From the world of education, business, and church leadership, this book has significant contributions to make in the way we change our organizations for the better.

The authors have written this book “for people interested in the possibility of their own transformational learning, as well as for people interested in supporting the transformational learning of others. Their theory is that we are all leaders so these “languages for transformation” are readily applicable whether you are a business owner, a church planter, an education minister, or a parent.

In this post, I will briefly outline the first four languages, referred to in the book as “Internal Languages”. In a follow up post I will describe the “Social Languages”. The first four languages are meant to be an exercise in personal transformation. These are the internal languages. The last three languages are meant to be an exercise in bringing about transformation in a culture or a group. These are the social languages. So let’s get started with the internal languages.

THE INTERNAL LANGUAGES:
From the Language of Complaint to the Language of Commitment

“I wish our church spent more time together!”

The author’s write, “The language of complaining, wishing, and hoping is a highly frequented conversational form, but it is assuredly not one of our seven languages for personal learning and reflective leadership.” However, “we would not complain about anything if we did not care about something.” That is an important statement. The authors do a great job of helping you dig deep to the commitment that ‘s behind the complaint.

To help us change from the language of complaint to the language of commitment, the author’s suggest completing this sentence: “I am committed to the value or importance of…”

The answer might be “…God’s love being displayed through each of us as we fellowship with and care for one another.”

Complaining accomplishes nothing, but commitments put us on the path to internal transformation. Later we will see how it can even change others as well. When we analyze our complaints from the angle of the underlying commitment we move from being disappointed in the circumstances to recognizing that we are deeply committed individuals.

From the Language of Blame to the Language of Personal Responsibility

When we complain, we are primarily focusing our frustration at other people. Now that we’ve moved from complaint to commitment we recognize our commitment to fellowship might, in some small or large part be our responsibility as well. This language helps you discover what role you might play in keeping your commitment from becoming a reality.

A great question to ask at this point is, “What are you doing, or not doing, that is keeping your commitment from being more fully realized?”

You might answer, “I have a difficult time sharing my personal needs, struggles, or hopes with other people, so I tend to stay at surface level with my friends at church” or, “I tend to procrastinate throughout the week and then when church members call me up I don’t have any time for them.”

The potential in the language of personal responsibility is that it draws on the momentum from the language of commitment. Rather than blaming others for what should be, you realize that with some personal responsibility it could be, at least as far as it concerns you.

It should also be pointed out that this doesn’t remove blame from others. At this point, it is enough to work on your own commitments. A couple of quotes (not in the book) that are helpful would be from Tolstoy, who said,”Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Remember, we are focusing on internal languages, not social languages, so far.

From the Language of New Year’s Resolutions to the Language of Competing Commitments

This language is intended to help diagnose our own immunity to change. We know how powerful a New Year’s resolution is, right? Wrong. New Year’s resolutions are mere wishes and hopes. Without understanding what is holding us back from keeping our commitments, we will never see transformation in our lives.

The first language was easy. Anyone will confess that they value time spent with others. This third language will be harder because it helps you find the raw truth about what’s keeping you personally from changing.

Keeping in mind your original commitment of safety and courtesy, complete this sentence, “But I may also be committed to…”

“…not being seen as needy or dependent on other people.”

This language is powerful because it “paradoxically increases the possibility of significant change by making clear the immune system that makes change so difficult.” The ability to see the system that is keeping us from change is powerful, but simply looking at it won’t change much. We have to actually do something about it, which leads us to the fourth language.

From the Language of Big Assumptions That Hold Us to the Language of Assumptions We Hold

To the authors, a “big assumption” is an assumption that we take as absolute truth. Assumptions could be true or could be false but “big assumptions” are not questioned, we believe them to be, and act like they are, the truth. These “are not so much the assumptions we have as they are the assumptions that have us.”

The authors write, “You have probably met or worked with people whom you see operating dysfunctionally, destructively, or self-destructively. We are suggesting that if you could accurately discern the Big Assumptions under which these people are operating…you might even say, “If I held those same Big Assumptions, I might very well be acting in just these destructive ways myself.” We all have Big Assumptions that have power over us. The first three languages are helping to expose this Big Assumption but there is still some work to do.

The problem with a Big Assumption is that once we figure out how the world should work, it doesn’t make any sense to us to look for anything different. We are certain we are right and those who don’t think that way are wrong.

