Blog Banner

Archive for movement – Page 3

It’s the End of Church (As We Know It)

So we’re in this situation:

For hundreds of years, the Christian community has gathered together on Sunday mornings. Bright and early, we come together for service at a designated building. We hear a sermon. We sing songs. We show up to be seen, to connect.

These days, though, fewer and fewer of us are showing up.

I’ll spare you the statistics. You’ve heard them before. More importantly,  you’ve witnessed the change yourself. In the last fifty years, most of our congregations have hollowed out.

Maybe you’ve become a statistic yourself. At a certain point, coming to a building on Sunday morning no longer felt like an authentic, sustaining ritual for you. The draw of the community was overwhelmed by the demands of the week – of family and friends and work. Choosing between another weekend activity and a chance to rest, you chose sanity.

Or perhaps it was worse than that. Rather than withdrawing out of exhaustion, maybe you felt pushed out. Church politics and infighting added nothing to your life, just bitterness. The church’s rejection of gays, its embrace of nationalism and war, the suppression of women, and our apparent concern for individual prosperity over care for the poor. Stuff like that adds up.

There have been so many reasons to check out. So many reasons to find something better to do on Sunday mornings, even if it’s just to rest up for another work week.

Maybe you’re one of those who have been left sitting in the pews. So many others have dropped out, one by one, but you’ve hung in there. Sure, the church has its problems, but you still believe. You’re still committed to this group of people. You hold out hope that the Holy Spirit can still do something incredible with us, as short-sighted as we can be.

Broken as we are, all things are possible with God.

Still. Something has to change. The church as we’ve known it for the last several hundred years is less relevant every day. The Sunday morning show is dying. A new generation is emerging that demands something deeper. We long for a faith that can speak to the struggles and pain, joy and hope that we find in our everyday lives. We’re waiting, hungry for a Christianity that speaks to the mystery we find in the streets and the schools, the office and the coffee shop.

There is so much yearning in our culture for exactly the life and power that the gospel offers. There is an openness to a movement of the Holy Spirit, the real abundant life that we find in community around the dinner table with Jesus. We can emerge together with power, like those first Christians we read about in the book of Acts.

Or, we can choose to believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. 

Many of us are still so identified with the dying forms of the 20th century church that we are convinced that the church is moribund. We fail to see the reality that is right in front of our faces: The harvest is plentiful! We are ready for a re-imagined community, to become friends of Jesus in our post-modern world!

Which story will we choose to live in?

As long as we measure ourselves by 20th-century standards of how the church is supposed to look and behave, our story will be one of defensiveness and decline. We’ll just keep building our walls higher, digger our trenches deeper, wondering why no one wants to come join our Sunday-morning club. This is a sad, disheartening path, and I’ve walked it far too long. I’m ready for a more life-giving vision of what we could be as followers of Jesus.

It’s risky, of course, to push away from the shores of the known, out into the open waters of possibility. Who knows? Maybe we’ll sail over the edge of the world!

But from where I’m sitting, the risk of discovery seems like a better bet than the sad certainty of decline by attrition. It certainly sounds like more fun!

The call to discipleship is more beautiful than the story of church growth that has so captivated us in recent decades. What is it that really inspires us? Is it growing church membership? Planning the Sunday morning show? Bigger buildings, larger parking lots? Does the 20th-century model of church growth set your heart on fire?

For me and my partners in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, Jesus’ invitation is to something far more meaningful than promoting the Sunday club and building it bigger. What would it look like to respond like the apostles did? What would it be like to truly make disciples in the way of Jesus? How will our lives need to change in order to respond to the radical demands of the in-breaking reign of God?

One thing is for sure: It won’t look like church as usual. 

Related Posts:

How to Survive the Church-pocalypse

Burn Down the Meeting House

Let the Big Trees Fall

Have you ever wondered where forests come from? If you’ve ever taken a hike in a wooded area, it’s probably struck you what a diverse environment the forest is. There are all sorts animals, birds, plants large and small. A wondrous diversity of creatures co-exist in apparent balance and harmony.

But how did forests come into existence in the first place?

Scientists have studied the process of ecosystem formation and have extensive theories about how all sorts of environments come into being. There seems to be an orderly process of development that has some common characteristics no matter what kind of environment we’re talking about. Given the right conditions, ecosystems tend to develop greater complexity and variety over time.

For example: Let’s say that a glacier has just receded, leaving exposed a terrain of totally bare rock. There are very few forms of life that can survive in such an environment, but there are a few – maybe some kind of moss or algae. These “pioneer species” start growing on the bare rock. And that might be all there is for a while. But as these hardy little organisms grow and die, they begin to build up a layer of organic matter. Dirt.

