And Sometimes God Says “No”

It started with a good quiet time and a handful of ideas I thought could change Cayman.

All right, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but that’s how I was feeling. Glowing like Moses post-Sinai, I rejoined the Israelites to watch each idea get shot down by reality, the final straw being a unique ministry opportunity that, fortunately or unfortunately, didn’t come to fruition. I was crushed. And not just for the rest of the day. I was miserable for the rest of the week. I felt like I was in the five stages of grief and hadn’t arrived at acceptance yet. I was angry, blaming and resenting everyone around me, envious of the satisfaction everyone else seemed to have, wondering how God could be so cruel. I threw my tablets on the ground and resolved not to dream again. But somewhere in the fury it occurred to me this was the first time in a long time God called me to wait. And once I thought about it I could see why.

How we wait speaks volumes to what we believe about God. If we’re filled with trust, we’re more likely to press into his presence and listen for his leading. If you’re anything like me you kick, scream, and try to find a loophole. As much as I like to believe God smiles on my tenacity, if I’m honest, most of my franticness is actually lack of faith in the sovereignty of God disguised as holy ambition. In all my efforts to make things happen I tend to overlook that it’s the Holy Spirit that changes people’s lives, not my brilliant programming. I don’t have to run every ministry. In fact, it’s better I don’t. Being told to wait exposed the idol in my heart, the reality that I believe I am God. And if God granted me everything my heart desired he’d only be encouraging my delusion while robbing himself of glory. I’d crumble beneath the pressure, leaving a trail of half-built ministries and hardly discipled believers in my wake.

The other day I met with a student who’s been outside our InterVarsity chapter. All last semester I invited them to things and all last semester they avoided me like I was the repo man. Yet lately there seems to be an openness to Jesus. I asked them what happened and they told me they talked with a family member and realized they wanted change. It had absolutely nothing to do with me! I was almost insulted God had been working behind-the-scenes (how dare he! He only sent his Son to die for them). I’m finding more and more ministry works best when I’m cooperating with God’s timing, following his leading and not rushing into things praying he blesses them.

Cayman has grown me in a lot of ways but if there’s one area I’ve gotten worse it’s this. When I first came on staff God gave me an image of a little boy and his father working on a car in a garage. The boy had a plastic wrench. The father held the real one. This is what campus is like. God does the heavy lifting and I’m the boy with a plastic wrench just happy to be in the garage with my Father, honored that he’d even let me share in his work. I’d do well to remember.

Microsites, Multi-sites, and House Churches: Will Technology be Our Demise? (Part II)

Before we attempt to tackle the question of how technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we do church, we first must return to the question of what the church is. Typically when we think of church we think of the building we visit on Sunday mornings. But what does that mean for the persecuted church that doesn’t get the luxury of ornate buildings? Does an abandoned edifice standing as a relic of what used to be a vibrant community still constitute as church?

Though it’s become a given, it bears repeating the church has never been a building. The original Greek word we translated as “church”, “ecclesia,” actually means “assembly.” The church is a people. Instead of a two-hour event you attend, it’s a body you are a part of. Even when the people of God are homeless, when they assemble the church is in full effect. And because the church is a people it’s much more dynamic than we give it credit for (third place ministries are great examples of this), which is where we get into the gift of technology.

When I lived in Tampa there was a period of time when particular groups went missing from service on Sunday mornings. Because our church was a network of micro churches, all of them doing mission throughout the week, Sunday acted as a conference of missionaries I eagerly looked forward to. And because some of these people missing were students I led, I felt responsible to get to the bottom of it. As it turned out certain micro churches were streaming the service as a community. We called them microsites; and as dismayed as I was I wouldn’t see certain friends of mine on Sunday, there was a sense something greater was in progress. Our church was in the process of planting a similar movement in St. Petersburg, Florida and live streaming was a way of empowering them to do mission in their context while still being connected to, and loved by, the greater community.

House churches have been around since the beginning of the early church but when streaming gets involved it opens the door for microsites. These microsites, like any house church really, have the potential to take on a life all their own. In cases like the Village Church or LifeChurch.tv, they can evolve into whole campuses with their own pastor while remaining connected to the nucleus via live feed. Other times the site becomes its own entity with its own structure. If you grant the premise (which some won’t) the church is worship, community, and mission then these microsites can be churches in and of themselves with the unique advantage they don’t look like churches.

As we enter into an increasingly post-Christian, post-modern era asking someone to come to our church is becoming a bigger threshold to cross. Some don’t feel “ready” to attend a church service and, while I do agree after a certain point they must get past this, house churches can serve as an entry point into Christian community. It’s a way to bring church to people who feel outside of God’s grace. House churches have been powerful instruments in the past (and undoubtedly still are), but technology provides a way for the church’s influence to carry to places and people groups we didn’t previously think possible.

Borders, Circuit City, and the Local Church: Will Technology be Our Demise?