So, how does this work with our example. The authors guide the reader to take the third language and change it to the following: “I assume that if…then…”

“I assume that if I am seen as needy or dependent on other people, then people won’t want to spend time with me. As much as I want fellowship with other believers, I would probably be kept out of the loop while other people experience Christian community together without me.”

The Big Assumption ties all four of the languages together. The commitment to fellowship is being held up by our own procrastination or inability to share our lives with others. Further, we have a competing commitment that we don’t want to come across as needy and are assuming that if people perceive that we are needy then we won’t achieve authentic fellowship which is our original commitment.

The Big Assumptions are produced unintentionally, but the “Assumptions that we hold” are produced with great difficulty. It requires opening up with someone to let them see your Big Assumption and letting them work with you to change your thinking and behavior. Once you’ve worked through it, though, you gain mastery over your assumptions and begin taking them for what they really are: assumptions. The Big Assumption “anchors and sustains our immune system [to change]” but the “assumptions that we hold…creates a pivotal lever for disturbing our immunity to change. By beginning to “speak” this fourth language we begin to gain new perspective on our world and we are able to change our destructive behavior and begin realizing our healthy commitments.

Now What?

The more we practice these languages, the more transformed we become and the people around us become. But there are three more languages that deal specifically with helping others change. Make sure you check out the next post in this series: Social Languages for Transformation.

Meanwhile, use these languages to discover your own Big Assumptions. Do you mind sharing them with us? Once you get it out in the open it will be easier for you to work on them. Feel free to walk us through all four languages. What are you committed to? In what ways are you responsible for that not happening? What competing commitments do you hold? What is your Big Assumption?

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A Gathering Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, fellowship by Nathan Creitz on May 6, 2009

img_2299What should Christians be doing when we gather together?

There are all sorts of people who want to know the answer to that question:
– Non-Christians who are wondering if there’s anything to this following Jesus business.
– Ex-Christians who are leaving the church because their time with other Christians seemed like a waste.
– Christians who are sitting in seats looking at the back of people’s heads wondering if there’s more to the Christian life.
– Pastors who are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all the people.

I’m sure there are others demanding answers and I understand where each of these groups is coming from. There are also other questions that we should be asking: How often should Christians get together? Where should we meet together? How long should we be meeting together? Who should lead our times together? Should anyone be leading anything?

The operative word in all of these questions is “should”. (You thought it was going to be “together” didn’t you?) We all know something is wrong. We all know there’s something missing. Something needs to change! What is it? What is it that should be? Doesn’t the Bible talk about Christian fellowship, brotherly love, you know, all those “one anothers”? We are missing the mark in our interdependence and interconnectedness with one another and something should be done about it.

So, what should Christians be doing when we get together?

We should be Loving one another

If there is someone in your church fellowship that you refuse to talk to then YOU have a problem. I don’t care what he or she did, if you know there is a wedge between the two of you then you are being disobedient to God if you aren’t attempting to reconcile with them.

If something comes between me and my wife I don’t give her the silent treatment indefinitely…we work it out. There are too many people who refuse to worship with other Christians because they’ve got a problem with someone else in the body. That is a big problem.

Colossians 3:14 says, “Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.” The “above all” refers to the short list of things we should be putting on as Christians: hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, etc. Those are the sorts of things we express to one another because of our love. Love wraps all those other gifts into a beautiful package that can be given away daily to our church family.

We should be Praying for one another

Praying for one another sounds easy doesn’t it? I think most Christians know that when we get together somebody needs to pray. I hate when I’m asked to pray simply because I’m ordained. Like I have some special connection with God that no one else has. We think the Model Prayer in Matthew 6 goes something like this:

Our Father who art in heaven,
bless Tom’s half-sister Ethel.
And for my toenail
that’s now ingrown
it hurts as it has all day.
Give us today our daily desires
and be with all people
as all people have need of prayers from us.
For yours is the ability
and the responsibility
to take care of us forever. Amen.

Okay, I kind of feel bad for being sarcastic about the way we sometimes spend our prayer time in our church gatherings…I’m over it.

We have to stop spending all of our prayer time praying for those twice removed from us. God’s desire is that we pray for His kingdom and glory. That’s priority one! Praise him, exalt him, ask him to use you to advance his kingdom, etc. A close second to that is praying for one another. Open up! Share what God is doing in your life. What spiritual challenges are you facing? Where are you being tempted? Finally, after you’ve spent 98% of the time praying for God’s glory and for one another, now if it’s important to ask for prayer for Tom’s half-sister Ethel, then I guess you are free to do so.

