Tag Archives: ekklesia

Book Review: The Next Christians by Gabe Lyon

Gabe Lyon brings into clear focus the mountains that modern Christians will need to move if they are to avoid being altogether cast from serious public consideration.

In his book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America first accurately diagnoses the problem facing Christianity in America and then offers an excellent 10-point outline of characteristics that are common of the Christians he believes, and rightly in my estimation, are going to be the best bet in turning that tide.

Many reviewers of Gabe’s book seem to get hung up on the opening line of the book where Gabe makes the case that it is often socially awkward if not downright embarrassing to be identified as a Christian in America. I wonder if these reviewers have had many lunch encounters like I have. There we are, sitting around the table laughing and cutting up and generally having a good time and then someone goes and makes a comment to the effect of “oh come on guys, its not like ANYONE believes ________ anymore”. You can fill in that blank with just about any Christian position but the one that I’ve seen most frequently cited is intelligent design which is commonly confused by non-Christians as merely an alias of young earth creationism.

I mention that not to take a pot shot at YEC but rather to demonstrate the insight found in Gabe’s conclusion that things are rapidly changing and we, Christians, must adapt to the prevailing social landscape.

After outlining the cultural shifts that face us, Gabe tells the story of meeting with a Hollywood movie producer who, after noticing the success of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, wanted to gain some insight into the Christian market. As a side note, I wonder if this meeting, with Lionsgate executives, is what influenced to brought about the movie “The Book of Eli”.

Gabe describes to them, and us, two major groups and their immediate subgroups. They are:

  • Separatists
    • Insiders
    • Culture Warriors
    • Evangelizers
  • Cultural
    • Blenders
    • Philanthropists

Gabe outlines each group and what characteristics differentiate them from the rest. This grid is valuable and might be worth the price of the book by itself. As some reviewers have noted, The Next Christians is a further contribution to the Christ and Culture series started by H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture”, and then Craig Carter’s “Rethinking Christ and Culture”, which are great if you want further reading on how Christians relate to the culture they’re in.

At the end of this section Gabe introduces a third overall archetype of Christian which is the main focus of his book, The Next Christians. Overall we can classify these Christians as “restorers”. Christians who aren’t interested in either separation or immersion in culture. They are, in short, culture makers. Subversive agents who seek to use culture where appropriate and transform it gradually to be more Christlike.

Gabe shares numerous anecdotes to illustrate his points. Gabe introduces us to ministries like “To Write Love on Her Arms” which gives a good example of how the Next Christians are characterized by rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty in the brokenness in the world. This isn’t altogether different than how Jesus, his earliest disciples, and many Christians throughout the ages have approaches the cultures in which they live.

Throughout the book Gabe gives good examples of how Christians should tactfully engage the world around them. Navigating the current cultural current by not being too abrasive nor being too complicit. But allowing Christ to work in them to transform hearts and minds.

To that end I was thrilled when Gabe made the observation that the next Christians are people who see every aspect of their lives as sacred. A great example Gabe gave on this point is a couple who moved out to California from the south and decided that since no Christian community existed where they moved that they would create one.

I believe Gabe hits the nail on the head when he writes about how the Next Christians are not interested so much in inviting their friends to church to sit through an event. Not that doing so is horrible per se. But the Next Christians are more interested in bringing Christ to the culture around them. Of being the church in the world.

Overall I found Gabe’s book to be a blessing. It is encouraging to hear how Christians are recognizing the changing landscape, are planning ways to deliberately confront the culture in more winsome ways, and finally, how they are throwing off the shackles of unbiblical traditions which have been dragging us down for quite a while now.

The Next Christians serves as a great field map to help us keep our cultural interface in check so we can more effectively engage with people around us.

And for anyone looking for encouragement about the future of Christianity in America, his book provides it in spades.

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Pastoral worries

[HT Alan Knox]

Alan shares a list of things he doesn’t worry about as a pastor (teaching elder) in a home church context.

They include:

  • getting fired for saying the wrong thing
  • sermon preparation week after week
  • finding someone to “fill in”
  • budgets1
  • the meeting place
  • number of participants2

I find it amazing how prevalent professional pastor burn out is and how no one wants to come to the obvious and Biblical conclusion. No one man or small group of men should have to shoulder the burden of caring for and feeding an assembly of Christians.

  1. Professional pastors have to worry about these things because they are business owner/operators. []
  2. Large events are not required if money from multiple sources is not need to cover the expensive overhead. []
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What does a simple church look like?

When You Come Together from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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Tidal Wave – Finishing what the reformation started

Tidal Wave from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

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Resources for the home church

What do we believe? How do we operate? What sort of structure do we abide by?

There are some of the questions I had after deciding that the way I had always “Done church” just wasn’t cutting it. But what was a viable Biblical alternative?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve compiled a few helpful resources for studying and learning about the home or organic church movement. Some of these authors and works contain contradictory views, especially when it comes to issues such as the role of women in the meeting, how elders are to be chosen and function, and how new fellowships are to be formed. In spite of this, however, I have found a fairly unified core of teachings, centered on the accounts and practices of the early church recorded in Scripture.

So without further ado, here are the best resources I’ve found when it comes to home church.

