Month: July 2006

The Connecting Church

If you’re like me (or the fictional Bob and Karen Johnson), genuine community is hard to come by, even in small groups. Ever find yourself frustrated by the low-level of relational connections at church? Have small groups, no matter how small, ever failed to meet your expectations, your need, of community? Have you ever deliberately avoided talking to a neighbor because you felt like you didn’t have time to talk? If so, I encourage you to read two books–Kindgom of Couches (which i posted on earlier) and The Connecting Church: Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Community. If Walker’s book focuses more on the inner workings of community, Frazee focuses on the outer obstacles and structural solutions to a culture rife with individualism.

Former pastor of Pantego Bible in Arlington, Texas, Randy Frazee lays out a simple, straightforward critique and cure to the ills of the Evangelical church’s lack of significant, authentic community. Small groups won’t cut it. Something greater, more systemic is at odds with our need for community. Frazee writes: “The church of the twenty-first century must do more than add worlds [i.e. personal world, parent world, etc.] to an already overbooked society; it must design new structures that help people simplify their lives and deveop more meaning, depth, purpose and community.” (37) Frazee delivers. He gives us vision and structure for more satisfying community.

The obstacles of individualism, isolationism, and consmerism are critiqued by Frazee through his pastoral experience and sociological analysis (Locke, Meeks, etc). These ills are offered a cure through three main venues: Common Purpose, Common Place, and Common Possessions. The book is full of pastoral insights, some of which can be found on (49, 67, 82-3, 92). I’ll just give some broadstrokes here.

Common Purpose – Too many churches don’t really share common beliefs. Sure, the church has a statement of faith, and members sign off on it, but most churches fail to shepherd thier flock into a common creed. This raises Frazee’s more questionable solution, identifying 52 values (community), beliefs (Trinity), and practices (social justice) that constitute his preaching calendar. It seems to me that the biblical interpretation will inevitably be forced to fit the mold of his Spiritual Formation Calendar. Nevertheless, the critique rings true and the solution is to more faithfully catechize, not just doctrinally, but also practically.

Common Place – Frazee essentially argues for a return to the neighborhood concept, where your neighbors really are people you hang out with. He recommends several Christians moving into a neighborhood to deliberately pursue community and outreach, making small groups geographic-specific and involvement intensive. Alongside these small, neighborhood groups, he recommends larger, mid-size groups, composed of regional small groups for the purpose of corporate teaching instructionand fellowship. The large worship service is reserved for inspiration and preaching.

Common Possessions – It’s not what you think. Frazee doesn’t recommend forming a commune and sharing everything you own- one T.V. per 10 families- no. Instead, he recognizes in Acts a willingness to and practice of sharing one’s possessions. He suggests several key characteristics: interdependence (consider how you can share your resources, not just add to them), intergenerational life (seek the wisdom possessed by others), sacrifice (giving to others, even when it hurts), responsibility (recognize the biblical imperative to care for others), and children (include them, no matter how difficult, in small groups).

More could be said. I’ll leave you to read it. Suffice it to say, this book will significantly shape the structure of my approach to community. One thing the book lacks is a biblical motivation for community (the gospel- forgiveness for failure and strength for victory). It is, at times, hyper-optomistic, but it does cast a vision.

Augustine and the Beggar, Nacho Libre and Glory

St Augustine tells the story of passing by an inebriated beggar on his way to deliver a speech. As, he passed the drunk, he noted that this beggar was making jokes, in great spirits, possessing a joy, albeit temporary, that he himself did not possess. Augustine recollects his feeling of being “dragged along by his unhappiness,” in pursuit of glory, recognition before men as a great orator. The beggar was full of temporary joy and Augustine with persistent worry. Augustine was concerned about the outcome of his speech. Would it rouse the applause, the awe of men?

He pondered the estate of the beggar. He was torn. Partially envious of the beggar, of his joy, and on the other hand, assured that he had the more noble vocation and higher learning. Augustine wanted to be both himself and the beggar, joyful and praised. The beggar found his joy in wine, Augustine in glory. In his reflection, Augustine concluded that they were both bereft of true joy and true glory.

He opens this narrative with the following line: “I looked with longing at honors, wealth, and marriage, and you laughed at me. Perhaps wealth is no great longing for us, but what of honors and marriage? What of people who like our sermons, people who read our articles, people who are amazed at our insights? Ahh, and marriage, what a haven, a place of untold acceptance, banishing loneliness forever and inviting unwavering intimacy of every kind? These things do not offer true glory or true joy, but call us beyond themselves to deeper joy, and perfect glory.

All men seek glory–praise, acceptance, recognition, worth. I was struck by this fact when watching the very funny Nacho Libre. Nacho (Ignacio), a cook in a Mexican monastery, sets his sights on becoming a Lucha Libre wrestler, a famed wrestler. Wrestling by night and cooking by day, Nacho’s dual lifestyles are in conflict. Wrestling is not permitted by the church priests. Nevertheless, he pursues the glory of “winning” and hearing the crowds shout his name. Nacho is seeking glory, fame, worth, acceptance. It is the heartbeat of every human.

The only path to true glory and acceptance is through Jesus and in God the Father. Those who set their sights on a life of faith-filled following after Christ will be met with the glorious words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23). Our praise is from God (1 Cor 4.5). The pursuit of glory was placed in the heart of men, a glory that can only be conferred by the infinitely glorious one, an acceptance and praise that flows from the king of Glory and to whom our glory bows.

True glory, true joy can only be found in the gospel of the glorious God. All other glories and joys must bow before Him, well crafted, well delivered sermons, godly marriages, and great wealth. Augustine recalls his deliverance from petty glory and fleeting desires: “Amidst such desires I suffered most bitter troubles, but your mercy was so much greater according as you let nothing prove sweet to me that was apart from yourself. Behold my heart, O Lord, for it is your will that I recall all this to memory and confess it to you! Now let my soul cleave to you, for you have freed it from so fast a snare of death…so that it might leave all things and be converted to you, who are above all things, and without whom they would be nothing.” (Confession, VI.6.9)

The Journal of Biblical Counseling (and my first article in print)

If you are looking for soul-nourishing, heart-instructing, mind-renewing resources on anything from battling cancer to Accountability groups, the Spring issue of The Journal of Bibilcal Counselingoffer it! The issue opens with John Piper and David Powlison addressing the issue of cancer from thier own current battles in “Dont Waste Your Cancer.” In fact, the JBC and its parent ministry CCEF offer great counseling resources from a Reformed perspective.

Yes, and it so happens that this issue also contains my first printed article on “Accountability Groups.” I hope you find the articles a blessing. An electronic copy of my article is located on the Resource page