Praying for Ethel is safe because it doesn’t expose our inner turmoil. We might actually have to admit that we don’t have everything together. That’s hard, but we aren’t truly praying for one another if we’re only praying through a laundry list of people and problems who aren’t sitting in the room at the moment.

Be an adult and share!

We should be Caring for one another

To care for one another means we have to know one another on a deep enough level to know each other’s needs. A Christian should always be asking this question: What needs am I uniquely positioned by God to meet today?

picture-13Maybe you are meant to meet the needs of your spouse or children, your neighbor, your friend, your pastor, or your student. Maybe you have the ability to meet a financial need. Maybe you have the blessing of time that you can give to someone. Maybe you are able to listen or teach or advise or encourage or give joy or build or share or volunteer or sing or cook or hold a hand or repair or provide a shoulder. Find a need. Meet a need.

We should be Trusting one another

My friend Mark recently gave me a point to ponder. He asked, “Have you ever thought about how Jesus got the disciples to trust one another?” We had been talking about how at least two of the disciples had political views of hatred towards the Romans and then there was Matthew who had sold out his fellow Jews to work for the Romans – collecting taxes no less.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot of glimpses at the interpersonal relationships of the disciples other than the arguments they got into and the times Jesus had to correct their foolishness. Sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? Regardless of our political or cultural or generational outlook, we need to learn how to trust one another. It takes time, it takes vulnerability, it takes effort, it takes Colossians 3:12-17, it takes a lot but it’s worth everything we put into it.

We should be Challenging one another

I’ll give you another sentence from Colossians 3: “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (v. 15) I also love Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other…”

picture-3So, our meetings are characterized by encouragement, concern for one another, prompting each other to love and good works, and consistency according to the writer of Hebrews. The first verse from Paul to the Christians in Colossae says we are to teach and admonish one another, which is how the “Word of Christ” becomes richly indwelt among us. This includes a sermon that a pastor might give to everyone but it also includes a timely word, rebuke, encouragement, or advice between two or three friends.

Conclusion: A Vision for the Church

So how long and how often should we gather together? Where should we be meeting? When? The answer is, wherever and whenever and as long and as often as it takes to truly and deeply connect with each other as described above.

If you think you can accomplish all of the above in only one hour a week, or if you think you should be getting all of the above in only one hour a week, then you don’t understand what it means to follow Jesus. However, that doesn’t mean an hour or two with a large gathering of people isn’t important – far from it.

Imagine groups of three or four or ten or eleven or however many Christians coming together throughout the week praying and caring and trusting one another deeply, consistently, faithfully. They call each other when they are having a crisis. They can’t wait to share good news with their small group of fellow believers. They connect with each other often because they love each other. They’ve become family.

Now, when all these interconnected groups of loving, caring, praying people gather together with other small groups of loving, caring, praying people there is really a cause for celebration. They don’t just show up for a Sunday song and sermon, they are expecting God to challenge them and move them and change them. The “Sunday service” is valuable because people who are sharing the experience of fellowship are coming together to lift up their voices and worship God…together.

There are too many people throwing away the one hour Sunday service because it is meaningless and lifeless to them. They never realized they were supposed to live a life of discipleship beyond 12PM on Sunday. The answer isn’t to give up on that one hour, the answer is to give a few more hours and commit yourself to fellowship with other believers.

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You can also find this post at smallgrouptrader.com.

A Going Church

Posted in body of Christ, christian habits, discipleship, missiology by Nathan Creitz on April 28, 2009
image courtesy of txd

image courtesy of txd

Most Christians in America are overwhelmed.

The typical Christian in America works 50+ hours per week and sleeps about 50 hours per week. That leaves about 68 hours to spend on everything else: family, friends, hobbies, exercise, cooking, eating, housework, watching TV, playing video games, homework, lectures, and – oh yeah – God.

Our culture is on the move. A typical church attending Christian doesn’t want to spend more than an hour on Sunday spending time with other believers. In fact, many Christians have the perception that they go to church instead of recognizing that they are the church. As a result, church has become a place rather than a people, an hour rather than an identity, and an obligation rather than a privilege. The Christian begins to view their responsibility to church as the minimum set of requirements necessary to be considered a “regular”.

There are a lot of ways we can simplify our lives so that we can spend more time with other members of the church. I want to explore that in more detail in a forthcoming post entitled A Gathering Church. Meanwhile, how are we to perceive our role in the world?
#Should there be a secular vs. sacred dichotomy in our minds?
#Should we feel guilty if 95% of our time is spent in the world and only 5% is spent in “sacred” activities?
#How can we move from “regular attender” to become a faithful follower of Jesus (regardless of how much or how little time we spend in a church building)?

