The Kingdom Perspective

November 13, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #8

 Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

At the heart of the lawsuit that “defeated” the Corinthian church was a self-centered short sightedness. Lost in the dispute was the greater good and larger vision of the kingdom. It is not difficult to see why. Likely an injustice had been done; feelings were hurt; rights were violated; money or something of monetary value was likely involved (which always seems to ratchet up the stakes); the church had failed in peacefully resolving the issue; and as a consequence all thoughts of the kingdom were shoved aside. No kingdom revolution breaking out here—just business as the unbelieving world defined it—thus their defeat.

Which is why into this Paul reintroduced the kingdom perspective. There was another way to handle this dispute—a revolutionary way of taking the loss; being wronged and cheated—for the sake of kingdom peace and prosperity. Nowhere else would this be put forth as a solution. Yes, the kingdom is more important than personal rights. Yes, the kingdom is worth more than monetary gain. Something bigger than just me is going on here.

It is an Eternal Perspective

Another way to frame the Corinthian dispute is to view it through an eternal verses temporal lens. Those engaged in the lawsuit were merely reacting to and being driven by the moment. That, then, led to disastrous results. The kingdom perspective, which Paul taught, had the eternal component. Making decisions based upon that perspective changes things—how we feel, react, process, and behave in any given circumstance. He would remind the Corinthians of this in another letter:

Therefore do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Contextually Paul offered this kingdom perspective to the Corinthians as a part of his teaching on his ministry of reconciliation and how he personally processed challenges. Applying it to their earlier lawsuit problem it fits in seamlessly with his advice to take the loss. The lawsuit should have been considered a “light and momentary” trouble. Being wronged and cheated—the revolutionary kingdom approach—would have merely then been an investment into achieving eternal glory, which in comparison made the loss insignificant. This could have been done only by swallowing up the seen into the unseen and discerning the eternal out of the temporary. Once the bigger picture was given precedent, the lawsuit along with the heated emotions that triggered it, would have faded away in favor of the values of the kingdom.

Nothing to Gain Here

Recall Christ’s teaching about gaining the entire world but losing our souls in Matthew 16:25-27. This reflects the temporal versus eternal tension also. If we give into the moment to gain its rewards, but lose sight of the eternal will and perspective of God, what have we really accomplished? Was winning a lawsuit against another believer while bringing defeat and shame upon the church really worth it? Not much upside to that from a kingdom perspective.

Peter certainly had the kingdom perspective in mind when he wrote concerning end times:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed it’s coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12)

He speaks of the ultimate temporal versus eternal tension that will be permanently resolved on the day of Christ’s coming. The treasure we lay up on earth? Gone. Our light and momentary problems? Over. All the losses we endured for the kingdom’s sake? Rewarded. This is the overarching and revolutionary backdrop upon which to place our entire approach to life. Holy and godly living combined with an ever-present anticipation of the kingdom fully coming completely changes things. With this type of kingdom perspective even the idea of a lawsuit would have never surfaced in Corinth. In the big picture of the kingdom there was nothing at all to gain from it.

Not My Will

Of course, Christ personified perfectly this kingdom perspective. It is what governed his life; it is how he came to make personal decisions; it is what enabled him to carry out completely the will of the Father. Note what the Hebrew writer says of him while encouraging us to “fix our eyes” on his example:

Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

What joy was found in a Roman cross? Absolutely none. It offered nothing but excruciating agony. In the moment no one desires that—even Christ. But he knew joy within it from the kingdom perspective. He took the loss so that we could achieve greater glory. That was the only way he could approach and finish it. The moment itself was too disheartening (as are many moments) but against anticipating the “joy set before him” he endured it. He gave up his rights; he did not insist on his way. He subjected his will to the Father’s (Luke 22:42) so that none of us would be defeated.

