Friday, August 23, 2013

Pastorates manuscript, #2

Let’s be clear about something from the start.  The New Testament knows nothing of church buildings, of pews and hymnals and committees changing the altar cloths or debating the color of the new carpet.  The movement Jesus started is about people, not about property.  The idea that a person can “go to church” and sit in a building for an hour, then go back to an unchanged life for the rest of the week, has little or nothing to do with New Testament Christianity.  

The Bible envisions a church -- an ekklesia -- of people who gathered together, most often in someone’s home (see Romans 16:3-5, for example).  They read scripture, worshipped, and prayed together (see 1 Corinthians 14:26).  They shared in a mission to impact the world in the name of Jesus.  In fact, non-Christians accused these Jesus-followers of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  By following Jesus’ example, living in community with other Jesus-followers, and loving the world around them, they changed the Roman Empire and eventually the whole world!

What does the task of “making disciples” (meaning, making followers of Jesus) look like today?  In the early years of the 21st century it’s not hard to see that many churches have failed in this task.  We may baptize scores of people, our Sunday Schools may (or may not) be bustling, our youth programs crowded, our worship services pleasantly full.  But how many lives are changed in a lasting way?  

It’s been said that many of our churches are like football games.  A football game is 22,000 people who are desperately in need of exercise watching a game played by 22 men who desperately need rest.  Sadly, many people come to church to observe.  We relate to Jesus not so much to follow him or even to admire him, but to use him for our own ends.  In order to be blessed in this life and avoid hell in the next life, we are encouraged to pray a prayer inviting Jesus into our hearts.  At its worst, it’s cheap fire insurance.  Sadly, in most of our churches, few people experience the “abundant life” (see John 10:10) Jesus longs to give his followers. 

Yet people inside and outside the church today are hungry for exactly what Jesus’ first disciples found as followers of the Way.  We are hungry for meaning, for community, and for a mission that is worthy of our sacrifice.  Not knowing where to find what we really need, we flock to Facebook and Twitter to find community.  We let advertisers, smart phones, and sports teams tell us who we are and what we need.  We clutter our schedules so that we don’t have to face the disturbing questions that confront us in quiet moments.

This book is about a community life, abundant life, centered in Jesus.  As much as possible, the goal of the pastorate movement is to live as followers of the Way in the 21st century following the example of those early Jesus-followers.  This is not an idealized effort to deny our history and somehow return to the cultures of the New Testament.  Rather, it is an effort to take seriously what Jesus taught about the church he came to create.  In short, the purpose of this book is to help set a group of people on the road to living as disciples and making disciples.  I believe with all my heart that the abundant life Jesus desires for his followers begins in the context of Christ-centered communities where Jesus’ followers love God, love one another, and serve the world.  As we live together in this way, the New Testament comes alive and we come to know Jesus in a new, powerful, personal way.  Across the world, churches -- gatherings of people who know Jesus as the Way, the Truth, the Life -- are experiencing what Jesus himself called “abundant life” (John 10).  Pastorates are one good way to be the church, to follow Jesus in the mission he gave us.

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