Sites:

Books:

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Children in House Church

As a mother of children currently ages 4, 2, and 6 months; at the first mention of meeting in homes as a body of believers, I thought “What do we do with the kids?” and I often still wonder “What do we do with the kids?”.

When we met with two other families with young kids in Augusta, we started off hiring a teenager from the neighborhood who worked as a Mother’s helper. We quickly found that especially the kids under 2 kept making their way back to their mothers. Since we all lived next door and our kids played together almost every day and knew the rules of each house, we finally decided to all have a meal together and then let the kids play on their own while we studied the bible. Of course babies stayed in the room with the adults and all the kids were welcome to come quietly sit in on the study with their parents. On most occasions this set up worked really well for enabling the adults to study, but we never focused on prayer, worship, or teaching the kids anything about God. We were meeting as friends and neighbors doing a bible study and we all went to our respective churches where we worshiped and our kids were taught on Sunday mornings.

When we moved to Marietta, we began to meet exclusively with a house church group that had no young children other than our own. Especially in the beginning, there were many occasions where I just didn’t want to go. It was so much work to keep the kids inline in someone else’s home that wasn’t set up for young children. It took forever to get out the door with food for a potluck meal, materials for our study, toys and books for the kids, diapers and sippy cups and two kids who really didn’t want to go. Then we had a another baby so we added at least one more bag and a heavy baby carrier to our list of supplies. There was so much prep just to get there and once we got there, I was so tied up setting up a spot for the kids to play, fixing their plates, making sure they didn’t spill or drop food all over the place or break anything, and trying to keep them still and quiet during the main study time that I came home more frustrated than ever. But with all of the frustration from the kids, the group of believers that we met with was great. We truly worshipped the Lord and even though I was never really able to participate much in the study and discussion I saw the benefit of talking through things as group instead of having one presenter on a pedestal.

One day a family with two boys ages 3 and 5 visited our group, adding a few challenges to our meetings. We had been with Breaking Bread for several months, so my kids were accustomed to rules that I had given for each house and the routine of the meeting. But just like my kids a few month previous, these boys and their parents had never met with a body believers in someone elses home. Having four children playing was a much more chaotic. While this family unfortunately only met with our group for a few weeks before deciding to go back to an institutional church, it provided an excellent opportunity for the entire group to evaluate how to incorporate children into the meeting more and support parents so they could interact more in the study. After a few weeks of discussion, the group decided to add a short children’s devotional,  a couple of children’s songs to the singing time, and have people sign up to take the children out do a lesson with them during the main discussion time. We tried this schedule for a few weeks and decided to take out the children’s devotion because they listened more in a one on one setting during the lesson and my oldest child in particular would not speak in front of the whole group. The kids really enjoyed the one on one lesson and it was great not to have to pack so much stuff to entertain them and be able participate more in the discussion. Unfortunately, we moved soon after starting this idea so most people were only able to sign up once.

Now we have moved to Roswell, too far away to travel to several of the houses in the Breaking Bread group. We haven’t found a closer group to meet with yet, so we are looking at starting a new group. Given the opportunity to revaluate how to best teach our children who God is and how we relate to him, we have tried going to a few nearby institutional churches. I think especially preschool age children learn better in groups where they can do more hands on activities and play games related to a lesson. We’ve tried this for two weeks now and I don’t know that it is the best decision. Will it be too much to try to go to an institutional church on Sunday’s and have home church on some other day? Can Wes and I really sit through the Sunday morning production every week without being cynical? Today at the end of the prayer just before the closing song a couple gave their 9 or 10 year old son the ticket to get his sibling out of the nursery. When the boy started to walk our during the song, the parent quickly shooshed him, sent him back to his seat, and the father told him just watch the last song then you can go. Will we end up like that? The production isn’t over yet and they better watch whether they care to or not.

If the house church model is best for adults, why shouldn’t it be for kids too? Maybe it’s just important to have a group with other kids in it? If everyone in the group thinks of it as a family, coming together to worship would  the group as a whole be willing to be dedicated to teaching the children?

I think each group will have to find their own way of handling children in an organic house church. Church is a living organism and the needs and strengths and each group will be different and charge from season to season. As we start to seek a new body of believers out in Roswell, we are going to try to find a group of people who intends on truly treating the body as a family with a commitment to love and strengthen all members of the family. As long as we come with that mindset, the rest will work itself out.

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Attending a local church

Much is made of “the local church” today but I wonder, do we really know what the term means. More importantly, do we know what that term meant to the early Christians?

In an excellent post by Alan Knox, he writes:

..“church” in the NT (when not used of the “universal” church), always designates a geographical group of people. (UPDATE: When I say “a geographical group of people,” I mean a group of people in the same geographical area. HT: Lew) For example, there is the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Ephesus, etc. Yes, there are churches based in homes. But there is no indication that these churches were removed (separate) from the geographical church in the respective city.

However, today we use the term “local church” differently. We do not use “church” to specify a “geographical locale”, but instead we use the term to differentiate based on structure, organization, theology, etc. For example, the people in the houses around me attend four different “churches”. In fact, even though we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (in theory), we rarely interact. And, this is considered normal.

I think Alan is on to something here and it makes me wonder; Why do institutional churches tend to downplay this clear teaching in Scripture? Could it be that we love our sects more than God?

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