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Discovery Number Four: Build on Unlikely Characters

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On my sabbatical this summer, I rediscovered several important priorities about how to "do church" in the 21st century. Instead of endless controversies about what should or shouldn't happen in a worship service, the church needs to rediscover a sense of mission outside the bounds of traditional worship gatherings. Simply put, the church must become a people once again shaped by the mission of God. In writing this, I am not at all down on the traditional worship gathering. Regular assemblies are an enormous blessing to many existing Christians, myself included. We need to continue to slowly walk these gatherings toward being healthy and edifying for those who depend on them. As we continue to do this, however, it's time to STOP putting the wrong expectations on these worship gatherings, be they comfortingly traditional or radically contemporary. We should NOT expect worship to carry the load for evangelism, education, revival, fellowship, and every other necessary asp

Discovery Number Three: A Mission-Shaped Church instead of a Church-Shaped Mission

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The Sunday morning church service comes once a week. That hour occupies such a small sliver of a person's waking hours in a week (about 1%). Yet churches pour a huge amount of time and resources into thinking about, planning for and executing the weekly gathering. And no matter what they do or how well they do it, the vast majority of people will never show up or even consider showing up. This is true for nearly every church I know. The Sunday morning worship gathering is what churches in North America know how to do. Those with bigger staffs, newer buildings and more money are obviously able to do it at different level from most churches. Regardless of size, however, churches tend to measure their success based on that one hour. It's the primary focus. It's the main entrance into the church family. It's how churches teach, train, disciple, encourage, communicate, and evangelize. And yet, year by year, despite such massive investment, the number of people who show up fo

Celebrating the Life of Arthur Wint

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Photo taken August 14, 2022. Credit: Tsenia Ellis. It's with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved friend and brother, Arthur Wint. He passed into the loving arms of Jesus at about 5:00 am this morning. He was at home in his favorite recliner. His Alexa device was reading Bible verses out loud. We give our love and sympathy to Carlotta and to all their kids and grandkids. About 8 years ago, Arthur started having mysterious and concerning symptoms. After many doctors visits which included a few dead ends and wrong turns, they finally diagnosed him with ALS or Lou Gerhig's disease. He was told he would likely have only one year to live. While ALS quickly diminished his motor skills, it did not diminish his spirit or his voice. His medical team continually marveled at Arthur. The fact that his voice remained strong up until the final weeks remained a mystery to the therapists and doctors who treated him. We give thanks to God that he not only kept Arthur alive bu

A Deep Dive on Discipleship First versus Worship First

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In an earlier article, I wrote about a key discovery from my recent sabbatical. It's that we need to start leaning into DISCIPLESHIP FIRST methods of reaching out rather than solely relying on WORSHIP FIRST approaches. A worship-first approach works fine in a world where people are looking to belong to a church, but this method becomes increasingly futile in a society where most could care less about attending a formal worship service. You can read my article about this here . But just what does it look like? Why is this important? I was a college student at a state university in the 1980s. I was one of the key leaders in our campus ministry there, and we had tremendous success in growing the campus ministry and affecting change. Then I worked as a campus minister at a different state university in the 2000s, hoping to see the same kinds of positive results. In the decade or more in between, however, a monumental change was occurring that would deeply affect ministry in the US. Thi

Discovery Number Two: Discipleship First, NOT Worship First

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On my sabbatical, I've made multiple (re)discoveries about how we might think differently about doing church work today. Here is number two! It's that we need to think of strategies that put discipleship first, not worship first. The pieces were already in place for me to understand this one. What was lacking, however, was the imagination to see what it actually looks like in practice. Sometimes you just can't think yourself into a better way of acting ... you have to lead with your feet! That's what this discovery will allow us to do, or so I think. Everything I've ever known about how to do church involves a WORSHIP FIRST strategy. This means that the goal of interacting with non-Christians or unchurched people has been to get them to visit and then regularly attend a church's worship service. As a missionary in Europe, I was always trying to gradually move people closer and closer to the ultimate goal of getting them to join our church worship gatherings. Eve

Discovery Number One: Think Differently about Church

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As I begin this post, I'm in Ravenna, Italy. If you don't like history, you might want to skip the first three paragraphs. I was unaware of Ravenna's significance until recent years. Perhaps I was taught this crucial piece of history long ago and didn't absorb it. More likely, though, is the idea that this town is forgotten by many who teach Western or religious history. Ravenna was the western seat of the Roman (or Byzantine empire by then) for a few centuries. After the sacking of Rome, Ravenna became the ideal spot for the empire's western capital because its marshy, seaside location made it easy to defend. The city was easily accessible from the Byzantine capital of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Great buildings, palaces, and cathedrals were built in Ravenna in the 4th-8th centuries. It was the last Roman or Byzantine foothold in an Italy dominated by Lombards, Goths, Vandals and so forth. Much of ancient Ravenna was destroyed over time. Allied bombing in

Re-Imagining What It Means to "Do Church" in 21st-Century America

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Fifteen visits spread out over twenty-one days in the United Kingdom. It's been a whirlwind tour. I've visited with lay leaders and clergy. With those launching Christian communities in new developments. With those trying to renew a sense of mission in ancient, dying parishes. With those bringing new forms of Christian community alongside traditional worshiping assemblies. With budding enterprises in rural villages and creative outreach in urban areas. With leaders whose churches no longer meet on Sundays, or no longer use their sanctuaries. With churches who have transformed or rebuilt their spaces. With churches who have one vicar for eight congregations. With churches who have hired innovative lay leaders to reach out in their communities. With Anglicans. Baptists. Methodists. Scottish Presbyterians. And with those who coach, train and inspire these folks. I'm hardly the first person to have experienced such a journey or visited these church settings. But I don't kno