Friday, April 16, 2021

Book Review of What Is the Church and Why Does It Exist by David E. Fitch


What is the Church and Why Does It Exist?

by David E. Fitch

ISBN 978-1-5138-0570-2

Herald Press

Reviewed by Clint Walker


    David E. Fitch has written a new book that is being published this spring. It is from Herald Press, and is part of their "The Jesus Way" series of small books that pack a big punch. Fitch's contribution to this series is fitting, as he argues for a missional ecclesiology, and gives some helpful hints in how to put this way of doing church into action.

    What is the Church and Why Does it Exist is a book centered around three questions: What is Church? Why Church? and How do we do Church?. The book has a partner video curriculum by the same name with the new streaming platform SeminaryNow as well. For those familiar with Fitch's other writings, Fitch borrows heavily from some of the content in his book Faithful Presence in communicating his vision for how churches should structure and function, but each work stands apart from the other with a slightly different focus. 

    Fitch challenges his collegues and student to be pithy in their communication, and works on that himself. However, anyone who has went to David Fitch's lectures or had a conversation with him knows that he himself leans less toward the earthy pithiness of  Ernest Hemingway in his communication, and more toward the wordy thoughtfulness of Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

    For this reason, this book is an accomplishment for Dr. Fitch. He packs a lot of his conceptual work he has done over the last twenty years or so about what the missional church is all about in a relatively brief, thoughtful, easy to understand book that you can share with people in your small group or congregation. There are discussion questions in the back of the book that allow conversation to begin.

    I have worked through the material in this book with a small group in my congregation. They interacted well with it. At times they thought what David Fitch shared was common sense, and at other times they were challenged by his perspective, which is exactly what I wanted. For our people, we were affirmed in our commitment to congregational life, and also challenged to practice our faith together, in our homes, and in our communities. 

    This will be a helpful resource for any church to look at as they consider how to connect with the continually changing, post-Christian world. It honors the wisdom of having a community called the church. Yet at the same time challenges us to move out of siloed churches and siloed living into a wholistic, authentic way of living for Jesus together as believers in the world for the love of humanity and the glory of God.



Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Detectives of Divinity

 

On Being a Detective of Divinity

          So, this morning I got a call for someone with an unusual request. “Pastor, I live at the Liberty House, and we have been on lockdown. My brother says I need someone to bring me communion. I really want communion. Will you bring me some?”

          “Sure,” I said, “do you believe in Jesus?”.

“I believe in the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit. And I am a Baptist, because John the Baptist was a Baptist too,” she replied.

“Will 2:30 work?”

“Yes! I will see you at 2:30. Thank you! Thank you! Just come around the back and will meet you there.”

So, like a meth dealer around the corner of a rehab clinic, I smuggled the body and blood of Jesus down the back alley of an assisted living facility on lockdown. “This ought to be interesting,” I thought.

As I approached, I prayed, “Lord, be present in this moment. Let your love and grace present in the sharing of the bread and the cup in such a way that we are all sense your Spirit at work among us. Amen.”

I drove down the alley to what appears to be the main entrance of the facility. I brought with me the elements I had packed. Three pre-packaged and sealed communion servings were loaded into three plastic easter eggs to make the transport of the elements easier and were sitting on the passenger seat of my car. I had no idea why I packed three servings, I just felt led to do so.

I get out. “Are you the one bringing us communion?” my new friend yells out.

“I am. Do your friends want to share with us?”

“Yes, two of my friends heard and want to do communion too.”

So, I get out all three Easter eggs containing the elements of the Lord’s Supper. I read through I Corinthians 11.

“The body of Christ, broken for you,” I proclaim. Then I help each one of them open their wafer off the top of the cup.

“This is the new covenant in my blood,” I say, and help them with the cup.

It was a sacred moment. Three adults, each with challenges that make it hard for them to live independently, stood hungry for the inbreaking of the transcendent God into their lives. Having the body and blood smuggled to them through a back alley delivery, they experienced the love of Christ in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper.  Through presence of the church in delivering and sharing this moment with them, and in their longing for a tactile way to connect with the grace of God, the Spirit of God broke through in a powerful way as four people shared communion in a parking lot on Sixth Street and Willow.