So to conclude this section of text—the simplest way to understand the kingdom perspective embedded within it is for us to let the Father’s will have preeminence in all we do—even if that means taking the loss; being wronged and cheated for the kingdom’s sake. It is not about insisting on getting my way and pursuing my rights; creating strife, division, or turmoil in the body of Christ; about temporary gain at the cost of the kingdom. It is about discerning the difference between temporary and eternal while living holy and godly lives with that framing and driving our decisions; it is about knowing that the only way to overcome the defeatism of the moment is to invest ourselves and our recourses into the eternal. It is about fixing our eyes on the unseen—on Christ—and always living in the moment with the eternal in mind. This is the kingdom revolution that indeed changes everything!

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The Kingdom of Peace

October 23, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #6

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

In sorting through the tense situation created by the lawsuit between brothers in the Corinthian congregation it is clear that Paul was disappointed because they did not seek a spiritually based solution within the context of the church. Not only did this heighten the conflict amidst the congregation, it also took that disagreement public. Not a good look for that church in any possible way. This is why he used the term “defeated.” They had undermined their ability to witness to the harmony and peace of God and his kingdom to a world absent and in need of both.

The “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is highly valued in the kingdom of God. Peacemakers are also highly valued (Matthew 5:9). Peace is so highly valued that—if necessary—we may be asked to sacrifice and release our personal rights to maintain it. That was exactly what Paul put before the Corinthians—be wronged or cheated if necessary to maintain the peace of the kingdom.

It is my guess that this probably was not an idea they immediately and gladly embraced—nor likely do we.

Godly Discernment

Our inclination to pursue our individual rights and interests is usually fairly strong. This is likely why the Corinthian lawsuit happened. Yet the kingdom puts forth this different ethic—one in which the rights and interests of others are to be valued even more than our own. Christ lived it. He died doing it. But that still does not make it necessarily inviting or attractive.

And there is a fine line involved here that calls upon mature, godly discernment. Our decisions are to be framed within the context of the kingdom. Jesus did what he did not for self-martyrdom or because he was weak or spineless. He made his choice to do the will of the Father because of the larger vision—the salvation of mankind. He made the revolutionary choice to put kingdom priorities above all else in order for (among other things) the peace of God to reign.

This—in a micro-sense—was what Paul was asking of those involved in the lawsuit. He was not asking them to be someone’s doormat; to continually, purposely put themselves in situations where they would be wronged; to go out of their way to be cheated; to somehow continually put up with someone’s sinful behavior. He was, however, asking them—within the context of that specific situation—to put the good of the kingdom above their own rights for the purpose of maintaining peace and solving conflict. In so doing they would not be disqualified to witness to others of the kingdom. (If revolutionaries abandon their principles, they cease to become revolutionaries.) It is about discerning situations and doing what is best for the kingdom within them—even if that means making personal sacrifices.

Peace—As far as it depends upon us

In all situations—promoting and maintaining peace is what is best for the kingdom. While conflict cannot always be avoided, the revolutionary idea of the kingdom is that even within strife, there can be peace—with this peace eventually winning the day and resolving the conflict, even if that means sacrificing to make it happen.

Listen to more from Paul:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18)

Peace in the Corinthian situation depended upon someone taking the loss. It was the kingdom way and this way was far better than the alternative in furthering the kingdom purpose. This, then, is the criterion. Do my actions reflect the kingdom? Are my choices harming or hindering it? Am I a being a peacemaker or troublemaker? Am I doing everything possible to live at peace? How would applying these principles have changed the dynamic in the Corinthian conflict? What about our conflicts?

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and those in authority, that we all may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Peaceful lives lived out within a community is what pleases God. It serves the kingdom purpose of seeking salvation for all. The Corinthian lawsuit had the opposite effect. Was it worth the damage just to pursue an individual right?

Peter adds:

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone. Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:16-17)

Free men have rights—even then under the Roman system of government, but pursuing those rights at all costs is not the kingdom call. Something bigger is going on than just us. Peter’s teaching here indicates that. We live in relationship to others around us—within and without the church. We live in relationship with God and within a community of people. Within it all we are to be first and foremost servants of God. That shapes everything we do and how we relate to everyone else.

