Episode 029: Doing Ministry in a Secular Age

When Jesus told his followers to make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the ends of the earth, he meant that the gospel should be brought to people where they are and in their contexts. So how do we as pastors and leaders bring the gospel to our neighbors in today’s secular age? We talk about it in this week’s essential conversation.

Episode 029 – SHOW NOTES – Doing Ministry in a Secular Age

 

One of my favorite metaphors is to think of the world as like an arena with a retractable roof, where the roof closes and no one really cares… everyone is so consumed with their own life that whether or not there is a God is kind of irrelevant…

 

The new situation makes you learn to say [the gospel] afresh… we’re having to learn how to tell the Story to people who are living in a new situation, but have the same hungers…

 

It’s almost like we’re in an Acts 17 moment… in the collapse of the marriage between Christianity and the culture, there’s a fresh opportunity to stand in the marketplace of ideas and tell people, “God raised Jesus from the dead—what do you think about that?”

 

Today’s climate is such that all belief is contested, and so in one sense we’ve gone to a pre-Christian culture, and in another sense we’ve “evolved” past it… people want the Jesus values without the Jesus claim…

 

We have to get better as pastors and leaders to say to people, “You’re going to serve somebody; you’re going to choose a cross somewhere…and only Jesus says ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light…’”

 

The ministry of hospitality is one of the best gifts the church gives to the world… in a secular age, we need to be ones who open our doors and hearts and we host people and let the kingdom unfold so that people say, “This is where I need to be…”

 

Beauty is a great way of thinking about how the church can be at its best here… a Rembrandt painting doesn’t need to explain itself to you… it has a way of communicating itself to you and drawing you into it… the church needs to think about its own life that way… let people see!

 

QUESTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM

  • How aware are you and your team about the rising tide of secularism in terms of your ministry process (planning, messaging, programming)? Does it figure at all in your ministry? Why or why not?
  • How would you describe your strategy for equipping your flock to live faithfully and hospitably within our secular age?
  • What can you do to help your congregation see the opportunities of living in this moment?

 

RESOURCES

James. K. A. Smith has written a dense but really helpful summary the new “secular” moment we’re living in called How (Not) To Be Secular. Check it out.

Episode 028: Singing Our Hope

What happens when we worship? How do we select songs for congregational worship that instill hope? In this conversation, Dr. Glenn Packiam talks about what he learned as he researched the expression and experience of hope in our worship.

SHOW NOTES – Episode 028 – Singing our Hope

 

The thing that was most surprising to me in my research was how little the songs dealt with the future… we don’t sing about the future (or the past) all that much… it concerned me that songs about hope had no future orientation…

 

It might be that the spirit of the age is one of the reasons why we don’t sing about the future all that much… it’s a luxury to sing about the present tense when the present is pretty good…

 

There’s a challenge here for pastors and worship leaders to help people see their felt needs in terms of the great need of our lives, which is the hope of Christ…

 

The Holy Spirit is the experience of God’s presence, and many would say that the Spirit is God’s future presence in the now… which is why people who experience the Holy Spirit feel hopeful [regardless of the song lyrics]…

 

Only on paper can you distinguish between hope and comfort… when people say “I feel hope,” what they’re saying is “I have a sense of God’s presence with me”… theologically we’re saying, “The Holy Spirit, who is the deposit of the future—you’re having a taste of him now…”

 

The good songs are not just songs that are true this month… I think we address the realities of our day better by singing about something that transcends our day… it’s great to sing about our present pain, but there’s something about the church coming together to sing about something quite a bit better, higher, and stronger…

 

One of the things we’ve challenged worship leaders and writers with is not just thinking of theology as the fence but as the doorway…

 

I hope that what worship leaders and songwriters hear is that what they’re doing is incredibly powerful and the Holy Spirit breathes on it, so let’s allow him to make our craft the very best it can be… when he breathes on that, how much more could it do?

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM

  • Look at your worship set lists from the last 8 weeks. How many of the songs speak of the future hope of Christ? What do you think that says?
  • What are you doing to create space for people to experience the presence of the Spirit in your worship services?
  • What can you do to help your congregants fix the concerns of their lives in the future hope of Christ?

