Posts tagged with: discipleship

Selfsmall“Christian discipleship is nothing less than conformity to Christ—as individual believers and as local communities,” writes Charlie Self in Flourishing Churches and Communities, CLP’s Pentecostal primer on faith, work, and economics. “The very life of God is in us.”

Most of us have heard the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in their basic forms, but understanding the relationship between the two and living out that combined imperative can be difficult to wrap our minds around.

How do we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves? How do we love ourselves without descending into selfishness?

Self argues that “all of these ‘loves’ grow together,” and thus, we should be wary of drawing unhealthy divides, focusing on one area or group of areas to the detriment of the other(s). Fruitful stewardship depends on a healthy and holistic focus not just on who we ought to be serving, what we ought to be doing, and how we ought to be doing it, but first and foremost, from where such activities are sourced and directed.  (more…)

church_congregationOver at The High Calling, Michael Kruse observes that many pastors and church leaders are now looking for a “programmatic strategy” for helping their congregations integrate work and discipleship.

The problem, Kruse argues, is that such a strategy doesn’t exist:

As leaders, we need to realize that to make faith and discipleship integrated in our congregations, we cannot do it with our congregation’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring those in our congregation (including ourselves) to make a shift in our values, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors. You see, while some of us sense a need for better integration of faith with vocation, there are significant obstacles.

Most Christians do not have a theological framework that accommodates the integration of faith and vocation. Many are even hostile to the idea. They are more comfortable with a life that is not integrated, compartmentalizing work and discipleship. Any attempts at integration feel like intrusions into their private lives. Worship is viewed as an escape from “secular” concerns. And let’s face it, if we really pursue integration, we will discover uncomfortable things about our lives.

Indeed, as the Acton Institute’s Stephen Grabill points out in his foreword to Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, despite many Christians having an “implicit sense that work is good because it carries out the cultural mandate,” we have failed to grasp that work is, further, “one of the core elements of discipleship and spiritual formation.”

To start chipping away at this convenient and comfortable disposition, Kruse offers some basic and broad ideas to help church leaders begin the integration process with their congregations. (Amy Sherman offered a similarly themed set of recommendations a few months ago.) (more…)

New RadicalsI recently expressed my reservations about David Platt’s approach to “radical Christianity,” noting that, outside of embracing certain Biblical constraints (e.g. tithing), we should be wary of cramming God’s will into our own cookie-cutter molds for how wealth should be carved up and divvied out.

In this month’s cover story in Christianity Today, my good friend Matthew Lee Anderson of Mere Orthodoxy does a nice job of summarizing some additional issues surrounding the broader array of “radical Christianity” books and movements.

Sprouting from a diverse set of personalities ranging from Platt to Shane Claiborne to Kyle Idleman to Francis Chan to Steven Furtick, “the radical message has found an eager market,” Anderson explains, with sermons and books that “have both incited and tapped into a widespread dissatisfaction with many Americans’ comfortable, middle-class way of life and the Christianity that so easily fits within it.”

Anderson appreciates the energy and sincerity of those seeking to subvert “comfortable Christianity,” but offers a helpful critique of the overall urgency of things, beginning with an observation of the movement’s “reliance on intensifiers”—a reality that, for Anderson, demonstrates a distinct blind spot:

These teachers want us to see that following Christ genuinely, truly, really, radically, sacrificially, inconveniently, and uncomfortably will cost us…The reliance on intensifiers demonstrates the emptiness of American Christianity’s language. Previous generations were content singing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way.” Today we have to really trust and truly obey. The inflated rhetoric is a sign of how divorced our churches’ vocabulary is from the simple language of Scripture.

And the intensifiers don’t solve the problem. Replacing belief with commitment still places the burden of our formation on the sheer force of our will. As much as some of these radical pastors would say otherwise, their rhetoric still relies on listeners “making a decision.” There is almost no explicit consideration of how beliefs actually take root, or whether that process is as conscious as we presume.

This gap becomes further evident, Anderson argues, when one observes the narrow range and overly dramatic thrust of the narratives and testimonies held up by the movement:  (more…)

Flourishing Churches and CommunitiesI recently wrote about the need to reach beyond an earthbound economics, re-orienting our thinking around a more transcendent framework that requires active spiritual engagement and discernment. Even as Christians, far too often we set our focus too strongly on temporal features like material needs, happiness, and quality of life—all of which come into play accordingly—without first concerning ourselves with what God is actually calling us to do as individuals.

Transcendent ends will only come from transcendent beginnings, and those beginnings will only be ordered properly if we take the time to identify what objective truths exist for society and how exactly God is calling us to participate within that broader social framework.

As Charlie Self notes in his book, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship, “cultural, economic, and social institutions are built on transcendent moral foundations,” and rely on spiritually transformed individuals to function and flourish toward God’s ultimate ends. By structuring our institutions around this understanding, we create more opportunity for society to reach past the mere meddling of man.

As Self explains, properly rooted ourselves in transcendent truths opens the door to a broader, fuller approach to “service” itself:

Economic and personal liberties must be united with the rule of law to nurture loving and just expressions and allow all people to flourish. Objective truths, which guide behavior and relationships, do indeed exist. There must be explicit and implicit values that ensure cohesive and prosperous living. The Holy Spirit gives discernment and wisdom, enabling Christians to engage virtuously in commerce and culture without being enslaved by the perversions of liberty caused by rebellion and sin. (more…)

Radical Together, David PlattOver at Thought Life, Owen Strachan uses David Platt’s book, Radical Together, as a launching pad for asking, “Are you and I making and using money as if there is no such thing as the work of the gospel?”

