Link

What a week. Every day another story of violence around the globe and close to home. And Sunday’s coming. How to respond in worship when we are feeling gutted, threatened, horrified, ravaged by the world, pushed beyond any rational response in measured tones? Remember our “rage belongs before God–not in the reflectively managed and manicured form of a confession, but as a pre-reflective outburst from the depths of the soul. This is no mere cathartic discharge of pent up aggression before the Almighty who ought to care. Much more significantly, by placing unattended rage before God we place both our unjust enemy and our own vengeful self face to face with a God who loves and does justice.” – Miroslav Volf. Click above for more from W. David O. Taylor’s blog, including a Prayer of Penitence excerpted from a Liturgy of Reconciliation and Restoration, produced by the Church of England.

It’s a lovely prayer, but much further down the spectrum toward a “reflectively managed and manicured… confession” than most people will walk in ready for. In fact, I think many of us are disoriented and overwhelmed. The world persists in being worse than we were prepared for. We need an opportunity to place that “unattended rage [despair, fear, etc.]before God.” Even if it’s something as simple as giving people a few quiet minutes of access to pen and paper to pour out their guts. What phrases keep running through your head? What images? What do you want to yell from the rafters? What do you want to spray paint on a wall? What do you need God to hear? What are you afraid God will know you are thinking? Get it down. Get it out. Have it out. Tack it face-down to a temporary wailing wall. This bit is between you and God. No one else will look at these, so don’t censor yourself. We can know that those pages will be all over the map and still bring them together before God to transition into corporate lament.

And what might that kind of corporate lament sound like this week? Click below for a powerful example which ends “We need new songs whispered into our ears, new rhythms to pound in our chests, so that we may join in the chorus of new life. God of love–you open our eyes to the suffering all around us. AND WE WILL SEE God of justice–you open our ears to those who cry out in pain. AND WE WILL HEAR God of healing–you open our hearts to expose our own pain and the pain of the world. AND WE WILL BEAR IT TOGETHER” – Ian Simkins.

After the lament we are prepared to recognize and repent of our own parts in the disorder of the world with that reflective prayer of confession. Let the music reflect this progression as well. Dwell on the stages of lament and avoid the temptation to rush to that “but it’s all good with Jesus” tune you like to end on. We can end declaring we have a hope and a future, but this service isn’t about cheering ourselves up.

Also this week, the sending is key. We cannot simply leave comforted or emotionally spent and numbed, content with our own individual consolation or private commitments to choose love over hate in the abstract, having made our peace with the world as it is. We hope to leave renewed, more sensitive than ever, with resolve, and charged to do the work of making peace with one another. In the words of Erin Wathen, “When hate gets this loud and violent, we are called beyond love. We are called to active compassion; prophetic speech; deep listening; transformative engagement”

 

No Fear of the World: Pop Culture in Worship

“Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”[1]

“Popular culture” is often used as a shorthand reference to the faddish and fleeting. It flouts human wisdom to imagine that the eternal Divine, orchestrator of the heavens, who calls a universe into being with a word, cares about what is on the radio right now. God designed the intricacies of cellular biology from scratch, worked out a mathematical ratio to epitomize beauty and harmony, and built it into the most unexpected places in creation. We keep remarketing American Idol over and over and over again.

Doesn’t pop culture epitomize the world that is passing away and therefore constitute a colossal waste of time?  Following Ken Myers, Andy Crouch defines culture as “what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.”[2] What we make of the world that God created has obvious theological import.

Complete retreat from the world is not an option for the Church as a whole. Our churches represent places in which we may “withdraw from the situation, and attack the situation,”[3]  but never places in which we ignore the situation. Even while advocating a radical distinction between the Church and the world Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon remind us that “the church is not out of the world. There is no other place for the church to be than here.”[4] That said, at various times we may find the steps prepared for us leading away from the consumption of certain cultural goods. New believers often feel led to trash their old music collections and start over more circumspectly. When I can’t volunteer to serve a meal to kids on the street because that’s the night my show is on, I realize something’s amiss. If I blew so much money on concerts last month that I can’t pay my rent and my tithe this month, I recognize this as a call to cut back. Regularly taking time away from our societal responsibilities so we can reconsider and reprioritize them in relative quiet reflects a healthy commitment to responsibility, not an abdication of it. Taking a month off from a particular radio station may help correct an over-identification with the rebellious and despondent spirits of the age. I daresay the occasional fast from social media would prove valuable to many of us. We embark on these fasts and retreats, however, not because we despair for our humanity and our world, but rather because of our ultimate hope in what God will accomplish in us in our humanity and in our world. A fast serves to devote time and space to listening and waiting on God, not as a judgment on food.

Too often Christians have tried to sever themselves from their humanity and human families or cultures for fear of defilement, forgetting that Christ became human to save us from sin and its effects. Jesus taught that sin does not enter through the pores or the mouth. Rubbing up against it does not contaminate us. It’s not a thing we ingest. In pop culture terms, the calls are coming from inside the house. This is why the Church’s experiments at creating separate cultures to compete with those around us have traditionally landed somewhere between rampant abuse and second-rate kitsch. The alternative, however, is not to dissolve indistinguishably into our various cultures, but to become mindful makers within them. Andy Crouch contends that “The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”[5]

[I]f we seek to change culture, we will have to create something new, something that will persuade our neighbors to set aside some existing set of cultural goods for our new proposal. And note well that there are a number of other possible strategies, none of which, by themselves, will have any effect on culture at all.[6]

These strategies include condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming culture.[7] All of these responses are appropriate at times, but they tend to shape us more than the cultures prevailing around us. Only after Christians adopt our rightful postures as cultural creators and cultivators do these other strategies become valid gestures that we can make with freedom and integrity.[8]

Obviously we cannot live in such a way as to remain indistinguishable from the world around us, but our conduct and community should communicate that distinction, not the style of music we listen to or our zip codes. Christ did not wage war on the world to conquer it. He loved, wooed, and transformed it. There is such a thing as loving people too much to leave them where they’re at, but one does not move one’s beloved through damning criticism. If we truly believe Jesus came to make our joy complete, we will find more constructive means of relaying that message of love and joy than indiscriminately trampling the things that make our friends and neighbors happy. Churches must learn to critique the cultures in which they operate without judgment and without relying on false distinctions of us versus them. We all live in cultural contexts and the more deeply we understand them, the better we can envision our proper place as Christians within them.