#How can we be the church when we aren’t with the church?

I’m Glad You Asked

Too many Christians are not asking those questions. If you are one of the few who is genuinely asking questions like these then you are on the path of a disciple. You are learning what it takes to truly follow Jesus. Keep asking those questions and others like them. Now let me see if I can provide some thoughts on the matter.

A church that merely packs out a church building for an hour each Sunday with regular attenders may look successful but is in fact disobedient to Christ. If the leadership of a church isn’t calling its members to costly discipleship then it is ignoring one of the most central teachings of Christ. We aren’t called make converts or church attenders, we are called to make disciples. But where do we look for new recruits (so to speak)?

A Church on the Move

In the Matthean Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus tells his followers, “As you are going, make disciples…” Every pastor has pointed out this nuance that “Go” is not the command because it is a participle and it means “as you are going”. In other words, this isn’t new stuff but it is a very important point: “Make disciples” is the command. Jesus commands his church to be on the move. It’s hard to escape from the busy pace of the American lifestyle, so let’s take advantage of the fact that much of our day is spent with unbelievers.

We are on the move because we are Americans and we are the church because we are Christians. So, as we go about our daily activities, let’s keep in mind that we are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. It’s kind of silly to think that we would try and be ambassadors only when we are in the walls of a church building during “holy hour”. America doesn’t send out ambassadors to America, they send ambassadors to places and people that need to hear the message we have to communicate. In the kingdom of God, our role in the world is to go to the people that need to hear God’s message of love and truth. We are going anyway (job, gym, restaurant, store, etc), so why not fulfill Christ’s commands “as you are going”?

Following Jesus 9 to 5

I once waded through every single verse in the gospel of Mark to determine where Jesus spent his time. Jesus spent most of his time on the seashore and in the marketplace with business people. Coming in as second to spending time with business people, Jesus spent his time with his disciples. Then, Jesus spent time in homes, and finally he spent time in the temple complex. So, in order of importance Jesus spent most of his time in the marketplace, then with his disciples, then in homes, and finally in the temple complex. Jesus made disciples as he was going.

We are called to be the church, not just when we are with other believers, but significantly we are called to be the church when we are not with other believers. It’s easy being the church with like-minded friends, but discipleship wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for Jesus’ original Twelve was it? We don’t just choose to be disciples when it’s easy for us. Peter and John said they considered it a privilege to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Suffering was one of the core values of the early church. We will never experience the kind of suffering of the first disciples, so can we not have enough boldness to share with a co-worker or a friend about our relationship with Jesus?

We freely talk about our spouse, our children, our pets, our hobbies, and our interests, but not about our God?!

Misplaced Priorities

The reason God never comes up in conversation is because we have misplaced priorities. Our job is something that is of absolute necessity so that we can pay the bills and eat meals. We forget that we are a child of the King. He is the source of our needs and He has placed us in our jobs and in our circles of friends to share God’s love with others. That is why we are employed: not to make money but to make disciples. Rather than view the workplace as a mission field for making disciples, too many Christians just try to get through the day so they can collect their paycheck and go home, never thinking about what “as you are going, make disciples…” might mean for their lives.

The church needs to develop the habit of calling its members to follow Jesus. Our leaders are often not willing to challenge the church to go beyond regular attendance at worship gatherings. Success for a church is not in filling a building on a weekly basis. Success is determined by how many lives are being transformed. It’s about quality not quantity, depth not width. Followers of Jesus recognize that church gatherings are pointless if the church is never going. But when the church is a going church, the church gatherings are that much better!

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Related Post: My Top Concerns for the Local Church

The Christian Response to Prostitution

Posted in christian thought, cultural relevance, social justice by Nathan Creitz on April 23, 2009
Rembrandt "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

"Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery" by Rembrandt

On Tuesday I wrote a post about the legalization of prostitution. The response to that post in the comments, on Facebook, and other social sites like Twitter and Reddit has been very interesting. Everyone from fundamentalists to sex workers have been voicing their opinion on the matter. Some have voiced their opinions on legal grounds and others have been on moral grounds (though I tried to do a fair job of keeping it on the legal side for the sake of discussion).

So, what do we do about it? ChurchETHOS is meant to help the church think about it’s habits and it’s reputation in the world. Churches have a lot of bad habits and as a result many people have rejected the teachings of Jesus because of our poor reputation with outsiders. When confronted with an issue like prostitution what can your church do to make a positive difference?