As far as it depends on us—to process everything through the lens of the kingdom; to understand something bigger is afoot than just us and our individual rights; to discern what is best in any given situation for the kingdom’s sake; and to make the choice that best reflects the will of God and maintaining peace—even if that means taking the loss, being wronged and cheated; all for the sake of that something bigger—the furtherance of the kingdom and the salvation of all men.

We do so understanding that if we truly seek first the kingdom of God, that all we may sacrifice to do so will be returned to us with even more blessings. That is the kingdom promise.


Redefining Personal Rights

October 19, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #5

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

The Corinthian Situation

These words were among those written by Paul in response to a letter he received from a lady named Chloe who was a part of the infant church in Corinth. Being a first generation church it was experiencing severe challenges transitioning from a secular worldview to a kingdom one. Chloe detailed those challenges to Paul and he responded. We know that response as the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians.

The problems that plagued the Corinthian church were rooted in immaturity along with a lack of understanding (and embracing) of kingdom values. They had yet to be completely revolutionized. In the specific context of our scripture reference it was evident in their handling of some type of legal dispute among Christians. Instead of assisting those at odds and seeking a resolution within the church setting, this dispute spilled over into the greater community and into the secular court system. Paul was most displeased at this news.

“You have been completely defeated already.”

Instead of seeking outside counsel, Paul would have had them adjudicate the situation among themselves—making the case that the discernment of Christians (who are to judge the angels, he teaches) should be superior to that of ungodly outsiders. It was also a matter of perception—what kind of witness to the kingdom was this in their community? The entire situation was so shameful that Paul laments, stating how they were already defeated in their pursuit of the revolutionary values of the kingdom. Infighting? Lawsuits between Christians taken before unbelievers in the state court system? Not exactly the kind of kingdom revolution to which they were called.

So Paul offers another viewpoint on the situation and it, not unexpectedly, is quite different and revolutionary. If worse comes to worse. If the dispute cannot be resolved, then his divine advice was to take a loss, be wronged, and be cheated for the kingdom’s sake. If the dispute cannot be handled among the church; if a solution cannot be found within; do not take it to the courts; just take the loss. That is the kingdom way. The health, harmony, progress, and witness of the kingdom is worth far more than whatever gain was involved in winning the dispute.

Don’t be defeated by ungodly greed, revenge, and pursuit of personal rights at all costs. Allow kingdom values to reframe the approach even to the point of completely redefining personal rights.

While this was revolutionary then, it may be even more so for us now (with our deeply ingrained American “rugged individualism” and hard fought history of securing personal and civil rights). This revolution did not start with Paul however. As with all other kingdom related values, it has its roots in Christ.

Lose Life to Gain It

Embedded within the kingdom has always been a paradoxical idea about self-interests. It runs counter to our natural inclinations. Our nature calls upon us to pursue our self-interests above all else. If that means allowing a dispute with another Christian to spill over into court in order to prove my case and be vindicated—so be it—regardless of the collateral damage to the kingdom. But that is just not the kingdom way. Listen to Christ:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for may sake will find it.  What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:25-26)

Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians simply echoes these words of Jesus. In the kingdom there is a different personal ethic at play. Pursuing the kingdom shuffles the deck. No longer are my personal rights preeminent. No longer do I seek my self-interests above all else. No longer do I insist on having my way. And even if it comes to it—I am willing to be wronged and to be cheated for the kingdom sake. What good is it to win a lawsuit if it defeats my purpose within the kingdom? Instead I lose my life and in the process find an entirely different and more meaningful way to measure and value my life.

This is the revolutionary attitude and understanding that put Christ on the cross.

Our Attitude Should Be the Same as His

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Just how tough are these words to process for us? My guess is about like those who first heard Paul’s teaching in Corinth. Who wants to be wronged or cheated? Who really considers other’s better than themselves? Is it even possible to not have selfish ambition?

