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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reflections on Discipleship

Okay, so I have had a week to reflect upon the "take away" from our incredible Beeson Pastor experience in Houston. During that four day trip we were exposed to more than a dozen churches and ministries of all shapes, sizes and styles. I have prayerfully reflected upon that experience and asked God to bring to the surface of my heart and mind what He wants me to "get." I am not usually the mystical type, but I do sense that God is saying to me through my Houston advenure "Len, have the courage to give people the dignity of discipleship."

While one of my top spiritual gifts is the gift of evangelism, I wrestled often during that four day trip with discipleship issues. Several churches we were expoused to were good at meeting people where they were (evangelism) but didn't seem to invite people to experience the dignity of discipleship by living the Christ-life in Christian community. One of these churches met in a cafe/bar. The pastor's commitment to do whatever it takes to reach unchurched people is absolutely commendable, especially in a time when Christianity is becoming a sub-culture that does not seem to effectively engage the unchurched culture. However, the pastor seemed to have no intentional plan or even desire, in my estimation, to see these unchurched seekers become radical followers of Christ.

Another church we visited had a similar struggle. It was a very large church, unlike the cafe/bar church. They are meeting tens of thousands of people where those people are but, in my opinion and the opinions of many, not challenging those people with the words of Christ who described the discipleship journey this way: "if anyone desires to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me...for whoever desires to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Instead the consistent message voiced through this highly visible "church" is: "God exists to make your dreams for a promotion, health, wealth, and success come true. As long as you have enough faith and a positive attitude, everything in your life will come up roses." It seems highly unlikely to me that someone could buy into this message and still experience the dignity of discipleship. I say this because the gospel of Jesus and the "gospel" of this church seem entirely too incongruent.

It was refreshing to encounter several ministries on the Houston trip that were serious and intentional about having the courage to give people the dignity of discipleship. One of these churches is a house church that exists in a neighborhood full of drugs, prostitution, street kids and homosexuals. The leader of this house church leaves his door open for any and everyone who wants to come inside his house and share life with him and his family. His goal is to meet people where they are but he believes that through the sharing of Christian community those same people can become committed followers of Christ. He gives people the dignity of discipleship by being in intimate relationship with those who are seeking a grace-filled community.

Another church we encountered was serving people who are in recovery from addiction. They meet people at the point of their need in order to give people the dignity of discipleship. The pastors of this church don't tell people in recovery what they want to hear but what they need to hear and receive in order to be transformed into disciples of Christ. The leaders of this church also believe that when people share life together in a community committed to loving Christ and living Scripture that discipleship happens.

I don't have all the answers about discipleship, though I am becoming more and more haunted by its extreme importance. The pastor of the house church posed a question that I just cannot escape (nor do I want to). He asked us while we sat in his living room, "are you a disciple who makes disciples who are advancing the kingdom of God?" The answer for me, I think, is both yes and no. But I want the "no" to be no more! While I am still working my way through this question, I am already convinced that disciples who advance the kingdom are made when leaders are disciples who have the courage to give people the dignity of discipleship through authentic Christian community. Unfortunately, many of our discipleship strategies consist of informational transfer alone without transformational community. God help us!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Beeson Pastors Go To Houston

The ten of us Beeson Pastors, along with some of our spouses, just returned from an incredible and jam-packed three day trip to Houston, Texas. Houston is the place to find leading churches of all shapes, sizes and styles. Our gracious hosts were the pastoral staff of Chapelwood United Methodist Church, led by Pastor Jim Jackson. Perhaps we gleaned more pastoral insight from Jim than any other epxerience from this trip. We spent time with pastors who are leading small churches in their home or in a cafe. We also spent time with the pastors of some of the largest churches in the country. We visited Lakewood Church and spent a few moments with Joel Osteen, the pastor of the largest church in our country with around 40,000 people in attendance. We also visited Second Baptist Church, the second largest church in the country, and spent about two hours with Pastor Ben Young. I especially enjoyed worshiping at Windsor United Methodist Church, an African American church led by pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell. Windsor is the largest United Methodist church in the country.

The most profound moments for me came from worship experiences at some smaller churches such as Mercy Street, a church of 600 people who are seeking recovery from addiction, and Ecclesia, another church of around 600 that ministers mostly to those in the 20-40 age bracket in a cafe/art museum. Both of these unique churches are led by young leaders, Matt Russell and Sean Gladding at Mercy Street and Chris Seay at Ecclesia. They are providing authentic community for people whose lives have been broken in significant ways.

I'm still sifting through this remarkable experience, asking the question "God, what are you saying to me and leading me to do through this experience? What do you want me to take away and apply to my life and ministry?" When I get some more insight, I will let you know. But I am convinced that what I observed and experienced in Houston the past several days has and will significantly shape my life and ministry. I told someone that it was the best continuing education experience that I have had in my twelve years of pastoral ministry. While I cannot say exactly why this is the case, I sense that it is.

Bill and Ann Steiner were my gracious hosts. They are members of the Chapelwood United Methodist Church. They are beautiful people and expressed the love of Christ in action.

This is the sanctuary ceiling of the Second Baptist Church, the second largest church in the country. The 66 books of the Bible are represented on this stained glass.

Here is our group with Joel Osteen. While many of us have questions about his theology, I have got to say he was very gracious and humble.

Here is a shot of the Lakewood Church which Osteen pastors. It is quite a facility, seating around 15,000 people.

We had a half hour with Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, arguably one of the most effective pastors in the country. You may recognize him as the pastor who prayed at President Bush's inauguration.

Here is Ian Wills, Nazarene pastor in Scotland, Spencer Lundgaard, Presbyterian pastor from the States, and me. We Beeson Pastors spent lots of time together on the bus traveling throughout Houston to different churches. The ten of us Beeson Pastors have an incredbly tight bond between us.