It seems as if a new wave is rising in Cayman of young people streaming Sunday services from their houses. You ask them what church they attend and they timidly confess (because Cayman is a bit behind on the times) they watch church from home. These aren’t naïve new Christians afraid of church discipline. These are passionate disciples of Jesus who just can’t seem to find what they’re looking for in the local congregation.

But what happens when every passionate Christian has traded the biblical command to continue meeting with one another for viewing individual Sunday services from other countries in their homes? Will it cause the death of the local church? The answer is a complex one – one that I don’t have totally worked out nor have the space to fully answer here but the answer lies in our response to the question of what “the church” is and what “the church” does.

If “church” was a chapel or cathedral we visit weekly to pay our respects to God, sing songs, and listen to a sermon then yes the local church might be in danger of getting outsourced. But “the church” is more than that. Yes, part of church is worshipping God through music, teaching, and prayer but the church is a family of other believers, the local expression of it being a community you are loved by, held accountable to, and speak life into your circumstances. Sitting in your house streaming church by yourself falls short for a few reasons. First, you can’t be community by yourself and second, it bypasses the horizontal aspect of following Jesus. While it may be a convenient way to avoid church politics, a huge part of our discipleship happens in the context of community. We can listen to a ten-week series on the theological significance of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we can even be taught how to do it, but the discipleship cycle isn’t complete until we’ve actually loved someone.

But more than loving other Christians, church is also where you are equipped and sent to love the lost. Whereas community challenges our individualism, mission defies our consumerism. To skip out on Sundays because our individual needs aren’t being met implies the church exists for us; and though we are part of the church, the church has a mission it’s trying to accomplish, a place it’s trying to reach. Sitting at home alone doesn’t catapult into God’s redemptive work in the world nor does it provide people to share in that mission with. Few things disciple believers being on the front lines.

If church, at its core, is about worship, community, mission, and discipleship, my fear for this generation is it settling for a cheap imitation of church convincing ourselves it’s the real deal. Church is, and must be, more than us individually streaming Sunday services in our living room. It must be more than Sunday services in general.

However, because the church is a people and not a building, I believe “the church” is much more fluid than we think. While technology could hurt us (our weaknesses are our strengths used less than optimally), I don’t believe it will. We still long to be part of something bigger ourselves. However, I do believe technology will transform what church looks like. And that, my friends, is for another post.

Remembering the Afflicted

When asked if he felt as if people forgot about the Occupy movement after the cameras left, famous rapper, Lupe Fiasco, remarked that part of what cameras do is highlight something and, in the process, bring it to the forefront of our minds but when they leave so does our recollection of that event. Last week I wrote about the shooting in Isla Vista and the tragedy that was. But upon further reflection I recognize this same forgetting principle to be at work in my life, not just about this event but most things.

Last Fourth of July I was devastated to hear about a five-year old boy who was hit by a bullet in what appeared to be a gang-related shooting in Chicago. He was rushed to the hospital where there was no guarantee he would make it. I silently vowed to follow the story to the end. Unfortunately, this paragraph is the first time I’ve remembered since it happened.

The beauty of the news is it brings the tragedies of the world to our attention. The scandal, however, lies in how quickly we forget. Unless we’re personally affected, things are back to normal the next day. But even after the cameras disappear and the pain is no longer in the spotlight, the afflicted community will continue to wrestle with the disaster. The hurt and shock of Isla Vista will exist even after we’ve forgotten (as it has in Newtown, Aurora, Boston, Malaysia, and Nigeria). This past week I’ve been reminded of this luxury I have, which those in the situation don’t: I get the option to forget.

But then of course some would disagree and rightly so. First, I don’t know if it’s possible for us to constantly carry the woes of the entire world and still function like normal human beings. Perhaps it’s God’s grace towards us that, to some small extent, we get the option of what we remember (granted there are things we wish we could forget). Second, things must get back to normal. As much as we want to stop, life continues and we must learn to live with it. But lastly, the real scandal is that there are some tragedies we don’t get to forget because they never made it on our radar in first place.

This past month and a half the Bible Study that meets in my house went through David Platt’s Radical, in which he tells us that 30,000 children around the world die every day in obscurity from starvation and preventable diseases. Roughly one billion people survive on less than a dollar a day while another two billion live on less than two. We get the luxury to operate as if they don’t exist. But just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not real.

In a society bound to forget, the first step of standing in solidarity with “the suffering” is to remember even after the world has forgotten, to develop what Gary Haugen in The Good News About Injustice calls object permanence towards evil.

While I don’t necessarily know what this looks like in situations such as Isla Vista, one of the best ways to remember is to invest in it. If the issue as to why we can’t remember lies in its distance from us (emotional or geographical), investing (time or money) brings it closer to home. Suddenly the afflicted have a name, a face, and a story. And when they have a name, a face, and a story we are more inclined to act on their behalf. As followers of Jesus, I don’t believe this is optional.

This week my wife and I are taking time to pray, asking God how he’s calling us to remember those we’re inclined to forget. Will you join us?