» Show Some Love

Whatever you do, don’t get out your Sharpie and poster board and start thinking up catchy slogans about how much God hates certain groups of people. For one thing, He doesn’t! For another thing, it’s exactly the opposite; God loves prostitutes, homosexuals, murderers, and fundamentalists even if He doesn’t condone their actions. So, if we are in fact, children of God who bear the DNA of the Creator, then we will love people. I’m not going to say, we should love them, because that sets up an us vs. them mentality. I’m not going to point to Bible verses so that we feel obligated to love people who aren’t like us. There is no obligation; there is no need for exhortation; a child of God loves people! It’s part of who we are.

» Preach the Word

Pastors and other church leaders need to preach and teach the Word to the church. Emphasis should be on God’s love in giving us sex and intimacy and marriage and family. We need to talk candidly and frequently (but tactfully) about the blessings of sex but we shouldn’t shy away from talking about the dangers physically and morally of engaging in sex outside of marriage. More than that, we need to cast vision for husbands and wives that they can be faithful to one another. We need to cast vision for parents that they can raise their children to avoid moral pitfalls. We need to cast vision for teens that even though they are inundated with sexual images daily they can find ways to live a victorious life through Christ.

» Make it Personal

The church has thrown away it’s street cred by trading in it’s relational mission to the poor and the marginalized for a seat of power in Washington. It is debatable whether that seat has done more harm than good for the kingdom of God. Our collective denouncement of the world has taken its effect: we got our seat for a time but people got tired of hearing what we stand against. Not to mention that the fundamentalists failed to consider what happens when the White House no longer cares what the church thinks. The social capital that once belonged to the church is spent.

I’ve written elsewhere that our faith shouldn’t be a public faith (or private). Instead, our faith should be personal. If your church leans more towards boycotts than towards building relationships with people who don’t watch Pat Robertson on TV then change needs to happen in your church. I’m willing to let our voice in Washington fade if we renew our Gospel mission to our neighbor on a more personal, relational level.

» Show Compassion

A lot of people who are involved in prostitution don’t want to be involved in it. The church can help them find something better for their lives. The church can help counsel those who have sexual addictions. The church can take troubled teens into their homes who may have been trafficked for sex. The church can provide a non-judgmental atmosphere for people to ask questions about God. The church can raise money and awareness for social issues.

Laws only take us so far. They are given primarily to protect society. The church can do more through compassion than the government can through taxes and policies and legislation. That will only work, though, if the church actually addresses issues like prostitution. If we just try and get more control in Washington then the real mission work will never get done.

» A Parable

Once, a group of religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11). I always wondered about that story. Didn’t they catch the man in the act of adultery, too? Why didn’t they bring him to Jesus? What would Jesus have said to him? It seems unfair that the woman is the only one who is blamed.

To anyone wanting to legalize prostitution I promise I won’t try and fight you on it. I’m not going to stock up on poster board and Sharpies. Of course, my personal vote in the ballot box is one thing but I’m not going to try and mobilize an army of voters against you. Legally, I would rather see us place more emphasis on those who kidnap, abuse, and exploit women and children for their own monetary gain than on the women who often feel ostracized from society.

There are some things that should not be on the market: drugs, machine guns, sex, etc. They can all be dangerous because of their power even though they aren’t bad in all contexts (like in medicine, military, and marriage respectively). The buyer should be just as accountable as the seller when it comes to such dangerous commodities. However, I want to address issues like prostitution the way Jesus would address them. He spoke personally to the woman caught in adultery. He challenged her not to live in sin. He went beyond the law that demanded her death because he knew her accusers couldn’t live up to the law either. He spoke to her heart. He loved her. He connected with her. He forgave her.

May we the church begin acting in a way that is pleasing to our Lord and that brings about transformation in the hearts and lives of our neighbors!

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My Top Concerns for the Local Church

Posted in christian thought, church reform by Nathan Creitz on April 8, 2009

peacefully-asleepI have a passion for the life of the local church. The purpose of ChurchETHOS is to redeem the prophetic and influential role of the church in American society. Ethos basically means the habits or character of a group or individual. It can also mean the sort of reputation one person or group has with another person or group. So, ChurchETHOS explores how we can restore habits and customs that conform to the Way, Truth, and Life of Jesus and develop a good relationship with those outside the church.

