Background: In light of everything going on in the country, I previously made a case that we need to gather people together and pray and fast. Since that post, things have continued along the same course. It’s time to become more intentional about moving forward. Please join us for a three day, virtual solemn assembly next week.
Here are the details:
When: We are holding a solemn assembly, virtually and in small groups, starting on Tuesday, April 7th at 7:00 PM Central Standard Time. The goal will be prayer meetings on Wednesday (4/8) and Thursday (4/9) as well.
How: We will gather virtually to start each meeting with the help of Zoom. People gathering are encouraged to fast for the three days of solemn assembly.
Where: To be determined. We want to gather in various places across our city in groups smaller than ten, government permitting, for those that are able and want to meet together. (More on where below.)
Who: If you are a believer in Jesus, we encourage you to join us.
Leaders: While the names of people who are leading isn’t important, we are looking for people who will join us in opening their homes for small gatherings. If you are interested in opening up your home for a group of ten or less to pray, please join us on a call to talk about the details of the upcoming solemn assembly. This call will be accessible using the following Zoom details:
Time: Mar 31, 2020 07:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 571 011 773
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It’s a little bit of an understatement to say we are living in the midst of a crisis. Unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime, COVID-19 has single-handedly brought everything in the country to a near standstill. Nothing, not terrible natural disasters, not mass shootings, not even the terror attacks on September 11th have touched this country, it seems, in the way that this virus has.
Regardless of how serious you feel the virus is itself, the crisis we find ourselves in is real. As of this writing 15,219 people are infected and 201 people have died in the United States in a very short period of time. Beyond just the physical impact to bodies, a pandemic of fear has gripped the country and measures taken to slow the spread of the virus have shut down large parts of our economy.
This is a crisis. Which is why I’m concerned.
The Church Should Lead in Times of Crisis
The church has a particular responsibility in the midst of crisis to respond with leadership and the mandate of heaven for the hour that we’re living in. So far, most of what I’ve seen has been the church following the guidance of the CDC.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to undermine or underestimate the importance of cleanliness or not touching your face, but much of the church is operating as if the only answers they have are the answers of the secular government. We should honor and respect the leadership God has given the government, but there is always more the church can do.
This is the problem. God has an answer for crisis and it’s not only sitting in front of your television in an effort not to spread disease. So much of the body of Christ has been divided into two camps: A group that is content to resemble the world, stay home, and watch Netflix or a second group that has been obsessed with trying as best as we can in a COVID-19 world to re-establish business as usual in the church. The first group acts as if this is a giant vacation. The second group has busied themselves with live streams to replace the church and online giving platforms to keep the money coming in. Both fall short of God’s plan for the church in times of crisis.
God’s Strategy for Crisis
What is God’s plan for crisis? And how do we respond? Briefly let me introduce to you to the book of Joel. It is written by a prophet caught in a crisis. Locusts have devastated Israel’s agricultural economy by eating everything. Joel, asks questions that feel so appropriate, even now:
Hear this, O elders,
And listen, all inhabitants of the land.
Has anything like this happened in your days?Joel 1:2, New American Standard Bible
Not only is there a crisis, but it’s going to get worse. Joel comes with a message from the Lord to awaken his people like a trumpet (Joel 2:1). He calls the people to gather together and consecrate a fast (Joel 1:14). The goal of the fast is a full turning back to the Lord (Joel 2:15). We’ll talk more about that in a future post, but I can’t over-emphasize a small point that you could miss. Here’s what Joel says to a people in the midst of crisis:
Blow a trumpet in Zion,Joel 2:15-15, New American Standard Bible
Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly,
Gather the people, sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and the nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom come out of his room
And the bride out of her bridal chamber.
It’s No Longer Business As Usual
Part of God’s solution in the midst of crisis is to suspend normal activity. We can’t act as if everything is normal if it’s not. It’s almost as if God is trying to shake Israel (and us) out of their spiritual sleep. Here they were in the midst of crisis and people were still separated, still taking care of the kids, still marrying and being given in marriage. And Joel, like a trumpet, says, “Stop. Quit trying to act like everything is normal. It’s not normal. This is a crisis and it demands a response from the people of God not like every day activities! Gather the people. Call a spontaneous fast. Bring together the all the people that are difficult to gather. Even stop the weddings. It’s time to respond to the Lord.”