Again the answers to these questions are found in Christ. He was wronged. He was cheated. His only ambition was to submit to the Father’s will for our sake—so that we could find our life in him. And we are to emulate his attitude!

For a couple of Corinthian Christians involved in a dispute this meant forgoing the lawsuit as well as redefining what personal rights meant within the kingdom context. What does it mean for us? Using this Corinthian text as our backdrop we will explore that in the next few lessons.

The ideas put forth here are only found in the kingdom of God. Nowhere else is such an ethic found. Nowhere else but in the kingdom of the humble, meek, pure, and redeemed.

 


Closing the Gender Gap

October 5, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #4

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28

Women in the Roman World

During much of the first century Roman world, which is the context of the New Testament, women were in no way considered equal to men and were regulated to certain well-defined roles. There were variations within this system due to social standing, wealth and other factors, but for the most part in the Roman culture the woman’s main role was to marry (usually very young), have numerous children (due to the high infant mortality rate), and take care of the home. Women from lower classes quite frequently held jobs outside of the home (in such areas as agriculture, markets,  crafts; as midwives and as wet-nurses, etc.), but were otherwise still very limited within the Roman culture.

Perhaps the best way to frame the existing gender gap is to understand the established Roman family system. Family units—wives, children, slaves—were headed by the most senior male within the family (the paterfamilias). He had all legal rights over his daughters until they were married (again often at an early age and often in an arranged marriage). Girls growing up in this system (among the more elite) would be given an education, but were always under the control of a male. After she married the control shifted to her husband. A proper Roman woman would busy herself with the details of her home, her children, spend her time weaving clothes for the family and taking care of the family needs. Even her name indicated her unequal status to men. It was the common practice that a daughter took her father’s name and feminized it. While legally should could inherit property, she would have to always have a male representing her interests in it. It was truly a heavily male-oriented culture. One writer bluntly states:

Roman women didn’t get equal rights with men. Roman law continued to insist that women could not be emperors, or be in the Roman Senate, or govern a province, or join the army. Men could beat or rape their wives, just as they beat and raped their slaves. A Roman woman could divorce her husband, but generally he kept the children. Women who were Slaves were frequently physically and sexually abused, and often saw their children killed or sold away from them. (From Women in Ancient Rome by K.E. Carr) 

Another historian notes:

A dichotomy existed within the lives of Roman women. They did have some personal freedoms, but they had little chance for individuality or personal choice. They were under the constant supervision of their fathers, male relatives, and husbands, who regularly kissed them on the mouth to find out if they had drunk wine. Drinking wine was strictly forbidden for Roman women and they could be punished by death. In Memorable Deeds and Sayings from the first century AD, Maximus tells us how Egnatius Metellus beat his wife to death for drinking wine. It was believed that wine caused women to have adulterous relationships, which were very common since so many marriages took place for political or economic reasons, not for love or passion. Women found to have committed adultery could be put to death by their fathers or guardians. Women often married men who were much older than themselves. They married whoever they were told to. (from Ancient Roman Women: A Look at their Lives by Moya K. Mason)

These two quotes, then demonstrate how, in general, women were viewed and treated in Paul’s context when he wrote the Galatian letter. To be fair there were exceptions to this (women with three children and freedwomen with four children had expanded legal rights for instance) and at the close of the first century a notable change within the empire occurred granting women heretofore unprecedented rights (coincidence?)

All One in Christ Jesus

So to those who first heard these words of Paul, they had to sound quite radical and revolutionary. Nowhere else within that context would they had been spoken. Religiously, women within Rome did participate and occasionally even lead certain rites and rituals (Vestal Virgins for instance—serving the Roman goddess, Vesta), but in no way were they considered equal with men. Jewish women, in general, enjoyed a slightly more elevated position within their culture, but again, theirs was also a male-dominated existence. The idea then that there is neither male nor female was then quite shocking!