Episode 027: The Bible and the Church Pt 2

In this conversation, we pick up where we left off talking about the Bible. What is it, and how should it inform our lives and ministries?

Episode 027 – SHOW NOTES – The Bible and the Church Part 2

One of the mistakes we’ve made over the last several decades is that we’ve tried so hard to show how the Bible “relates” to people’s lives that we’ve eliminated what is unique, sacred, and divine about it…

 

If the Bible is just generalized life advice, we’ve actually domesticated the Scripture out of use… part of the job is to recover the uniqueness of Scripture…

 

We need to model for people that engagement with Scripture can take many different forms… it is a disservice to people to communicate to people a picture of engagement with Scripture in which it is uniformly ecstatic… sometimes it is, and sometimes it is not… we need to trust that God is in it…

 

As preachers, we need to realize that our sermon might be more Scripture than that person will hear all week long… if there’s any place where we can read lots of Scripture, it ought to be in church…

 

Two things that have been really transformative for our congregation (downtown) was (1) having Scripture readings in the service, which congregants lead… and (2) using the Immerse Bible plan… it is an arrangement of the Scriptures without chapters and verses which helps you become steeped in a section of Scripture… people had never read the Bible in big chunks before…

 

We preach through books of the Bible [at New Life] because there are lots of sticky pages in our Bibles that we never get to, and it’s easy for the preacher to just preach their greatest hits

 

What I’ve learned over the years is the value for the preacher of having “assigned readings”… that’s scary for charismatic preachers… but I’ve found that when you hold an assigned text against the life of the congregation, you will discover connections that you never would have seen otherwise…

 

QUESTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM

  • What are you doing to help you people fall in love with Scripture? What more could you do?
  • Do your sermons model a rich engagement with Scripture? Or is Scripture a “pre-text” for your sermon? How can you start moving in a healthier direction?
  • What is your philosophy of your church’s preaching calendar? Does it help people fall in love with Scripture? Why or why not?

 

RESOURCES

The Immerse Bible

Fee and Stuart – How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth (a simple guide for layperson or preacher to understanding the different genres of Scripture)

Episode 026: The Cross of Christ

A special episode just in time for Holy Week. In this conversation, we discuss the importance of the Cross of Jesus Christ. What exactly do we believe about Jesus’ death and why does it matter? Listen in and enjoy this reflection as we move towards Good Friday.

 

 


Episode 026 – SHOW NOTES – The Cross of Christ

 

The cross is the crux of the whole story, the unexpected plot twist… who could have seen that God would rescue by becoming the afflicted one, by becoming the judged one…

 

Good Friday reminds us of the costliness, the weightiness, the holiness of the sacrifice of Jesus… you can only be prepared to receive Easter Sunday morning when you’ve properly gone through Good Friday…

 

In our generation of outrage, we tend to want the powerful abusers to pay, and Jesus in his death is not just showing solidarity with the victims, but is paying the judgment that we demand to see from the abusers…

 

Sin actually does have a real impact in human life… you don’t just wave a magic wand over it and watch it go away… sin drove us away from the heart of God, and Jesus went to find us… he absorbed the weight of our failure in order to bring us back home…

 

We need to think of sin not just as “doing bad things” but as a power that we were enslaved to… God judged Sin in the body of Christ Jesus and in doing so rescued us from slavery…

 

The powers of the air exhaust themselves on Jesus, who overcomes them by the power of an indestructible life… his victory over them accrues for us…

 

When we talk about God being love, the cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love… which is exactly what Paul says… some distortions of cross-preaching make wrath primary, that it was a demonstration of how mad God was at us… but the storyline of the cross is love, not wrath…

 

Because God is love, he opposes everything that mars, defaces, or destroys us… the expression of that is wrath, but always the wrath is an expression of love…

 

People come into a Good Friday service hurting, and one of the scariest thoughts to me is that those people would think they need to leave that in the car… on Good Friday we can say “There is no place that you have ever been that Jesus has left vacant…”

 

 

RESOURCES

Athanasius – On the Incarnation

  1. T. Wright – The Day the Revolution Began

Fleming Rutledge – The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ

Episode 025: The Bible and the Church Pt 1

In this conversation, we ask a simple and slightly funny question. What is the Bible? Perhaps one of the most taken-for-granted elements of Christian faith, we wanted to dig down and talk about what the Bible is, and what it isn’t.

Episode 025 – SHOW NOTES – The Bible and the Church

How we see this book [the Bible] determines how we approach it… everybody knows they are supposed to read the Bible but we don’t often stop to ask, “Just what is this thing?”

I think the best way to get to an answer [to the question of why the Bible is authoritative] is to begin with the resurrection… the followers of Jesus began to realize that Jesus was God himself meeting us in the flesh and fulfilling all the things he said he was going to do… so it legitimates and culminates the Old Testament!

Jesus claimed Israel’s Scriptures as pointing to him… the reason that this particular book [the Bible] has been treasured is that it bears witness to this Person [Jesus]… when we keep that firmly in mind, it helps keep the Bible vibrant and alive for us… we’re coming in contact with this Person…

The Bible is loved and cherished because the face of the God that we meet in Jesus Christ comes through… and if you just get people into it, it has a way of doing something to you…

If I could pick one paradigm for approaching this book, I would pick the “Grand Story”—it is the story of God working through a particular (not perfect) people… when you treat it that way, it changes how you read it…

This is a Story begun in love and carried through to completion in love… it has power to convert the mind and will and emotions into a different way of being…

There is not a time when I do not open up the Scriptures and find that this is the God who keeps rushing at me to bring me into blessing and to make me a blessing…

There is a way to read the troubling aspects of Scripture through the lens of the Person of Jesus that keeps us firmly in the character of God…

QUESTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM
1) Glenn mentioned a few common lenses people approach the Bible with. What is your default lens and why?
2) What would change in your reading of Scripture (or preaching and teaching) if you viewed it as the great Drama of God’s redemptive love?
3) How might viewing the Scripture as a witness to the Person of Christ impact how you read, preach, or teach the Bible?

Episode 024: The Creed

 

What can a centuries-old creed teach us about how to lead our ministries? In this conversation, we talk about how and why our church adopted the Nicene Creed and how it informs and shapes our ministry.

Episode 024 – SHOW NOTES – The Creed

 

Instead of having a unique statement of faith that highlights the ways that we are different from other churches, why not go back to this statement of faith that shows how we are all united?

 

In a world that is drunk on individuality, the Creed sobers us… in a world that loves what is new, the Creed takes us back… in a skeptical world, the Creed helps us say, “We actually believe something…”

 

When people come in and they have doubts and they’re afraid and the bottom has fallen out and they’re not sure if “they believe in,” they can step into a space where the community says for them, “We believe in… and you’re going to make it…”

 

This is a question of “What is our bedrock?”—our bedrock is not our distinctiveness; our bedrock is our unitedness in Christ…

 

If my sermon can’t go through the four stanzas, I have not risen to the level of what a “word” ought to be… the Creed has created an infrastructure for me… these are the safe lanes in which a sermon must run…

 

In some ways, the Creed has taught our people how to pray… sometimes in our minds, there is an undifferentiated way of addressing the Triune God… the Creed helps us there… God is one and yet we can shine a light on each Person…

 

We’re trying to keep the Creed part of a “living liturgy”… and so if at any point we’re doing it just to do it, we need to pause…

 

The presence of doubt is the condition in which faith exists… “We believe” says that these are not sureties but acts of belief and mystery… and “in” says that this is something that invites us to cling to a Person… it is an act of worship… it is intimate…

 

QUESTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM

  • Take some time to read the Nicene Creed (go here for one version). What do you notice? What stands out to you?
  • Are there ways that you could begin to incorporate the Creed into your church’s worship?
  • Compare the Creed to your church’s statement of faith. How are they similar or different? In what way would utilizing the Creed as a statement of faith be a benefit to you and your church? A challenge?

 

 

Episode 012: Blending the Contemplative and Charismatic

For this episode of the Essential Church podcast, we’re joined by Pastor Rich Villodas of New Life Fellowship in Queens, NY to discuss the contemplative and charismatic traditions of the Church.

We started noticing that we had lots of gifts, but not a love of love and character… our church went in search of something more to try to balance out…

 

I think we have to root the contemplative and the charismatic streams in the ground of a robust Pneumatology… the intent of the Scriptures is the coming of God’s presence among his people…

 

If the Holy Spirit in John 3 is depicted as wind, then we have to make space for a multi-dimensional Spirit who comes to people in different ways…

 

I see the two married together – these are various, great manifestations of the grace of the Spirit, whether in power or in stillness and silence…

 

What often happens is that you have one sector of the Church that has a narrow view of how God has manifested grace through the ages, and then they get into their enclave or stream [to the neglect of others]…

 

We often don’t pause to see the myriad of ways God has come to us through the centuries…

 

When we swung the pendulum, I think we swung it too far… when you look at Corinthians 13, you don’t see Paul saying that once you get your act together, you can use your gifts again… he just says to use them with love…

 

What this is looking like for us is that I’m teaching on it more… we’re offering more trainings for people… more and more we’re creating space in our worship gatherings for moments of pause to recognize that perhaps God wants to do something right now…

 

For me it feels like I’m getting back to my roots…

 

Pursue the work of the Spirit in your life and don’t put restrictions on what shape or what narrow tradition it needs to take…

 

QUESTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM

  • What did you think about Rich’s discussion of the charismatic and contemplative streams? Which do you most identify with?
  • Does your church have a culture that is open to the multifaceted work of the Spirit, or are your boxes narrow?
  • What can you do to expand your church’s receptivity to the full range of the Spirit’s work and power?

 

 

RESOURCES

Way of the Heart (Nouwen)

Streams of Living Water (Foster)

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Scazerro)

God’s Empowering Presence (Fee)

Sober Intoxication of the Spirit (Cantalamessa)

 

Episode 006: To The Table

Episode 006- To The Table

 

SHOW NOTES

The Table for me was the end of a long journey to discover the roots of my faith… I wanted to give my kids more of the faith than I had when I was their age…

Tradition is a troubling word for charismatics…but when I began to talk about historical rootedness and the many reasons for coming back to the Table, the eyes of our church were opened and we found ourselves embracing it…

The beautiful thing about the Lord’s Table is that it is a promise of an encounter with the risen Christ that does not depend on an individual…

Frequency does not mean a loss of intimacy; in fact, intimacy requires frequency…

It should be easier for charismatics to come to the Table with faith and expectation, but people are nervous about superstition… part of the way we got around that was that we said “We’re not going to make statements about HOW God meets us [at the Table]; we just know THAT he does…”

Past, present, and future come together for us at the Table… it is a place of proclamation, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again!

One pushback I got from the congregation was “Where is the altar call?” What I’ve discovered is that this leads to better altar calls… I tell pastor friends that we have the biggest altar calls we’ve ever had, because we have people confess sins and receive forgiveness… we have thousands of people answering the altar call every Sunday… and so when I call for salvation and healing, their hearts are already tender…

We didn’t have to give up our evangelistic fervor to do Communion…

This has profoundly changed my preaching for the better… no matter what we’re tackling, I have to end with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus…

Our church has grown and increased and has seen disciple-shaping go to a deeper level since we’ve done this… if you’ll do this wisely with a lot of explanation, inviting people in, they will follow you…

Millennials are more fascinated with historical rootedness than we think… the under-30 crowd are living in a world now where nothing makes sense… they’re looking for something that has stood the test of time…


Questions for you and your team

1) Do your worship services demonstrate a sense of historical rootedness? Why or why not?
2) Pastor Glenn mentioned that Communion embodies a sense of “remembrance”, “encounter”, and “hope”. Which do you feel your services emphasize the most? How could communion reshape those services?
3) How do you think taking weekly Communion would change your worship and preaching?
4) What practical steps can you take to begin moving in that direction?

Recommended Resources
The Meal Jesus Gave Us, by N. T. Wright
Discover the Mystery of Faith, by Glenn Packiam