Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Church Without Google

Francis Chan is one of my favorite preachers. I enjoy listening to him because he's insightful, witty, and authentic in his preaching. Yet, at times, I dislike it because he brings up the areas I need work in. In a sermon I was listening to today, Mr. Chan addresses something that's been bothering me recently. What do we mean when we say church? Perhaps some background is in order.

This summer, the bible study I'm a part of will be going through a series called "The Elephant Plant". The goal is to figure out how to go about planting a church in a very practical way. As I was preparing the overview for the summer, I found myself struggling with a very basic question. What is church? This is so important to me, since I want to be a pastor. I want to lead the church, but what am I wanting to lead?

I was tempted to just google the answer and get some theologian's treatise on the word. Or, perhaps just rely at what I had seen on Sunday mornings. However, I decided on a different approach. I looked at the bible. I decided to hit some of the major passages I knew taught about the church, and tried to read them point blank. I'm not too comfortable with what I found.

In Acts 2:41-47, the first picture of the church is given. I suppose the gathering of the disciples before Pentacost counts, but this is the first picture of the Holy Spirit filled church. That Holy Spirit part seems to be important. After some time, the church gets persecuted by the Jews, and gets scattered (Acts 11). Oddly enough, instead of trying to regroup, they just plant churches wherever they end up. Later, Paul, one of the lead church planters gives a picture of the leadership in these churches. In Acts 14:21-28, Paul appoints "elders" to lead the church. Later, in a letter to his spiritual son Timothy, Paul explains the qualifications of these elders, and names another group involved in the church who he calls: "deacons". In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he lists gifts that are given by the Holy Spirit to each individual, and how each gift works together to build the church.

First off - what the heck is a deacon? I mean, my church has ushers, but somehow I doubt that passing out cards and the offering bucket is really what deacons are for. Second, I don't see a pastor position specifically named, though it seems that Timothy had a role similar to our idea of it. Third, while there were house churches and large churches, they weren't staying in one spot. They were always moving out, always planting new churches wherever they ended up.

I'm concerned that I can't lead a church, because I'm not sure what church is. I'm no expert, and I'm by no means against modern church. Yet, what I see in the bible doesn't seem to fit to our modern understanding of it. The role of deacon seems pretty important, whatever role they have. Likewise, I wonder if my focus should really be on being the best pastor that I can. Maybe getting the qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3 should be my goal.
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy— one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
I may not know what everything looks like, but I do know that I can work towards these qualities. Whatever a leader in the church looks like, I want to have the character sufficient for it. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Days of Future Present

Geez, I guess I lost track of time after finals and haven't written a post since then! My last semester was a bit of a beast, and I needed a week or two to not do anything. I hope to be a bit more on top of writing.

In my down time, I found myself thinking about the future. I tend to daydream about what I want to do with my life. I've been planning to go to Brigham Young University in the Fall of 2014, and have been researching different seminaries to attend afterwards. A few weeks ago, I was even looking at mission programs in certain countries. In the midst of this, I've been preparing something for the Monday night bible study called the "Elephant Plant", where we'll be learning how to plant a church!

When I found myself thinking about the future, there were certain character traits and habits that I saw in my future me. I would be much more humble, and generous with my money. I would be constantly telling people about Jesus, and intentionally making disciples. This future me was committed to constant prayer, well versed in the bible, and a passionate worshiper. This all sounds like some idealistic dream, and I really doubt that my future will look exactly like I imagine. Despite that, this future is unobtainable if I do not make efforts to obtain it. 

My younger brother plays an online game called League of Legends. The game is immensely popular as an e-sport, and provides opportunity for several players to make a living by competing in tournaments, much like regular sports. I asked my brother how someone could become a pro-gamer who made a living off of League of Legends.
"Well, they'd have to be willing give up everything else in life and do nothing but League [of Legends]" He replied.

This video about a professional gamer, Doublelift, illustrates how much some people give up to make a living playing a video game. Becoming a pro-gamer seems like a dream to most people, and is, until someone is willing to make the sacrifices in order to do it.

This idea of sacrifice reminds me of a story I once heard. There was a certain prospector, who was looking through some old geological surveys of a small Texan town. To his delight, he realized that there was oil beneath a particularly worthless looking stretch of land. He then sold his house, his cars, and anything else he could, just to buy and drill for oil in that field. Is this sounding familiar? This story is the same parable that Jesus told in Matthew 13:44. This is what the Christian life looks like; an individual giving up everything they have for someone greater. 