Friends, this is the day we’re in. We are in a crisis. We cannot only respond like the rest of the world. We can’t only be concerned with keeping people in the church entertained and engaged and giving. It’s time for the church to respond with the strategy of the Lord in this hour.
We’ll talk a little bit more about what I think that looks like soon.
Those of you who have been around for awhile may know that I have a deep love for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and Nazi resistor who ultimately gave his life trying to stop Hitler and the Nazis. Bonhoeffer was a more than just a resistor, though. He understood the centrality of Christ and His Church in a way that few did in his day.
Right now I’m taking a deep dive into Bonhoeffer’s life. I think there’s a lot to learn there. Here’s a quote I ran across today:
There is a word that when a Catholic hears it kindles all his feelings of love and bliss; that stirs all the depths of his religious sensibility, from dread and awe of the Last Judgement to the sweetness of God’s presence; and that certainly awakens in him the feeling of home; the feeling that only a child has in relation to its mother, made up of gratitude, reverence and devoted love; the feeling that overcomes one when, after a long absence, one returns to one’s home, the home of one’s childhood.
And there is a word that to Protestants has the sound of something infinitely commonplace, more or less indifferent and superflous, that does not make their heart beat faster; something with which a sense of boredom is so often associated, or which at any rate does not lend wings to our religious feelings–and yet our fate is sealed if we are unable again to attach a new or perhaps very old meaning to it. Woe to us if that word does not become important to us soon again, does not become important in our lives.
Yes, the word to which I am referring is ‘Church’, the meaning of which we have forgotten and the nobility and greatness of which we propose to look at today.Dietrich Bonehoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge, Page 42
Are we not in the same place today? Do we not need to recover the meaning of the word ‘Church’ and make it central and sacred in our lives?
What It’s About:
This is an old book written in the six century by a political prisoner, Boethius, who formerly was a high ranking official in the Roman Empire. The book presents Boethius in jail being visited by Philosophy personified as a glorious woman that councils him about the meaning of life and the pursuit of virtue in his darkest hour.
What I Liked:
The book was a dialogue about the nature of life, the pursuit of virtue, and why it’s worth pursuing virtue even in the face of tremendous difficulty. In a way, this book reminded me of the book of Ecclesiastes or reading one of the well known stoic philosophers. In particular, there were a few chapters that focused on the futility of honor and titles that are conferred on you by higher authorities that is worth reading the entire book.
What I Didn’t Like:
This book was recommended to me by another believer on Twitter. I had asked my followers for their favorite Christian books that were written over 100 years ago. Having never heard of this book, I picked it up and gave it a read.
My problem with this book was that it was recommended as a Christian book when, after finishing it, I don’t believe it was. Philosophy talks to Boethisu about God regularly, but she refers to God as the highest or ultimate good. She never quotes or mentions Jesus or the Scriptures, but at length quotes Plato, Aristotle, and others.
All of this is fine if you planned on reading a book on philosophy and life. Again, there was at least one really helpful section that I felt contained a measure of earthly wisdom. But let’s not buy into the fact that just because an author uses the name “God” in a monotheistic way, that somehow baptizes the book and makes it Christian. In many ways this book follows in the footsteps of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoic philosophers, which doesn’t make it bad, but also doesn’t make Boethius a follower of Christ.
Should You Get It:
You should pick this book up for two reasons:
- You love philosophical works from over 1500 years ago.
- If you struggle with pursuing honor from others. Again, there is a section in the first half of the book about that topic that makes the whole book worth the read for just that section.
Otherwise, I would not really recommend this book.
What It’s About: A.J. Dejonge tells the autobiographical story of their time as Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) University missionaries when he and his team made a transition from a staff-led campus ministry to a student-led campus ministry. This allowed CCC staff to start and oversee multiple campus ministries at different colleges. Based on this experience, he argues that student-led (or lay-led) ministries can reach more people than any revival through the means of disciple multiplication. Dejonge contends that only catalytic ministry styles will allow CCC, other college ministries, and even the church itself achieve the multiplication disciples it is called to.
What I Liked: There was so much to like here!
First, Dejonge is clearly interested in starting movements where people need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something people who have fallen in love with Jesus should be pursuing and his passion to reach the lost is contagious. Everything that is found within the pages of this book is focused on getting more people involved in reaching those who haven’t come to love Jesus.
