Friday, February 27, 2009

Worth reposting

A link to this weblog post was sent to me this week and I believe it is worth reposting here. Follow the link and watch the video before you read the post. There is a lot of wisdom regarding evangelism from a professed atheist. Check it out and feel free to return here to comment.

Talking to All Men - Life's A Blog - Ecclesia Austin



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

Rob Bell’s latest Jesus Wants to Save Christians, A Manifesto for the Church in Exile, (co-written with Don Golden) has been sitting on my “read” pile for a while so it is way past time to post some comments. Bell gets a lot of criticism from across the theological and intellectual spectrum, but I think his is an important voice in modern Christianity. One of the first things I learned as a first semester seminarian was that we all read and interpret scripture through a lens. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a lens between us and the word of God that can work to clarify or can work to distort God’s message to us through the text. For me, what is most useful about Bell’s writing and teaching is that he forces us to consider the lens through which we look. A good preacher/teacher/writer will know his or her own lens. Bell tells about his in the “Introduction to the Introduction.” He names his theology, “a particular way to read the Bible, referred to by some as a New Exodus perspective.” (p. 8) If you are not familiar with the perspective, you will have to read for yourself. I really like this book, not because of this particular perspective, but because the authors make interpretation of this sort accessible. Looking at the Bible through the New Exodus perspective will make some people feel like they are reading it upside down. Passages that may have seem familiar, passages that you may have thought you understood look different. It is not that you will always land with a changed perspective but that you might realize you have a perspective and that the words of scripture might not look the same to everyone.

Jesus Wants to Save Christians is heavy one whitespace. Just like in Velvet Elvis Bell



play with space.

That has drawn some criticism. I even said to my wife as I was reading, “This could have been a pamphlet.” But, at the end of the day, I am glad it isn’t. When we are asking the average Christian to reevaluate the worldview through which they understand the word of God. Maybe

we should


some space.



How Goes the Pathway? Part III

In part two, I left off with phase two of the pathway, so on to phase three.

Phase 3 –Mission – “What is my call from Jesus and what am I supposed to do about it?”

Again, remember that each phase offers a Bible study, a small group experience and an immersion event. We have a mix here as well as two of the offerings were created here at University and one of them was created by someone else. Also, like the other two phases, two of them are new and one has been a part of University for some time. Because all of these are dynamic and complex offerings, I will only offer a glimpse of them in this post.

Our Bible study option for this phase is something the Vision and Values Team created and our Coaching Team implemented. It is called Coaches Directed Study. I think this is one of the most exciting pieces of our pathway. This option offers participants an opportunity to explore their calling in the context of a one-on-one Bible study with one of our coaching pastors. Depending on the area of desired exploration the participant is paired with Rev. Adam Knight, our Outreach Pastor; Rev. Leslie Tomlinson, our Shepherding Pastor; or with me, our Discipleship Pastor. The coaching pastor assigns a series of scripture readings and some additional reading. The participant and the coach then meet and study together and decide on some final project that will reflect their work together. This is just a thumbnail sketch of how this all works, but we have had a lot of success with our first participants and we believe this will be a really important part of the pathway.

Our small group option for this phase was written by and will be led by our Directing Pastor, Rev. Charles Anderson. It is called The Pastor’s Academy and it is a small group course in Christian leadership. It is not designed solely for people who feel called to elected leadership in the church but for anyone who feels they may be called to be in a formal or informal leadership role in God’s church. The course will focus on attributes and practices of Godly leaders. This is a new course and will launch this fall.

Our immersion event offering for this phase has been a part of the culture of University for some time. The Walk to Emmaus is a little different than the rest because not only is this not something we wrote, it is also not something we run. The Walk to Emmaus is its own ecumenical organization and while many of our people are involved in it, it does not belong to us. To use their own words, “The Walk to Emmaus is a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders.” We have been sending people on walks for years but with the rollout of the pathway, we are doing things a little different. First, we are encouraging people to go on a walk after they have completed the other phases of the map. Second, we are encouraging people to come and meet with a coaching pastor after their walk to talk about how they are feeling led to respond to the experience.

All of the options in this last phase are designed to help people take a next step. We are hoping that people will be able to clarify where they might go next, whether that is further study and development, opportunities to serve, or a move into leadership. I get a lot of questions about what is next. The truth is that we really hope that through the pathway, we will give people the basic tools that they need to figure that out for themselves. If not, we hope that it will give people enough that they will be able to ask better questions about what is next. Our support for people in their journey of discipleship does not end, but the programmatic element does. This is a good thing. The trouble with programs is that they can leave people just waiting for the next part of the program. God has much more in store for us. God is calling us as individuals to respond to the abundant grace God offers and everyone’s response is different.

That’s where we are so far. Your thoughts questions and insights are always welcome.



Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Following up on "Some Shocking Stats"

There was some good converstation following my post linking to Adam Hamilton's weblog. See "Some Shocking Stats" (and read the comments.)

I thought this article might add to the conversation, so I add it without comment:

U.S. Protestants more loyal to toothpaste brand than church?



On Spiritual Gifts

The Barna Group has just released data from their survey on spiritual gifts. It is interesting timing because we have been talking about the use of spiritual gifts inventories as part of the Pathway to Discipleship. You can read about the survey here:

Survey Describes the Spiritual Gifts That Christians Say They Have

There are some pretty telling stats. According to the survey, among all "born again" Christians (evangelical and non-evangelical combined) only 1% claimed the gift of evangelism (that is down from 4% in 1995.) That could be a problem. Fortunately, the number who claim the gift of encouragement grew from 2% in 1995 to 6% today. The 1% who feel they have the gift of evangelism are going to need all the encouragement they can get.



Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some Shocking Stats

Adam Hamilton from Church of the Resurrection posts some pretty frightening thoughts on his weblog:

In 44 Years U.S. UMC to Be No More?




Twitter, One More Time

Lately I get less questions about scripture and theology and more about things like twitter. For some reason, for many, twitter is the most confounding thing since string theory. I have written about it and posted links, but this one is the best explanation so far. So here you go.

Twitter? It’s What You Make It
The New York Times

Published: February 12, 2009
Just another Internet time drain, or better than e-mail and phone calls combined?



Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How Goes the Pathway? Part II

In part one, I left off with phase one of the pathway, so on to phase 2.

Phase 2 – Message – “What is my ­new about Jesus and what am I supposed to do about it?”

As I mentioned in phase 1, each phase is designed to offer a choice of: a Bible study, a small group experience or an immersion event. This phase also has two out of the three up and running and again we have an offering that has been part of the church for a long time and something new. Also, as in phase one, one is something written and published by us and one that we purchase commercially.

Our small group experience for this phase is Disciple Bible Study. We use the first unit, “Becoming Disciples through Bible Study.” We have refocused this a little bit to make it part of the pathway. In the past at University, Disciple has been offered in a number of ways, some of which did not match the intention of the program. Disciple is, by design, a small group (12-15 max), discussion-based experience. University had, at times, dealt with its large number by allowing it to be a larger group and accommodated that by allowing it to become more lecture based and less discussion based. To make it appropriate for the pathway and to make it more effective overall, we have committed to only offer it as designed: small group and discussion based. The biggest challenge that we face with Disciple is scheduling. The course takes about 9 months. The only way we have figured out to make that happen is to have it start in the fall. That works out great, except for people who finish the first phase of the pathway in the late fall through summer and want to take Disciple. They have an awfully long time to wait. We also face a challenge of scale. Because we will not allow classes to grow over 15, we need to be continually recruiting new facilitators.

All of this was kept in mind as I wrote and developed our Bible study option for the phase. Because this phase is all about message and the message comes to us from scripture, all the offering in this phase are actually about Bible study. The key difference then is the size of the group. New Testament Survey: The Message of Jesus was designed to be taught in any group size. We are four weeks in to our first run and we have about 40 people. This is a ten-week class that was created from scratch and is intended to give students a “big picture” overview of the New Testament while helping them to better understand the message of Jesus. It also tries to give students some good Bible study skills to help them in the future. Classes are 1.5 hours and pretty evenly split into lecture and table discussion. Although it is not designed as a small group experience, participants do get a lot of opportunity to interact with others.

The immersion event offering for this stage is still a work in progress. I am almost ready to put in on the calendar but I am still working on the name. This is the biggest challenge for me because I believe that a real requirement of this stage is a fair amount of scripture reading. An immersion event over a couple of days or a weekend does not really provide an opportunity for that. I think what are going to end up with is an immersion event that actually requires a little upfront work. This is not totally unheard of but might be a challenging sell.

I will post soon on phase three which has the distinct honor of being complete.



p.s. It is hard for me to believe this is post 100 for my "new" blog." I waver back and forth from thinking "I feel like I just started at University yesterday," to thinking, "I feel like I have been here 5 years."

Sunday, February 1, 2009


This video has been around for a while, but it is worth posting. Take a look and then think about the questions below.

As a church, how do we respond to the radical change that is happening around us?
Knowing that the message of the Gospel does not change, how do we maintain integrity of message while adapting to be able to communicate with a changing culture?
The church originally thought that the printing press, which led to us all having our own Bibles, was a bad thing. Are there new technologies that the church is avoiding that it should be embracing?