I’ve already written about my disagreements with Platt’s approach in his first book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, and Strachan expresses similar reservations. While appreciating Platt’s emphasis on “exaltation of and dependence on a sovereign, awesome God,” Strachan is concerned that on the topic of wealth—a primary target of Platt’s—readers might easily rush to the assumption that wealth and prosperity are bad altogether.

Evangelicalism desperately needs Platt’s laser focus on the gospel and missions. The church exists to make disciples for the glory of God, both locally and abroad. I would only point out that I think that wealth and philanthropy can actually be our friend here. In other words, if you want to apply the “radical” model–with its many strengths–I can think of few things more radical than using one’s wealth for gospel purposes. Maybe the most spiritual thing to do to support the promotion of the gospel is this: stay in your job, save and invest scrupulously, and keep pumping out money to support missionaries and pastors.

Here’s just one example of thousands we could give on this point. A forgotten man named Henry Parsons Crowell made vast amounts of money through the Quaker Oats company. Did he hoard it? Nope. He gave away 70% percent of his massive income and helped bankroll Moody Bible Institute, the school that…has sent out thousands upon thousands of missionaries in its century of ministry. Yes, every time you eat Quaker Oats, you’re paying masticular homage to a man who–merely by giving money–helped catapult the gospel all over the world

…This is a testimony to what wealth, including but not limited to truly fabulous wealth, can do if committed to the Lord. It’s one of countless others we could share of evangelicals of great or small means who tucked money away not for themselves, but for the work of Christ’s church. (more…)

IkariaThe New York Times has a fascinating profile on Ikaria, a Greek island located about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. With roughly 8,000 inhabitants, the island is known for its slow and relaxed lifestyle, thriving communities, and healthy citizenry.

As Ikarian physician Dr. Ilias Leriadis says in the article: “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? …We simply don’t care about the clock here.”

Brendan Case offers a good summary of the article at Call and Response (HT), pointing to some significant themes:

“For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle,” reports Dan Buettner in a recent issue of the “New York Times Magazine,” “they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible.” Buettner’s exploration of the Aegean island of Ikaria, where people are 2.5 times as likely as Americans to live past the age of 90, showcases the inseparability of individual and communal flourishing.

On Ikaria, a constellation of factors yields long lives: a great diet, and few chances to deviate from it; lots of physical activity (little of which could be classed as “exercise”); even regular napping.

But the likely keys to Ikarian longevity are harder to map. Buettner suggests that social structures — the marriages, families and friendships that knit Ikarians into a densely woven fabric of village life — are what sustain these communities in healthy practices.

At a superficial level, it can be easy for us to overly romanticize such places, especially for those of us who are routinely exhausted by fast-paced Western culture (though I still prefer a widespread concern for clocks). Buettner, for example, often seems over-sold on the notion of Ikaria as Utopia–likely, no doubt, because of his research interests in longevity (understandable). (more…)

The idea that being a monastic is godly while being a businessperson is worldly reflects a widely held belief among Christians, says James R. Rodgers. But the pursuit of a vocation in business doesn’t necessarily means the embrace of a lesser form of the Christian life:

While I would be loath to argue that the pursuit of business is superior to the pursuit of monasticism, I nonetheless would insist that business vocations do not necessarily entail a lesser form of Christian life. Indeed, Christian discipleship can be quite meaningfully pursued through vocations in business.

Providing a needy person with a job not only eliminates want for that person, it also creates the opportunity to multiply charity through the hands of others. Paul encouraged Christians to do “honest work” with their own hands, so that they “may have something to share with those in need.” This is of course not unique to business firms, many monastic orders do work to pursue charity as well. My point is not that business is superior to monasticism (whether of the new or the old sort), but only that it need not represent an inferior form of spiritual life, especially for those particularly concerned with helping the needy.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, October 18, 2010

This year’s Lausanne Congress, Cape Town 2010, is underway and all reports are of a massive event, with substantial buildup and coordination of efforts of and implications of various kinds across the globe. (Dr. Anthony Bradley, a research fellow at the Acton Institute, participated in one of the conversation gatherings last month leading up to the Cape Town event.)

In my book published earlier this summer, Ecumenical Babel, I mentioned Cape Town 2010 as one of the major ecumenical events taking place this year. Dr. Stephen Grabill, in his foreword to the book, wrote extensively of the opportunities and challenges facing evangelical ecumenical efforts.

Grabill writes,

I think holistic biblical stewardship understood as a form of whole-life discipleship may be just the motif or infrastructure that the ecumenical movement has needed “to move purposefully forward.” At the beginning of the twenty-first century, an unprecedented opportunity exists to disciple the church in the fundamental pattern of holistic stewardship. As the church becomes increasingly aware of issues of sustainability, seeks to understand the role of business, and expands the message of the grace of giving as a central motif of the Christian life, an environment for personal and corporate transformation takes root.

Dr. Grabill and Brett Elder (of Acton’s strategic partner, the Stewardship Council) are both in Cape Town over the next weeks to participate in the event in a number of ways.

Speaking of Grabill’s usage of the phrase “grace of giving,” there is a site setup to coordinate a number of the resources that are being made available to Cape Town delegates. A special edition of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible is being made available to all the attendees, as well as a Cape Town edition of occasional papers for the Resource Mobilization Working Group published by Christian’s Library Press under the title Kingdom Stewardship.

For a really stunning and inspiring story of how the concept of stewardship can enliven and enrich our lives, check out the story of Bishop Hannington of Uganda, now appearing on the Grace of Giving site.

Bishop Hannington from International Steward on Vimeo.