While the book tells the story of their campus ministry expansion, it’s organized around different proverbs that their ministry has discovered. These proverbs help tease out the wisdom of their approach of putting every day students in charge of the ministry of reaching the campus. A few of the proverbs include: “Lead only to train,” “Value transferability over personal genius,” and “The empowered masses will always outperform the professionalism of a few.” Many of these proverbs are designed to help navigate the tricky balance between being a too-heavily centralized ministry or a healthy decentralized movement.
I love how the principles found in this book don’t just apply to CCC. While everything he learned during his time is taught through the lens of a college ministry, many of the concepts of multiplication have been borrowed from experienced church multiplication experts and can be easily implemented in multiplying ministry in the church. Dejonge essentially said part of this process was designed to help his college students start churches if they graduate and move to towns where no churches exist. At the very end of the book he acknowledges he is now in the process of planting a church outside of CCC using the very principles he is writing about.
What I Didn’t Like: There’s really only one chapter of the book I didn’t like. Chapter 10 is called “Ownership and Control” and Dejonge wrestles with the question of who really owns the ministry in this chapter. By the end of the chapter, it’s clear that while Dejonge is clearly in favor of giving much of the ministry happening on each campus to the college students on each campus, at the end of the day it’s still the staff who are ultimately in charge. This seemed odd from a book called “Giving Up Control.” He talks about a nearby college ministry that wanted support, but ultimately did not want to become a CCC affiliate and then goes on to speak about the wisdom of franchises. I think here, he misses the point of humility, being teachable, and healthy response to mentors in favor a business model that is man-centered. He makes some understandable points about why CCC staff is still ultimately in control of each ministry and yet there is a sense in reading this chapter that the name and brand of the ministry may still occupy a little too high of place in the author’s mind.
Should You Get It: Probably! If you’ve never been in ministry or never thought about multiplying disciples and churches, I would likely point you to an easier entry point like “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman, because it’s more accessible for every Christian. However, if you are in any kind of leadership capacity, if you have a heart for making disciples that make disciples, if you have apostolic leanings, or you’re part of a house church or church plant, I would seriously encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. It has a lot of practical wisdom about instilling skills and competencies in people so that you can entrust the work of the Gospel to them with minimal oversight and this is critical to raising up movements of the Gospel.
What It’s About:
Rising Tides is Neil Cole’s most recent published book that looks at four “rising tides” or trends in the Earth that are changing society and are changing the narrative for how and why we “do” church. Those four trends are rapid population growth, extreme technological innovation, growing economic disparity, and increasing political polarization. After discussing these four trends he spends the rest of the book talking about changes the church as a people must make to remain relevant in a society that is increasingly different than the one the church was so successful in reaching a generation or two ago.
What I Liked:
I’m a fan of Cole’s thought process and writing. Cole was one of my early influences in my process of starting house churches. Many of the societal factors Cole describes in his book and their impact on the church are reasons why I have chosen to meet and help give birth to house churches, so I found myself nodding, agreeing, and being encouraged about how he connected daily new stories and trends in the earth to the need for a church to be simple, reproducible, and real. Towards the end of the book, the themes come together in a very prophetic way that will present a picture of how the church must change.
Of all the books of Cole’s that I have read, this book is the most “end-time-like.” While Cole dances around the idea of end-times a bit, it’s clear he sees some of these factors pointing to a definitive point in humanity’s future. While he doesn’t exactly say we are living in the last days, he makes a solid case that history is heading towards a climax of some kind and we need to make an adjustment to endure the days ahead.
In many ways this book was much like a tract for those who might not be convinced by biblical reasoning to start an organic church but may be convinced by the need and the shifting atmosphere to adjust how the church is oriented. I love books that are more like tracts and as a “convert” it was a fun read.
What I Didn’t Like:
For those of us who have read “Organic Church,” “Organic Leadership,” “Church 3.0,” and some of Neil’s other books, there’s not as many new ideas here. If you’re like me, you’ve enjoyed all these reads and came for something maybe a little fresher. There is some of that, but most of the fresh material relates to the trends affecting us currently. It’s not that these sections were bad, but they weren’t really a surprise. There was maybe a new idea every chapter or two, but much of what was found here was repackaged from some of Cole’s other works. This isn’t a problem if you’re new to Cole’s work, but for someone familiar it served mostly as a good refresher.