Alan Roxburgh, a prolific Christian author and leader of the missional church movement, says that missional leaders/pastors do their work best when they are detectives of divinity. In other words, as we go out into the world around us, we do our best work when we open our eyes to what the Spirit is doing and join God in it.

I have no idea, in the end, how meaningful that moment was for my new friends. But I know it was meaningful for me. It helped me to remember that God is as work in ways I never expect. And it reminded me that sharing the table, and remembering the sacrifice of Christ, is a powerful way to experience the love of Christ, and to offer solidarity and love to one another. It reminded me, as I enter Holy Week, that I should not take the Lord’s Supper or what happened on Calvary for granted. As a matter of fact, we should all be hungry and thirsty for the presence of God.

I drove out of the parking lot today remembering the Emmaus Walk of those two people with Jesus, who discovered in the breaking of bread that Jesus had been present with them all along. And I mumbled to myself, “Wasn’t my heart burning within me in the breaking of bread?”

 

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Amen and Awoman

   

  


Of all the controversies that evangelical Christians have created and embroiled themselves in, the backlash regarding the closing of the Rev. Emmanuel Cleaver's prayer may have been the most petty. You would think, from the response of many people I am aquainted with that he brought a golden calf into an altar in the worship space of a Christian congregation, or wore a t-shirt promoting the Piss Christ (yes there are such t-shirts). Instead, the last word of his prayer was a pun, intended to celebrate the inclusion of the first woman chaplain to the House of Representatives, as well as the larger proportion of women in this term's Congressional delegation. The closing of the prayer fit with much of the rest of his prayer which called for spirit-led peacemaking and inclusion of  "the other". In the prayer Rep. Cleaver called for peace and an end to partisan tribalism. The final word of the prayer fit with this theme. Although it may have been a little dorky, it should not have made news. Furthermore, it should not have Christian around the country offended and ready to wage a Twitter/Facebook jihad. 

    Cleaver's prayer wasn't perfect. In my opinion, Rev. Cleaver's mistake was this: don't mistake a prayer for a sermon. For public prayers, it is almost always a temptation to take the opportunity to lecture folks, or to placate those in authority through the use of prayer. Don't do it. When you pray, pray. Even in congress. And when you preach, preach.

    Nevertheless, I am intrigued that many evangelicals are pretending that misusing the word "amen" is like taking the Lord's name in vain. The earliest manuscripts of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 do not even use the word "amen". Many faithful Christians and secularists use the term "amen" in everyday conversation to communicate agreement, not as an expression of prayer. It is not required to "hang up" a prayer with the word "amen". It is just a tradition.

    So then, is there a controversy about the term "awoman"? My suspicions are as follows:

1. In light of Warnock's upcoming election, evangelicals wanted to disparage the African American church, especially those grounded in some sort of liberation tradition, as being untrue to the gospel. It was a way of both attempting to attack African American religious tradition as illegitamate, as the SBC has done with its repudiation of critical race theory, and of peeling away any support in the upcoming election from Warnock.

2. It communicated many conservative evangelicals lack of willingness to support racial and gender inclusion, unless it is completely subjugated to constructs of white power and male power. And, any movement of faith that affirms instead of deconcontructs the structures of abusive power, including mitigating against full inclusion of both women and minorities, is anti-gospel. 


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

You've got the gift

I think that the concept of spiritual giftedness in Scripture is greatly misunderstood. 

First, I don't think that the lists in different parts of Scripture are an exhaustive list of all potential spiritual gifts. The lists are examples, with specific gifts mentioned because they are the most prominent in that community. This does not mean that the classic spiritual gift inventory is a misguided venture. As a matter of fact, I think these quizzes really help people think about the unique contributions they can make. I just don't think we should say that everybody's gifts and gift mixes are always going to fit into the model of first century church labels and funtion.

Secondly, I think giftedness is contextual to the given group of believers you are a part of. God either creates or highlights different gift mixes in different contexts. When I was a 25 year old just out of seminary, I drove our church secretary nuts with my lack of administrative skills, but teaching and leadership gifts came to the forefront. Now that I am 47, my doctoral supervisor says that I have the gift leading our cohort in organization. When I was in my early 30s, I recieved feedback that my preaching skills were lacking. Yet, in this church and my previous congregation, people mentioned my preaching abilities as an area of giftedness. I could go on and on. God raises up certain gifts at certain times for specific needs and contexts. They are for the body of Christ, not just one individual.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

What gifts and abilities have come to the forefront as you have participated in Christian community, no matter what its form?