How does this all tie together? In order to be that servant leader that I want to be in the future, I need to serve now, where I'm at. In order to be a missionary to some foreign nation, I need to be a missionary in my own community now. In order to be a "prayer warrior", I need to sacrifice time in my schedule for prayer now. There is an inherent danger for Christians to daydream about what their lives could be, if they only stay in the daydream. My brother might play League of Legends a lot, but he only plays for 3 or 4 hours a day. Professionals may devote 12 to 14 hours a day to the game! The prospector sells everything he owes to buy that oil field. Likewise, the leader must be willing to go "all in", for the sake of something much greater.

It's important to note that though Christians do some of the work, ultimately Jesus is the one who will change them. For some reason, I think He changes and molds Christians to be like Him, as much as they let Him. This isn’t to say that Jesus’ power is limited, rather that He lets us choose to be a part of what He’s doing. I want my life to be positioned for Jesus so that I experience the fullness of the future God has for me. That is why I believe that those dreams I have for the future will require action in the present. I need to make room in my life. In regards to leadership, I need to make room to grow. In regards to my Christianity, I need to make room for Jesus to work. What is unobtainable in my own power is obtainable in Him.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

No, you go first.

Recently, I've had to face one of my shortcomings in leadership. I was sharing some of the things I have planned for the summer concerning the Monday night bible study with a good friend of mine. Our theme this summer is church planting 101, where we, a group of unexperienced teenagers, look at what the bible says about building Christian communities everywhere we go and then do it. I was excited about all the things that we'll be covering, how to study the bible, how to train up young Christians, and how to evangelize. Now, I'm far more comfortable with the first two than with the third. As an introvert, going out of my way to talk to people is extremely hard. The idea of sharing Jesus with someone is rather terrifying for me. As I was bringing my fears up to my friend, he offered to help me to learn. What a fantastic example of leadership! He is willing to walk me through my difficulty and show me how to do it. I can't explain how much this affected me. Not only because it will help me to face my shortcomings, but because I don't have to lead the charge alone.

When I read about John the Baptist, I don't envy him. John was a scraggly man from the wilderness near Jordan. With long tangled hair, he stood by the banks of the Jordan and preached repentance. He wasn't an eloquent speaker, but people flocked to be baptized. Why? We read in the Book of Luke that John's job was to prepare the hearts of the people for Jesus. (Luke 7:25-30) He planted seeds for Jesus to harvest. When Jesus did show up, the most John got to do was dunk Jesus in the water. While it was a great honor, John didn't get to go around with Jesus while He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. Instead, John did his job, and got rewarded by being thrown in prison. (Luke 3:18-20) Hardly seems like a just reward for John, especially with all the hard work He did.

John the Baptist reminds me of the infantry scouts. Infantry scouts of the U.S. Military have the dangerous job of going out before the rest of the units, and scouting out the enemy location. As Spc. Serrano Brooks notes: "We're the ones the enemy aims for...". I have a hard time imagining anyone willingly signing up for that job. Much like John, they go ahead and prepare the way. The scouts don't have the safest job, nor do they get much glory for their work. Nevertheless, their job is essential for the success of the unit.

I used to live along the shore of a densely wooded reservoir. Whenever friends visited, I would take them along the hidden paths in the woods around the lake. The paths were fairly easy to follow in the winter when the foliage wasn't as thick, but in the spring, it was a complete jungle. A times like those, I always had to go ahead of my friends to show them where the path was, usually overgrown and hidden by greenery. Sometimes it meant I had to push a bush out of the way, or make a new path through the dense vegetation. 

How does that relate to my earlier problems with evangelism? Leaders often have the same job as John the Baptist or the scouts. Leadership is often blazing a trail for those who will follow us. (Insert obligatory reference to The Road to El Dorado). Leaders have to be walking in front of, preparing the way for, and taking the risks for the sake of those who will follow. John led people to a place where they would be open to receive Jesus, while not getting any glory himself. The scouts go in front of their unit, and locate the enemy. They risk their lives to pave a way for victory. Much like I did along the shores of the reservoir, I make the path for others in the way I'm leading.

Being a trail blazer in my life means that I have to be disciple making before I tell anyone to do it. It means I have to prepare a safe place to grow in maturity. Lastly, it means that I have to take the risks of evangelizism and being uncomfortable, so that I can be the leader I'm called to be. As I expressed to my friend, this can be a lonely job. I don't like going it alone, and sometimes I have to. Thankfully, God is graceful, and my friend is willing to work with me. My friend has already blazed the trail, and now he is teaching me how to walk down it. I'm not risking it alone, and the reward is great.