Meaning and Practice

Obviously Paul was not suggesting some type of absence or denial of gender or gender roles. Just as with the other relationships he addresses in our Galatian text, the idea put forth is that in the kingdom everyone is elevated equally through Christ and by the grace of God. Male and female, therefore, in God’s kingdom all have equal status; equal access to the blessings and rewards of the kingdom; they are equally valued and needed within the kingdom; and they should be treated with mutual respect and honor. In God’s kingdom women are in no way inferior to men and should not be treated as such. Jesus died to make it so.

This high value of women is noted throughout the New Testament and within the church. Note Paul’s specific mention of many women within the churches in his letters (in Romans 16 for instance). This kind of recognition and praise was most uncommon.

Gifted women are named throughout the New Testament (Phoebe, who was a deaconess—Romans 16:1-2; Phillip’s prophetic daughters—Acts 21:9; Dorcas the dressmaker—Acts 9:36-43; Priscilla, co-teacher of the gospel with her husband—Acts 18; Eunice and Lois, Timothy’s mother and grandmother—2 Timothy 1:5). And while men were given the overall headship and spiritual leadership within the home and the church (Ephesians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 11:3), along with that is a rather revolutionary idea that within the home there is a mutual submission also practiced (Ephesians 5:21); that men are to love their wives just as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25) and as he loves himself, showing her respect (Ephesians 5:33). Beyond the home, Paul also indicates that women used their giftedness within the church—women praying and prophesying within the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).

As we process this teaching—at a point and place in which women have historically unprecedented rights and equality—they likely do not resonate as strongly as they did within the first century. Women then hearing a message of equality; of respectful treatment; of a place that valued her gifts; had to wonder if it were true. For men hearing the message it was nothing short of scandal. But it was a message flowing directly out of the grace, love and mercy of God; a message of how different his kingdom was from any other; a message, again, that eventually changed an empire.

For anyone paying attention though, it is not that shocking. Look no further than Christ’s incredible treatment and acceptance of women within his ministry. He truly is the great equalizer. Only through him could this happen—neither male nor female. Remember the overarching goal is unity in him. He bridges the gap between slave and free; he overcomes the hostility between Jew and Greek. He closes the gender gap. In his kingdom all are welcome and all are equal. Everyone has a place. Everyone has a gift. Everyone is needed. It is the revolution of the kingdom—a revolution still ongoing.

Let’s just be sure we are among the revolutionaries in advancing the kingdom in every way and all of the blessings within it available to everyone.


Social Revolution: Neither Slave nor Free

September 25, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #3

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28

Slavery in the Roman Empire

Slavery within the Roman Empire was not racially based. Slaves were primarily made up of people from conquered nations who were sold into the slave networks that supplied much of the labor that fueled the continued expansion of the empire. Piracy (through raiding and capturing) also added to the slave rolls. Claiming abandoned babies (unfortunately a rather common practice known as “exposure”) for the singular purpose of selling them (when of age) in the slave markets also contributed to the slave supply. And there were also generational slaves—the offspring of slaves who continued to belong to the house that owned their parents (slaves were by law not allowed to marry).

Slaves were a commodity within the Roman Empire. The empire depended upon the labor they provided to function. According to various estimates slaves made up approximately 30-35% of the population throughout the empire. They had no legal rights (until the latter stages of the empire—an important note); could not own prosperity; and belonged completely to their owners—considered nothing more than property by them. One historian noted:

Slaves were the lowest class of society and even freed criminals had more rights. Slaves had no rights at all in fact and certainly no legal status or individuality. They could not create relations or families, nor could they own property. To all intents and purposes they were merely the property of a particular owner, just like any other piece of property – a building, a chair or a vase – the only difference was that they could speak…Slaves were, for many of the Roman elite, a status symbol and, therefore, the more (and the more exotic) one had, the better, so that wealthy Romans very often appeared in public accompanied by an entourage of as many as 15 slaves. (Mark Cartwright; Slavery in the Roman World on the “Ancient History Encyclopedia” website.)