So here are a few of my top concerns for the local church:

1. Members are just going through the motions.
Many Christians spend only about one hour per week involved with their church. They go to a church building. They know when to stand or sit. They know when to sing or listen. Most importantly, they know when the “hour of power” is supposed to be over. And may it never be that the pastor ever forget.

2. Prayer is not effective.
Not that the prayer of a righteous person isn’t effective, or that God isn’t listening. Instead, most of our churches are infected with lazy Christians who have no vibrant relationship with God and think that prayer is just rubbing the lamp and the genie-god comes out and does everything we want it to do.

3. The local church isn’t led by the Spirit of God.
It’s not just the people in the church that concern me, it’s the leadership. Elders often think they are the decision makers and they lack the close connection with God necessary for the health of the church. Acts 14 gives a good example of the elders being led by the Spirit to act.

4. Preaching is talking.
Often the preaching elder doesn’t know how to exhort or rebuke or encourage. He doesn’t spend time discovering what God is saying to the Body through His word. Preaching becomes a series of talking points that lack persuasion or correction. Preaching isn’t prophetic anymore.

5. The American Dream is more important than the Kingdom of God.
For most people, life with Christ is crowded out by regular life. Working hard to be successful, to make money, to become more powerful, these are the reasons most members have for why they can’t invest more in God’s kingdom. They can’t imagine how their wants needs could possibly be provided for without working 60+ hours a week. Since prayer isn’t effective, surely God can’t be relied upon to fulfill His promises.

6. Serving and hospitality are no longer values.
Since the American Dream is such a powerful force, there’s little time left to help someone in need. We have our excuses: “Based on how they dress, if I give them money they’ll probably just spend it on alcohol or cigarettes.” “I can barely afford cable TV and the payments on my flat screen, much less give to the church.”

7. Making disciples is for the paid professionals
In fact, everything that needs to get done around the church is up to the pastor to do it. At the heart of this is the fact that members are no longer following Jesus. They don’t care about what He said. They don’t care about what He did. They don’t care that they are supposed to be following His example. Primarily what Jesus wants us to do is to love God, love people and make disciple-making disciples. There aren’t even a whole lot of paid professionals (pastors) that are fulfilling that commission.

These are just a few of the concerns I have for the church. What concerns you? What are your ideas for how to solve these problems?

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You Might Be a Milk Drinker If…

Posted in body of Christ, christian thought, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on March 3, 2009

milk-bottleMy walk with God recently has taken me through Hebrews and I was struck by a passage in chapter 5 and 6 that caused me to ask the following question:

“Is the church developing milk drinkers or meat eaters when it comes to spiritual maturity?”

Hebrews 5:11 – 6:3 talks about spiritual maturity. It says that we Christians ought to be cooking up solid food but instead we are consuming the breast milk of the church. Christians are meant to mature, to grow up. So how about you and me? Are we advancing on to finger foods or are we stuck breastfeeding?

From this passage in Hebrews, I’ve realized that you might be a milk drinker if…

…you aren’t maturing!

Again, the analogy here is a new Christian who won’t grow up. We are meant to mature. The role of the leaders in the church is to see to it that the body is growing. Colossians 1:28, Paul says, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Maturity means spiritual growth and health.

The same word for “mature” could be interpreted as “perfect”. Don’t let that scare you though. The idea is that we are healthy. Health is the normal way of life, sickness is abnormal. When we are sick, we take action to be cured. Sickness debilitates us. It keeps us from work or school. It makes us groggy or lazy. When we are spiritualy healthy and when we are maturing, we are in the normal state of being.

Whatever analogy you use, whether a baby growing to adulthood or a sick person becoming well, we should be seeing spiritual growth in our lives!

…you aren’t leaving!

Hebrews 5:12 says “you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.” Then, chapter 6 verse 1 encourages us to “leav[e] the elementary message about the Messiah.” This implies that we don’t need to relearn the basics (though a review every now and then doesn’t hurt). Instead we are moving on to more advanced principles.

The image in my mind has to do with a classroom. Once we’ve taken elementary Algebra we shouldn’t have to take it again and again. It’s time to move on to advanced Calculus or Trigonometry (I don’t even know what those things are, but you get my point).

…you aren’t bearing!

That is, you might be a milk drinker if you aren’t bearing fruit! Let’s return to the baby analogy. An eleven year old should be helping with the chores in the house. A 30 year old should be earning a living or caring for other children and not living at home with mom and dad. But, if an eleven year old or thirty year old is still trying to fit a round object into a square hole, chances are something is wrong developmentally. As we mature, we also begin producing. As a Christian, this means that at some point we need to begin bearing fruit. Eventually, we begin caring for other Christians who are new in their faith.

