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Midterm Elections: Let Us Pray

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Two years ago, the United States entered into a new season marked by hostility, vitriol, and division fueled by political antagonisms. Countless churches across this country have experienced inner tensions, social media blow-ups, active and passive-aggressiveness which has regularly called into question the depth of the gospel in our lives and communities. As a pastor, I’m regularly grieved by the lack of differentiation modeled in our churches. I’m deeply saddened by the xenophobia and scapegoating that fills our national discourse (if you can call it discourse at all).

Here we are, two years later, anticipating the midterm elections. I don’t ever recall hearing so much about midterms. In my time as a pastor, I have never led a time of prayer for the midterms. Yet, this year, something is noticeably different. To that end, I created a prayer for my congregation and for the church around the country. In prayer, we are called to fundamentally name realities for the sake of shalom. We name the reality of God’s life among us, name our broken sin-stained lives, and name the cry to join God in the project of gospel renewal.

We can’t afford to pray ambiguous prayers. We need prayers that help us to shape a new social imagination marked by love, truth, forgiveness, and justice.

Hopefully these words offer a way forward.

We can’t afford to pray ambiguous prayers. We need prayers that help us to shape a new social imagination marked by love, truth, forgiveness, and justice. Click To Tweet

A Prayer for Midterm Elections

In preparation for the midterm elections, Lord, we pray for our country.

Our country is hurting. Families are torn apart. Friends have turned into enemies.

Lord, may we see how morally inconsistent we are, how self-righteous we can be, how fear has deeply poisoned our hearts, how the lust for power has blinded us to the gospel.

Lord, deliver us from evil.

May we all repent first, before waiting for others to repent.

Lord, before we can pray for unity, we must personally do the hard work of unmasking our own duplicity.

Forgive us when we demonize another.

Forgive us when we speak truth without love.

Forgive us when our moral outrage is simply a facade covering our need to be right.

Forgive us when we reduce love to simply being nice while we ignore injustice.

Forgive us when we sin against another.

And may we learn to forgive when we are sinned against.

Lord, may the church be a prophetic and priestly voice. May we speak truth to power while offering healing to the oppressed and the oppressor.

Teach us to be salt and light. May our speech be always filled with grace, seasoned with salt.

Teach us to put our hope in you, and to properly discern our civic responsibilities, having our lived marked by a non-anxious presence.

Lord, before we speak, may our lives be marked by silence. But guard us from silence when you call us to speak.

Lord, you are always at work, making all things new. Make us new people with new hearts who can join you in this project of restoration.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, before we speak, may our lives be marked by silence. But guard us from silence when you call us to speak. Click To Tweet

 

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35 responses to “IT IS MORE DIFFICULT: WHY MISSIONAL COMMUNITY IS MORE DIFFICULT AND WHY I LOVE IT

  1. All the “Bells”…hmmm no paticular mega-church pastor implied right Dave:). Hey you’re on to something. Gosh I love bashing the Warrens and Hybles and I think they deserve the prophetic critique. I confess that ocassionally I am enamored by Rob Bell’s method and salty hermeneutics. Often I try to point to how Mars Hill is an “anti-mega church” in that it is not “purpose-driven” or whatever the others have. But any gatheirng over a couple hundred that calls itself a community of worship (e.g. church) that desires to live its life in the way of Jesus, in the world is very problematic. That is if they are trying to follow Jesus, together in the world.

    Good stuff Dave. Wish I could join you in Northern. We need you to come out to Fuller.

    I am calling you “Hauerwas” for the massess…hope you don’t mind.

  2. David,
    A great post.

    I’m reminded of a conversation at Fuller in January where a local pastor spoke of what he called the “Zondervanization” of Christianity. It’s the the myth-making created and promoted by certain publishers about large ministries – that you identify when you ask, how did these churches “ACTUALLY START”.

    The sad thing is that the real story of that one particular megachurch, where somewhere around a thousand people were sent with an associate pastor to found a more post-modern church – is still powerful – if not quite as mythical.

    Elvis may appear on Velvet canvasses, but he has definitely left the building.

  3. Good stuff! Of course, I’m biased. We started with 40 or 50 and grew to our current 15. If I wasn’t such a stubborn, ecclesio-snob, I would have probably given up by now.

  4. Mark, you got me laughing, sorry .. this isn’t supposed to be funny. And Sam, Hauerwas for the masses, is that an oxymoron? Bill, I didn’t mention any names … and I ain’t going to either. I hope everyone realizes this ain’t about names, it’s about the survival of the church of Jesus in N. America. I loved your post.