Friday, July 17, 2020

What I am reading (for my sermonating)

I am preaching through the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings. It has been interesting because Philippians has taken on a different feel as I study through it to preach it, keeping my congregation in mind. Paul covers a few issues that are especially relevant to our time in this book, and it has been exciting to see how it holds new relevance in our current situation as a nation, a community, and a congregation.

Specifically, the text addresses the following issues:

anxiety

emotional health

how to deal with others in the midst of conflict

imitating Christ

learning to have the right mindset 

and more.....

I am using some resources in this study which help me along in the journey


Karl Barth is the most influential theologian of the last 400 years in my opinion. This commentary is helpful because he gets me to look and and think about the passage that I am reading differently. When I am preparing a sermon, I need something to push me to think outside of the box. Barth does that.


 Cohick's commentary strikes the right balance between academic study and pastoral insight. A great resource by a good scholar.


 A great book to offer insight on the "flattening of authority" in Paul's corpus, and what it means to live in mutual submission as the body of Christ. Hellerman is great with Philippians.

Gordon Fee is a well-respected Bible teacher. This is another commentary that tries to blend exegetical faithfulness with practical insight. It has been very helpful.


 Meant as a tool for Bible preachers and teachers, this commentary focuses on what they Scripture says to us right now, and how we can live the word. It helps remind me to get to the "so what" in my message. 


 I have just finished a class with Nijay, and have adored his down to earth, yet winsome approach to teaching the content of the book of Philippians. Michael Bird is a top notch scholar in his own right, and this book is a great resource for any bible teacher's library.

I love NT Wright's "for everyone" commentary. It is structured like the Barclay commentaries of yesteryear, only better scholarship and more relatable. No section is very long.  

 This is Nijay's simpler study of Philippians, and I have LOVED IT. Nijay is a good writer, the format of the commentary flows well, and I find little nuggets all through it that work great for preaching/teaching. 


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Saying What Needs to Be Said JUNE NEWSLETTER COVER ARTICLE

Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying

          Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christians should stand for justice and equality of all persons. These values not only define what it means to be American, these American values were derived from Scripture.

          God is the creator of all persons, and longs that they all experience his love and grace. God longs to create a multi-cultural family of believers that then go out into the world as peacemakers, reconcilers, and seekers of justice.

          God is working against bigoted, prejudicial behavior through all of Scripture. God punishes Aaron and Miriam for their bigotry against Moses’ wife Zipporah for her skin tone (Numbers 12). God calls his people to welcome the stranger. He places persons with different nationalities in Jesus’ bloodline, like Ruth.

          When Jesus describes a “good neighbor” in the New Testament, he describes someone from a rival ethnic group to good Israelites (a “good Samaritan). He tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus places justice for the poor as the centerpiece of his ministerial call (Luke 4).

          In Acts, we see God challenging mistreatment of widows of different backgrounds, and the apostles creating a system to protect the minority group that was being mistreated. We see God breaking through in challenging the church to welcome Gentiles into the family of God.

          Paul calls the church to be reconciled, places peace and cooperation of persons of different ethnic groups as the centerpiece of the books of Romans and Galatians. He calls for tolerance and acceptance of different social, racial, and cultural mores, as long as the behaviors are not directly contradictory to Biblical teaching. He says regardless of gender, race, or economic background we are all united as equal members of the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28).

          The history of our nation, however, bears with it a long history of racism and racial violence—often while simultaneously claiming to be acting on Christian principles. Americans fought a war over slavery, and careful students of history will know that much of the Nebraska territory was as divided on the issue as well. North Platte had a race riot in 1929. Very few places have been immune to racial or cultural conflict.

          The United States military, in a series of conflicts lasting over 100 years, slowly killed off a large portion of the Native American population after stealing their land. They forced the rest onto reservations even though many of the people lived in a nomadic culture. These wounds continue to reverberate.

          American racism has not been limited to blacks and Native Americans. Our treatment, both through legislation of law and acts to protect American security, has been less than stellar in how we treat Asian Americans and Latin Americans as well. And, too often, churches and Christians were either silent or complicit in all these forms of racism.