One way I’ve seen this dynamic play out in our church over the years is in the offertory. Fourteen years ago, my husband and I joined a 10-year-old Gen X church plant that met blocks from the Space Needle and lived by the motto of “real, relevant… and a little bit radical.” We met in a movie theater with reclining seats, cup holders, and no outside light. The smell of popcorn signaled the benediction. We sought to provide an authentic worship experience in a safely neutral worship environment for people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t picture themselves setting foot in a church. We hired professional musicians for the worship band and every Sunday they covered a non-Christian rock song for the offertory that tethered the sermon to relevancy. We reckoned that all truth is God’s truth and we would take it where we found it, even and especially from non-traditional sources. The corollary to this premise was that if no one was singing about it, it wasn’t a pressing enough question to preach on. Sometimes the message of the song and the message of the pastor represented a study in contrasts, underscoring the difference between the wisdom from above and wisdom from below, but it kept us in conversation with the world even in our windowless sanctuary. You listen to a song differently when you hear it in church (lyrics were printed in the bulletin, for easier study) and the process of doing this weekly warped us for life. Over the years we discovered another curious and welcome effect. You’d be shopping or working out or commuting when a song you first or last heard at church would come over the speakers and suddenly it’s like you’re in a worship service.

The offertory format survived the merger with a more traditional church on a different hill. At some point in the process of crafting a “transitional” service for the newly formed church, verbiage crept into the bulletin about how we played these secular songs to listen to “the world’s” take on or longings surrounding today’s theme. The actual phrasing has been lost to time, but it had strong overtones of us and them, with the implication that this portion of our church service had more to do with them than with us. Were we playing this music for people not in the room? I doubt it was the intention, but there was a subtle sense of introducing fallen music into our worship so that it could be preached at and corrected. And yet at the same time we were trending toward somewhat “safer” musical choices, occasionally by Christian artists, that were generally and often perfectly orthodox, which made even less sense. We tweaked the stock explanation a couple of times before changing the format again. At present one of our in-house hipsters contributes a paragraph outlining the band’s relevant biographical details along with doing most of the heavy mental lifting of interpreting and putting the song in context for us. Again, this shifts the focus slightly. The songs tend to correspond more positively with the message so they often serve as a rich set-up for the preaching. Lines from the song may become a refrain in the sermon. For many in our inter-generational congregation it has become a mini-lesson in pop culture rather than an exercise in interpreting the music we would think of as our own. The significance of this signature piece of our Sunday gatherings continues to evolve these many years on, reflecting shifts in our corporate identity, theology and mission.

What practices do you or does your church engage in regularly to keep the conversation going with the culture at large? Have you ever felt or been accused of being “tainted” by them?

[1] Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969), 91.

[2] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 23.

[3] Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), 212-213

[4] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 43.

[5] Crouch, 67.

[6] Crouch, 67.

[7] Crouch, 68-73.

[8] Crouch, 98.

Never Miss Another Birthday: Ideas for Pentecost

“Pentecost Sunday is an end and a beginning. It is the culmination of the season of Easter. It is the day when the church senses the all-pervasive power of Easter as the Spirit is unleashed on Creation.”[1]

During the service people wrote on individual flames where they were hearing the Spirit call and what gifts they had been given to use in their calling. As part of the offering time they brought them forward to be assembled into the mural shown here.

During the service people wrote on individual flames where they were hearing the Spirit call and what gifts they had been given to use in their calling. As part of the offering time they brought them forward to be assembled into the mural shown here.

  • Fire pit on the sidewalk (must be attended)
  • Remove the outside doors from their hinges (assuming this is safe and reversible)
  • Make stackable boxes marked “everything we know about God” and give one to everyone entering along with instructions to take it up to the front of the church. Someone there assists people to stack them in the shape of a tower on top of several boxes that are already in place. These are rigged with string so when the account of the tower of Babel is read the strings can be pulled by a couple of people in the front rows to activate a spectacular collapse.
  • Later in the service people can approach the rubble as Peter’s speech is being read and receive a cross sticker to place on a box (or a small wooden cross to place inside a box or just by itself) to take out with them. Alternatively, distribute the boxes before the sermon and have people add their own words and images of the empty tomb, tongues of fire, etc.
  • Red rose petals – drop from balcony as people exit or in baskets in the pews, for handling during sermon
  • Toss red, orange and yellow streamers over the congregation during or after the benediction.
  • Sparklers to take away.
  • The church, frankly, needs more parties. Roberto Goizueta reminds us that Play, recreation, and celebration are the most authentic forms of life precisely because, when we are playing, recreating, or celebrating, we are immersed in, or ‘fused,’ with the action itself, and those other persons with whom we are participating. Thus, we are involved in and enjoying the living itself.[2] We chartered as a church on Pentecost and we threw ourselves and the neighborhood a block party with games, food and live music. Even if you didn’t charter on that day, it’s still the birthday of the Church, so whoop it up. Maybe you’ll have an annual picnic that day and hire a band or fly kites or do something else beautiful that expresses your identity as a church and that can be enjoyed by all.

Feel free to post additional ideas below!

The worship band worked up a command performance of their favorite covers of the last year for our block party.

The worship band worked up a command performance of their favorite covers of the last year for our block party.

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 161-162.

[2] Roberto Goizueta, Caminemos con Jesus: Toward a Hispanic/ Latino Theology of Accompaniment (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1995), p. 94. Qtd. In William A. Dyrness, Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), 55.