  5. David, you didn’t – nor did I. Although I do confess my last sentence makes it a little too obvious. Forgiveness requested.

    I really don’t mean to attack a particular ministry – but rather the Marketing of mythological church stories that, I believe, cause more harm than good.

    I am convinced that Newbiggin was the Prophet for our time – and that the hope for the church in the West is understanding what it means to be missional.

    Regarding my post – you and many others provided the impetus. Thanks for being willing to waste some time with me. :-}

    I look forward to visiting Life on the Vine in the not too distant future.

  6. BTW did you know that the statistics say that small church growth (from 10-150) is where the true conversions (as opposed to transfer growth) come from?

    I don’t have any basis to agree or disagree with this assertion, but I’m very interested in seeing data to support it. I skimmed the linked article a bit but didn’t find anything obvious to support that assertion.

    I generally agree with your premise, by the way, but I’d like to have this evidence at hand to be able to make the same case more forcefully.

  7. David, I’m new to all this but I have found your recent blog post to very excellent. However, just a thought perhaps if these “missional churches” (I’m not even sure what that means) would go back to the tried and true liturgies of the church, that might help them out in some (not all) ways in their labouring in the Lord’s vineyard.

    a Deacon from Wheaton

  8. Phil, the data is in Christian Schwarz work, a book like Natural Church Development. The survey work is quite extensive.
    Mark, I’m with you. Three years ago we had an average of ten adults and ten kids, now we have six adults. OTOH, our growth rate will be astronomical if we add another couple next month 😉
    David, this question is intriguing: “Why then do evangelicals exalt the mega congregations as the answer to reaching those outside of Christ?” Why indeed?

  9. Here is a time bomb question: Why is this discussion so “either/or focused and not “both/and”? IN other words is it possible to be mega/missional?

  10. David…I don’t know you but I love you. My wife and I start Safe Harbor Church with two people and now we can say we have broken the 50 people barrier. Not might not sound like much, but to ME and my wife it is!!

    Cannot wait to meet you at General Council in Orlando. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee.

  11. D.F. – you’re good at attracting lots of “blogluv”! LOL.

    And Mark – I too laughed at your “We started with 40 or 50 and grew to our current 15. If I wasn’t such a stubborn, ecclesio-snob, I would have probably given up by now.” Partially too, of course, due to the name of my blog, with which I associate your stubbornness…although you and I aren’t exactly in the same postion.

    🙂

    Jason

  12. Thanks, I needed that.

    Back in the day, when I was working for P&G and calling on grocery stores for a living, there was this one Piggly Wiggly in Milledgeville, GA that was so small no one ever really called on it with my company or my competition. But I was young and eager, so I regularly went there and tried to help them sell more of the products I sold, and keep their store up to date.

    I was talking with the VP of sales for Piggly Wiggly one day and out of the blue he thanked me for my work in helping that store. I told him he was certainly welcome, and then I asked an iffy question. “Why is that store still there?”

    I’ll never forget what he said.

    “David, we’ve found that our best managers don’t come from the stores who have all the space to merchandise or all the personnel to get everything done. In that store, the manager has to work with his employees or it won’t work. The only way for him to succeed is through them.”

    I could have left the church I’m at a dozen times in the last 8 years. But I’ve not seen a bigger challenge yet, nor am I willing to leave the trenches for the boardroom.

    I really did appreciate your words.

  13. Gary … I’m interested. What would a both/and look like in one of these instances? I don’t see how the both-and logic helps us here but I’m willing to be enlightened.
    Blessings

  14. Dave…some of your inflammatory and accurate best. (Those tend to come together with you.)

    What’s REALLY hard is trying to be a megachurch pastor in a local church that could become missional, or trying to be in a church with a wannabe megachurch guru.

    Having just come out of seminary and happily rejecting my more traditional career paths, it hurts to watch some of my classmates just wreck themselves in these little rural churches while visions of megachurch dance in their heads. I’m glad there are a growing number of voices and churches out there that can capture the imagination of pastors and churches apart from the market-driven megachurch hype.

