thinking out loud

…things that are on my mind, heart, and soul

The Next Christians: An Important But Incomplete Work

Gabe Lyons’ new book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith” is an important, yet incomplete read. Let me begin with the important aspects to his work.

I was encouraged to discover that early in the book, Lyons’ challenges the typical evangelical view of America as a Christian nation. He writes, “our nation’s founders were influenced by Christians ideas, but they were also wise enough to structure America to allow for a pluralistic setting – a place where all faiths could be practiced and no faith would be given the upper hand”(22). And while the Church no longer holds a central place in the marketplace of ideas in our culture (at least among the younger generations), Lyons is hopeful that this is not a time to be discouraged, but instead a season to be encouraged by what God is doing in this new movement of the next Christians.

In chapter three, Lyons shares the fruit of a conversation he had with a Hollywood producer who had called upon Gabe to share his perspective on potential strategies for filmmakers to reach Christians. Lyons categorized believers into two groups based upon their interaction with culture identifying the groups as the Separates (insiders, cultural warriors and evangelizers) and the Culturals (blenders and philanthropers). Lyons goes on to present a third way (reflective of Jim Belcher’s approach in his book, Deep Church) to live out the reality of the Gospel in today’s world and this makes us the bulk of the book. This third way, which is reflective of the next Christians, is defined as the way of restoration. The posture of restoration involves having the full story of the Gospel in our minds and hearts – the story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. The next Christians embrace this in its fullness.

Lyons identifies six characteristics of the restorers and devotes a chapter to each of these movements: provoked, not offended; creators, not critics; called, not employed; grounded, not distracted; in community, not alone; and countercultural, not relevant. The chapters are filled with inspiring and hopeful stories of people who are living out their faith in real-time as restorers. These stories are one of the highlights of the book.

This is an important read for people seeking to influence our world toward the kingdom realities of Jesus Christ.  Ministry leaders would be wise to gather some key people together and begin to engage in dialogue over Lyons’ premise and perspective. As well, Lyons includes a study guide that connects material from Q Notes with each chapter. This supplemental material is captured from the Q conference that Lyons facilitates and includes video messages from important thinkers (Scot McKnight, Andy Crouch, Ambassador Max Kampelman and others) in the various channels of cultural influence, as well as a number of commissioned essays by people like Tim Keller, Matthew Sleeth and Josh Jackson and Nick Purdy from Paste magazine.

While this is an important read, I also feel it is incomplete. My biggest critique is that Lyons identifies the next wave of Christianity by the individual actions of highly committed and passionate followers of Jesus. While I applaud their faithful efforts, as I read their stories I keep asking myself, “where is the Church?” The only substantive illustration of the next Christians that involves the church is Lyons’ discussion of what God is doing through the church in the city of Portland. In the last chapter, “The Next Big Shift,” Lyons also makes a minor reference to the church-planting movement that has swept the next Christians, but overall I keep coming back to the question, “what kinds of churches will help shape and nurture the next Christians?” Perhaps Lyons will have more to say about this in the future. Or even better, perhaps we need to engage in this conversation and create the kinds of churches that will model the third way of restoration.

Stay connected…

BTW: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.


Filed under: books, leadership, Q, reviews

Q: The Spirituality of the Cell Phone

Qlogo When was the last time you turned off your cell phone? Confession time – my cell phone is on  24/7 (during daylight hours my phone is set to vibrate and the ringer is on during the night). Now I do have a a very good reason why I do not turn off my phone. I am a pastor and keeping my cell phone on provides my congregation 24/7 access to me; and isn’t that what being a pastor is all about?

The last time I turned my cell phone off and disconnected from the technology was during our Tuesday night session at Q. Shane Hipps was presenting that evening on “The Spirituality of the Cell Phone” and the organizers asked us to leave our technology behind for a few hours. Being the dutiful ISTJ that I am, I left my cellphone and computer behind in my hotel room. When I arrived at the venue that evening it was interesting to discover that the organizers had placed some “accountability partners” at the doors and they asked each of us upon entering if we had left our technology behind. Just in case we slipped up, they even had a check-in system in place where you could leave your phone or computer for the evening – nice touch! And I have to admit that other than experiencing a few phantom vibrations (am I the only one who has these?) in my pocket, my sensitivities that evening were heightened and I felt more present to the moment.

Here are a few questions that Shane raised for me that evening:

  • What does it mean to be God-like (created in the imago dei)?
  • What is desire and motivation behind the impulse to text, tweet and continually update our Facebook status?
  • How can I become more fully present to the people in my world?
  • What does it mean to incarnate Christ in a discarnate world?

Shane suggested that part of bearing the imago dei is the capacity to create. He told a great story about the invention of the mechanical clock (hopefully a true one). According to Hipps, a group of monks invented the mechanical clock as a means to more faithful and regularly “pray the hours.” The advancement of technology was designed to serve their life of prayer and faith. And yet have you ever stopped to consider what happens when the technology reverses itself on us? Instead of “praying the hours” do we now “punch the clock?” Or view “time as money?”