The circumstances of slaves varied according to their abilities and owners. Slaves who were educated and/or skilled in a craft would fare better than others. They would typically be owned by wealthier families in cities—serving as tutors or using their skills to earn money for their master (and even for themselves—slaves were allowed to earn money and could even purchase their own freedom, which was called “manumission”). Those without skills often would work in harsher conditions in rural areas on farms or used in brothels. The owners always dictated daily life for slaves—some could be kind; others could be cruel.

For the most part slaves accepted their lot in life in the Roman Empire. On occasion some would rebel. Perhaps the most famous such rebellion took place in 73 BC led by a gladiator slave named, Spartacus. It ended with the rebellion crushed by General Pompey; Spartacus dead; and 6000 of his fellow slaves rebels crucified along a 120 mile section of the Appian Way between Rome and Capua. Choosing between crucifixion and slavery—most chose slavery. Again the historian notes:

The entire Roman state and cultural apparatus was, then, built on the exploitation of one part of the population to provide for the other part. Regarded as no more than a commodity, any good treatment a slave received was largely only to preserve their value as a worker and as an asset in the case of future sale. No doubt, some slave owners were more generous than others and there was, in a few cases, the possibility of earning one’s freedom but the harsh day-to-day reality of the vast majority of Roman slaves was certainly an unenviable one. (see above reference.)

Neither Slave Nor Free

It was into this culture that Paul spoke these words to the Galatian churches—and quite revolutionary words they were. It was nothing short of a social revolution. As noted, slaves were property—not people. The idea that there was no difference between slave and owner; that owner and slave were somehow equals; that they would sit down as brothers and sisters—was outrageously scandalous—socially in every way. The socio-economic gap between slave and owner within the Roman Empire was just too vast; too culturally entrenched; even too politically significant to be bridged, but yet here is Paul saying, that in Christ, it can be. To understand and accomplish this took an entirely new and revolutionary way of ordering things. It took the kingdom way.

Paul and Slavery

It is quite notable that the apostle Paul never called for the end of slavery or for the emancipation of slaves. Certainly he recognized its unjust, cruel, dehumanizing, and exploitative nature, yet he was not divinely directed to end it. How could his words to the Galatians be reconciled to this? How could there truly be no slave or free if slavery continued to exist? In answering this question the true revolutionary nature of the kingdom is revealed.

Much like Christ—whose teaching, while not overtly political, deeply subverted the cultural norms—Paul subverted the accepted slave/owner relationship. He does so by calling upon slaves to see their work for their owners as working for the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25), which was quite a revolutionary thought. Doing that would be a game-changer in that slaves would give full effort in their labor, not hold back, rebel, or steal from their owners (see also Titus 2:9-10). It would reorient the slave and redefine his purpose. His purpose now became a kingdom purpose. His owner now became someone to win for Christ and working for him as if he was working for the Lord was his venue to do it. This is why Paul concluded his Titus teaching to slaves by saying, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our savior attractive.” Slaves as evangelists to their owners? Subversive indeed. So much so that Paul could ask slaves to even reimagine themselves as free—free to serve God through the purchase price of the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22-23).

Interestingly enough he also asked those who were free to reimagine themselves as slaves in the same text—their purchase price being one into slavery to serve the higher cause of Jesus. Christ is the great equalizer in this situation. God is not respecter of persons in this regard. Being clothed with him changes identities—that of Christian slave owner as well. Paul commanded them to not mistreat, be harsh or threaten their slaves, but to be fair and just—treating them kindly—while reminding them that they too have a Master in heaven (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). And then there is the way he seeks to resolve the conflict between Onesimus, a runaway slave, and his Christian owner, Philemon. He appeals to Philemon to accept Onesimus back not as a slave but as a brother and reframes the value of Onesimus not in market terms, but in kingdom terms. If the institution of slavery was to change for the better within Rome or eventually end, this is the way it would. Not through rebellion would it happen. Rome would and did brutally crush those. It would change when slave owner and slave began relating to one another through the revolutionary teaching of the kingdom of God. Then and only then would everything change—and it did. While slavery did not end completely, slaves eventually gained more legal rights within the empire. Was this chance or did the growing influence of God’s kingdom have something to do with it? No where else would you see slave and owner sitting together as one—brought together in Christ Jesus. No longer wearing the clothes of a slave or owner, but of Christ.

