Monday, March 30, 2009

Rainy Day Serving

As my small group continued to move through our most recent study - Outflow - we kicked around a few ideas about how we might do something as a group to serve others. We are planning on something in April.

A rainy Saturday and an empty nest for the weekend led Anita and I to go to the Northcross Target on a whim Saturday during the rain and walk people back and forth from their cars to the store.

A few observations:
  • Most people are surprised by kindness
  • Most people accept kindness
  • Thank you's can be said without words
  • Some people are just waiting for someone to be kind to them so they can talk
  • Even little kids notice
  • It wasn't rocket science

Steve Sjogren challenges all believers:

Whatever it is that you do, you can go about your day intentionally flinging seeds, nurturing relationships, and baring lasting fruit for God in the lives around you. If you do this, loving your city will become part of your everyday lifestyle.

It was a good day in the rain Saturday, flinging seeds.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tell Stories

Continuing the conversation from yesterday:

Bob Buford - entrepreneur, founder of Leadership Network, author of the Halftime book series - is in a conversation with Moe Girkins, CEO of Zondervan, about a future where the world of the printed page is changing as a generation of nonreaders takes over. The digital wave is coming full force - or is it?

Buford recalls a Bible study he did some years back on the parables of Jesus. It's so powerful and applicable here it is in its entirety:

This sounds very new, but it is pure first century. This weekend with all this tech stuff/reality-based sharing in mind, I found in my journals a study I did seven years ago about the Parables of Jesus. It is said there are two ways of teaching – the Greek way (very linear and logical outline form (I. A. B. C., II. A. B. C.), one idea builds on another to form a conclusion. Most university teaching fits this model. The other model is rabbinic teaching (“that reminds me of a story”). Jesus taught almost entirely through stories and personal example (the cross). That is the way the next generation seems to want to learn – in community – through stories and authentic experience (e.g. Twitter, text messaging). In the parables, Jesus was rabbinic (no surprise). No professional footnoted papers -- just stories – stories concentrated on two main themes.

Eleven stories about forgiveness (the theological term is grace):
1. The Wheat and the Tares -- Matthew 13:24-30
2. The Unmerciful Servant – Matthew 13:23-35
3. The Laborers in the Vineyard – Matthew 20:1-16
4. The Two Sons – Matthew 21:28-32
5. The Two Debtors – Luke 7:41-43
6. The Friend at Midnight – Luke 11:5-8
7. The Lost Sheep – Matthew 18:12-14
8. The Lost Piece of Money – Luke 15:8-10
9. The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32
10. The Unjust Steward – Luke 16:1-9
11. The Unjust Judge – Luke 18:1-8

Eleven stories about risk, responsibility and accountability (what I now call “Release”):
1. The Sower – Matthew 13:5-8
2. The Mustard Seed – Matthew 13:31,32
3. The Leaven – Matthew 13:33
4. The Ten Virgins – Matthew 25:1-13
5. The Talents – Matthew 25:14-30
6. The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37
7. The Rich Fool – Luke 12:16-21
8. The Barren Fig Tree – Luke 13:6-9
9. The Rich Man and Lazarus – Luce 16:19-31
10. The Pharisee and the Publican – Luke 18:10-14
11. The Pounds – Luke 19:12-27

Look ’em up. They are all stories, no big theories.

Buford's summary:
The way Jesus taught is very like the way people are learning today. There is much distrust of credentialed experts, and institutions. Teaching by personal example (“follow me”).

Permission stories – stories of “people like me” – flawed and forgiven. Release, risk and responsibility stories – growing the seed that has been planted in you. Accountability. “Manage Yourself in Community” stories.

Sounds to me like where the Moe-assisted world is going: back to stories, parables of real time/real life.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Read to Lead

Bob Buford, the entrepreneur behind the start of the Leadership Network and author of the Halftime series of books, had some very interesting comments recently about the future direction of learning by reading.

