How Deep Is The Well?

No, I am not suggesting anyone else has to open a non-profit coffee shop (while I am also not opposed to you doing that, but if you do, let me connect you with Rob so you can benefit from his experience). I am telling you this true story to illustrate that “first steps” are going to be greatly impacted by where you are on the journey to making disciple-making disciples (true replication).

While we say we don’t, most of us really want the ease of a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. We don’t want to spend the time getting to know a coach/mentor who will ask a gazillion questions about what we are already doing in order to answer the question, “What are the first steps I ought to take to reach this God-sized vision and overcome my dissatisfaction by pressing through the resistance I am already facing?”

In our heart of hearts, we know that canned answers will not work. But we also know that change is going to mess with our lives. That is why we stay in dead-end jobs. That is why many stay unhappy in their marriages–the work of change will be demanding. We dance the dance we dance because we won’t do the hard work of learning a new dance and doing it long enough that it becomes our new norm, our new default.

Our default evangelistic strategies, developed to reach individualists, isolate people from their existing affinity groups (family and/or friends). Perpetuating them will contribute to extraction and undermine any true movement potential! We have seen the enemy and he is us.

The Well rooms

Too much work has gone into making The Well different to tack on traditional missional strategies. Our post-Enlightenment young adults are wary of the communitylessness of my generation. They want authentic community. Those who are disciples want to discover ways to plant, water and harvest the gospel within their affinity groups, wherever possible, rather than ditching them for surface-level small groups which are not authentic. They go to third spaces looking for something meaningful

First Steps???

I continue to worship with Stones River. They also insisted I continue to serve as one of the six shepherds (“elders” sounds old and within our fellowship these groups tend to focus too much on things deacons should do and no one focuses on spiritual leadership, so we decided a name change might remind us and the members of our family that we are attempting to have a different focus). While I gather with Stones River, when I am in town, I travel a fair amount internationally and domestically. These are the times when it is hard staying in the loop, but I have a deep trust of the other men with whom I serve. Nine out of the next ten weeks I will miss our Sunday gathering, but I will be able to participate in the Monday evening shepherds meetings.

Starting next Sunday, I will be driving about forty miles to do some training at another church. The Well storySome of their folks have opened a non-profit coffee shop as an intentional outreach. The business was deliberately organized as a fund-raising mechanism for water projects in third-world nations. The name is appropriately, The Well.

Recently, they launched three Sunday evening worship experiences that happen in one side of the coffee house. They have met eight people who have expressed some interest in further spiritual discussions. But how do these caring Christians conduct these conversations in ways that are non-manipulative and hold the greatest hope of bearing spiritual fruit. They hope Discovery Groups will be helpful.

The Good Muslim?

Yes, these recently settled people were at great risk. Their situation was dire.

The king of Assyria ordered, “Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them….They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively—they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from” (2 Kings 17:27,32-33, The Message).

The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were descended from these peoples. This is the historical-cultural background behind Jesus’ parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It also informs his interactions with the woman at the well and people from her village. Jews considered the Samaritans spiritual mutts. While they claimed to worship the God of Israel, the religious purists knew their sordid spiritual lineage.

Sounds remarkably similar to Islam.

Would Jesus shock us with the modern-day Parable of the Good Muslim? Would he spend a couple of days with Muslims who want to hear about the Messiah?

 

Honor King Jesus!

Yes, I know I crossed the line in my last post. I dared to contradict the maxim that Islam is the greatest enemy to Christianity. Let me explain something about my worldview. The greatest threat to Christianity is never any external force–not Islam, nor even secularism. Our greatest threat is ourselves.

Forgetting our identity in Christ is our greatest threat. Forgetting how our life story intersects with the story of the Kingdom of God is our great danger. Losing sight of what God has done for us and how that ought to affect our choices is our biggest temptation.

There are disciple makers in closed countries who lay it all on the line–every day. Muslim, Communist, totalitarian governments can make their lives difficult, but they cannot stop the transforming power of the gospel at work in the hearts of families. Stop allowing the politicians and/or the media to push your panic button. Stop losing sight of this reality that the Word of God reveals. Our “battle is not against flesh and blood.”

Living under the reign of the risen, exalted and ascended King Jesus is our calling. Saying, “Yes, Lord,” and meaning it is our purpose. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, Israel rejected the truth that the reign of God is enough when they demanded a king. Satan often tempts us to doubt that the Father has our best interests at heart (not just mine as an individual, but “our” as family, congregation, community, nation and world). Trust God!

A Case Study: “Are Your Kids In Danger Of Becoming Muslim?”

Over the last few years Murfreesboro (my home town) has been thrust into international spotlight over opposition to a mosque that was constructed here. Numerous media have given the story extensive coverage. While some viewed this under the rubric of a clash between Islam and Christianity or tolerance and bigotry, there are probably stronger worldview clashes under the surface.