          And so it needs to be said, that when a man named George Floyd, an outspoken Christian believer by the way, gets killed by a police officer on the street, that we need to say that this is wrong. This needs to be recognized as part of a systemic issue of violence against vulnerable people of color that includes lychings, cross burnings, and more. The same is true with a group of white men in a pick-up truck hunting down and shooting a black young man in Georgia in broad daylight. This is wrong as well. As are many other examples that have become too numerous for me to remember every name.

It is also wrong is the way we often treat and speak of persons who speak Spanish as their first language, the way many of us make broad sweeping generalizations about Native Americans. Again, the examples are lengthy.

All of this, this biblical teaching that racial prejudice and violence is wrong, needs to be said. It needs to be stated and restated by believers and clergy alike. And so I am doing so, in a church newsletter, at a timely moment in our national life.

At the same time, I feel frustrated, because I think understanding this truth and being sensitive to this issue should go without saying. You know, I think loving our neighbors, and doing justice for the mistreated is like Following Jesus 101. Actually, it is like “Common Human Decency 101”. But, over and over again, it needs to be restated.

Its as simple as this. Choose not to be a jerk. And when you are a jerk, repent and ask for forgiveness, and try and make things right. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Don’t hate those that are different than you. Stand up for those that don’t have the power or the ability to stand up for themselves. Help those in need. Be a person of justice. Be a person of mercy. Be a person that has a passion to break down walls of ignorance, prejudice, and hate.

.


Church Newsletter: June 18


I Never Thought I Was Going to Be a TV Preacher
          There is a meme going around in pastor circles with a picture of a pastor doing a live stream a few months ago. It had a pastor standing in front of an iPhone and said, “Every pastor is a televangelist now”. I laughed out loud, both because it had a ring of truth to it, and because being a TV preacher was never high on my list of goals.
I remember one time some of my African-American ministerial collegues jokingly tried to push and friend of mine and I in that direction. In that moment at the ABC Minister’s Council Senate about 11 years ago some of the pastors were talking about their “anniversary” gifts and their “pastor appreciation” gifts that were given from the congregation. They included an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii and a time share with an extra week of vacation, or $25,000 in a Christmas bonus. I told them (truthfully) that my cash salary at that time was not $25,000 a year. They jokingly made plans for my friend Tim and I to set up our own studios, make videos, and broadcast them across the nation to supplement our incomes. I tried to tell them I had a face for radio, and a voice to pair with water boarding in interrogating terrorist suspects, but they would have none of it. We laughed for what seemed like hours.
Look at me now! I have devotions and sermons broadcast around the world each week via the internet. It makes me as uncomfortable now as it did then, but in a worldwide crisis, you do what you are going to do!
And, of course, streaming our services on line, and sending recordings to folks who could not be here has been a blessing. It has kept us connected, and challenged us to grow. Wes, Jen, Wayne, Todd, Jim, and others have done great in getting our services put together with sound and video, and broadcast to the parking lot and the world.
Early in the COVID epidemic we received funds to set up a livestream broadcast that will be a little higher tech. It took some planning and shopping, and the supplies are almost all here (Sony shut down its video camera factory during COVID-19 restrictions in Japan, so we are waiting on that). Soon we will have the ability to stream a nice video feed with a high-quality camera on a more permanent basis. We will also be able to develop other video materials. This will be a blessing for folks that are homebound, for several of our people that do shift work that keeps them from attending, and for many others. Some believe that live streaming can be a gateway to invite people into our fellowship. I am excited that we can share our ministry in all these ways.
In all of this, I do have one concern. Online worship should never be a full-time, permanent replacement for gathering in person. I am concerned that there are several of us that are perfectly comfortable watching worship in our jammies with our coffee in one hand and our bagel in the other. There is a reason the Scripture says, “Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). We need to be present to and connected with one another. It is hard to “one another” watching a screen. Now, many of you are caring for your health and being safe. That is good and right. But slowly we will need to get out, connect, care for one other, gather, worship, and pray with our church family. When that time comes, use our live stream as helpful supplement, not as a permanent plan for spiritual nourishment.