  15. Hi David,
    I really don’t have an answer for that question. My gut tells me that you can’t have a both/and with missional/mega, but the bottom line is I really don’t know. But my point was that it seems like the automatic reaction is to discount it without talking about it. It seems like we immediately dismiss what others are doing in favor of what we are doing because we are more “enlightened” about things. This is not a jab at your use of enlighten, but rather a general reaction to the idea that one person can be more enlightened than another persion. For me this disdain has largely taken place in the area of politics regarding discussions of communism. But that is another topic…

  16. I’m with Gary…there’s a tendency to jump on the large church as missionally ineffective because it’s, well, large. Does this disqualify it from being effective in growing the Kingdom. And, if it does, can you tell me where the cut-off is because, if I’m involved in a plant it would be god to know when it ceases to be missional!

    I have my tongue-in-cheek here. I understand that genuine community is difficult as a group grows in number but, when healthy things grow, what do you do? Stop the growth? Divide? Give people reasons to leave?

    The ‘mega’ church label comes with a whole lot baggage. I’m from Australia where there are few fewer mega-churches…heck, I probably go to one (depending on your definition) but some of the reaction is a reaction to stereotype than missional intent. The stereotype isn’t pretty, granted, but judging a church on its size seems harsh.

    Saying a church is ok until they grow, or someone writes a book and then becomes a target, seems unfortunate.

    In Australia we have something called ‘tall poppy syndrome’. Basically, if something stands out, we want to chop it down to size.

    Have we applied the tall poppy syndrome to the church and made ‘missional’ a label that is size-determined?

  17. I didnt really notice if anyone mentioned anything from scripture on this, however, we would all be wiser in the matter by studying the writings of Paul. His underlying theme always revolved around unity in the church and in Christ. We get so involved in the happenings and changes in our society but always seem to forget the underlying theme.
    In Him,
    Jerry

  18. I think one of the things that makes folks like me feel skeptical to mega-churches is the seemingly impersonal nature of the gathering there. In The Jesus Way Eugene Peterson writes, “We cannot use impersonal means to do or say a personal thing – and the gospel is personal or it is nothing.” I think it is hard to take a genuine interest in the welfare of Christian brothers and sisters in a mega setting.

    I also can’t help but think of the mega-churches as being a sort of counter to all of our mega or global sized corporations. My husband likes to chide me that everything in America is big and I can’t help but think that the mega model reflects more about North American culture than the greatness of God. Note I’m not saying that they don’t worship and love Jesus or have good intentions but I think that they seem to have bought into the bigger must mean better take on life. Anyway, I enjoyed this post and pondering the thoughts of everyone posted above.

  19. I think one of the things that makes folks like me feel skeptical to mega-churches is the seemingly impersonal nature of the gathering there. In The Jesus Way Eugene Peterson writes, “We cannot use impersonal means to do or say a personal thing – and the gospel is personal or it is nothing.” I think it is hard to take a genuine interest in the welfare of Christian brothers and sisters in a mega setting.

    I also can’t help but think of the mega-churches as being a sort of counter to all of our mega or global sized corporations. My husband likes to chide me that everything in America is big and I can’t help but think that the mega model reflects more about North American culture than the greatness of God. Note I’m not saying that they don’t worship and love Jesus or have good intentions but I think that they seem to have bought into the bigger must mean better take on life. Anyway, I enjoyed this post and pondering the thoughts of everyone posted above.

  20. I wrote “counter” when what I meant to write was “complimentary” in the post above. Sorry for any confusion…

  21. I wrote “counter” when what I meant to write was “complimentary” in the post above. Sorry for any confusion…

  22. Great post and thoughts. May God give all of us the ability to navigate this movement without killing each other.

  23. Great post and thoughts. May God give all of us the ability to navigate this movement without killing each other.

  24. Obviously I’m with “the kid,” and Eugene Peterson on their comments. To those who have a problemn with my comments, are Eugene Peterson’s comments off base (that the kid quoted)? unbiblical? I think the mega-church question needs exposure because too often the underlying assumptions of the way we go about church are reinforced without ever being talked about. I hope posts like these engender serious discussion and reflection. I also hope that posts like these encourage and stir on small communal gatherings and their pastors to what God has called them to be.
    I don’t believe Gary’s both/and works all the time. But in this case I was not saying either/or, I was saying “it is more difficult,” which in a way is another version of both/and. It can be accomplished both in a mega church setting and an organic missional setting, it is just more diffcult in the mega setting. So I think Gary should be happy? no?

    But if I have to go both/and with the Zondervanization of church pastor rock stars, well that’s where I’ll have to draw the line.