He recently spent the day with Moe Girkins, the CEO of Zondervan, the Christian publisher. Zondervan finds the world of the printed page changing rapidly as a new generation of nonreaders takes over So the Rupert Murdock owned print empire has gone for a new approach in running Zondervan. All of Moe Girkins’ experience and background is in technology -- Motorola, Wireless and Dell. She has no experience at all in books. Buford had the following comment:

I received a great lesson from Moe about the changing nature in the book world --, Kindle, Walter Issacson, former editor of TIME, cancelling his years-long New York Times subscription – he gets his news on the Internet -- Facebook, ceaseless text messaging, on and on and on. Moe told me, what to me was, an eye-opening fact. She asked, “Guess how many books the average American reads after they leave formal education?” After I said I had no idea, she held up one finger. I said, “No!” She said, “Yes, just one.” I expect I spend about fifteen or twenty hours a week reading and this was a jolt to me. Though not entirely, because my friend, Tom Luce, recently the Deputy of Education in Washington DC, had told me that virtually none of his young politically absorbed associates read The New York Times, The Washington Post, or long David McCullough books about former presidents. They go directly to the Net.

I had recently read that statistic in a couple of other places, and was surprised. As I have mentioned before, reading is an important part of my heritage, present reality, and something that my children seem to enjoy as well. To me, reading is the ultimate way to develop yourself and get insight on becoming the best leader you can be. Steve Sjorgen noted these reasons for reading (from Community of Kindness):
  • Reading increases your well-roundedness
  • Reading gives you consistent sources to draw from
  • Reading is very attractive to big thinkers and other highly skilled leaders
  • Reading helps you develop insight
  • Reading breeds wisdom

So how do these two very different realities co-exist? How do we communicate the importance of reading to a generation (or two) that no longer finds it important?

There's more to the Bob Buford story - but that's for tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

City Vision?

Where there is no vision
the people find another parish

Serving Your City Through Vision

The Book of Acts chronicles the explosion of the church across the known world. It's pretty clear those churches had more in mind than raising money for building programs or worrying about Sunday School attendance. Their vision was far bigger than that. They pictured entire cities coming into the kingdom of God. It's a good thing they did because if they had been self-focused, money-minded, or culturally timid, none of us would know Christ today.

Paul's letters to the church in Galatia, the church in Corinth, the church in Phillippi, and the church in Rome reflect the evidence that those churches understood God had huge plans for their cities.

Two thousand years later, the vision of many of today's church leaders has shrunk down to surviving financially or maintaining a few ministry programs in a neighborhood. It's time for every Christian to begin connecting with God's heart for the area he or she lives in and begin feeling His compassion for the people there. Pray that God will open your eyes and ears to the people who live in your city. Pray even harder that God will give you his compassion for your city. It's out of this compassion that a true vision will crystallize.

-Steve Sjorgen and Dave Ping, Outflow

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Job I Would Like When I Grow Up

The Life Group we host at our house is working through Outflow by Steve Sjogren and Dave Ping. The subtitle is pretty descriptive: outward-focused living in a self-focused world. We've had some good discussions so far, and I'm looking forward to this week's session as we look at practical ways to impact our community.

As a part of my preparation, I've been re-reading some of Sjogren's earlier works, and one in particular - Community of Kindness - has some really good nuggets in it. Like this one:

Become an "atmosphere artist" - in other words,
build a place where Jesus is warmly encountered.
Architects are primarily artists - they design buildings that are things of beauty. The most famous architects design buildings that people never forget. Church leaders need to have that same kind of mindset, but in a much more important way: where architects bring beauty out of bricks and mortar to the world, church leaders bring great gifts that change the world. Those gifts are the communities that bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.
Church leaders have the opportunity to design the atmosphere - the feel, experience, and environment of all the various areas of church life. It's a great opportunity - and also a large task.
How are you at being an "experience architect"?

That Vision Thing

Over the last few weeks I have been talking to several churches about vision and direction. The common theme in all of these directions is that the churches don't have a vision, or at least one that can be articulated by their leaders. You can be sure that if the leadership of your church can't state its vision, then the typical member can't either, and that is a big problem.

A companion to no vision, or a fuzzy vision, is a vision that is generic. Tim Stevens, of Granger Community Church, had this to say about vision:

If someone hasn't left your church recently,
you vision is probably too broad.
It's great for a church to say "We want to reach the world", and "Our vision is to glorify God." Sounds great, but doesn't impact your community with life-changing actions.
Will Mancini, in Church Unique, challenges the church to identify its Kingdom Concept in order to be a powerful force for God's work in its community. The 3-part Kingdom Concept is all about vision, and it starts with "The Local Predicament." What are the unique needs and opportunities where God has placed your church?
Geography is a starting place for narrowing your vision. Yes, your church should have the concept of reaching the world in its heart, but if you don't have a focus to reach your specific community, then your efforts will be diluted.
Stevens goes on to suggest these directions for a church that's just starting or one that's going through a major change:
  • Start very focused - Have a laser-targeted vision for your church as a whole, and then for each event or outreach as well. Who are you trying to reach with your weekend service? with your web site? with your children's programming?
  • Do a few things well - don't try to be all things to all people. Figure out your core competencies, and knock the ball out of the park.
  • Add slowly - Take on one major new outreach or ministry each year that helps you reach your target. Raise up leaders, but don't launch ministries until you have identified a trained leader to run point.