Eventually, there’s enough dirt that some grasses can take root. Once the grass has lived and died a few million times, perhaps there will be enough soil for shrubs, and other, larger plants. If enough time passes and the conditions are right for it, there will eventually be soil that is rich and thick enough to support even the largest trees – not to mention a variety of insects, rodents, and larger animals.

OK, are you still with me? I don’t normally give science lessons – mostly because I’m not a trained scientist – but I have a purpose in telling this story of ecosystem development. The emergence of ecosystems provides an excellent model for how we can understand the growth of human systems – culture, government, and technology.

I even think it can provide some insight into how the church functions. What is the church, after all, but an interrelated web of relationships, held together by a common commitment to walking in the way of Jesus?

The Christian ecosystem has been around for a long time, so it’s gotten pretty complex and robust. The apostles and martyrs acted like moss and algae, dying again and again in order to make space for a community of greater depth and complexity. Through centuries of struggle, patient endurance, and courage, we’ve developed into an old-growth forest with towering, ancient trees.

This maturity has advantages. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the church produced a wealth of colleges and seminaries, charitable organizations and missionary societies, and all sorts of movements for social change, such as the abolition of slavery. The sheer size and complexity of the Christian community has given us power to profoundly impact our society.

Yet, there’s a shadow side to ecosystems that reach late-stage maturity. All those big trees cast a lot of shade. In particularly dense areas, the forest floor might be dimmed to twilight even in the middle of the day. When the largest trees become predominant, they have the tendency to destroy the conditions where earlier, smaller forms of life have flourished. All those grasses and shrubs that helped to pave the way for the great cedars have their growth stunted by the penumbra of the wooded canopy.

Prophetic movements within the church have always been critical of the hubris of the big trees – the largest church institutions, often directly connected with systems of political, economic, and cultural power. Radical movements like the Franciscans, Anabaptists, Quakers, and Pentecostals punch a hole through the canopy to let some light shine in. These movements reclaim some space for the tiny, the simple, the unadorned creatures of the forest floor.

We live in a time today when many of the ancient trees of the Christian forest are teetering. Denominations are breaking apart. Established ways of doing things are coming into question. Parachurch organizations struggle to articulate their mission and purpose in a rapidly changing world. For many in the church, this is a profoundly scary time. It is a time of diminishment in many ways – of the Christian community’s social standing, prestige, and directive influence over our culture.

For those of us in the prophetic stream, however, this is a moment to rejoice. After centuries of punching holes in the canopy to let the light shine in, it seems that the great trees may fall down altogether. This is a new day, the first opportunity for uncut brightness in centuries. As the trees of the Christendom church begin to tremble and collapse, we are on the verge of a new era of crabgrass Christianity.

Much of the Christian world is in mourning over the state of the trees; we fret over the downgraded status and political influence of the Western church. But what would happen if, instead of looking up with fearful eyes to the trembling canopy, we directed our gaze to the grassroots that are suddenly being flooded with light for the first time in God knows how long? What are the new opportunities that await us in this new day of sunlight?

Related Posts:

Burn Down the Meeting House

A Burning Fire

How to Survive the Church-pocalypse

Institutional Christianity is trembling, teetering, falling. And that’s a good thing. Crisis and opportunity tend to go hand in hand, and those who embrace this crisis have the chance to make an enormous impact. Freed from the weight of bureaucratic religion and static tradition, a new kind of life can emerge.

Now is the time to carry out bold experiments in Christian discipleship.  We’re living in a very interesting moment, an in-between space where the shell of the old order has not yet completely crumbled, and the little seedlings of the new are just barely peeking up from beneath the soil. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

It’s a scary moment, too. No one wants to die, and none of us wants to see the tradition and community that has been so life-giving for us go up in the next forest fire. We’d rather keep throwing water on dead wood than face the chaos and uncertainty that would come with that conflagration.

But what if we welcomed the flames? Instead of trying to save the forest as we have known it, what if we opened ourselves to the possibilities that come from newly cleared horizons?

How would our lives change if we came to see ourselves as the instigators of something new? Rather than the exhausting rearguard action that many of us are now engaged in, what if we stopped trying to prop up the old order? Some of our cherished organizations we would need to lay down. Many of our congregations would need to be radically re-organized. Cherished habits and assumptions would be shaken up. Sounds terrifying. Sounds like fun!

We all look back to the white-hot movements that shook the world. Whether it’s the early Quakers, the Reformers, or the early Church – we are inspired by the boldness of these now-mythical bands of saints who risked everything for their faith. One thing that all of them have in common is that those who experienced them were convinced that the Spirit should triumph over the Letter.

All truly apostolic movements are marked by holy mischief. When we’re living in the power of Jesus, we can’t help getting into trouble. The first Christians abandoned both the pagan and Jewish customs that were getting between them and a more living experience of God. The early Quakers were beaten, imprisoned, and killed for actively challenging the powers that be.

