Spanky Moore

Information & Imitation: It’s both-and! (Issue 24)

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A couple years back I was in the UK on study leave, looking at Fresh Expressions and other forms of missional church. It didn’t take long to notice that the same word come up again and again and again in theological colleges, in bishops offices, and in new church plants. Discipleship.

But it came up less as a theological buzz word and more as a slow realisation that for all the mission theory and big talk about contextualising the Gospel, something seemed to be seriously holding us back in the Western world. It wasn’t until a meeting with the leader of a significant theological college that I heard the conundrum finally named: “You know what? I think our church has just forgotten how to disciple people.”

“Golly” I thought to myself. It certainly sounded pretty bad when he put it like that. Especially since the mission statement Jesus gave us seemed pretty hot on the D word. If Discipleship is a buzzword, it’s good to remember it was Jesus’ buzzword too. I mean, how could we forget how to do the main thing Jesus commissioned us to do? I left that meeting feeling more than a little disturbed. But at the same time it was like a light bulb had just gone off.

Over the past 50 years or so the Church has gotten really really good at running things. We love programmes! And what’s not to love? They’re measurable. When they succeed they give us that “feel good” factor. They deliver great bang for our buck. They have fancy glossy brochures… When they first came onto the scene these programmes were intended to support discipleship: education, social action, outreach. Programmes and courses were only ever supposed to play a supporting role in forming followers of Jesus and in assisting discipling relationships to flourish.

Perhaps we’ve gotten a little too good at running things? Many of us have unintentionally started treating discipleship and evangelism as being primarily about the programmes: Discipleship equals attending a Bible study, while evangelism equals inviting someone to an Alpha course. These are great things, but are they producing the kinds of Kingdom hearted, mission minded disciples our world so desperately needs right now? Increasingly the consensus amongst many Christian leaders is “No.”

Inform & Imitate

What is a disciple? It sounds like a silly question. But it’s one that people are wrestling with right now. So for the sake of starting somewhere, let’s go with something suitably simple: “Someone living in the way of Jesus Christ.”

Discipleship is fundamentally about forming someone to follow in Jesus’ way faithfully and obediently. And if we look at Jesus’ life with the twelve we can see two major aspects of how he discipled people: Information and Imitation.

Part of forming disciples involves giving people the information they need. And boy, we’ve become incredibly good at giving people lots and lots and lots of information. Sermons, Bible studies, lectures, books, courses on how to share your faith, courses on how to pray for people, courses on how to run courses. Most churches have a smorgasbord of info-treats on offer every week.

But the other ingredient required to form disciples is for them to have someone to imitate… and this is the bit we’re not so good at. Despite all the words and theories and principles we tell people to believe, learning the way of Jesus involves more than information. It’s vital for us to see people putting it into action. And rarely do we allow those we’re discipling close enough to imitate us: How do we spend our money? How do we fight (and reconcile) with our spouse? How do we make decisions? How do we pray? How do we read our Bible? How do we share our faith? This is an area we all need to work on. People don’t need a perfect example, they just need a living one.

I truly believe that for the Church to flourish and for our mission organisations to be fruitful, all of us will have to rediscover our passion for dirty, gritty, heart-breaking, life-giving relational discipleship. Disciples of Jesus have always been the most basic unit when it comes to sharing and embodying the Good News. Not flashy brands, or fancy bands, or Facebook pages. People.

So it’s simple really. Intentionally form people to follow Jesus, and then allow God’s mission to flourish. I know it sounds mad! But it’s not my idea. Jesus poured half of his three years of ministry into just twelve people. Teaching them, doing life with them and imitating God’s Kingdom to them. 2000 years later his gamble seems to have paid off.

Maybe it’s time we took that same gamble again?

 

For discussion

What might balance between Information and Imitation look like in your group?

Would you be comfortable telling others to imitate the life you’re living (as Paul did in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17)? Why / why not?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of Intermission will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. Why not take up the challenge and start using Intermission in your community? For more information or to order copies click here.

What Good is the Good News?