If you begin to narrow your focus, someone in your church will probably leave because you aren't meeting their specific needs. It's OK. Free them to follow God's directions for their lives; encourage them in seeking a church that provides what they're looking for.

Friday, March 20, 2009

GrandBob and Jack

The name of this blog, 27gen, comes from the average span of years between my father, me, my son Jonathan, and my grandson Jack. That's four generations of Adams boys!

Most of the time I'm writing about life in and through the church - especially as it pertains to the rapid changes for future generations, but also how it hasn't changed over the years.
This week we celebrated Jack's first birthday in Boone, NC. A few pictures today in celebration of that event, and of the wonderful, challenging future that awaits Jack.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Persistent Grace

Encouraged by John Newton's admonitions, William Wilberforce continued his fight to end the slave trade for many years. Even after suffering defeat after defeat, Wilberforce returned to Newton's words:

Though you have not, as yet, fully succeeded in your persevering endeavors to abolish the slave trade, the business is still in process.

But the grace of persistence shored up his ailing body and tortured spirit, giving him the strength he needed to see another day. On February 23, 1807 - twenty years after he had originally taken up the cause - the House of Commons rose to its feet in tribute to William Wilberforce. Cheering the weeping champion of abolition, they proceeded to vote by an overwhelming majority to abolish the slave trade throughout the British Empire.

A few months later, John Newton, the man who had encouraged Wilberforce to enter and continue the battle, died. But not before seeing the fulfillment of his prophetic admonition of William Wilberforce: Though he had enemies, they could not prevail against him. And not without seeing his young friend live out the lyrics he had penned many years before.

Persistent Grace
Lasting redemption often demands persistent dedication.

For an inspiring story on how the lives of John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace, and William Wilberforce, the politician who led the fight against slave trade in England, see the book Finding God in the Story of Amazing Grace by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Active Engagement

Calling Grace

William Wilberforce was a wealthy and gifted young man who decided to run for elections as a member of the House of Commons. Because he was so well known in his district, he had no problem being elected - and reelected many times. Yet as his political career continued to climb, a series of events led to what he termed "the Great Change." In travels across Europe with a friend, he came to accept the grace of Jesus Christ, achieving a settled conviction in his mind of the truth of Christianity.

Within months, Wilberforce found himself troubled by the implications his conversion carried with it. He knew such beliefs required one to act upon them, not merely give vague intellectual assent. It even led to his consideration leaving the Parliament to enter a life of solitude. This possibility led to a series of conversations with his closest friend William Pitt and his boyhood preacher, John Newton. In their own ways, each encouraged Wilberforce to view public life as the place where he might do all the good possible in service to Christ.

Wilberforce chose to "remain where Providence placed me". His decision to fulfill the calling of God to "love thy neighbor as thyself" by using his influence in the Parliament.

The call of God makes secular duties a sacred vocation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Power of Love

Restraining Grace

One of the reasons John Newton sailed from England instead of the more lucrative America's trade routes was simple love: he had fallen head over heels for Mary Catlett, the daughter of one of his late mother's closest friends. The trade routes to the Mediterranean at least allowed him to return to see her about once a year. Once, staying too long, he was pressed into the service of the Royal Navy - a five year journey that would surely mean the end of his relationship with Mary.

Despairing of her love, he even contemplated throwing himself into the sea in an act of final desperation. Yet incredible as it may sound, romantic love may sometimes have the potential to become a powerful vehicle of redeeming grace in the life of a fallen man. Later in life he wrote that only the thought of Mary kept him from any rash actions, and he waited and persevered throughout the long years to return to her.

God protects us from ourselves by the power of love

Grace Along the Journey

For John Newton, life was a miracle of grace from beginning to end. One of the most miraculous things about it was the way God spoke to him at every stage, surrounding him with assurances of His love and care.

Warning Grace

At age 17 Newton sailed away on a merchant ship bound for the Mediterranean. After the terrible disappointment of his mother's death, Newton began sailing on ships at age 11. He was "exposed to the company and ill example of the common sailors." His mother's teachings faded away, and he "was making large strides towards a total apostasy from God."