A DIY Prayerbook for All Saints’ Day

binding2Even if your little patch of Christendom veers away from praying to the saints, we can all admit we could stand to pray more like them.

One year we set up a 24/7 prayer room to that end. People signed up to pray in one hour increments. One of the stations featured a fan file of these half-page size “prayers of the saints” (printed in more varied and attractive fonts and formats than my lil’ ol’ blog can muster), a few simple drawing and binding materials (card stock, binder rings, cord or ribbon, and a hole punch) and this invitation:

Read through the prayer cards in the file.

Do any give words to what is in your heart?

Are there any you would like to pray regularly and make your own?

Collect those that speak to you or speak for you

and bind them into a personal prayer book to take with you.

Make it as simple or elaborate as you like.

Use ribbon, glue or binder rings; illuminate it with your own illustrations.

There are blank cards for writing your own prayers.binding1

Prayer cards:

May the Light of Lights come

To my dark heart from Thy place;

May the Spirit’s wisdom come

To my heart’s tablet from my Saviour.

 

Be the peace of the Spirit mine this night,

Be the peace of the Son mine this night,

Be the peace of the Father mine this night,

The peace of all peace be mine this night,

Each morning and evening of my life.

– Celtic Traditional[1]

 

O Lord, I have heard of your renown,

and I stand in awe, O Lord,

of your work.

In our own time revive it;

in our own time make it known;

in wrath may you remember mercy.

  • Habakkuk 3:2

 

As the rain hides the stars,

as the autumn mist hides the hills,

as the clouds veil the blue of the sky,

so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of thy face from me.

Yet, if I may hold thy hand in the darkness,

it is enough, since I know, that though I may stumble in my going,

Thou dost not fall.

     – Scottish Gaelic Traditional[2]

 

 

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all Your creatures – I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father.

– Charles de Foucauld[3]

Come Lord Jesus,

take away scandals from Your kingdom which is my soul,

and reign there.

You alone have the right.

For greediness comes to claim a throne within me;

haughtiness and self-assertion would rule over me;

pride would be my king;

luxury says, “I will reign”;

ambition, detraction, envy and anger struggle within me for the mastery.

I resist as far as I am able;

I struggle according as help is given me.

I call on my Lord Jesus.

For his sake I defend myself,

since I acknowledge myself as wholly his possession.

He is my God,

Him I proclaim my Lord.

I have no other king than my Lord, Jesus Christ.

Come, then, O Lord, and disperse these enemies by your power,

and you shall reign in me, for you are my King and my God.

– St. Bernard of Clairvaux[4]

 

Almighty God, have mercy on (Name)and on their faults and mine together.

Vouchsafe to amend and redress and make us saved souls in heaven together.

Where we may ever live and love together with you and your blessed saints.

By such easy, tender, merciful means as your own infinite wisdom can best devise;

and on all that bear me evil will and would do me harm.

– St. Thomas More[5]

 

O my God, with all my heart I am sorry for having sinned against You,

not because I fear the punishment my sins deserve,

but because You are so good

and because I owe to You everything good that I have ever had.

    – St. Julie Billart[6]

 

O tender Father, you gave me more, much more than I ever thought to ask for.

I realize that our human desires can never really match what you long to give us.

Thanks and again thanks, O Father, for having granted my petitions,

and that which I never realized I needed or petitioned.

– St. Catherine of Siena[7]

 

O Lord my God, Teach my heart this day where and how to see you, Where and how to find you. You have made me and remade me, And you have bestowed on me All the good things I possess, And still I do not know you. I have not yet done that For which I was made. Teach me to seek you, For I cannot seek you Unless you teach me, Or find you Unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in my desire, Let me desire you in my seeking. Let me find you by loving you, Let me love you when I find you.

– St. Anselm[8]

Lord Jesus, bind us to you and to our neighbor with love.

May our hearts not be turned away from you.

May our souls not be deceived nor our talents or minds enticed by allurements of error,

so that we may never distance ourselves from your love.

Thus may we love our neighbor as ourselves with strength, wisdom and gentleness.

With your help, you who are blessed throughout all ages.

      – St. Anthony of Padua

[9]

      Hearken to the cry of my heart

        You know, O Lord, what I ask of you

          My heart has so often told you.
          O desire of my soul, grant me the favor I implore;
              – St. John Eudes

[10]

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

 

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

 

We ask You to push back

The horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future

In strength, courage, hope, and love.

— Sir Francis Drake[11]

 

O my God, speak, your servant is listening and is ready to obey you in all things.

      – St. Angela Merici of Brescia

[12]

    Alas, dear Christ, the Dragon is here again.
    Alas, he is here: terror has seized me, and fear.
    Alas that I ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
    Alas that his envy led me to envy too.
    I did not become like God; I was cast out of Paradise.
    Temper, sword, awhile, the heat of your flames
    and let me go again about the garden,
    entering with Christ, a thief from another tree.

    –

      St. Gregory Nazianzus

[13]

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.

– St. Jude [14]

Check out the sites and books cited below for additional prayers.

 

[1] Collected by Alexander Carmichael. Qtd. in Shirley Toulson, The Celtic Year: A Celebration of Celtic Christian Saints, Sites and Festivals (Rockport, Mass.: Element Books, 1996), 41.

[2] World Prayers, “As the Rain Hides the Star,” http://www.worldprayers.org/archive/prayers/celebrations/as_the_rain_hides_the_star.html  (accessed June 17, 2011).

[3] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 47-48.

[4] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 103-104.

[5] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 94-95.

[6] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 61.

[7] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 42.

[8] http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Prayer/2009/07/Prayers-of-the-Saints.aspx?p=4 Accessed 10/06/14.

[9] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 29.

[10] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 101.

[11] http://www.worldprayers.org/archive/prayers/invocations/disturb_us_lord_when_we.html (accessed 10/06/14).

[12] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 59.

[13] qtd. in Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, Prayers of the Saints:An Inspired Collection of Holy Wisdom (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 75.