When politics and media wade into the fray, there are deeper dynamics. Murfreesboro is home of Middle Tennessee State University–the largest undergraduate university in our state. The news of opposition to the mosque played out differently there than people might have imagined. Secularists–folks who deny God’s continued involvement in our world (atheists and agnostics) loved the fracas. They were happy to see professed Christians looking intolerant. They relished the opportunity to portray all as bigots who talk about the Constitution, but are unwilling to honor its protections for other faith groups. Tragically, the young people at MTSU did not see us at our finest.

The worldview clash between Christians and Muslims became a smokescreen for the clash between secularism and faith in a  Creator (something Christianity and Islam share). Odd, isn’t it? How many parents realized our response to this heated debate was potentially being leveraged by a much stronger third party?

Yes, there are marked conflicts between the worldview of Muslims and disciples of Jesus. But threat is far greater that our children will become secularists than Muslims.

Hold strong convictions. Exercise your freedom of speech. Realize how you say what you say is being gauged by those who know you best, too.

Who Defines the Terms? (contextualization)

I find the use of the word “skeptic” interesting as the starting point. I would hope that the greater detail of the book would detail why this term is used. I suspect it reflects the Southern California academic/young professional setting targeted by InterVarsity there—the “Post-Modern” worldview that Choung’s dissertation addressed.

Since I believe the Western attempt to export Modernity to the majority world is unwise, I am going to be cautious about introducing Post-modern terminology and concepts. “Individuality run amok” is one of Post-modernisms stinging critiques of Modernity. But I fear that the Thesaurus being utilized was defined on Modernity’s terms.

Many of the least-reached people groups in our world are pre-modern! Yes, they are being impacted by elements of Modernity and Post-modernism, the more “connected” they are, but why drag them through all of this? They have “skipped” the land-line telephone technology in many areas, going from no phones to cell phones. Let’s skip the individuality the terms create.

Let us find Persons of Peace. Train them to facilitate discovery studies within their families, friendship groups and communities. Coach and mentor them as high into leadership as they will progress. Equip them to contextualize for their people group. They will do it better than we will. Let them draw the “four circles” for their context, if that proves needed.

One-size-fits-all?…Nah!

About twenty-five years ago I took a graduate course titled, “Matthew as Story.” Jack Dean Kingsbury’s book by the same title was required reading. This literary (narrative) critical examination of the first gospel launched me on a trajectory that I could little anticipate. It is only within the last five that I consciously realized the connection.

Comparing/contrasting the plot of the four gospels reveals important information about their contexts. Reading today’s writers does likewise. I do not believe “one size fits all” works well with gospeling. Yes, our early attempts will likely follow more closely to one of the four than the other three, but even that reflects something about us. Either we are reflecting the choice of those who discipled us, we are reflecting which of the four has become our personal favorite, or we are reflecting a conscious decision based on our knowledge of the people group to whom we are speaking.

Before you invest the money in getting Choung’s book(s) translated into the language of your people group and distributed among them, make sure you do the same rigorous testing he did. Make sure the thought structures used in his books translate well into the worldview of your context. Recruit believers among this group to evaluate how helpful these resources will be.

When my friend tweeted me about Choung’s video, I responded from a cross-cultural context. My friend recently completed a master’s degree. He desires to move to Asia and serve as a cross-cultural missionary. I initially responded in light of our shared context (academics and love for missions). Later I Googled Choung’s web site and read his blog. As I have noted, I have not read his second book. My replies seek to apply what I have discovered on that web site to the video.

 

Contextualization on Christmas????

Every gospel dialogue is contextualized. The issue is not “if,” but how and by whom. It can be done well or poorly. It can be done intentionally or accidentally. Some accidental contextualization can turn out well, but it will likely be difficult to apply to a new context until the accidental becomes intentional. Not all intentional contextualization goes well, either.

Some might question me doing this article/series on Christmas day. “Give it a rest, John!” I can hear someone mumbling.

Where are the primary sources for what we call “the Christmas story” found? Yes, in the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Luke. Two of our four “gospels” record the details about the birth of Jesus. But anyone who has read these two accounts closely realizes they are very different in their emphases.

Why would Luke include the details about the shepherds while Matthew focuses on the Magi? Why would Matthew spotlight the agitation of Herod and the religious leaders concerning the news that a king has been born, while Luke recounts Simeon and Anna who celebrate the news in Jerusalem? These two communication pieces were tailored for their respective audiences—the context into which they were spoken/read and out of which they were revealed. The four gospels are contextualized presentations of some of the details of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Celebrate the birth of Jesus during this season. Ponder how you can intentionally contextualize your presentations to your near neighbors, well. Acknowledge that what works well in my neighborhood may not be best for all neighborhoods, though. Allow the Scriptures to challenge you toward diversity.