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Last Christmas, Christians around New Zealand celebrated the 200 year anniversary of the Gospel coming to the land of the long white cloud, by the Rev Samuel Marsden at Oihi Bay. It’s an exciting story, and it reminds me of the bravado, pioneering spirit and faith our Anglican heritage has pulsing through it’s veins. So a few months back I decided to ask a bunch of the Anglican young adults I work with three questions about the Gospel, as a sort of 200 year spiritual check up.

Question 1: What would you say the Good News is?

Question 2: How are you Good News to other people?

Question 3: Have you experienced the Good News as being Good News in your own life?

The first question was met with the most confidence of the three, containing a series of mumbles involving words like “Jesus”, “God”, “Love”, “Community” and “Biscuits.” Not great – but not terrible either, depending on the brand of biscuits of course.

Upon the second question, things started getting a little more tense. Someone told me they “tried to let people cut in front of them during bad traffic,” while another said he “did his best not to swear too much or steal the pencils from his work like the other employees do.” Now, I’m not sure this was quite the radical lifestyle Jesus had in mind. But hey, it was something.

But it was the answer to the third question, or lack of one, that really caught me off guard. With almost every person I spoke to there was a deafening, awkward silence. After about 30 seconds one person looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Ahhh, what do you mean?”

What’s the problem?

A lot of question asking and hand ringing has gone on over the past wee while about why Millennials and young people seem so hesitant when it comes to mission. Could these three questions give us a clue to one of the problems lurking beneath the surface?

It’s pretty clear that for most young Christians, being Good News to our neighbours isn’t really something most of them get passionate about. Most of them have no idea what being Good News to our neighbours might look like. Yet loving our neighbour is fundamental to what Jesus taught us to be in the world. And I think the Millennial (my) generation has a deep desire to seek justice in the world. But many of them (us) have lost any deep conviction rooted in the Good News of Jesus when it comes to the choices we make in the world. And yet for past generations it was this conviction –  that the Good News of Jesus was literally Good News for everyone – that saw CMS and thousands of other Christian organisations start.

So before we start talking about being Good News to the world, I wonder if we need to take a step back –  to our Christian community. And it’s also pretty clear that we also struggle to be Good News to those who come from outside to us into our community. Sometimes we even struggle to be Good News to each other! But being in community together is also fundamental to what Jesus taught us to be in the world. We’re not just lots of individuals, but a people of God who together would be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

I think the Millenial (my) generation also has this deep desire to be community together – but many of us have lost any deep conviction rooted in the Good News of Jesus when it comes to our belief that the Church and it’s people can be a place of radical Good News.

And yet for past generations it was this conviction – that the Good News of Jesus is literally so good – that saw hundreds of church communities planted all over Christchurch.  Money has being poured into youth groups and kids ministries and food banks, because that’s what the Good News did to people. It made them do crazy things together.

So before we start talking about being Good News to each other in our Christian community, I wonder if we need to take one more step back – to our own hearts.

The heart of the matter.

And over the past few months, as I’ve asked these three questions of people, I’ve come to the conclusion that before we can really understand what it means to be Good News to our neighbours outwards to the world – or even to be good news in community inwards with each other – each of us has to know the Good News for ourselves, in our hearts. We have to have experienced the Good News as being good for ourselves. Because if we don’t know what the Good News is, and if we haven’t experienced it, how can we be it to other people? How can we share something we don’t have ourselves?

A lot of the way we’ve approached getting young people into mission has been all about the head, and so a lot of young people think the key to experiencing the Good News is in their heads. That if they only had just one more sermon, or one more bible study, one more chunk of information – then they would have enough to go in the world with confidence and conviction. But I have seen way to many young people stuck waiting for that mythically missing last piece of information. And it never seems to come.

Are we intentionally offering young people opportunities to experience God, to experience his Good News as being just that: Good? Or have we spent all our time focusing on Orthodoxy (right thinking) and Orthopraxy (right actions) while ignoring Orthopathos (right passions)? I know I have.

You know, it’s very hard to share the Good News with the world if we haven’t experienced Jesus as being Good News in our own lives. And I’m certain the thing that motivated Samuel Marsden wasn’t his passion for biscuits, but the fact that he’d experienced the Good News as being just that for himself. Personally. 200 years is a great milestone to celebrate, but it’s also an opportune time to remember that the Good News of Jesus isn’t caught off monuments or buildings. For the Gospel to thrive for another 200 years, it must thrive in each of us.