What is up with all the texting, tweeting and moment by moment updates on Facebook? What is the motivation behind this impulse (or perhaps compulsion)? Personally, I have come to realize part of my own motivation has to do with the shadow side of one of my StrengthFinders themes of significance. People strong in the significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent, want to be recognized and have a strong desire to make a difference in their world. Does my significance somehow increase with every text, tweet or Facebook update? Is my own capacity to make the world a different place somehow measured by how many friends I have on Facebook (and who those friends are)?

In his book, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, Hipps writes: “Christianity is fundamentally a communication event. The religion is predicated on God revealing Himself to humanity. God has a habit of letting His people know something about His thoughts, feelings, and intentions. God wants to communicate with us and His media are many: angels, burning bushes, stone tablets, scrolls, donkeys, prophets, mighty voices, still whispers, and shapes traced in the dirt (13).” I would add that the strongest communication event is the incarnation. Eugene Peterson translates John 1:18 as follows: “No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day.”

Shane provoked some thinking on my part on the difference between mediated interaction and face to face interaction. Is one to be preferred? Is face to face always the best way to communicate? How can I leverage technology to enhance and strengthen my relationships? Can a text, tweet or status update on Facebook draw us deeper into the risk and reality of our common life in Jesus Christ? Later today I am going to do a little Facebook experiment. Of my current 358 friends, how many of these friendships are actually grounded in a face to face relationship and encounter? should I have two categories of friends – mediated and face to face?

I would love to hear your thoughts on any of this. There is a ton more I could write about this session, but I have to run – my cellphone is buzzing.

Stay connected…

Filed under: Q

Q: Power and Privilege (Andy Crouch)

QlogoLast week I had the privilege of traveling to Austin, TX and participating in my second Q. Q describes itself as a gathering where innovators, church leaders, social entrepreneurs, and cultural pioneers come together to explore the church’s role in positively contributing to culture. The format of Q is unlike any other conference I have attended. Each speaker is literally “on the clock” and given 18 minutes to present their big culture shaping idea. Over the course of the three day experience I had the opportunity to hear over 25 presentations – it’s like drinking from a firehose. But it provides plenty of fodder for thought and reflection and I am looking forward to sharing some of my processing and reflection here.

Due to a nightmarish travel experience with Northwest and Delta, I missed the morning session of Q and arrived just in time for Andy Crouch’s afternoon session. Andy is the author of Culture-Making and was one of my favorites at last year’s Q and I awaited this year’s talk with great anticipation; he did not disappoint. “Power, Privilege and Rank” was the title of Andy’s talk and my guess it was the essence of a book that he is working on right now. Here’s a sneak peak.

Andy stated with a great question: “what happens when culture-making actually works?” Have you ever stopped to reflect upon success and the implications (both positive and negative) of successfully accomplishing something?

Andy threw out his own working definitions of some important terms. The first was “creative power” which he defined as “the ability to propose a new cultural good.” I believe all of us possess creative power; it’s one of the characteristics of being created in the image of God. Today I spent some time reflecting on my own creative power. I love to create worship and learning environments and it energizes me to use my creative power to catalyze missional initiatives and new kingdom ventures. What about you? What creative power has God entrusted to you and what is the context for the release of your creative power and energy?

The second term that Andy unpacked was the concept of “rent,” but not the kind of rent that you pay your landlord or Avis. Andy defined rent as “the excess income you can demand for what you would do anyway.” For example, David Beckham as a high degree of rent when to comes soccer. While he commands millions to play the game, he most likely would play the game for the love of it! While reflecting upon this I thought of two other high rent people: Chris Martin from Coldplay and Giada De Laurentiis, the everyday Italian wonderchef. Again my suspicion is that Chris Martin would be making music even if he wasn’t playing sold out venues and Giada would be creating magnificent meals even without the bright lights of TV.

Are there any areas of rent in your life? And if so, how might you leverage that rent for the purposes of building for the kingdom of God? This is something I am thinking quite a bit about lately, especially as I have entered my second half of life.

The final term Andy leveraged was privilege which he defined as “the continuing benefits of past successful exercises of creative power.” Here are some questions I have been considering:

  • In what ways am I banking on or coasting on past successes?
  • How often am I aware of the incredible privilege I have as a white, male living in the United States in the 21st century?
  • How am I measuring fruitfulness in the present?

Two last words from Andy, the first a statement and the other a question:

“Jesus is not satisfied by the past but is interested in creating new pathways of creative shalom.”

“We all have privileges as sons and daughters of the Most High God – are we willing to prodigally spend it on behalf of others?”

Stay connected…

Filed under: Q

The Medium of Beauty

Makato Fujimura shared a masterful presnetation on art and beauty. Fujimura is a New York based artist who serves as a catalyst for the International Arts Movement. My daughter Hannah and I had an opportunity a few years ago to hear an extended presentation by Makato on a visit here in Pittsburgh and it was good to hear his voice at Q.

Two general thoughts:

  • Art mediates truth. The church must move beyond a utilitarian approach to art – art is more than designing cool logos or making the church more seeker friendly.
  • Art is there not only to be useful, but to be a medium of truth. The purpose of art is love – in and for and through love and artists are called to transgress in love.

The Problem of Beauty – our culture typically defines beauty in a superficial and cosmetic manner. Some artists have refused to even talk about beauty because our culture has so corrupted the word. Beauty has the capacity to bridge the gap between the city of man (Augustine’s term) and the city of God. “Beauty, sooner or later, brings us into contact with our own capacity for making errors” (Elaine Scary).

The Paradox of Beauty – When we come face to face with the weightiness of beauty, our own hearts are incapable of containing “the glory of it all” (see DCB lyric). Makato shared some of his own spiritual journey here and focused his comments of his use of a certain Japanese technique of using crushed elements within his painting. Here are his own words from his book, RiverGrace:

“The problem that I could not overcome with Art as religion is that the more I focused upon myself, the les I could find myself. A schism grew inside between who I wanted to be and what I did. I wanted to love my wife, but I saw more and more, the distance between us. Arts as self- expression became a wedge in our relationship. Meanwhile, everyday I sought higher transcendence through the extravagant materials. I found success in expression through Nihonga materials. And yet the very weight of beauty I saw in the materials began to crush my own heart. I could not justify the use of extravagance if I found my heart unable to contain their glory. The more I used them, the moodier and more restless I became. Finding beauty in art and nature, I did not have a ‘shelf’ to place that beauty inside my heart.”

The paradox of beauty can be found in the old rugged cross – “what a wondrous beauty I see.”

The Presence of Beauty – “For those that grieve in Zion, God has come to bestow a crown of beauty for ashes.” (Isaiah 61) Anytime we isolate beauty from Christ, we are at risk of creating an idol.

Makato beautifully illustrated this concept by describing the Japanese character for beauty. This character is a fusion of two different characters, one placed over another. The upper character represents a sheep and the second connotes large, or great. I will let you reflect upon how this might denote true beauty and in fact love.

Makato’s presentation reminded me of a question that NT Wright raised in his book, “For All God’s Worth:”

“what is the most beautiful thing you have experienced this week and what did it evoke within you?”

I would love to hear your response to Wright’s question.

Stay connected…

Filed under: Q

We Can’t Change the World

I thought some reflections on Andy Crouch’s session at Q would be a good way to begin the week. Many of us look for ways to start the week in a strong way and take on the world in a big way. Andy’s core message was different from the other Q presenters and he was convinced that his message contained the best possible news – we are not the ones to change the world because God has already changed the world. The Gospel message is so much better and more powerful than the mindset that if we work hard enough, smart enough or creatively enough, we can change the world. Culture is being already transformed by the power of God and the world truly is different because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

How does God change the world? Crouch quickly drew our thoughts to the two most important events in history: the Exodus and the resurrection of Jesus. He reminded us that these two events are the hinge pins of the Old and New Testament. As such they engage our sense of time – they are indeed timeless in their importance. God is a God who liberates and sets people free. It is interesting to note that these two events challenge our understanding of place – both took place on the edges of society: among an enslaved people in Egypt and a criminal who was executed outside the city gates. Without the Exodus there would be no People of God, no law; without the resurrection, no good news, no Church. God is in the business of rescuing the powerless.

The message is disorientating because we have what Crouch calls a “survivor bias.” We reward the strong, the successful, the significant. The stories we tell and pay attention to are typically stories of wildly successful people, women and men who beat the odds and change their world, quite often by their sharp intellect, amazing creativity, or sheer power and might. However, there is a lot of carnage along the way of success. What about the people who have burned out, given up, and quit have walked away from the conversation? What about their voice? What about their effort? In other words, what is God doing to change the world universally?

I loved this line from Crouch: “the goodness of the poor is that they are not as poor as they or we think they are.” It reminds me of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4: 7, “ but we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not us.”

Here was a modern day example that Crouch used to illustrate how God’s power to change the world was demonstrated in time and place. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost 27 years on Robben Island. This place, a God forsaken location by all human standards, became known as Mandela’s University. The weakness of Mandela and that little island showed God’s strength. The little acts done over time in the relative obscurity of Robben Island, powered by God’s plan, God’s time, God’s place, and God’s power, changed the course of South Africa and indeed the world.

Who is transforming culture? Those unknowns on Robben Islands all around, those who understand the transcendence of God’s work through the Exodus and the Resurrection.

Quite often I use the phrase “agents of change.” That phrase “survivor bias” written all over it. Crouch suggested that God is not looking for agents of change but instead uses “patients of change” in God’s world today. Patients are men and women who although they suffer, they as well are people who have experienced the healing power of God.

We can’t change the world. But the good news is in Christ the world is already changed. God invites us to partner with God as a “patient of change” – to reveal the work of Christ, illustrate it, announce it, and declare it.

“Christ was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.” (Colossians 1:180-20, The Message)

Stay connected…

Filed under: Q

about me

my name is terry and i've been married to a great woman, patty for 29 years and we have four children, (ranging from 17-25) and an awesome grandson. i serve as lead pastor of christ community church of the south hills in pittsburgh, pa (lets go pens!). i am currently working on a book on worship with a working title of "a movable feast: a liturgy for our everyday, ordinary lives."