[14] Jude 1:24-25 New Living Translation

Consider the Groundhog

“Presentation in the Temple” by Fra Angelico. Come to think of it, in these portrayals with the swaddling clothes and halo, Jesus does look like a candle. Do you think he ever sees his own shadow?

 

By some strange coincidence, February 2nd is both the rather goofy custom of Groundhog’s Day and the rather more solemn feast of Candlemas, a holiday celebrating the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, his Meeting with Simeon and Anna, and the Purification of Mary. Random, right? Not at all. The two are intimately connected. (The Super Bowl, however, is a moveable feast and so, no matter what anybody tells you today, not particularly related to this episode in the story of divine revelation.)
Christians have been observing the interconnected events commemorated by Candlemas since the 4th or 5th century. Mary took Jesus with her to the temple to be dedicated as the firstborn and for her own rite of purification 40 days after he was born according to Jewish law. According to the New Testament Simeon recognized that the child would be a light to the Gentiles, hence the candle motif and the Eastern church’s name for the day: Hypapante, or “Meeting.”

As Candlemas falls close to the midpoint of winter, it accrued additional cultural significance in many countries. It marked the really, truly bitter end of the Christmas season, when all the decorations must come down and people mentally moved on to wondering when they could safely plant some more food already. Around this time the wild beasts, dormant during the brunt of the season, would tentatively emerge to gauge if the worst of the weather had passed or if a longer winter’s nap might be in order. In the UK, folks expected to see anything from wolves to snakes to bears, but badgers were somehow singled out as nature’s forecasters in this regard – I’m guessing because they made for less dangerous viewing. Badgers apparently being in shorter supply in Germany and the New World, the Pennsylvania Dutch made do with a woodchuck or groundhog.

So Punxsutawney Phil is essentially the Easter Bunny of Candlemas.

Incidentally, if you’re one of the 3 in 7 Americans who can never remember if seeing his shadow means six more weeks of winter if it’s the other way around perhaps it’s the French influence. They have contradictory traditional sayings which predict that a sunny Candlemas, or Chandeleur, portends the final hour and/or the first of forty more days of winter. What the French can agree on, however, is that crepes must be eaten today or dire consequences will ensue.

Making crepes the chocolate bunnies of Candlemas.

Different traditions focus on different aspects of the day, so if you’d like to get observant, you can start almost anywhere:
• Light candles and have crepes for dinner. (The French wheat industry thanks you!)
• Host a Wives’ Feast. (This and “Women’s Christmas” on Epiphany are opportunities for people of a certain gender who may find themselves standing in the kitchen for most of the holidays to sit down and talk about something other than oven temperatures and dietary restrictions.)
• I realize no one’s ever thought of this before, but how about a pancake breakfast at church?
• Have child dedications during service and/or a special blessing or time of prayer for the newborns and new parents in the congregation.
• Pass out candles during the benediction to symbolize carrying the light of the world out with us as we go. Invite people to carry and light them in a dark place or as a symbol of their holding a dark place up in prayer. Or set up candles around the room labeled with various “areas of life” (health, finances, relationships, work, etc.) and offer a “Meeting” time at the end of the service. Invite people to light their candle in some area of life in which they want to see Jesus and send people out with them lit. (According to tradition, anyone who makes it home with the candle still lit won’t die that year: BONUS!)

Holy Days are Here Again: Christmas Edition

 “In recent years the church itself has become the target of a good deal of criticism and, for many, has simply been dismissed as a meaningful player in contemporary culture. And yet, all the while, as we have seen, there is an increasingly urgent desire for images that capture something of the depth and beauty of life, for practices that can structure one’s life and spark affection. Religion has always been the custodian of such symbols, and they were the center of the church’s life from the beginning. Yet the sad fact is that few people turn to the church for such symbols today.”[1]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously claimed that “the church is only the church when it exists for others.”[2] That means the things we do in and as a church are deeply motivated by the people outside of the church. This kind of talk sometimes devolves into a sense that we should warp all the things we do in support of our own spiritual walks and lives to accommodate a random, idealized person who is not yet interesting in living a Christian life. That’s the sort of thing that ends in worship services where we don’t talk about Jesus for fear of alienating someone not in the room. That is not what it means to be the church for others.

In order to be the church for others we must first be the Church. There must be something going on in our midst for the seeker to find. It is both considerate and constructive to consider often what others interested but uninitiated in our language and practices would take away from observing them. Do they extend the welcome of Christ? The Church talking about how best to minister to people where they’re at is one of the most Christ-like things we could be doing. The conversation about whether we do certain things or talk amongst ourselves in certain ways because they’re “churchy” or because they’re significant to us and to living out our faith should be ongoing. The best way to be sensitive to people who have not completely bought into our community’s vision of God, however, is not to make it blander and presumably more palatable, but rather to offer sacrificial hospitality, complete translucence, and the richest of fare to the best of our abilities.[3] People don’t go on spiritual quests looking for superficiality, but depth. It’s worth discussing what might make people think to include our church on their quest and what offputtingly shallow practices, attitudes, and lingo they might encounter here if they do.

Bigga Gonzalez with the mural he painted during worship for Advent 2010. Each week the sermon and music focused on a different character in the Christmas story and so did the painting. Photograph by Jenn Cavanaugh.

Bigga Gonzalez with the mural he painted during worship for Advent 2010. Each week the sermon and music focused on a different character in the Christmas story and so did the painting. Photograph by Jenn Cavanaugh.