At this point, he had a dream - a vision where God visited him with a warning. He came to see it as a symbolic representation of the direction his life was taking and a solemn indication of the risk he ran in despising the treasure entrusted to him in early childhood. Many years later he would look back and recall the details of the dream and he marveled at the miracle of warning grace that had been granted to him even while in a state of stubborn, self-willed rebellion.

God has provided us clues for the journey.

Monday, March 9, 2009


As I have posted recently, the story of the intertwining of the lives of John Newton and William Wilberforce continues to have a profound impact on my life. Here is a brief introduction to these men:

John Newton - former merchant captain, pastor in the Church of England, composer of over 300 hymns - the most famous of which is Amazing Grace

William Wilberforce - wealthy member of Parliament who upon his conversion experience, led a 40+ year fight against slavery in Britain.

My introduction to the wonderful story of these two men may have been a video, but the more I research and study, the more "amazing" I find the grace of God.

The book Finding God in the Story of Amazing Grace by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware is a powerful but simple introduction to some vignettes in the lives of these two men and the circle of influence that surrounded them. In a quick succession of brief biographical chapters describing a different kind of grace, the authors give us a wonderfully rich illustration of the grace that only God can give.

Look for signs of God's grace in these brief glimpses of the lives of John Newton and William Wilberforce - and you will find them in your own life.

Maternal Grace - John Newton's mother Elizabeth was a solid Christian lady who made sure her son was brought up in the faith. As a boy, John loved his mother deeply and followed her teachings - until her tragic death when he was only 7 years old. As a young adult, anger at God for his mother's death took him far from God. But God was never far from him; later as an adult he wrote often of the memory of his mother and how her faith guided him even when he wasn't aware of it. That's the power of a mother's love.
In the beginning, there is grace.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Completing the DNA of the Church

Today will wrap up a quick review of Howard Snyder's book Decoding the Church.

The church is both local and universal. The author suggests that "universal" is a better word than little c "catholic", the word used in the original marks. That may be true, but catholic is a word rich in history and meaning. Brian McLaren, in his book a Generous Orthodoxy, has a great chapter on this history that you would find very interesting.

The church exists simultaneously as the worldwide body of Christ and as very diverse, particular local communities, each with its own special flavor, style, and culture. The church both transcends culture and immerses itself in particular culture.

Biblically, the church is both local and universal. The NT use of the word "church" shows this (Matt. 16:18, Acts 8:1, Eph. 1:22). The book of Acts has examples throughout its history of the early Christian communities that also support the concept. The NT puts at least as much stress on the local character of the church as it does on it universality. We miss the richness of the church's DNA if we fail to see this.

The church is just as truly prophetic as it is apostolic. The biblical pairing of "apostles and prophets" throughout the NT signals that the two belong together (Luke 1:76, Heb 3:1, Eph. 2:20). The church is apostolic in the sense that it is sent into the world as the Father send Jesus, sent to continue the works He began (John 14:12). Faithfulness to the words, works, and life of Jesus Christ together define the real meaning of apostolic succession.

But the church is prophetic as well as apostolic. This is true in two ways: First, the church is an actual community that visibly incarnates the prophetic messages of justice, mercy, and truth found throughout the OT prophetic books and in the life of Jesus. Second, the church is prophetic in proclaiming the good news of the reign of God within the present world.

Being "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph. 2:20) means the church is an apostolic people, not just a church with apostles; it means being a prophetic people, not just a church with prophets. Churches demonstrate this reality when all the gifts, functioning corporately, constitute the church a prophetic people (1 Cor. 12-14; Eph. 4:7-16; Rom. 12:4-10).

The full range of Scripture reveals that the church is both one and diverse, both holy and charismatic, both universal and local, both apostolic and prophetic. The church becomes powerfully dynamic in any context when these paired marks become its experience. When they don't, Christians are robbed of essential parts of their genetic endowment.

Have you checked the DNA of your church lately?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Church is Charismatic as Well as Holy

This is the second of four posts reviewing Howard Snyder's Decoding the Church, a book looking at the DNA of the church. Historically, the four marks of the church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic - have given the church its genetic code. Snyder's contention is that these are only half of the code, and true to the form of DNA, there are four complementary characteristics.

