Thursday, December 21, 2006

Giving Yourself A Christmas Gift?

Here are some recommendations and reprises from earlier posts. But first, four recent buys of mine to recommend, and of which I will have more to say soon I am sure. [And don't forget Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism, Skinner House, 2006, edited by Kathleen Rolenz. Go to www.uua.org/skinner.

1. The new book to begin it all. Ed Stetzer's Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church that's biblically sound and reaching people in culture (2006). This is the new place I would start for any church planting conversation and effort, replacing Aubrey Malphurs or Ralph Moore's. It is comprehensive, and so there is a lot left unsaid about each of the models, but he includes good places to go to get more depth on whether it is house church network or rapid large start or others. I liked this one much better than his previous one on planting churches in a postmodern age, which was too laden with theological/culturalese. It probably goes without saying I think he is wrong on what constitutes biblically soundness, but don't let that stop you. And don't pass this one up even if you aren't involved or interested in church plant; the principles are good for looking at what you will need to do and be within existing churches to keep up with all the new being planted around you anyway. So it applies to new ministries within existing churches.

A few nuggets:

Today's church planter should be 1. missional. 2. incarnational. 3. theological. 4. ecclesiological. 5. spiritual.

objections that hold people back from church planting:
1. large church mentality. The newer the church, not the bigger the church, the more effective it is at reaching unchurched, dechurched.
2. parish-church mind-set. have to get beyond geographical limitations and turf politeness. [Alert to my UU readers, though I know this is a mainline issue as well in some places].
In 1900, 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1950, 17 churches for same number. In 2000, dropped to 12 churches per, and in 2004, dropped again to 11 church per 10,000 Americans.
3. professional-church syndrome. Have to break out of church equals seminary trained pastor model, particularly as churches begin to multiple themselves.
4. rescue-the-dying syndrome. have to break out of addiction of rescuing the dying churches within movements before starting new ones. Look at how resources are allocated on national level.
5. already-reached myth. Or I would call it the "they will find us if they need us" mentality. Goes along with buying into the secular myth that faith communities aren't needed for the wholeness/salvation of the soul, can do it alone.

Check back for much more out of and about this new resource.

2. Future Church: ministry in a post-seeker age by Jim Wilson with foreword by Sally Morgenthaler (2004). It has a kind of Len Sweet feel to it but with a more conservative theological orientation, maybe Barna-light. Very story-oriented, which is good. Seven main connections based on a set of assumptions and questions for the church trying to meet the future now (also a good connection with Reggie McNeal's book The Present Future, also based on a question and response format, though there are more stories in this one by Wilson). Definitely good for those looking at how to keep connected to existing churches and move them through transformation to revolution. Here are the seven levers (ways you can look at your ministry setting):

Get Creative: CW says that people don't want to be "preached to" and told how to live. They prefeer to set their own rules for living and rely on the entertainment industry--cinemas, sporting events, and theaters--for their inspiration. What is the church's response?
Get Spiritual: CW says that one religion is as good as another. Christians are often viewed as mean-spirited, narrow-minded bigots. Gurus, mystics, and psychics are as legitimate as priests, rabbis, and minister's in today's supercharged environment. What is the church's response?
Get Radical: CW says that emerging generations lack real purpose and are drifting through life. They've become cynical, not really believing that anything can make society--or their souls--whole again. What is the church's response?
Get Real: CW says that current culture will not tolerate duplicity and will immediately dismiss anyone who says one thing and does another. They are suspicious of anything is slick, orchestrated, or too good to be true. What is the church's response?
Get Truthful: CW says that people no longer believe in absolute truth and are suspicious of experts, institutions, and anyone who makes exclusive claims. What is the church's response?
Get Multi: CW says that culture celebrates diversity and loathes intolerance. Emerging generations don't want to be pigeonholed or lumped into a group. What is the church's response?
Get Connected: CW says that people are isolated from one another and are destined to drift from one failed relationship to another. What is the church's response?

There's a "sermon series" or conversational topics for you. Need more progressives responding from our biblical basis to these same touchstones.

3. Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a religious revolutionary, by Marcus Borg (2006). Get inspired by the Jesus Borg rightly points to, and then put Stetzer, Wilson, et al into practice. Here is a good updating, retelling of the progressive Christian encounter with Jesus and the Risen Christ as the spirit of Jesus in our lives and world today. Combines the best of his previous works (and you can see that he is incorporated the responses to the opposition of that work) into one "unifying vision for a critical time" as the blurb puts it. If you are already familiar with Borg's works, then it is still worthwhile for the epilogue on Jesus and American Christianity today. In it he connects his work with the emergent and emerging Christianity, and is in favor of the transformation of the church. Maybe it is beyond his purview or passion, but as he does a good job of extolling the importance of churches ("God can do without churches. But we can't.") I wish there was some nod not only to the theological transformation of the existing mainline churches but to the need for new progressive church plants to be better able to create in their initial DNA this kind vision of Jesus.

4. The Churching of America: 1776-2005, by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke (2006). I am a big Stark fan. If you want to read a thesis on why the congregationalists/Unitarians are so small compared to even others in the mainline, not to mention the 20th century evangelicals, and why the mainlines are succombing to this as well and the evangelicals might be on the verge of it, and the rise of Mormonism, et al as other new "upstarts" then this is the book. Develops his/their thesis of religious economy that he used on new religious movements. Great diagnosis of the reasons mergers and unifications and ecumenical enterprises in general (UU alert) don't live up to the expectations of their dreamers and founders. His thesis is that we have gotten more religious and spiritual involvement from colonial days, but our blinders and perferences for establishment churches of that era have kept us from being able to see this. [Barna might point out that church affiliation is a loose notion and doesn't equate with conviction and committment, and why we are still in an unchurched, dechurched era, but that is part of the fluid notion that might send evangelicals the same way as other dominant groups in the past; still a good conversation I would like to listen to is one between Stark and Barna; does anyone know if it has existed?]....The "less regulated" the religious economy of the culture is, the easier for new starts to take the field. [I wonder if you could apply this also to the "regulation" of a local church group, and one of the reasons why mainlines decline has been their committment to regulation and control, ala Easum and Bandy's work]....Interesting commentary here on the "audience economy" of the New Age movements, and why they don't think it signals a significant growth in the American religious landscape [wonder how it might also apply to churches and the post-denominational "dabbling" though?]. And finally they disagree that there has been a seismic shift from mainline decline to evangelical eruption; rather they see it as something happening gradually over a couple of hundred years, and media attention seemed to propel it in people's perception. The market share of the churches had been dwindling all along. And, just because once large groups are now small, doesn't necessarily mean they will be able to rise in market share again. They repeat their arguement from previous books that more than anything else it is putting a high cost on membership and applying strict boundaries is what propels a church. But that alone doesn't work either. Many will become so strict in such a way as to fail. As he wrote in One True God, they also include the role of theological belief in an active, exclusionary God in offering the rewards that drive allegiance. Opening up a place for experimental, innovative new churches is also key, and here mainlines have failed in the past. The path is to increase tension with the outside culture. [on this point more to come from me post-holiday crush].

And don't forget "The Shaping of Things To Come" by Frost and Hirsch, "Emerging Churches" by Gibbs and Bolger, "Organic Church" by Neil Cole and "Revolution" by George Barna. All of which have their own posts elsewhere in the blog. Blessings.