“Class warfare” or “identity politics” only serve to heighten and further social divisions. The kingdom of God serves to help us overcome such social constraints and unite in the common cause of Christ; to understand that our value is not tied to our socio-economic status or political identity in our particular culture. If Christ can remake the slave/master relationship, there is no social barrier he cannot overcome. The kingdom is for all and welcomes all to unite in Christ.


Five Reasons Why Churches Won’t Grow

September 19, 2017

dying church

Although never voiced I have discovered that there is usually a degree of internal institutional opposition when it comes to church growth. It is not just that churches don’t grow; often it is they won’t grow. Here are five reasons why:

  • Lack of intentionality. For a church to grow it must plan to grow. It must be purposeful in evangelism. It must expect growth along with anticipating how to manage it. A church that grows is intentional about sharing God’s message; intentional about being hospitable to guests; intentional about assimilating new members in a healthy fashion; intentional about building meaningful relationships. They intentionally plant, water and are ready when God gives the increase.
  • Maxed out leadership. This includes maxed out vision for the church body and maxed out ability to manage the church body. A church will grow only as far as its leadership envisions and leads. When a leadership settles for status quo so does the church. Growing churches have leaders who walk by faith, not sight; who raise up new leaders to share in and expand their vision while escaping burnout; and who create an atmosphere for growth.
  • Apathy. Often churches are inwardly focused—more concerned and urgent about members needs then about outreach. This challenges every church. But beware! Apathy may be comfortable, but apathy dooms churches.
  • Fear. Fear is apathy’s partner. Fear presents all sorts of barriers (both real and imagined) to growth. Fear paralyzes leadership. Fear stymies vision, innovation, boldness and outreach. According to the Bible it is a spirit foreign to God.
  • Tradition. Tradition can be healthy. Some ritual is God-ordained–an essential and extremely meaningful part of our church life. Tradition helps define us as a community of faith, but frequently tradition can also be limiting to growth. Because we have never done it that way before does not necessarily mean it cannot be done that way. If tradition or traditional thinking is limiting a church’s ability to evangelize, then there should be a reevaluation of that tradition and thinking.

Avoid these not-so fab five at all costs! They are preventing churches everywhere from realizing the potential God sees within them for outreach and growth. Haven’t we let them stop us long enough?

(Bible verses referenced include 1 Corinthians 3:7; 11:23-26; 2 Corinthians 5:7 & 2 Timothy 1:7)

 

 

 

 


Becoming an Effective Assimilating Church

April 20, 2017

This was a presentation I gave in a class at Levy. 

If a congregation becomes successful in becoming a visitor friendly church, a good percentage of guests will desire to transition into permanent membership. That is a wonderful and desired result of a relevant welcome ministry. It also brings with it challenges of assimilation—moving guests into involved membership.

Just as with becoming visitor friendly, assimilating new members into involved membership must be an intentional effort by a church. If not, then many unwelcome consequences could occur—including missing out on the giftedness of new members, alienation of new members eager to plug-in, and of course, ultimately losing the new members altogether. This is why it is just as imperative to become an effective assimilating church as it is becoming a visitor friendly church.

All Have Gifts

In the apostle Paul’s divine efforts to correct the dysfunctional situation among the Corinthian church he left us with a beautiful text on how the church functions as a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-25). Here he emphasized that in order to operate at its highest level the church needs every member in place and functioning efficiently—everyone has a place and everyone is needed in their place for God’s church to be healthy and growing.