Dealing with Difficulty (FBCNP Newsletter June 11)


Dealing with Difficulty
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5: 1-5)

            I got caught complaining the other day. I administrate our Doctor of Ministry cohort Facebook Group. I also facilitate our Zoom calls. This is all as a way of participating in a helpful way, and adding something of value since I am one of the slower and more dimwitted in our group. I was reading one of the books, which everybody is finding challenging, and put up a little post saying I did not like the book because it was too dense and “rambly” (how is that for a doctoral word?). The professor for the forthcoming class left a comment on my post. His input was basically that we needed books to challenge us and stretch our limits of understanding if our coursework was going to have any value. Of course he is right (I still hate the book).
            Sometimes we are so pain averse that we avoid challenges that are set before us that God can use to help us to grow and thrive as a believer in Christ and as a church community. We avoid the difficult thinking, the difficult conversations, and the work of processing through challenging stuff because it is a lot easier to stay where we are. We can be like the Israelites, afraid to enter the promised land because there might be giants in the land.
            The last few months have been challenging. They can, if we let them, also be profoundly formational for us as persons and congregations. We can learn in the midst of this time, new practices for worship, new ways of reaching out, and deeper ways of connecting and caring for one another. But, we have to be intentional about facing the difficulties that change presents, suffer through those difficulties, and grow through them with deeper roots and stronger character on the other side.
            As we continue to adapt to a world dealing with a pandemic (these adaptations will take varied form and be with us for a while), let us begin to think about how God may be helping us “be the church” in a deeper or newer way. I know one person in our congregation who checks in on another member more frequently than they had before. Another person I know who has difficulty attending in person due to distance from FBC hasn’t missed a Sunday service online. And, a pastor I know is working really hard to preach shorter, pithier sermons. We can all continue to grow through hardship, if we are willing to receive God’s grace to do so.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Ken Mills Principle

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I started as the youth pastor in October of 1998, the fall after graduating from seminary, in Belgrade, Montana. The church was then called Belgrade Community Church, and I was the youth pastor in growing community located 10 miles from the college city of Bozeman, MT.

Ken Mills (along with Pat Ramler) were the Sunday School teachers for the high school class. We had a Friday night hike to the M in Bozeman planned. I think we billed it as a "midnight hike". We would leave about 9:30, get to the trailhead a little after 10, get organized, and start hiking until we got to the top of the trail, and overlook the city in the middle of the night. We would have a few songs and a brief devotion, and enjoy God's creation as we looked over the Gallatin Valley.

I was keeping my eye on the weather. A possible thunderstorm was forecast for the evening. I wondered if we should continue to hike. I called Ken.

"Well, I suppose you can call off the hike on the account of a potential storm, but if you cancel activities based on potential bad weather around here, you will not really ever get much done," Ken said, "If a storm comes during the hike, we can always change plans then."

I came to the conclusion that Ken was right. He knew the kids. He knew the land. I trusted him that evening. The storm didn't come. It was a great night.

As I have went along in ministry and in life, I have found that the Ken Mills principle is a good way to approach not just weather concerns in ministry, but ministry and life more generally.

If you scuttle your plans because of potential complications that may arise, you might as well sit on your rear end, never do anything, and wait to die.

This week our family has been talking about plans. What should we do regarding summer vacation? Do we plan for the kids to be in school full-time in the fall or not? Should I officiate a wedding next spring? The questions go on and on. There is so much uncertainty. And the kids are wondering, should we just stay in a holding pattern? It is like planning a midnight hike with a 50 percent chance of rain.

And Ken Mills principle keeps running through my mind. If you hold off on plans based on a potential storm, you will probably never really get very much done. So, we have to move forward. Use precautions when necessary, yes. Consider back up plans, of course. But you can't just hide from a possibility of a storm that may never come.

The Ken Mills principle applies to how we approach congregational leadership as pastors, and how congregations approach their ministries as a congregation. This is especially true in 2020. We have taken time as a society to hunker down to protect ourselves and others from a disease. Might even have to do that again. However, we can't plan our ministries based upon worse-case scenarios. We have to live. We have to step up and step out, even if that means we might have to make changes later.

Fleeting thoughts I needed to write out before they escaped my mind. Maybe I will develop them better at a later date.

Book Review of What Is the Church and Why Does It Exist by David E. Fitch

What is the Church and Why Does It Exist? by David E. Fitch ISBN 978-1-5138-0570-2 Herald Press Reviewed by Clint Walker     David E. Fitch ...