Thanks for bearing with me on having not responding to several of the comments on my last post on “Why Focusing on a Group Is NOT the Way to Build a Church.” Much food for thought. Instead of responding one by one to the comments, I thought their insightful questions deserved further clarification at a top level rather than embedded in a “comments” section. So here we go.

What I am not saying: “Do not target a group of people who need to hear the Gospel.”

What I am saying: “Target a group of people who need to the hear the Gospel in perpetuity.” OR “Do not build your church in such a way that preaching to that target group defines your church in perpetuity.”

In other words, in New York City there are a myriad of cultures and languages. There are cultures that speak the same language (Goths, hipsters, bohemians). There are cultures that speak different languages (Hmong, Puerto Rican, Italian). It would be foolish to say that we must transcend culture in some way so that we speak a language (both literally and figuratively) that transcends those differences. For example, I heard of a church where the pastor preached  one sentence in Spanish and then translated that sentence into English. Since Babel, we have to suffer the consequences of judgment for our ancestor’s hubris. Differing languages are a fact of Babel.

HOWEVER, this does not mean that we have the liberty to begin planting any kind of church that speaks a certain heart language–i.e. Goths, hipsters, bohemians. There may be a period of time that this kind of targeting needs to happen. Say, for example, the warring tribes in Africa I mentioned, or a gang of Crips and Bloods. For the sake of argument, say the “target group” (x) speaks the same language as another “target group” (y). I think the missionary is right to for a period of time reach out exclusively to x insofar that he has in his mind to move it closer to y.

To leave a body of redeemed people happily worshiping at First Church of X, while Second Church of Y is down the street worshiping the same God in the same language, misses the implications of the Gospel–namely reconciliation with God and men from different cultural backgrounds (in the Apostle Paul’s context, Jew and Gentile–who spoke Koine).

What I fear is that for the sake of reaching a group, we let inertia determine only preaching the Gospel to that group. In subsequent posts, I hope to look at how a multi-cultural might look.

In the meantime, does it not seem strange that African Americans and caucasians, who speak the same language but have a different cultural background, should be worshiping the Triune God without a view toward being unified?

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Less Hype. More Humility.

Please. Embedded in our consumeristic culture, there is the assumption that newer is better than older–though I prefer aged beef and cheddar to new. There is the assumption that grand and renovated and powerful is preferable to meek and lowly and weak.

The church often adopts this form of communicating in an effort to gather people into its doors. “God is doing awesome things here at Church _______.” The fact is that God is doing awesome things everyday and everywhere. He’s sustained your life. He’s given you sight and hearing and legs. And if you have none or only one of these, he’s still given you life and a mind to engage the world around you. Truly miraculous. What is more, is God not also doing something in the old, decrepit church that meets faithfully every Sunday? Is God not at work in the mundane? Is the changing of laundry and washing of dishes and working through an argument devoid of God’s presence?

I see so many churches trying to drum up excitement about the latest outreach or project, when what our culture needs is the staying power and sobriety of faithfulness in the ho-hum drudgery of going to a job you hate or a marriage that is contentious. What we need is not more hype, but more humility. More service and less heavy-handedness. We need more gentleness and less power grabs.

If we don’t, what then becomes of the senior citizen who is tired? What becomes of the baby who is sleeping? What becomes of the unemployed and outcast and burdened? They are forgotten. They are seen as less valuable because they aren’t producing the kind of energy requisite for assumed faithfulness to the disciples’ call.

In reality, we need less loud voices and red faces and sweaty brows and more silence and calmness and a deep well of contentment.

Idealism and Realism

One of the difficulties with living is when our ideals come crashing against the rock of reality. That is, I have a dream gets hosed down by the injustices of mediocrity and status quo.

I have been walking through the Core Values of our church plant, Christ the Redeemer, and we just got done walking through our first (and most vital) core value of Community. My wife was speaking with someone following our conversation on the topic of what Acts 2 models for the church by way of biblical community. We see people selling their possessions and giving to those who had a need. We see people welcoming others into the mess of their homes and being vulnerable with one another as they were learning together what it meant to follow Christ’s road to Calvary.

The response of the other mother my wife was speaking with was, “That seems awfully idealistic.” The truth is, it is idealistic. It is the goal for which we aim. Most communities of faith are content with merely showing up. But as Bruno Mars encouraged, we need to show up and show out. That is, the community of faith is not merely a body of people that gather, but they gather with a purpose. It is like halftime where they assess the team and seek to address weaknesses in their offense or defense and shoulder the load together. To accomplish an impossible goal. What is that goal other than displaying the beauty and majesty and wonder of the gracious God who loves the unloveable?

On full display in word and in deed, we see that the Christian community reflects how God enters into our messes and embraces us–in the midst of the stink. This idealism can only be reached by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit…in the very crucifixion of the flesh that seeks self-preservation. The life of faith is a flesh and bone reality that has scars and bruises…and fresh wounds to be bound up. Uncomfortable? Yes. Life giving? Yes.

The New Economics Will Be People

So I went to a coffee shop this morning and was struck by the utter efficiency they were churning out drinks. In fact the team lead said this much as encouragement to the six other workers behind the counter.

I walked in. Smiled at the barista. Was greeted with a blank stare as he continued to froth the milk and deliver the piping hot skinny latte with extra foam to the drive-thru. I walked to the register and was passed with nary a glance…even when the team lead said “Hello.” No she didn’t look at me, but made sure that her metric of greeting a guest in the first ten seconds was met. A box that is checked. That’s what I was. A large dark roast with no room for cream and sugar. And surely there was no saccharin here. There was utility and efficiency.

In all our pandering for growth our marketing of environment is nothing more than a marketing tool. The timers and grids for efficiency have crowded out the thing that matters. The only thing that matters in products.

You see, the products that are pushed are labeled as though they were made for you. In reality, the products being sold to you have (for the most part) been made for the manufacturer. People have merely become a means to the end of bigger, faster, better.

In the new economy, people will matter more.

They won’t matter because they need to matter to grow the business. Too often companies tell you that you’re important because they want your money. They don’t want to make a difference as much as they want their new car or luxury vacation.

I want to say this loud and clear. In the new economy, people will be the end in themselves. They will no longer be viewed as a metric or a number. In the new economy, mom and pop will be sought after. Because, after all, we all know that the verbiage of how you matter to company x is just verbiage. It’s merely eliciting a response for another end.

In the new economics, people will want to matter. They will flock to the place where they are known by name. And not just to tout the “community” of an establishment. Did you notice the subtlety of that one? No, people will know your name because they know you and you matter. Your name is not known just to brag that you matter and sell the belonging you too can have if you buy your next skinny latte with extra froth…hold the pandering.

We are not there yet because executives are still measuring. Measuring people. Yet, what the new economy will have to embrace is not a spreadsheet or a graph. They will be forced to embrace people. Not to grow their graph. But to grow their own soul.