We often talk like we expect people to just wander in off the street in search of a place to encounter God. Remarkably, that does happen almost every time we open our doors, but it’s more of a symptom of desperate spiritual starvation than an indicator that they’re ready to throw in their lot with us on this journey. Consider the kind of confidence and trust we’re asking of people: to lose themselves in the worship of God in the company of strangers. Perhaps some word-of-mouth or outward sign will mark it as a place that is safe and trustworthy enough to enter, but increasingly the church building itself is not a sufficient sign of such. It may be that the sights, sounds and actions of our worship, ministry and community, visible from street level, audible through the open doors and perceptible in our neighbors’ daily lives could serve as such signs. Even then – even if people wander in for the music or the art or the safety itself – there’s no guarantee you have drawn them into worship. On the other hand, the symbolic act of walking into a church may be for them a greater step toward acknowledging God as God than most of your regular attenders take on an average Sunday.

Holy days are prime opportunities to be church for the world. It seems that people who do not normally attend church feel freer to come by. They are also the best times to revisit, and occasionally reinvent, our most significant traditions. It honors and blesses visitors and regulars alike to take breaks from our regular programming to dive deep into the festivals of the Christian year. What if Christmas in the church were as cozy and low-key as the secular versions most of us remember fondly as the best Christmas ever, the one that restored our souls and fostered our sense of family?

Homemade Christmas

The holidays wreak havoc on schedules. The churchy modus operandi entails planning extra, elaborate, once-a-year activities and services with only a skeleton crew to run them. Under these conditions, most proposed new traditions happen exactly once. Here’s an idea for a new tradition that may be more significant for the community, but probably less work for any one person than anything else you’ve done for Christmases past.

Sometime before Thanksgiving recruit nine volunteers who know they will be in town for Christmas Eve. Try to include a good cross-section of the church: young and old, male and female, starving artists and software engineers, different ethnicities. Assign them each a passage of scripture for a traditional lessons and carols service . Let them each plan a “lesson and carol” movement with a talk or a reading or an interpreted work of art and a song or activity for the congregation to respond with. Make sure you have at least one musician at their disposal for the singing. They each need to have their plans in writing a week prior to Christmas Eve so you can be sure not everyone is planning to sing Away in a Manger. Nine people who may not normally have much of a voice in church will have just blessed your congregation and twice-a-year visitors and made them feel like family.

To file in the "not less work, but great fun" category: the Christmas Arts & Crafts Bazaar. In recent years we've taken a break from making it so sales focused and simply spent the day making art together.

To file in the “not less work, but great fun” category: the Christmas Arts & Crafts Bazaar. In recent years we’ve taken a break from making it so sales focused and simply spent the day making art together.


[1] William A. Dyrness, Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), 220.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 1997, 1953:282 [Ethics]

[3] One of the most powerful forms of translucence is acknowledging the limit of our powers and abilities. Instead of presenting our efforts as the end-all-be-all, what if we offered them as offerings and articulated whenever asked our experience that there is more and greater than we can do or say? This allows us to work toward God’s will being done without limiting God in others’ minds.

Christ for Culture – part 1

“Seven Ages: The Walking Figure” by Ghislaine Howard

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” – Raymond Chandler [1]

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” – Cardinal Suhard [2]

Raymond Chandler’s walker of the mean streets epitomizes incarnation. Completely common and yet unusually honorable, this figure speaks the language of the age and acts as an agent of redemption. Cardinal Suhard’s witness, on the other hand, seems more steeped in the incense of holy mystery. Inexplicable and yet attractive, the witness calls us away from the world as we know it. For the Christian Church, Jesus Christ represents both the walker and the witness. In our accounts of him, he navigates the complexity between these two seemingly conflicting roles so gracefully and yet we agonize: How did he do it?  How do we do it?  There is no question that the reality of Jesus Christ can and should transform our human cultures, but how? Arguments for the creation of a separate Christian culture do not resonate with our accounts of a Savior who lived and died and lives for the sake of the world He so loves. Christ calls the Church to live as a faithful community of communities that, like Christ, transcends and critiques, but most critically participates in human cultures for the good of all. The Church distinguishes itself from the world-at-large by offering a unique understanding of reality that changes lives, not Christian knock-offs of worldly goods and services. Intentionally forging an exclusionary culture negates our human and God-given identities. While making too small a distinction between ourselves as the Church and our wider cultures is fatal, making too large a distinction is absurd. God sets us in human as well as spiritual families; sometimes we’re called to leave them for the sake of the gospel, but not because it is us versus them. God calls the Church

to be the bearer of God’s saving purpose for his whole world….  It means that this particular body of people who bear the name of Jesus through history… with all its contingency and particularity, is the body which has the responsibility of bearing the secret of God’s reign through world history.[3]

Our charge is unique, but we tend to claim things, such as God’s affection and attention, for ourselves that properly belong to all of creation. God’s incarnational economy requires us to root and ground ourselves not only in God’s love, but also in the cultures to which God wants to reveal divine love.

We the Church must not shun such grounding for fear of contamination. Rather we should broaden and deepen our personal and corporate cultural experiences so we’re better educated to critique our cultures and better equipped to understand our alternatives for living godly lives within them. Otherwise we do damage by talking about the world as we fear it may be rather than addressing the world as it is. We don’t merely absorb our cultures indiscriminately, however; we follow Christ’s example in embracing our identities as cultural beings and transforming the times and places in which we find ourselves from the inside. Christ remains our best model and representative in our relationships to our cultures. Christ loves and communicates to cultures through the Church and the Church should love and communicate to cultures through Christ. Jaroslav Pelikan points out that

as respect for the organized church has declined, reverence for Jesus has grown…. There is more in him than is dreamt of in the philosophy and Christology of the theologians.  Within the church, but also far beyond its walls, his person and message are, in the phrase of Augustine, a ‘beauty ever ancient, ever new,’ and now he belongs to the world.[4]

Christ neither feared nor feared for the world; rather he took up residence in it and sacrificed his life for the good of all of us in it to the glory of God. He instructs his body on earth to walk as witnesses in the world, communicating, displaying and verifying in our daily lives this gospel, this reality that has taken hold of us. We do so by living deeply, freely, and abundantly into our cultures following the standard and example of Jesus. In order to do so, we will all find it necessary to reject some key assumptions of our cultures. In Jesus’s day those false assumptions included God’s favoritism for Israel, the rich, and the religious. In my place and time they include false assumptions of the inherent goodness of radical individualism and rampant consumerism that define success in life as getting what’s “mine.”

