Friday, June 29, 2012

The P-Scale

p-scaleThere are a couple of simple scales that help illustrate the cultural distances between the announcers and hearers of the gospel and what it requires of each.

In an earlier post I presented the E-Scale, which represents the cultural distance that Christians go, or need to go, when sharing the gospel. This post will look at the P-Scale.

The P-Scale represents the cultural distance potential believers must move in order to join a church. Though the scale is principally a missionary tool for describing unreached people groups, it can be applied to local communities as well.

P-0: People “at home” in a local church setting.
(no cultural barriers to belief)

These people have not repented and trusted Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. They do, however, have a great portion of their social circles within the church and its culture. P-zeros would feel out of place without the church culture around them. The unfortunate TV show Good Christian Belles is probably a good example of p-zeros.

John the Baptist was reaching out to p-zeros (E-0 evangelism) when he said “Produce fruit in that shows your repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham from these rocks.” These people did not need to leave their culture, the needed to change their hearts.

P-1:  People who could “fit in” at a local church with some adjustment.(1 barrier to belief, the micro-culture of the churched )

These people are those who don’t know or use the church vocabulary. They are not generally familiar with the church life of local churches and what these churches do. They do, however fit within the same cultural framework of many of the local churches. They may have many common points of interest and concern. (In Louisiana for example, Community coffee, Saints football, Crawfish boils, fishing, hunting, weddings and funerals in churches, etc.) In general, p-ones are firmly established as unfamiliar with the church, and may even have some antagonistic feelings towards church culture.

P-2:  People who would have to sacrifice themselves culturally to belong to a local church, requiring a significant loss of friendships and family ties.
(2 barriers to belief; culture itself, and the specific church culture as well.)

People who must cross barriers of culture, race, and identity in order to join a local fellowship of believers are very unlikely to be able to do that. When a p-two hears of Jesus, he may even develop high regard for Him, but he cannot see a way to become His disciples and still remain within his natural community. Faith in Jesus can mean immediate, significant, and even life-threatening persecution.

P-3:  People for whom there is no local church they could understand or in which they could reasonably participate.
(3 barriers to belief; language and communication, culture itself, and the micro-culture of the local church.)

Probably the most obvious and immediate example of p-threes are indigenous tribes who speak a language, that has no Christian work and whose culture has not developed a way of doing church.

How is this important to obeying the Great Commission?

There is something significant to take away from this.

Simply doing evangelism across these barriers (E1, E2, E3,and E4), is not going to be effective in reaching more than the occasional one or two over a lifetime of work. The call is to make disciples within the framework of a church and that can not happen if the only kind of church that exists is linguistically, culturally, and socially distant from the potential believer.

The only way P-2 and P-3 peoples will be reached is through evangelism and discipleship that has as it primary strategy, the starting of new indigenous churches among those in each culture. (By the way, this is the distinction I was making between daughter churches (p-0), church plants (p-1), mission churches (p2, p3) and church planting (p1, p2, p3) in the earlier post.)

No one church is going to reach its town or city for Christ, especially in modern-day America. There are so many different backgrounds, languages, cultures, and tribes that any one church that attempts to reach them all will not only fail, it will probably break itself. Wise churches find the appropriate means of reaching people across each barrier, and they work together with other churches to get the job done.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Don't ask, don't tell."

"Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) was the official United States policy on homosexuals serving in the military from December 21, 1993 to September 20, 2011. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.

Steve Addison, of Movements that Change the World, just posted a nice blog entry called “They don’t ask. We don’t tell.” He makes a very good point in a tongue-in-cheek way.

The truth is, many Christians have come to an unspoken agreement with the world, that they will simply live their lives as private Christians and share the gospel only when overtly approached. This is a popular misapplication of a quote misattributed to Francis of Assisi. “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” The world responds to this truce with great enthusiasm by simply not asking any questions.

As you think about your relationships with your neighbors, co-workers, butchers, bakers, and baristas, have you been operating out of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy? How can you change that? What will change in your world if your Christianity were 100% overt? Are you willing to see that happen?

Monday, June 25, 2012

5 Priorities for a Healthy Church

1. Serious Prayer. 

The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum.  --A.W. Tozer

Though we tend to judge the health of a church by its size, its financial stability, its busy-ness, its median age, its baptism numbers, or its unity, the true measure of a church’s health can best be seen in its prayer life.  A church that does not pray, that does not pray a lot, that does not pray seriously, and does not pray pervasively is sick.