…you aren’t discerning!

A mature Christian is able to distinguish between good and evil according to Hebrews 5:14. Spiritual maturity brings discernment. We can all look back at our teenage years and know that we didn’t always have the best judgment. We all know that we could’ve avoided a lot of trouble if we had listened to our elders. The problem is, if you are a milk drinker, you probably can’t discern that you are spiritually immature. That’s why it is important for the leaders in the church to take steps to present “everyone mature in Christ.”

…you aren’t teaching!

Are you teaching anyone anything? This is a scary diagnostic for spiritual maturity because probably 80% of church attenders aren’t doing any teaching of anyone. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you’ve got to preach on Sunday morning or lead a small group every week. Those are important roles in the church, but there are other ways you can be a teacher. Some people mentor a teenager. Some people work with the children and teach them about God. Fathers can set an example by teaching their families. Some teach new Christians, others teach nearly Christians, while still others are doing their best to reach and teach anti Christians. We engage in discipleship, evangelism, apologetics, etc. and these are all forms of teaching. So, again, are you teaching anyone? Is there someone in your life in whom you are investing?

The writer of Hebrews was very clear, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation. You need milk, not solid food.” Members of the church should take note that we don’t leave the teaching to the hired “professionals”. Leaders of the church should take note that our job is to unleash the gifts and resources of the whole Body of Christ. We are to equip everyone to teach, to serve, to give, and to reach out to the world around us. Everyone in the church should be maturing to the point where he or she is able to sit at the table and eat the steak of God’s Word and not just the milk.

So pull up to the table and bring out the main course…I’m getting hungry!

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Making Disciples in a Bookstore

Posted in christian thought, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on December 10, 2008

images-stained-glass-calling-the-fishermen-tm1Recently I was in a Christian bookstore and I asked an employee if I could see their books on making disciples.

You know that feeling when you are shocked by something you were also expecting? Like you’re surprised but not surprised all at the same time?

That’s how I felt when the employee said he would have to ask the manager. I kept the look of surprise / not surprise off my face when the manager thought for a minute as we wandered aimlessly through the rows of books, and he was telling me they didn’t have a section on discipleship and he would have to think about where I might find something on discipleship. The perplexed look of surprise / not surprise started to surface on my face when he went to look it up on the computer and came back with no results.

I probably wasn’t going to buy anything, I just wanted to see if there’s anything new and interesting. I like to see who is writing about discipleship today and see what they are saying. To the bookstore’s credit, they did have a few books on the subject after I dug through the “spirituality” section and the “pastoral counseling” section. I guess I was surprised because as followers of Jesus we have been commanded to “Go and make disciples”. The Bible is clearly our best guide for that process, but with all the books on prayer and Christian living and world missions and biographies etc. we can’t find a dusty corner of a lonely shelf to place a few books on the matter of making disciples?

On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised. Other than some biographies of a few people who have done discipleship well, a few books that focus on the matter, and a few other books that have a section about it, discipleship is not fun to talk about. Discipleship involves commitment. Most churchgoers are content to attend a weekly service, place a twenty dollar bill in the plate once a month, and try not to snicker at the bad jokes told at work each day (that’s “witnessing” in their opinion). Discipleship is so much more. Discipleship is what Jesus called us to. Discipleship is obedience. Discipleship is discipline but it’s messy at the same time.

Our churches have such a screwed up idea of what discipleship is meant to be that we’ve got to start thinking about it, praying about it, writing about it, speaking about it, and DOING IT! People are led astray by church leaders who think discipleship is another class to attend. Instead, discipleship is living, breathing, and being family together with other believers. It should involve a mentor-type figure through a one-on-one relationship but it definitely involves the community. The community (characterized by words like “small”, “intimate”, “missional”, etc.) disciples the person. They live life together. They get in each others lives. The community confronts, encourages, exhorts, prophecies, and serves the disciple. The community plays together, serves together, suffers together, prays together, and lives together.

These are the kinds of things that aren’t being talked about by the church. It is definitely important to think about how to be missional, but what happens when we’ve unlocked the culture code and God gives new believers to the church? Stick them in a class? Guilt trip them when they don’t make it to the church service because if they don’t get that feeding then they are going to starve the rest of the week? If they were being discipled then the leaders of the weekly worship gathering wouldn’t have so much pressure placed on them to perform.