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.[5]

The world around us poses all kinds of pressing and complex questions. We cannot assume they are all the wrong ones, that they don’t apply to us, or that we have all the answers at our disposal ready-made. Along with the danger of dismissing honest inquiry, we risk missing God’s direction; we must remain open to the possibility of God guiding and teaching us through present cultural situations. God has invited us to be part of the process of Christ becoming all in all. When we approach all the times and places and dilemmas we find ourselves in with this staggering invitation in mind we become agents of redemption in the here and now. We will know God’s goodness in the land of the living.

“Sing redemption everywhere you go.”


[1] Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder” http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/scans/chandlerart.html (accessed June 17, 2011).

[2] Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard, qtd. in Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Commemorative Edition (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998), 34.

[3] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 86-87.

[4] Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 232-233.

[5] David Orr, “What is Education For?” In Context 27 (Winter 1991): 52.

[6] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live, 100.

[7] Philippians 3:

[8] Jeremiah 29:7

[9] Gregory Wolfe, “The Four Cultures,” Image no. 58 (2008), http://imagejournal.org/page/journal/editorial-statements/the-four-cultures (accessed January 31, 2013).

[10] Anthony Ugolnik, “Whose Crisis of Faith? Culture, Faith, and the American Academy” in The Two Cities of God: The Church’s Responsibility for the Earthly City, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 92.

The Creative Local Church

Our ministry began by including the arts in existing programs—from mission to worship to education. The results were remarkable, for we found that the arts touched us in all aspects of our community life: they engaged our senses, helped us build relationships among ourselves, and helped us respond to wider community needs; they expanded our theological vision, stirred our imaginations, and brought us to places where we experienced God in moving and profound ways.

       – Alice Z. Anderman “On the Cusp of a Great Adventure: One Church’s Ministry with the Arts.” ARTS 19:1

Now that we’re the better of part of a year into this blog, maybe it’s time some introductions of the bigger ideas motivating it were made. Homespun seeks to provide resources for the creative life of the local church. The idea that your local church requires a creative life may be a no-brainer or an entirely new concept for you. It may conjure up a precise image of what that could look like for your church or leave you feeling lost in abstraction. This blog is for people in the church who have an idea whose time has come and are looking for creative ways to live it into reality. It is for those who believe (or are willing to be subtly persuaded) that our churches should, by their very nature, foster creativity and beauty and who want some resources and ideas for getting started or going deeper. More fundamentally, it is for those who, in whatever capacity, feel called to help the church be the church and sense that this will require new ways of being and doing to bubble up amongst us.

Many posts on this blog will touch on the arts and worship because these are fundamental to creativity and church life, but the church’s creativity is neither tied to nor limited to “using the arts in worship.” In fact, I personally avoid the phrase, because I think that “using” the arts defeats their purpose. Artistic goods can be offered in worship by their creators, reflecting on art may assist us in presenting our whole selves before God, but “using the arts” sounds like appropriating something abstract out of context for our own ends. If you have ever been in a worship service where someone tried to use an artful good to do something it was never intended to do, then you know what I mean. Both true art and true worship resist this kind of hijacking and misuse. They work on us as we submit ourselves voluntarily to the other/ Other; they do not work for us on others. Semantics, some might say, but how we talk about what we are doing is indicative of the spirit of what we are doing. I understand the temptation to defend the inclusion and importance of the creative arts in the church by virtue of their utility, but the real reason we need the creative arts in the church is because of their power over us rather than our power over them.

Church by Hense

When creativity and artistic expression infuse the whole life of the church, not just worship, they move us toward wholeness and a holistic faith. I’ve avoided breaking down worship, spiritual formation, witness, and ministry into separate sections on separate topics on this blog, because I believe they’re not meant to be separated. Who can define the exact point where discipleship becomes Christian service? We strive to focus on God rather than ourselves in worship, and yet conversion and sanctification and all kinds of other terms we use for human transformation are natural consequences of our worship experiences. Our most mundane and non-musical ministries are tinged with worship if they’re done to the glory of God. Non-verbal actions carried out in Jesus’ name may be more evangelistic than preachments and crusades. The bane of the church’s institutional existence is that the more our activities precursor the realm of heaven, the less they’ll fit into tidy categories. They will grow like the kingdom to become more rangy and more overarching, defying definitions and requiring parables to describe. Order is by no means the enemy of originality, but isn’t it interesting that we tend to organize ourselves by dividing ourselves up when God’s hope seems to be bringing us all together? Creativity consists essentially of making new connections. Artistic expression necessarily involves mindful and heartfelt communication. Imagine a church known for the beauty of its internal and external connections and communication! Artists and their art instinctively work to dissolve false divisions which impede the coherent and creative life of the church and its members. Works of art, music, poetry, fiction and film all refuse to speak to us on only one level. They don’t work on just the emotional, rational, or spiritual side of us. We all wear many hats, but art doesn’t speak to us as roles, titles, or labels – only as complex persons. If you approach a piece of music and say “I would like to understand you… as a facilities administrator” or “…as an addict,” it will elude you until you take off all your funny hats and listen as a human being.

Creativity is not only about making art, not is it the sole purview of the practicing artist. As creatures created in the image of the Creator, we all have creative capacities, and we are not designed to function without them. Artists and artisans help the congregation by valuing and modeling the creative life, but they can’t do all the creative work of the church for us. For the church to be the church as Christ intended will require us all to walk in newness of life. Worship curator Mark Pierson describes creativity as a product of the tension between reality and desire, of dissatisfaction with what we see in light of a higher vision. I believe God does the best work on us in that tension and that we all need it to be a regular part of our lives, both individually and corporately, to fulfill our calling as the body of Christ. As we develop our creative faculties together we encourage and equip one another to respond faithfully to the realities around us with imagination rather than pretending that they fit into ideologies too rigid to accommodate them. Both the local church and the Church universal will be marked by creativity as they are empowered by God’s Spirit to act as the body of the One who is making all things new.