The same Holy Spirit who sanctifies the church invests it with diverse gifts. It is the Holy Spirit who gives gifts. The church functions best with both the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit, incarnating both the character and the charisma of Jesus. Several Scriptures directly link the holy (sacred or set-apart) character of the church with its being a gift-endowed community of the Spirit (Acts 1:8, Heb 2:4, 1 Peter 2:9). The church is also described in Scripture as holy and charismatic (Acts 4:31, 9:31, I Corinthians 3:16).

Historically, the church has found it hard to hold these two characteristics together, both in theology and in practice. Church history offers various examples of the tensions at this point. For example, consider the early twentieth century split in the Holiness Movement that produced modern-Day Pentecostalism. It seems that the church has difficulty holding the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit together in creative balance.

A comment made to me recently in the context of a meeting with a potential client reinforced this. Speaking of the changes that he had observed in his church and the general religious climate, he depicted two churches: a "God church" where worship was proscribed, programs were in place, and you were expected to follow the status quo. There was also a "Jesus church", where you reached out to those different than you, and made intentional efforts to impact people's lives in positive ways that reflected Christ's love. I thought that was a brilliant comment and analysis!

What about your church? Do you experience this tension of holy and charismatic? Just as importantly, what about you? After all, you, individually, are a part of the body of Christ!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Church is not only One; it is Many

Diving a little deeper into Howard Snyder's Decoding the Church, here is the first of four posts that look at the biblical foundation for his supposition that the church's historical "marks" of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic are only half of a church's DNA.

The New Testament record of the birth of the church at Jerusalem and its spread to Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth and beyond show the rich diversity of the church. They had unity in the worship of a risen Christ, but the churches also celebrated the ethnic, socioeconomic, and class diversity of the people who made up the church.

My thanks to Pastor Sam Vassel of Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene for the following thoughts on the leaders at the church at Antioch. Acts 13 refers by name to the leaders of the church: Barnabas (a Jewish businessman), Simeon called Niger (the black one), Lucius of Cyrene (an African), Manaen - half brother to Herod the Tetrarch (the aristocrat) and Saul (the rabbi). Quite a diverse group of leaders!

This is but one example of the unity we have in Christ but also the diversity that makes this unity so miraculous. Unity in spite of great diversity is one of the most amazing things about the early church.

The "one body, many members" teachings in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 can be applied to the universal as well as the local church. The church, locally and globally, is both one and many.

Is your church DNA a balance of the two? Or does it slide more one way, or the other?

Monday, March 2, 2009

The "Marks" of the Church

Howard Snyder has written a fascinating book entitled "Decoding the Church". Using the genetic code of DNA as the model, it delves into theological analysis, biblical principles, and practical application for understanding the structure and mission of the church today. This week I'm going to pull some of the key learnings from the book and take a look at the DNA of the church.

Snyder begins by recalling the Nicene Creed and its profound impact on the structure and thought of the church today. The Council of Nicea declared that the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Christians of different traditions have accepted these four classic characteristics of the church as fundamental components of its DNA. These four classic characteristics, or "marks" have been accepted throughout the centuries. And yet, is there more?

According to Snyder's thought patterns, the marks only tell half the story. They highlight only one side of the church's DNA. It would be more biblically accurate to say that the church is:

  • Diverse as well as One

  • Charismatic as well as Holy

  • Local as well as Catholic or Universal

  • Prophetic as well as Apostolic

The genetic code of DNA helps complete the picture. DNA is always made up of four base pairs of compounds. The components of each pair are not opposites but are complementary. Likewise, the contrasting set of marks listed above are not in opposition to each other but are instead complementary. They are essential truths that are at tension with yet necessary to each other.

If the church operates out of the classic marks of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, then it in effect is living with only half of its DNA. When churches operate with their full DNA, the become the wonderful organism of the church. The church is simultaneously one and diverse, holy and charismatic, catholic and local, apostolic and prophetic. The two contrasting sets of characteristics together make up the complex reality of the church. Each pair represents complementary facets of the church's life that are essential to its genetic makeup.

If your church began to think more in organic terms, defining the church as the body instead of as an organization or building, what changes might occur?

Snow Day at the Home Office

One of the benefits of working out of my home office is that my commute on a snowy day is not dangerous at all! This is the view I awoke to this morning - about 5-6" of snow on top of some ice.

My day was scheduled for client review and meeting prep for the week, so the weather isn't going to affect that at all. Later today or tonight I plan to begin a series of posts about church DNA - drop back in to view them.