So today take a moment to ask yourself this question: How have I experienced the Good News as being Good News in my life? I pray your answer involves more than biscuits.

 

THE MUSE

Do you resonate with this? Why? What needs to change for you to experience God’s Good News in a way that will truly transform who you are?

THE MOVE

Perhaps the best way to respond wouldn’t be to go out and do something, but to sneak away with God this week and ask him to reveal to you just how good his Good News really is.

Changes in the Christian Vote

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This election campaign I’ve been struck by a number of things: David Cunliffe’s expressive neck, Peter Dunn’s impeccable hair, Collin Craig’s awkward ‘Mr Burn’s’ like walk. But I’m always intrigued by how quickly the media (and other people) lazily stereotype the “Christian vote” as automatically being of the Conservative Party persuasion. For example, last election I was involved in an event that saw around 300 young adult Christians surveyed over who they were going to vote for. And it showed a surprising shift in the way young people of faith were voting.

Any chump will see a big split between the majority Greenies on the left, and then the National blue bloods on the right, with poor old Labour pretty much being left to wither & die in the middle. (Note: this was after the glory days of United Future, and before the Collin Craig Conservatives had come to town proper)

Now, I’d imagine that John Key would probably see this as business as usual. But, a party who’s roots were probably more in the humanist camp, has accidentally found themselves attracting a big chunk of the younger Christian vote? I suspect the Green Party would be pretty darn surprised by those numbers, and this seems to signal that a wider range of ideas are getting traction when it comes to the way faith and politics mix for the next generation of voters.

I realise for some older Christian voters seeing so many votes going the Greens way will probably give them chills (this was before the abortion policy flared up too), but let me give some quick thoughts on why the surge.

In the past many kiwi Christians have sort of imposed the American political scene onto our own – assuming the politics of the right has equalled family values, a conservative social ethic and economic stewardship.

But in recent times Millenial’s have resonated deeply with a theology that has a heavy emphasis on holistic Shalom and the Kingdom of God: social justice, Jesus’ bias towards the poor, care of creation, the Good News embodied. And what are the NZ Green party’s big three catch phrases? A fairer society, a greener economy, and a cleaner environment. So even though I doubt this was ever the Green parties intention with these policies – it’s pretty understandable that some young Christians who have been told God is deeply concerned with unjust social structures, environmental care and those in poverty would see them as the party who most overtly articulates these Gospel values.

Every major party is made up of strange bedfellows with strangely convergent interests. For the Nat’s it’s corporate stockbrokers and farmers, for Labour it’s coal miners and the LGBT community, for United Future it’s family value Christians and duck hunters. So, when the Greens announced their abortion policy a few months back – it made huge waves in the Green voting Christian community – as people wrestled with what seemed to connect deeply with Kingdom values on one hand, and seemed to go contrary to Christian ethics on the other.

Anyway, it proves we shouldn’t swallow the overly simplistic stereotypes of voting blocks that are often dished up by the likes of Newstalk ZB. And that for all of MMP’s foibles, it’s blessed us with at least one great thing:

Way more options when it comes to allowing Christians to express and articulate the kind of country we think God wants New Zealand to be. It’s just the choice isn’t always black and white. Or blue and red.

 

THE MUSE

Have you taken the time to read up on all the various political parties? What issues do you think are most important this year? What policies will sway your vote? (For a larger version of the image at the top click here.

 

THE MOVE.

This one’s easy: get up and vote tomorrow. And have fun watching the vote counting on election night. Why not make it an event?

 

Rev Spanky Moore is the young adults ministry guy for the Anglican church in Christchurch and has just started as the chaplain at the University of Canterbury. He’s spent the past four years wrestling with the questions and tensions that happen when you mix young adults, faith and the church through things like the Society of Salt and Light and the Thirsty Workers Guild. He loves to think about the way church, mission and culture shape & fight each other, and also has a widely acclaimed beard.