2. Centrality of Scripture.

The Bible is our final authority for faith and practice -- Bob Utley

A church that does not constantly learn and return to Scripture, and teach its members to do the same is sick. A church that focuses on precepts and principals, but does not teach its people the Scripture itself is feeding its members microwave meals and junk food.

A healthy church is one full of members who constantly engage the Bible on their own, even outside outside of church meetings, learning it, reflecting on it, singing it and sharing it with others, daily.

3. Obedience to Christ.

One of the most misquoted and misunderstood passages of the Bible is Matthew 28:18-20. Ask people, sometime, what this passage tells us to teach. I think you will be surprised by the number of people who will not say, “to obey.” -- David Watson

Healthy churches teach obedience to Christ’s commands, with baptism as the non-negotiable first step. Healthy churches are full of members who model this by being consistently obedient to the commands of Christ in public and in private, in word and in thought, regardless of the consequences.

These believers don’t leave worship gatherings satisfied to simply be inspired by new insights, rather they are resolved and committed to action.

4. Abundant, Relentless Laborers.

The Lord Jesus had compassion on the lost of this world. He sent 42 teams and said, “The harvest is ready but there is an acute shortage of harvesters.” Jesus gave a specific strategy for world evangelism “pray to the Lord of harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest fields.” Harvest is not the problem. Despite the huge Christian manpower in the world, there is a critical shortage of grass-root level harvest workers. -- Victor Choudhrie

A church whose focus is on filling the pews is sick. This kind of church keeps its laborers in bondage with assignments to simply sit passively, listen to sermons, and give money to support the show. It builds its own kingdom on a pastor’s personality at the expense of building God’s Kingdom.

Healthy churches are constantly training their people and sending them out to the harvest. They disciple from day one, not in classrooms with Bible study booklets, but by modeling and mentoring. Healthy churches never stop developing and sending new workers to strengthen existing ministries, the  start new new ones, and to labor in new harvest fields. They are always releasing their disciples to do even greater works according to their calling and giftedness.

5. Vision

Vision gets you on God's program and off your own. -- J. David Schmidt

Churches that have no understood vision or purpose other than to meet and have a worship service are very sick. Even when things are going smoothly and the church seems to be growing, a church without vision comes to a grinding halt as soon as the person they are following (usually the pastor) stops leading.

Healthy churches know what they are all about. They know their purpose and know why they are doing what they are doing. They take the great commission and build their strategies and tactics on those marching orders. Churches that do that succeed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Daughter Churches, Mission Churches, Church Plants, and Church Planting

When my sister and I were kids, our Sunday school classes moved from room to room and building to building each year. Our church was a large and growing church, and we were always being shuffled. I remember one particular Sunday my sister came up to me with her eyes wide open and a strange expression on her face. She explained that she had gone to where her class always met, only to find a large group of smiling adults speaking a different language.

Our church had sponsored the start of a Korean mission, and had given them the old church building to use as their own. Our Sunday school rooms had moved again, but we had not gotten the message. I still smile when I think of my dad laughing at Heather’s story.

Is there a difference?

Probably not, but when I hear these terms I have different images in my head.

When I think of daughter churches, I think of Bayou Rouge Baptist Church in Evergreen, Louisiana, having sent out some to start First Baptist Church, Bunkie Louisiana. There was a growing community with no church, so a daughter church was started in that area. Daughter churches are new churches of similar style to the ones that start them, but in a new geographic location.

When I think of mission churches, I think of my opening story. Mission churches are different than daughter churches, in my mind, in that they usually take on a form more appropriate for a different culture. Often they are started because of language barriers. Mission churches don’t look like the church that started them and aren’t expected to. The key is starting a new church in a new culture, rather than a new location.

When I think of church plants, I am probably further off than I should be, but the image I have is of a pastor or seminary graduate with an ideal of how church could or should be. He raises the funds and recruits people (from other churches) and starts a new church in a more contemporary flavor. Church plants are, in my admittedly unfair caricature, attempts to do church differently with hopes of appealing to people who don’t like stereotypical church culture.

When I think of church planting, I think of something that doesn’t look much like the other three. I think of bringing the gospel to households, discipling them to faith and baptizing them as a group. If the household is culturally distant from the nearest church or in a situation where aggressive gospel planting is needed, helping them covenant together to form a new church and continue doing evangelism and discipleship the same way, forming simple churches as needed and as led by God. (To get a better idea, see David Garrison’s Handy Guide)

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