The other thing I struggled with was the book seemed to raise the four “rising tides” as shifts the church needed to address, but the solutions seemed to still be forming in Cole’s mind. It wasn’t that they were bad ideas–most of the problems presented by the rising tides Cole addressed with the answer of a more organic, reproducing church. Again, here I agree, but in some ways these ideas didn’t seem robust or well connected to the problems. The one Cole most thoroughly covered was how a multiplying church could keep up with population growth, but with the tides of technological innovation or economic disparity the connections to his solution were less clear. Cole himself admitted this book was written quickly in order to not become out of date and it may be that some of the ideas needed a little more time to develop.
Should You Get It:
If you’ve never read a book by Cole, I would strongly suggest it. Cole loves the church and he writes a love letter to the church begging her to recognize the times she’s living in. Once you’ve read this book, I would strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Church 3.0 or Organic Church to further explore the ideas he suggests within this book.
If you love Neil, have heard him speak a lot, or kept up with his other books, I would be a little more wary. Unless you have a need to read every book of his or haven’t thought much about how house churches keep up with an ever-changing society, this might be a redundant book.
[Editor’s Note: If you’re just joining us, we are in the middle of reading through “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. Each Monday and Thursday I’ll summarize a few important principles from a chapter in the book. Each Tuesday and Friday, I’ll apply those principles to the starfish-shaped church I believe the Lord is building in the Earth.]
“A Sea of Starfish” was the book’s attempt to give us a number of contemporary examples of starfish organizations to better get our minds around the possibilities of decentralized organizations. Skype, Craigslist, Apache, and the Burning Man festival were all profiled in order to highlight how decentralized organizations can operate without being chaotic. While all of these are “secular” organizations1, the underlying lesson this chapter teaches has much to say about how we can be faithful to how God designed the church.
The one key principal that allowed for these groups to thrive without a centralized leadership is what the authors call an “open system.” In an open system, an organization is established where everyone is allowed to participate. There is an implicit trust in the participants that they will mutually care for the group and participate in its health. Many of the decisions for open systems are decided by the participants themselves and not by a leader or an executive committee. In an open system, care for the members isn’t directed by a leader, but by other members as they see needs.
Imagine a church that operates like this. A church as an “open system” would have meetings where everyone who came could and should participate (1 Corinthians 14:26). It would trust the ministry that is often expected of one person to the whole body (Romans 12:4-8). I have to believe that such a church would continually emphasize the “one anothers” of Scripture. It would put the church in the hands of the church and in so doing, put it in the hands of Jesus.
This church wouldn’t necessarily exist without leadership. First, and primarily, each member would be individually submitted to Jesus and operate out of that submission. He will act as the true leader in the midst of such a church, orchestrating a grander plan than any of us could imagine. Because the church is an open system, mutual accountability to each other in light of Christ’s Lordship would be practiced (Ephesians 5:21). Any time a believer began to operate outside of submission to Jesus, one member within the church would correct the other. Members within this open system that are known for their submission to Jesus over time would even be given authority to protect the system but not control it (1 Peter 5:1-5, Acts 14:23, James 5:14).
This type of church is possible, but it is also messy. We get skittish the first time someone who isn’t “trained” addresses the group or they speak for way too long. The first time heresy is taught by someone within the group, we start to want to go back to the good old days. People with messy lives will be seen more often and those who are a bit more mature may be seen less. Over time, however, a church like this would grow together. They would learn how to love each other, bear with one another, correct each other in love, and everyone would gain a greater appreciation for the lordship of Christ and the truth of the Bible.
This type of “open system” church is possible, but we need to be able to embrace “the mess.” God is a God of order, for sure, but His order looks more like a forest or an ocean than like graveyard where everything is in rows. The life it produces is infinitely more valuable than predictable “meetings” with very little life. We have to trust that Jesus is able to lead every member of His body, not just a select few.
Open system churches are possible. They are biblical. They exist. What’s stopping you from being part of one?
Or even better, what’s stopping you from starting one?
1The Burning Man festival is especially not known for being a center of righteousness. While I can’t endorse everything that goes on there, I want to point out that Jesus specifically found examples of the Kingdom in every sphere of society, especially in places the religious elites never would have assumed it could be found. This is where we have to be very careful to eat the chicken and spit out the bones.
Other Entries in this Series Include: