Categotry Archives: changing mindsets

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Distorted Images of God part 4: God the Sugar-Daddy

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Categories: changing mindsets, Tags: , ,

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.

I’m probably going to wrap this series up within the next couple of weeks, because I think we’re probably getting the idea behind it–which is that we all have some measure of distortion in our mental pictures of God, which often gives us the wrong idea about Him. But before we wrap it up, I want to tackle at least one more of the common ways we distort the image of God. I call this one “God the Sugar-Daddy.”

Need I continue?

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Distorted Images of God part 2: God the Indifferent Creator

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Categories: changing mindsets, Tags: ,

(Read Part 1 here.)

Continuing my ramblings on the different ways our mental picture of God gets distorted, I’d like to focus on another common distortion–one that I call “God the Indifferent Creator.”

People commonly form this image of God in their minds for a variety of reasons, but in my experience one of the main catalysts for it is prayer that seems to go unanswered. When someone earnestly prays for something to happen, and God seems to fall silent or does not answer the prayer the way we think He ought to, we get disappointed. ย When this happens repeatedly, we can get jaded, and may start believing that He is largely indifferent to our needs or desires. I know one person who claims a belief in God, but seriously questions the purpose of prayer. He figures, if God is going to do, or not do, whatever He pleases, anyhow, what’s the point of asking Him for anything?

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Distorted Images of God part 1: God the Ego-Maniac

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Categories: changing mindsets, Tags: ,

This post begins a series of (what I hope to be several) posts about the ways we often envision or characterize God in our minds, and how they frequently differ from how He describes Himself. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a series like this, and I’m obviously not blogging as often as I have in the past, so please be patient. (I even reserve the right to deter from this thread if I feel inclined to blog about something else along the way.)

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The Confrontational Gospel?

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, religion, Tags: ,

Maybe I’ve blogged about this in one of the many earlier posts, but since I’m thinking about it this morning, I’ll just launch out and talk about it anyway.

When I was pastoring a house church in Tulsa, there was one pastor in town whom I knew briefly and tried to be friends with–but the truth was, we totally butted heads, from the first day we met. We were at someone’s house for a dinner party, and while chatting within the group, I related a story of how I’d recently seen one guy “witnessing” to another outside a Tulsa restaurant. The person doing the “witnessing” was quite literally thumping a Bible, talking very vehemently to the other guy with pointing fingers and everything. ย I said nothing at the time, but at the dinner party I mentioned how I wished I could have gone to the victim (’cause that’s what he looked like) to apologize on behalf of my brother for improperly representing Christ to him.

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What Does Mission Really Look Like? (part 3)

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Categories: changing mindsets, love, missional, Tags: , , , , ,

Okay, so here’s the first post….

Aaaand the second one….

I closed out the previous post with a question: How can each of us make the transition into what I call “agenda-free” mission? Once we recognize how much unnecessary (and often damaging) baggage we have attached to mission by our institutional thinking, how do we change our thinking to participate in the mission of Christ in a more organic way, without worrying about what we might have to gain from it?

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A Fresh Coat of Paint on a Broken Machine (part 2)

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, food for thought


In my previous post, I revisited the story of the man who kept ordering chocolate shakes at a fast food joint, and kept receiving vanilla ones. When he complained to the teenage cashier at the counter, all the teenager could say was, “I pushed the chocolate button.” I used this story to talk about ways that the church is doing a similar thing with our “tried-and-true” methods. Although many of them aren’t working anymore, instead of finding new methods that do work, we keep splashing new coats of paint on our broken machines, trying to make them attractive and “relevant” again.

I’ve been thinking about this particularly with regard to how the church usually looks at mission, evangelism and “church planting” (a term not actually found in the Bible), perhaps because I now consider myself to be on a mission, and I don’t want to follow the ruts in the road. I’ve never been quick to do something a certain way simply because an “expert” says that’s how it ought to be done. (Maybe you folks who have read this blog the past couple of years didn’t realize this.) ๐Ÿ™‚
Anyhow, without putting too fine a point on it, it seems like the typical formula for church planting goes something like this (with a few variations here and there):
  1. A core group of people gathers or gets sent out from an existing church entity, for the express purpose of starting a new church.
  2. The new church begins to meet and spread the word about their existence.
  3. Believers in the area who know the new pastors, or are for some reason “between churches,” begin to hook up with the new entity.
  4. Overall success for the new church plant is measured by growth in attendance.
Now, am I the only one who sees a problem with this formula? The key to the weakness is in point 3: believers start coming to the new church plant. This isn’t a bad thing inherently, but it points to the deeper problem: that our church planting system is primarily based on transfer growth. If you look at the actual numbers, it seems like most of the time church plants aren’t very effective in drawing many non-believers into relationship with Christ. Rather, we’re primarily drawing existing believers from other places, creating competing entities. Yet we will regard these new church plants as successful simply because we are getting consistent numbers on Sunday mornings.
This is what I mean by a broken machine. The machine still runs, but we’re producing vanilla shakes and simply imagining that they are chocolate, rather than taking a hard look at why our growth is primarily transfer growth–why we’re not getting the results.
Now, to be fair, many church plants truly desire to be missional, and many of them do a lot of community-oriented things in an attempt to reach non-believers in their area. Many times they are working very hard, and that should be respected. It’s just that, in my opinion, the model itself is flawed, as evidenced by the fact that most of what we’re attracting by it is existing Christians. In terms of growing the church, isn’t really growth if we’re just shuffling our own people around. (When businesses do that kind of thing with their books to inflate their profits, they get in trouble for it.)
So why is it that this model seems to attract mainly other Christians? I think it’s for the same reasons that our existing institutions aren’t attracting non-believers. Our culture is changed, and the church in its current form is seen as less and less relevant. In fact, I think overall our current church planting methods are having the opposite effect of what mission ought to do: we’re drawing plenty of our own numbers while repelling a majority of non-Christians.
If non-believers are staying away from our institutional entities (as well as an increasing number of believers, for that matter), why in the world would we think we’d draw more non-believers simply by adding more institutions? And yet, we keep on blindly pushing that chocolate button, hoping against hope that maybe this time the shake will come out chocolate.
See my point?
Now, I’m not trying to be disagreeable or to slam church planters or evangelism in general. I applaud those who have this passion. I am not about to rip the “Great Commission” out of the Scriptures; it’s there, and it should be taken seriously. But in any other context other than church, when a particular model no longer works effectively, we change the model. It really ought to be that simple. The fact that we have such a hard time re-thinking our models and methods simply proves that we have far more sacred cows in our pantheons than we’re willing to admit.
The fact is, if you look at our current church planting methods, they actually reflect corporate business models more than they do the Scriptures themselves. We tend to treat new churches like new franchises. That’s why when people start coming to them, we automatically register them as successful–because it looks like were getting “customers.” We don’t have any regard for whether the people coming through our doors are believers or non-believers; a warm body is a warm body. We’re judging our success by the wrong criteria entirely.
In the early days of the church, growing the church was admittedly a little more cut-and-tried, simply because there were so many people who had never heard the gospel. When Paul or folks like him began a new church gathering, it usually started with two or three people going into a new town, and talking to people until a few became believers–and then those new believers would start meeting together. Today, our challenge is a little different; today, especially in America, we’re hard-pressed to find people who haven’t heard the gospel. The problem is, many non-believers haven’t just heard the gospel–they’ve heard a watered-down, hypocrisy-laden version of it, which can make it all the more difficult to reach them. We need a method that speaks to these issues, rather than ignoring them. We need to stop spinning our wheels and start looking for tangible ways for the mission of Christ to regain traction in our culture. And that starts by ADMITTING that we have a broken machine, and that what we are doing is not working.
Do I claim to have a new model that works? Nope. ๐Ÿ™‚ As usual, I’m just the guy pointing out what’s wrong. But like I said–that’s where change begins: by acknowledging what is wrong. I can tell you that these are questions burning in my soul, that are deeply informing my own search. I know that whatever community eventually forms around our efforts in the arts scene, the last thing I want to do is wake up one morning to discover I’ve created yet another Christian ghetto. I’d rather not do anything if that’s where it’s headed. I’d rather take it slow, listening to the heartbeat of our community and learning from the mistakes of our past, allowing the needs of the community around us to inform what the mission looks like, rather than following some sort of formula. I guess what I’m saying is that whatever this is going to look like, it’s more important that we make a positive difference than that we simply start some carbon-copy entity that people can see and measure and brag about.
True success isn’t found on paper. It’s found in human hearts.
That’s what I think, anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Coming as Babies

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, Meanderings (look it up), moments of truth

I’ve been spending a bit of time the past couple of days thinking about mission, and what it means–what it looks like–to be missional. Particularly, I’ve been asking God, basically, “What next?” We’ve been getting settled in this new place for a year and a half, and I still have this desire to do some sort of missional work in the creative community–but I’ve been soul searching about the right approach, what the next steps are (if any). I’ve been trying to find words to verbalize things felt deep in the soul, where people could maybe understand them. And frankly, I’ve felt a little lost–not in the sense of losing faith, but in the sense of trying to think about mission outside the boundaries of traditional church, when all I’ve done previously has happened within those boundaries.
Just this morning, I think something really has registered with me that’s going to deeply inform our direction in the days ahead. It’s not a new concept, but it’s like it “clicked” with me–like someone switched on a light. An “a-ha” moment.
Okay, you get the idea. ๐Ÿ™‚
One thing I’ve been trying to do is get back to the basics of mission, particularly the mission of Christ. If Jesus set an example for us to follow–and I believe He did–then we can learn the correct approach to mission by looking at what He did as well as what He taught.
So how did Jesus approach His mission? He became one of us.
Jesus did not come to earth in a blaze of glory, riding on a white horse, His deity apparent all over the place. (That would be the SECOND coming, and that hasn’t happened at press time.) Instead, as the Bible indicates, He laid down His heavenly glory and took the form of a man. A regular human being, just like us. We call this the “incarnation.” The incarnational approach to mission has already been talked about a lot in missional circles, and like I said, I’m familiar with it and seek to embrace it.
But there’s more. You see, Jesus came as a man–but not as a grown man. He didn’t launch His mission as the self-proclaimed expert of all things spiritual. He came into this world the same way we all do–as a baby. A helpless, vulnerable, non-potty-trained baby. He didn’t come with all the answers–that came later. Jesus came to us needy. He came to us needing to be fed, changed, nurtured, loved, trained–all that stuff that kids need in order to grow.
Talk about humbling oneself.
My family and I have been immersing ourselves in the local creative community pretty much since we got here, because we understood the necessity of becoming part of the existing community. What I hadn’t really seen before now–but God did, and has already been orchestrating–is that we are coming as babies. We’re not coming with the answers; we’re coming with needs.
I probably see this playing out most right now with The Wild One. She has totally laid down her personal aspirations for “ministry” probably more than I have–she has been able to totally empty herself. The artistic circle she found herself in saw her not as a pastor or spiritual expert, but as someone who is hungry to learn art–who has always wanted to do it, but never had the chance or the resources, and who has great potential. As a result, they’ve totally taken her under their wing and begun to teach her to paint–and she’s making great progress. And because this group loves the arts in general, and because they are already so open, they’ve adopted the rest of our family right along with her. We’re not on the giving end–not right now. We’re the needy ones. We’re the babies.
I can now see this setting up the same way with the music scene. I’ve developed a rapport with this music community by covering the local scene as a freelance writer, and I’ve made a lot of friends. But the truth is, while I do know a few things about how to encourage young artists, in order to do what I really want to do in music–I’m going to have to become the baby. I’m going to have to ask people half my age how to go about booking shows, who to talk to about getting publishing deals, and so on. I may have to collaborate with others in order to polish my songwriting skills and aim them in a new direction. I’m not really the expert here–I’m the needy one.
I’m beginning to see that at least in our case, to be truly incarnational in our approach requires us to become as infants in this community–not just to be one of them, but to grow up as one of them. And with this fresh understanding of things, I actually have a new perspective on the past 10 years of our lives.
There’s a place in the Bible where it talks about Jesus emptying Himself in order to come to earth as a man. Jesus stripped Himself of His heavenly glory in order to embark on this mission. I don’t know how that felt for Him–but I do know some of what it feels like to be stripped. The entire time we lived in Tulsa, we were being stripped. We obviously weren’t being stripped of heavenly glory or deity (we never had those things). But we were being stripped of our pastoral or clerical prestige, so to speak. We were also being stripped of mindsets, of wrong assumptions, of wrong motives, and pretty much of everything we thought “ministry” was. By the time we got here to Denver, we were almost completely deconstructed and undone. Starting over–as babies.
It sure looks like God has been setting us up.
This whole theme about becoming as a child has deep ramifications, not just in mission, but in other ways as well. Didn’t Jesus repeatedly say that we need to come to the Father as little children? This post could get really long rambling about that–so I’ll save that for another time. But this understanding has really caused a lot of the fog to clear for me. It’s showing me that it’s okay, even necessary, to step into this mission not as the expert, but as the student. It’s showing me that it’s okay, even necessary, to embrace small beginnings. I think God has a long-term plan here, and apparently we’ve been within that plan for awhile now.
On a personal level, I think I’ve struggled for a long time with my deconstruction. Although I’ve definitely been thankful for the sense of freedom (and wouldn’t ever want to go back into bondage), I also have felt such a sense of loss because at the very least I had a strong sense of direction, and when things dismantled, I felt there was nothing to replace what I’d had. I think I’m finally going to be okay with that now. I think I can fully embrace this time and place, knowing that the previous stripping was necessary in order to step into this mission in the right way.
Jesus came to us as a baby, and He changed the world. I believe that if I embrace the same idea, enter this mission as a baby, and have patience with the process, I can at least make a positive difference.
Which is pretty much all I wanted in the first place.

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Experience Is a Teacher: An Email Dialog with a Reader

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, moments of truth

A few days ago, I received an email from someone checking out some of my older blog posts, and I felt our email conversation might benefit others. I am a few years down the road on my journey from when I started processing all this stuff, but as I wrote this brother back, I almost felt like it was a synopsis of the last couple of years of blogging. With his permission, I’m reposting the conversation, withholding the name for privacy’s sake.

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Creating Community, or Finding It (part 3: Our Journey)

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Categories: changing mindsets, church, community, food for thought

So read parts one and two to catch up…

With my changing views on community, I think what I’m about to share here is the most significant factor–because it really demonstrates what can happen when we let community happen instead of make it happen. (And this is just what our journey looks like–not an inference as to what yours should look like.)

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How One Statement Can Explain Two Years

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, Rantings

Kathy over at Carnival in My Head just got back from Africa with her family, and posted a preliminary report about her trip on her blog. One of the most profound moments she described was when she said her missions team was the first American team ever to actually stay at the orphanage they were visiting–that most teams sleep at a nice hotel an hour away. One of the teachers at the orphanage expressed gratefulness at this, saying, “people come to help, but they donโ€™t really want to be with us and live our life with us.”

Ouch. In so many ways.

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