Within this text is the idea that every member has a gift to offer and contribute to the overall health of the body. In fact, Paul teaches, God put every member in exactly the right place within the body to best use the gifts he gives them (vs. 18).

So everyone is gifted. God has put every new member coming into the Levy family into the body exactly as he desires. He recreated them to fit and plug right into the body of Christ. It then becomes up to local body to help them assimilate in order for them to use that gift.

Purposeful Assimilation

To become an effective assimilating church means making the transition from guest to involved member as seamless as possible. Included in this process is:

  • Giving the new member an easy entry point to consider how and where to get involved. This is one purpose of our Levy 101 orientation class—to offer an introduction to the church and provide ministry information along with a simple and understandable way to sign up for ministries that connect and relate to each new member. Whatever the method/approach an effective assimilating church will provide each new member timely ministry information and have a proactive process in place to help them find where they fit—along with an encouraging atmosphere for getting involved. Many new members come into the church with an expectation of this—desiring to plug-in and make a difference. This is one of the strongest characteristics of the millennial generation, for example. So it is essential for effective assimilating churches to provide an entry point to involvement.
  • There must be timely follow-up by ministry leaders/deacons, etc. After providing an entry point the next step is to share the information provided by new members to appropriate ministry leaders. Once this information is passed on, the ministry leader should be ready to contact the new members in order to help them connect and become involved in their ministries. This allows the new members to start contributing to the work of the church and the overall kingdom quickly, which also gives them a sense of purpose and place in their new church home. It demonstrates that their new church takes seriously God’s call for everyone to use their gifts for ministry. If anywhere along the way, this process breaks down or is not in place, then it can adversely affect the new member’s relationship with the congregation, while also hurting the church by not utilizing the giftedness of the new member. Going back to the Corinthian context, it is a way for the eye to say to the ear that it is not needed. Our ministry leaders and deacons are greatly appreciated for their dedication in using their gifts to volunteer and lead ministries. An important part of that is to be sensitive to new members, always being prompt in reaching out to them if they have indicated interest in their ministry area.
  • Continuing focus on involvement and growing gifts of ministry. Assimilating churches work to create a climate of involvement beyond the details of a specific welcoming/assimilating ministry. Ministry fairs, tools to help members identify their personal ministry gifts, leadership being open to new ministry ideas from within membership, giving honor and appreciation to those involved in various ministries, etc. all work to help plug-in members and encourage them to grow their gifts of ministry. And while some of this will organically happen (which is also very healthy) an effective assimilating church will be very intentional in helping create this kind of climate.

Closing the Back Door

One significant characteristic of an effective assimilating church is that they limit the number of members leaving through the “back door,” that is, members leaving due to not being involved, becoming distant from the congregation at large, and deciding to go elsewhere. Certainly, involvement must generate from within individuals. Even the best assimilating approach will fail if a person decides not to become active within a church, but the back door will stay wide-open for churches who are not intentionally seeking ways for members—new and old—to become and stay involved in ministry that makes a kingdom difference in their community.

It is an entire church initiative. All of us—even if we are not a ministry leader—can help in the assimilating process and help close the back door. There are social aspects involved as well. We can all greet and welcome new members. We can invite them to lunch. We can take the time to get to know them and make them feel at home. An old study revealed that new members need to make seven new personal connections at a church or they would exit in just a matter of months. Regardless of the accuracy of this statement—it is true that unless new members are made to feel at home, involved, needed, and a part of their new church, they likely will take the back door—sooner rather than later.

Be Sensitive and Proactive!

So in whatever capacity that we can—be sensitive to helping our new members assimilate as quickly as possible. If you are a ministry leader do not neglect to contact new members if they express interest in your ministry. If a new member volunteers do not ignore that—put them to work! Greet all new members. Go out of your way to make them feel welcome. Put the power of prayer to use on their behalf. If we are truly working to build a strong family for the glory of God, all of this should be a central focus of that goal.