    Peace everybody .. and this has been great conversation for me. Blessings DF

  25. Obviously I’m with “the kid,” and Eugene Peterson on their comments. To those who have a problemn with my comments, are Eugene Peterson’s comments off base (that the kid quoted)? unbiblical? I think the mega-church question needs exposure because too often the underlying assumptions of the way we go about church are reinforced without ever being talked about. I hope posts like these engender serious discussion and reflection. I also hope that posts like these encourage and stir on small communal gatherings and their pastors to what God has called them to be.
    I don’t believe Gary’s both/and works all the time. But in this case I was not saying either/or, I was saying “it is more difficult,” which in a way is another version of both/and. It can be accomplished both in a mega church setting and an organic missional setting, it is just more diffcult in the mega setting. So I think Gary should be happy? no?

    But if I have to go both/and with the Zondervanization of church pastor rock stars, well that’s where I’ll have to draw the line.

    Peace everybody .. and this has been great conversation for me. Blessings DF

  26. Some of the big mega-churches realized the problem of being impersonal that they started “cell groups” (which can be frought with problems as well) which I believe were founded in the Wesley brother’s “Holy Club.”

    The point is that mega-churches have tried to account for this. The problem seems like when all the focus and energy is placed on the big meeting.

  27. Some of the big mega-churches realized the problem of being impersonal that they started “cell groups” (which can be frought with problems as well) which I believe were founded in the Wesley brother’s “Holy Club.”

    The point is that mega-churches have tried to account for this. The problem seems like when all the focus and energy is placed on the big meeting.

  28. I am not crazy about the term “missional,” as it can easily become simply a new jargon for a jargon-weary church. We have had enough in the past few decades. However, I appreciate your rant. I have been part of churches whom have grown from a simple group of believers into strong communities, but all too often they try to adopt the mega-church model late in their development. Perhaps this comes from a sense that “we can be even bigger” or perhaps a mega-church just moved into the community and the competition just got stiffer. The “conversion” to a mega-church is inevitably painful and most often requires the church to strip itself of the character that God has been forming for the community from the start. As far as I am concerned, the mega-church model has little to offer the Christian and non-christian community apart from being “just impressive” and perhaps “the best show in town.”

  29. I am not crazy about the term “missional,” as it can easily become simply a new jargon for a jargon-weary church. We have had enough in the past few decades. However, I appreciate your rant. I have been part of churches whom have grown from a simple group of believers into strong communities, but all too often they try to adopt the mega-church model late in their development. Perhaps this comes from a sense that “we can be even bigger” or perhaps a mega-church just moved into the community and the competition just got stiffer. The “conversion” to a mega-church is inevitably painful and most often requires the church to strip itself of the character that God has been forming for the community from the start. As far as I am concerned, the mega-church model has little to offer the Christian and non-christian community apart from being “just impressive” and perhaps “the best show in town.”

  30. This post has been on my mind ever since I stumbled across it earlier this afternoon. Though I’ve never been a member of a mega church, or even a very large church, so I can’t really say too much about life or spiritual formation in a mega church. There is definitely a very consumerist feel about the whole thing, and such gargantuan congregations would not be possible in many countries of the world, but these alone don’t suffice as arguments against mega churches.

    As for me, I love the missional approach, and what you’ve described as missional resonates with me, and will go into my collection of hard-copy blog posts to keep on hand for reference and encouragement.

  31. It is more difficult to yield to the Holy Spirit’s lead to deny myself than to just “go to church” and live my own life the rest of the week. As each member of His Body (not a gathering) would “take up their cross and follow Jesus,” (truly BE His disciple ) in their lives, then His Body would represent His image on this earth, and we wouldn’t have to be either “missional” or surely not “mega.” We would just “BE” his Body, reflecting His glory and we daily “pour our lives” out for others, putting aside our agendas. I guess we could first start in our own marriages where no one sees, but God Himself. I know, in my own life, I fail daily. The truth is that I want to do my own thing and not do for my husband. That’s how far I am from “being conformed to His image,” but I rely on His sword in me to do His work. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build labor in vain.” I have tried for many, many years to build this thing (said while pointing to me), and have failed. Now, I’m beginning to trust Him to build me.
    As we express the desire to be built His way and by Him, He is faithful to do it, and in Him doing it, His Kingdom does indeed come in and through us. We’ve just thought His church was made with brick and stone, but it’s in us. We walk by faith; not by sight.

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