The Apostle’s Creed proclaims that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. That means God’s people are united in Christ (whether we acknowledge it or not), set apart for God’s purposes (whether we live into them or not), ultimately to be found in all times and cultures (i.e., “catholic,” whether Roman Catholic or not), and part of a tradition (whether we like it or not). Just as we are called individually to be members of a local body, all these local bodies are called to be members of the larger Body of Christ. As we discern and pursue our own callings within our local churches, our churches grow faithfully into their particular creative roles to do their part to help the Church body function properly as Christ’s representative throughout the whole world.

I believe to fulfill its task within the larger mission of God, each church needs freedom to embrace a unique corporate personality. This doesn’t mean forcing people into a hipper or holier-than-thou persona. It means pursuing ministry based on the gifts of all of those who have aligned themselves with our congregations. It assumes everyone in our midst is called to be a minister, but makes fewer assumptions about what ministry needs to look like to be called such. It doesn’t mean targeting your outreach and message to a narrow demographic and further dividing the Church along lines of race, gender, political leanings, age and income. It means you discern who you are as a congregation and what you’re to be about in fleshing out the realm of heaven together for your parishioners – the ones that attend your church and the ones who don’t. It means my church’s worship band has drum solos, yours has a clarinet and viola, our friend’s is alternating Youth Sunday with Old Fogey Sunday so they learn their hymns and give the organ a monthly workout, and another congregation is going a cappella for Lent. We can count on the Spirit working in and through any given church in common and disparate ways from the church down the street. Christ bids all incarnations of the Church to extend hospitality to all comers and make room for everyone who responds to what the Spirit is doing in our midst, but each of our churches will have different strangers to welcome in unique ways based on our resources and cultures. Our resultant personalities must be evolving and inclusive rather than exclusive and set in stone. The creative life is both constructive and playful. When we pursue it together we come to know one another more truly as we were created to be. Weaving creative practices into our common lives helps us know who we are together, equips us to regularly reimagine our communities for the sake of others, and keeps us all growing in and toward faith.

 

A Missional Ministerial Gifts Assessment

based on Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World

by JR Woodward

(Completely Unauthorized

and Hopelessly Slanted by Yours Truly So Just Figure Anything You Don’t Like is My Bad )

1———————2———————3————————-4———————5

Never             Rarely              Sometimes                Usually                Always

Using the scale above, write your answers to these questions on the lines provided at the end.

1. I am a big-picture person

2. I am sensitive to the Holy Spirit

3. My heart breaks for those who don’t know Jesus

4. I think we need to focus more on the spiritual healing and formation of the congregation

5. When I read the Bible I expect to gain fresh insight

6. I can get wrapped up in projects and achievement at the expense of my relationships with God and others

7. My heart breaks for the poor and oppressed

8. I think the church should be more outwardly focused

9. I am a peacemaker

10. I prioritize my own learning

11. The church is the best place for people to actively discern and from which to pursue their purposes in life

12. I may come across as inconsiderate or inflexible

13. I consider my job a vocation and an opportunity to be a good witness

14. I look for ways to move our church toward being a family

15. The more knowledgeable we are of Scripture and how to apply it, the more faithful we will be

16. When I invite people to try something new they at least consider it

17. I tend to include the outsiders

18. I err on the side of going along with my cultural context rather than critiquing it

19. My heart breaks for those who have deep emotional wounds and I want to help them move forward

20. I am good at explaining things clearly

21. I bring people together to turn ideas into reality

22. I believe in the power of the Spirit and spiritual practices and I want others to as well

23. I’m a good storyteller

24. When someone I care about is hurting I cannot view the situation objectively

25. I get frustrated when people don’t use the sense God gave them

26. I have a profound sense of being part of God’s mission in the world

27. People are better off facing reality head-on, without illusions

28. I try to preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words

29. I create opportunities for people to play together

30. I can content myself with having the right answer on an issue or question without acting on it

31. I am realistic in starting new ventures, but I don’t particularly fear failure

32. I get involved in justice issues and invite others to do so as well

33. I see opportunities for the church to live into and express the kingdom in ways specific to our context

34. I instinctively grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice

35. The church’s highest priorities should be the study of the Word and fruitful theological discussion

1———————2———————3————————-4———————5

Never             Rarely              Sometimes                Usually                Always

1.  ______           2.  ______           3.  ______           4.  ______           5.  ______

6.  ______           7.  ______           8.  ______           9.  ______           10.  _____

11. _____            12. _____            13. _____            14. _____            15. _____

16. _____            17. _____            18. _____            19. _____            20. _____

21. _____            22. _____            23. _____            24. _____            25. _____

26. _____            27. _____            28. _____            29. _____            30. _____

31. _____            32. _____            33. _____            34. _____            35. _____

Add up the columns here (higher numbers indicate greater relative strength):

__________         __________         __________         __________         __________

Apostle                   Prophet             Evangelist               Pastor                   Teacher

Hooray, I’m gifted, now what?

Employ your unique combination of gifts to increase the unity, maturity and ministry of the church (Ephesians 4). This sounds simple until you try it. God is asking us to use the ways in which we fundamentally diverge in our mental, emotional, and stylistic approaches to ministry to minister together. Each gift comes with its own biblical slants on humanity, the church, the faith and the world. The key here is to recognize and value the gifts and accompanying assumptions of others even though you will find them occasionally incomprehensible. The degree to which they mystify you is the degree to which you need someone else there representing them. They help make whole the mission of God. Maturity comes when these closely held and thoroughly biblical definitions and assumptions rub off on each other to expand our understanding of God and Christ-likeness. Unity comes of remembering throughout the process that we all claim Christ as Lord and are accepted by Him.