Holy rebels in every age have sown the seeds of new life, joyfully subverting the status quo. We break up the hardened ground of ossified tradition and decadent authority. We risk our lives, our fortunes, our very identities to be faithful to the new thing that Christ is doing in our midst. Knowing that the way of Jesus comes with persecutions, we embrace the life of discipleship as a path to expressing the love we receive in him.

This is an invitation. You and I can be part of this new thing that God is doing. We can participate in a movement that will shape the face of the world for generations to come. We can choose to side with the new life that is brewing, down at the grassroots. In the face of misunderstanding and resistance, even hostility and fear, we can become children of light.

What does this look like for you? What are the signs of new life that are sprouting in your neighborhood, your city? What opportunities are there for you in this time of uncertainty and transition? How might you need to change in order to be faithful to this new movement that is emerging in the shadow of the present order? What in you needs to die so that Christ can live?

Related Posts:

News Flash: Christians Don’t Have All the Answers

Love Matters

There is a Life of Power we can Hardly Imagine

Are you worn out with the Sunday morning routine? Feel like there must be more to the Christian life than committee meetings, worship services, and sitting around in a circle discussing our feelings? Are you hungry for a faith that leads to concrete acts of love? In a culture so hostile to genuine community, what would it mean to be part of an organic whole, a very real and tangible body of Christ?

This March 13-15, we’re going to find out.

Seeds of the Kingdom

Christianity was never meant to be a mindless habit. Jesus’ message wasn’t a set of religious beliefs that we could either accept or reject. The point of our faith isn’t to build a new religion based on Jesus. We are invited into nothing less than a radical, life-altering friendship with Jesus himself.

This is a whole new way to live. The way of Jesus digs down to the heart of our existence and exposes what is really true, authentic, life-giving. It uncovers the dark, hidden parts of our lives, bringing everything into the light.

This new way of living is something that sneaks up on you. It’s easy to miss this quiet revolution amidst the noise of the daily grind. This hidden kingdom has the power to transform our lives forever.

We can experience this sneaky, subversive kingdom together.

The basic building blocks of this new way of living are already present. We don’t have to go looking for some utopia out there. The kingdom of God is within us, among us, present with us when we seek it together. The seeds of the kingdom are already planted; we just have to make space for them to grow.

This spring, we’re welcoming the wild growth that the Holy Spirit has sown in us.

We don’t have to live our lives in maintenance mode. We can let go of the fear and guilt that hold us back from real joy. There is an alternative to the religious wheel-spinning that so many of us are trapped in. Jesus is alive, and he’s ready to unleash a movement the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Are you ready for this?

Consider yourself invited to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering. March 13-15, 2015. Barnesville, Ohio. Join us as we explore what it means to lead lives of courageous transformation in community. Discover a movement of the Holy Spirit now, in our day, that promises real change in the midst of stuck-ness, real hope in the midst of despair.

Save the date. Tell your friends. Register now, and let us know you’re coming.

Related Posts:

We’re Gathering Momentum – Are You In?

When we Pray, it Boils

What if Christianity was dangerous?

What if being a Christian really cost something? What would the First World church look like if living our faith meant losing friends, family, property, livelihood, reputation? How many of us would sign up for that kind of journey? What if being a Christian was dangerous?

It would be nothing like what we see in most churches today. Christianity has long been the conformist, respectable religion of Western society. It was the safe choice. The get-ahead choice. The don’t-get-burned-at-the-stake choice. Far more dangerous to question the official religion than to play along.

The toxic combination of religious symbols and state power has fundamentally warped the witness of the Christian faith. It’s fair to wonder whether the radical, joyful roots of the faith could ever be recovered. Yet, throughout history, we witness movements that rise up and profoundly challenge the false gods of Empire. Like weeds pushing their way through the cracks in the concrete, the seeds of the Kingdom rise up even in the midst of overwhelming falsehood and violence.

Breaking concrete takes a lot of effort. It’s easy to mouth pretty words about glory and a far-off heaven. It’s a lot harder to live a life transformed by the power of God. It’s no big deal to participate in religious rituals – whether sermons and lectures, communions and baptisms, or presidential inaugurations and Veteran’s Day celebrations. Being a person of faith doesn’t have to cost anything. Bending a knee to the official ideology always pays tidy dividends.

Such public religiosity has little to do with the living way of Jesus. Despite all we’ve heard about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the life of discipleship will not be limited to personal piety. For those of us who have been called to follow Jesus, we discover a profoundly risky path. Friends of Jesus can no longer go along with the status quo. Despite the trembling terror of it, we have been called to speak truth to power. To reveal the strength of God in our weakness. If necessary, to have our own bodies thrown upon the gears of oppression.

This is the heart of the gospel. For us who have experienced the radical presence of Jesus Christ, we can no longer be conformed to the assumptions of the culture around us. Even if that culture claims to be Christian.