What is discipleship? What church leaders today are the most effective at calling the church to discipleship? What are the best books, young and old, to read about making disciples?

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Notes from my Preaching Class

Posted in christian habits, christian thought, preaching by Nathan Creitz on December 3, 2008

bibprerob1I’ve been preaching for years but I am just now taking a seminary class on the subject and it has transformed the way I approach the preparation to preach. My professor is Haddon Robinson (one of the top ten most influential preachers according to Christianity Today. He wrote Biblical Preaching which is “Still the preaching primer of choice!” according to Preaching Magazine) so you can imagine the intimidation I felt yesterday when I preached in front of a class of my peers with Dr. Robinson and his little yellow notebook sitting directly to my right.

Does preaching have purpose? I’ve written elsewhere that I believe preaching is Biblical and necessary for the strengthening of the church but in this post I want to describe my personal experience with what happens when a pastor faithfully preaches the Word of God.

Praying the Text

What I want to describe here is something I have experienced many times, not just in preparing a sermon, but also in personal Bible study. However, as I prepared to preach Romans 3:21-26, I remember spending a lot of time in prayer and reflection. These times of prayer change me every time I preach. It helps me to move from thinking “I hope I do well” and “I want a good grade” and “Maybe I will win some kind of preaching class award” to praying “Lord, may I find your Truth from this text” and “Who cares if I get a good grade, if only you will change me through this process”.

Preaching is a Discipline

Prayer helps to reduce my own pride in preaching. Preaching is a discipline that encourages me to pray for humility, to pray for the people that will hear the message, to pray for transformation in my life and theirs. Preparing to preach is a process of thinking Christianly. This isn’t a time to search the internet for someone else’s sermons. It isn’t a last minute scrambling to throw something together because you “have to”. Preaching is a unique exercise in loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is introspective and revealing. I experienced a transformation in my own heart as I wrestled with the main idea of the text.

Preaching is a Process

As I submitted my study to the rigorous discipline of Dr. Robinson’s “stages” of sermon preparation, I was amazed at how articulate I became. I couldn’t just throw something together. I had to wrestle with the text. I had to argue with it. I had to be frustrated by it. I had to ask my wife for help. I had to come up with a way to articulate. When I finally wrote down the words that became my “homiletical idea” it was a word from the Lord. It hit me hard. I literally fell to my knees and wept when God gave it to me. What struck me were the words in Romans 3:26 which says “He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time so that He would BE righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” After struggling for hours over how to articulate the main idea I wrote, God would not BE a good God, if He had not sent His Son to die. I didn’t get that sentence from John Piper or Mark Driscoll or from someone else’s blog. I received it as a reward from God as I wrestled with Him and His Word. Feel free to disagree with my homiletical idea…feel free to disregard it as common knowledge. But it was so clear to me that this was the word I was to preach for that particular time and place that I was overcome with emotions of gratitude and praise to God for His providence – not just of providing the words for a sermon but of providing us with His Son.

Where We Go Wrong

If I hadn’t waited for that word from the Lord I would’ve settle for something else. I would’ve preached a message that hadn’t gripped my heart. I think preachers often sell themselves short. Many preachers don’t preach a word from the Lord; they preach a plagiarized copy or a watered down version of what God has to say in His Word. If we don’t grapple with the main idea of a text and let it shape us and let it guide our prayer for the congregation and for the world and let it tackle us with its simplicity and its power then we will never be preachers, we will only be talkers. Preaching is discipline. Preaching is a selfless, pastoral act given to the church of God. Preaching is humility. Preaching is a process. If our preaching is anything less then it is disqualified.

What Happens After the Sermon?

What happens after the sermon leaves our mouths? That is not my concern. I don’t need to hear “Good job, pastor!” or get a pat on my back. I don’t need to hear someone talk about how it changed their life. I don’t need an email from someone on the mission field saying I preached a sermon that inspired them to move to Africa. If I prepare to preach with discipline and humility I will know that whatever happens after I preach has nothing to do with me. If I am diligent in my preparation then I will know that God’s Word changed me, that God’s Word presented me with the main idea, that God’s Word shaped how I crafted the sermon, that the Spirit presided over the process and the delivery, and that the Spirit of God was at work in the people’s hearts and minds. Charles Spurgeon entered his pulpit every time praying, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit.” A preacher is a servant with a mouth, nothing more.

So these are reflections of my experience in preparing to preach yesterday. What are your thoughts on the purpose of preaching?