It also helps not to let these roles we’re called on to play define your identity overmuch – you are first and foremost a child of God. They are words to help us articulate our God-given strengths in blessing others. It does not constitute an excuse for self-importance or an exemption to caring for others in ways that don’t come as naturally to us. You’ll notice this list of gifts indicates less what exactly you should do in the church than how you’ll likely go about it. Nothing here dictates that you be or not be a preacher, an elder, a deacon, a Sunday school superintendent, a member of the outreach team or a worship leader.  An apostolically gifted arts pastor will have a different m.o. than one gifted in teaching, and so on.

Um, am I supposed to know what an apostle does?

Read back through the relevant questions to get a rough, composite sketch of each kind of “equipper,” as Woodward calls them. Even better, read his book. Or leave a comment and we can talk. I’d welcome any feedback or results. Was anyone else surprised by being more “evangelistic” (or “prophetic” or “apostolic,” etc.) than you thought of yourself as? If so, does that seem to be a symptom of my utter lack of training in assessment preparation, an indicator of some different assumptions about how these gifts operate in a missional church, or a sign that another leader is rubbing off on you?

Don’t take this the wrong way, but you might be [gasp!] an evangelist

I’ve been taking copious notes lately from JR Woodward’s Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World, about half of which focuses on how the five kinds of leaders listed in Ephesians 4 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers) can work uniquely and in unity in a church wanting to be the church for others. I’ve read about these ministerial gifts before and taken probably half-a-dozen of the dozens of self-assessments available to tell you where your gifts lie. If you’ve grown up in the Protestant church, I’m guessing you have, too. (If you haven’t then cast your mind back to your teen magazine years and those quizzes that helped you determine what bubblegum flavor you were. These assessments are a lot like those except these tell you how the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is raising you up “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Very similar, yes? ) I ended up writing my own self-assessment quiz based on Woodward’s book, which I’ll post in a few days. I don’t generally accord gifts and personality assessments too much weight, especially not ones I’ve written myself, but they are good team-building conversation starters for church leaders. Particularly if you’ve already analyzed your respective bubblegum flavors to death. It was also a useful exercise in examining the slight to significant differences between how I heard these gifts described growing up and how Woodward saw these gifts operating in the context of a church committed to being church for the world. He doesn’t spend time calling out all the abuses that can happen when these gifts are assumed as mantles and titles, but he offers quiet correctives to them all the same.

The definition that seemed most altered when viewed through a missional lens was that of the evangelist. It would have had to have been a big difference for me to notice, because I would tend to gloss over that section. Based on my scores on other gifts assessments I have come to self-identify very strongly as not-an-evangelist. At times that has bothered or mystified me – I’m sociable. I care about people. I’m not ashamed of following Jesus. I believe in putting words to our faith. I want the world to know that God loves the world. While I think of my primary calling as helping the church be the church, I consider demonstrating and articulating this faith to our larger communities in credible ways to be one of the signs of the church being the church. So why wouldn’t this register on the tests?

Reading Woodward’s description of an evangelist I realized how many other descriptions I’d read that were based on narrow and rather stilted models of sharing the good news. Of course the accompanying lines of questioning used to identify the evangelists among us reflected those models as well, e.g. Would you rather hand out tracts on a street corner or prepare a Bible study? On a scale of 1-10 how willing are you to tell your friends they’re going to hell? Does at least one of your everyday accessories double as a device for sharing the gospel in five minutes or less? Do you cold-call people for a living and hate going home at the end of the day? Yes, I’m dangling a couple of toes over the deep end here, but our images of evangelism have been indelibly colored by evangelical notions of “witnessing” that differ both from simply being a witness and from what an evangelist, in the Ephesians 4 context of church leadership, would be concerned with – the witness of the church as a whole and serving as a messenger/ ambassador between the church and the rest of the world.

Assumptions that verbal assent constitutes faith and that commitment to following Christ bears no relation to our human relationships also taint our assumptions of what evangelism and evangelists look like. These assumptions actually screen out those with the gifts necessary to tell the story of God convincingly to a skeptical public and to draw people toward the community of faith. Our shift toward thinking that evangelism involves demanding an answer from the unprepared discourages those the Spirit keeps preternaturally prepared to give an answer for the hope within them from thinking of themselves as evangelists.

The true evangelists among us would be the folks who have the best handle on the gospel as good news rather than those who consider it a tough sell. According to many assessments, if you can move product and close deals you may be an evangelist, but they shunt away others who can best give the gospel away. If you think of salvation in terms larger than individual souls, you’re an apostle. If your commitment to truth leads you beyond warning sinners about judgment to calling the systems of the world and the church to justice, you’re a prophet. If you’re equipped to care for other people relationally, you’re a pastor. If you want others to recognize the heights and depths, and not just the breadth of God’s love, you’re a teacher. This tends to leave those whose faith is unusually exuberant and simple and – not always, but often – still immature, uninformed, or unexamined to communicate the gospel to the world. Yeah, how’s that workin’ out for us?

By equating one’s willingness to offer a shallow salvation through artificial methods with the spiritual gift of evangelism, we unwittingly anoint as evangelists the garrulous, who prefer being right to having right relationships and for whom the propositional truths of Christianity assure them a winning argument every time; the gregarious who can turn anything into small talk, including the staggering news that God died for you; the spiritually anxious who bear their responsibilities for the fates of others’ souls with potentially crippling fear and trembling; and the socially anxious for whom conversations with strangers never get easier, so they might as well turn them toward something important like accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior in the hopes that some greater good will come of them. The church, thank God, has very few evangelists by this measure. But we do have the real deal. We’ve been promised them. We’re not able to do the work of the church without them. Who knows, but you might be one of them – even and especially if the thought of knocking on a stranger’s door to show them your corny beaded bracelet makes you physically ill.

If you’d like to find out, I’ll post the assessment I drafted up based on Woodward’s descriptions in a couple of days – let’s say Saturday. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you getting all prophetic on your co-workers at the end of a long week.