It’s no accident the early followers of Jesus were called blasphemers by Jewish traditionalists, and atheists by the Roman Empire. Authentic Christianity challenges the civil religion of the ruling authorities. It reveals the moral emptiness of the false piety of empty rituals and go-along-to-get-along religion. The way of Jesus is profoundly prophetic – so much so, that we may be mistaken for heretics and insurrectionists. This is par for the course.

But what do you say? Are you ready for a faith that has nothing to do with providing easy answers? Are you ready for a Jesus who, rather than propping up the assumptions and authorities of our culture, is here to knock the mighty off their thrones, to lift up the weak and poor?

Do you have the courage to embrace this dangerous Christianity, to walk in the prophetic way of Jesus? What are you prepared to lose?

Related Posts:

Why Conflict Is Good for Us

Radical Christian Community in the New Rome

Releasing Ministry – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #64

It’s always revealing to take an honest look at the way we spend our money. It exposes our true priorities. We spend money on the things that we truly care about. Money is a powerful sign of what we value. Everyone understands the phrase, put your money where your mouth is. It’s one thing to say you believe in something; it’s another thing give of our time, energy, and financial resources.

Friends of Jesus is growing and deepening as a community, and we’re having conversations about how we use all of our resources – time, money, energy and love – to make the kingdom of God visible, to become friends of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. As we seek to be faithful in these conversations, we’re coming to some exciting conclusions.

We feel that God is inviting us to use our financial resources to actively release ministry among us. To this end, Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area and the wider Friends of Jesus Fellowship are uniting to financially support the ministry that I am carrying out under their care.

This financially released ministry will encourage leadership development, creative outreach, care for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship as a whole, and a renewed engagement with the Religious Society of Friends. This is a ministry that calls us to lives of radical discipleship and love in the Spirit. In cooperation with the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, I will continue to encourage and seed new communities across the United States, and possibly beyond.

As we begin this journey together, Friends of Jesus has already made a substantial commitment to nurturing this ministry. In addition to creating the support structures necessary to provide logistical support and spiritual accountability, members of the Friends of Jesus community have already committed nearly 1/3 of the annual giving that will be required to sustain the ministry.

But we are still a small fellowship. In addition to the demonstrated commitment of our core communities, we need significant help from the wider body of Christ. We have faith that God will touch the hearts of many Friends as they become aware of the need to release this ministry from financial burdens. Are you one of those Friends?

Is the Spirit inviting you to become a supporter of this ministry? There are many ways to get involved, whether through prayer, participation in the community, outreach, or financial giving. We encourage you to:

I’m so grateful for those who have been supporting this ministry for years now with prayers, words of encouragement, and participation in our life as a community. Thank you for considering how you might be led to take part in the days ahead.

In hope and friendship,

Micah Bales

Donate

It’s All About Discipleship

This past weekend I was up in Philadelphia for an East Coast Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. The gathering was an excellent opportunity for me to deepen relationships with local leaders in Philadelphia. It also turned out to be a chance to clarify our core mission and values as a fellowship.

Early in our time together, Hoot Williams had all of us fill out a values audit. There were about thirty values for us to select from – things like justice for the poor, community, equality, and strong families. Each of us was asked to rank our top twelve personal values, and then to share which values emerged as our personal top five.

As a last step in this process, we went around again and took note of which values showed up the most in our personal top fives. It was amazing how much overlap there was for most of us, and it was pretty easy to determine which values were the group’s top five. Here’s the list we came up with:

  • 1. Discipleship/Servant-Leadership
  • 2. Creativity & Innovation
  • 3. Community
  • 4. Outreach/Evangelism
  • 5. “All People Matter to God”/Equality

If we had made a top six list, worship would have certainly been there, too.

Simply taking a look at these values was very enlightening for those of us present. It said a lot about our community that we made the choices that we did, and we felt a strong sense of unity around the values that God is calling us to live into together.

Over the course of the day, that sense of unity only deepened. By our last session, we were realizing that while each of these values are important to us, the value of discipleship is probably most core to who we are and the way we are called to be Friends of Jesus. In our commitment to creativity & innovation, our times of community, our efforts at outreach, and in our witness that all people matter to God, our objective is always to bring people into a relationship of practical discipleship to Jesus.

In all of our activities, we seek to be and make disciples who have the nuts-and-bolts training and encouragement to make the kingdom of God visible – showing God’s love to others, working for justice, and equipping others to walk in this way of Jesus. We share a strong sense that everything we do as a community ultimately points back to the path of discipleship.

What are your personal core values, and those of the communities you belong to? Is the work of making and sending disciples central to the mission of your church? If not, what is? And if so, how are you acting as a community to nurture the path of discipleship, teaching one another how to be friends of Jesus in all aspects of life?