Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I have so enjoyed my time with Michael Ross and the Cross Lanes, West Virginia church. What a wonderful, encouraging family of Christians whose love for Jesus is evident.

Last night, something happened at Cross Lanes that has never happened to me before in my ministry. They asked if I'd come back to teach again on Thursday night. Oftentimes when serving as a guest speaker, you wonder if the church is ready to get you out-of-town sooner than later.


For all you Cross Lanes folks, here is the link I promised you last night. Click here to go to Amazon's page of Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community by Philip Kenneson.


Last night, I shared the following paragraphs from Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen, Director of Mission Alive who writes periodically on mission education.

"I have found that many church leaders assume that the first step in church planting is purchasing a piece of property and constructing a church building. A church defined as 'a place where things happen' necessitates property and place. A second assumption is that church is a public 'service' organized by a staff for the giving of information or for celebration. Church becomes, to some degree, a spectator engagement. These ideas are so culturally embedded in the term 'church' that we commonly say, 'Let's go to church,' inferring place, or ask 'When does church begin?' inferring service. When American pragmatism is added to the mix, church planting becomes 'getting the largest number of people to a service in the shortest period of time.'

Within the North American cultural environment where success is defined by numerical growth, church planting is frequently the reapportioning of the Christian population. Christians sometimes flock to new churches who because of abundant financial resources have brought together the best personnel to offer better preaching, enhanced children's ministry, superior classes, and/or inspirational services than other churches. Megachurches consume smaller churches in what might be called the Wal-Martization of Christianity. The goal becomes providing more and better services, fulfilling the felt needs of the consuming population.

My devotional life and understanding of church has been enriched by Philip Kenneson's Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community. Kenneson is convicted that the church in the United States is seriously ill and aims to accurately and honestly provide both a diagnosis and remedy. He believes that 'it is quite possible for the church to be both growing and yet not bearing the fruit of the Spirit. What is happening in many cases is that the church is simply cultivating at the center of its life the seeds that the dominant culture has sown in its midst...The church that is being cultivated in the Unites States looks suspiciously like the dominant culture rather than being an alternative to it' (11-12). The question is not simply 'Is it bearing fruit?' but 'Is the fruit that the church is bearing the fruit of the Spirit?'(15). For example, the rates of divorce and premarital chastity do not significantly vary between Christians and non-Christians (16). Christians are frequently 'pledging allegiances to Christ with their lips while engaging practices that cultivate a quite different set of loyalties, dispositions and convictions' (29).

Kenneson rightly suggests that Christianity, if it is to distinctively grow in the soil of American culture, must reflect the character and mission of God 'uniquely embodied in the person of Jesus Christ' and much less perfectly 'in the life of that community animated by his Spirit' (32).

While Kenneson's Life on the Vine does not deal with church planting, many lessons can be learned about this ministry. We no longer live in a world where people ascribe to basic Christian values. Church planting which focuses on meeting people 'where they are' is doomed to synthesize the values of the dominant culture with those of Christ. We must, therefore, seek a new and different way of church planting, one which primarily looks to God for its identity and purpose and then incarnationally contextualizes these missional perspectives in local cultural contexts. This missional church understands itself as a community of disciples on a pilgrimage through life helping each other to be Christ's disciples and encouraging others to join them as they journey through life to heaven."